Maui Nei

Individuals can be thankful for a long list of people and places that make life what it is on Maui. For most, life on the island is better than it could be anyplace else in the world. Sound like some sort of fantasy? Not at all.

While increasing in population from 45,000 to 150,000 in the last three decades, Maui is still a place of open space and soul-swelling vistas. Thank all those who look at any change as being destructive. Plans change with the times but there are always those – both on and off-island – who would do anything for a buck. The destruction of the Maui we love would be a runaway horse if developers are given free rein.

Organizations made up of thoughtful citizens are ready to do battle with the plans for generating only dollars. Government agencies – most made up of volunteers working for nothing other than satisfaction – are also devoted to the good fight.

Politicians see the future of Maui as a balancing act. On one side is nurturing traditional jobs in a changing time. On the other is preserving the island’s natural beauty. Tourism, the main economic engine in the island’s economy, depends on emptying the pockets of visitors looking for a radical departure from life at home. Also thank tight-fisted bankers who are limiting funding for developers of all sorts.

A simple truth: The environment is the economy.

The lure of Maui depends on public acceptance, the opposite of the sentiment expressed in a bumper sticker saying, “Welcome to Maui. Now go home.” Applied aloha is the difference.

For the most part, government on the state and county level looks at the collective bottom line. There are changes in the wind. Thank the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for finally having the courage to buck the desire to ignore the rising population with proposals to limit the number of fish taken from Maui’s reefs. What grandfather was able to do is impossible. The reefs and the critters they harbor bring millions of dollars to the island.

Truth be told, even local traditions are in danger from nets, hooks and spear guns. Want your grandchildren to enjoy the pleasure – and sometimes necessity – of putting food on the table and the dollars needed to support the use of money-eating modern equipment? Follow Hawaiian traditions. Thank those who think in terms of “seven generations into the future.”

Protecting the reefs also means controlling development of the land. Thank those courageous individuals who speak for the future after seeing what the past has done. A barren ocean serves no one.

Thank those farsighted leaders who have given us the likes of Makena State Park and the woefully few marine reserves that serve as nurseries for all of life in the ocean. Thank those who would have the public own and control Maui’s last open stretches of shoreline.

Thank those citizen planners who saw it is necessary to limit the spread of urban areas in order to preserve open space when they wrote plans for Maui’s next decades of growth. The need for parks, open shorelines and uncluttered vistas will only increase.

Ah, but . . .

Maui is still no ka oi.

Thank the individuals who take the time to look around and acknowledge the presence of others, and when they see a need, do what they can without being asked. They are the true islanders who know – sometimes subconsciously – we are all on a speck of land in the middle of the Pacific and should be able to rely on family, friends and neighbors.

Thank those who do what they can to improve life for the less fortunate – the homeless, the hungry, the disabled and those left behind by modern times.

Thank those who bring the community together by serving the recreational needs of the young and old. Thank those who support and participate in all of Maui’s many churches and temples to reinforce a common sense of morality and concern.

Thank those public servants devoted to keeping a lid on aberrant behavior and providing relief from natural and unnatural disasters. Police officers, firefighters, members of the armed services, public health officials and others are there when needed.

There is much on Maui deserving gratitude, especially those who love you. Thanks, eh.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

It’s unusual for an award-winning Maui photographer to be an accomplished reporter. It’s even more unusual for a photojournalist to come up with a four-part novel set in Europe 32,000 years ago.

There are many on Maui who have been photographed by Matt Thayer during his more than three decades of shooting for The Maui News. Matt, a longtime friend and colleague, has worn out a series of cars and trucks traveling to every corner of the island.

During the last decade or so, while heading out on assignment or looking for shots documenting Maui’s lighter side, an idea stemming from a Pennsylvania farmer’s journal of his life and times circa 1900 occupied a far recess of his mind. Matt was a teenager working on a family farm during the summer when he read those handwritten accounts of a life close to the land. “I was fascinated by the journal,” he said.

A photo safari through Europe coalesced the fascination into an epic tale. Matt began carrying two notebooks, one for the information needed to context his Maui News photographs – he never failed to come back with a shot that often ended up on the front page – and the other with ideas for a book. The book turned into four volumes. There was too much story for just one.

The four volumes – three have been published – collective became the “30,000 B.C. Chronicles.” Although any of the three can be read independently, the first volume, subtitled “Bordeaux,” introduces readers to the basic premise and cast of characters. The second book in the “Chronicles” is subtitled “Tuscany.” The third volume, published last week, is subtitled “Gibraltar.” Each subtitle refers to the characters’ location, but that is incidental to a story that combines science fiction, fact-based speculative history, adventure and romance.

As you might expect from a man who has spent his adult life collecting images, the books are cinematic. Nearly every page presents a detailed portrait of the characters, what they are going through and their environment. It will be a dull reader who doesn’t create his or her own movie out of Thayer’s words.

A rigorously trained crew of 97 time travels to the Paleolithic when Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon coexisted. They are supposed to only observe, but interaction with the protohumans proves necessary for survival. The scientists and engineers goof badly. Equipment self-destructs and the expedition is hit by a tsunami. Within two weeks, only six of the crew survive. In a matter of months, there are only four left. Accepting the premise takes very little “suspension of disbelief.” The story and the characters are that compelling.

“30,000 B.C. Chronicles, Gibraltar” takes a two-man crew overland through what is now France. American Capt. Juniper Jones is a hard-nosed professional soldier. Cpl. Salvatore Bolzano is an Italian playboy on the journey only because his father pulled strings. Jones and Bolzano are guided by Graybeard, a Cro-Magnon storyteller who is chief of the Turtle Clan.

While they trek north to investigate a possible sighting of other time travelers, the other two survivors sail a makeshift catamaran around the Iberian Peninsula toward Brittany as a backup to the land crew.

On the boat is Portuguese Maria Duarte, a botanist determined to catalog everything she sees. Her shipmate and lover is Paul Kaikane, an easygoing Hawaiian from Lahaina where he became a consummate waterman. His knowledge of the ocean and its critters saves them from disaster.

All of this becomes known when archaeologists from the future retrieve indestructible computers stashed in predetermined locations. The story is told through voice recordings and journal entries. The journal entries in the latest volume reveal the characters’ back stories and literally flesh out the individuals involved. Readers will end up respecting Jones, laughing at Bolzano and loving Duarte and Kaikane.

I had a hand in editing the books and am looking forward to the next installment. All three of the “30,000 B.C. Chronicles” are available at most Internet sites selling e-books. The fourth volume, “Galway,” is due out in 2015.

Matt Thayer has written a legitimate page-turner, one that keeps the reader eagerly anticipating what comes next, especially since each volume ends in a cliffhanger.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

It was a bright morning in Kula. He was an older guy, very clean and neat, although his clothing was well-worn. From his appearance, it was easy to guess he didn’t have a lot in the way of financial resources. “What’s the time?” he asked. When told, he said “I better get to the bus stop.”

The stop, marked by a small sign, was just up the road in front of the Waiakoa Gym. A low, stone wall made a handy seat for the people waiting for a ride down to Pukalani where they could make a connection into town.

Mickey, a Kula character usually dressed in a flowered “suit,” can often be found sitting near the bus stop sign. He delights in hailing everyone who drives by. If the person behind the wheel appears to be Hawaiian, Mickey yells a greeting in fluent Hawaiian.

Soon enough, the older guy climbed aboard a Maui Bus, a fairly recent addition to the Kula landscape. The small county bus looks a lot like the buses tapping the tourist trade. The Kula bus runs from Pukalani to Rice Park. The route along Lower Kula Road makes sense. That’s where the houses are.

A lot of the time, there’s only one or two passengers, sometimes older folks and sometimes youngsters. But, riding the bus is a good alternative for folks forced to hitchhike or rely on family and friends for lack of a car. The number of riders seems to be increasing. The aged or disabled can arrange rides on an MEO bus making a twice-a-day run. The Maui Bus runs on a 90-minute schedule all day.

In the decade or so since a very limited bus service was set up in Wailuku, routes have been added to Kahului, Kihei, Lahaina and Upcountry. For a growing number of individuals, the Maui Bus has become a necessity. The longer the system operates, the more riders there will be. It takes a little time to wean folks away from cars, even when it becomes financially crippling to pay for gasoline, repairs and insurance.

Public transportation isn’t a new idea on Maui. At one time, Hawaiian Sugar & Commercial Co. put up red “labor station” signs in Kahului. A truck with benches in the back would go from sign to sign, picking up workers. Until the mid-1960s, the public could ride a train running from Wailuku to Haiku. There was a bus system serving Makawao and Paia.

Around 1970, a survey was conducted to see if a county bus system would be financially feasible. The idea went nowhere. Planners figured there weren’t enough individual gathering sites to produce the necessary number of riders. That was when Maui’s population was about a third of what it is today.

Anyone doubting a widespread bus system could work on Maui need look no further than Oahu. Honolulu is also a good example of how an all-encompassing bus system along with multilane highways just aren’t enough. A little foresight and a lot of political courage can prevent Maui from turning into “another Honolulu.”

Today’s bus system could be the feeder for a light-rail system connecting Kahului with Wailea on one end and Kaanapali on the other.

“Why should my taxes go to subsidize a rail system?” opponents argue, ignoring the fact that taxes subsidize highways at a cost of something like $1 million a mile for a single lane. Imagine the cost of adding lanes to Honoapiilani Highway through the pali.

A major cost factor for Honolulu’s rail line involves buying land through developed areas. Right now, major lines on Maui would go mostly across undeveloped land. It’s a good bet commuters would find riding a fast train preferable to sitting in slow traffic – whether riding a bus or driving.

The voters recognized the need for public transportation when they approved a charter amendment setting up a Maui County Department of Transportation. The department seems incapable of looking beyond today’s needs. Which local politician will have the moxie to push for a bus-train system?

The cost doesn’t necessarily have to be underwritten totally by taxes. A private, nonprofit corporation could be set up with far-flung resorts and individuals buying stock. Ordinary individuals paid most of the cost for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. And, that was during the Great Depression.

To paraphrase the movie, build efficient public transportation and the riders will come. Today, it’s a dream. Tomorrow, it should be a reality.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is

Maui Nei

The question was simple. The answer is complicated. “How has Maui changed?” The major complications: Since when, and who is answering? Perceptions depend on lifestyle, source of income and whether home is on the coast or up the hill.

Even so, there’s a good chance there is a change everyone can agree on – population. In 30 years (1970-1990), the number of souls on Maui went from some 45,000 to more than 90,000. In the last couple of decades, the island has become home to around 150,000. Add another 40,000 to 50,000 tourists on any given day.

That’s a lot of people. A side note: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the increase in population during the last decade is due to babies, not the number of people getting off the plane.

More people means more crowded roads, more demand on water supplies, more schools (babies rapidly turn into students), more opportunities to spend money, more developments, more people in the ocean, more entertainment, more strangers, more jobs, and less aloha.

One man’s opinions:

Maui has gone from rural to exurban, not quite suburban with urban pockets, but definitely not rural. A kama’aina islander looked around a home once surrounded by horse and cattle pastures in an Upcountry area where the roads were crappy but largely empty. She motioned toward the unbroken string of houses along that still crappy road.

“It feels more like town today,” she said.

Is there anyone on the island who hasn’t fumed while stuck in a line of cars baking in the sun? Nuff said.

Population growth has its tendrils firmly attached to the island’s cash cow. Maui is now known in the visitor industry as a beautiful place boasting most of the housing and entertainment amenities found in more urban settings. Travel magazines have repeatedly named Maui the best island destination in the world. Good for jobs, sort of.

The reputation allows the luxury resorts to charge the highest room rates in the state and has prompted a proliferation of time-share apartments. Too bad the profits go to the off-island owners. Too bad it means more crowded beaches and roads.

It does mean more small businesses, particularly those offering “activities.” Too bad that means tourists everywhere. There are few if any “local” spots left on land and sea due to visiting travel writers who encourage tourists to go where they probably shouldn’t.

Maui’s reputation for beautiful open spaces ranging from big-sky deserts to tropical forest hideaways and exotic cultures where English is spoken is alluring to visitors looking for unique, “authentic” experiences far from the coastal resorts. Before the county cracked down on bed-and-breakfast operations, the off-the-beaten-path tourists could easily find accommodations tucked here and there. All they had to do was browse the Internet. The World Wide Web allowed cheap marketing. It also made it easy for the county to track down on more than 800 unpermitted operations.

The increased numbers have resulted in an erosion of “aloha.” Islanders with aloha in their hearts pay attention to individuals around them; newcomers and tourists don’t. Two things identify individuals as islanders: being aware of and friendly toward others and the willingness to help without being asked. Of course, that’s difficult if eyes are constantly glued to smartphones.

The old ways are also under attack by the increasing adoption of Mainland culture, particularly by younger folks watching TV and listening to nihilistic rap. One small indication: In some island mouths, “brah” is now “bro.” There’s way too much over there over here.

There are entirely too many individuals – both malihini and younger kama’aina – who couldn’t care less about island ways that were established for very real reasons. These folks seem to think Maui is just California West, or maybe a theme park. Getting caught in a flash flood or lost in valley or smashed by waves or being nibbled by a shark are all hazards generally ignored by tourist promotions. Maui is a real place.

This all sounds cynical. Too cynical. There is still aloha on the island, although you might have to actively look for it. The island still has soul-satisfying vistas surrounded by a blue ocean. Most of all, there are beautiful Mauians ready to add a stranger to their ohana.

Maui no ka oi? Definitely. Despite all the changes, there is no better place in the world to live and love.

* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is