Jo’s Excellent Hana Adventure

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - February 25, 2009
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Hasegawa General Store: no Oprah sighting

Oprah Winfrey has a home in Hana. I mention this because I was close to it last week during a visit to the Hotel Hana, Maui. It’s not that you’re likely to see her shopping at Hasegawa General Store or anything, but people do seem to expect her to appear at any moment.

I was in Hana for the day on a food-writing trip. Going for the day is ridiculous for several reasons, the main one being that transportation is so unreliable and rental cars so scarce, you can easily be stuck for the weekend. I managed to get there without too much fuss, even though my flight from Kahului airport was cancelled at the last minute. I was the only passenger booked on a seven-seater plane, so the airline decided to amalgamate my flight with the next one, ignoring the fact that I was supposed to depart at 11:45 a.m. and the next flight out was not until 5:30 p.m.

I called Hana Hotel and spoke to Leanne, the hotel receptionist. “Oh, just call Ludy,” she said. “He’ll drive you.” I called Ludy and he laughed so hard I thought he was going to drop the phone.

That’s one thing you notice about Hana - everybody treats you like you’re their cousin. In this case, a dimwitted one.

“How come you stuck in Kahului with no car?” Ludy asked. I explained. He laughed even more.

“I’ll come get you,” he promised.

Even if there are cars for rent on Maui next time you go, try to find Ludy. He knows the road to Hana like the back of his hand.

“I know all 600 turns,” he told me as we set off. On the way he pointed out waterfalls, hidden lava tubes and incredibly bad drivers. We even passed a young man carrying a freshly culled wild pig. He was wearing the boar across his back like a thick black cloak, and if we hadn’t been on one of those life-threatening hairpin turns, I would have asked Ludy to stop for a photo.

When we finally got to the tranquil Hotel Hana, Leanne came out to meet us. “Hi, Jo,” she said in that now-familiar familial way. I grabbed a banana from a bunch hanging in the lobby and waited for Keith Malini, the hotel’s food and beverage director.

Hotel Hana is a sometime-haven for the rich and famous who want to get away from it all. “We don’t really like to talk about our guests,” said Keith. “Part of the reason they come here is that they like the privacy.” Part of the reason it’s so private is it’s so difficult to get to unless, of course, you’re Sean Penn, Roseanne Barr, Keanu Reeves or any of the celebrities who fly privately into the tiny airport.

“Does Oprah come to the spa much?” I asked Keith. He nodded, smiled and changed the subject smoothly.

I spent the afternoon photographing food, talking with chefs and growers, and generally inhaling the clean air and other-worldliness that makes Hana one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

My flight back to Kahului was scheduled at 6:10 p.m. It didn’t arrive. “None of you are listed,” said the man on the other end of the phone checking for me and three other travelers at the airport. “We’re not sending a plane for people who aren’t on our list.”

After much persuading and cajoling, he promised to divert a plane from Kona later in the evening and make a special stop. My companions had already decided that excellent mai tais, incredible food and some of the best live music in Hawaii happening in the hotel bar were reason enough to book a room.

I called my husband. “I hope you’re not thinking of staying the night,” he said, trying to speak calmly over the noise of our boys shrieking and running around our house.

The plane eventually turned up for me at 8:45 p.m., although it took the pilot 10 more minutes to find me in the dark.

“I’m sorry,” I told the waiting four passengers who’d been diverted from Kona. ” I didn’t mean to make you all stop just for me.”

“No, we’re sorry,” said a large man, with knuckles still white from the landing. “We thought you were Oprah Winfrey.”

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