On the very last day of my four-day trip, Judith and I were driving back from a fabulous party in the mountains straight to the airport. I was attempting to catch a 9:50 p.m. red eye to LAX and we chatted idly about birthdays. Strangely, the AC in her Jeep Cherokee suddenly stopped working. We dramatically huffed and relented to the humid warm air from the outside. Then there was a ticking sound. Then, nothing but steam coming from the hood. Judith pulled over quickly just as the steam gushed out of the hood of the car and radiator fluid poured out of the bottom. We weren't going anywhere.

As I called the insurance agency, Judith went straight to the road to hitch hike me to the airport. She waited while I called the airport taxi.

"You might as well just flag someone down."

Is this airport guy telling me to hitchhike? I mean, I know that's what we do in Tahoe, but not knowing the area, I was apprehensive.

A minivan pulled up. Doug, I would come to know him, asked if we were okay and after Judith explained our dilemma, he offered to take me to the airport. I ran to get my things. One more minute and I could have missed my flight as we were still a good 20 minutes away from the airport, and in addition to TSA, The USDA checks your bags a second time to see if you're trying to smuggle papayas and coconuts into the mainland. I would've if they weren't going to check....

Doug took my bags to put in his trunk and immediately offered me a bottle of water. Doug was Hawaiian, born and raised on the big island, and widened his dark eyes when I told him where I was flying back to.

"Tahoe has lots of snow mountains, yeah?" He told me about the time he snowboarded at Squaw, said he got a couple of really good runs, and when I told him where I grew up, he admitted that he had been to Cleveland, Ohio with a "pretty nice place" and a shrug.

When we pulled up to the airport, he made sure I was as close as possible to my airline. I profusely thanked him and to that he offered, 'This is what we do here." He retrieved my bags from the back, patted me on the shoulder and said, "Be well, Sarah." I learned later that he went to check on my boss on the side of the road and gave her his number just in case the tow truck didn't show up.

The kindness of Hawaiians is astounding and I learned a lot more than the feel of the sand at the magnificent beaches and the mind-blowing color of the sunsets. On my first full day on the big island, we visited a placed known as the "City of Refuge." People who committed kapus (wrongs) against the king would be sentenced to death unless they were able to make it to the City. Then all their transgressions were forgiven. It was also a sanctuary during wartime.

Forgiveness is a powerful thing. And there is an entire city dedicated to it.

A historical interpreter sat underneath a thatched awning in front of a wooden table sprinkled with artifacts. As he spoke, he gestured towards the canoes that were housed next door and told the most amazing story.

"When I was a child, I learned that our people lived on 8 canoes. We did not own these canoes, but we took care of them. When I grew older, I went to school where they taught us about this giant ball: white at the top, white at the bottom and blue and green in the middle. Only one canoe. Not eight. Our canoe is bigger but our journey is the same. The biggest struggle we face beyond survival is getting along. No one owns this canoe; but we do need to take care of it, and to take care of each other."

Amen, guy.

Warrior carvings on the beach of the City of Refuge

Before Hawaii was taken over by the US, the islands were completely sustainable. Families had slices of the island from the very top of the mountains to the beaches so their families would have fresh water, fertile farm land and fish to eat. Now, not many Hawaiians own the land. Most goods are flown in and drive up prices immensely, furthering the class war and economic divide. What was once their land now became a playground for wealthy Westerners. A completely unsustainable model emerged, one that forced Hawaiians to take menial service jobs, sometimes driving 2 hours in one direction to work at luxury hotels, simply because they cannot afford to work and live in the same community. 

When this struggle began, a rather pejorative term came out of it. Ha'oli is a Hawaiian term meaning "without breath" and refers to white people. When Hawaiians greet each other, they touch noses and foreheads and "breathe" in each other's breath, then kiss on the cheek. When the Westerners came to Hawaii, their handshake was "without breath." This happened a long time ago, but you can still feel the tension if you're paying attention.

But there is a renaissance happening, and more and more people are starting to plant gardens, however small, and sell at farmer's markets. I tasted the most fresh produce of my life: papayas, apple bananas that are as small as plaintains, lychees, avocados, celeriac. There are roaming chickens everywhere and having fresh eggs for breakfast spoiled me for life. Roosters woke me up in the morning and restaurants boast organic, local, vegan-friendly fare that blew my mind and expectations of food forever.

On the last day of my journey, we attended a birthday party of the son of my boss' friend. It was his 50th and we drove up the mountains to an amazing estate overlooking the ocean like I've never seen. The birthday man wore several leis and we added one with tuberroses and orchids. He looked like the king of the island. Dinner was served, which consisted of a giant farm table of sushi. It was a sight to see. I learned how to eat lychees properly and practiced with consuming at least six of them. And when people asked where I was flying to, they laughed and said, "Yeah, we won't feel sorry for you since you're flying back to TAHOE."

Such perspective. In Hawaii four days, with the best food of my life, incredible sunsets and scenery, and yet I missed my mountain home. Because I live in an incredibly beautiful place, too, sans humidity.

But what makes Hawaii beautiful is the people of the land.

Kimo and Leena, paniolo and wife (that's Hawaiian for cowboy), friends of my bosses', hugged me after knowing me for 30 seconds and told me I should visit them again. Anytime.

Marta sold me the most amazing jam made from fresh strawberries grown in Waimea.

After 18 years of teaching, Pua decided she wanted to make artisan chocolates and sold me the most delicious homemade oreo, with caramel in the middle instead of cream.

Sheryl and Danielle own and operate Green Market and Cafe in Honokaa where I had the best fish taco of my life, with ono (delicious) from the ocean, and an incredible dessert made from Hawaiian macadamia nuts, cocoa and raw honey.

Marjorie, who taught me how to eat lychees like a local.

Doug, our new friend and unexpected stranger who helped us when we really needed a hand.

And a lady wearing bright red pants, that I formally met but forgot her name, told me I was more powerful than I know. "We all are," she said.

They have such an incredible culture surrounded by the love of ohana (family/friends) and a beautiful landscape. You know, and views like this aren't terrible either.

Backyard of my bosses' place. Coconuts in them trees!

A wall from 1550 on the beach at the City of Refuge

Every night, we would sit in the backyard with a glass of wine and watch the sunset. 

Puako Beach. Neil Young lives just to the left. No big deal....

Pololu Valley

Mauna Kea beach and resort hotel

It was raining! at Pololu Valley

Chickens in the parking lot of Green in Honokaa