Hawaii – Days 36-42: Hawai’i (aka the Big Island) – Hitchhiking, the Best Worst Day, and Other Adventures

Brittany Swanson   August 18, 2016   Comments Off on Hawaii – Days 36-42: Hawai’i (aka the Big Island) – Hitchhiking, the Best Worst Day, and Other Adventures

In trying to decide what to do with my life after this 50 States in 50 Weeks road trip I contemplated a Montessori teaching training. But before I decided either way, I wanted to observe a Montessori classroom in action. I found two Montessori schools on the Big Island and made an appointment to observe a classroom at the one closest to me. The day of the observation I rode with the bee family into Kona, where they go every Wednesday for the Ho’olulu Farmers’ Market. I was originally supposed to start my observation at the Montessori school at nine, but the earliest I could get there after taking the bus and then walking two and a half more miles would’ve been ten. The school representative said ten would be fine, but then I missed the bus…

It was ten miles to the Montessori school and seven and a half miles to Walmart where I’d planned to buy a bike so I could at least bike the last two and a half miles… I started walking and, by necessity, decided to finally try hitchhiking – which I’d been told was pretty common and safe on the island.

I’m really awkward. I felt even more awkward sticking out my thumb and hoping strangers would take pity on me and give me a lift. This from the girl who has stayed with more than a hundred strangers  over the last year… I tried to mentally prepare myself for hitchhiking by giving myself a pep talk every time a car approached. Unfortunately, my pep talk was me literally encouraging myself out loud with phrases like “You can do this!” and “You’ll be fine!” In hindsight, I’m sure this succeeded in doing nothing other than assure drivers I was a crazy person. Eventually I convinced myself to stop talking to myself and just see what happened.

It worked! The first guy who stopped to pick me up was exactly the kind of person I usually saw hitchhiking and wouldn’t pick up myself. He was an older worn looking man in his late fifties/early sixties. He had long gray hair and rolled up in a beat up red truck. I climbed in and tried to assuage my nerves by making small talk. He said he could take me as far as Magic Sands, “That’s great!” I said, “Better than walking there.” Less than five minutes later I hopped out at Magic Sands relieved I’d survived my first hitchhiking experience and feeling bolstered for my next one.

The next guy who stopped was in a taxi van. He said hop in, but, having lived in New York, and having seen the taxi sign, I paused and said, “I don’t have any money.” “No worries,” he said, “hop in.” Sa-weet! Gotta love that Aloha spirit! We started heading in the direction I was going and then he realized what time it was and asked if I minded if we stopped to pick someone up. I said I didn’t mind, and then he started to turn around. At this point my brain screamed “Oh shit, I’m about to die…” and to the driver I was like, “Oh, it’s this way? Actually, I’ll just get out here and keep walking the way I was going; it seems counterintuitive to go backward.” He asked if I was sure and said he could get me to Walmart by 9:20 a.m.. It was only half after 8 at the time and that seemed like way too long and in my head red flags were shooting like streamers at a surprise party so I said no thanks and hopped out. Again, a wave of relief washed over me as I realized I had survived my second hitchhiking adventure of the day.

I was walking up a hill when a truck pulled over a little way ahead of me. I started running toward it, so as not to be rude and make them wait for me and then I had a thought, what if they didn’t stop for me? How awkward would that be… Fortunately the passenger window was down, so I cautiously approached and said, “you did stop for me right?” “Yeah,” she said as I wrung open the door and climbed in. She smiled and said, “I did think about pretending I didn’t stop for you, but that would’ve been wrong.” I’m so glad she didn’t do that; that would’ve been so traumatic.

I learned that the woman who picked me up was from Alaska and that it was her last day on the island before she headed back to Alaska to see her family. Once I learned she was from Alaska I could totally hear her Sarah Palin accent, just a bit. She was hilarious and kindly offered to take me all the way to Walmart once I told her where I was headed. She said she had to wait until nine before she could go to the bank anyway. Apparently, despite it being before nine in the morning, she had tried to buy alcohol and couldn’t get her bank card to work… She was in her mid sixties and wore one of those colorful strapless Hawaiian floral dresses that are basically like a sheet. Before I hopped out at Walmart it fell all the way to her waist and she warned me not to look because her ‘ta-tas’ were out again… We both laughed. You see, she’d just recounted a story of the same thing happening earlier in the day, except when she told the guy not to look he, of course, looked. Needless to say, she is a character I will not soon forget.

I set off into Walmart and decided while I was there I might as well pick up some other stuff I needed. So I did that first and then went back for the bike and a helmet, and also picked up a lock and water bottle holder. The night before I’d found this bike online for $79. In the store it was listed for $91. What?! It was the floor model and there were some dings and tears in the seat so I asked for a discount. The cashier called over a manager and she said I could take 10% off but that was it. I was running out of time and still had to bike 2.5 miles so I was like ok, whatever. Then the manager said I could try ordering the bike online and then going to the back and being like here I am with my bike to get both discounts. I asked if that would work and she said it might, but I could try.

Long story short, the bike was cheaper online than in store, and in an effort to save myself a few dollars I wasted like forty minutes. When I finally got the bike on the road it was to realize that the ENTIRE two and a half miles to the Montessori school were UPHILL. Oh. My. Why?! Let’s just say the trek up the hill involved a lot of walking the bike, a lot of screaming, and a fair amount of crying. Eventually I had to stop and put on sunscreen because I could feel myself burning and knew if I was sunburned later this day would be even worse. I contemplated throwing the bike into the bushes and just hitchhiking the rest of the way to the school, because obviously it would be much more difficult to find a ride now that I had a bike… At some point I emailed my contact at the school to tell her I wouldn’t be arriving at 10, but closer to 10:30 and then realized that I was only halfway and it was already almost 10:30… Oy. I really HATE being late.

I made it to the school at eleven. I was exhausted and drenched in sweat and I could see the kiddos outside playing. I called the school to let my contact know I’d finally arrived. She told me the kids were just finishing recess and then heading to lunch… Basically, I’d missed my chance to see the classroom in action. I fought back tears as I thanked her and she asked how long I was on the island and tried to reschedule a time for me to observe the classroom. As soon as we hung up I burst into tears. It wasn’t pretty. Some guys in a golf cart riding around to maintain the grounds of the apartment complexes nearby slowed to gawk at me and I didn’t even care. I just kept sobbing.

I Googled the nearest Starbucks and then texted Alex to make sure he’d be available to FaceTime with me when I got there. The trek up the hill took me an hour. It took ten minutes to get back down. Ten minutes.

I flew down the hill. Flew. I was going so fast I was keeping up with car traffic. There was no bike lane and the “shoulder,” if you can call it that, was less than a foot wide. As I “WOOOP”ed and felt exhilarated by the wind on my face (now THIS was bike riding!) I realized that if I fell, going this fast, this close to traffic, – I’d probably die. So I slowed down, a bit. I was feeling a wee bit reckless after trekking up that hill, as fast as I could, for nothing.

I continued coasting down the hill while engaging one of the brakes the rest of the way to the bottom. I “WOOOOO!!”ed and screamed jubilantly the whole way. It was quite a 180 from how I’d felt not fifteen minutes earlier.

By the time I called Alex I no longer called to share my breakdown, though I did tell him about it. Instead, I called to share that I had learned that when things get really bad they’ll also get really good again too. Sure I had to trek up a mountain, but, at some point, I also had to come back down. I also realized that sometimes the answer I need doesn’t always come in the way I might be expecting, but it does come. Just listening to the kids at recess reminded me I didn’t want to work in a classroom anymore. I didn’t need to see the classroom to know that working with that many kids was just too much for me. Too much yelling and too much chaos, even if it was structured. Teaching, kids at least, just wasn’t meant to be my thing, and that’s ok.

At this point I hadn’t yet braved trying to flag down the island bus from where my hosts lived. I don’t know why I wouldn’t flag it down. I think the thought of having to flag the bus down made me uncomfortable because I didn’t realize that that’s just how the bus works here, despite being told this numerous times. Anyway, instead of taking the bus I decided to try to find some friends to take me on adventures. Not really knowing where else to look without having to leave my hosts’ place I took to Tinder to find people nearby. I matched with one guy and he suggested we go hike to a cave we could swim in and then go watch the sunset on the beach. That sounded pretty great to me. (And don’t worry – I checked with Alex first, and he was cool with my “date” and my “date” knew I had a boyfriend, so it was all good.)

The Tinder guy picked me up a half hour late, after trying to be early, because he didn’t realize how far away I lived. Whoops. We went to Kīholo State Reserve and hiked off trail to this cave. We swam for a bit, but it was pretty cold, so eventually we came back out. We hiked back to the beach and then he asked if I’d like to hike to some palm trees further down the beach. I said sure and we ended up at Wainanalii Pond and minus a couple other groups of two we were pretty much the only ones there.

Wainanalii Pond, Kīholo Bay, North Kona, Hawai'i (Big Island), HI.

Wainanalii Pond, Kīholo Bay, North Kona, Hawai’i (Big Island), HI.

Also, on the way there we found a lagoon where lots of turtles hang out. It was awesome! On the hike back we stopped to see the turtles and I thought I heard a baby crying. It turned out to be some wild goats. Random.

Oh hey there wild goats...I see you. Well, I heard you first, but now I see you, Kīholo Bay, North Kona, Hawai'i (Big Island), HI.

Oh hey there wild goats…I see you. Well, I heard you first, but now I see you, Kīholo Bay, North Kona, Hawai’i (Big Island), HI.

We had some truly terrible Mexican food at a new place called Manny’s. The only nice thing I can say was that their plate presentation was decent. How does one make Mexican food that lacks flavor? Better yet, how does one get “rice” to the consistency of grits? Furthermore, why would you serve brown lettuce in a salad?! At least hide it in a taco or something…Geez.

The spot we found to watch the sunset was sweet, though the sunset itself was a bit disappointing. It wasn’t bad, I was just expecting better.

I'm not actually sure exactly where we were, but here's the sunset, Hawai'i (Big Island), HI.

I’m not actually sure exactly where we were, but here’s the sunset, Hawai’i (Big Island), HI.

The sunset was nice. It was, it just didn’t even remotely rank with any of the awesome sunsets I’ve seen. Then again, I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen a fair amount of awesome sunsets this year…

That night when I made it back to my host’s house I experienced my first official earthquake! I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced other smaller earthquakes before, but this was the first one that other people also felt and that lasted long enough for me to have no doubts about it. It wasn’t anything major, but still pretty exciting, mainly because, you know, no harm was done to people or property.

All in all, it was a pretty fun day, though I did get hella sunburned and later regretted not reapplying sunscreen more frequently. Oh well…live and learn. Live. And. Learn.