::: There are 2 main types of travelers: those who travel to seek comfort and those who travel to come out of their comfort zone. The thrill and adventure of the latter often pays back with the best stories to tell;) :::
My trip to Hawaii began as usual with the purchase of cheap tickets wayyy in advance ‘on the-spur-of-the-moment’, because I had a scientific conference in Honolulu around that date. However, I did not expect a major life’s turbulence, that turned my life upside down… Believe it or nor- when the date finally arrived, I did not feel like going to Hawaii at all. I knew that the best way to snap out of it is an ambitious challenge and getting out of my comfort zone. Hence, I have decided that this is a perfect time to give Couchsurfing a second chance*.
Couchsurfing is a hospitality and social networking service. Members can use it to arrange homestays, but also meetups, events or simply ask locals for advice regarding the place of interest. So in theory, you have a chance to stay on someone’s couch for absolutely free but more importantly you can meet a person with a similar, carefree approach to life and a lot of interesting stories to tell . Its also a unique chance to experience how the ‘real’ life looks like in a given place. Your local host will tell you where the best coffee is, how to get to a closed climbing trail or where are the best non-tourist places in the area. But! CS is not a free hotel, it’s an experience. You have to remember that you are a guest and your stay will be highly influenced by the stranger that agreed to host you. Usually hosts offer much more than just a couch -their time and company (which might be both- good and bad for your trip…).
*last time I tried it in Australia and it didn’t end well
Couch no 1: Honolulu, Oahu Island
My first host- Nikodem has been living in Hawaii for several years, developing his travel business. I didn’t know what to expect, so I asked Niko to host me just for 2 nights, and booked a hostel for the rest of my planned stay in Honolulu.
I arrived in the morning, after a 14hr flight, with the phone battery almost dead. Fortunately, it was enough to track my bus location on the map*. Niko gave me his address together with instructions where to find the key (special mailbox on the ground floor, do not ask the porter;), because he was out at the that time already. I don’t know why but I was amazed that everything was going smoothly – I got off at a good bus stop, I found his building block and the mentioned mailbox, the code worked and the keys were there. Pleased with success, I took the elevator to the right floor, and found the right door and there I saw it … a huge lock by the door handle with a code to click in … I tried the code from the mailbox- nothing. I tried to fit the key despite the lock-nothing. In the meantime, the battery in my phone died of course… If my PhD experience has taught me something, it’s to never give up. So I ignored the lock and tried the key in the inconspicuous upper lock – it worked! 😛
Relieved, I opened the door to a cozy studio with a promised couch under the wall. On the couch I found a welcome Lei from flowers (probably leftovers for Niko’s clients but still). The door to the balcony was slightly opened. I came out and looked around to see the boulevard below me leading to the beach, tall palm trees and green Hawaiian hills in the distant. And then it finally dawned on me – I made it. I’m in freakin Honolulu (!). It was wonderful:)))
*public buses in Oahu are quite frequent (every 15-20min), a one-time ticket costs $2.5 and an all-day $5.5
:::Wreath of flowers presented upon arriving -or so called Lei – is probably the most famous symbol of Hawaii and perfectly represent the Aloha spirit <3::: ::: View from Niko’s place :::
::: Short Instastories from Niko’s place :::
I met my host later in the afternoon. He called me after work asking if I wanted to join him for …yoga. Niko instructed me to sign up for a free trial at the local studio, so totally unexpectedly I could enjoy free yoga for my whole stay in Honolulu! It was the beginning of a beautiful adventure and as it turned out -a great friendship. What else do I owe to Niko and choosing Couchsurfing (CS) instead of a hotel?
CS in Honolulu Pros:
- Firstly, but not the most importantly, living in the very center of Honolulu, right by the legendary Waikiki beach:
::: Honolulu, Seaside Avenue. In front of me -the building where I stayed, and behind me…a passage to the famous WAIKIKI BEACH!:D :::::
::: Waikiki beach : a magical and surreal place to be. In the background you can see the Diamond Head, iconic Hawaiian volcano crater :::
- priceless insider tips, e.g. where to buy an American sim card, where is the best coffee and the most delicious acai bowl (local must-eat)
::: Only in Hawaii- fresh mango as a side to your coffee!<3 :::
- my kind of sightseeing, i.e. 1000cc motorbike ride around Honolulu and its hills. Frankly, it was my Hawaiian dream number 1, and if I were to rent a bike in the shop all I could get would be a lame scooter (the prices of such machines are insane and besides -my license allows me for 250cc bikes only)
- a professional tour/roadtrip around Honolulu and Pearl Harbour! Niko is a guide in his travel agency so he invited me to see him in action. I was shown around the most important places in town and beyond. You probably noticed that my trips are usually quite spontaneous and I use wikipedia rather than professional guides, so it was an interesting experience.
::: Mr. Guide was playing the greatest Polish hits from 20 years ago, that was supposed to sound tropical.. Example? Check it out- but I’m warning you- you cannot unsee this… click :::
::: Niko in his professional mode :::
::: Pearl Harbor makes a huge impression – totally recommended! At the end of the tour you can eat a typical American hot dog with … sauerkraut :::
::: A memorial just above the sinking site of the USS Arizona battleship with 1,102 Marines on board during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The wreck and bodies were never recovered ::::
- unofficial tour to the fabulous Polish consulate … to water the flowers, because the consul is on holiday in Poland (although after watering it turned out that half of them are plastic). The current Consul of the Republic of Poland in Hawaii- Bożena Jarnot, is Niko’s friend and original founder of his company.
::: View of the Diamond Head from the Consul’s flat / office . Eh, I think I chose a wrong profession :::
- getting to know a whole bunch of Niko’s friends, as he invited me to the numerous events, including a sandbar boat party or a beach party on the north coast organized by dancing with fire hippies!:D
- a few really crazy but not entirely legal things I will not write about here but I would love to tell you personally or in ‘never-have-and-ever’ type of games
CS in Honolulu Cons:
It’s hard to think of any. Niko’s flat is a small studio with the bed, couch, home office and kitchen- all in one room, so there was zero privacy. It did not bother me though, because as it turned out -Niko is a supercool person and we got along really well. So well, that I end up cancelling my hostel and staying for additional 3 nights at his place :).
Next on the agenda was the neighboring island of Kauai. So I partied away the last night in Honolulu with Niko and new friends, returned to the flat only to take my backpack and went to the airport.
::: There are no ferries between islands -but local airlines offer frequent flights for fair prices :::
Couch no 2: Princeville, Kauai Island
Another island – another Couchsurfing adventure. I have to admit that I have seen many places but nothing has ever made such an impression on me like Kauai. The wildness, monumentality of the steep cliffs, volcanic beaches, beauty and abundance of nature without natural predators were … stunning. I felt like in Jurassic Park. It turned out to be an exceptionally non-touristy island, with almost no public transport.
::: Kauai dazzle with its epic feeling of a lost world … ::::
My next host – Krishna,is an American whose parents were hippies and spent his childhood traveling with them all over the states. As it is difficult to move around Kauai without the car, Krish offered to pick me up from the airport (even though his home was on the other side of the island). On the way home, he made several stops – to see a wild beach, lookout point or to get me a local coffee (I started to feel the lack of sleep from last night).
CS in Kauai pros :
- Once again, I came to live in the most amazing place on the island. Na Pali Coast, that Kauai is famous for was just around the corner.
::: My Kauai-couch was in the living room with a terrace :::
- Krish was an extremely nice host- in the morning he made delicious coffee from a professional coffee machine, to go with avocados toasts <3 :
::: Breakfast with an ocean view :::
::: CS in Kauai – Krishna’s incredible house :::
- Krish showed me around, pointing out all the local trees and plants and their uses when walking around
::: Picking avocado straight from a wild tree :::
::: Natural face gel, shampoo and conditioner in one – great for tired salty water and sun hair :::
::: Wild Guava-yum! ::::
- The best of this CS experience turned out to be something that is not available for a normal,mortal tourist -riding a waverunner on the waves of the Na Pali cost! 😀 Officially, the most dangerous and unbelievable thing I’ve ever did. The waverunner belongs to Krishna’s friend and it is not a typical (nor legal – but shh) way to see the wonderful Na Pali…
The coast can be seen from the ground during hiking (but the trail is currently closed), from the air (by helicopter) or from the ocean (but the waves are high and the rocks are dangerous, so the only option is big tourist boat). Since I ride motorbike on a daily basis and once I tried jet ski in the Baltic Sea, I thought that it cant be that hard;)
::: Na Pali Coast ::: ::: Being so close to those sharp, massif cliffs and feeling the powerful ocean’s waves beneath me still gives me chills … :::
- another fun thing was Krishna’s tip to use the facilities of the nearby resort. St. Regis is so remote that nobody would suspect that I am not one of the guest!:P
::: Chilling in St.Regis :::
::: St. Regis terrace- perfect spot for sunset viewing :::
CS in Kauai Cons:
Sounds like a fairy tale …? Well, not exactly. Time for plot twist-Krish was not completely mentally healthy. I noticed that there is something wrong while chatting on CS but as a hippotherapy volunteer, I am used to different disabilities and strongly believe that such people should not be treated differently. When I met Krish at the airport, he seemed to be simply a bit slow. It was not until I got into his car when the conversation about alien kidnappings in Kauai started… Krish’s quiet way of speaking and absent gaze was not helping.
- Throughout my stay, Krish was flooding me with conspiracy theory stories and weird facts from his life. Some of them turned out to be true (I met his mom later that day) but most were simply..crazy. He claimed that in the past he worked for DARPA (military agency for technology) and knows too many of their secrets so they sent him to Kauai and he cannot leave the island. His favorite conversation topics included secret US technologies and bizarre genetic experiments for military… All that seemed harmless apart form one moment. On the second day, he brought a large heavy stone from the terrace and smiling lightly said that this stone has magical power. He warned me that I should be careful and don’t come near it when the stone has bad mood .. That night I was falling asleep convinced that this will be a murder weapon that the police will be asking in the morning.
::: Krish loved to bounce his neurotech ideas off me :::
- Krish turned our to be a very engaged host with too much free time on his hands. After few days he got seriously offended when I went for a hike on my own … Weirdly enough, I could take bizarre stone threats but I cannot stand somebody’s moods. That day I moved out (to couch no3- that belonged to another Couchsurfing girl Dahn that I’ve just met) and finally enjoyed Kauai in peace.
Couch No 4- Heleiwa, North Shore, Wyspa Oahu
For my last weekend in Hawaii I returned to Oahu, but this time to the north coast, which is much quieter than the south. Haleiwa is a charming little hipster town by the beach, famous for its surfing culture (thanks to some of the best waves in Hawaii).
My third host -Ryan, surprised me the day before the arrival sending me a message that the couch is actually taken, but he can offer me… his van. I had doubts at first, but I’ve just had two Mai Tais in Tiki Bar with Dahn. She encouraged me to go for it because ‘fun situations like this is what travelling is about’.
::: Van in Haleiwa- my ‘home’ for the next 2 nights :::
I arrived the next day in the evening and Ryan was so nice that he picked me up from the bus stop in Haleiwa (so I didn’t have to look for his home in the dark), and took for a welcome beer to the local bar. It would be rude to say no, although the only thing I hoped for after my arrival was shower (I was riding a scooter around the hot,dusty Kauai for the whole day before my flight, in search of the Jurassic Park filming locations ). On the plus side- again I got to meet my host’s friends and check out how the locals party in the north.
CS in Haleiwa Pros:
- sleeping in a van turned out to be a great adventure, the mattress was really comfortable and I could enjoy a bit of private space for the first time in 1.5 weeks!
::: View from Ryan’s beachfront house :::
- because Haleiwa is so small -and we left the car by the bar- in the morning we went for coffee on the cute bicycles (no photos – I cannot function normally before my morning coffee)
- Ryan took me to all the cool places in Haleiwa, such as the local surfboard factory, where his friend showed me how the boards are made! I had no idea how much science it involves.
::: A cool local place in Haleiwa with the most bizarre soap factory I’ve ever seen ::::
CS in Haleiwa Cons:
- Although I lived in a van parked by the house, I still had to use the bathroom in the house, which was quite awkward. It seemed that the other flatmates did not understand the CS concept and I wasn’t really welcome there. Especially that there were more people there than usual, since one of the housemate’s sister was visiting (and occupying my couch). Ryan admitted later that he didn’t host too many couchsurfers there and didn’t discuss my stay with his flatmates.
Bonus – Laie houseparty and unexpected couch no 5
Niko called me on my last day, saying that I have to (!) come to his friends’s housparty in Laie. Laie is a small beach town~1.5hrs away from Haleiwa. He added that his friend will be going to work in Honolulu in the morning so she can give me a ride (my flight back to Singapore was around 11am). I didn’t have to think twice- I met his friends before and the idea that I would spend my last night in Hawaii with the people I know and like was great. I packed up things from my van, said good-bye to Ryan and his flatmates, bought six-pack blond beers and got on the bus to Laie..
::: Couch by the ocean – hands down the most magical place i got to sleep (ever) :::
:: Coral Reef in front of your porch?- sure why not ::::
::: Refreshingly cold morning in Laie <3 :::
I can honestly say- mission accomplished. Hawaii turned out to be a cleansing experience – full of unforgettable adventures that I really needed at that point of my life. Thanks to CS I met the coolest and the strangest people, I did things that I’ve never dreamed about* and reminded myself that there still is kindness in this world.
You can judge for yourself whether adventure, unusual encounters and unique experiences are sufficient counterweight for the risks and discomfort of staying on the stranger’s couch;)
*Since I was in a rather peculiar state of mind, I admit I had a bunch of rather reckless adventures that I have not described here because somehow they did not fit the post. For example? Ultra-dangerous solo climb on a closed steep cliff’s route, problems with the US police, hitchhiking at 4 am in the middle of the jungle or tea party at the drug dealer house. Ahhh Hawaii :)))