KAUPO, Hawaii — How about some fish?
Sauteed, maybe, with a herb butter? Or mesquite grilled?
Or even swimming with them? Why not?
Because this is what Maui is all about, I told myself and my almost 11-year-old son, Michael, while we were staying in a friend's condo, far south on the east coast of the Valley Island.
Michael assured me that with cable and VHS we could divide our vacation time between baseball and rented movies. I knew there must be more.
It was snorkeling.
First, for the uninitiated, that means you wear a mask and a tube that goes from your mouth to above the surface of the water. (Tanks and stuff mean that you are scuba diving, which is different. For one thing, scuba divers go deeper.)
We found the trips we took in the various freebie magazines that seem to spring from every checkout stand in Hawaii. Two trips were wonderful, as good as their write-ups.
Let It be This
The Sailing Coon Family day-long trip to Lanai was costly--adults, $95; kids 12 and under, $70--but if you do one excursion on Maui, let it be this one.
The 50-foot yacht Trilogy left Lahaina Harbor at 6:45 a.m.--booked full, but not crowded. We ate homemade sweet rolls and drank great Kona coffee, and skipper Randy Coon kept up a line of chatter as good as any quiz-show host. He might make this trip 250 days a year--but he managed to be excited, and it was contagious. And he could remember the names of all 30-plus passengers before we were out 20 minutes.
On Lanai there was plenty of time and lots of crew to make sure the masks and fins fit, and the party broke up into three groups: beginners, just-past beginners and people who seemed to have swum with Jacques Cousteau.
A couple in their 70s were on their first snorkeling trip. Before anyone else could spit in a mask (that's what we hotshot snorkelers do to keep it from fogging), they were in the water, too.
Recipe for Chicken
A great lunch followed a morning of snorkeling. You get the recipe for Mother Coon's chicken if you call her on the phone, but you get the recipe for the sweet rolls without asking. After lunch (part of the package), we took a bus tour of the island's vast pineapple plantations, or we could choose more snorkeling.
The trip home had the nice glow of a Technicolor happy-ending movie. Now everyone knew everyone's name and drank sodas, and the crew and passengers were all talking and the kids got lots of chances to help Randy steer. A great time--even though we had sadly eaten all the sweet rolls on the way out.
Another morning trip we took with marine biologist Ann Fielding to Honolua Bay north of Kapalua was an adventure we lucked onto, because she does only a minimum of advertising and gets lots of word-of-mouth referrals. No wonder.
She drives a group of eight to the bay in her van, opens with a short lecture, and then she's in the water with you for about two hours. The several teen-agers, along with Mike, seemed to pay little attention to the lecture. Instead there were shouts of "Look at the parrotfish, look at the goat fish, look at the moray eel!"
Moray eel? No, no!
But, yes. Only we paddled above it and Ann explained that as long as we didn't bother it. . . .
Learn to Enjoy
It's certainly possible, especially if you're nervous about boats, to use one morning with Ann and her Snorkel Maui trip to learn enough to really enjoy snorkeling, and then return several times on your own to Honolua or to other good snorkeling spots, like the beach in front of the Inter-Continental at Wailea. And the price, $25 a person, wasn't bad.
On a trip four years ago, our one snorkeling experience had been a day trip to Molokini, a marine reserve off Maui's east coast, aboard a large catamaran operated by the Ocean Activities Center. It was a commercial adventure.
Lots of forced gaiety on the trip to Molokini, with everybody learning an "Aloha yell," lots of attention to serving drinks, sandwiches, renting cameras, and not any attention to making sure that people knew what they were doing, or even that the flippers fit. They ran out of my apparently popular size, and I (and several others) were forced to make do with jumbo flippers.
The day was rough, the south swell was up. Perhaps it was just a bad half-day, but folks we met on other snorkeling trips shared our feeling about the commercialism. At $48 for adults and $38 for children, it seemed too much.