Day 120-123: Eco Travel and Sustainability on Maui

Our shaky shaky flight to Maui left us holding hands and hugging the seatbacks in front of us, but we landed safely and were met at the airport by one of the co-founders of Bio-Beetle Eco Rental Cars, Pam Wolf. We were thrilled to find an environmentally friendly auto rental, especially after the unavoidable “eco-sin” of flying across the ocean. The little VW Bugs get 35-40 mpg and run on 100% vegetable oil from Pacific Biodiesel, which uses primarily recycled cooking oil, diverting a reported 40 tons of used oil per month from landfills!

Pam drove us 5 short minutes to Bio-Beetle HQ, where she and partner, Shaun Stenshol, wear several hats. Besides Bio-Beetle, these bought and run Maui Recycling Service, out of the same office, and they have taken on the additional burden of caring for dozens of feral cats which, ear-tipped (neutered) and well-fed, definitely color the office atmosphere…

The car wasn’t the only thing offered to us at Bio-Beetle. Once our paperwork was complete and we were ready to take off, Pam and Sean offered us the use of a cooler, (since people often buy disposable coolers and toss them out), a book or two to help navigate our way around the island, and even a tupperware to hold our food scraps (so that we wouldn’t have to take out food in disposable to go boxes). Talk about doing your part to help tourists have less impact on the planet! They even use completely non-toxic soap to wash their VW Bugs, inside and out! Ask your grandmother what vinegar can do…

Feeling incredibly light in our carbon feetprints, we drove our little green bio-beetle straight to one of the vegetarian restaurants recommended to us (Pam & Sean included their favorite dishes at each restaurant in our paperwork) and feasted, before bouncing down the dirt roads into the jungle that was our temporary resting place: The Kahua Institute, a self-touted spiritual retreat and working bamboo farm about 16 miles South of Kahului. I am not sure what a working bamboo farm is but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find it beautiful. I have so many pictures from this place, I will have to include a link to the album…someone remind me…

Kahua’s commitment to sustainability was impressive. The entire facility is run off-grid on solar energy with a back-up biodiesel generator for emergencies. There is no flushing of anything into the toilets other than human waste (that includes toilet paper). Compost bins are provided in every kitchen and guests use them to compost all veggie/fruit leftovers (skins, peels, seeds, stems, etc.). The Kahua Institute feeds these leavings to a boxful of worms, who then turn them into the most useful beautiful soil you ever saw. See Vermiculture. (Here is another interesting worm composting link.) In every house, guests are reminded to conserve water and electricity. There’s no A/C or heating, just screens and seabreezes blowing through, but you better believe we learned not to leave any openings for mosquitos.

In Paia, we bought local bread, cheese, goat butter (oh man that was amaaaaazing) and all kinda crazy local fruits at Mana Health Food, and stocked our little fridge, then headed North as Mark & Ben were deadset on seeing the famed rowdy Lahaina Parades. (I will add here that crowds are not my favorite thing and that I had developed a pretty annoying cold.)

Apparently, this year, the police decided to crack down on lewd costumes, obscenity and public drunkenness, so the whole thing seemed rather tame compared to the previews we’d read. We got some pretty good interviews though, about some fairly serious things, from some Transformers, some lions, some huge blowup people and a girl dressed as a martini (She wins the prize, in my opinion, for the most original costume. I would have a picture but I was manning the video camera…).

If the Big Island seemed an arid moonscape, Maui was the jungle. Though we got feasted on by mosquitos on both islands. I am sad to report that we have not observed many birds on either isle, aside from doves, pigeons, blackbirds and sparrows – are those the default birds when all the other birds die off? We have seen a few Japanese Yelloweyes, but I’m disappointed. I kind of thought that, staying in the “jungle,” we would have seen a few more…

There is an incredibly overpowering smell of rotten eggs pervading the entirety of Kahalui that we were told comes from the local Sugarcane Plant (photo, left). hmmm… We did not take time to delve. We were taking time for much-needed diversion from the crazy YERT pace we have developed for ourselves. While we did maintain our challenges in Maui, we at least weren’t chasing down interviews, and Ben wasn’t editing like crazy. We read books, hiked, swam in the ocean, snorkeled with fishes and sea turtles and saw a spotted eagle ray up close and personal. We interviewed Kahua’s founder, Katira, and her resident bamboo specialist, TJ, and we got some people together at the Institute to show support for Step it Up 2007!

We are discovering that Hawaii has a very complex and unique set of environmental, cultural, economic and social issues. Here, what was once a completely sustainable agricultural community with perfect weather and no need for modern “conveniences” has become a polluted, overdeveloped unaffordable piece of real estate that imports 75% of its food and 90% of its energy from elsewhere. Is it any wonder that residents of the smaller islands are wary of a Superferry that will allow people to ship over all their stuff from overcrowded Honolulu and just move in and take over their island too? Do they have any reason to think that their wild places will not be swallowed up by the endless stream of humans immigrating to less developed areas with balmy breezes and a beautiful view?

Well, somebody got one thing right. There is no such thing in Hawaii as a private beach.
Take that, Ramada.

1 thought on “Day 120-123: Eco Travel and Sustainability on Maui

  1. Nice Halloween picture, reminds me of the chaos that ensued that night. It was definitely a good time on the cruise but on the weird side for sure in Lahaina. My friend even got a warning for wearing a toga…lol. It seemed like a lot more spectators in 07′ than the year before.

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