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It is a gamble; one tempts fate when one meddles with the past. Sometimes it's best to leave dreams untampered with : Hana a Sentimental Journey

October 19, 1986|JERRY HULSE | Jerry Hulse is The Times' travel editor

I have returned to Hana in search of a dream, the 26-year-old memory of an enchanting couple of days spent here in the late, late springtime of my youth. The year was 1960.

It is a gamble; one tempts fate when one meddles with the past. Sometimes it's best to leave dreams untampered with.

Despite the foreboding, there was a compelling urge to live over again those perfect days, and so I dashed through a downpour as the little Cessna that was to airlift me to Hana was about to take off from Kahului on the other side of Maui.

After taxiing onto the runway the pilot surveyed the sky and returned to the terminal. He'd earned his gray hair with caution, that was evident. Squinting at the overcast, he waited out the squall that had reduced visibility nearly to zero. For another five minutes the rain fell furiously. Then, after a break in the clouds, we took off, flying along the eastern coast of Maui, which evolved into a scene to remember as waterfalls went on a rampage, plunging from heavens bursting with more rain while immense ocean swells slammed into sheer cliffs below our wings, sending the surf boiling in a white frenzy against the jagged black lava lining the coast.

At Hana, this old, un-bold pilot landed the little airplane with grace for the opening scene in the rerun of a dream.

Waiting beside the runway--it was hard to believe--was the same old bus, a Packard, easily 50 years old, that is still used by the hotel to gather its guests.

As we headed along the narrow, rain-lashed road to Hotel Hana-Maui, there came alive again the memory that wouldn't go away. Only this time it was different: On the earlier visit I'd arrived by car from Kahului rather than flying, and instead of rain there was glorious sunshine. While it is barely 53 miles from Kahului to Hana, one must be patient, because the road is narrow, with more than 600 curves and 56 bridges--some so narrow that only one car can cross at a time.

We had bounced over potholes and negotiated curves with sheer drop-offs, hundreds of feet above the sea. But what we saw was worth every bounce, every aching kidney: Rainbows fell beside golden waterfalls, and peaceful pools mirrored shower trees; these along with fragrant flowers of every imaginable color. The same pools caught the reflection of thick jungle and moss-covered mountains with peaks lost in a crown of clouds that swelled in a sky so blue that we blinked.

The jungle alongside the road was choked with breadfruit trees and coconut palms, passion fruit, papaya, mangoes, torch ginger, hibiscus, guava and plumeria. Ferns as delicate as spider webs appeared among vines so thick that day turned to darkness, and the voices of birds were heard from the jungle.

This was old Hawaii--the Hawaii that no longer exists except at Hana and a handful of other places in the islands.

In winter, storms scream in and the surf explodes against the headlands. Year round the waterfalls spill, but when it rains they roar from the jungle like broken dams.

The road to Hana--not the present road, but the original one with the potholes I had driven over--was built in 1926 by convict labor. Paved with cinders, it kept washing away in heavy rains that sent mud slides crashing onto the road, sometimes tying up traffic for days. Finally, in 1962, it was paved, but still it washes out on occasion.

With the potholes gone, traffic has increased. But Hana, as I discovered on this sentimental journey, has changed little. There are still small shanties with their rusted corrugated roofs. Only now, TV antennas rise overhead. The bank stays open for only an hour or so a day, which makes teller Mike Minn's job one of the choicest in town. It's the same with the post office. And if you don't buy gasoline before 6 p.m., you're out of luck. That's when the local Chevron station closes. It's also the hour that Harry Hasegawa shuts off the lone pump at his famous general store.

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