Hawaii….sigh. Where to begin.
Until it was suggested by my practitioner, never did I consider travelling to Hawaii. In my mind, it was the hub for newly weds and tacky Hawaiian shirts; hardly appealing to a single, adventure-driven gal! Yet little did I know that beyond the cliché grass skirts and coconut bras lied an oasis – overflowing with passionate people, mesmerizing landscapes and the true essence of life!
Though part of the United States, the Hawaiian islands are certainly a place of their own. The culture, the food, the people, the aloha spirit; here you will find deep soul, profound energy and a very distinct allure! Very unique in comparison to what I’ve experienced in my travels to date.
While I will do my best to summarize the last 3 weeks, I doubt I’ll be able to fully detail in word how powerfully these islands have impacted my life. Ultimately, YOU will have to visit this remote region yourself to truly understand why it is nirvana.
The adventure began on the BIG island. It is called the BIG island quite simply because it is the biggest of all the islands. B.I. is a lush jungle, bursting with vibrant greenery, tropical flowers and vegetation. It rains frequently in Hilo, the city where my journey began, but the warm rain was hardly a bother because utter bliss ALWAYS out weighted a damp shirt.
I was picked up from the airport by my first couchsurfing host named Bob. Couchsurfing, for those unaware, is a fabulous networking website that connects people all over the world. After making a profile, one can host travelers in their home and either request to ‘surf’ at the home of another surfer or request to meet up and get a local tour. While in Toronto, I hosted a few surfers. Periodically having ‘citizens of the world’ in my home made me feel like I was travelling even when I was stagnant. It added a mix to my routine and I found it to be a great way to meet interesting and like minded people. The advantage when travelling is not only do you uncover all the local hang-outs by staying with a host, but you get a free place to crash. AND it’s not just for the young, budget travellers. Many mature surfers who utilize the site say it’s a great way to stay connected with the younger generations. Or as one woman put it, “you’re never too old to learn and have a personalized adventure”.
I was really blessed on B.I. since I was hosted 9 out of my 12 days on the island. This not only helped my budget but more importantly, I was able to connect with fascinating locals who showed and shared things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise! In my view, connecting and sharing with other humans beings is ultimately why we are here. Experiencing the generosity and kindness of the BIG island folk was truly special; as well, I feel I got the 5 star experience paid in full with love and compassion!
Unlike the other islands, the people on B.I. have a very distinct way of living. Life is simple, easy-going, slow moving and filled with kindness. People are never in a rush, and they go out of their way to stir up a conversation with unfamiliar faces. Checking out at a grocery store could take minimum 20 minutes, even if one is only purchasing an item or two. Friendly chatter is a must on B.I. And unlike some places where we feel asking “how are you” is an obligation, on B.I. it is a genuine query. The whole island felt like one big community, and although the biggest in size, compared to the other islands, it has the smallest population.
So B.I. is BIG and unless you rent a car or find yourself patient enough to wait around for one of the three daily buses that goes around the island, hitch hiking is a form of transport still commonly practiced and accepted. As such, you better believe day one I was out there with my thumb and smile hitching rides! If I wasn’t running down the freeway, I was hitching down it. I never had a problem catching a ride and in most cases, rides led to personalized tours, family BBQ’s and visits to dad’s backyard garden; leaving me with handfuls of fresh oranges and avocados!
While I could detail the beauty of the scenery for days, the kindness I experienced from the locals is what heightened the beauty of the island. Every person I met had a story and openly shared from their heart without fear of judgement or criticism. People had a “this is who I am” personality, and unlike some cultures where they feel driven to build up a wall and keep their ego at the forefront, these people weren’t afraid to be themselves, say what they thought while maintaining an open mind and a profound level of respect for the views of others. There is a distinct fluidity among the people that is effortless and extremely sincere.
When I arrived on the island a lava flow was well underway; gradually moving toward a small town called Pahoa. The army had a few streets blocked preventing locals from accessing the flow which was totally a bummer since of course, everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the lava! None the less, my tour around the island included stops at most of the lava flows from previous years. How often does one get the opportunity to stand on ground younger than they are?! Actually, the old hardened lava acres were a stunning site! The coils and waves stretched for miles creating a very unique landscape.
Because the land is constantly changing, the ground has a very special energy. I was told before I arrived that the BIG island definitely had “something” special about it, and from the moment I touched the ground, you could feel it!
One afternoon, I was out exploring a lava flow from the 1950’s which had wiped out an old cemetery. The grounds keeper found me meditating on a grave stone and told me if I wanted to ‘feel’ energy, I should follow him. Next thing you know, I am climbing this hill through a jungle of palms and a sea of mosquitos; following a half naked man covered in 4/20 tattoos armed with a machete. Eventually, we get to this clearing and the second I step foot on the open space I felt what he was talking about. I didn’t say a word but I must have made a face since the man looked at me and said “I smoke a lot of weed, but I KNOW you felt that”! I laughed and said “where are we”? He told me that beneath our feet was an ancient temple. Only a few cobble stones around the rim served as proof that something was there. But I definitely felt more than I could see that day!
My days began early since when the sun sets in Hawaii (at around 6) it is dark! I found myself laughing myself to sleep at night because of the sounds. Back home, I have friends who pay for nature and wave apps to help them fall asleep at night. Yet here I was phone free letting nature do all the work! Then of course there were the stars…Beautiful beams of light filled the sky allowing one to clearly see the constellations and the Milky Way. Early bedtimes were the norm, but I loved ceasing the day at 5:30am! My morning usually began with meditation and yoga. Followed by a fresh garden picking from which I created colourful fruit salads! Of course, a run would take place unless I decided that my entire day would be a ‘run with my backpack’ kind of day. I definitely put all the sneakers I brought to good use. I found myself running through the jungle, up mountains and balancing on old volcanic cliffs. Travelling on foot is not only great exercise, but you’re able to access hidden tide pools, sea turtle hangouts and secret waterfalls. My body took a little bit of beating as I found myself creating my own paths, climbing ‘Tarzan’ trees (as I like to call them) and slipping down rushing rapids. But the views were always worth it!
The beauty of Hawaii is you never have to worry about bringing a jacket because the weather is always nice! AND when it did happen to rain, it was a refreshing shower which suppressed my sweaty stench!
As someone who cares greatly about my health and pays close attention to everything I consume, it was a joy to be in a place where fresh fruit and vegetables can be accessed from your back yard. Some of my favourite moments were waking up, walking outside and grabbing what I wanted off the trees. I would then throw together a fresh fruit salad for breakfest and savour every bite! When you see the source of your food, you gain a new appreciation for it. Often, we don’t treasure food because we see it as a tool for fuel rather than a beautiful gift. But when you see how it’s grown and have the opportunity to pick it from its birth place, it really makes you question how these foods end up in grocery stores. Especially since they taste like a miracle when you eliminate the middle man! I couldn’t get enough of the papaya, the star fruit, the avocados, the oranges, etc. And I’ll never forget the day I saw a pineapple plant! I was like a kid at Disney World! If we treasured food and saw it as a gift that comes from beautiful plants, I believe people would treasure the process of preparing their meals and as a result, appreciate each bite.
I spent my first 3 days in Hilo; meeting people, visitng the local mom & pop shops, watching the locals ride big waves, discovering beautiful waterfalls, meandering through the Japanese park and checking out the markets. Every Wednesday night, everyone drives out to this place called Uncle Roberts in Kalapana. Apparently, this man’s house is the only house that wasn’t consumed by a lava flow from the 80’s. As such, every week there is a giant party at his place where market vendors go to sell their art and prepare local dishes. Hawaiian music is played, and of course dancing (and drinking) is encouraged. Everyone attends, both young and old, and it feels like a big family gathering.
From Hilo I went south to this tiny area called Kapoho where I stayed with another Couchsurfing family for 5 days. I had an entire apartment to myself and enjoyed snorkeling in the tide pools right outside their home, going for bike rides, picking fruit from their gardens, cleaning their pool (brushing up on my skills from when I worked at Pioneer Pools), climbing coconut trees (and failing miserably), and taking long drives along the coast! The couple who hosted me were like adopted parents, and although they were concerned that I might be bored in this remote, isolated location, I loved every second of it!
From there I travelled to the national volcanic park to see the most active volcano in the world! I spent the day running the trails, exploring lava tubes and seeing the sky light up red at night as the lava brewed in the crater! Hands down one of the coolest things I have ever seen/ heard!
Later at my hostel in the middle of the jungle (literally) I met Julien; a French runner from France who also enjoyed parading around on foot as much as me. As such, we decided to team up and continue our island tour together!
The following day, we drove to the most southern point in the USA. No, it’s not in Florida, it’s on. B.I.! After parking the car, the 3 mile journey to the green sand beach could only be accessed with a 4X4. Being the athletes that we are, we opted to use our legs and had a riot running through the rain and jumping in massive mud puddles; doing our best not to slip, but it totally happened! Eventually, we got to the famous green sand beach and it was a beautiful pristine site that was reserved for two because no one else was around! We ran down the steep sand hill to the blue oasis and jumped into the rough ocean; admiring the landscape and the lack of ‘southerness’ we felt being at the most southern point ha ha.
After our swim, a 3 mile run back to the car, and with sand wedged in every orifice of our bodies, we carried on up the coast to the Kona side of the island. Here we learned about the history of Captain Cook and spent the afternoon exploring another historic national park.
Further up the coast, we rented a kayak and paddled our way out to a gorgeous bay with wicked reefs for snorkeling. As we docked our kayak in the bay, a sea turtle popped right up next to us and we got the opportunity to feed and pet him! Definitely a highlight of the trip!
As we drove along the coast, we stopped frequently to check out the local shops and took pleasure in talking to the people – admiring their art and trades – and of course trying the famous Kona coffee at a place called “donkey balls” – best known for their chocolate covered maca nutts! Yum!
Further north, we met up with another awesome Couchsurfer named Joe who hosted us for a few hours since we planned to wake up early and climb Mauna Kea – the tallest volcano in the world! I barely slept the night before the climb and instead found myself star gazing until the alarm went off at 3:30am. By 4am we were on the road driving to the volcano. Once at the park, we learned the road to the top was closed. The ranger told us that winds at the summit were 60 mp/hr (90km) and the road was covered in ice; as such, it was unsafe to drive. So instead, we watched the sun rise from the base of the volcano and then decided we would hike to the summit.
After 5 hours of walking up a steep incline, we reached the summit and quickly learned why the road was closed – we were both flying and freezing! There was ice and insane wind at the speed in which the ranger indicated. This meant our ‘glory moment’ only lasted about 10 minutes which I spent behind a small shelter while Julien paraded around grabbing video footage. After Spielberg captured his shots, we then ran (literally) down the mountain – doing our best to get back to warmer temperatures and wind levels ASAP! The descent took about two hours since we went back and forth between running and walking. Roughly 7 hours later, we stumbled into the ranger station to let them know we had survived at which point we learned that the rangers never opened the road to the public; as well, no one else made the trek up the volcano that day. As such, Julien and I had the entire park to ourselves and can honestly say that we were the only two souls on the volcano that day! Well worth the massive altitude headache and nose bleed I encountered once we got back to the car. From the volcano, we drove south back to Hilo and Bob graciously hosted us for our last night on the island. After a long shower and a big hamburger, we called it a day.
The next morning, we said goodbye to the BIG island and flew to Honolulu on Oahu island. Oahu is the “busy” island with traffic, tourists and a faster pace of life. Once landed, we headed to Waikiki beach – the tourist strip. The place sort of looks like a mini Vegas with tons of shopping, street performers, beaches flooded with bodies and an ocean filled with first time surfers. I knew Waikiki wouldn’t be my favourite place, as I always do my best to avoid the tourist spots, but I figured I had to experience another side of Hawaii. Of course, I walked into the shops and immediately asked the store clerks for all the cool “off the grid” places to visit and eat. Locals love it when travellers make the effort to seek out places beyond what is in front of them, so I was provided a long list to keep me busy!
I found it more difficult to Couchsurf in Oahu since people had busier schedules and didn’t respond to my requests as quickly. But even if they were unable to host, their suggestions regarding “things to do” were much appreciated, and ended up being some of my favourite experiences on the island!
Julien had already explored Oahu before coming to the BIG island and was returning to catch his connecting flight home the following day. However, one of the things we did do before he left was a jungle expedition tour. This entailed driving an army truck up the north west side of the island, where movies such as Godzilla, Jurassic Park and Planet of the Apes were filmed. The island truly does make you feel like you’re in a movie because the whole landscape is picture perfect; crisp blue water, green vibrant mountains and crystal clear skies! It was cool to see the movie sets and learn a little about the island history.
After Julien left, I met another awesome traveller named Sachi. We met in a hostel and became “fast-friends”. We had a riot together, and although not a runner, she was up for joining me on all of my trail-adventures. Day one I took her on 3 trails, one being the “stairway to heaven” which was no easy climb, and to finish things off, I had her hitch hiking. Hitching rides was not as easy on Oahu as it was on B.I. Actually, every time I got picked up the person was originally from B.I. Thankfully, there was a bus system that ran frequently, but I usually played the “whichever came first” game. I would hitchhike at bus stops and take whatever came first, a free ride or the bus.
One of the Couchsurfers who did accept my request lived out in Lanikai. His backyard sits on a beach that is rated one of the top ten beaches in the world! With clean white sand and vibrant clear water; it truly was paradise! The second I arrived I threw on my sneakers and ran the mountain trail in his front yard. The trail had look-out houses which were used during the war by the U.S. Army and sit very high up on the edge of mountain tops! I had a ball running the terrain; whizzing my way of steep cliffs while soaking up the scene. At one point, I encountered a lovely couple and the one man, Daniel, turned out to be one of the original stars from the hit NYC Broadway show Jersey Boys. He was in Hawaii performing his new Broadway show “The Midtown Men”, and being the sweetheart that he is, he gave me two free tickets to see his show that Sunday. Of course, the show was nothing short of incredible, so if you have the opportunity to see it, I highly recommend it!
As I continued along the trail I met other fun travellers. At one point, I stopped to take a photo and when I went to grab my iPhone from my fanny-pack, my debit card flew out, caught wind and soared off the edge into the jungle below! Oops! I froze momentarily then had a good laugh because what else can you do?!
I spent the next few days enjoying the small town of Lanikai and the privacy of our beach. I ran the mountain trail a few times, and utilized all of Nicolas’s toys he had at the beach house such as kayaks, surfboards and paddle boards. He was into kite surfing and the sky was often filled with kites as the wind was apparently “ideal” on this side of the island.
The people of Lanikai were also extremely nice, relaxed and kind. I found them to be very similar to those on B.I. which is why I think I enjoyed it so much!
One day, I took the bus to the north side of the island to see the BIG waves. “The North Side”, as it is called, is home to some of the best surfers in the world. At that point in time, they were setting up for an upcoming surf competition. The waves over there were intense, but apparently they were just beginning to grow to the crazy heights needed for the competition. While on the bus over, I met two fabulous gals and the three of us ended up meandering together! We had good fun walking along the beach, hitching rides from locals, perusing the shops, discovering world’s greatest lunch spot (run by two passionate young guys in a truck) and sharing our testaments of life!
Throughout my entire trip, I had the opportunity to meet fabulous women, and men, with whom I shared my project. It was a pleasure to assist people and offer perspective and coaching as many found themselves on their own personal journey of self-discovery. Many of the people I met had very similar stories – they knew they weren’t fully happy in life and felt their purpose involved more than sitting at a des, working a job for the sake of making money. Like me, many had no clear exit plan, but chose to up and leave the life they knew, determined to make their “new life” doing whatever-wherever. It was refreshing to connect with other enlightened individuals pursuing their dreams. One fellow I met was a lawyer and said to me “ya I was making a ton of money and I’ve only been here (BIG island) for 6 days, but I’ve been sleeping in a hammock, eating avocados and have never been so happy!!! Was it worth the risk to step into the unknown – F*** ya”!
Everyone I met was extremely supportive of my book initiative and provided perspective and insight to develop the project further. While I am not clear on how the whole thing will come together, the joy I expereince in sharing the project with others lights me up inside. For that reason alone, I am confident it will all work out because “the effect we have on others is the most valuable currency there is” (can’t remember who said this, but I agree).
Sachi was in Hawaii for a wedding so she let me tag along with her posie of friends for a few pre-wedding events and social gatherings. We cooked dinner, went and saw a local band, shopped around and surfed together! Above all, I learned a lot from her and am very grateful for our new friendship.
Ahh, the surfing! A special highlight was the day I finally got the ‘feel’ for the waves which meant I actually surfed; as oppose to consuming several litres of salt water. After a few face-splats early one morning, a local called me over and said “you’re popping up too fast, wait for the wave”. I didn’t really know what he meant as I was not well versed in surfer lingo, but when it happened I knew exactly what he what talking about! Once you got the ‘feeling’ it was basically smooth sailing as you knew what ‘feeling’ you needed before standing up. He also taught me how to pick a good wave and monitor the wave patterns. Surfing is a lot of fun, but it also requires a lot of patience. You often found yourself waiting for the perfect wave for some time, but when it came and you caught it, the feeling was magical!
There are so many amazing things I did and wonderful people I met that I could go on and on for days. I tried to upload a video blog several times, but for some reason I wasn’t able too. Hopefully, I’ll have the quirks worked out for upcoming posts. If not, I hope you were able to catch a glimpse of my experience through word and photo. I was sad to leave this beautiful paradise, but I have no doubt I’ll return in the near future. I know everyone says that when their on vacation, but this place was very special and I’m eager to discover more of its layers!
So here I am, now in Mumbai India; the place I’ve been talking about for months! We’ll see what sort of crazy adventures unfold in this exciting place.
Day one: Traffic, and driving through traffic, is a great adrenaline rush and a fabulous way to get the blood flowing! All you can do is laugh while simultaneously think “I hope I don’t die”! I think I’m going to like it here 🙂