This is a short essay I wrote in August of 2015 after returning from a week long trip to Maui.
When I first got on the airplane in San Francisco, I immediately noticed that it was filled with crying babies, stressed out parents and older couples. Your typical tourists. There wasn’t a single person on the airplane that looked like they were returning home.
I stayed with my good friend and roommate from college, Keely. Keely and her 3 siblings were raised in Kauai and Maui and have attended Kamehameha schools their entire life. These private schools are named after a former Hawaiian king and are specifically geared towards children with native Hawaiian ancestry.
Their home is very beautiful and special – the living room is a large, open room with a large couch (usually with a teenager passed out on it), tables and bar area with ceiling fans whirring away at all times. They have a paddleboard and surfboard “graveyard” that takes up an entire fence. There are coconut trees, papaya trees, aloe plants and chickens in the yard.
This summer, Keely is working at a luau. Her brothers work for their father in construction. Her sister Leimana works at a hotel. We went to visit her and the hotel pool was filled with people, despite the fact that the beach (almost empty) was no more than 20 yards away. Tourists in Hawaiian shirts walked around with Mai Tais. Newly built condos were being painted. We took a quick jump off Backside…
I started reading some books on Hawaii’s history. Kings and Queens once ruled these islands. I am still haunted by their dark eyes, and those of the fishermen and their children. Now things are different. I opened another book of aerial photographs of Maui today and saw the ugly condos and hotels and hotel pools marring huge stretches of landscape. My heart is broken. Keely told me about a project down the street from her house where they are focusing all of their efforts to save a small chunk of coral directly in front of their house.
After spending a night with Keely’s cousin Nohea Upcountry we decided to go up to Haleakala National Park for sunrise. When we arrived, some police officers told us it was closed for “equipment moving.” The next morning we found out the real reason: people were protesting the construction of a big telescope (it has been going on since November) and one of Keely’s classmates had been arrested that night. The people of Hawaii are desperately trying to preserve their sacred land.
While in Hawaii, I drank coconut water and ate its meat, rubbed the aloe plant on my sunburns and scrapes and ate fresh eggs and papaya. I tried poi and lau lau and tako poke. I went to the beach every day, where I surfed, snorkeled and slept on a towel in the sunshine. I saw turtles, eels and schools of fish in the water. I listened to the myna birds calling in the trees. My legs and feet were covered in small cuts from when huge waves crashed over me and knocked me down while I attempted to free climb the rocks. I had never before felt such a connection to the living and breathing beings that we share the world with.
People come to Hawaii to enjoy its beauty and escape their responsibilities in the “real world”. But Hawaii is the “real world,” the realest natural world I have ever seen. And it needs our protection.
I want to live a life that I don’t need a vacation from.