Rediscovering the Joy of Travel on Hawaii’s Big Island


Like most mornings on Hawaii’s Big Island’s Kohala Beach, it’s a sun-drenched morning on Hapuna Beach. At our home in California, a turtle the size of our coffee table comes to the surface in the middle of my face. He continues to stay close like an old friend. I laugh, I’m happy – but then comes a complex burst of emotion.

Over the past year and a half, I had almost convinced myself that I was okay with missing saintly faces and places, that I was fully committed to being a hermit for humanity. I was returning here at the start of my week-long visit for a wedding postponed due to the pandemic in early July to travel to a different world, where many people have lost their loved ones, their jobs, and so much more. Even familiar things sounded strange. Airports. crowds. My large, energetic beech clan; the uproar of a great social gathering; what it’s like to meet someone new Back to a loved place.

Turtle and I swam together for a while. I observed the calm cruising altitude from above and allowed myself the occasional side dive to look at it from a respectful distance while thoughtfully eating the coral algae. When I got to the end of the beach, I turned around to swim to the other side, but not before I wished my friend a good day. A few minutes later, I came face to face with another smaller turtle.

In native Hawaiian culture, sea turtles are revered as the earthly form. aumakuaor ancestral spirits may show us care, attention, or comfort. Manta rays and sharks are other examples of these spirit forms and are equally valuable. I thought of my grandmother, it’s been almost a year. After the overwhelming stress and uncertainty of recent months, I embarked on a forward journey with a large slice of my family for the first time in a year and a half. It was good to have hope again.

After all, what could be more forward-looking than a wedding?

This summer, many Americans are traveling with a kind of cautious optimism. Ahead of our trip to the Big Island, navigating the complex and ever-changing web of requirements to get into Hawaii was a trivial process and a reminder that things are still fluid. New coronavirus variants were on the rise, and while my husband Matt and I were getting vaccinated, our kids weren’t old enough to be yet. Regardless of vaccination status, we all had to be tested and negative 72 hours after flight departure time.

We ran into some obstacles: Matt’s results never materialized, prompting him to track down another Hawaii-approved test site for a quick test the day before our flight. He found one at the San Francisco airport for $225, the price of travel during the Covid period. We’ve uploaded our results to: Hawaii Safe Travel website and confirmed our results at the airport before our flight. (Shortly after our trip, the rules changed again so that vaccinated passengers could skip the test and avoid quarantine.)

Once we landed in Kona, however, the anxiety dissipated and it was a relief to feel that everyone was doing their part to keep the larger community safe. We rented a house with my husband’s family. Fairmont OrchidThe place where the intimate wedding for 39 people will take place. The rental house included a beach parking pass for the following. Mauna Lani Beach Clubis a small, reef-protected cove with shallow water that is perfect for young swimmers and snorkelers.

One morning, on that intimate little beach, our 8-year-old Teddy snorkeled for the first time, enjoying the iridescent blue needlefish and shoals of compressed yellow tangs. He remembered how to describe and pronounce the Hawaii state fish humuhumunukunukuapua’a. I noticed a moray eel with its head sticking out of the coral, mouth open, ready to be accepted, comically frozen in a hopeful pose.

Then Teddy got out of the water excitedly. “Mom, I saw a girl in the water who looked like Ishana,” he exclaimed, referring to a fast little girl on the swim team he was returning home to.

What were the chances? We weren’t on the same beach as Ishana’s family at the same time – they were enjoying a long-postponed family reunion – but it also turned out that we were all staying in rental houses within walking distance of each other. Random encounter outside of the ordinary orbit, spontaneous conversation, sense of normalcy – we are renewed with great joy for what can happen when you start living in the world again.

Hawaii is a place that marked the beginning of my travel life. The relationship started almost 25 years ago when she visited a college friend who was born and raised in Oahu. He grew up with this friendship and trips to Kauai, the Big Island, Maui, Lanai; deepened when I researched and wrote A book about chinatownsincluding Honolulu’s; and it solidified when my best childhood friend moved to Kailua. When you do something you haven’t done in a while – like leaving your home, for example – the whole attempt can feel a little awkward or tinged with nostalgia. When I saw parrotfish chewing coral and leaving steamy crumb marks, I felt like I was back in Hawaii with an extensive archive of memorabilia. Maybe nibbling fish does for me what the tea coin did for Marcel Proust.

It’s strange to travel at a time when we still have to keep our distance from strangers. We can be outside most of the time: on a beach, in the ocean, on a trail. Inside a restaurant, shop, or grocery store—or, say, an urgent care clinic where we had to stop when Teddy tripped his foot on a lava rock—the masks continued, and we carefully adhered to the posted restrictions. We repaired our soul An Aloha Shave IceNakoa and Leilani Nelson-Riley’s homemade organic ginger syrup was so fresh I could see tiny bits of ginger root in my order, a gorgeous melting snow mountain complete with ice cream and azuki beans.

As the number of trips to Hawaii and elsewhere increases, local concerns and extreme tourismespecially on the once quiet island of Maui Hana Highway has become a traffic jam lately. During our time on the Big Island it was relatively calm compared to the pre-pandemic period (our voyage Devastating bush fire at Parker Farm in Waimea). We’ve always tried to do what we thought we should: spend in Hawaii and other locally owned businesses, underestimate the environment, be respectful.

When we took a break from wedding preparations one afternoon, Matt and I took a leisurely drive to grab lunch. original Merriman, in the rural town of Waimea. Maui was floating on a cloud just off the sea. As the road rose from the west coast, the car’s dashboard thermometer went down. The rainy fog thickened and turned into mist, drifting over us to cover the observatories atop Mauna Kea in the distance.

On the crispy martini and salty saimin With slow-roasted Kalua pork, we remembered the year a snowstorm canceled a planned stargazing trip to the volcano’s summit. And we remembered other adventures on the Big Island: surfing, exploring with the locals at Kahalu’u Beach an abalone farm and a tropical fruit test gardenlearn about coffee Hilo Coffee Mill, Hiking Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, tasting of jaboticaba berry wine Southernmost winery in the United States. Starting with the wedding of my brother-in-law Mike and his daughter-in-law Diana, we talked about what it means to create new memories with our blended big family.

At the resort the next day, warm afternoon light descended across the Pacific and set the tall coconut palms surrounding the small sandy beach. The couple got married in front of three dozen close family and friends; the young bridesmaids and groomsmen were their four children. We had tears as we thought about and appreciated everything that happened. Then cocktail hour began, the shoes came off, and everyone danced into the night, illuminated by twinkling lanterns.

The next afternoon, a group of us gathered on Mauna Kea. visitor station, located at 9,200 feet (from there to the peak, all-wheel drive is required at 13,800 feet). We called ahead to inquire about the weather for stargazing – we were hoping there were no blizzards or cloud cover.

The man who answered the phone had a smile in his voice. “Perfect,” he said.

We drove from a 90-degree day at sea level into a fully curved rainbow, the car packed with enough layers and blankets to protect it from an estimated 35-degree evening. After about 45 minutes, the road took us above the cloud cover, revealing a blue sky whose clarity was almost blinding. We arrived at the visitor station and set out for high ground on the west-facing ridge just in time to watch a magnificent cloud-covered sunset over a reddish Mars-reminiscent landscape.

Then we went down the path to the visitors station parking lot and unfolded our sun loungers to wait for the stars. They emerged one by one with the pink blob of the Milky Way in the background. Our 10-year-old son, Felix, used an app on his iPad to make observations about the brightness of multiple stars, including Sirius A, the brightest star in the night sky. Someone pointed to Little Bear, and everyone in our group chattered excitedly. We watched tiny dots of moons whiz along their designated paths and shooting stars blaze their short, bright lives in the dark.

I always thought about how we try to be great. To look at the center of the galaxy is to instinctively know that we are small.

The conversation turned to constellations and what they didn’t look like in reality. We tried so hard to look up at the sky to see what our ancestors saw: the tail of Scorpius or the fishing demigod Maui? My mind goes back to the early hours of that day, when I rode my bike to the beach for a long swim, alone. Or at least I thought I was alone until a manta ray flew under me and gracefully waved its wings. I tried to race it and when I saw it I was dizzy and lost in awe.

Manta rays in the morning, Milky Way in the evening. We were making new memories, but also connecting with a deep past and a very old idea. A reminder to marvel at the world, not to ruin it.

Bonnie Tsui He is the author of “Why We Swim” and the new children’s book “Sarah and the Great Wave.”


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