After 50 years of dreaming about it, I finally got to take a vacation in Hawaii. Predictably, it was an amazing experience, and I’ll be blogging about it quite a bit in the coming month or so. But today, to ease myself gently into writing this blog again, I want to just talk about the things that surprised me about Hawaii.
I was really shocked at how many of my preconceived notions of this state, which I had been carrying around since childhood, were completely off base. And, of course, there were a lot of things to learn, and in fact there is still much that I don’t know. I can hardly declare myself an expert on all things Hawaiian after two short weeks.
Since I never thought I’d actually get to visit the Aloha State, I never had cause to closely examine my beliefs thereof. It amuses me, in retrospect, how childish my notions were. For example, I thought there would be parrots everywhere I looked, and the heady scent of orchids would fill the air. In fact, according to this article, while you will see the occasional feral parrot, none of them are native to the islands. And while many Hawaiian nurseries raise orchids for sale to the wider world, according to this article, only three species are actually native to the state, and those grow in such remote areas that you won’t likely see them. With the exception of orchids drawn on murals and swimwear, I didn’t spot any of these flowers at all.
I also expected to see leis everywhere, along with hula dancers, and I imagined that most people walked around barefoot. How silly. In elementary school, I had a teacher who used to greet people arriving in Hawaii by plane and give them leis, but that was a simpler time. If there was a lei for every tourist these days, the islands would be plucked free of vegetation by now. In 1975, less than 3 million tourists a year descended upon the island. In modern times, pre-pandemic, 10.4 million people overwhelmed the state in 2019. Hawaii has no time for leis anymore.
As for hula dancers and folks without shoes, I didn’t even glimpse one blade of a grass skirt in all my travels. Hula dancers seem to have relegated themselves to luaus these days, and when we discovered that the cheapest luau in our area was $175.00 per person, we decided to pass on the poi and watch the hula dancers on Youtube. And to be perfectly frank, anyone who wanders around barefoot in Hawaii is a fool. There is lava rock everywhere, and it’s sharp. Your feet would be cut to ribbons. I didn’t even see many people at the beach without swim shoes. The coral comes right up to the shore in many places.
I also expected to always have the ocean in sight. In fact, even on the tiny island of Kauai, it’s easy to get lost in the bush. Sometimes there were farmlands or rain forests or mountains as far as the eye could see, and it was hard to remember that you were even on an island. I don’t know why, but I never thought of that state as so substantial before visiting. In my mind, it was a series of tiny dots in the middle of the pacific. That’s also true, if you zoom out enough on Google Earth, I suppose. Perspective.
Another fact I hadn’t even considered is that Hawaii has governmental entities. Well, duh. They’d have to, wouldn’t they? But Hawaii, for me, has always been about the leisure, not the actual day to day living. According to Wikipedia, Hawaii has 5 counties, and these counties mostly constitute an entire island. Some include tinier islands that are within their orbit. But these counties are where the buck stops, so to speak. They don’t have city governments or city councils or school board districts. Kalawao County is sort of an outlier, in that it was only created for the leper colony that used to be on the Kalaupapa peninsula on Moloakai. That county only has 82 residents, and they don’t even bother with elections. Most of their services come from the county of Maui. It kind of seems as though the government is as laid back as the people.
And here I go, making sweeping statements based on my two-week stay, but I have to say that I was very surprised and delighted by all the Hawaiians I met. Having spent most of my life in Florida, I know how irritating tourists can be, and because of that, I was expecting Hawaiians to give off a vibe of impatience and irritation like residents do in the tourist towns in Florida. But in fact, I was in awe of what seemed to me to be an overwhelmingly easygoing philosophy and lifestyle. Yes, they were often late, but they also seemed unconcerned. And I loved their dry and subtle yet corny humor and their sense of calm and their ability to accept whatever comes their way. And all this despite the fact that their land has been stolen from them by large corporations and rich white men. It would be impossible to blame them if their main personality traits were bitterness and resentment, but I didn’t sense that at all. They were kind, friendly, and welcoming. I want to be just like them when I grow up.
Having said that, though, I was startled to see a notice in our hotel room as to what to do in case of a nuclear attack. And yes, they are a lot closer to Russia and China and North Korea than most Americans are, so their sense of calm is even more admirable. Still, the advice about finding shelter and not looking at the bright flashes of light seemed rather optimistic. If disaster strikes on an island, there’s really not much you could do except kiss your behind goodbye. I wonder how much Hawaiians think about this.
Moving past my profiling, I have to say that weather blew me away, sometimes literally. It was late April and early May. The wind was unrelenting on both Kauai and the Big Island. I don’t know if we just happened to visit during a windy season, or the fact that we seemed to spend more time on the windward sides of islands rather than the leeward sides skewed my impressions, but yeah, the background sound was often the howling, unstoppable wind. I think I’d go insane if I lived there. But the wind did help with the humidity, and for that I welcomed it. We mostly slept with our hotel room windows open rather than locking ourselves in with air conditioning. I had forgotten how easy it is to sleep with the sound of waves crashing on the shore.
It rained nearly every day of our trip. But it was a warm rain that was a lot more tolerable that the bone-chilling, raw rain we get in Seattle. Mostly we just ignored it as we reveled in the fact that we were able to wear shorts for the first time this year, and wet or not, that was a gift. But the clouds also meant we only got to see one tropical sunset. Granted, it was a doozy, and made it well worth the trip. I’ll tease you with a few photos below.
Suffice it to say that the Hawaii I got was not the Hawaii I expected, but in retrospect I’m grateful for that, because I truly loved the Hawaii I experienced. We had many adventures in this beautiful state, and I learned a great deal about myself while there. I plan to write about a lot of these events and epiphanies in the near future, so watch this space.
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