Moving to Hawaii: What I Learned


Eight Months on Maui: What I Learned

Moving to Hawaii - What I Learned On Maui

For those who knew me well, the news of my decision of moving to Hawaii, specifically Maui, with my boyfriend came as a shock. I’m the one who hates hot weather and sunlight. I don’t enjoy outdoor activities or sports. I never go to the beach. I can’t stand bugs! People didn’t expect me to stay on Maui very long. However, after eight months of living there, it was difficult to move away. Here are some of my experiences and what I learned from living in Hawaii.

Commitment to the Island

Everyone agrees that living on Maui and moving to Hawaii is tough. The reality of island life is very different from what most tourists experience when they visit. Yes, things are expensive, but it’s more than that. Maui is tough because the island demands a lot from you. You need to respect the ebb and flow of change that occurs. Within the first few days of arriving on Maui every plan I’d made had fallen apart. My boyfriend and I were supposed to be living rent-free on his uncle’s 30-acre farm in Haiku, but I didn't realize until we had already arrived at the farm that it had no running water or electricity. I’d just spent the past five years living in New York City for college and had graduated only two weeks prior to moving to Hawaii. Going from living in The "city that never sleeps" to a farm with no running water or electricity was more than I could handle.

Within two days I found somewhere else for us to live, on the Northside of the island. It was a room in a house with three other roommates and a three-year-old. While we were living there, my boyfriend and I were both very committed to staying on the island. We were able to get jobs, which is difficult on Maui, especially ones that pay higher than minimum wage. I found a good, inexpensive car. We were meeting kind people and making friends. Six months later, our commitment to the island had begun to waver. We questioned whether it was really right for us, being in our early-twenties, fresh out of college, with his degree in Digital Media and mine in Creative Writing.

Once we started wondering whether to go or stay, a sort of domino-effect occurred. Everything fell apart as if the island was deciding for us. I learned that if you want to live on Maui, you need to be all or nothing. There is no lukewarm, no in-between. Things will work out to keep you there or push you out. We got pushed out.

This was taken on Haleakalā, the East Maui Volcano that takes up 75% of the island. 

This was taken on Haleakalā, the East Maui Volcano that takes up 75% of the island. 

Getting to Know the Local People 

People are very transient on the islands, coming and going all the time. The locals know that most people who are new to Maui won’t wind up staying even though they’re intending to. It’s challenging to make friends because of this. Most locals that I met had been born and grown up on Maui or one of the other islands. Their whole families and lives were sewn into the land. My boyfriend bonded well with people because he grew up on Maui until the age of 14. The first language he learned was pidgin, which is a creole slang of English, spoken by many Hawaiians. He understood the system of respect that exists between locals. He understood pono, the Hawaiian word for integrity. Local people will go out of their way to help you, even if it does not benefit them because that is the way of the island. Karma is a living, breathing entity. If you pass along good deeds, the island returns them. If you are dishonest and selfish, you will be recompensed as such. 

My boyfriend stayed with me for six months on the island before returning to New York. I remained alone for the following two months, and my experiences with local people changed. I had been working in one of the island’s fine resort hotels in Wailea, on the Southside. I made friends with locals who worked in the hotel, as they were always kind and generous with me. Outside of work I found it nearly impossible to maintain any connections. I was often mistaken for a tourist, and so I was treated as such. Many tourists on Maui are very ignorant, entitled, and rude to each other and to local people. Many times I would begin a conversation with someone who worked at the bank, supermarket, gas station, or elsewhere, and they would be cold with me until I told them about my boyfriend and that I lived on Maui. Then they would smile and joke around with me. The friends I did make took very good care of me, however. I was amazed at the kindness I received from those few people.

The peace of the island spiritually calmed me on Maui. This is Makena Beach, in Wailea.

The peace of the island spiritually calmed me on Maui. This is Makena Beach, in Wailea.

The Reality of Island Life

Living in the tropics is more than just tanning and Mai Tai’s. It is humidity, rainstorms that take out the whole island’s electricity for over eight hours, and worst of all, it is bugs. Maybe you’ve been to Hawaii before and you don’t remember seeing bugs. Lucky you! Learning to live with them was the most difficult thing for me. Years ago when I was living in Bushwick, Brooklyn, I saw cockroaches - a terrifying experience and the one and only time I had ever found them inside the house. On Maui, they are everywhere. Ants are everywhere. Little waterbug nasties run amok. Maui also has a terrifying beast known as a cane spider. Don’t Google it. Cockroaches the length of my fingers showed up every day in our house. In the cabinets, on the ceiling, in the sink, in the toilet drowning, on the carpet, on the windows, even in my car! My boyfriend took care of them until he left. Then I had to deal with them. I never saw a giant one after my boyfriend was gone. The island cut me a break on that one.

Living on Maui also means being very patient. Things happen in “Maui time.” Being punctual isn’t really a thing. Driving is a world of its own as well. Maui has unique road designs and traffic signs. Most people drive however they want to. Cutting each other off is completely accepted. Do not ever honk the horn either, that just screams that you’re an ignorant tourist. Abandoned cars lay on the side of the road throughout the island, too. People strip cars for all they’re worth, set ‘em on fire, and leave the shell burning. A yellow sticker on a car window means it’s abandoned. Maui is one of the cheapest places to buy a used car, as the used car business is booming. I got a kick out of seeing the types of cars that are allowed to run on the roads! May be missing lights, be dented to all hell, have the glass broken out of all the windows, but if the car still runs, you better believe someone is driving it.

Food on the other hand is expensive. Gas prices are drastically raised during the high-season months of December-April. Finding a place to live under $1,000 a month (for a room in a shared home, never mind anything private) is extremely unlikely. 9pm is called Maui’s midnight. Nothing stays open late. The roads are totally empty at night. There are no street lamps either on the highways, and Maui does not have any freeways. 

Kamaole Beach in Kihei, Hawaii.

Kamaole Beach in Kihei, Hawaii.

Oh, But Those Sunsets

When it came time to leave Maui, I found myself torn between returning to my family back in California and staying on the island. I knew that I needed to leave because it wasn't the right time for me to be there.

I learned how to be kind again on Maui, after years of living in New York City. I remembered how important self-care is. I went to the beach every day at sunset to walk and meditate. I marveled at the natural beauty and peace of the island in its original state; untouched and unbothered. Maui reminded me of my love of nature, which had been surpressed after years of living amongst skyscrapers. I felt connected to the spiritual heart of the island, and I respected the history of the land and its people.

I made my peace with the island when it was time for me to leave. They say that if you see a rainbow on the day you’re leaving Maui, it means you will be back someday. There was a great big one across the sky that morning. I already miss it dearly.

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