My parents gave me a four-piece set of luggage for my high school graduation—Samsonite. The luggage industry had just discovered wheels in 1981, and the larger of the two hard-sided suitcases had a tiny set on one end and a pop-out lever on the other, a design that would prove entirely impractical. Wheeling that thing was like trying to balance a giant domino on its pointy end. There was also a foldable, carryon garment bag, because this was a time when garment bags were all the rage. A vinyl shoulder bag for cosmetics and toiletries completed the set. All matching. In burgundy.
Is it any wonder that I would leave the comfort of my childhood home never to return again? Is it any wonder one of my favorite joys is travel? Is it any wonder I cherish suitcases? And, by that, I do not mean the metaphor of the suitcase—what is represents. But the physical bag itself.
I could write an ode to my suitcase, but instead I want to talk about what I’ve learned about Hawaii, about me, and about life these past five years, because today—this blog post—marks the 500th such one I’ve written (or edited) on behalf of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts. It’s as good a reason as any to reflect on the past five years. And so, in no particular order and no rhyme or reason, here is my list:
1. The coolest thing I’ve done: This is a tough one. I lean toward kayaking Napali Coast on Kauai, because I just did that less than a month ago. But last summer, I backpacked across Haleakala, and that was pretty darn cool. Earlier in the year, I had also ridden a mule down to Kalaupapa and toured Molokai’s infamous peninsula. Speaking of Molokai, I attended a pretty phenomenal photography workshop there. All of these rank in my top five. All required an element of physical and/or mental effort to accomplish, and, for me, that’s like adding shoyu to a good sushi roll. It makes the experience all the more memorable.
But, perhaps, the all-time, coolest thing I did was hop aboard a boat during the darkest time of night—right before dawn—and brave a harbor-closing swell to witness lava flowing into the ocean over on Hawaii, the Big Island. My biggest effort involved in this adventure was the act of putting one foot in front of the other to board the boat.
When I’m barreling down a highway in the dark at 50 miles per hour (Kauai’s top speed), I like to see where I’m going. But there are no headlights on a boat on the ocean, and I felt like an astronaut rocketing into outer space as Captain Shane with Lava Ocean Adventures pointed the prow of his boat south. Thing was, I also had a grin on my face that wouldn't go away. And, then, the pay-off—red-hot lava, liquid rock, coagulating, clumping and chunking off into the ocean—so close I could feel the heat and smell the sulphur? Well, that was just the coolest thing.
2. Some simply amazing people I’ve met: Outrigger canoe restorers Jerry Ongies and Tay Perry. Photographers Rikki Cooke and Dewitt Jones. Underwater photographer Glenn Poulain. Author Darien Gee. Whale researcher Robin Baird. Musician Makana. Kumu hula and Hawaiian language specialist Puakea Nogelmeier. Historian Gary Smith. Guide Warren Costa. All amazing people with whom I’ve had the chance to chat.
Interestingly enough, the first person I interviewed on behalf of OutriggerHawaii.com was author Patricia Wood, who lives on a sailboat at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor in Honolulu. It just so happened that a couple days after I called Pat to interview her, she was sailing from Oahu to Kauai, where I live. So, I picked her up at Nawiliwili Harbor. We went to Kauai Pasta for dinner, and we haven’t stopped talking since. Sure, she went home to Oahu, but, now, every time my plane lands at Honolulu International Airport, I call her. We sit on her boat on Friday evenings and watch the Waikiki fireworks. We go sailing. We go horseback riding. We walk around Waikiki at sunrise. We share our literary works-in-progress with each other. And we talk. In the past five years, she’s become a good friend.
3. Biggest surprise discovery: When I was growing up, my mother hung those sugary feeders for hummingbirds outside her Midwestern kitchen window, and my grandmother adored bright red North American cardinals. But I wasn’t much of a birder. My animal love veered toward furry, round-faced mammals. So, it’s no surprise that my fascination for Hawaiian monk seals is so great that I volunteer for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui. But I have also fallen in love with birds—seabirds, in particular, Laysan albatrosses, specifically. I volunteer for various organizations to help monitor and care for them. In doing so, I’ve held many a Laysan albatross in my arms while helping band chicks and one of my favorite sense memories of them is the smell of warm sun and ocean air contained in their soft feathers.
4. Most disturbing discovery: My newfound fascination with Laysan albatrosses led me to another discovery, this one not so pleasant, and that is marine debris. It exists. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen what washes ashore at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, and I see what washes ashore off the coastline of the main Hawaiian Islands. I’ve also seen Laysan albatross chicks—that have yet to fly and depend on their parents for food—regurgitate various-sized bits of plastic, because their parents are ingesting it and feeding it to their off-spring. The experience has changed the way I think about plastic. Sure, I use it. It's practically impossible not to. And, there are good applications for it--life-saving ones. But I shop differently. I consume differently. I say, "No, thanks. I don't need a bag. I'm saving the world, you know." I say that a lot--with a grin and real meaning.
5. Some phenomenon in nature I’ve witnessed: Moon bow. Green flash. Southern cross. The Incredible, Breaching Humpback Whale Named Lola. Pipping Laysan albatrosses. A one-hour-old Hawaiian monk seal pup. The almost non-existent toenails found in a Hawaiian monk seal’s rear flippers. Their bifurcated tongues. The two hairs growing out of a humpback whale’s tubercles. A manta ray ballet. The feel of an orca’s skin.
6. Favorite food experiences: I’ll try to keep this short and to the point: Gnocchi at Hula Grill. Specially-made vegan dinner at Roy’s Waikiki (thank you Jason). Enchilada Casserole at Blossoming Lotus—let’s pause to mourn the sad fact that the restaurant is now closed. Adam’s Poke Nachos at Hukilau Lanai. Fish tacos at Duke's, Huggo's on the Beach and Hanalei Gourmet (Thursday nights only)—and now that I eat vegan, the grilled veggie tacos at Common Ground. For the sweet tooth, malasadas at Tex’s Drive Inn. Pancakes at The Gazebo. And Tip Top. Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory Warm Cake at Hukilau Lanai. Hula Pie at Duke’s.
7. Things I wouldn’t try again: Spam.
8. Funniest: TSA took my Donkey Balls. A whale penis is called a dork.
9. What I’ve learned about Hawaii: People in Hawaii are generous. They are resourceful. And passionate. But sometimes you need to know the secret handshake. Instead of six degrees of separation, there are really only two in Hawaii. Everyone knows each other. It’s a complex place. It’s real. It’s not paradise as in perfect. But perhaps Hawaii is the closest thing on earth there is to paradise—that is, if you like blue and green, warm weather and tropical breezes. And isn’t that one of the biggest lesson in life, anyway: To create your own paradise. Find your own brand of happiness. Which leads me to:
10. What I’ve learned about me: I like dark chocolate—thank you Garden Island Chocolate. I love massage—especially Nikki’s style at The Shiatsu and Massage Center. I am a nature-lover. A tree-hugger. And while I can do many things moderately well, my vocation and passion in life is writing. That old adage about the best way to learn to write—or get better—is to stop reading about it, stop taking classes and simply put your butt in the chair and write is absolute fact. Thankfully, I can write anywhere--in a corner of a loud coffee shop, at the airport with hundreds of travelers streaming by, on my lanai in the usually quiet company of my two dogs. Mostly, I am happiest when I am writing.
11. What I’ve learned about life: Gratitude and appreciation really can change your life. But to be grateful, you first have to find what you like doing and immerse yourself in it. And you have to find an environment that feeds you and put yourself in that environment. And, then, the gratitude is easy. It pours out of your skin every single moment of every day with no effort whatsoever. One last thing: It helps to be the first one to smile.
The burgundy Samsonite suitcase set got good use. And, then, it got shoved aside when real roll-on bags arrived, and I purchased a soft-sided, green one. That one made the journey to Hawaii with me, which says a lot, because my husband and I moved here over 13 years ago with only four bags and 12 boxes. I eventually donated “Greenie” to Malama Mahaulepu’s annual garage sale a few years ago. Now, my mainstay carry-on is a Sherpani Meridian, no longer made by the company but still much loved by me. I look forward to many more adventures around the Hawaiian Islands and sharing those experiences with you here. And I’m eyeing a new suitcase.
* To celebrate five years and 500 blog posts, I've put together a FREE photo e-book that you can download. It includes information like where I set up to take the shot and my camera settings, so that you can recreate these images, if you'd like. I hope you enjoy.
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* My friend Pam Woolway took the photo of me behind the camera. Thanks, Pammy.