A drive to Hana on the first day East Maui was reopened to nonresidents last Thursday was a journey back in time, a glance back to the days when Hana folk would regularly stop in the middle of the road to talk story.
Minitraffic jams would build up behind the conversationalists, but nobody in line beeped or complained. That’s just how things were in Hana. Life moved slower, connections between family and friends were valued over rushing from one spot to the next.
And then came the age of the free and independent traveler on Maui. Suddenly Hana Highway and Hana town were deluged with rental cars and tour vans. The state Department of Transportation website lists Hana’s average daily traffic count at 1,832 vehicles.
Obviously, that was before COVID-19.
With tourism on hold, the roadways were nearly as free of cars Thursday as the swimming holes and scenic lookouts were free of swimmers and gawkers. Little kids rode bikes on narrow Keanae Road where not long ago, cars and vans squeezed by all day.
“It’s magical,” says Keanae mom Ciera Rodrigues. “Before, I used to have to worry about them playing near the road or even riding a bike. There were hundreds and hundreds of tourists passing by and now there’s barely anybody passing.”
Apart from a teenager cracking a leather whip while his friends jumped off Hana Pier, Hana Bay was quiet. Local families and friends shared lunch and mellow laughs at concrete picnic tables while keeping an eye on the dozen or so swimmers in the water.
Early in the drive, signs posted in several Kailua yards bearing messages like, “Go Back,” “Residents Only” and “Hana Highway Closed” made plain how some residents view interlopers visiting their neighborhood during a global pandemic. There were no catcalls at the bay or along the roads.
Signs of economic disruption were visible from Kailua to Kipahulu. Nearly all roadside food stands and shops, including honor system fruit and flower tables, were closed. In Hana, store clerks and a food truck owner said business has been slow.
How long the clock will be turned back in Hana is anybody’s guess. When tourism returns, there is sure to be discussion about what that looks like in a post-COVID world. For now, East Maui residents seem to be enjoying the peace and quiet, the opportunity to return to old ways.
* Matthew Thayer can be reached at email@example.com.
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