Big Birthday Blast

Ladies Bonding in Hawaii

by Tammy Jo Meier

Hawaiian Siren Song
I love Italy and all it has to offer. Every day, some memory of my visits to that magnificent country, large or small, stirs within me. However, my heart and soul long to cross a different ocean, to the island of Maui. With a very significant birthday on the horizon, I know I have to make peace with this half-century situation. How should I mourn/celebrate the occasion? It does not take long to figure this out. I want to be in Maui, with my girlfriends. And, what a coincidence—Hawaii is also celebrating it’s 50th anniversary of statehood!

My guest list includes five of the seven of us who toured Italy together in October 2008. Nancy, Eilene, and Lisa, friends from my neighborhood (outside Denver, CO), along with my sister-in-law Linda and I, reunite for this new adventure. Joining us is my cousin Cathy, from California. Along for the fun, as well, are two of my American Airlines coworkers, Donna and Cyndy. This proves to be a perfect combination.

Arrival in Paradise
Linda, a realtor, arrives on Maui about an hour before we do and has set up an “office” at the airport, in one corner of the information booth. She’s already doing business when Lisa and I discover her there. We think this is just too funny. After picking up the rental car, the first stop is always Costco. What a store! Before long, the shopping cart is too full to hold another thing. Ahi, ono, pineapples, Kona coffee, lox, bagels, macadamia nut chocolates, pinot grigio, and cabernet are among the many goodies in our basket.

Leaving Costco at sunset, we drive along the west coast to our condo complex, aptly named Hololani. In Hawaiian, this means “gone to heaven.” Walking in the front door of the condo, I know that I am home (albeit for the next 18 days, anyway). Suitcases are quickly stashed. We put together a few snacks and open the wine. We sing “Ho’onani,” which is our nightly prayer before dinner. “Ho’onani” is the doxology “Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . .” in Hawaiian, which could not be more appropriate at this moment. I light the candles and put IZ in the stereo. IZ is one of Hawaii’s native sons, long gone, but whose music lives on. We take our pita chips, jalapeno artichoke dip, and pinot grigio to the lanai (balcony). The ocean is so close that our lanai feels like the balcony of a cruise ship. The tiki torches are lit, and the waves are rolling in. Sleep comes easily this night because of the time zone change, the lullaby of the ocean, or maybe the wine.

Taking It In
We are up early the next morning and enjoy lox and bagels on the lanai. Two of the lesser known islands are in view! Off to the left is Lanai. On the right, about 20 miles out, is Moloka’i, famous (or infamous, rather) as the site of a 19th-century leper colony. Just before our arrival, Father Damien—who worked with the lepers there—was canonized in Rome and is now known as Saint Damien. People all over the islands are celebrating this event. Damien was born in Belgium, but he pursued his life’s work living among and helping these lepers, who suffered from what is now known as Hansen’s disease. Appropriately, I begin to read Moloka’i, a best-selling historical novel by Alan Brennert.

We spend the day sunning and snorkeling at Kapalua Bay. Lisa keeps her lovely Irish skin protected in the shade with a hat and number 75 SPF sunscreen. She is the wise one. Linda and I live more dangerously, in the full sun with number 15 SPF. Donning my mask and snorkel, I set out to find Nemo and friends. Rumor on the beach is that honu (sea turtles) are close by. For as many times as I have gone snorkeling and scuba diving, each trip out holds the same thrill for me as the first. I see a few kikakapu (“kee-kah-kah-poo”) and umaumalei (“oo-mou-ma-lay”). I watch out for the sea urchins, for an untimely meeting with them is a sure-fire way to ruin the vacation. Up ahead swims a very colorful fish with the longest name ever—the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (“hoo-moo-hoo-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-poo-ah-ah”). Finally, I see a small school of kihikihi (“kee-hee-kee-hee”), a favorite of mine for a very ridiculous reason: They are black and yellow, and match my black and yellow wetsuit perfectly. We swim together for a few moments, and I wish for an underwater videographer to capture the scene.

We head back to the condo for happy hour on the lanai. The blender whirls with freshly made pina coladas. Tiki torches blazing and umbrella drinks in hand, we toast the sun, which appears to be falling off the face of the earth between Lanai and Moloka’i. IZ sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” softly in the background. I want every moment to last a little longer. After a timid, yet reverent attempt at “Ho’onani,” we dine there on our candlelit lanai on grilled ahi, salad, bread, and, of course, pinot grigio. We become addicted to this ritual, which sets the tone for many days and nights to come.

The What?
The next morning, Lisa is not feeling so well. She had added a beer to the pina colada and pinot grigio lineup the night before. Her advice is not to try that again. Did I say she was the wise one? A couple of bottles of water and a hike to the blowhole will fix everything. We drive around to the north side of the island in search of one of Mother Nature’s impressive accomplishments, the Nakalele blowhole. There are no signs pointing the way—one has to know someone who knows someone who knows someone who has been there in order to find it.

We get out of the car and start walking. Cairns (piles of rocks) are everywhere but do not seem to lead anywhere. Too soon, the trail slopes downward and becomes precarious. Surrounded by a lunar-like landscape, we no longer feel as if we are on planet Earth. A little farther away, spray from a 20-foot wave hitting the rocks drenches the three of us. In unison, our arms go up in the air, praising this moment. Now we hear it . . . that unmistakable “whoosh” of the blowhole. We walk around a small bend and climb through some rocks. Oh, my—there it is! It appears to be a geyser, but it really is not. The water can be forced as high as 100 feet in the air.

The ocean has worn away the shore below the lava shelf. As the waves pound in, the water erupts through the opening. Opi’i (abalone-like shellfish) reside on the rock wall. Some people like to eat them raw, right off the wall. The water erupts about once every two minutes. We hang out here a long time, soaking, literally and figuratively, it all in. On our way back, we have a little picnic and then wile away the rest of the afternoon at D.T. Fleming Beach, in front of the Ritz-Carlton.

Friday is an exciting day because the rest of the gang arrives. I drive to the airport to pick up Nancy, Eilene, and Cathy. Donna comes later in the day in her own car. We mostly hang out by the pool, staying mellow and close to home so the new arrivals can adjust. We grill fresh opah, with yellow, orange, and red sweet mini peppers, after sunset. Thanks to Cathy, Ho’onani is sounding much better. I pass out some fake honu tattoos, which everyone afixes to either her chest or her ankle. A few glasses of chardonnay, a couple of IZ albums, and lots of lively conversation later, we call it a day.

The Wild Wahines
Adjustment time for the newbies appears to be over at 6 a.m. the next morning. I arise to find the gang ushering in the new day with mimosas, Kona coffee, and lox and bagels with capers. Cathy announces, radiant with happiness, “I’m 43 years old, and I’ve never been away from home!” In Italy last year, we were the “bellas.” Here we call ourselves the “wild wahines” (Hawaiian for “women”).

After breakfast, the group walks down the beach. We seem to attract a little attention wherever we go. People are curious about why so many women are traveling together and having so much fun. Near the rocks, nine honu are spotted. Good fortune for all!

Before we head off to Kapalua Bay, Linda prepares a fabulous colorful salad with meats and cheeses on a large oval platter, for later on. Nancy and Linda are wearing one of their many different bikinis. Gosh, they look like a million bucks! Lisa’s ensemble is her anti-sun outfit: pink baseball cap, red wave shirt, multicolored men’s board shorts, and green crocs. I watch her float on a boogie board in the bay, uninterrupted, having the time of her life. We return late in the afternoon to our salad, though it is far too pretty to eat.

In the evening, some of us attend Mass, while the others decide to shop in Lahaina. No naming names here! The choir is from Tonga, and they about knock me out of my pew with their clear, strong, and harmonious voices. Afterward, we all meet under the block-long banyan tree for a photo shoot. Then we take Lisa to the airport. Where did the time go? Before we say “goodbye,” we must have a proper send-off. There is not a finer place for this than Mama’s Fish House in the town of Paia. Seated among the striking tropical flowers, we order Mai Tais and various other adult beverages—all made with freshly squeezed juices—along with some light appetizers. The service is exceptional, the atmosphere enchanting, and the food pricey (but oh, so worth it).

The Beat Goes On
And so the story continues over the next two weeks (during which time Cyndy joins us). Gathering on the lanai every evening to laugh until it hurts, as well as to share our lives, is the highlight of each day. Eight women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, who have really lived their lives, have an enormous amount of wisdom to share. Then there is always the sadness when someone leaves. It is bittersweet, though, because I am so happy and thankful that we have had this time together.

We make another expedition to the blowhole. This time I get to share it with my beautiful cousin Cathy. I believe it is her father’s (my Uncle Steve’s) sacred place. On a trip there with him many years ago, she remained a distance away from the erupting water. This time, though, she honors him by doing a little dance, arms held high, near the spout. We know of someone who completely stripped and performed a ceremonial dance here. This blowhole is a very primal place. Nancy, Eilene, and Donna appear thrilled and mesmerized.

Donna and I go on an early-morning snorkel run the day she is to leave. As we plunge into the water, several strong waves overtake us. Unable to maintain our balance, we fall on top of each other and roll around with the waves as we try to stand up. I am sure that from shore, we are a sight to behold. We both laugh so hard that we cannot breathe. On another snorkel adventure, Linda mistakes a large honu (that sneaks up behind her) for Donna. Prior to this event, it was impossible to scream into your snorkel.

Another day, Eilene and I get lomi lomi massages. We are limp (and greasy!) for the rest of the afternoon and evening. At D.T. Fleming Beach, we sit on chairs with our feet in the water, for hours on end watching the honu do what they do in the ocean.

Wonders of All Kinds
On Halloween, Eilene, Nancy, Cyndy, and I visit downtown Lahaina. The streets are closed to traffic, and costumed celebrants, together with members of Maui’s police force, are everywhere. Earlier, there had been a parade. A clown dressed like a surgeon (or was it a surgeon dressed like a clown?) follows us around, telling stories. I see the entire cast of the Wizard of Oz. Also milling about are salt and pepper, ketchup and mustard, and chips and dip. How do people fit these costumes into their suitcases? As we pose for photos on the bridge, a half-costumed, half-naked man presses in close to Nancy. Darn! My camera battery dies at this inopportune moment. The later it gets, the fewer costumes and the more skin we see. Time to head back.

The next morning, as we enjoy our coffee on the lanai, we see a most unusual sight. Rainbows, including some doubles, are appearing and disappearing all around us. My camera lens is not quite wide enough to capture this. Out of the blue, a rainbow lays itself down across the ocean. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet are stretched flat across the sea. How does this happen? We are mesmerized. Wonders never cease!

Saying Goodbye
For the last couple of days, only Cyndy and I remain. We light six tea lights in the evening, in honor of our friends who have returned to the mainland. We make a feeble attempt at Ho’onani. Cyndy’s husband, Bob, arrives on the last evening. The two of them will be staying an additional week. Feeling like a fifth wheel makes it that much easier to leave my beloved adopted state.

One last afternoon of snorkeling, one last trip to Mass, a delicious pasta dinner with Italian sausage and sweet peppers prepared by Cyndy, and I am driving myself to the airport. Listening one last time to IZ in the CD player, I whisper, “Until next time!” to no one in particular. And I know that I picked the best way to celebrate my big birthday—among friends, honu, and Hawaiian sunsets . . .

Tammy Jo Meier holds a B.A. in economics with a minor in Spanish from Millersville University (PA). Because of her penchant for travel, she has, until recently, filled her days as a gate agent for American Airlines in Denver (CO). She now tutors students in algebra, but still sneaks away whenever she can. When she does, she leaves behind her husband, Cliff, and teenage son, Joey. (Her married daughter, Joanna, lives in Mississippi. She’s heading there soon, invited by Joanna to attend a book club discussion of mutual interest.)

home :: about :: features :: departments :: submissions :: archives :: subscribe :: contact

Empty Nest: A Magazine for Mature Families

© 2010 Spring Mount Communications

Green Web Hosting! This site hosted by DreamHost.