It’s beyond hard to believe we moved to Hawaii over a year ago.
One year of gentle waves, coqui frogs, mild (and not-so-mild) earthquakes, a volcanic eruption and, you know, adjusting to life 4,500 miles away from our former home, in the middle of a pandemic–one that your husband is on the frontlines of–and also, just for funzies, toss in buying your first home.
Did you get all of that?
It honestly feels like we just moved yesterday.
I remember exactly what I wore for our 3 long flights, how I packed precisely for ginger kitty to make his Trans-Pacific flight with us and the simultaneous heaviness of saying goodbye, mixed in with pure excitement for the adventures ahead.
Many lessons have been learned in this year around the sun.
I shall indulge you now.
Take your time. Hurry up.
When we landed, we immediately started our 14-day quarantine. This sort of quarantine doesn’t exist now that COVID tests are readily available. But when we moved, we needed to sign legal paperwork when we landed that we wouldn’t leave our home for 14 days in order to prevent the spread of COVID. This isn’t isolation as most people think. This was a stay-at-home order that meant my daily walk to the (empty) mailbox was the most exciting part of our quarantine.
As evidence in my Instagram Stories.
We were not allowed to leave our property for 14 days.
Island time is a very real thing here and when we did get out of quarantine, we found that need to settle into slowing down. Things have happened painfully slow at times.
Getting our DMV appointments, updating car insurance, getting a response to most anything if we had a question about policies or paperwork.
The thing is, it always worked out. Just more slowly than my mainlander heart was used to. Perhaps it’s a gentle nudge that…it always works out how it’s supposed to.
About 2 weeks after we got out of quarantine, Hawaii hit some of their highest COVID numbers still to date (until this past week unfortunately…) and in response, virtually, completely shut down. State parks, beaches, restaurants, most smaller retailers. All closed. We briefly saw our beautiful new hometown a bit before things closed again. We had just gone through nearly 6 months of that in Michigan, so we were as used to it as we could be by then.
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In the brief two weeks we were able to roam socially distanced, we met some of my husband’s colleagues at an outdoor get together for the two new docs that started. I remember how nervous I was because meeting new people is nerve-wracking enough, but doing it during social distancing times felt extra odd.
*waves at a distance*
HELLO! NICE TO MEET YOU! I’M CAROLINE. I’M NEW HERE.
We had just gone through some of the toughest moments of our lives in Michigan. The heaviness of the silent hugs my husband gave in our living room after intubating patient after patient will never, ever leave me. Especially when meeting new people. Especially after what we saw and went through. We wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
My suspicion about our stand-off-ish-ness at that employee welcome gathering was confirmed just recently in recounting that day. I was told they got it after Hawaii shut down. It made sense. We had already seen what they were hopefully trying to prevent by shutting down and knew we were socially distant as a precaution.
But what happened was those kind connections I made, were put to the side for months and months as we all buckled down trying to prevent a surge on a small island in the middle of the Pacific.
What people don’t understand and my husband can talk about until he’s blue in the face, is that the small Hawaii COVID numbers don’t tell you the full story. Those numbers have to stay low. We’re limited in terms of how we could respond in even a slight surge. From the distance to the next major hospitals to resources to equipment to ICU beds to even healthcare workers. A surge here would be catastrophic. So even a small increase (or relatively low numbers in comparison to the mainland) is cause for concern.
So, I did what I knew: settled into my work, found some new books to read, started running more consistently again and remained in contact with those close to me on the mainland until things started opening up again by the end of 2020.
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Our experience moving here in June of 2020 verses those who moved here even in the fall of 2020 are vastly different. They didn’t have to quarantine (with a negative COVID test) and things had relatively started opening back up a small amount as tourists were once again let in. We saw the beauty and splendor of our new home and then—BAM!
I joke with my husband that people who have moved here after us seem to have more friends. That’s partly to do with timing and also with us as well. We didn’t feel totally comfortable until we were both partially or fully vaccinated especially because of his line of work. “My husband had another COVID case yesterday, wanna go hang out?”
Volcanoes and earthquakes-Oh my!
2020 went out with a literal bang. Mt. Kīlauea erupted on the evening of December 20, 2020. We felt the initial earthquake in our living room. Did you know Hawaii has hundreds of earthquakes a year? Many aren’t noticeable. But there are some that make you think you’ve had a few too many margaritas as the world sways for a moment.
After we felt the earth shake for a bit, the hubster went to bed so his night-owl wife could watch some trash reality TV and about 20 minutes later he rushed back in to tell me the earthquake was because a volcano erupted.
Of course, we were meant to be driving past Volcanoes National Park where it was erupting the very next morning. OF COURSE. The hubster does some 24-hr calls at a hospital near that region every once and a while.
I’ll tag along because their team has at a condo which is close to a beautiful black sand beach. It’s been a nice break from the monotony of staying home and working. I just set up shop in a different location.
Like the mainlanders we are, we imagined lava spewing onto the roads, road closures, mass chaos and a bum rush to the hospitals. PLOT TWIST: None of that happened. We made our way down past the erupting volcano and were just gobsmacked by the power. Just the steam coming up from the park was incredible. And we were seeing this from the road!
We went to visit Kīlauea during the day afterwards and found many gifts alongside the rim meant for Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, fire, and lightning. Weeks later we went to visit the beauty at night and it’s a scene I’ll never forget.
In so many instances while living here, I’m gently (or abruptly in this instance) reminded of my own naive, preconceived notions of the world. Something as seemingly scary as a volcano erupting is a sacred reminder of the land forever changing, moving and adding molten lava to this earth; telling us we are never in control, to respect the ‘aina (land).
Things aren’t as expensive …except sometimes they are
The hubster and I have found that when people didn’t know what to say about us moving to Hawaii, they usually made negative remarks about it.
It’s so far.
It’s so expensive.
Why would you leave 9 months of grey and 3 months of cold and another 3 months of bitter cold?
So, let’s dive in.
Yes, it’s far. If you live on the mainland.
But a little perspective shift: it’s closer for us to travel to Asia and Australia & New Zealand. It’s really only an hour longer flight for us to get to the west coast from where we lived in Michigan and it’s actually the same length flight from where we lived in Florida to get to the west coast. So there!
Next, the cost of living. It is a fair point, but it’s not as expensive as we anticipated.
I say this with an abundance of love and respect: it’s expensive everywhere now, so examine the place you live before making wild rationalizations. By the time we moved back to Michigan for residency, it ended up being so much more expensive for groceries than it was when we lived in Florida for med school. I’m talking at least double the grocery bills. Florida and Michigan housing prices are giving anyone a run for their money right now too.
We shipped my car and donated his before we left. (That ol’ Pontiac G6 got us through med school and residency and eventually sounded like a jet engine every time it started.) So we were a bit surprised by prices the day we got out of quarantine to buy his new truck. They were about 10-15% more expensive than the mainland.
Gas is comparable to prices on the west coast, often less. Property taxes are much lower here. Income tax is higher here. Electricity is the same here for us and even better because we have solar. Plus, we have no A/C or heat so that can save us. Groceries can end up being about 15-20% more expensive depending what you buy. Anything canned and/or processed are higher costs. I even saw a spice in the spice aisle for $14/bottle. Meat can be more expensive, though we’ve offset that with Costco runs or buying local. Plus, we’ve countered costs with the bountiful (and cheap) farmers markets. Going out is similar to South Florida prices, so we aren’t shocked much. Activities we love are free: hiking, swimming, running, hopefully SUP and kayaking someday soon.
We’ve found, ultimately, costs do tend to balance out. Some things are more expensive, some things are surprisingly less. If you live a life very dependent on everyday luxuries (oh how I miss just running to Costco for a quick 15 minute trip, rather than it being half of my day) then yes, it will be more expensive. If you’re open to being flexible, the costs pan out.
Prior to moving back to Michigan, I posted on a Facebook group for the city we were going to live inquiring about houses to rent as we weren’t finding any online. Funny enough, we found the home we rented because of that friendly group.
I did the same prior to moving to Hawaii, found a local group and posted some questions about moving there: What would you recommend keeping? What would you recommend we bring? Anything you’d like me to bring you from the mainland?
I was smacked in the face with questions about why the hell we were moving there. I was told to stay back in Michigan. Honestly? Truth be told, rightfully so. I should have done my due diligence and been more educated about COVID numbers, as well as the complex issues surrounding people moving here.
Once I explained we both had jobs (some people move here without jobs and treat the ‘aina and ohana disrespectfully) and my husband was a physician, it seemed to warm the room a bit more. Doctors are needed here as many don’t stay long due to many factors including resources, an overburdened system and sometimes missing their families back on the mainland.
What I was also naive about at the time is the deep-rooted, truthful history of Hawaii that I didn’t learn in school. It’s absolutely without a doubt my job to educate myself on the Kingdom of Hawaii; the culture, people and very valid fears they have of people who look like me when we come here.
As things open up more, I’m ready to immerse myself in that education. As I’ve stated previously, the best advice I ever got in all my advocacy work is simply this: shut up, sit back and listen. I’ve learned so much since being here by doing just that.
But, whew. That Facebook post was quite the reality check. Maybe the Aloha spirit is a thing reserved for tourists?
I found out quickly it wasn’t.
A woman saw my post on Facebook and reached out to me mentioning her husband was a doctor too. Turns out, we met him while interviewing and he actually works with my huband! The first day we landed, without a way to return our rental car (we weren’t allowed to Uber to get us to our new rental home because of COVID restrictions), they showed up on our doorstep, N95 masks and all, asked for the keys and returned it without hesitation. They even brought us alcohol. ALOOOOOOHA indeed.
She’s now my pal that comes around to pick fruit off our trees to bake tasty treats or brew beer and funny enough, they live down the road from our new home.
Through the power of Instagram, I also met one of the kindest people in the world. I started following Living Hilo Style before we even moved because HELLO, she posts a lot about the delicious food in our new home.
We started chatting via DM and she offered the best recommendations for restaurants, delivery, parks to hang out at and even a bakery to get the hubster’s birthday pie. When I saw she was volunteering at vaccine clinics, something I wanted to do but was told I needed a medical background, I asked if they needed more volunteers and they did! So we got to meet in person, where she’s introduced me to–hand to heart–some of the best people. I’ve had so many laughs at the clinics and met so many wonderful people in our community that it really reminded me why an introvert like me can benefit from meeting wonderful people.
The Aloha spirit is indeed alive and well.
As I sit out on our back lanai (that’s what we call our back deck now, you know?) listening to the birds chip and the sun peek through palm trees (oh my god we have palm trees!), I’m having another pinch me moment.
They happen quite often here.
So many times the hubster and I will be driving, sitting silently and peering out the window at our beautiful town, until one of us says, “Can you believe we live here?”
“No, I can’t.”
I’m just so damn grateful that we do.
Here’s to many more pinch me moments.
I love your musings. Thank you for sharing what it was like to move to Hilo, this town that I love, in the middle of a pandemic and more. Can’t wait for this pandemic to be over so we can get to know each other with more food (and alcohol)!
Jane Larson says
Beautiful pictures and nice insights into Hawaiian life.