During my college winter break, I was invited to go to Hawaii with my best friend and her family. It would be a week and a half of beautiful blue oceans, volcano hiking, and wildlife I’d only seen in photos. Immediately, I jumped on the opportunity (but honestly, who wouldn’t). The plan was set. We’d stay on the big island, Hawai’i, for five days. Afterwards, we’d head over to Maui for the final three days of our trip.
An Introduction to Hilo Culture
While I was staying in Hilo, the largest city on Hawai’i, there was one message that hit home for me: “the spirit of aloha.” Aloha means a lot more than a greeting/goodbye to the Hawaiian people. It is as much as a way of life as “Hakuna Matata” is for Lion King’s Timon and Pumba. The owner of Hilo Ocean Adventures, a local who has lived in Hawai’i all his life, told me that the word, “aloha,” translates to “breathe.” Aloha represents the community spirit and the fact that humanity not only survives, but thrives, if they work together.
The locals take this to heart. While we were packing our luggage into our rental car, a couple stopped their jog to help us load our bags. They went from being completely focused on their run to organizing eight suitcases into an already-cramped minivan. Then to top everything off, the couple recommended a delicious Asian Fusion restaurant since they had heard our stomachs rumbling. That was the first of many encounters that truly showed off “the spirit of aloha.”
The Spirit of Aloha
Weirdly enough, a lot of the encounters that showed me just how nice locals in Hawai’i happened on the road. Normally, people are at their worst while they’re driving. They shout, curse, and generally have no regard for others on the road (I’m dragging myself too – road rage might as well have been my middle name). But Hawaiians are on a different level when it comes to driving, especially those who subscribe to Hilo culture.
My best friend’s parents made some crazy maneuvers while trying to get to our destinations in Hilo. I know for a fact if we were anywhere else we wouldn’t have been able to do it. At one point, while driving to Rainbow Falls, we had to make a U-turn into a swarm of oncoming traffic. Instead of passing us, as most folks would, the drivers stopped and let us complete our U-turn. Wow. Everyone in the car was shocked that we made it.
The friendliness didn’t stop there; when we were snorkeling, locals would point us towards the best places to see rainbow fish. They wouldn’t hesitate to recommend their favorite restaurants and favorite sights. If we hadn’t gotten directions from a local biker on the road, I would never have been able to experience the black sand beaches. Plus, due to the recommendation of the Hilo Ocean Adventures owner, I got to swim side by side with sea turtles (my second favorite animal). Overall, Hawaiians seemed ecstatic to show people their city. However, they expect their lands and customs to be respected in return for their hospitality. This was nothing, especially when considering the friendliness of the locals and great sights.
A Pristine View Comes With Responsibility
The spirit of aloha also includes nature and wildlife as a part of the community. Though they were happy to show us the best places to swim, the locals were also surprisingly stern about making as little impact as possible on nature. There are signs on every beach warning tourists against littering. Almost all the restaurants we went to used paper straws. Whenever we went snorkeling, there was always someone keeping an eye out to make sure no one messed with the marine life inappropriately.
The spirit of aloha is, fundamentally, about seeing yourself as part of a bigger picture. It means taking a step back, breathing deeply, and looking at the situation from a place of calm and loving awareness. Though I wasn’t there for long, the Hawaiian people taught me to extend a hand of friendliness to strangers, because you might help them more than you could expect. It taught me to take care of the Earth because we need it more than we realize.