A few years ago, my husband and I spent a glorious week in Maui. We had many adventures while there, both on the land and on and in the sea. I am sharing an excerpt from my 50 Life Stories collection about our Maui trip. This excerpt, from Story #32, is about traveling the (treacherous) Road to Hana. If you’ve never been, the sixty plus mile Hana Highway takes its passengers around 620 mountain curves and across 59 bridges (most are old and one-lane). 😨
Some paths are supposed to be walked on, even encouraged, and others come with a warning. Our Road to Hana tour guide, Alex, considered the, “Warning – Stay off the Path” sign a suggestion, not anything to be taken seriously. We followed Alex, passed the sign that warned us to turn around.
“Oh, that’s just there to keep tourists safe,” Alex said, as he forged ahead.
“Wait!” “What are we?”
Alex didn’t hear or chose not to respond to my question. He was either going to lead us into the adventure of a lifetime or to our deaths. As I walked past the small wooden sign, my body, like a magnet, wanted to cling to the sign, before peeling myself away from the group, and running back to the safety of the van. I am not comfortable breaking the rules when those rules come with a DANGER warning. I did not want to be the dumb tourist who makes the evening news for, well, being a dumb tourist. The type of news that is tragic for a second, then the tone quickly turning to a “they deserved it” attitude after the newscaster explains how the area was clearly marked with a warning sign. I began to search my mind for proof that Alex was a credible driver who would not lead us into harm. He had brought us this far on the “death road,” as it is often called, he was incredibly knowledgeable about the island’s history and politics, and he was hired by a tour company. Surely, some vetting took place. I assumed. But … he was extremely late picking us up. So late, he was, that we thought our Road to Hana dreams had vanished.
Alex told us that most group tours start on the north side of the island and make their way south. He, on the other hand, preferred to go against the flow and start on the southern tip of the island and then spend the day traveling north. He planned on taking us through an area that rental cars were not allowed to travel across. For those who choose ignore the signs, they were traveling at their own peril.
“See,” I whispered to John. “If you drove, we wouldn’t get to see that section.”
My husband had wanted to drive our rental Jeep, but I insisted that we go with a tour guide – someone who knew the road. Then John would be able to relax and enjoy the ride. I am not sure how relaxing it is, ever, when you are the one usually in control of the wheels. But, my husband agreed, and I was making sure he heard a convincing argument for giving up the keys that morning.
Alex began talking as soon as we entered the van and did not stop talking for the next 13 hours. I suspect Alex, was talking before we got on the bus and probably kept talking long after we exited. Alex told us about the agriculture in the area, the politics, the local history, including his own. He also told us about fatalities that occurred on the road, even detailing one high profile plunge over the side of a steep cliff, as we were driving by the exact location. The deadly location came near the end of our journey, but the information revealed was no less terrifying. He told us the story of the popular Yoga reality stars, twin sisters, who plunged over the cliff after fighting in the car. The incident left one sister dead and the other charged with second-degree murder. I did not know who he was talking about and frankly, I could have lived without learning of the tragic history of that steep cliff just beyond the curve in the road. Even though we were nearing the end of our day together, we were still traveling across a dangerous one-lane road, where at any turn, we could have faced an oncoming vehicle and our own mortality. Every time we made it safely around a blind curve, I could breathe a little easier and my praying could pause, at least momentarily.
Despite Alex’s inability to stop talking, for even five minutes, he was a wealth of information, and our day would not have been the same, or as experiential, if just the two of us had ventured out on our own. He told us about the history of the old wooden bridges that connected the curvy road fifty-nine times, and he shared the location of a hidden church, a famous burial site, movie locations, waterfalls that fed into cool swimming pools, hidden beaches, and he enticed us to try strange fruit in the yard next to the church. He had safely and calmly maneuvered us past a potentially volatile situation when we had encountered a smaller vehicle head-on when rounding one of the many blind curves.
We were several hours into our Road to Hana venture, when Alex led the way down the trail to an unmarked destination. The only mishap that had happened by that point, was a falling plate and glass. Alex had skirted a little too close to the edge of the road, when the van caught a protruding tree branch. The unforgiving road did not allow for much room on either side of the van, including room for another vehicle. The shattering plate that followed the jolting thud caused each passenger to gasp.
“It was just a plate,” a nervous and relieved voice said.
We let out a collective exhale.
Credibility and knowledge proven, why not follow Alex, the local, down the forbidden path? Alex led us into a dark cave. Magnificent. The cave was full of water. Interesting. Immediately, Alex laid his sunglasses, shoes, and keys on a rock and jumped in. He invited others to join him. Not surprising, no females from our group accepted his request, but three men did, including my husband.
“Wait! Are you serious? What are you doing?” My words floated across the musty air and trailed off, making no impact on the intended audience.
For a tour driver who could not stop talking, he failed to talk about where they were headed, what to expect, or any other important safety tips before he led the brave, albeit dumb, group of loyal followers into the dark waters of the cave. As the men disappeared out of sight, the rest of us stood speechless and unsure of what to do next. We decided it best to scoop the many personal belongings that had been left behind in the unprotected cave, including our keys for safe passage home. Hopefully, Alex would make it out alive. I doubted an Uber driver would come to our rescue in that situation. Traveling the Road to Hana is for the adventurous thrill-seekers and not for those needing the conveniences of city life. With the belongings of others in our hands, those of us who chose not to submerge in the dark waters made our way out of the cave and down a tree-lined trail that led to a sparkling light-colored sandy beach. Paradise, except for this gnawing feeling that I might never see my husband alive again. I found a large piece of driftwood to perch myself on and waited. For how long, was yet be revealed. I sat in a spot that would give me a visual of the edge of what appeared to be where one might exit after swimming through the opening of the drowned cave, but I had no idea where they might resurface, so I sat waiting and watching. I found a credit card near my feet, with no apparent owner or bags nearby. No one came by looking for the card, while I sat vigilantly watching a possible cave exit.
Eventually the cave dwellers descended the path toward us. One of them, my husband, was not as happy to see me as I was him. He was angry that I took his flip flops, causing him to walk barefoot from the cave to the beach. I told him, we took their things, because we didn’t want to leave everything behind, and Alex was short on the specifics about their mysterious cave adventure.
Our group did some beach exploring, which included walking through a hollowed-out rock that revealed a perfectly framed ocean at the opening of the tunnel. We swam and enjoyed the sun until it was time to continue with our Road to Hana adventure.
After we were safely back in the van, Alex felt it the opportune time to tell us, “If anyone gets sick in the next couple of days, it might be from bacteria in the water, in the cave.”
“Nice of you to tell us, NOW, Alex” I said.
No one else responded or acknowledged Alex’s comment. Strange, but it wasn’t the first time my question was carried away in the tropical wind. If we survive the remainder of this ridiculous road, the adventurous trip might still get John through a tiny microbial that just entered a paper cut on his finger, while he was following fearless Alex into a dark and dank cave in Maui.
… Fortunately, their cave adventure is remembered as a highlight of the day (for my husband) instead of a news headline of the night (for the rest of us). We ended our memorable day at Ho’okipa Beach Park, watching sea turtles sleep and the sun set.
Thank you for stopping by and reading an excerpt from my Story #32. I am not sure I will travel the Road to Hana again, but I am so glad I didn’t let fear stop me. I am also grateful for our driver and tour guide, Alex. 🤟 😀 If you are facing a treacherous road, don’t quit, just find the right guide. 😏 Have an inspired weekend! Michele
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