In Hawaii, there is a place that has captured the imagination of adventurers, tourists, and lovers alike. It is the mysterious island of Maui. While many come to vacation, snorkel, golf, and wander its endless palm-lined beaches, others come to have an experience in nature that will be moving -- perhaps even enlightening.
But where would one find such a place on this allegedly magical island? Probably not in the big, luxurious hotels lining the shoreline of Lahaina; nor the exceedingly wealthy gated communities on the gently sloping hills overlooking the spectacular beaches of Wailea. Rather one tends to look up to the two great volcanoes on the west and east side of the island that soar majestically 10,000 feet above the sea -- often covered by a mysterious fog that lures one to the top where the cones and crags puncture an impossibly blue sky.
In my case, something else that had that effect; or rather seemed to have that effect on others. It is an area on the northeast side of the island, hugging the shoreline, and just below the towering volcano of Haleakala. There resides a spectacular tropical forest of unfathomable beauty that can simply overwhelm. It is not however the usual rainforest term – i.e. hidden in some deep valley; shrouded in mist, moisture, and mystery. Rather it was located astride the coastline -- on the hillside and mountains overlooking the gorgeous Maui shore. What makes it particularly interesting to the first time visitor is that you traverse this tropical wonderland via a one-lane byway known as “The Road to Hana.”
As you drive this extraordinary mountain highway, you pass through 30 miles of what can only be described as the world’s largest and magnificent plant store. An astonishing array of tropical plants, flowers, and trees roll by as you traverse the steep, winding road on the slopes of an impossibly beautiful coastline. As you make your way through the sun-dappled region, navigating the 50+ hairpin turns, on a road that is often a single lane shared with oncoming traffic (!), you feel as if you have arrived at Eden -- to a real, not a mythical paradise on earth.
And yet despite the 1 to 2000 cars that navigate the difficult to navigate road on any given day, you are enthralled by the gorgeous green landscapes, the endless cascading waterfalls -- not to mention a spectacular ½-mile arboretum with plants, flowers, and trees so beautiful, strange, and mystical-like that you want to cry.
The Road to Hana is a journey through the physical beauty of life -- a tour de force, magical place dreamed up by some God-like artisan. Moreover, there is the added promise that you will find fulfillment ahead when you finally make your way to the mysterious town that the road is named after. You imagine a village of artists, poets, and seekers of the New; an ideal world, of happy, contented individuals, expressing themselves through their strange or beautiful art, or musing on the nature of life in the cosmos.
However, when you finally arrive at the town of Hana after a grueling two to three hour drive, you look around and notice that there is hardly anything to be found. There are a few buildings, a few shops -- even few places to lodge. Sure, there are a number of spectacular homes tucked away in the coastal forests overlooking the sea, but what you find in Hana may seem a little underwhelming, despite its natural setting. How odd, I thought at the time, that after this arduous journey so little was found at the end of the line.
However, there was no time to dwell on my misgivings since I was eager to continue on beyond Hana, and traverse the eastern side of the island below the great Haleakala volcano. My goal was to work my way all the way around the eastern side to the southern town of Kihei where I was lodging. However, after driving 10 miles beyond Hana, I suddenly came to a sign indicating that the road up ahead was closed. Undeterred by a marker that I rationalized had a chance of being out of date, I continued onward. After all, I was not ready to go back and navigate 50 hairpin turns, impossibly difficult one-way roads, potholes filled with rainwater, and gawking, camera-toting tourists looking for beautiful shots of waterfalls. And so I forged ahead, seeking my next adventure.
Well, after several more miles, I came upon another sign that in essence indicated the same thing: that the road ahead was closed. Pursing my lips, and letting out a sigh, I now realized that my vision of driving around the deserted part of the island below the Great Volcano for 20 miles on a dirt road crossing virgin, untrammeled, hardly-navigated and inhabited spectacular scenery would have to wait for another day.
And so now I was forced to contemplate the journey back to civilization. It was not the happiest of thoughts when you consider that I was now physically exhausted and emotionally drained. However, after grumbling about the situation for a few moments, I gathered myself, took a deep breath, and accepted my fate. I then began to shift my orientation inward; psychologically preparing myself for the grueling 3-hour drive on the road back from Hana. Then I got back into my car and joined the foray of vehicles that were returning to the populated areas of the island.
Interestingly, something very unusual then occurred. Instead of finding myself caught in a slow procession of vehicles trying to work their way along the very difficult to navigate 1-lane road, I found myself in a small caravan of cars that were moving quite swiftly! “What was this,” I thought, as I sped along at the tail end of a 10-car procession of autos that were moving at perhaps four or five time the speed we came in at. How was this possible?
As I again traversed the winding road through gorgeous, moist rainforests above spectacular seashore, I noticed several things that were happening. First, there were hardly any cars coming from the opposite direction. Second -- and this was really striking -- was the fact that I did not have to work very hard at driving: that all I had to do was simply watch the car ahead of me in the caravan, and I would be swiftly swept along with the pack!
Quickly I realized that I would now make my way across the road in less than an hour, instead of the expected 2-3 hours. As I whizzed by familiar landscapes, I was utterly dumbfounded by this change in circumstance! I could say it was the end of the day, or I was nor more familiar with the terrain. But that alone would not have explained it.
However, soon thereafter I had a sudden realization. I now understood what this was all about. It was simply life responding to my change in attitude. I.e., the moment I accepted the reality of the situation that I would not be able to drive around the island and had to turn back, and then made the effort to do so, life cooperated in my favor. When I shifted my attitude from reluctance, and embraced the given -- i.e. what life had put before me -- everything started going well, as I suddenly found myself at the tail end of a speedy caravan that whisked me across that landscape!
Thus, in the end, the Road to Hana really was a profound experience: even if it did not unfold as intended. It would turn out to be not only an outer journey, but an inner one as well. Outwardly, I was captured and enthralled by the physical beauty of a once in a lifetime locale. Inwardly, however, I was reminded once again of the vast power we generate when we change our attitude to the positive.
The Road to Hana had indeed bared its mysteries; revealing one of life’s great secrets to me. That when you accept the hand you are given, what the world has put before you, life instantly cooperates in your favor. It was another extraordinary moment on an unforgettable trip.