Week 13 – Hitching is still a Legitimate Option on the Big Island

First off, Go Ravens!

On to other things. Work this week was uninteresting. The only thing that was different from past weeks was a higher percentage of time spent controlling holly. Ugh. However, Friday and Saturday brought a much needed relief from work on the mountain – a trip Kona-side! A good friend from college just got to the island a  week and a half ago to work for One Island, a sustainable/educational farm in Honaunau. So, of course, I had to take an opportunity to visit her and welcome her to the island, check out the sustainable farm, and get some much needed sun, beach, and ocean time in.

A major challenge on the Big Island, if one does not own a car, is transporting one’s self around the island. There are large mountains between Hilo and Kona, which make walking extra labor-some, and the public bus (Hele-on) certainly leaves something to be desired with its routes and schedules, although it certainly is cheap. Analyzing the options available to me, I knew before I left Hakalau, that I would need to be doing some hitching. As I have now discovered, hitchhiking is a beautiful thing which has been made undesirable, frowned upon, and even illegal in some places by a few unfortunate instances and general fear, in America. Fortunately, in many ways Hawai’i, and the Big Island in particular, is hardly part of the USA in many ways, and so hitching is still acceptable and fairly widely practiced here. Whenever I’ve traveled outside of Hilo, and often in Hilo, I’ve seen people chilling on the road side, sticking their thumbs out.

On to my adventures. I was up before the dawn on Friday and off of the refuge before the sun had kissed the peak of Mauna Kea. Once I made it to the office, I was able to get a ride from my supervisor down to the Hilo bus station by Bay Front to catch the 0915h bus to Kailua-Kona. One of the short comings of the Hele-on bus system is in the area of timeliness, so we did not leave until 0940h. The bus was quite crowded with passengers, and for a seat-mate I drew a 23 y/o girl form Sydney who was finishing up 14 months of world travel before heading home to finally get to her job (which for some reason gave her a year and a half to chill before working for them. I would call that unheard of by me.). Across the aisle, was a Californian Architecture designer who was going to be trained a free-diving instructor, and was very eager to talk to the young Aussie. On a few other sides were men that I am pretty sure are homeless, but in front of us was a Belgian with blonde dreadlocks whose friend recently purchased farm land on Maui that he was going to be helping run. Quite the cast of characters, I know. The Aussie and the Californian were the only conversing at first, discussing their respective lives and travels and arguing about the pros and cons of metric and the God-Blessed American method of measuring things (which is terrible), after being unable to convert 50 degrees Fahrenheit to Celsius (its about 10, by the way). Once the were talking about her plans for exploring the Big Island, I (for some reason) felt compelled to jump in when they got to South Point and the green sand beach, sharing my pictures and eventually what I was doing on the island. It was almost fortunate I did, too, because she was going to be picking up a rental car from the air port and would have been able to get me at least to Captain Cook (a town several miles south of Kailua, where the bus would drop me), much closer to my final destination. Unfortunately, the bus stop was far from the airport, so it was not worth it for me to work my way north before going south. Instead, I was dropped near a Target a little after noon, and started walking south.

Luckily, I had some idea where I was and which roads might be safer to hitch on because I had been in the same area not even a month ago with my AB! So, once out of the area with lots of traffic lights and tourists and hotels, I began sticking my thumb out and after several dozen misses, a young Marine was kind enough to pull over and take me as far as he was going. Just a few miles, but it was my first successful hitch and it was very exciting. Once he dropped me off, I continued walking, sticking my thumb out as more and more people drove by, but, easily within a mile of walking, I was picked up by an old, well-bearded, shirtless man in an old pick-up. Sounds sketchy, right? Not to worry! He has been on the island for eleven years, farming herbs (no, really, herbs, not herb) for the local natural food stores. He and his partner have the market cornered and are doing well enough for themselves. Before herb farming, he worked updating accounting software on the mainland. This ride got me all of the way to Honaunau, just on a different road, fortunately above, where I was headed. From his driveway, I walked downhill for a couple miles to the One Island farm, and was there well before 1500h. I consider my first hitching experience quite successful. Nobody injured and I got to where I was going.

Then I got to hang out and have fun, right!? Well, almost. Because it is a working(ish) farm, they require that anyone who spends the night, even as a guest, must either pay $30/day for food and lodging or work for four hours (which, if you look at it right, is more than I make here on Hakalau… but that’s besides the point). That afternoon, I got a tour of the facilities and help prepare food for a potluck in honor of the soon departing farm manager. Then, I got to go with all of the interns that work the farm down to said potluck at the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park, right on the beach at sunset. It was fabulous. There was great food, a gorgeous sunset over the water, tidal pools with fun things in them, and a whale or two cruising along a few hundred meters off shore. I got to catch up with my friend who I hadn’t seen since this past summer (think road trip, she was in Michigan) and meet several new, very interesting, people. That evening, back at the farm, we hung out in their open air general living space and watched a Nova special on Fractals. Not really what I expected to do with my evening, but it was awesome.

The next morning, I finished earning my keep by helping my friend clear vegetation out of a pit that will become a pond of some sort and weed a bunch of potted plants in the greenhouse. We also harvested and used fresh fruits and vegetables to make a breakfast smoothie – papaya, bananas, kale, and leaves from the moringa tree (which contain a lot of protein and micronutrients, and is being examined for use in Africa to combat malnutrition because it is able to grow with little water). To be honest, it tasted like plants, but not in a bad, I promise. And for a little over a cup of product, it was surprisingly filling. With our work done and our bodies fed, it was time for more fun! We headed back down to the ocean to go snorkeling at Two Step beach, right next to the Park from last night. Because we can’t just go straight down the hill, the roads require about five miles of travel. We did not have any luck hitching on the small road, but after a quarter mile or so on the highway, we got picked up by a couple of locals with a pick-up truck. On the rest of the way down, they picked up three more people and dropped us all of at the beach entrance. Super easy, super awesome. At the beach, we donned snorkeling apparel and went for a swim. Then, I got a very pleasant surprise by the reef – it was very healthy looking! Fortunate as I am, I am accustomed to snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean, whose reefs are less healthy due to a variety of factors (more fresh water, warmer waters, invasive species, fewer native species, and pollution, to name a few). This was gorgeous! Lots and lots of very colorful fish, mounds upon mounds of hard corals, and very little sea grass and algae. Beautiful. We even saw a sea turtle, who was not bothered by our presence, a few Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Hawai’i’s state fish, yes, I definitely copied that tremendous word), and a small swim-through for me to play with.

Alas, all fun must come to an end, so around 1400h, it was time for me to say goodbye to my friend, wish her much luck and happiness hear in Hawi’i, head out, and make sure I caught my bus back to Hilo (leaving Kona at 1600h), which meant more hitching! A short ways from the beach, I got a ride across a very desolate stretch of road from a very recent Hawai’i immigrant, a Rhode Islander who used to direct photography for TV shows and such. He appeared to be in semi-retirement. This brought me back to a place I had been with my AB, again, and, less fortunately, a long uphill climb to highway 11. It took longer than I expected to get a ride going up that hill, several cars passed even when I thought that my pitiful trudging would pull them over, but, thankfully, two guys on vacation from New York to celebrate their birthdays were kind enough to pull over. The driver had hitched before on the mainland, and so acted kindly towards me. They were staying in Captain Cook, but were able to get me up to the highway, which was sufficient for me. As a hitchhiker, it is rather necessary, and fun, to take whatever you can get. Whatever RIDES you can get. I walked for a ways on highway 11 before getting another ride, which came right after I passed a group of four or five hippies, with pets, trying to go the other way. I may be new to hitching, but that seems like an awfully challenging ride to hitch. This ride, my last ride, as it turned out, was three middle-aged German ladies finishing up their four week tour of the Hawaiian Islands. They’d been to Oahu, Kawa’i, Maui, and now Hawai’i, and had apparently been touring very aggressively the whole time. The following day was to be their first day of “holiday” when they would be able to sleep all of the way in to 0800h and go out somewhere for breakfast. They were a delightful group and got me all of the way to Kailua, where I was able to walk to the bus stop. You may have noticed, as I rode more, I learned more about the drivers. I certainly felt myself becoming more and more comfortable with talking to complete, and very very kind, strangers. Those that know me, know that was not immediately easy. But, with each retelling of my story for being where I was, it got easier and easier. I was back in Hilo before 1900h, and just had to walk up to the office to retrieve my vehicle, getting into the refuge around 2130h. An awfully long and eventful 39 hours, but so very much worth it.

So, yes, I survived six successful hitches, completely unharmed and unmolested. I now strongly endorse hitching. If its a still a little creepy for you, I hear that Craigs List has a ride share program that might be your style. Or check out CouchSurfing, a cool website that allows people traveling to find couches to crash on all around the world. Plus, travelers and hosts get reviewed, so you know how sketchy someone is before going to their house or having them to yours. So, yes, shocking as it may be, I highly endorse meeting strangers (who want to meet strangers). It is a great adventure.

Wow, I hope that made up for the past few skimpy blog posts. On a different note, this ends my last full week at Hakalau. Gasp! However, every great adventure has to end so others can begin. My next step, after a couple weeks of leisure at home, will be an Outdoor Education Program in the middle of Ohio.  Hawai’i to Ohio, I know it sounds like I’m down-grading, but its just another adventure. Thanks for reading!

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