Touring the Valley Isle (Maui, Hawaii, USA)

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April 19th 2010
Published: April 24th 2010
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(Day 745 on the road)A 25 minute flight took me from Honolulu on Oahu to Kahului in Maui, the Valley Isle as it is know, where I was to spend the next week or so. I bunked in a pretty busy but still atmospheric hostel in Wailuku with a good mix of people from all over, which interestingly included a considerable number of Americans. Whilst it was very nice to meet "locals" so to speak (even if they were from California), that was something of a novelty - as typically you only meet foreigners in a hostel but hardly ever people from the country you are travelling in.

There seem to be two reasons for that: For one, Hawaii is of course a very popular destinations for Americans, but I also met a number of people who simply didn't have a passport and have thus never left the US in their entire lives. This is a pretty strange thing for me as a European, where from an early age virtually everybody travels to other countries (weekend in Paris or Rome, skiing or hiking in Austria, holiday in Spain, business travel to London etc). I don't think I have ever met a person back home that has never been out of his or her country.

Now of course the US is considerably bigger than any single European country and living in New York and travelling to, say, Miami is certainly a change of scenery and weather, but things like culture, language, and customs stay the same. At the hostel here I spent a lot of time talking to 28-year old Kayjay from Montana, who has been to every single one of the 50 US states, but never ever abroad. Later on I was told there was also a considerable number of people living in Hawaii that never left the islands, and that some haven't even made it to the other side of their island. Wow!

The best thing about the hostel was that they offered daily free tours of Maui, going to a different place of the island every day, which made seeing everything vastly easier (and cheaper) than doing it otherwise. Except for one tour that I skipped that's how me and most other travellers here spent their days, usually followed by some relaxing at the hot jacuzzi in the hostel's garden in the evening.

Of the tours I did, the day spent hiking all over the dormant volcano of Haleakalā, which once created most of Maui, was the undoubted highlight of the week. The landscape reminded me slightly of the Tongariro National Park in New Zealand, but was different all the same. Haleakalā is hard to describe, but is essentially a vast, barren, volcanic landscape, with a huge crater in the centre flanked by a high rim all around it. The main depression measures 11.25 km across, 3.2 km wide, and nearly 800 m deep, and is said to be the largest volcano crater in the world. We enjoyed perfect weather, and in the late afternoon puffy white clouds started to form way below us, making is feel like on top of the world, especially during amazing sunset later on.

Of the other parts of Maui I explored (the dramatic Road to Hana, the lava fields of La Perouse Bay, snorkeling with absolutely huge turtles at Ka'anapali Beach, hiking Waihee Ridge Trail, awfully touristy Lahaina), I especially enjoyed the wild Ioa Valley. Swiss Patrick and me had set of to climb the Iao Needle, a feasible climb according to my guide book. Or so we thought.

After four unsuccessful and very rough ascend-attempts from different angles (in the course of which I nearly destroyed a car by accidentally sending a huge bolder into the parking lot from a steep slope we tried to scramble up), we took a minute to re-read what exactly the guide said. Well, it basically said there was no way at all to get up to the needle, as it was way too steep. I can confirm this.

With some energy and some unbruised parts of our bodies left, on the fifth go we instead traversed into the narrow valley between the Iao Needle and its adjacent mountain, up through an overgrown riverbed and through the thickest scrub imaginable, which was super-slow going but incredibly good fun.

So much for my experiences on Maui. The one other thing I have a hard time getting used to here in the US so far is the heavy-handed display of the law everywhere. Whilst I have commented in my last entry on just how much police is around everywhere, I have by now also noticed that even National Park Rangers carry not only a gun but also a Taser gun, the controversial weapon (the UN calls it a form of torture) that administers a strong electric shock to the victim and has killed 160 people as of 2006.

I can only assume that the display of force is supposed to put the population at ease, giving the message that everything is under control and help is at hand from all the bad people out there. For me however, it has the exact opposite effect: When I see so many guns around me, I instinctively think that it is a dangerous world here in the US, and I feel much less secure.

And why the heck do national park rangers carry guns? Something is definitely wrong here - the most dangerous thing rangers in New Zealand or Australia carry is a compass!

Lastly, in my last blog I wrote how I received a 130$ fine for jaywalking. There is a very interesting and active forum discussion going on, have a look if you are interested. Opinions range from "just pay to have peace of mind", to "you have to pay as it is the law of the country" and "just ignore and let them wait for their money".

The most interesting statement however was made by a border guard at the Canadian/US border (thanks Jason for taking the trouble to confront him with my situation), who said that "We don't want people like that in our country! If he disregards our laws, how do we know your friend is gonna leave the country after ninety days, how do we know he is not gonna try and work in this country?".

And of course I have to agree with the border guard. If I cross the street in an unmarked place, just how do you know I am not about to become an illegal immigrant? Or walk around blowing people up all over the place? The criminal tendency is certainly there - once you jaywalk, there is no way of telling where that person will stop or what he is capable of! And may I suggest you expel the estimated 150 million US citizens who have jaywalked in their life at the same time? Most certainly those people are not wanted either.

But I don't want to close this blog on a bad note, and would like to add that the absolute vast majority of people I have met here in Hawaii have been absolutely wonderful, friendly and over the top helpful. Americans must be the most approachable people in the world. Where else would you sit in your car at a traffic light, waiting for the light to turn green, and the guy in the car next to you starts chatting to you, how your day is going, what you are eating, and how you are liking Hawaii, as happened to me on the big island a few days later (see next entry)? Nice!

Next stop: Big Island (Hawaii, USA).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


25th April 2010

You're still going!!! is it ever gonna end? not that i'm jealous or anything - i have now been in one place for nearly 7 months - aaah!!
25th April 2010

the black sand beach looks sooo beautiful. i live in the philippines and we dont have that here. im not sure if its as pretty in person though as it is in a picture. i somehow think it would be rather creepy
25th April 2010

living the life
We are really enjoying your comments about our way of life in America and love to chuckle about what you will learn as you continue your journey. Wait until you get to the mainland and you find a couple of people who have never been out of their state. You will find them and it is puzzling but each person needs to be allowed to live the life that makes them happy. For a traveler like myself I always find their lack of curiosity amazing.
25th April 2010

Ben, should I be a bit arrogant and tell you that America is so great there's really no reason to leave? It is a great country when it lives up to its loftiest ideals, though less so when it leans towards a modern-day Roman Empire (which is what I fear we are becoming, but that's entirely another discussion). You made a good point that the United States is a larger country than European ones, hence more tendency to tour America and not so much outside. There really is quite a divergence between areas. My current and thus far lifetime home of Minneapolis is a very different feel, and frankly culture, than the East Coast or Arizona. I have a friend who says the US is in some ways really more like 50 different little countries that happen to all get along under one bigger umbrella. That all said, I look forward to my next international trip. My ultimate goal is other words to be a copycat to you (at least generally)...
27th April 2010

Lovely end to your blog Ben. In my opinion Americans are some of the most open and friendly people to be found any-where. On the other hand - their border guards and cops can be some of the most bone-headed officials you will find any-where too. ;)

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