Hawaii is a fantastically weird place.
Hawaii has natural beauty and is very diverse: amazing mountains, lush rain forests, desert plains,fertile farms, barren lava flows, gorgeous beaches, craggy/rocky shorelines, wonderful sunshine, monsoon rains, ridiculous humidity, dry breezes, wonderful smells, and crystal clear air with stunning night skies. The range of climates on those tiny islands was truly astonishing.
All that said, the people and culture of Hawaii is incredibly strange. Jac and I aren’t ocean people, we don’t snorkel, we don’t scuba dive, we don’t fish, we don’t hang out at the beach, we don’t eat much for fish/seafood, we don’t eat much for meat, we don’t really consume much for alcohol, we don’t like big crowds, we don’t do all-inclusive type activities, and we dislike touring with groups. So, we spent time off the beaten trail talking to locals and learning about how Hawaiians make Hawaii, Hawaii. After all of our experiences, I can honestly say that if someone told me Hawaii was an English speaking anglo-centric independent county in the Pacific and I knew nothing else else, I would wholeheartedly agree. Why? Well, it’s complicated but here are my best guesses:
- I think most folks fly down to Hawaii to go to their all-inclusive resort to get wasted all day long or go sleep on the beach to get wasted all day longi. I don’t think most people see the side we saw or even look for it given what most visitors want to do in Hawaii.
- Few people are from Hawaii. It seemed like 98% of everyone we met are from somewhere else and moved to Hawaii because they fell in love. It’s a lot like California or DC in that regard. When no-one is from the area then it always makes the area seem a bit different.
- No one is really in a hurry. As Jac said, “when everyone is on vacation is anyone in a hurry?”
- The descendants of the Japanese immigrants from 100 years ago still keep parts of the island feeling like Japan. During one of our Airbnb stays we went to a restaurant called Teshima’s and had a bowl of udon soup very similar to what we had in Japan. Of all the cultures who migrated to Japan, it appears as though the Japanese are the only ones who tried to keep their culture. The Chinese, Africans, SE Asians, etc all assimilated and we couldn’t find authentic restaurants for those cultures.
- There is still a very strong Japanese influence in Hawaii since Hawaii was about 40% ethnic Japanese at the time when the US took over Hawaii. We can go to local supermarkets and see a Hello Kitty section that is a non-trivial amount of space in a tiny store.
- We only went to Maui and the Big Island. Maui seemed a lot of Vegas where lots of folks are there to party and then there’s the support network while the big island has a lot of agriculture and ranching. Two very different feels.
- There aren’t the typical buskers and homeless people commonly found in warmer climates. I’m not sure if busking is illegal but they just aren’t around. I think it’s because folks need to actually fly to Hawaii via an expensive plane ticket and can’t hitchhike or take a cheap grayhound to a place where the cold won’t kill them.
- If you’re white you’re a haoli (howly). I guess until the 1950s/1960s or something white people were the extreme minority. Then jets were invented and tourists started flocking to / moving to the islands so all the other immigrants from 100 years ago treat the white people a bit differently and view them as non-local.
- We’ve been told by multiple people that moving to Hawaii is hard and there can be difficulties in assimilating. Visiting is fine and welcomed but moving to Hawaii is somehow viewed differently and negatively by the locals.
- There are only a handful indigenous Hawaiians, like the people who migrated from Polynesia a long time ago, left. Because the pre-contact Hawaiians were such a warring culture there are a ton of battle sites and grave sites everywhere. This causes construction projects to be cancelled / strung up in court since it’s pretty much a guarantee construction workers will hit piles of bones at some point. Huge developments get abandoned because the developers run out of money fighting the court battles with the indigenous peoples. Even repairs to weather damaged areas get strung up in court – a beautiful valley we tried to hike in had its trail system destroyed by a 100 year flood a couple months back and the indigenous people are claiming ever rock and rock placement is sacred so they are trying to prevent any sort of repair work.
Of all the things we wanted to possibly see in Hawaii it was lava so we were very lucky we visited Hawaii in April. As it turned out, the volcano was somewhat active and it was possible to see lava flowing into the ocean from the 61g flow and see lava bubbling to the top of the Kilauea cauldron. We were fortunate because the volcano generally isn’t this active and we had an opportunity to watch quite the show!
It was so strange to be continually reminded of Japenese culture – from amazingly complicated bidets to amazing meals. We loved our visit to Japan and it was like some parts of the island were ‘Japan lite’; just enough to remind us of Japan but not different enough to feel like we were outside of the US.
So, all-in-all, we enjoyed our time in Hawaii while finding is a very strange place. I made two different photo albums, one of just the highlights in Hawaii and the other with a ton of additional photos or random Hawaii stuff.
Enjoy the photos!