Our orientation has just started, and the members of the group (only 13 students strong) are getting to know each other, as we begin to count and ask questions in Samoan. The only caveat to this is that we are not yet in Samoa–we are just outside of Honolulu, Hawaii.
I arrived a week ago, in order to better acquaint myself with the island. Oahu is much bigger than I thought, and larger than a map makes it look: it is at least 40 miles across, which by bus or car on small roads can take a long time to cross. Many tourists who have visited the island lump it with its capital city and class it as unpleasant and crowded. Having little tolerance for the hordes of tourists at Waikiki, Honolulu’s famous beach, I quickly learned to center each morning on escaping Honolulu as fast as possible.
Once there are not hundreds of people on every new street corner, Oahu is beautiful. The hostel for the program is in a peaceful area near the University of Hawaii campus, and looks out to Diamond Head one way and the central mountains to another. It is hard even to see these mountains from downtown Honolulu, as highrises block every view but their own.
Epiphany #1 was that there was a whole world outside of Honolulu. Epiphany #2, and tantamount to #1, was that I did not need to take a $100 tour to see what I wanted to see. There are many gullible (and wealthy) people staying at resorts in Honolulu willing to pay any price to have a pleasant vacation. As I am not one of these people, I found a more accessible way to see the island: TheBus. Oahu’s bus system is organized and extensive, and enables anyone to circumnavigate the island at $2.50 a ticket. I took full advantage of this, embarking on any adventure I pleased with a map and timetable in my pocket.
In the past week I have been around nearly all of the coast, stopping at places like Waimea Falls, the surfer’s town of Haleiwa, Makapu’u beach and its neighboring Sea Life Park, the infamously surfy Sandy Beach, and Diamond Head. In my travels I have gradually been meeting up with more members of our group, exploring the island in a slowly growing group.
What makes this program even more exciting is that the adventure does not stop here. Our hour-by-hour calendars are full of hikes, swims, and trips to parks yet unknown. Today will be our first drop-off, an excursion masterminded by our director, Jackie, in which she drives the group around and drops us each off at a different location. Sometimes we will have no say in this location; she will simply pull over and tell us to get out of the car. The goal of this scheme is to make each member more self-reliant and independent, as well as to enable us to individually be able to soak in a place more, as doing so is often best when a person is alone.
I’m excited to see what is in store for today’s drop off, and where this adventure will lead…