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Getaways: Tropical Mayberry

Tiny Hana, Hawaii, charms at its own slow, steady pace

By Steve Millburg
Coastal Living magazine

Waterfalls often decorate the many bends along Hana Highway.
Maui (Hawaii)
Customs and Traditions
Tourism and Leisure

(Coastal Livingexternal link) -- Two teenage girls lob a ball back and forth on the tennis courts -- or, more often, swing and miss, then collapse in fits of laughter.

On Hotel Hana-Maui's croquet pitch, a young couple spend more time looking into each other's eyes than lining up their shots.

At the Wellness Center, equipped with all manner of fitness machines and free weights, a woman strides firmly on a treadmill, transfixed by the Pacific view through the open walls.

Nearby, motionless sunbathers lounge around the infinity pool. One man has actually entered the water. He floats, eyes closed, face at peace.

A casual observer might mistake all this languor for laziness. Not so. Instead, consider it the triumph of traditional Hawaiian culture over 21st century busy-ness.

At Hotel Hana-Maui, guests pay luxury prices for spacious, breezy rooms with no air-conditioning, no TV, no high-speed Internet access, no radio -- not even a clock. In fact, especially not a clock.

"You can tell when guests start really getting into the spirit of the place," says Leokane Pryor, who works at the activities desk. "They stop wearing watches."

This may sound like one of those experiences politely described as "not for everyone." Except that practically all visitors seem to find the hotel and its surroundings deeply satisfying.

"In the three years I've been here," says general manager Doug Chang, "I've probably had three guests say they would not be back because of the lack of what I call 'disturbances.'"

Hana, home to about 3,500 people -- counting the "suburbs" -- hugs the coast at the east end of Maui. Most tourists know it only as the destination of Hana Highway, the twisty, scenic, roughly 50-mile road from Maui's main airport.

If day-trippers linger at all, they might stop at Waianapanapa State Park for a quick hike to the caves or a little relaxation on the black sand beach at Pailoa Bay.

After all, why waste more time in a town with just three restaurants, a bank that opens for an hour and a half per day, and exactly one place to go for nightlife: the hotel's Paniolo Bar?

The answer becomes clear only gradually, as the friendliness of the place begins to soak in.

Cars stop in the middle of the street so drivers can chat with pedestrians. Clerks at the two general stores ready orders for regulars the moment they walk in the door.

No one seems to make any distinctions between old-timers and newcomers, or tourists and residents.

Basically, it's Mayberry with palm trees -- in lush, living-and-breathing tropical color, not the fuzzy, fictional black and white of the old TV show.

Hana's serenity seeps into everything. The hotel's spa, for example, offers an incredibly relaxing Hawaiian style of massage called lomi lomi, which involves long, flowing movements by the practitioner.

"My teacher would get frustrated when I wasn't being smooth enough," says head therapist Miracle Walker. "She'd say, 'It's lomi lomi, not poke-y poke-y.'"

This easygoing lifestyle, pervasive not so many generations ago, can seem alien to today's frenetic multitaskers.

"I tell people four days, minimum," says Chang. "Four days in Hana. It takes most people two days before they can slow down and be receptive to what is going on here."

Of course, Hana inhabits the real world, not some nostalgic fantasyland. The town puts on Hana Aloha Week every October. The celebration concludes with a Saturday-night luau at Hana Bay, the locals' favorite beach.

Traditional Hawaiian bands headline to appreciative audiences. Away from the tents, kids group together around stereos playing salsa and hip-hop.

Then comes the re-enactment of the Hawaiian royal court's traditional procession. Some of those youths parade solemnly past their families and friends, wearing traditional costumes and carrying cherished symbols of their office or rank. They stand tall and, most of all, proud.

At that moment, a mainland visitor understands the customs and simple principles that have sustained Hawaiians through generations of near decimation of their culture.

The Hawaiian ways seem so self-evident: Relax. Take your time. Treat everyone like family. Be serious about what's important. Otherwise, laugh at life.

And take a look at your wrist. Do you really need that watch?

Copyright 2005 COASTAL LIVING Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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