Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pablo and the petroglyphs

On a recent trip to Maui, I decided to take the ferry to Lanai for a one-day jaunt. Tackling the Munro Trail in a 4x4 was my goal. Lonely Planet suggested an outfit that rented sturdy Land Rovers. A phone call quickly revealed that the company went kaput. Plan B was the local Dollar Rent-A-Car. It had dozens of Wranglers for rent but the price was ludricrous. Once the man behind the counter saw that I was not dressed for a round at Koele or the Challenge at Manele, he whispered to me, "We have something that will fit your budget."

It was a white mid-80s Jeep Cherokee, covered in red mud. None of the door locks worked. The automatic transmission hesitated for three seconds before engaging. But I got my ride. "This is for locals and contractors who don't care about what they drive." I was stoked.

As I wait for my license and credit card information to be entered into the rental counter's computer, I look through a 3-ring binder of photos. It is a grim warning to all potential renters about off-roading on Lanai. There are literally dozens of photographs of YJ and TJ Wrangler rentals, every one of them wrecked or stuck-in-the-mud in the most awkward, gravity-defying, and unbelieveable manner. This is going to be fun, and scary.

Of course, as I leave the rental office with the car key, the same man hollers to me, "Sorry, but because of last night's rain, the Munro Trail is off limits." F*&k!

I decide to take the Cherokee down to Shipwreck Beach, on the northeast side. The island is not that big and I arrive at the trailhead in five minutes. I step out of the Jeep and start walking. I am so pissed off about the Munro Trail, I do not realize I am walking south instead of north. I walk for miles in the muggy heat, realizing I'm lost, but stubbornly refusing to turn around. Finally, I hear a truck approaching from behind me.

An old, toothless, jolly man is at the wheel of a rusted Ford Ranger. He stops and asks me where I'm going. When I tell him, he offers to turn his truck around and drop me off at my destination. I hop on board. He's in four wheel drive low and perpetually in first gear. Ruts, mud, and impassable terrain mean nothing to him. His name is Pablo. He looks about 80, but decades under the sun may have prematurely aged him. Before the island became a resort for the uber-rich, it produced most of the world's pineapples. Filipinos like Pablo made up the agricultural work force. Now, he and his wife camp weeks at a time next to the beach and live on fish from the sea and meager provisions. His accent is strong and I only understand two-thirds of what he says. He drops me off with a smile and thanks me for the company. He has not had contact with anyone besides his wife for a long, long time.

I arrive at Shipwreck Beach. The most well known shipwreck here is of a rusted Liberty Ship from World War II. I walk to the base of what had been a lighthouse. Directly inland from the base, I walk less than a hundred yards to find the best kept secret of this island-- petroglyphs. Hundreds of years ago, native Hawaiians carved images of themselves, turtles, dogs, chickens, and whatever else piqued their interest.

The images are simple, beautiful, and extraordinary. My disappointment about the Munro Trail quickly disappears. Pablo and the petroglyphs made my day.

Here is a great resource for car rentals and off-road trails on Lanai.

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