I can’t believe I’m only just now writing my last post about a vacation that ended in early May of this year, but Hawaii is amazing and fascinating and intriguing, and there was much to tell. I think, more than any other trip, these islands have transformed me. It’s hard to let go. Saying goodbye is bittersweet. It’s like dropping someone off at the airport whom you love very much, and not knowing when, if ever, you’ll see them again.
Okay, keep it together, Barb. Sniffle.
I’ve mentioned before that Hawaii itself almost feels like a living organism to me. It breathes fire, it grows, it shrinks, it’s alive with creatures that are not found anywhere else. I’ve never felt like that about any other place. I firmly believe that these islands would thrive if only we humans would get out of their way. And yet we can’t resist them.
A recurring theme for us on this trip was arrivals and departures, and beginnings and endings. That experience, too, is unlike any other I’ve had. It was almost as if the islands were trying to speak to me.
One of the things I’ve yet to blog about was the first day of our vacation. That’s because it was not the note I wanted to begin on. It was too surreal and upsetting. I needed time to digest it.
I had been wanting to go to Hawaii my whole life long, so I was really excited about the day we were to fly there. It was a dream come true. I had been anticipating this flight for many months. When I woke up that morning, it felt as though a million Hawaiian butterflies were fluttering inside a me.
We were, of course, late leaving the house. (That, too, is a theme.) But we weren’t so late that it was giving me cause for concern. We live very close to the airport.
We got there and checked our carry on luggage without incident. But the line for TSA screening was obscenely long. We were told to go to the other security gate for faster service, but when we got there, if anything, that line was longer and the staff there were redirecting people to the security gate we had just left. Now I was getting nervous.
At one point, Dear Husband and I clearly heard the customer service agent tell us that we’d be departing from gate 15. DH knows this airport well, so I kind of checked out due to my anxiety, and let him take the lead. This is the first time in my entire life when traveling by plane that I didn’t confirm the gate several times on the flight information screen or at least check out the airport map.
Knowing how late we were, we kind of speed walked to gate A15. I’m sure DH could have moved a lot faster without me in tow. No one has ever accused me of being a cheetah. Of course, it was to be the furthest gate away on Concourse A. Naturally.
By the time we got to the tail end of that concourse, I was drenched in sweat and could not catch my breath. It felt like my heart was going to explode. And that feeling only got worse when we discovered that there is no gate A15. The last gate is A14.
Another customer service agent looked things up and told us that we were flying out of gate N15, and that they were just about to board. Now, let me explain the full ramifications of this. We were standing at the southernmost gate of the SEATAC airport, and we were told that we needed to be at the northernmost gate of the SEATAC airport. Like… 15 minutes ago. According to Google maps, it was 1.8 miles away. And toward the end, you have to wait for an automated train, because the N terminal isn’t even in the same building.
I tried to run. I really did. I wanted to go to Hawaii so badly. But I was already out of breath.
At this point I pretty much abandoned all hope. And then Cris, who to his credit is never out of breath, had a brilliant idea. He grabbed an abandoned luggage cart, piled all our carry on stuff on it, then said, “Hop on.”
And then he ran like the wind. We were flying through that airport. I was really proud of him. At first I was standing on the cart, but I was blocking his view, so instead I sat down as if I were another piece of luggage. We got several dirty looks from airport staff, but we were moving too fast, and I think they just couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. On the other hand, fellow travelers where cheering and laughing and waving and taking pictures. I felt like I was Santa Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This was the first adventure on a vacation full of adventures, and every time I think of it, it makes me smile.
But despite all our (his) efforts, we got to the gate 2 minutes late, and watched our plane (and our checked baggage) fly off without us. It’s funny now, but at the time I sat there at gate N15 and had a good cry while DH rebooked our flight for the next day. I’ve had flights delayed, and I’ve missed a connection or two, but this was the first time in my life that I had missed a nonstop flight. I don’t recommend it.
The dogs were sure confused to see us back home. They know what suitcases usually mean, and the dogsitter, a dear friend of ours, was already there. And yet here we were.
So, yeah, late the next day we arrived, both triumphant and chastened, in Hawaii. We checked into our hotel and had a look around and got all settled in. We were headed out to explore Kauai when we met Tony.
Tony was a bit worried, because he had tried to get a taxi to the airport for his flight home to Toronto, and there seemed to be no taxis to be had. After what we’d gone through the day before, we wanted to help. But we’re not the type of people who are prone to giving total strangers a ride.
What we did was go back to the concierge desk and verify that all of us where guests at this establishment. And then the concierge took photos of all our drivers licenses, and we checked back in with her when we got back to the hotel so that she knew that everything had gone smoothly.
We had a pleasant chat with Tony on the drive to the airport about our various travels, and about Toronto and Seattle. He gave us some tips on what to do in Kauai, and we heard about his enviable extended stay in Hawaii. He called his mother from the road and reassured her that he wasn’t going to miss his flight after all.
Just like that, we made our first friend in Hawaii, even though we didn’t get his last name or contact info. We asked if we could take his picture as we waved goodbye. He said that was fine. So Tony, wherever you are, I hope you made it home safe.
My experience on isolated islands had been rather limited up to this point, but I soon discovered that it’s quite easy to run out of island. In fact, on this trip we arrived at the end of the road on multiple occasions. It alters your mindset.
I wanted to see every inch of Kauai. You can circumnavigate much of the island on highway roads, with the glaring exception of the Napali Coast that stretches about 16 miles along its Northwest edge. There, what you encounter are impassible, yet stunningly beautiful jagged blue and emerald cliffs that defiantly face off with the sea.
On day 4, we reached the end of the road on the western shore of Kauai. We stopped next to the charmingly named Barking Sands Airport and saw our first Nenes, which are beautiful Hawaiian geese. They didn’t seem to care that they had reached a dead end. They just went about their goosey business. That was also the day we went to the end of the island’s other major highway, which wends its way through Waimea Canyon.
Day 6 found us on the opposite end of the semicircular road. On the North shore we visited Maniniholo Dry Cave, had a picnic lunch on the beach, and then drove as far as we could, taking turns with the cars heading the opposite direction, in order to cross the charming one lane bridges. This is a more laid back, isolated part of the island, and it’s where I’d want to live if I could put my home on high enough stilts to cope with the frequent flooding. I weep at the thought that climate change will wipe this area off the map one day.
On the Big Island, we went to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and drove to the end of the road twice on our first full day there, from the Hōlei Sea Arch on the Chain of Craters Road to the end of Crater Rim Drive with its stunning views of Kīlauea’s Caldera.
Five days later we went to the Southern tip of the United States, to Ka Lae, or South Point, Hawaii, and gazed out at the vast Pacific Ocean. I find it interesting that we took no pictures from the clifftops that were aimed directly south toward that blue expanse. We took photos of the cliff line, as if we needed a reference point. I think that never-ending blue reminded us how far away we were from any other part of civilization, and how life clings precariously to every possible foothold as this fragile planet spirals through the vacuum of space, chasing the sun. Who could bear to photograph that flimsy feeling?
We woke up the next day knowing we had to head to the airport to catch the plane that would take us home. (Why couldn’t we have missed that one?) I felt as though I was beginning a mourning process, as I always do at the end of a trip. Perhaps the challenges we faced in getting to this place added to our appreciation of it. I felt as though I were saying goodbye to a loved one.
Then I saw a hand painted sign nailed high up on a tree. We didn’t have time to stop and take a picture, but it will remain forever in my mind. It said, “Lord Jesus, what a rush!”
If things have to end, as all things do, then that is the way I want to look back on them. Life is full of beginnings and endings, but it’s the middle part that makes all the difference.
I leave you (and Hawaii) now, with the bittersweet yet iconic song, Aloha ‘Oe. It was written by Liliʻuokalani, the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. She wrote many songs in her time, but this one is particularly haunting. It was originally written about a lover’s goodbye.
Twenty years later, she transcribed this song while she was under house arrest. America was in the process of stealing these islands from the Hawaiian people, simply because we had superior firepower. Originally, we sentenced this dignified woman to five years of hard labor for her defiance, but we at least had the good grace to commute that sentence, and later set her free to live another 21 years, fighting our indifferent government in court for lands that they never had any intention of returning.
When you think of Aloha ‘Oe as a lament for the loss of Liliʻuokalani’s beloved country, it takes on a bittersweet flavor, indeed. Flying away from Hawaii forces the traveler to internalize just a tiny shard of her broken heart. Aloha, Hawai’i. Until we meet again.
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