When you think of Hawai’i, you probably think of palm trees, white sand, blue waters, surfing and (in case you are into telly) Steve McGarrett. When I think of Hawai’i, I think of black boots in the entrance, a ginger cat trying to open a fridge, a deck on which I spent too much time, a blonde Japanese Brazilian who managed to stow two surfboards in a tiny room, and burnt popcorn late at night.

The thing about backpacking around the world extensively is that one is not “travelling” so much as “making a home for — (include length of time here) with whoever is around”. For me, it was 5 days. The length of time I made a home for. And what a home it was!

Thinking back about the North Shore, I would probably tell you I was there for months. Checking my diary, on which I wrote all the important information such as buses, flights, and name of hostels when I pre-booked them, it was, really, only five days. The length of time is irrelevant, because the same way that nothing can happen for years, a lot can happen in 5 seconds. Did I see the white sand, the blue sea, the palm trees and the surfing? Indeed, I did. But that’s not what I will remember. Let’s be honest, I could find all of this in numerous other location around the world. What I could not find, though, are the same people, the same atmosphere, the same community.

So how did it all happen?

The start of my lengthy trip was in Hawai’i and I was there with none other than my mum. I just could not be there without seeing North Shore, so I found a hostel and booked 2 nights, thinking that would be enough to check out Pipeline, go to Waimea Valley and take a stroll through the one main street of Haleiwa. I did not account for the fact I would never want to leave (neither did the mum).

Waking up to some banging and the smell of cooking on the second morning, I have to admit my first thought was “I’m going to KILL whoever just got in the house”. Enters Jaz. I would try, but there is really no way to describe or explain Jaz. Jaz, you see, just happens. She is also partly why a girl “just come to check out Pipeline with her mum” spent five days in North Shore and started interacting with the people around her, people who had already formed a community.

I have been travelling alone for 10 years (not consecutively), and making new friends has never been a problem. I’ve formed families of sort here and there and everywhere, always finding something to talk about, always finding some common grounds. The thing about North Shore is that apart from Jaz and Dani (the blonde Brazilian), I haven’t made any friends. I also cannot, for the life of me, remember anyone’s names or having any kind of meaningful conversation with any of them. All of it is a blur of pictures, smells and noises.

O’ahu is a tourist magnet. And yet, away from the bustle of Waikiki, the island is relatively quiet, populated by locals and surfers, with only a couple of big hotels and golf courses marring the perfection. At the time I was there, in October, the surfing season hadn’t really started but the tourist season had almost ended. It was a time in between, the perfect time to be there, as a not so touristy tourist having a look at the legendary waves of the North Shore.

Leaving behind the craziness of Honolulu and getting to Haleiwa and surrounds, with surfing as its main attraction, can be a bit of a shock, and quite frankly, a relief. This is not a place where you will find crazy nightlife, shopping malls or museums. This is the opposite of Waikiki and Honolulu. In other words, it’s the perfect place to make things happen, or to just watch and see what will come out of just staying still for a bit.

On the deck, chatting and philosophising about what would be next (it was the end of her trip), Jaz would simply stand up and announce it was time for “socialising”. In this case, going a couple of metres across the dirt driveway to chat to other people on other decks, share a beer and a few cigarettes. Now, because there is, really, not very much to do on North Shore, most resident of this hostel were semi-permanent lodgers, staying for the surfing season, the attraction its close location to good surf, and a knowledge that other surfers would be around. Common ground? Surfing. I’d surf before, but in no way would I call myself a surfer, or up and leave my life on the other side of the world on the only grounds that good waves were coming to Hawai’i. That didn’t stop me from chitchat, “good mornings” and beers, waved “what’s up” and a general feeling that I was, for some reason, at home.

The feeling of being at home spilled out of the hostel, a collection of little houses infested with termites, with roosters and chickens living under our decks and cats that believed our houses were their kingdoms (or at least their pantry). I could tell you about the shaper who lived next door and seemed to spend as much time outside his house, chatting with friends and waving at passing pedestrians (including me and mum) than in his garage shaping boards. Or the teller at the supermarket who made up a mobile number so we could have a membership number and get discounted rates on pretty much everything. A kaleidoscope of people who seem to simply accept the fact that, yes, we lived there, it was home and we would never leave.

Of course, we had to leave, but never before had it occurred to me that what was really needed to create a community was not so much common interests, shared connections or even getting to know the people around you. All it took me was a pouch of tobacco and some booze put down for anyone to help themselves, a willingness to walk over the track to another deck and integrate yourself into one, and then walking around feeling, truly feeling that you belonged.

——————-

In case you were wondering, the burnt popcorn was “cooked” on a late night we had a craving and remembered some corn being left over on the common shelf in the kitchen. We proceeded to pour the tiny amount of yellow seed into a pot, add some salt (or did we even do that?) and “pretend watch” for a while. The smell of burnt popcorn was persistent, the taste, not so great, but we didn’t have the heart to trash it all so still ate some. Of course, it was the pot’s fault. Never trust a hostel’s pots! Ever.

——————-

Find yourself on the North Shore? Do check out Haleiwa, Waimea Valley and Pipeline.

Go for a swim or a surf in Turtle Bay. Do get lost in the forest behind the golf course, there’s even a cool little natural pool in which kids can swim safely if you walk long enough along the coastline.

Watch the sunset on Sunset Beach, jump off the Rock at Waimea Bay and get some food at the Haleiwa farmers’ market located at the entrance of Waimea Bay park on Thursdays.

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