Return to Hawaii

It was January 2001 – seven months before I was let go from my job at the software company (the tech bubble burst having slowly decimated the industry), and nine months before September 11th changed the world and travel in the US forever – when I first went to Hawaii.

It came about almost by accident. As I said, I was still working at the software company then. It had been my first “real” job out of college, and I’d been there 10 years, though the industry average tenure at the time was 3 years.  These two things made me both fairly young compared to my colleagues, and an old-timer by company standards.

I was up visiting the company headquarters, as I tended to do about once a month. On this particular trip I was not able to get a flight out the same night, and since I was still going to be in town that evening, some of my colleagues invited me to join them for a drink. It wasn’t the sort of thing my office ever did, but it was common for their group and I went along rather than stare at hotel walls for the night.

I got to chatting with one of them, a girl about 5 years my junior, and the subject of travel came up. I wasn’t a big traveler then. In fact, I hadn’t been much of anywhere yet, other than for business trips. Travel was pretty much just the thing I daydreamed about.

She felt the same way.  As novices, neither one of us wanted to travel alone. My girlfriends were tied down. Hers were broke. We said we should travel together. I asked where she most wanted to go, and Hawaii was in the top 3. She asked me the same, and Hawaii was in my top 3. We’ll go, we said, but I thought it was just talk.

When she called me the next week to make it happen, I was surprised to discover she was serious. What I learned pretty quickly was that her brother had been stationed on a military base on Oahu for a few years – during which time she had never visited him – and was about to be transferred back to the mainland. Time was therefore of the essence for her.

Things fell into place. I had enough frequent flyer miles built up that we could both fly on my miles. Meanwhile her brother had a spare room for us to stay, and some leave he needed to use, acting as our driver and tour guide.

It’s been more than 10 years, and a lot changes in that time. But I remember arriving in the middle of the afternoon local time, after having flown all day, and going for a hula lesson on Waikiki beach. I remember waking up in the wee hours of that first night, totally discombobulated and not really sure not only where I was, but when I was. I remember those first days driving around the island, with the ridged green of the mountains competing with the jewel tones of the sea, and feeling like I couldn’t look in enough directions at once. I remember orange and lemon and banana trees growing alongside roadways, and rainbows of epic proportions. I remember a perfect pink cloud shaped unmistakably like a goldfish, floating in the late afternoon sky. I remember driving past farms where the air smelled of pineapple and rich earth. I remember being awestruck by the experience of riding around in shorts in the back of a pickup truck in January. I remember realizing that by day three I was already starting to be more selective about what was or wasn’t amazing me, and wondering whether people who live there start to take the beauty around them for granted… and whether there was beauty back home that I was overlooking. I remember coming home to a cold wet winter, and scraping a quarter-inch of solid ice off my car, thinking that God-must-love-the-Hawaiians-more and humans-were-not-meant-to-live-in-this-climate.

Honolulu was busy and built up, and the highways were crowded, and the evening news there was just as prone to be full of violence and crisis as back home, but it was the beauty of the place I carried away with me over all the years in between.

Nearly a decade later, I recently returned to Hawaii. Not Oahu this time, but the Big Island. I went with family, and although we were somewhere else, I wanted them to love Hawaii as I had. I found myself carrying an unnecessary burden that they enjoy the island. I worried that they were disappointed — that the black lava desert of Kona would not live up to their expectations of “what Hawaii should look like.” I made sure we got over to the greener Hilo side of the island to give them a sense of what I had meant when I had come before. And I comforted myself that at least they would be going on to Oahu after I headed home again.

I worried needlessly. After a few days, my parents stopped talking about the trip as a “once in a lifetime thing” and started talking about coming back again to see more. And in fact they enjoyed the stark, desolate beauty of Kona – and the wide open empty space of it – vastly better than busy, crowded Oahu.

I’m sorry that they didn’t enjoy that island more, but I suppose that everyone must have their own “first” experience of a place. Without points of comparison, the island you visit first may simply become the standard for all future visits. I first went to, and loved, Oahu. They first came to, and loved, the Big Island. So be it.  I’ll just hope to get back to visit the other islands one day, and see what impressions they leave.

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~ by lorakceel on October 16, 2010.

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