Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: June 2016

As signs of a turn-around mount, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu has eyes locked on the horizon

Calin Rovinescu is an ardent sports fan, intimately familiar with the successful athlete’s mantra: Never get too high after a win, or too low after a loss. There have been victories for Air Canada’s chief executive during his seven years in the job, as well as some setbacks. In an industry as cyclical as airlines, ups… Continue reading

Two-wheel touring Molokai

Having long ago discovered my secret ingredient for making a good travel plan better is touring by bicycle in researching my Maui trip and reading about the ferry across to the neighboring island of Molokai the thought of experiencing it from behind the handlebars formed not long after the thought of a visiting for a day-trip.  Not only is Molokai a sparsely populated island with relatively few vehicles and boasting a super scenic southern coastal highway that for much of the way hugs the shoreline it’s as if the slower pace of life cherished and defended by the locals deserves to be seen at a slower pace than motorized means.

molokai sign2Molokai postcard; All other photos by author

My online research connected me with Molokai native and educator Phillip Kikukawa who rents bikes through his company Molokai Bicycle and after a few emails arranged to meet at the long pier in Kaunakakai when the Maui ferry arrived.

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The bike is an upright cruiser that was very comfortable to sit up and soak in the scenery and at USD$25 per day a very good value.

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I began the hot day with a quick detour to downtown Kaunakakai  to invest in a light long-sleeved t-shirt and bandana to take cover from the sunshine in my 6 hour ride which I’d hadn’t thought to bring with me on my island holiday. Kaunakakai  – small enough you can see the edge of town from the center of town – has a main street with a nostalgic 1950’s feel that’s home to Kanemitsu’s Bakery where visitors and locals alike flock for its piping hot freshly-baked bread.

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The highway out of Kaunakakai was busy enough with traffic, or busy for Molokai which counts only 7,400 residents with almost half of that number living in Kaunakakai. No worries about traffic lights as there are none on Molokai and the road is smooth and wide with shoulders good for cyclists and the helpful mile markers measure your journey .

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There were scenic detours appear around every corner with each seemingly more stunning than the last. Countless beaches without a soul in sight dot the southern shoreline.

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Also dotting the coast are examples of early Hawaiian aquaculture engineering as some well preserved fishponds, some of which date back 700 – 800 years, can be seen.

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These fishponds had coral and lava boulder semicircular walls and were designed to allow sea water in and out but trap the fish inside. Only the Hawaiian alii (chiefs) ate the fish harvested from the fishponds with a few reserved exclusively for island royalty.

The hills that rise on the from the ocean offer a contrast to the sea views and during the ride noted their variety of colour from a lush green hue to a desert sparse brown.

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Ten miles east of Kaunakakai in Kamalo is the small wooden St. Joseph’s Church, one of two churches built outside the leper colony on Molokai’s northern Kalaupapa Peninsula by Father Damien, a Dutch priest who tended to those outcast to the windswept place of exile before eventually contracting the disease and dying in 1889. This dedication to others saw Father Damien beatified as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

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The church built in 1876 features a statue dedicated to Father Damien and a cool, quiet sanctuary in which to pause for a short rest.

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Molokai board meeting.

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In a very visible display against mass tourism I noted several handwritten signs on fence posts protesting cruise ships calling on sleepy Molokai with others offering a little more positive ‘Keep Molokai Molokai’ message. There’s only one hotel on the island, the aptly named Hotel Molokai , and some condo rentals so there is a small tourism industry but nowhere near the scale of neighboring Maui or Oahu which suits local residents just fine.

That active desire to preserve Molokai’s way of life however shouldn’t be mistaken for unfriendliness toward visitors as quite the opposite is true as I found returning waves from passing motorists throughout the day and interacting with locals who warmly greeted me while stopped for lunch at a mile sixteen oasis Mana’e Goods & Grindz. 

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As the consensus from staff & other diners was to try the mahi burger I thought ‘when in Rome’ and was glad I went with the flow as the fish sandwich and Powerade chaser was a  really filling lunch after a morning ride.

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Another fellow rider whose name I didn’t catch was like me stopping for a break in the shade at the pit stop but his small, compact bike had taken him around the world whereas by comparison mine had only come a relatively few miles.

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A few residents who’d stopped by the food counter & convenience store for lunch or supplies said hello and asked about my visit and seemed pleased to hear I was exploring their island home by bicycle.  To have two such travelers cross paths did seem serendipitous. Enjoying the respite and hospitality but knowing I had to resume my ride I jumped on my rented bike feeling a little foolish for having I’d locked it to a post during my pit stop.

The further the highway ran east the narrower it became until it was a one lane road without shoulders winding its way around some stunning coastline curves.

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I stopped a number of times just to soak in the scenery and feel the pounding surf without another soul in sight and it was a humbling reminder of the power of nature. Very few cars greeted me in this part of the ride which was fine with me given the tighter confines and blind corners.

The turn around point came somewhere around mile twenty two when a quick check of the time found I better turn back and return from where I came to reluctantly catch the ferry back Maui but not before I made a small detour to visit  Kapuaiwa Coconut Beach Park, an ancient Hawaiian coconut grove planted in the 1860s during the reign of King Kamehameha V.

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Sitting on the Maui-bound ferry and watching the Molokai coastline recede I reflected on what had been a truly awesome day trip and bike ride overflowing with stunning natural beauty I felt fortunate to have experienced in person at a leisurely pace. As memorable as the views were the warmth of the islanders is what will bring me back as one day just isn’t enough so will definitely return to spend several days happily unplugged and relaxed on my Molokai.

Airline food for thought: is sound affecting taste?

A film shown on CBC’s The Nature of Things finds a strong link between sound and taste and may help explain why airline food tastes as bland as it does.

The film Sonic Magic: The Wonder and Science of Sound has an experiment in which people rated food as less sweet or less salty in the presence of background noise and the results suggest too much noise may override our other senses and change our perception of how food tastes . Here’s a clip of the film.

Mahalo Maui

It was more by accident than design that I hadn’t experienced Maui previously having happily holidayed several times on neighboring Oahu, Kauai and the big island of Hawaii and working in travel for two decades sent probably hundreds of travellers to the island. It was as if Maui was a person I’d had much contact with for years but had never met in person so it was with a great sense of anticipation that I took in the lush green scenery peeking through the clouds as the flight delivering me for my first visit to began its final approach into Kahului Airport.

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From high up above it’s easy to see why Maui was nicknamed the “valley isle” as the foothills that rise from the ocean all the way up to the soaring mountains that make up the island’s interior dominate the landscape. Making use of this topography and prevailing trade winds dozens of wind turbines have been planted along one ridgeline.

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The resort area of Kihei with its miles of golden brown sand beaches sprawls along the southern coastline.

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Not long after landing I found myself on another famed Maui beach, Kaanapali Beach on the island’s west coast just outside the historic whaling town of Lahaina. Kaanapali was Hawaii’s first planned resort area in the 1960’s with a golf course and a few small hotels including my choice of accommodation, the Royal Lahaina Hotel.

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The last fifty years has seen much tourism development in the Kaanapali area with taller hotel buildings built and more hotels, resorts and shopping complexes added further along the coast in neighboring areas like Kahana, Napili and Kapalua.  While not as urban as Waikiki the Kaanapali area has a developed enough infrastructure to allow resort guests like myself the ability to move around within it using public transit as an alternative to the ubiquitous rental car. On another trip back I’ll explore further afield and so need a car rental but if you are happy to park at a beach resort paying to rent and park a rental isn’t necessary.

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Lahaina was the capital of  kingdom of Hawaii for twenty five years in the early 19th century before being moved back to Honolulu and during that time was a major refueling and supply port for Pacific whaling fleets. The rough and tumble nature of an international port often clashed with local Hawaiian customs as well as the morality of the Christian missionaries who’d established a mission at request of the King Kamehameha III. A leader of the missionary group was Rev. Dwight Baldwin and his house built in 1835 is the oldest house still standing on Maui. After restoration the historical heritage is open to the public as the Baldwin Home Museum which overlooks the bustling Front Street.

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A block away and opposite the port is the circa 1900 Pioneer Inn which after much renovation operates as a Best Western hotel.

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The ground floor terraces offer a restaurant and lounge which I took refuge in for a spell to escape the searing sun. The name Lahaina means ‘cruel sun’ in Hawaiian and quite aptly describes the hot and sunny climate as barely a foot of rain falls all year with the majority falls between December and February.

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Adjacent to the Pioneer Inn is Banyan Tree Square so named for the enormous banyan tree that sprawls around the square block square. The tree was planted in 1873 to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the missionaries to Maui and shares the square with a few small section of the former Lahaina Fort which occupied the spot in the 1830’s.

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Front Street is no longer the raucous and rowdy thoroughfare lined with wild bars and saloons full of rough seamen from around the world as it was at the height of the whaling era as it now is lined with upscale galleries, shops and restaurants. Front Street is still however the focal point of Lahaina and so draws crowds day & night.

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I detoured a short walk to visit the Lahaina Jodo Mission, a replica of an authentic Buddhist temple built in 1968 to mark the centennial of the arrival of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

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The 12 foot tall seated Buddha is one of the largest outside of Asia.

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Whaling is actually still an important industry in Lahaina but instead of hunting and killing the massive marine mammals as in the 1800’s a small fleet of tour boats today takes visitors out whale spotting during the winter season between December and May when they inhabit Hawaiian waters.

There are many tour operators offering whale watching cruises but I chose the Pacific Whale Foundation as it’s a non-profit organization that was created thirty years ago to both research and study whales in their natural habitat while offering the tours to educate the public about the need to preserve whale populations. The best tours are in the mornings as the wind and water are generally calmer but I opted for an afternoon tour instead as it worked better into my day of sightseeing in and around in Lahaina. Before leaving home I’d confirmed a tour on a small raft boat to get the best views with a small group of no more than 28 however upon check-in was advise that departure was cancelled for low numbers and I was rebooked on a larger ship instead but mercifully there it wasn’t a full boat as it makes moving around to get the best view of the whales harder.

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With a 97% success rate whale spotting and a free tour policy if none are sighted it’s a fairly sure thing you’ll spot some of the North Atlantic Humpback whales in the waters between Maui and Molokai. The views of Molokai were memorable.

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It wasn’t long before the first eagle eyes spotted the first whale which we trailed for a few minutes before it went deep and didn’t reappear.

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Moving on to another location the onboard naturalists soon spotted a mother and calf and staying closer to the surface we trailed the pair for what seemed an eternity but was likely only 15 minutes.

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Days earlier while snorkeling off Kaanapali Beach I thought I heard whales communicating while underwater so mentioned it to the naturalist who confirmed that their noises travelled for miles underwater and dropped a hydrophone to hear the mother and calf we were trailing and while faint it could be heard. After an exciting afternoon whale watching we sailed back into Lahaina Harbour.

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Still stoked from the whale watching tour I stopped at Fleetwood’s On Front St. to ask if there was any availability on the roof top for that evening and luckily found there was so made a reservation. The restaurant is owned and frequented by long-time Maui resident Mick Fleetwood, co-founder and drummer for legendary rock band Fleetwood Mac and wanted to enjoy some fine dining and see if Mick was about to perhaps snap a selfie with the music icon. Alas, Mick was not to be found on this evening but it his absence didn’t stop me from enjoying a very leisurely two-hour dining experience highlighted by a sundown blessing from a local Maui elder and keeper of traditional ways.

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I had the baked Mac & cheese as an appetizer but it was a big portion and so was full when finishing the entrée of pasta & meatballs but being in no hurry enjoyed the view from the roof top lounge at Fleetwood’s which was memorable.

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My last night in Maui I wanted to try something I’d avoided in past visits to Hawaii feeling it was too touristy for me, the consummate traveller: the luau. Some research found while there was a luau at my hotel the Old Lahaina Luau was consistently voted the most authentic Maui luau so made reservations at a “traditional” table which meant sitting on cushions on the ground. This dining style has the added perks of being closest to the stage  offering a good view of the hula dancers.

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Before sunset guests are encouraged to visit various areas of the grounds where staff demonstrate local crafts or uncover the Kalua pig which has been cooked in an imu, a traditional Hawaiian underground oven. This ceremony always draws a crowd.

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The meal and a few mai tai’s consumed the floor show began with much drums and swivelling hips and having a front row seat suddenly made the time spent sitting on cushions on the ground well worth it.

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The most memorable part of the luau was the massive facial sunburn I’d managed to collect while snorkeling in the afternoon as it was in painful full bloom in time for the luau. I’m sure the locals smiled at the red faced haole, a mildy deregulatory term for a non-native Hawaiian, especially a white person, but the hospitality at the Old Lahaina Luau was as universally warm and friendly as I’d encountered throughout my Maui stay so quickly forgot about it and enjoyed the moment.

I can easily see now why so many travellers I’ve encountered return to Maui as there’s just something so casual and comfortable about the atmosphere that adds to the natural beauty to make for a really enjoyable vacation destination you want to return to again and often. Mahalo is a Hawaiian word used when thanking someone so wanted to thank the people of Maui for such a relaxing holiday on this tropical isle.

Famed Ritz hotel in Paris reopens after a four-year renovation

The iconic Paris Ritz hotel will re-open its palatial doors to guests Monday after nearly four years of renovations and a major fire. The classically styled hotel, owned by Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al Fayed, has undergone a top-to-bottom makeover since it first closed for renovations in 2012. The Ritz, situated on the swanky Place Vendome, will… Continue reading

7 things you need to do in Fort Worth

Fort Worth, Texas, has cowboys and culture galore, but it also boasts loud music, fast cars and fabulous food. Here’s your to-do list. Loud music: There’s music everywhere here, starting at Chief Records in the Stockyards. I caught ticketed shows at Billy Bob’s Texas and the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge. I stumbled into free… Continue reading

Ultralow cost airlines impeded by Canada’s outdated foreign ownership rules

If you live in Glasgow, Scotland, and find you need to get to London this weekend to visit a sick family member, you can book a flight with low-cost carrier easyJet for $244. But if you live in Winnipeg and discover you need to get to Regina quickly, a trip of similar distance, it would cost… Continue reading

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