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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, September 26, 2014


 "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there."

        - Lewis Carroll

The End of the Road...

Have you ever just followed a road because it was there, laid out before you, begging to be explored? The lure of asphalt as it disappears around a bend, or into the distance? No expectations, no knowledge of where you might end up. Just trusting in the fact that someone went through the trouble of building it, so there must be something at the other end.

It's the sort of adventure which can be either tremendously rewarding or, at times, a bit of a disappointment. But either way, it's not always the end result which counts, it's the journey we take to get there. And with a modicum of common sense, and a dash of curiosity, sometimes the end of the road is worthy of the journey.

Case in point: Last week we and our friends were on vacation in Hawaii. (Yes, I travel for a living - when I go on vacation I simply travel further.) Our friends, while having been on Maui previously, had never made the trek across the island to the eastern shore town of Hana -- which, for good reason, is considered to be one of the world's classic and most spectacular drives.

Along the way we made a few side trips, stopping at the Arboretum for a half mile walk into the forest, and stopped in the stunning seaside community of Ke'Anae for our lunch. We'd picked up some sandwiches from the Hana Picnic Lunch Company shop in Pa'ia -- the last major town before hitting the Road to Hana -- stopping to eat them as we sat on a small lava outcrop watching the waves crash into the very rugged coastline along Maui's north shore.

It struck me, as we were eating, how many people rushed into this near-paradise cove, snapped a couple of pictures, clambered over some lava rocks (thankfully not injuring themselves) then piled back in their cars and raced off to the next cove. They came, they saw, and they left to pursue the rest of the road. In other words, they sought the destination, not the drive.

(I'm guilty of it. No question. But oftentimes I am conscious of it, and make a strong effort to SEE the world as it passes by the windows of the car. I like to think it makes me a better photographer, but It's also contributing to a better impression of where I am at any given time.)

We stayed in Ke'Anae for the better part of an hour. The rocks, the blue sky, the crashing surf. Off to one side was a beautiful classic style Hawaiian church, largely ignored by the other visitors. A shame.

The view at the end of Nahiku Road
Resuming our own path, a while later we were headed into the home stretch towards Hana, arriving at the even smaller intermediary roadside community of Nahiku, where we'd been told to expect food, restrooms and a head shop. (If you have to ask, you won't understand.)

Before getting to the town, however, we ran across a small road off to the left. Nahiku Road. 

I braked, asked quick permission from everyone else in the car, and headed down what turned out to be a twisting, winding and rather steep road into the rainforest. I knew if the road kept going downward we would eventually end at the shoreline -- (hello, island?) -- so it was simply a matter of time. We passed beautiful homes and verdant views, across the street at times from pure wrecks of more beaten-down residences. But wonderfully tropical and exotic, evocative of a James Coleman painting. 

Down, down, down we continued until the road finally opened up into a small parking area, and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean lay before us.

Maui is surrounded by the Pacific, so this came, really, as no shock. But the coastline was stunning. Different. Only two other cars were in the lot. It was one of those moments when the world went away, and it was just us and the surf.

The "whatever it is" at the beach
How many people, I wondered, have sped past that little side road, likely never even seeing it except perhaps through the crier of their eyes -- never suspecting what lay at the end. *I'd* obviously done it twice before. We spent a half hour or so just staring at the spectacle before us, listening to the crash of the waves and roar of the impacts upon the lava rocks, watching the tide flow in and around the pitch-black volcanic shoreline -- even seeing what looked like an ancient structure likely built by native Hawaiians for some now-forgotten reason (see right). A bit of history nearly lost to the modern world save a handful of eyes.

We continued on, but had achieved the special, the unique. We'd followed to the end of the road, not knowing what to expect, and having no idea if the side trip would be bonus or bust. But we did it.

Next time you're on the road, and come across an interesting looking offramp or turn, using common sense, take it. See where it goes. See what was important enough for someone to build the road in the first place.

It's only a little bit of asphalt, but it might also be a very cool adventure that let's you see something only a handful of others have seen.

It's worth the risk, don't you think?

Cross the bridge when you come to it

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nothing to Do...?

"Never mistake motion for action."
                                           - Ernest Hemingway

The search for adventure takes us all in different direction, each one of us focused on what it is that fulfills us and what it is about a particular destination that fills that particular and personal void.

The subject comes up because as I write this I am on the north shore of Kauai, the northern- and western-most of the seven primary Hawaiian Islands. As we were readying for our trip – this one being for pleasure rather than business, though it turns out business will play a hand – my wife was telling an acquaintance about our plans. 
The person in question travels a fair amount, but chief in her mind is the social aspect. She goes places with a vibrant night life, exciting entertainment, social clubs. She loves New York and Las Vegas.  In conversing with my wife, she dismissed Kauai as too boring. Not enough to do.

And I get that. She goes places which fulfill her need for something. Las Vegas and New York are certainly favorite places for us, but they are not the end-all and beat-all for vacation destinations.  We believe, strongly, in mixing it up. Exploring new places but also have in reserve some comfortable and familiar places where we know what we are going to get – and perhaps more importantly, where to find it.

If you read my column with any frequency (and if you do, thank you), you know I am on the road. A lot these days. And for the most part I really love it. (For the record, the part I don’t love has to do with the usual travelers’ issues: lines, crowds, bumpy flights, etc.)

For the the joy of travel has to do with the variety of adventure. Only through moving from one defined place to another can you experience different things, different options. Obviously the things you can do in Las Vegas differ wildly – almost oppositionally – from what you can do on Kauai.
You can take helicopter tours of spectacular scenery. That much they have in common.  And that’s pretty much where the cross-cultural experiences end. Where Vegas is in a desert, the north shore of Kauai is verdant. Vegas is primarily an indoor destination. Kauai is very much outdoor.

Vegas has the beach at Mandalay Bay. Kauai has beaches everywhere you look (and a few places you don’t).

I’m stating the obvious. 

We travel to experience something different. This kind of goes back to my rant regarding the people who go all the way to New York, only to eat dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square. Or Planet Hollywood.  Or the McDonald’s, for that matter.

So while I understand the woman who told my wife that Kauai was boring, she probably didn’t arrive with the proper expectations. Define “boring” and you probably have your answer. It didn’t have what she was seeking. And that’s fair enough.  To each their own, and she prefers Las Vegas – I get that, I love it there too. Just not every time. Give me a variety of destinations, a variety of experiences. It makes me, I think, a more well-grounded person. The key is to delve into places and find the interesting in it. Find the special things and learn why they are so fascinating. 

To some people, the ideal vacation is simply going somewhere sunny, laying out by the pool and eating sandwiches from The hotel deli. It is undoubtedly relaxing, but what, really, do you accomplish, learn or discover along the way. I look out over the pool from my balcony on Maui and see families spending time together -- invaluable, no doubt -- playing in the pool and otherwise keeping the kids engaged. Meanwhile, when we head out on adventures, it is sad to see how few of those children are engaged and enlightened. The pool is not the end-all, beat-all of travel. It is simply a pause, a moment perhaps. But it should not be the totality.
I used to think the desert was boring. And it was, for a ten year old boy who looked out at the hot, dry expanse and didn’t have the experience to appreciate it on its own.  But life is experience, and as we mature and as we gather our own little library of experiences we can appreciate everything for what it adds to the whole.

The purpose of travel is to get away from the familiar, get away from the tried and true. To learn something.

Otherwise, why bother?