— Travel n Tour

Rediscovering the Joys of Travel on the Big Island of Hawaii

It’s a sun-spackled morning at Hapuna Beach, like most mornings on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. A turtle the size of our coffee table back home in California surfaces halfway through my swim. It proceeds to stay close by, like an old friend. I laugh, elated — but then a complicated upwelling of emotion follows. Over the past year and a half, I’d almost convinced myself that I was OK with missing cherished faces and places, that I’d fully committed to being a hermit for humanity. Here, at the beginning of a weeklong visit for a pandemic-delayed wedding in early July, I was returning to travel in a different world, in which many people have lost loved ones, jobs, and so much else. Even the familiar things felt strange. Airports. Crowds. My extended, energetic clan of in-laws; the hubbub of a big social gathering; what it’s like to meet someone new. A return to a special place.

The turtle and I swam along together for a while. I observed its calm cruising altitude from above, allowing myself the occasional dive down to side-eye it from a respectful distance as it munched thoughtfully on coral algae. When I reached the end of the beach, I turned around to swim back the other way, but not before bidding my companion a good day. A few minutes later, I came face to face with another, smaller turtle.

In Indigenous Hawaiian culture, sea turtles are revered as the earthly form that aumakua, or ancestral spirits, might take to show our care, concern, or comfort. Manta rays and sharks are other examples of these spirit forms and are treasured in the same way. I thought of my grandmother, gone nearly a year now. After the grinding stress and uncertainty of the last many months, I got to be with a large slice of my family for the first time in a year and a half, taking a trip that was forward-looking. It was nice to feel hopeful again.

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