Thursday, March 8, 2012

Crushing Your Hawaiian Paradise

Being an Air Force brat (the term of choice for most kids of military families), I grew up living in radically different parts of the world. This is now something people find cool, because I spend most of my time with people who have moved maybe twice in their life and have never left the continental U.S. for any reason (my mind, it boggles). And they always give more attention to some of my previous places of residence than others: Arizona? No one cares about Arizona. But when people find out I've lived in Hawaii, they almost always respond along these lines: 
Oh, how cool! I've always wanted to go to Hawaii! Didn't you love it?
To which I reply along these lines:
Actually, it's really crowded--especially Waikiki, which has no waves and kinda icky water--and the traffic is horrible and potholes are everywhere, everything is super-expensive and did I mention it's crowded? And also there are giant flying cockroaches. Everywhere.
And then they look at me like I'm the biggest jerk ever for crushing their dreams of an island paradise, so I quickly add:
But other than that, it's cool.
One of these days, I'm going to try just saying "no, I didn't," and see if I get the same reaction.

When I originally typed this, I wrote: "I don't know why my first instinct is to come off as a total jerk." And then I realized that was a lie. I know why: because it's all true.

Because my family was coming from Germany where we could drive a few hours and reach several other countries, and were suddenly confined to a tiny island that took 45 minutes to drive from north to south. Because not only did we suddenly lose cultural things common in Germany, but prices on basics like milk shot up because everything had to be imported. Because when you live somewhere it gets really annoying for everyone to assume you're a tourist there for a week. Because cockroaches as are common as flies and it doesn't matter how clean everything is, they'll still be there. Because the twenty-three months I lived there (but who's counting?) were some of the worst of my life.

Comparatively. I've had a really awesome life.

At any rate, I find myself these days wishing to return for an extended stay, part of this post-military-life nostalgia for a time when I lived not in the continental U.S. and was too young to appreciate everything. You'd think that spending the summer in Germany again would help alleviate that, but it really just made it worse.

Hawaii is part of that. Yes, everything was expensive. Yes, tourists were everywhere. Yes, the traffic is the worst, I've seen enough 70-year olds in thongs to go blind, and the cockroaches flew in formation around my head taunting me. But its reputation as a good vacation spot is mostly deserved.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is interactive, informative, and fun--and I had almost mastered the New Zealand poi balls as a way to incapacitate my sisters before we left (the fact that they were made of tissues notwithstanding). The North Shore had some gorgeous spots for boogie-boarding, my sport of choice because of my complete inability to stand on a board without killing myself and everyone within a ten-foot radius. And if you've been in the water from a young age like I have, having easy access to lots of beaches is a plus.

This is exactly what I walked across. Except not on fire.
The Big Island (Hawaii) has active volcanoes and it's surprisingly fun to hike over a former lava flow (down by your kneecaps, enjoy the former-parking-lot-sign that says "CAUTION: SPEED BUMP AHEAD). Kauai has...well, I don't remember what Kauai has, but it didn't kill me so we'll assume I enjoyed it. These other islands are also distinctly less crowded than Oahu, home of Honolulu and Waikiki and probably everything else you associate with Hawaii (except for live volcanoes).

So the next time someone starts gushing about the tropical paradise they envisioned I lived in, I'll just smile, nod and back away slowly, and tell them how great it is to hike over lava fields and go scuba diving.

But not Waikiki. I have to draw a line somewhere.
 And I draw it here. Thanks, Waikiki, for all the images I never wanted.

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