Travel Diary: Maui Through the Eyes of a Photographer and Poet

If you’re in need of a vacation…


Written by Jacqueline Suskin, photographed by Shelby Duncan.

My mother is a self-proclaimed island child. When I was eight years old, we moved to the Florida Keys. Her vision of paradise: trailer parks, fresh lobster, bare feet and bikinis. Her island inspiration rubbed off on me and I’ve been a water baby ever since.

When Jeffery, my dear old friend, asked us to go to Maui, I said yes without a second thought and invited my best friend, photographer Shelby Duncan, to join. It was a promise of the ultimate Island getaway: papaya, perfectly clear water and every shade of sand imaginable. Jeffery, our travel benefactor, is a collector of creativity. He’s been funding artists in Maui for years. Like no one I’ve ever known, Jeffery is willing to bet on the muse.

I filled my suitcase with my mother’s bathing suits — her spirit and travel stories woven into every thread. This is my favorite thing about vintage clothes: each piece holds history. Whether it’s my mother’s story or some stranger’s, the magic of old clothes is in the tales they tell. Shelby is from Reno; her own style mimics the sweet 70s vibe of her mother with feathered blonde hair and high-waisted bell-bottoms. We both tend to mirror the past, keeping the beauty of our mothers alive, drawn toward styles that stay steady over time.

Our 11-day adventure took us down the winding road to Hana, into bamboo forests where we split coconuts and collected jars of precious black sand. Maui is a paused place caught in slow-pace perfection. Waves and sweet fruit became our language. Every day we belonged to a new beach. We were usually naked. We moved from one roadside stand to the next, devouring shave ice, conversing about politics with locals who passionately work to preserve the culture of this special land that stretches its lava fields as far as the ocean allows. They call the island “Mother Maui” and this stuck with us, this sense that we were indeed nurtured and cared for by the island itself.

One day, while soaking in an illuminated tide pool, I looked at myself floating in the clear cool water, wearing my mother’s bikini, and I saw her body reflecting back at me. I looked up and saw Shelby swimming nearby, her big hoop earrings and bright hair piled high on her head, and I saw her mother there as well. A sense of belonging came over me in this place where I would normally feel like an interloper from the mainland. The island instigated nostalgia, a connection with what my mother always knew to be the good life, and I was filled with a deep understanding of why people are so drawn to this remote string of volcanoes in the middle of the ocean. Hawaii sucked us in, soothed us deeply, and turned us away to come home with a deep appreciation of the power of place. My mother looked through the photos of our travels and simply said, “My love, you’re doing it right.”

Follow Jacqueline @jsuskin and Shelby @shelbyduncan on Instagram.


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