It’s August.  Budget is done, pet sitter arranged, out-of-office set on email and voicemail, and bags are packed.   I should be thrilled to be heading out to Maui for the Annual Family Trip.  So why am I not feeling it this year?

Perhaps it’s because things were so rushed in the weeks leading up to the trip.  Being crazy-busy to the point where my family was ready to stage an intervention is not a good place to be right before a holiday.   Or the fact that Vlad wasn’t arriving to join us until Friday.   Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t able to find a swimsuit once again this year – the designers obviously didn’t read my blog post last year of I swim therefore I stress.   Whatever the reason, I just wasn’t in the proper mood.

It must have been the Travel Gods playing one of their games.

That funky mood stayed with me all through the long airport security line (sigh!), the line to get sandwiches for the flight, and the pre-flight hoo-hah where we were delayed waiting for some dude who checked his bags and then didn’t show up.   After 30 minutes, they hauled his bags off the plane and we were ready to go.  Wait – what’s that loud voice I hear?  The clueless dude who spaced in the terminal and had the gall to argue loudly with the flight attendant why his bags were removed from the flight and wouldn’t arrive for another day.

Dude – you’re lucky you weren’t lynched as you made the long walk to your seat in the back of the plane, muttering under your breath.  Trust me, we all thought about it.

This was the first time we took the nonstop Alaska Airlines flight from San Jose to Kahului.  It’s a tiny little 737 plane, chock full of screaming babies, wiggly toddlers and harassed, stressed-out parents.   We had a surprisingly pleasant flight, once the angry dude was strapped in and we could take off.

The flight attendants on our plane were the nicest I’ve been exposed to on domestic travel in a long time.  They didn’t overload on the ‘Mahalos’ (a major pet peeve of mine) and didn’t make the plane say “Alooooooohhhaaaa” back to them, which increases the [GAG] factor.  (Are you listening, United?)  They joked with the passengers and were attentive to those parents who wouldn’t control their kids.   One of these awesome attendants actually took a parent to task, to the delight of all of us around him.

Alaska, unlike other airlines who shall remain nameless unless I get really ticked off at them, does not believe in dehydrating their passengers.  There are 3 beverage services on this flight, the last of which serves mai tais to all those over 21.  When I looked a bit skeptical, the flight attendant leaned down and said “it’s good – it’s from Trader Joe’s”.   Gotta love that.

We did a bit of a turn around Maui to come in to the airport, and looking out the window, I could see Kahoolawe on the left and we did a nice turn (with only a bit of rollercoastering – this pilot was good!) and came in over the sugar cane fields to the runway.   Ahhh – seeing the red volcanic soil interspersed with green from all the yummy things growing in the fields, I felt the stress start to melt away.

By the time we meandered down to baggage claim, our bags were there waiting for us.  That has NEVER happened at Kahului, and we even got out without having anyone fall onto our suitcases. (see blog entry Aloha, Travel Gods)

There it is – that Aloha feeling.  I have it, and I’m happy.  I’m also going to take Alaska Airlines to Hawaii from now on.  A great flight and awesome service always starts a trip off right.

Mahalo, Travel Gods.   I really needed a break, and I’m grateful you decided to go easy on me.  I will pour a libation in the sand to you tonight in thanks.

Balm for the Soul

One of the nicest things about being on the west coast of anywhere is you get to see the sunset over the water. Sunrises, while lovely in their own right, are not the same. You can’t really relax with a glass of wine and watch a sunrise.  Well, I suppose you can, but if you do, you have another problem.

Sunsets over West Maui are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere in the world, and I’m not the only one who feels that way.   When talking to friends and readers who have been to Maui, one of the first things they always say is “and the sunsets are amazing”.  When you think that many of them live in California and see water sunsets all the time, you’ll understand these are something very special.  Look at these pictures and you’ll see why.  I have dozens of these, each wonderful in its own way.

Who watches sunsets?

It’s always fun to see how many people come out to watch a sunset when in a resort setting. It seems there are  days when there are more people on the chaises watching the sunset than there were during the day to enjoy the beach.   As a long-time people-watching fanatic, I love to classify the groups around me.

The Honeymooners can be spotted immediately.   Smooching and cooing are normal, but some go a bit farther.  There’s always the one couple whose antics prompt comments from the little-peanut gallery like  “Mom – what are they doing?”.   The laughter from the other guests at this innocent comment usually breaks up the action, and results in applause and calls of “encore, encore”.

Yeah – we’re a tough crowd.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Golden sunset

Children as a species are supremely indifferent to sunsets, and it’s fun to watch the thoughtful parents try to enjoy the view at the same time as preventing their MiniMe’s from disturbing the other guests. The smart ones bring out some sort of hand-held video whatevers and are able to enjoy in peace.

I’m not even going to talk about the idiot parents who let their kids disrupt the experience.  They deserve to live with the bratty kids they’ve raised.

It’s the Partiers that can spoil the experience for everyone. You know these guys – the loud ones who come out with pitchers of some green or pink tinted concoction and spend their time laughing inordinately at how Jim-Bob’s nose looks just like Molokai’s mountain.

Last year the rudest partier swam into a swarm of jellyfish the next day.   Karma.  Just sayin’.

An incredibly beautiful site

Then there are the Appreciators – the fellow guests chatting quietly on the chaises, watching nature at it’s finest.  And here, it’s very fine indeed.

We like to bring a glass of very nice wine, our cameras and our silence.

After a long year of the Daily Grind, I find myself fondly thinking about this sunset, and the peace it brings to my soul.

It’s time to plan another trip to Maui.  Now you know what I’m going to do this holiday weekend.  Jealous??

I acknowledge the complete mastery of the Travel Gods, and will no longer fail to give them their due when traveling to Maui.

After a lovely two weeks with the family on Maui, we packed up our gear and headed to the airport.  A nice smooth flight to Los Angeles (when flying on miles, United likes to make it as difficult as possible for you so you’ll throw up your hands and pay instead), and we thought we had it made. A two hour layover for the connecting flight to San Francisco was just enough time for a beer and some pizza at LAX. We thought we had the Travel Gods beat.

Right. The laughter in Valhalla must have been deafening as the Travel and Weather Gods teamed up for a real doozy.

After an ATC delay of 30 minutes on the LAX tarmac due to delays in SFO, we finally were airborne for the 55 minute flight from LA to San Francisco. It’s a nice flight, but as we approached the Bay Area, the captain came on the speaker to say we were in a holding pattern and should be landing in 15-20 minutes. Not unusual – even a strong breeze causes delays in SF.

Well, 45 minutes later, we’re still holding, and the captain comes back on to announce that we’re going to have to make an emergency landing in San Jose Airport to take on more fuel. It’s about 12:45am at this point, we’re an hour late landing, and now going to the wrong airport – with no ATC. The captain had to do a declaration landing, warning other pilots over the radio he was coming in for an emergency landing.  I could almost hear the Travel Gods having a jolly time over this one.

So, there we were, 2 miles from home, and stuck in a full sardine can of very unhappy passengers and flight crew, looking at the dark airport, and hoping someone came soon with a fuel truck. The captain was not too encouraging about when we would get to take off. With my luck, we could be stuck there until dawn.

Several passengers (Alexei being one of them) asked the crew if we could just get off here, but no luck there. The airport was closed, and we couldn’t get a gate to get to the terminal. Hey – I would have jumped the fence and walked home at that point.

After another hour of waiting, the guy with the fuel truck poured the equivalent of an emergency can into the tank, and off we rumbled back into the air. 7 minutes from wheels up in San Jose to wheels down in San Francisco. That’s how long it took us – has to be the shortest flight that landed on wheels on record since Orville and Wilbur. The passengers all wearily clapped their hands when we finally arrived.

Looking out the window as we landed at 2am, the reason for the delay was obvious. The Weather Gods conspired with the Traffic Gods once again.  SFO was socked in with fog that reached the ground. There was NO visibility pretty much anywhere at the airport. The funny thing was – there was NO fog anywhere else – 100 yards from the airport was clear all around.    We finally got home around 3am.

There is no way this was a coincidence.    It was clearly divinely caused.    No mere mortal can compete with the combined forces of the Gods.

Before my next trip, I will sacrifice an old suitcase to the Gods in the hope they will leave me alone.

Yeah, right.



I wrote earlier about my trials finding an appropriate swimsuit. It has become increasingly obvious I’m in the minority when it comes to appropriate beachwear. Some of the disasters we saw on Ka’anapali Beach made our eyes bleed. For those of you anticipating a visit to a beach destination somewhere, here are 10 easy rules we came up with on our last trip. I apologize in advance for the gruesome visuals, but since we HAD to see them, it’s only fair to give you a sample of the experience.

  1. A string bikini top is not meant to tie around your waist. If that is where your breasts are, you shouldn’t be wearing a two piece suit of any species.
  2. Speedos. Just Say No, gentlemen. People have a hard time taking you seriously when you’re wearing a banana-hammock.  Not to mention keeping a straight face…
  3. If your bikini bottom needs extender-strings, then perhaps it’s a bit too small, or you shouldn’t be wearing it at all. Just sayin’….
  4. Anything you stuff into your suit or pocket of your trunks may come dislodged while you’re in the water, and then you’ll have to dive to them to the intense amusement of everyone around you.
  5. White suits and surfshirts leave little to the imagination when wet and looks like you’re wearing milky Saran Wrap.
  6. Get to know your razor. Please. They have them at the front desk if you forgot it.
  7. If you’re tanning and have your bikini top untied, please remember that fact before you sit up or roll over.  There are children all around, and the looks you’re getting may not be as complimentary as you think.
  8. Wearing a wet swimsuit doesn’t mean you will catch a cold. Changing suits under a towel in public is rarely done well, and usually shows more than you think. However, it’s great entertainment for those of us watching you try to do it.
  9. If your teenage daughter is wearing a bikini, that doesn’t mean you can. In fact, it usually means that you shouldn’t.  Really shouldn’t…
  10. Guys –  your suit is loose at the waist, please don’t dive into the pool before you check the strings. Although watching you try to disentangle it from your ankles while under water is amusing, you could drown. Don’t count on anyone jumping in to help you. We’re all laughing way too hard…

So, here’s to all the people who gave us a laugh with their Good, Bad and Ugly swimsuit choices. Cheers and thanks for the chuckles – especially if that wasn’t your intention!

Lovely North Ka'anapali Beach.

This is Alexei again.  The day I came back from summer school, mom told me that I was being put in charge of making the golf reservations for our trip. I immediately began thinking about the last time I was put in charge of making reservations (when I reserved a table for dinner at THE WRONG RESTAURANT), but later realized that this would be a prime opportunity to redeem myself.

Since our Wailea golf plans were not in my hands, I was only responsible for setting up the other two rounds planned for this trip. I immediately called Kahili, my favorite course on the island, to book a tee time. I love the fact that when you call and mention a time you want to play, they always will have at least 4 alternates both before and after your requested time. Also it is very likely that if you have less than a foursome, they will still let the group go off without assigning you someone who makes your local pro look like a hack. Never good for the ego…

The great view from one of the tees at Kahili

What astounds me is how well the Kahili staff manage a busy, well-filled course. They do a wonderful job of getting people started on time, making sure they are playing at a consistent pace, and helping you pack after the round (they put the bags in the trunk for you). I feel like this organization must be run by someone from the German public transportation system to be so efficient…

For those who may have played here before, but not in the last 10 years, the course has changed. It was bought by a Japanese company about 8 years ago, who has since poured lots of money into redoing and maintaining the course.

The course itself is in very good shape. The bunkers actually have sand in them, the greens are nicely manicured, and the fairways are firm but not rock hard. Small things, but they are not always available at other courses on Maui. Duffer alert:   Kahili isn’t affected by the wind as much as King K. due to their lowered position on the hill, but it still plays a large part in determining which club you’re going to hit.

Beautiful, well tended greens

There are quite a few places on this course where you can get into some serious trouble, and I speak from first-hand experience. Kahili must have double the number of trees as King K (and trust me… I know them all), as well as a few water hazards which stretch the length of the tee box to the green. However, since every cart has GPS with a full color layout of the course, it is easy to see where the trouble is before you manage to hit into it. Staying out of the trouble is another matter.

Another reason I like Kahili is because it is the one course on the island where I am usually able to play a relatively decent round of golf. I know this will be the first course I call to book a round for our next trip.

May the Golf Gods be with you.

This is Alexei again. On my quest for finding the next golf course to play on our trip, I added a new phrase to my vocabulary… a reciprocal membership. I had no idea such a concept existed. I mean, if you belong to a country club, you can get your pro to contact another pro at a different country club and he will get you and 3 other players on for a small fee? Genius.

Having visited the island a million times (not to mention being stationed on Oahu for a few years as a Marine), Papa has been able to play pretty much every course on the island. Needless to say I was shocked when I found out that he too had never been able to play the only country club on the island. Luckily for us, this turned out to be the missing piece in the proverbial puzzle. After weeks of trying to find a 3rd course to play, Papa told me he was going to get us on at the King Kamehameha Golf Club.

Now, I assume the size of the bargaining chip in this reciprocal membership thing is proportional to the prestige of our home course. Needless to say, it took less than a week for Papa to call me and say that the head pro at his club was able to get myself, my uncle, and his friend on “King K.” without any hassle. I guess this is the way people treat you when they find out you belong to a world-class country club. Sweet.

All of this sounds fine and dandy right? Yeah, well my uncle’s friend told me 4 days before we were supposed to play that he asked one of the locals about the course, and the only comment he received was “be prepared.” Apparently the greens are killer and the wind slaps your ball down like the hand of God. I wasn’t too concerned, because I face these challenges every time I play Papa’s club, the only course where the greens are so fast that they actually have to slow them down for the professionals.

I should have been very, very worried.

Everything they say about King K is true. The greens have a mix of fast and slow bits all in one hole, and are close to unreadable. The wind, even at 10am, was strong enough to require two clubs up or down – depending on which way you were facing. The good news is there really isn’t much trouble to get into, since all the fairways are pretty open. However, whenever we DID see trouble, I somehow managed to hit in it.

I knew it was going to be a rough round when my 2nd shot on the par 5 first hole was heading straight at the pin, but hit a sprinkler head and bounced 50 feet behind the green, finally resting in the roots of a tree. To think that I would have been putting for an Eagle 3, when in reality, I finished with a double bogey 7.

The only thing that kept me going past hole 9 was the breathtaking view of Haleakala and the valley below. This course is a couple hundred feet higher than the neighboring public course Kahili, making the scenery even more spectacular than its sister course. Also, kudos to the greens keeping team. They keep this spectacular course in tip-top shape for all of its 50 members and their guests.  Amazing.

After finishing what turned out to be a very rough round, I was looking forward to dining in the restaurant located in the multi-million dollar Frank Lloyd Wright designed clubhouse. Since it was late,  we opted to get a bite to eat at Buzz’s Wharf on the way back to Ka’anapali.  Bad choice.   I ordered clam chowder, and a few hours later found  my choice rivaled my uncle’s decision to order lasagna in Ireland… I paid for it by sleeping most of the night in the bathroom.

All in all, if you can get past the hype, and are lucky enough to play this course, do it… Just accept the starter’s invitation to eat at the clubhouse after the round.

This is Alexei again. Today I played Makena North in Wailea, accompanied by my uncle and his friend . It is a short 45 minute drive from Ka’anapali provided you do not get stuck behind an “environmental truck” on the one lane highway to the middle of the island. As if the blistering 35mph pace we were driving wasn’t spine-tingling enough, the smell of manure and fertilizer wafting through the cabin of the convertible Mustang was so pungent that it successfully woke me up at 7 in the morning.

Once we arrived at the course – 20 minutes late – I noticed smoke coming out of our friend’s ears. I find it ironic that someone who has the reputation for being late to everything, because of an inherent lack of a sense of direction, would get upset at us. No worries though, as we found out from the starter 10 minutes later, the course has been dealing with some problems filling their reservation books. He mentioned that they only had 18 people booked to play the next day! Unfortunately after the first 4 holes I began to see why.

Don’t get me wrong, the course is in a beautiful location, and some of the holes have the most amazing views of Molokini, Kaho’olawe, and Lanai – but the greens keeping needs CPR, or a portion of the federal stimulus package. The ground was so wet that any ball, regardless of how high or low it was hit, would plug in the fairway. On the off chance that you had a nice lie, the divot made by the second shot would probably remove more grass than a shovel. I must have run out of divot mix by the 6th hole, and it’s no wonder they give you two or more wet towels to wipe off your clubs… I wouldn’t doubt that the cleaners had to use a gallon of bleach to clean my towel.

View from the green of the 13th hole at Makena

Now I really hate to rag on a golf course, especially one that worked as hard as Makena to make our round enjoyable. The cart lady who enjoyed flaunting her silicone chest, was seen on every other hole in case you ran out of refreshments. At the end of the round, the starter greets the players with the choice of a cold or hot towel scented with something that resembles a watermelon jolly rancher.

My recommendation after the round is to skip the 19th hole at the clubhouse and go to Jaws for your after-round grub. This food truck has the best fish tacos on the island (yes, I think they are better than the ones at Kimo’s).

Another view from Makena

Will I come back to this course?  I’m not sure.  There are plenty of other courses on that side of the island that are in much better shape, so at this point, I’ll have to say No.  Also for you seasoned Hawaiian travelers/golfers, the south course (the one that borders the ocean) is out of business. It was bought by a development company who ran out of money during the recession, and now 14 of the holes have been left alone and have weeds in excess of 5 feet growing on them. However they are planning on opening up the nicest 9 holes to make a 9 hole course sometime in the future, so stay tuned.

Just be sure to ask for a couple of buckets of divot mix before starting your round.