Hilo Hangin’

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I love Hawai’i.

The food, its remoteness, and of course the music; I love it all. So, when my mom asked if I’d celebrate her 50th birthday by joining her on a trip there, I was ecstatic.

This was my third time in the Aloha state, and I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it differently each time. My first trip was with my high school’s band program. I’m not a huge fan of group travel, especially in that context, but we had a great time in Honolulu for a few days doing all things tourist. My second trip to Hawai’i also brought me to Honolulu, but for only around 12 hours. I spent the day doing awesome things with an awesome professor on Semester at Sea. The third time around, I was back in Honolulu again–but with a twist. We spent two days there and then headed over to the Big Island.

In Honolulu, we met up with one of my mom’s best friends from high school: Maria. Out of fondness and respect, I call her Auntie Maria. She is amazing. Aunt Maria actually lives in Hilo, and was so gracious as to host us for the week.

Hilo was a blast. We visited Volcanoes National Park, a beautiful water fall, several beautiful beaches, and even took a trip over to the other side of the island to visit Kona. So much of this trip was different from how I’d experienced Hawai’i before. I’ll try to explain why.

For starters, Semester at Sea has forever altered how I travel. I’m constantly in a comparative mindset, using my other travel experiences as guides to understand and navigate foreign lands. This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a specific place in its own beauty, but rather a sharpened set of eyes, a more pointed nose, and a tuned barometer of cultural competence.

Semester at Sea floats around (no pun intended–well, maybe a little) the phrase “travelers, not tourists” quite a bit. And while in many ports (read: most) on our voyage I felt like a tourist, my experience in Hilo was much closer to the “traveler” narrative. Honolulu is very touristy, especially the downtown area. After a while the entire experience can become overwhelming and cumbersome. Hilo, on the other hand, was much calmer and relaxed. Knowing how much hustle and bustles exudes from Honolulu, being able to step away into a low energy environment was refreshing. The Hilo community was warmly welcoming, and I never felt like I didn’t belong. Since we stayed with Aunt Maria, we weren’t in a hotel or tourist oriented area. We were able to visit small, local beaches. We ate small, local restaurants (Maria’s husband, Steve, even cooked us a delicious dinner one evening). I felt like I was truly a part of the community, if only for a short period of time.

In all honesty, at risk of sounding utterly spoiled, I’ll admit that I was a bit tired of traveling before this trip. I had returned home from Semester at Sea just over a week prior to flying to the middle of the Pacific again. Really, I just wanted to sleep. However, Hilo felt like a real vacation. I slept in. I was able to read (leisurely!). I was able to truly refresh myself after a long expedition.

The best moments of this vacation were the times I spent bonding with my mom. Busy lives often leave us without the opportunity to spend as much quality time as we’d like together. Fifty years of life is a blessing and something to celebrate; here’s to fifty more.

Love you mom. Happy Birthday.


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