chasing waterfalls with hike maui

A light drizzle sweeps over us as we hop out of the Hike Maui shuttle. Hana’s cool, morning air smells of plumeria and my 13-year old niece, Tenneh, and I pick up a few fallen flowers to put in our hair. We are about to traverse 45 acres of forest reserve in search of waterfalls. She moved to Maui only a couple of years ago. I am beaming with excitement especially because this would be her first time in Hana and also seeing a waterfall, only there might be five of them!

Our guide, Marko, is offering cold pineapple slices and backpacks with necessities for the day—water bottles, lunch, mosquito repellant, ponchos and plastic bags for our shoes. We’ve been outfitted with these Japanese water shoes with built in socks and felt soles for gripping on slippery, wet rocks—a little funny-looking but tremendously helpful.
Marko has lived in Hawai‘i since 1979. With a degree in marine biology and education, he is also a teacher at ‘Iao Intermediate School. The guides at Hike Maui have been unanimously hailed as the island’s best naturalist guides in the eco-tour industry. And Marko didn’t do anything to dispel the notion by sustaining our drive from Ka‘anapali with juicy historical and geographical morsels.

As we drove past Lahaina, he painted a picture of the olden days when the roads were unpaved and groves of coconut trees gave shade to carts and wagons transporting sugar cane. Pointing to a stand-up paddler, he shares how Hawaiians used to construct boards out of wood and chipped lava rock. “Every tool is from lava rock or coral. They cut down trees, built houses and surfboards. Canoes were tied together with ropes made from husks of coconuts.” We learned that the ti plant is a most spiritual plant often found near the front door of the home to keep away evil spirits, or appease the night marchers, Hawaiian warriors who have fallen in battle.

A mention of Haleakala leads to stories about Pele and how the Hawaiian islands were born out of volcanic eruptions. “Maui has two volcanoes,” he said. “The Big Island is made up of five volcanoes, four of which we can see on a clear day. Sometimes we get VOG, which is volcanic gas that the volcano emits before it erupts.

The lava has the consistency of silly putty, pancake batter or water that’s going 30 to 40 miles an hour.”
He said the last time Haleakala erupted was 1790, 22 times in the last 1000 years. “It’s long overdue for another one but it will be a relatively tame eruption. It won’t be tomorrow but I expect to see it in my lifetime.”

Back in East Hana, our planned hike is two and half miles in distance and takes about five to six hours. Marko takes a relaxed pace. With the exception of a few steep parts, we find it fairly gentle. We followed a clear trail through the vigorously wild rainforest en route to our first waterfall. Marko shows us a tree with spikes along its trunk to prevent animals from climbing, a plant with small dainty blossoms resembling a cat’s whiskers. We admired a patch of striking red torch ginger flowers in full bloom. We also crossed a short tunnel, part of a 90-mile irrigation system built to divert rainwater to Hana’s drier areas.
We reached our first waterfall and had it all to ourselves. Marko was first to jump in the brisk pool and swim all the way across, climbing up the scaled basalt walls and resting momentarily before leaping into the water again. Tenneh thanks me profusely. She gives me a wide grin that lasted all day. It made me feel like the best auntie in the world. Pretty soon, almost everyone in the group, even the younger ones, followed Marko and leaped off the ledge, a relatively tame jump compared to the rest.

Another waterfall had a rope swinging from a giant banyan tree, its roots spread like a curtain gripping the wall. Marko demonstrated the safest way to dismount and assisted everyone that wanted to go. We hung out there for a while refilling our energies with a nice sandwich lunch. At this point, other groups have joined in the fun, and the more adventurous hikers would climb up to 40 feet high for an exhilarating leap. We explored the cave underneath Twin Falls, named after the way the water flow splits evenly in two.

After the last waterfall, we made our loop back to the shuttle. Spiritually nourished, we start the drive back home. Marko might be off school for the moment but he’s not about to take a break. Whether it’s the current state of sugarcane, why he prefers more traditional hula versus entertainment hula or how Hawaiians built fish ponds, he continued to tender pearls of wisdom as some of our more exhausted hikers drifted into a well-deserved slumber.

• by Eliza Escaño

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