There is no question that Hawaii is paradise. If you haven’ t figured this out by now from reading my blog, then you haven’t been reading my blog. That’s okay! Some people just aren’t big on reading, or perhaps some are getting bored of my sappy posts about how amazing life is on the Big Island. Like a bragging mother, I do tend to go on and on about how beautiful life is here. Some of you may be surprised to learn, however, that there are a few drawbacks to living on a remote island. So, just to spice things up a bit, I decided it is only fair I share a few of the not-so-great aspects of living on an island.
It’s Freaking Expensive
Enough about the bread, eggs, and milk already. Talk with anyone who doesn’t live in Hawaii and they generally have to bring up the outrageous cost of these items with a tone that implies anyone who would willingly pay such prices is a complete moron. Yes, these things CAN be very expensive in local grocery stores (imagine shipping eggs thousands of miles without breaking them? That’s gotta be worth a premium, right?), but we do have a Costco and things like milk and eggs are priced only slightly higher than the mainland. The cost of local produce was one of the most surprising discoveries for me. Even at the local farmers markets, dragonfruit, papaya, mangoes, lychee, avacados, and all other exotic fruits grown here are often as expensive as the grocery store. Local farmers have to make a living in a place with a very high cost of living, so it feels good to support them too. People on the island seem to have a mutual understanding that supporting local businesses to help families survive on the island is always preferred over the alternative.
Overall, eating out at the right places and knowing when/where to buy certain groceries (I always check the weekly grocery ads now), one can keep their groceries and gas down to a reasonable cost. If you’re thinking of moving to Hawaii, it’s utilities and housing that seem to hit the hardest financially . My family pays double what we paid in Idaho for a place one-third the size. It somehow works for us, though, and we choose to put the cost out of my head and focus instead on the reasons we pay this premium. Also, electricity is more than triple what we paid in Idaho. So, we’ve made some changes to our routine. No more air conditioning, laundry is hung to dry, and dishes are hand-washed more often than not.
When it’s Gone, it’s GONE
Nearly EVERYTHING must be shipped thousands of miles to Hawaii, so retailers play a whole different ball game when it comes to inventory planning. On more than one occasion, I have gone to Costco just before their next shipment arrived and the produce and dairy sections were virtually empty. As the tropical storms rolled in last summer, I learned quickly to stock up on water a few days in advance. Arrive at the store or water station the day of the storm and there will not be so much as a drop of water (or even a water jug to put it in). Halloween? Back-to-School? Need some cute, heart-shaped cookie cutters for Valentines Day? Better get it fast! Retailers don’t have space to store these items all year, so they typically under-stock seasonal items and it’s first-come, first-serve. I spent two months last summer on a desperate search for a portable air conditioner. When we arrived on the island, these units could be found everywhere, but just a couple months later in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record, the customer service people seemingly laughed at me as I pleaded with them to check if they had one in stock.
Speaking of customer service, in Hawaii don’t expect the calculated, fast-paced service you may be accustomed to. It’s an entirely different way of life here and people generally invest their energy into having fun and spending time with friends and family. Work is more of a side-note. Don’t get me wrong. Most everyone in the service industry here is friendly, but if the surf is up, businesses will most likely be short-staffed. Even with a full staff, service here is often slower than what one might be used to. On numerous occasions, I have had to seek out a person to help me only to wait longer while they “talked story” with another co-worker or customer. Just yesterday, our waitress explained she was going to “step out back,” so would not return to our table for a bit. On multiple occasions, we drove to a business only to find they were closed. Their sign read that their hours were “Hawaiian time.” Don’t like it? Too bad. People reside here to enjoy life, not marry their job, so just take some deep breaths and enjoy the view while you wait.
What’s That Funky Smell?
Next to the ocean and tropical flowers, I would venture to guess that the next most prominent smell in Hawaii is body odor. As I sat on my lunch break in front of the strip mall near work the other day, the pungent odor from the homeless man sleeping at the table next to me wafted my direction. I discreetly moved to another table, where only the slightly less faint aroma of the construction workers nearby became apparent. Truth be told, there is no escaping body odor in a climate that is endlessly warm and humid. It’s everywhere and I am no exception. I no longer apologize for my smell because, in most cases, the person I’m with smells about the same. No judgement here!
Want to Look Like a Warrior?
Most anywhere one goes on the island, they will spot someone with gashes, an arm in a sling, a missing limb, limping, or some form of noticeable injury. The Big Island is not for the weak spiritually or physically. It is formed of sharp, jagged lava and the beaches are covered in it. Ambulances screaming down the highway are often encountered multiple times a day. The ocean, while beautiful, is a dangerous source of staph infection, resulting in an amputated limb if not treated promptly. I, myself, have been covered in scratches, bumps, and scars since my arrival. Of course, I’ve never been known for my coordination. 😉
This One Will Really Bug You!
Bugs, bugs, and MORE bugs! You have never seen so many bugs unless you have lived on an island. Giant flying cockroaches, zillions of ants, millipedes, poisonous centipedes, termites, huge garden spiders and tiny crab spiders, moths the size of your hand, gigantic black, furry bumblebees, and, yes, even ukus (head lice). The list goes on and on, but one thing is for certain. If you are going to live in Hawaii, you must learn to not let insects “bug” you or you will not be very happy here.
When my family first moved to the island, we screamed like little girls every time a cockroach was spotted. We now have a very intricate system in which the roach “spotter,” along with his or her assistant (the person who happened to be closest to the spotter), calmly take down a roach in a matter of seconds. I have learned to appreciate the large garden spiders and ant bait has become a fun family past-time in which we find entertainment in watching the unsuspecting ants lap up the delicious poison we foiled them in taking back to their nest (insert villain laughter here).
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Like the melody of the old song says, the island was apparently formed with the idea that their “aint no mountain high enough.” Seriously, as much as I try to explain the treacherous hills on this island to visitors, they simply don’t understand until they experience the landscape for themselves. Aside from the coastline, nearly every other part of this island is a series of hills. Most homes are built atop hills with incredibly steep (and often long) driveways. My family bought bicycles shortly after arriving, but ended up selling them within months after realizing we simply didn’t have the stamina to climb the multiple inclines required to get to a destination.
Do you still think all is perfect in paradise? I do. Living here, I have learned that most of the insects are harmless, budgeting money is a nice challenge, a person’s smell is not as important as what’s inside, and I’m willing to climb any mountain to maintain the fortune of living here. Life is not always perfect, but living amongst perfection is pretty great.