Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Mele Kalikimaka

Because of the holidays, I am interrupting the narrative of my hike to La`au Point in order to share the holiday spirit, Maui-style.

As most of you know, I visited Moloka`i and Maui during November and early December. Toward the end of my stay, I began to hear Christmas music on the radio and in shops. If you don't live in Hawai`i or have never visited during the holiday season, you might not realize that many of the traditional songs have been modified to be Hawai`ian-style. For instance, the first verse of The 12 Days of Christmas becomes "Numbah One day of Christmas, my tutu give to me, One mynah bird in one papaya tree". "Tutu" is pidgin for grandmother and mynah birds are a common avian resident of Hawai`i — they are noisy, messy, annoying and listed as an invasive species. The remainder of the 12 days have similar localization which you can revisit by clicking here.

Well, pictured here is another invasive species, the Christmas Berry Tree — AKA the Brazilian Pepper Tree. Regardless of its unwanted status, it does remind us of the holidays because it tends to display its bright red berries around this time of year.

We tend to associate green and red as Christmas colors. That makes the Natal Plum a wonderful addition to the Christmas flora. I love the fragrance of the flowers which is reminiscent of Gardenia. The fruit turns bright red when it ripens — which is a valuable indicator, since it is bitter and releases a latex-like substance when less than fully ripe. When fully ripe, the fruit is supposed to be very tasty with a strawberry or apple-like flavor — this information is not from personal experience but from Wikipedia. I have been hesitant to taste one partially because an aversion to less than fully ripe fruit (especially in this case) plus the more important warning that the plant is poisonous except for the fruit.

Did someway say Christmas colors = green and red? Well, how about hibiscus? Good choice! Some species of hibiscus are native to Hawai`i, although this is not one of them. Kapalua has planted hedges of hibiscus along Office Road — and they have grown to some 10 feet tall. But it sure was a holiday treat to see this huge quarter-mile long hedge, with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bright red hibiscus flowers each morning as I jogged up the hill.

Now that you have seen Mother Nature's hand in Christmas decorations, what about human efforts? Specifically, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Resort. We all know that Ritz-Carlton is an upscale, luxury hotel chain — but you may not know that the hotel chain is a subsidiary of Marriott International. I have to confess that I was not really impressed with their efforts. It is not that the decorations were terrible — I guess I was expecting Ritz-Carlton but got Fairfield Inn (also a Marriott subsidiary) instead.

An aside: last year I visited Lana`i and stopped by the Lodge at Koele (which was the basis for my printed Christmas card this year) — you can see that photo by clicking here. Interestingly, I thought it looked pretty nice but my friend, Darlene (who lives on Lana`i with her husband Larry), said she was disappointed — that they could have done a better job. Well, knowing Darlene, I can tell you that if they had hired her to do the decorations that no one would have been disappointed — with the possible exception of the bean counters in Accounting.

And if Darlene had visited the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua with me, I am sure she would have been even more disappointed than I was and more disappointed than she was with the Lodge at Koele last year. And why the disappointment you ask? Well, for starters this main tree was small, both in height and girth — sitting in a vestibule with a raised ceiling which could have accommodated something much larger — it would have fit the space better (from a design standpoint). In addition, there was not much more in the way of decorations — yes, a little garland with lights around a few passageways and framing the display windows in the shops — but that was it.

If you compare this image to the one in the link above, the Lodge at Koele had a huge tree, large wreaths on each fireplace, stockings hung on the fireplace, ornaments on the mantel, nutcrackers at the base of the tree and so on. I am not suggesting that the Ritz-Carlton should have copied the Lodge at Koele — just that they needed a bit more, shall we say, "splash". I hope they call Darlene to consult next holiday season — they need her help!

Even though the tone of my narrative about the Ritz-Carlton sounds a bit negative, I do have to say that I liked some of the ornaments decorating the tree. There were starfish, seashells, pineapples and other items. My favorite was the pineapple — although it now has a sad association for Maui residents and wannabes such as myself. Maui Pineapple Company has announced that they have discontinued pineapple production on Maui after nearly 100 years in the business — because costs are much greater here than elsewhere in the world — which resulted in the business operating at a substantial loss during recent years. They do plan to retain a research facility to help develop varieties of pineapple that can be grown commercially elsewhere. It does make me feel like we have lost another link to Maui's past.

Okay, time to seek out more decorations. Just down the road, Ka`anapali Resort has Santa, a hula dancer and a surfer sitting on a sleigh full of presents pulled by dolphins. You may notice that Santa is waving the shaka sign — the unmistakable thumb and pinky salute — meaning "hang loose" or "right on". You may even see President Obama give the shaka sign on occasion (remember he was born and raised in Hawai`i). Way cool!

In my opinion, the primo resort at Ka`anapali Beach is the Hyatt Regency and, as you would expect with the Hyatt Regency name, it is first class all the way. Except when it comes to Christmas decorations. As with the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, my expectations were not really met, much less exceeded. Again, in my opinion, too small and too few. Yes, they were artfully done — as you can see in this photo — but it looked like they just hired an interior designer, gave him or her a very limited budget and told to do their best under the circumstances. Perhaps the economy is at fault and I should reset my expectations.

For those of you who do not know the Hyatt Regency at Ka`anapali Beach, the hotel has a huge atrium. In actuality, the whole center of the hotel is open to the heavens. When it was first constructed, there was even a large living tree in the atrium — one which has since died and fallen, still lying there as a reminder for those of us who knew it in the early years.

This huge atrium just seems like a unique canvas upon which an artist could create a Christmas masterpiece to delight young and old, local and visitor — and I really think it could be done at reasonable cost. This "thing" (pictured to the left) is perhaps somewhat artistic but it has no soul! And there was only this one pair.

Giving up on Ka`anapali, my next stop was Lahaina for the lighting of the Banyan Tree, scheduled for 6:30 PM. Many of you will recall that this Banyan Tree is over 100 years old and covers some 2/3 of an acre. The lighting ceremony was a first for me — I had never heard of the custom during all my trips to Maui or when I lived here. Therefore I had to check it out. Although, after my disappointments at the luxury hotels, I wanted to be careful not to raise my expectations too high for this more "local" event.

I arrived before sunset and browsed the tables set up for local artists to display and sell their works under the Banyan Tree — they were here in full force. A small stage was set up and high school students were entertaining with Christmas carols. It seemed that everyone from West Maui had gathered for the big event. Eventually the sun set, the twilight faded, and the lighting time had arrived. The countdown began — five...four...three...two...one — and the lights were illuminated to applause plus ooh's and aah's. The lights had been strung from branch to branch under the canopy and provided sufficient glow for the art show to continue for a while longer.

I must admit that both the decorations and the accompanying festivities were delightful — and I was not disappointed. Apparently, I was not the only one who felt this way because folks hung around for quite a while. Even the keikis were delighted — of course, it may have helped that the organizers had brought in snow (well, technically shaved ice) for the kids to play in.

And yes, the photo below was a slow exposure — which is why you see the Christmas ghosts (actually people moving faster than the shutter) in the center.

As I drove back to the condo, I passed by the entrance to the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, the site of my previous disappointment. Much to my surprise, I discovered that they had done a very nice job decorating the entrance, driveway and grounds with thousands of lights. It did not take me long to conclude that they had invested most of their Christmas budget on the exterior not the interior.

And I now have to take back all — or at least most of my mild criticism that I wrote above. However, I still think that they should call Darlene next year to really make it "sing".

I spotted this lit tree and its reflection in the pond in front of the hotel and hoped that I could capture it successfully. I find that shooting at night is hit or miss — very challenging to get it right. It was only when I returned to my condo and loaded the photos into my laptop that I realized this was a gem!

But I have to confess that this shot of the entryway took my breath away. It is like a fairy tale. Or one of those Advent calendars with the little paper doors — open one and see the "treasure" inside. Three doors open — one with the performer, one with the tree and one with a decorative vase and plant. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Forgive me Ritz-Carlton — you done good!

Mele Kalikimaka.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com