When I went home for Christmas, one of the first things my parents asked was “what has surprised you the most about living in Hawaii?” I didn’t have a great answer then other than “the speed limit is 35 miles per hour on the highway and people follow it.”
Well, I’ve had 10 months to marinate on an answer, and now I think I’ve finally got some ideas, big and small. I hope this will allow you to see the surprising details of what it’s really like living in small town Oahu!
- There’s not a ton of wildlife here.
We’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Has anyone thought recently about just how far away Hawaii is from literally everywhere else in the world? Check it out:
Needless to say, it’d be a difficult trek for our animal friends to make. Which leaves us with these stunning creatures:
When my principal and I stopped at McDonald’s on the first drive from the airport to campus, I saw at least 10 chickens in the parking lot and asked “so the nuggets are going to be super fresh?” I’m pretty sure McDonald’s doesn’t serve local chickens, but there ARE a ton of these guys here on the island.
I’ve seen nene (ducks), mongoose (scary-looking squirrels) and a couple of WILD HOGS (one on our campus!), but as far as wild mammals, that’s pretty much the list.
2. But the creepy crawlies are very creepy.
Like the cane spiders that will crawl out of your sink drain while you’re washing your hands. Speaking from experience here. They’re not poisonous, but they’re big and scary and for sure going to meet the bottom of my flip flop.
We also have centipedes, which are poisonous and unfortunately have a hard body casing that makes them difficult to kill. They for sure would have survived if that North Korean missile had actually been heading for Oahu. Nevertheless, in one of the opening faculty meetings, my assistant principal held up a foot-long dead centipede on a piece of paper towel and said “If you see one of these, kill it right away.”
And cockroaches are just a fact of life.
In other words, always keep a flip flop handy.
3. Geckos are guardians.
Who knew this list would be all about animals?? I promise we’ll get to other stuff soon. Geckos live in our homes here. The 6th grade boarding boys at school call them “guardians” because they eat the gross insects and mosquitoes. I have learned to love the the guardians, even though they poop on the walls and make a loud chirping noise that has definitely thrown me off my game while teaching.
4. Aloha doesn’t just mean hello and goodbye.
Fridays are Aloha Fridays, which means it’s time to bust out your Hawaiian shirt or most outrageous muumuu! My workplace might not be representative of all of Hawaii because we already have a more casual culture, but most people here make an effort to don their aloha apparel on Fridays. (In general, the dress code is wayyyyy more relaxed than in Minnesota. I have worn Birkenstocks to work every day here.)
Another place you’ll experience more aloha is on the roads. I live out in the country, where it is very much the norm to stop traffic to allow other cars to pull in ahead of you. When this happens, the car pulling in will often throw a shaka out the window to thank the person who stopped for them.
It’s a cool system. This doesn’t hold up quite as much in the city, where cars drive just as fast as they do in Minneapolis, but driving up here in Hau’ula is a pretty relaxed experience.
5. Outdoor recreation is on a new level of intense.
When I moved to Hawaii, my step-mom Kathy gave me three pieces of advice, one of which was “stay away from edges.” At the time, I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I learned quickly that outdoor recreation is a different beast in Hawaii.
Many of the hiking trails here are officially “illegal,” but you’d never know it based on how many people still go there. In fact, one of the most iconic trails, “Stairway to Heaven,” has a guard stationed to stop hikers. Like that’s going to stop anyone!
I learned how different the scale of difficulty was when we took the kids hiking one of the first weekends. My colleague, who has lived on the island for many years, took us to a trail she deemed “easy.” It was entirely uphill. I hiked the entire thing way behind everyone else with one of our boarders, pretending I was taking it slow just to help him. Secretly I was panting the whole way up.
Jellyfish stings are common here. Everyone has had their ass handed to them in the waves. Kathy was right–stay away from edges, and if someone tells you a hike “isn’t that bad,” assume they’re underselling it.
6. It rains a lot during the rainy season.
It’s absolutely gorgeous now, but from November-March, Hau’ula (and the whole windward side of Oahu) gets a ton of rain. Most days, it passes through quickly and the weather can go from flash-flooding to sunny in 2 minutes. However, there were days-long stretches where it rained constantly. That’s how we get such remarkable rainbows!
7. The good news–you can drive to a sunnier location!
While the windward side gets pounded with rain, it stays pretty sunny and dry on the leeward, or west side, of the island. And since it only takes an hour and a half to drive to the western tip of the island from where I live, it’s not unreasonable to seek out sunnier skies when it’s too gloomy here.
8. There are truly no bars where I live.
Aside from Turtle Bay resort, which is 15 minutes up the road from our campus, there are no bars unless you drive the hour south to Kailua or Honolulu. Our campus is next to the town of Laie, where the majority of residents are members of the LDS church. So this year, I traded in thirsty Thursdays for Thursdays at the ice cream shop. It’s a wholesome life!
Before all the students left campus, this meant I had a very healthy sleep schedule, as we’d usually disband weekend festivities after we returned from a dinner out. We also found new ways to have fun–game nights, taking a bottle of wine to the beach, picking coconuts, bonfires. Nights out dancing are a rare occasion! It’s a huge difference from living in rural Minnesota, where dive bars were a common weekend gathering place.
There you have it! I hope this gave you a drive-by, “realer” look at my life in this beautiful place.
Have you ever been to Hawaii? I’d love to hear if these ring true for your experience too.