Monday, 08 January 2024 14:11

Christmas in Kauai

There have been very few Christmases that I haven’t spent with my family in Pennsylvania. Growing up in a small town, the holidays were some of the highlights of my childhood. A crisp morning greeted us on the short walk to the humming car, pre-heated and all ice crystals melted from the windshield. The air smelled fresh and clean, as if the snow and cold hit a reset button on the usual scents of, where I grew up, nearby cattle farms.

My siblings and I scrambled into the toasty car, dressed in our snow pants and jackets, with mittens protecting our fingers and hats obscuring our faces. Everyone in the family would meet for one day to share in a meal, some conversation, and gift exchanging. It was the one time of year I had everyone I loved in the same space. 

I can recall three Christmases in my almost four decades of life that I have not spent with my immediate family. One was in 2020 when I chose to stay in Florida for the first time in eight years because it wasn’t worth the risk of possibly getting sick or getting my family sick. Another was in 2021, when I chose to travel over Christmas and New Year’s instead of going home. You can read about my adventures here. And the third was Christmas of 2023, when I spent the holiday in beautiful Kauai, the northernmost island and first to form in the 50th US state known as Hawaii. 

I had heard about the beauty of Hawaii since I was a kid. It was the place to go for caramel-sand beaches and cerulean oceans and foamy waterfalls. The fruit was supposed to be fresher, sweeter, and tastier than I’d ever had. For months leading up to the trip, I researched things to do and places to see. Always the assiduous planner, I wrote them all down on a piece of paper. My partner and I were beyond excited to travel together and explore a part of the world that meant simpler times. 

Then the bad news came. Two weeks before our trip, I lost my job. Without stable work and consistent income, I wasn’t sure how to afford the trip anymore. After talking, my partner and I decided that we would still go and figure out our next steps when we got back. 

That’s the thing I love about travel: for the time you are away from real life, all worries, cares, and responsibilities tend to disappear from your mind. That’s part of the reason I travel. Not that I want to forget my life, but just to take a break from it for a little while. Being thousands of miles, and in a different time zone away, automatically vanquished the worries and fears I left behind. It was easier for me to not dwell on what I had lost or fret about what I would do about it when I got back.

Kauai abounded with green mountains embellished by rivers and valleys and cascading waterfalls. Red hibiscus flowers blossomed along the road and the trees resembled giant bonsai. The roads twisted and veered down and up over hills next to beaches and waves that crashed into the jetties and erupted like whale spouts. Farmer’s stands and coffee shops promised the freshest fruit and best coffee the region had to offer. 

We explored Waimea Canyon, Wailua Falls, Kilauea Lighthouse, and Hanalei Beach, each location sharing its unique contribution to the landscape. Knowing that we were standing on what once was an active volcano made me consider how vulnerable the planet and the life living there is. Humans cannot comprehend the scope of the billions of years it took to see what we see today. The flourishes of color and biodiversity have been deracinated from the planet several times. I found myself reflecting on everything that I have gone through in my life. And just for the briefest of moments, I thought, “The planet has experieced so many life-changing events, but yet it is still here. It will experience more in the future too, but somehow it will survive." 

There’s a reason why people say they experience more self-awareness when they see the beauty of this planet. Some may say it brings them closer to whatever they worship, while others are inspired by the drastic change from what they are used to. I may never reach spiritual enlightenment, but I can strive to navigate my own impatience and worry to conclude that life on this planet always finds a way to come back.  

I spent this Christmas thousands of miles from what I knew, in a place that is brimming in its own splendor. Sometimes diverging off the path that you’re familiar with will lead to more than what you could have ever imagined for yourself.

Now back in Florida, I don’t know where my path is taking me. I don’t know what challenges await me or what good things are down the road. I do know that exploring the magnificence this world has to offer leads me closer to my own realizations. As with this planet's history, things will inevitibly change. My life isn't over, but a chapter of it has ended and a new one has just begun. Remember that for yourself and whatever challenges you have faced and will face on your journey. It's only a part, not the whole story. 

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