A tropical paradise is not likely in my future. The heat and humidity treat me like a taffy pull, stretching me all out of shape until I turn brittle and grumpy. Still, I never tire of the lush vegetation, the blue seas, the seemingly slow pace.
This was our third day in Lahaina, including the one last October. We picked up a brochure that mapped out a walk through the town’s historical sites. We’d already visited some of them before, such as the banyan tree and the recreated foundation of the old fort.
This time we also paid special attention to the Pioneer Inn, one of the first sites that greets visitors when they step off a tender. Built in 1901, it was the only hotel in West Maui until the 1960s. Then the sleepy little beach community started attracting attention and gradually built up a collection of hotels, restaurants, and gift shops that appeal to thousands of travelers every year.
The Baldwin House was also worth a stop. Dr. Dwight Baldwin had it built around the mid-1830s. He was a Protestant missionary whose medical training made him more useful than those who came with the sole purpose of teaching heathens the error of their ways. Of course, some of those ways were a bit dicey. Throwing virgins or first born into a volcano to appease the goddess Pele was hard on everyone. But Christian tradition has some pretty dicey practices in its history as well, and not everything the colonizers brought was a welcome change.
One of those changes was a shift from hunting and gathering and subsistence agriculture to a plantation system that saw a handful of owners amass large tracts of land. The sugar cane and pineapple plantations of companies such as Dole were outgrowths of westerners’ penchant for bigness and centralized control.
The plantations are pretty much a thing of the past. A small reminder is the Sugar Cane Train that travels about an hour out of its starting point in Lahaina. Robin’s a steam train buff. So even though a Maui resident on the Sydney-to-Hawaii cruise had pooh-poohed the ride as a tourist trap, we decided to hop on board and check out the ride.
The route is through an industrial section tourists would not otherwise see, a side of Lahaina that’s grittily real but not particularly inviting. Then it begins a slow climb through an area that once was covered with sugar cane fields and is now sitting in private hands while developers eye it for future condos and resorts.
As an example of an old steam train, it still has some appeal. We got to watch the engine do a Y-maneuver at the end of the run, backing around until it could be hooked to the other end of the train. At another stop, we watched the water reservoir being refilled. And when the little train returned to Lahaina, we watched it rotate on the round platform, exit along a side track, and move back to the front of the train to start its next run.
Considering two cruise ships were docked on the day we took the train, we were surprised by the small number of passengers. That doesn’t bode well for the future of this little train. The rather shabby interior of the cars is mute testimony to a company that probably works on a bare-bones budget. The commentary that’s played along the way is completely drowned by the train’s noise.
All in all, it doesn’t add up to a terrific tourist offering, but we still enjoyed it.
Our last destination of the day was Kimo’s, a beachfront restaurant that has become our favourite place to stop and cool off whenever we’re in Lahaina. The staff is friendly, and the fare looks good. But since we’re visiting from a cruise ship, where food is ubiquitous, we just stop for a cool drink and a maybe a small snack. We usually find someone to chat with. The sea breeze cools us. And the view is a million-dollar bonus.