I recently returned from Maui, my first trip back to that island since my first glimpse, 35 years ago. I stepped off the plane as an adolescent, into the sweetness of plumeria on the soft air, and pronounced it (as so many have before and since) “paradise.” That was the early 80’s, when Maui was in its surge of popularity and growth. “Here Today, Gone to Maui,” was the motto on the t-shirts and minds of everyone over 18 (the former legal drinking age in the islands). It wasn’t as packed, cheek by sandy, sweaty jowl, with tourists and poorly planned development as it is in its current (still jaw-dropping, yet…) state of paradise partially lost. Though even if it had been, it would have still seemed like Eden to a girl from south Tacoma.
It’s a testament to the stunning beauty of Hawaii that I remember that trip so fondly. In truth, I got sunburned, soundly, on the first day. I was in such whimpering agony for the rest of the trip that anytime another person, an article of clothing, or my 1982 asymmetrical pony tail so much as brushed my skin, I felt an electric nervous jolt followed by itching of biblical proportions. And yet, I have spent every day of the ensuing 35 years longing to be there again. I now use sunscreen, lots, though still too little, too late, I am afraid.
I was so mesmerized by the plumeria trees on that long ago trip, that I bought a perfume in the airport right before departure, using it sparingly for years until it turned brown and grainy in the bottle. I have never found that same scent again, despite desperate and determined sniffing of every perfume available in airport gift shops.
Though the beaches are splendid, and the swimming transcendent, dining can be a mundane, yet pricey, experience on Maui. I had a few meals I could have done without, but I will say that Coconuts restaurant makes a delicious fish taco with mango salsa. But it was the frozen desserts, not the main courses, that were the star of the trip.
I received an admonition from a transplanted Mauian residing in Olympia, to go to Ululani’s Shave Ice. I had never tried shave ice before since I assumed it was a glorified, overpriced snow cone. The only snow cone I ever bought, was knocked from my hand by a passerby when I was 11 and, not being a particularly resilient child, I never ordered another. Ululani’s sign states they serve it up with “Alohatude,” (gratitude with the spirit of Aloha) and the young employees did not disappoint. For the remainder of the trip, I found ample opportunity to inquire of my offspring, “Hey! Where’s your Alohatude?” Surprisingly, this was not received in a spirit of Aloha(tude).
At Ululani’s we discovered Roselani’s ice cream. This delicious treat is produced on Maui and can be deposited in the bottom of your shave ice so you get creaminess and iciness in every bite. Allow me to recommend these flavors: coconut-pineapple and mango cream.
We were thrilled to our sandy toes to discover Maui Gelato near our condominium. They also served Roselani’s, along with their own gelato. I am mad for pistachio anything, and their’s was fantastic. Though I was skeptical at first, since it wasn’t the signature green I have come to expect (obviously, the green is dye, but it may be the one time I support its use). I was surprised since they clearly had a free hand with the artificial colorings in their other flavors (local doesn’t mean natural, after all). But the caramel colored (perhaps it was actually dyed that color) pistachio was excellent.
I was playing fast and loose with my gelato intake for the first time since my trip to Europe at age 22 when I first encountered the stuff. I was rising, somewhat ponderously, from the table, claiming to the girls that I was going to just have another, when my oldest said with the sanctimony unique to preteens, “Well, I certainly am not.” My youngest turned on her and said, urgently, “Don’t try to be a role model! I like the way mom is on vacation!” It’s true, I am easy to be with when I know I will be in the sun and ocean every day, even with my flesh slightly stuffed into my two-piece as a result of relaxed standards. After all, in the absence of debilitating sunburns, they needed something to remember the trip by: “Remember that time we got to eat tons of gelato and mom got a stomach ache and looked embarrassing in her swimsuit? Ya, that was fun.”
On a calm, made-to-order morning on Keawakapu Beach, I watched my daughters caper around in the surf, get bowled over and disappear in froth. They bubbled up, grinning, every tooth visible, their faces partially covered in tentacles of soaked hair. I love the ocean – I live for it – but perhaps no bliss I experience can compare to the intensity, the purity, of their youthful exuberance. For just a moment it came to me, the fragrance reaching me over the aerosol sunscreen, sizzling Wisconsin shoulders and wafts of Maui Wowie. There is was: plumeria, the scent of paradise regained.