Before I came here, I knew very little about Hawaii. It consisted mostly of what I had learned in school (the fiftieth state, a chain of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean), what I’d learned from movies and television shows (surfing, beaches, hula dancers, aloha shirts and leis), and what friends and family had told me (mostly about the beaches, weather and welcoming atmosphere). My daughter gave me a little more insight, as I prepared for this trip. “Don’t bring anything too fancy,” she said, “It’s pretty laid-back here.” “Definitely do not pack heels,” she told me, “and tell Jen not to, too.” She said this island reminded her of Beaver Island, in the relaxed pace and easy-going attitude. Still, I didn’t know quite what to expect.
I knew there were two airports on this island; I thought there were only two cities. I was thinking of it as much smaller than it is. This island, which is just a fraction of the state, is smaller than Vermont, but larger than Rhode Island. It turns out there are at least 34 distinct towns on this island, plus smaller villages and municipalities.
I expected good weather, but was surprised by the variety of weather conditions. Considering the mountaintops, where there is snow, you can find several distinct climates here, ranging from desert to rain forest, and everything in between. Though temperatures average between 75 and 85 degrees fahrenheit every day, we often experience cool mornings, sun showers, and many other variations over the course of a day.
As I expected, Hawaii makes most of its revenue from tourism, but there are small farms as well as large plantations, and whole sections of the countryside devoted to cattle ranching. The school that my granddaughter works at has a beautiful garden, and its care is part of the curriculum. Many businesses, even those that depend on the tourist trade, are small enterprises. The couple that supply us with delicious homemade bagels and muffins are a good example.
I expected beautiful beaches. I was surprised by the expansive lava flows, high cliffs and tremendous waterfalls. Studying volcanoes in geography class is no preparation for the immensity of the craters, the heat coming from the earth felt on lava rocks that have been solid for many years, and the acres and acres of land that have been buried over the years.
Coming from a tourist-oriented community myself, I expected to meet people who were friendly and accommodating. It surprised me to encounter the kindness and generosity of spirit that I have found here. There is a general willingness here to share culture and experience. Everyone seems to go out of their way to make us feel welcome. Everybody waves as I walk down the road.
Hawaii was not a place I ever planned to visit. If my daughter weren’t living here, I’m sure I wouldn’t have come. Now, having had this experience, I’ve fallen in love with this place. It has made me look at all travel differently. It has taught me that what I think I know, and what I expect to find, might be nothing in comparison to what I actually encounter. This trip has far exceeded my wildest expectations!