I made a spontaneous decision to go to the big island of Hawai’i before Christmas. I felt mentally tired, had the vacation time, and going to the Big Island is an easy trip for me, given that it’s the third time I’ve been there.
It’s a bit like going to the tropical version of Salt Spring I know it so well. The weather was perfect, not too hot for a Canadian because it is their winter after all. It wasn’t crowded and I was told that the volcanic eruption of Kilauea in the summer had really impacted tourism, especially in Hilo and in the village of Volcano. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park had just re-opened (but not fully) in September.
My favourite thing about the Big Island is the diversity of landscapes from volcanoes to tropical gardens to waterfalls, lush green valleys and even pasture land up in Waimea country. You can go snorkelling or take a surf lesson. Whether you want to go out on one of the tours such as Fairwinds or BodyGlove or you just want to catch the trolley that goes along Ali’i Drive to go to the family friendly easy snorkelling beach of Kahhalu’u Beach park it’s up to you. From sea turtles to coffee plantations to golf to snorkelling with Manta Rays at night if that’s your thing, to taking tours of octopus and seahorse farms or just learning about the Hawaiian heritage and local arts and crafts such as the kapa quilt patterns in the quilt museum in Kona or about the history of Tsunamis at the little museum in Hilo. There’s touristy Hawaii in Kona village and the long strip of shops which keeps things interesting and there is not so touristy old Hawaii out in the rural areas. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is one of the most stunning tropical gardens you’ll ever see and not to be missed. This time I found this unique and aptly named Peace Garden at the end of Painted Church Road. It was spectacular, perched high above Kealakekua Bay.
Because I’ve already seen most of the tourist things from my first and second trip, this was going to be just a more hanging out kind of trip. I wasn’t even going to rent a car until I realized, you have to rent a car if you’re going to go to the Big Island and not get stuck in Kona. So I caved, rented one for two days, and that was just enough to get me out to the Place of Refuge which is one of my favourite places and I dropped into the Painted Church. I also wanted to take a quick trip back up the hill behind Kona to Holualoa, a funky little place with some good artists’ shops. I also made the longer drive up to Waikoloa, and went to the spectacular Kua beach on the way back on an incredibly blustery day where the waves were frothing and flashing.
One day, I went to a beach area that a lot of tourists would probably just pass by because it doesn’t look like it would be very nice when you’re looking towards the ocean from the highway. But it’s really nice, runs for miles and it’s almost deserted. There were some locals surfing farther out. It’s only about a 20 minute drive North from Kona.
I was walking along when I spotted this guy peering intently into the water, poised to pounce with his net to catch fish the old fashioned way. I was slightly bemused. It looked like I’d stumbled upon some episode of Survivor. But that’s me being dismissive of long held traditions that actually work. Unfortunately, they didn’t work for him that day. No fish caught!
He came into shore and we started chatting. In no time at all, he offered me a beer. I thought about it for about 30 seconds and said, Okay. Sure. Why not. I was thirsty after all. And I put my towel down and we watched the fishing boat that had been trolling back and forth farther out and we talked about this and that and nothing really. I asked him how old he was. He asked me how young I was. His choice of words told me a lot about him. And then he asked me if I’d like some dried Ahi tuna. It’s great with beer, he said, and it was.
I like those kind of interactions while on vacation. They seem so pure. A mutual understanding that it’s a human connection made without expectations except sharing of realities and soaking up the other person’s energy. I really liked his energy. For all I know, he could have been homeless. He had a pretty wrecked Mazda truck. He didn’t have a job. He’d worked previously for 18 years at Holualoa Coffee Company. He had two kids.
Those kinds of interactions make traveling alone the adventure it can be.
I’ve been pondering Albert upon my return. We sat there for about 45 minutes that day and then when we parted he took my hand and we looked into each others eyes and there was a real connection there. I wanted to give him a hug but I didn’t. I’m thinking Hawaiian hospitality has to be pretty renowned and he did his nationality proud that day.
He told me where he lived and said I should drop in before I leave if I wanted to. But I didn’t. I’d be gone in less than a day.
Everything that mattered for me was in the moment.