Day 9 - Ohana.

Accounting: I've driven almost 450 miles, seen 15 houses, talked with 4 chefs, checked out 5 swims and noted at least 3 more. I've drunk 6 bottles of bubbly water and a few small bottles of regular water (not enough, I know). I've boiled 8 eggs. I've met amazing people and seen wild life and fallen hard for Hawaii. My long journey home begins tonight at 8:20 HI time when I will head to the airport. I'll fly all night and jump into the middle of tomorrow. I'm all packed, but I'm not sure I'm ready. How do I let it go? Last night the jasmine and plumaria and other tropical fragrant blooms nearly made me drunk with each breath. I wish I could bottle the night air here and bring it home.

I've been mentioning my little ohana where I have been living here in Kona the last 9 days. On the mainland we would call it an in-law apartment. It might be thought of as a place to stow relatives in need of a place to stay, but you don't really want them in your house.

Almost all homes in Hawaii have an ohana. Some of them are separate structures, an attached wing, or simply a bottom floor space with bed room, bathroom and kitchenette. Here, an ohana is a place of inclusion. The word ohana literally means: "extended family - either related by blood, adopted or intentional".

Intentional family.

What an awesome phrase. What a remarkably wonderful concept. I've always filled my life with what i've called chosen family, so this idea strikes a chord with me. Hawaii is so remote that people who live here are often very far from their families. Adopting a milihini (newcomer) or even a mea kipa (visitor) into your life, into your home, into your family, has become a very important part of this society. Glue. So when folks build homes, the almost always include an ohana so they have a place to take someone in.

I guess I feel a little like I've been adopted by this place, by the gracious and generous people I've met over the last 9 days. This island has nurtured some part of me, and its people have welcomed me and this notion of bringing SwimVacation here with willingness to help and open arms. I feel at home here - when I wave to the shop keeper in Banyan Marketplace on my way to the pier (he's going to give SwimVacationers 20% off next year!), when I'm called for a swim by Karlyn, or when someone I've just met offers to show me around or teach me to surf (never did get that surf lesson - raincheck, Ocean!).


Case in point: DuG, owner of this house and ohana (also giant spider relocater - thanks, DuG!), just called to invite me upstairs for a tour of the main part of the house. He's creative and cool and I'd been getting a sense for his style over my stay looking up at his lanai, which looks like possibly the coolest place in Kona to sit for a spell. Well I was wrong - his lanai is not the coolest place in Kona. The inside of his house is. DuG's space is a museum of tikis and Hawaiian maps and some of the most interesting artifacts I have ever seen. He has taken this small Hawaiian dwelling and turned it into a focal point of creative energy and authentic island style. No wonder I've been so at home in the ohana downstairs.



And what of the Pacific? Well. My passion for this body of water was revived this week. My memories of plunging into a world of color and vibrancy and life and energy were not exaggerated over the years. Yes, this stretch of the Pacific is as incredible as I remembered it to be. And when I step foot in it, some part of me says, that's right. I can belong here. Ohana.

Today I hit the pier at 7 am to join the local masters' team for their morning swim. I was welcomed by all, and coach Steve Borowski made sure to introduce me to a few swimmers about my pace so I'd have someone to swim with. Welcome. We waded into this water that feels like home.

We stopped at the King's Buoy which marks the half way out point on the IronMan course. Water cooler chatter, laughter, gratitude for the weather, the conditions. What a way to start the day. As we headed back I took a little bit of a left turn to explore some reef (i've grown accustomed to taking exploratory turns on this island). I just wanted a few minutes to myself to say good bye to this ocean. Out of the corner of my eye i saw it - the large, dark triangles and the white cephalic fins. A slow gentle glider just 30 feet below me. A manta. Making big, easy circles, feeding on plankton or resting or who knows - maybe just welcoming me to the family. I swam with it for 10 minutes. Just cruising, taking it all in. Swimming. With a manta. In the Pacific. On the last day of what has been an amazing adventure. On what will certainly not be my last visit to this remarkable place.

The Pacific is a place where you can watch the sun set into the ocean. You don't realize how cool that is unless you live on the east coast of the US where no matter how many nights you look towards the sea, the sun will always set over land. When conditions are just right here, you can see a brilliant green flash at the moment the sun dips below the horizon. I photographed it once, 15 years ago. Lucky shot. I haven't caught it this go around, but I'll certainly be on the lookout this evening. One more sunset.

Get a little bit of this place in your veins and you'll see what the Aloha is all about. I dare you not to get hooked. Departure day has been a struggle for me. It helps that I'm returning to a charmed life at home in a fantastic part of the country. But mostly it helps to know I'll be back here with SwimVacation. We came and knocked on this door, and this island, the Pacific, opened up and invited us in.

Hawaii calls you, Carol Jean said to me with the plumaria tucked behind her ear. It's calling me. It's calling SwimVacation. I'm pretty sure it's calling you.

Will you listen?

Mahalo nui loa, Hawaii. Aloha.

- Heather