Our first-ever trip to Hawaii involved getting up at un-godly hours, long plane rides and eating in some fine restaurants. But it was something that was on my ‘bucket list” of things I wanted to do before I leave this great world.

Wife Susan and I drove to Houston the day before we were to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Denver on Thursday, Feb. 16. Waking up at our hotel at 3:45 a.m. was no picnic, nor was the cab ride to Bush Intercontinental Airport at 4:30. But we got there at the time we were told and flew out on time.

At the Mile High City we boarded a huge 767 aircraft for the seven-hour flight and landed just a few minutes behind our friends Linda and Don Bivens, who lived up the street from us in Orange many moons ago but flew to Maui from Philadelphia.

Our first order of the day after picking up our luggage was to get some wheels, so we rented a Crown Victoria and were on our way to inspect our condo, the Ma’alaea Kai on the Ma’alaea Bay. It was a two-story job on the fourth-floor looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

The hunger pangs from the food-less flight were taking over so we went to one of the closest restaurants right on the bay called “Beach Bums” which turned out to be our favorite eating place that week. Then we bought some food to eat at the condo—breakfast food, snacks and things to drink.

We drove around Friday looking at some of the landmarks and tourists attractions in our immediate area and ate lunch at a place called Café O’Lei in nearby Kihie. At mid-afternoon, we jumped in the car and headed to the city of Lahaina to indulge in our first real Hawaiian feast—the Old Lahaina Luau.

The hosts presented the four of us with a lei made of orchids and then commenced to serve all kinds of exotic Tropical concoctions—some of the drinks were familiar (Mai Tai and Pina Colada) while others proved to be experimental (Nalu Special and Island Warrior). It certainly was a good way to get into the Polynesian festival mood.

The serving of the food couldn’t begin until the pig was ready to be served. It was cooked in an old Tahitian ritual—in an underground pit covered with dirt. And there was a ceremony to dig up the porker.

Then the eating began—buffet style—with such items as steak, fish and shrimp plus local dishes such as poi, for which I will never create a taste, Ahi Poke (yellow-fin tuna) and taro salad.

There were some great tasting desserts to top off the meal. Then the Polynesian natives showed us variations of the hula until my eyeballs were sore from watching the action.

We participated in two events Saturday—the Maui Whale Festival hosted by the Pacific Whale Foundation and a Swap Meet on the campus of Maui Community College in Kihei.

On Sunday we traveled south to the very exclusive Makena Golf Resort to eat what was rated as Maui’s best Sunday brunch. Our reservations were for 10:30 a.m. and we spent a good two hours savoring both breakfast and lunch delicacies.

A pig was being carved and I watched the Islander in front of me ask for a slice of the pig’s cheek. The server said that was the best tasting part of the pig, so I asked him to cut me a slice.

He asked me if I wanted some of the well-done skin and I commented that in Louisiana that is called cracklins. The man behind me asked if I was from Louisiana. I told him no, but I went to college there.

“LSU?” he asked.

“No. McNeese,” I replied.

“I come from the Beaumont-Port Arthur area,” he said excitedly.

“We’re from Orange,” I said.

“I went to Port Neches-Groves,” he countered.

“Susan taught for 33 years at West Orange-Stark,” I stated.

When I mentioned WO-S, he quickly disappeared, remembering how soundly the Mustangs used to whip those Indians in football at The Reservation. I never did get his name or see him again on Maui.

Early Monday morning was the highlight of the trip when we went whale watching on the Pacific Whale Foundation’s boat “The Explorer” and didn’t get far from port when we could see a humpback whale billow a stream of water 15 feet in the air from his blow-hole.

This was the second whale-watching adventure for Susan and I in less than two years. In fact some of these humpbacks could very well have been the same ones we saw feeding voraciously in Alaska.

Humpbacks migrate to the warmer waters of Hawaii during the winter, not to eat but to mate, have babies or bring their young calves to where the water is not so deep. Most of the humpbacks seen around Maui were males “competing” with each other and “singing” love songs underwater to impress the one female in that specific area.

The bay was active with groups of humpbacks jostling with each other. Again we got to see an event that the female boat captain said didn’t happen very often. A mother humpback was teaching her young calf how to breach (jump out of the water). This happened three or four times in a row within 50 feet of the amazed whale watchers—first the momma then the little one.

Monday afternoon we went back to Lahaina, this time to see the world’s largest banyan tree. It was spread out over an entire city block, with several secondary trunks and a huge main one.

We also got to visit with an artist who painted with candles, a technique he said he learned while studying the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. Don and I treated ourselves to a gigantic snow cone at the famous Ululani’s Hawaii Shaved Ice. We all went to Black Rock and watched a native Islander perform the daily ritual at sunset by diving into the Pacific Ocean off a cliff.

We finished off the night by eating dinner at an ocean tavern named MaLa. I tried a Snake River Farms Kobe beef ½-pound cheeseburger that I had a hard time finishing. But it certainly was much leaner and tastier than just a regular hamburger.

On Tuesday, because there was a zero percent chance of rain, we decided to take a trip down the Hana Highway to the other side of the mountain. It was a 44-mile journey down a road barely wide enough for two cars that was loaded with “S Curves”, had 33 one-lane bridges and a 15 mile-per-hour speed limit.

Don told me it was my turn to drive, which wouldn’t have been so bad if it didn’t start raining cats-and-dogs just as the trip began. We did stop at the famous Huelo Lookout Fruit Stand to eat crepes for breakfast at a shack a little larger than a two-seater outhouse on the side of the road.

The crepes were great, but we all got pretty wet going from the fruit stand to the car. We continued toward Hana and encountered a gasoline truck (18-wheeler) coming back from Hana. How we passed each other without either of us sliding off the road is a mystery.

Luckily a few hundred feet down the road we saw a roadside rest stop. We all sprinted to the rest rooms and then had a conference in the car that resulted in a 4-0 vote to turn around and forget about the Road to Hana.

When we returned to “civilization” at Wailea, Susan and Linda needed to resuscitate themselves from that experience by going shopping. We ate lunch at a neat place called “Monkey Pod”.

Wednesday was our final day on Maui and we sort of took it easy at the condo packing our luggage for a return to the mainland on an 11 p.m. flight. We were treated to a magnificent show 300-400 yards from the shore by the humpbacks. All the activity could be seem plainly without the aid of binoculars.

“Beach Bums” was our restaurant of choice for lunch and then we visited the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum located in a beautifully refurbished plantation superintendent’s home originally built in 1902 at nearby Pu’unene.

The museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of the sugar industry and the multi-ethnic plantation life which it engendered.

We ate our “last supper” in Maui back at Café O’Lei and went to the airport. I couldn’t wait to get on that 767, take a couple of PM’s and zonk out for the night. I tried everything from counting sheep to re-hashing my last golf game shot-by-shot. All to no avail, because I didn’t sleep a wink all night on that plane.

When I returned to the Lone Star State I got a first-hand dose of what jet-lag is all about. But I wouldn’t trade that trip to Maui for anything I’ve ever done.

KWICKIES…A new rule will go into effect for college football this fall when kickoffs will move from the 30 to the 35-yard line, a change to keep players safer. The NCAA playing rules oversight committee also said the running start by players on the kicking team will be limited to five yards. The NFL moved up kickoffs five yards this past season and touchbacks increased dramatically. Another new NCAA rule will move touchbacks from the 20 to the 25-yard line, a move to encourage more touchbacks. The panel also approved a rule that will require a player who loses his helmet during a play to leave the game for one play.

Former Port Neches-Groves and Lamar University star golfer Chris Stroud missed a chance for a three-way playoff Sunday at the final round of the Mayakoba Classic in Rivera Maya, Mexico when he double-bogeyed the tournament’s 72nd hole. The bad final hole left Stroud in a four-way tie for fifth place and a check for $129,963. He had scores of 69-66-68-71—274. A birdie on the final hole would have given Stroud a tie with eventual winner John Huh and Robert Allenby.

JUST BETWEEN US…Despite the recent losing streak, the Lamar Cardinal men’s basketball team still has a chance to win the Southland Conference’s East Division today (Wed.) with a Cardinal win at Texas State and a McNeese State loss at Southeastern Louisiana. Lamar’s regular season-ending home game against McNeese Saturday could very well be for the SLC East title. First-year coach Pat Knight made national news last week after a 62-52 loss to Sam Houston State by saying he had the worst group of seniors he’s ever been associated with. “Their mentality is awful. Their attitude is awful,” Knight said. “These guys are stealing money by being on scholarship with their approach to things. We’ve had problems with these guys off the court, on the court, classroom, and drugs. If you act this way in the real world, you’re going to be homeless, without a job.”