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 enchanted 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 sides 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 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 simply overwhelms. It is not however the usual rainforest we have heard about -- hidden in some deep valley; shrouded in mist, moisture, and mystery. Rather it is located astride the coastline -- on the hillside and mountains overlooking the stunning Maui shore. What makes it particularly interesting for 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 mountain highway, you pass through 30 miles of what can only be described as the world’s largest and most magnificent plant store. An astonishing array of tropical plants, flowers, and trees pass by as you traverse the steep, winding road on the slopes of an impossibly beautiful shoreline. 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 green landscapes, the endless cascading waterfalls -- not to mention a spectacular 1/4-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. In addition to the enjoyment of the ride, there is the added promise that you will find fulfillment when you finally make your way to the mysterious town 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 a few places to lodge. Sure, the hillsides are dotted with spectacular homes tucked away in coastal forests overlooking the coast, but what you find in Hana is a little underwhelming, despite its marvelous natural setting. How odd, I thought at the time, that after this thrilling but arduous journey so little was to be found.
And yet, there was no point in dwelling on my misgivings, since there was still much to see. In particular, 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. Though I began somewhat eagerly and excitedly, after driving only 10 miles beyond Hana, I came to a sign that indicated that that the road ahead was closed. Undeterred by a marker, which I rationalized as being out of date, I forged onward. After all, I was certainly not ready to head 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 plowed ahead, seeking my next adventure.
Unfortunately, after several more miles, I came upon yet another sign that indicated the same thing: that the road ahead was blocked for reconstruction purposes. 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, considering that I was also 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 also shifted my orientation inward -- psychologically preparing myself for the grueling 3-hour drive back from Hana. I then got into my car and joined the foray of vehicles that were returning to the populated areas of the island.
Then something very unusual happened. Instead of being in a slow procession of vehicles working their way along the very difficult to navigate 1-lane road, I found myself in a small caravan of cars that were actually moving quite swiftly! “What was this,” I thought, as I sped along at the tail end of a 10-car procession that were moving at perhaps 4 or 5 time the speed I arrived at. How was this possible?
As I revisited the same winding road, through gorgeous rainforests above spectacular seashores, I perceived several things going on. First, there were hardly any cars coming from the opposite direction. Second -- and this was particularly striking – I did not have to concentrate hard in my driving. All I had to do was watch the car ahead of me, follow behind in tight formation, and I would be swiftly swept along with the pack!
I then realized that I would now making 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. However, soon after I understood what this was all about. It was simply life responding to my change in attitude. I.e., the moment I accepted in full that I would not be able to drive around the island, and would instead have to turn back, life cooperated in my favor. When I shifted my attitude from reluctance to acceptance, and embraced the givens that life had put before me, everything began to go well, as I was whisked across that landscape at the tail end of an auto caravan!
In the end, the Road to Hana really was a profound experience for me -- even if it did not unfold as I expected. In fact, that lovely afternoon turned out to be not only an exhilarating outer experience, but an enlightening inner one as well. Outwardly, I was captured and enthralled by the physical beauty of a once in a lifetime locale. Inwardly, I was reminded once again of the vast power we have within ourselves to alter the conditions of life around by shifting our attitude to the positive. In that way, The Road to Hana revealed its hidden mysteries, providing another extraordinary moment on an unforgettable trip.