The air conditioning in the van was broken (this was not mentioned as a precursor to our emailed agreement with our host) and thus the back “room” would drown us in stuffy air. In a desperate attempt to escape the seemingly inevitable suffocation we had pushed the side doors open and abandoned most of our clothing, sprawled across the floor in one another’s boxers or a sheet thrown across to maintain some “dignity” we had long misplaced. A lucky few laid across the broken mattress of our oversized, “vintage” van, Roxanne and the others piled on the floor. It was too late but without any phones to illuminate the time, the construct was ignored. The moon was bright enough to guide us to the side of the road and onto a beach path to park for the night. Other vans and cars lined the right side where our side door allowed a view of the ocean, if I moved the broken curtains from the left window I could make out mountain scapes outlined barely by a single street lamp. I could hear cheers and drums coming from the beach bonfires, but content with the company of one another we drank cheap red wine from the bottle Brita had stolen hours earlier. W played games that begged secrets from one another’s lips and giggled the drowsiness of the evening pleaded rest and the Hawaiian breeze tried to cool us down.
Most of our nights followed these patterns. Sometimes a friend would play African rap, rowdy and unfitting, from expensive foreign speakers and we would slow dance in the road to uncomfortable club beats, the headlights of our vehicle made makeshift spot lights. Once we agreed to surrender to the night, we parked in places where our neighbors were also chasing magic. Occasionally they would hoot or honk in encouragement. the five of us must have looked like witches or gypsies to those passing by.
I’d always fall asleep first, exhausted by adrenaline spikes. I would also wake up first, right when the sun would begin to bake us inside our metal home and the crumb and litter covered floor couldn’t cradle me back to sleep. I’d crawl from our cave, lured by freshair; barefoot and sweating I’d climb to the top of the van and sit for a few hours before my vagabond crew would wake and read about anthropology or philosophy or write indecipherable poetry. I remember my feet constantly calloused and the lack of food showed in the way my clothes hung off my body more than they should or my skirt needed to be tied in a particular way to stay on my flesh. We lived on a farm on the Big Island, worked long hours and slept in dingy, collapsing cabanas when we weren’t living inside of Roxanne and the exhaustion and deprivation showed. When I got anxious to start exploring I would play “Roxanne” by The Who and my grumpy travelers would wake up slowly.
I don’t typically like the ocean when I am too close to taste her salty kisses but the top of the van provided sanctuary. I would wave at the colorful cars and people that passed and honked or smiled, becoming a beacon of the freedom they, too, chased.
Sometimes we’d park in lonely places where lights couldn’t reach us and sleep until late afternoon desperately trying to convince ourselves the rest was enough. After a few days the exhaustion became more evident through the way we spoke to each other. Impatience and frustration wove itself into our tones as we navigated through stretches of Oahu. Brita’s fear of driving became exasperating; the rotation between drivers shorter and the simple decision took time and too much effort. The money and resources that allowed me to take the trip wasn’t as stable as I had hoped and I was often hungry. Opportunities were skipped because the lack of money I was not expecting and I could sense the others fair frustration in this. Jamal and Willow’s boundaries of discomfort made bickering more affluent. I didn’t understand how the freedom we created became so encasing or how the utopia we seeked was more complex than anticipated.
One day Brita and I chased a waterfall she had heard about from some boy. Some nights she’d sneak out of the van to meet new people and sneak into the car way too late, crawling into my arms for warmth. We found a vague map and after dropping Jamal and Willow off to shop on over crowded streets, we figured we’d find peace and rejuvenation in the wilderness. I drove and we talked about important nothings heading in the direction of our destination. She naviaged for me. Until she didn’t. Brita tended to get flustered often and the pressure of finding a destination filled her with anxiety. Suddenly we made wrong turns every few miles and we were burning through gas quickly and efficiently. Hours went by and we had yet to even begin to understand where we were. We stopped and asked directions a few times, but received vague and uninterpretable motions east and then west. Maybe a grunt or a nod without context. Hopelessly lost, Brita cried and I yelled and we’d take turns doing each. A police car turned sirens on behind us at one point. Being only 20 at the time (the legal age to drive a rental car is 25) I panicked and the overwhelming reality of the situation had me completely frozen in my seat. The cop then got out of the car, and passed us nonchalantly going to speak to the rowdy men in front of us. We never found our waterfall. After imagining my imminent arrest, I turned around eventually and we made our way back to Waikiki for Willow and Jamal to console our anxiety.
One night we traveled to the North Coast of Oahu, only a small beach town and a reputation for the world’s best food stands awaited. Gas station poké was my exclusive food group, so the activities were limited. There we discovered a resort, Turtle Bay, enclosed by large fences probably put there to keep people like us out. Willow had left after a few days, the filth and instability scared her away and Jamal Brita and I were hungry and exhausted, consumed by the lack of that seemed to be our only consistency. I made an irrational decision to take a chance and turned into the grounds filled with the privileged and the tourists. Luckily enough a van showed his badge and the gate opened and before my co pilot could protest, I stayed close enough behind to sneak into the gates of utopia. As frequent hitch hikers on the Big Island, our main home, we were not unfamiliar to begging.
We parked and sent our sneaky representative in first. Brita came back quickly to report the elegance and wealth of the establishment. As well as the lack of security. I had packed a single dress for the van trip and threw it on, a costume to blend in. The three of us sauntered to the front desk as if we had just visited out private yacht, our false superiority hanging off us like perfume, and asked for towels. I remember hardly holding back giggles, the alcohol I had sipped charming me into almost handing in my stolen identity. The woman smiled politely. I think Jamal fit the part well, handed us our towels and we made it to the door to the pool, Brita’s nails digging sharpley into my hand to control my fits of laughter.
An hour before we had been badly arguing. I was frustrated and anxious as we chose where would spend the night but for some reason that melted away for a bit. We lay in the hot tub for hours until it rained us inside and we sat at the bar unbothered and ordered drinks we flirted into existence. We showered in the locker rooms, washing away thick layers of stains and chlorine. That night we pulled the van away from our heaven and followed our usual nightly routine, completely refreshed we skipped the fighting and slept soundly. Nothing was solved, we were not fixed but we were momentarily satisfied.
This night constitutes as the greatest night of the time I spent in Hawaii. Before this trip, if I ever sat in resorts I would be discontent with the atmosphere, the ease was too simple for my adventurous cravings. By spending 10 days in a van, I finally found my comfort zone; the niche I thought I would never discover. For years I chased opportunities to push myself to new extents, tried to find the end of my patience with travel. But for the first time, I struggled to feel safe on the road. I didn’t know I could ever lose my desire to travel in a spontaneous and unstable style. Before this trip I had tried everything; integrated into new places and each space nicely. In my van was the first time I found true discomfort. I couldn’t romanticize the trip and this time I don’t think I need to. I want the raw struggle, the hunger and the sadness to be real in these months because it was what I felt, even in paradise. But through the dichotomy of these experiences I learned the vitality of balance, a valuable lesson found roaming the islands. The people we met in the resorts would gush once they heard what we were doing, told us we were really living and “how badly they wished they could join us,” and we sat smiling to ourselves, knowing we would literally sacrifice limbs in exchange for a hotel room for the night. The trick of travelling is being honest with what goals you are accomplishing, and this moment established my pride in this adaptability I’ve grown to value.