It happens almost every trip: not long after touching down in a place, I begin to imagine settling there — even for just a little while. I imagine what it would be like to walk the streets until they are familiar, to make this neighborhood my neighborhood, to make that cafe the place I stop each morning. Usually, as J and I explore the place over the ensuing days, the imagining turns into something stronger. It becomes a desire to stay, a loathing to leave. It doesn’t often matter how different the destinations are, from each other or from our own home. I felt it as strongly, say, in San Francisco as I did in Budapest.
But I have never felt it quite as strongly as I did in Hawaii.
At the end of August, J and I flew to Honolulu to stay on the island of Oahu for a week. I knew it would be beautiful, I knew the water would be clear, and I knew the food would be delicious. But knowing and experiencing are two different things, and as soon as we emerged from the airport, there was a feeling that ran through us like a breeze and eased us into a slower rhythm. In the seven days we spent on the island, I felt a greater sense of wonder — at the beauty of mountains, of the ocean and its many-colored fish, and at the kindness of people — than I have in the past two years.
People talk often of “Aloha” in Hawaii, not as a greeting but rather as an attitude, a vibe. And I felt it as much out on the waves as I did on the highway. People seemed to respect each other’s space, instead of trampling over one another.
I took along a new camera to help preserve my memories of the place, and filled it with shots of the island’s four points: South (Waikiki), East (Kailua and the Windward Coast), North (the North Shore), and West (Makaha and the Leeward Coast). We ended our trip in the direction of the sunset. From our lanai we watched paddle boarders go way out past the surf in the calm of early morning, sheets of cool rain pass over the beach in the afternoon and the sky turn clear and cool with the onset of night. Things change quickly on the island, but there is always a sense of continuity.
As we hopped into a cab on our way back to the airport, our taxi driver asked how we were doing. “OK,” I said, “Just sad to be leaving.”
When I told him that we were going to Washington, D.C., he said, “I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want to be going there either.” It was sweltering and boggy back home. “But there are nicer places than Hawaii,” he added.
I hesitated for a moment and then looked out the window. “I’m not so sure.”