Chance encounters at a bus stop in Oahu, Hawaii show an Australian traveler the true meaning of “the aloha spirit.“
“Someone’s prepared,” a small voice says to my left. I peer around the hood of my raincoat to meet the kind eyes of an old Hawaiian woman. Her hair is twisted into a bun and fixed with a frangipani clip. The wispy, grey strands around her face drip with tropical rain, and judging by the way her clothes cling to her, nothing she’s wearing is waterproof. But still, she grins, unperturbed by the sun shower. She’s gesturing to my raincoat – the floral monstrosity hanging down to my wet knees. “This old thing?” I smile, pulling at the hem for emphasis. “The rain and I are not friends.”
I was on my way to the bus stop when a crack of thunder reminded me I’d forgotten to check the weather forecast. I sprinted back to my hostel to grab the raincoat, just as my bus was due to arrive, and returned to the shelter as rain began sheeting down, with a vigor only tropical storms can muster. That was 30 minutes ago. There’s still no sign of the 23 to Kailua Road.
The E bus pulls into the curb and several people line up to board, getting drenched in the process. If I couldn’t see the rain, or hear it pelting the shelter, I wouldn’t believe it was falling. In Melbourne, people run for cover, hide under umbrellas and cram onto trams as soon as the skies grey over. Here, people were getting doused in more water than what poured from my hostel shower and no one was batting an eye.
The lady moves to the newly-vacated bus stop bench and taps beside her, so I oblige.
“It’s almost the rainy season. We’re used to this sort of weather,” she says, looking towards the sky.
“Besides,” she adds, “the rain feeds our crops, and makes our islands lush. It’s no problem.”
“Plus,” a man says as he walks past, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes!”
We all chuckle and as if on cue, the rain relents, lessening to a drizzle.
“Where are you from?” She asks.
I shrug, “how do you know I’m not Hawaiian?”
She grabs my arm and waves it around to illustrate her point. “You’re whiter than the inside of a coconut.”
“Yeah, you’re not fooling anyone, I’m afraid,” an older man chimes in from the ledge behind us.
“You’re not wrong,” I say, nodding, “I’m a poor excuse for an Aussie.”
“You’re Australian? Seriously?” The woman looks me up and down, taking in my mousy hair and fair skin. “Have you ever seen a beach before?”
“Believe it or not, I’m from the coast.”
“Some Hawaiian sun will do you good.” She pats me on the leg as if she’s just solved all my problems.
Comfortable silence stretches between us, as the world beyond the bus stop goes on. Cars and buses drive by, locals offer help with directions, people come and go. My new friend, who I learn is named Naia, seems to know everyone in the city. In between greetings and compliments, she shares tidbits about Oahu.
“Do you know Duke Kahanamoku?” Naia says, waving to someone across the street. “He was the father of modern surfing, and born here in Honolulu.” A homeless man walks up to the shelter and her face lights up.
“Jack, my friend, how are you?” She asks him, grabbing change from her purse. We all dig into our pockets in search of more coins to donate. Jack gathers them up and heads for the approaching 19 bus, yelling a hearty ‘mahalo’ back at us.
Without skipping a beat, she turns back to me and continues. “What about the palace? Have you been to the lovely Royal Palace, yet? It was built in the 19th century.”
I try to imagine a scenario like this anywhere else in the world, and fail. Hawaii is known as a beautiful tourist destination, but beyond the glitzy hotels and overpriced restaurants, are some of the kindest people you’re ever likely to meet.
“What brings you to Oahu?” Naia asks, taking a temporary break from her island trivia.
“The ocean. And cheap flights.”
“I’ve always wanted to visit, but it’s a bit of a trek from Melbourne, or from anywhere, really. I wish I could stay longer.”
Naia frowns. “You must see all of the islands. Oahu is the best, of course” she pauses to wink, “but Big Island has most of the volcanoes and Maui has stunning beaches.” It’s clear the love of nature runs deep in Hawaiian veins.
We chat about travel, family and almost everything in between to pass the time. She seems genuinely fascinated that I save my money to spend abroad and write stories about my experiences.
“I’m very lucky,” I say, and she nods.
“Yes, but you are also very genuine. I can tell you work hard.”
I tap my feet lightly in the puddle below my seat. The skies have cleared now, so it’s the only sign it ever rained. It’s been almost an hour since the 23 was due to arrive, and as hard as I try to adapt to island time, my patience is running out.
“Are the buses usually this unpredictable?” Unfortunately, she nods.
“Afraid so, but you get used to it.”
The 76 bus pulls up and the lady stands.
“Have a lovely trip,” she says, patting me on the shoulder and moving towards the open bus door.
“Don’t forget to put me in one of your stories.”