Just the other day, I was listening to an audiobook discussing the Nash equilibrium, a fascinating and complex concept in Game Theory, but with a very practical application - if your employer were to give you an unlimited number of paid vacation days (some employers actually do this), how many days would the average employee be likely to take off work in the long run? The answer, suprisingly, is zero: although every employee could take an unlimited number of days off work, each one would want to take fewer days off than his or her colleagues, initiating a race to the bottom. In practice, there are additional factors that influence the result, but if there is one takeaway from all these ideas, it is that you really ought to be thinking about taking a vacation. And when it comes to vacations, you could do much worse than Hawaiʻi.
Last week, Anu and I took a week-long trip to the Big Island, the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. This was our first trip to this island, having been to Maui a couple of years ago. As always, this was a largely unplanned trip - I forced myself to book in advance the flights and place to stay, but the rest of the trip was left to luck and winds of fortune. Being ignorant of the heterogenous weather patterns on different parts of the island, I ended up booking a lodge called Lava Pond Lodge in Volcano, an area covered with a tropical rainforest. It was a wonderful place to stay and I don’t regret booking it, but boy, it was wet. And it didn’t just rain, it poured on multiple occasions.
As it turned out, they weren’t kidding: the Big Island is indeed big. My original assumption had been that it didn’t matter where we were put up as long as we had a comfy rented car to drive around, but this assumption became quite hard to justify after three days of multi-hour drives. Eventually, we ended up booking an Airbnb in Waikoloa village for the second half of our stay.
Anu and I both tend to like hikes and other forms of physcial activity as part of our vacations. This time around, the highlight of our trip was a hike I like to call “The Desert Hike”. As an outsider, when you think of Hawai‘i, you might think of sunny beaches. In reality, the island’s central theme is volcanos. The entire landscape is shaped by lava flows, and as you might expect, lava solidifies to leave behind vast tracts of barren and rocky land where even the occasional weed struggles to make a living. In the satellite image below, the blue represents our walking route through the land, 11.4 miles if Google is to be believed, and the dark terrain is entirely covered with black lava rock, entirely devoid of greenery. Remember to carry plenty of water, folks!
Phew! Fortunately, Hawai‘i does have some wonderful beaches. Hapuna Beach was certainly pleasant, but Kekaha Beach near Mahai‘ula Bay was the true find. We ended up spending almost the whole day there, and I did exactly nothing. Like meditation, doing nothing is hard, but it can be learned with practice and discipline. And if you watch the edge of the water very carefully, you might end up discovering some meditating turtles in the water as well… 🐢
The airport at Hawai‘i is fairly tiny, perhaps tailored to have an ethnic look and feel. Still better than Oakland International Airport, I suppose (protip: if you have a midnight stopover at Oakland, remember that they shut down most of the airport between 02:00 and 04:30, and you may be forced to catch a few uncomfortable winks sitting around baggage-claim). On our way back to Seattle, we purchased a couple of tiki souvenirs at the airport gift shop.
Isn’t that strange? Somehow, the best part of any vacation is finally reaching home again.