January and I have a fraught history. Something about the month gets to me, gets under me. It howls at my resolve and tatters my edges. January is a month to be survived. That’s where I am now, and that’s why reflecting on my time in Hawaii is so bittersweet.
It’s common when traveling somewhere beautiful, especially somewhere tropical and relaxing, to yearn to relocate there forever, to let the sunshine bleach out your problems and start life anew in “paradise”. To live more simply and surrounded by more beauty. As magical as I found Hawaii, as tantalizing as it is to hope to live in a tropical oasis that’s also part of your home country, I knew Hawaii and I just weren’t going to gel like that. Notsomuch that the island (The Big Island, where I spent all my travel time) is too far away from everything, but that it’s too small itself, it lacks the things I need. Namely, the kind of variety that a city holds, culture, a high number of travel possibilities. Island Fever would get me.
I did fall for Hawaii, its diverse beauty is shocking. One minute you’re driving along the California coast, the next minute you’re covered by verdant palms, and then you find yourself driving through rolling green knolls with lazing cows and hippie farms on the side of the road. Vermont! The Big Island of Hawaii itself does have nearly all of the world’s climates. The top of Mauna Kea is sub-arctic and almost always snowcapped. (It’s also technically the world’s tallest mountain as Everest and others do not start at sea-level. I hope this is something that helps me out in bar trivia one day.)
I loved driving around the island for this reason – I loved the drastic change and the unique beauty. The scenery was something of a hodgepodge of so many of my previous travels (Volcanic National Park reminded me of my family’s Yellowstone trip in 2004) while remaining thoroughly new and distinctive.
Volcanoes make Hawaii what it is, historically and aesthetically . Its volcanic activity has created stunning black sand beaches, acres and acres of warped and whorled volcanic rock, lava tunnels or caves created by lava, cliffs that overlook the ocean, and pretty green valleys. It also makes the weather nutty. We experienced “vog” or volcanic fog, which looks like natural fog and is also somewhat dangerous, especially if you breath it in directly. (We only drove through it.)
It wasn’t long after I got off the plane and to my hotel that I saw a mongoose. The taxi driver almost ran over one as he pulled up to drop me off. “Was that a lizard?!” I exclaimed. All I saw was a sandy-colored thing with a long tail scurry into the bushes. He corrected me. And I saw them the next morning, wrestling like puppies in the parking lot. I also saw lizards, but there were tiny and looked like the ones I’ve seen in Southeast Asia.
Most amazing, though was all the sea life. I’d been to the Philippines, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Thailand. And I’d maybe seen a couple of angel fish underwater. In Hawaii I essentially saw the entire aquarium at the most expensive restaurant you can think of in the wild. The fish were in big flat shapes and with electric colors. I thought the most beautiful were the black ones lined with yellow and flecked with orange and blue. A type of parrotfish, I think. I also saw sea turtles for the first time in the wild. Unfazed by human tourist life, they lounge on beaches and rocks by nearby swimmers. Would a sea turtle be offended if I described them as “chill”? They seem to transcend the word.
The trip was made more remarkable because I spent it with my entire family. Not just parents and brothers, but grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I also got to meet my cousin’s son Logan who was born 2 months prior to the trip. It was a short time, too short, for my parents and for me. Even being able to have my mom blow dry my hair on New Years Eve was such a treat of intimate banality, I’ll think of it almost as fondly as the spectacular sunsets and oceanside cliffs. Being with family in Hawaii made the trip seem a fleeting joy all the more. But it was also a reminder that bickering and disagreement and other family melodrama definitely still exist in paradise.