Hawaii is a Place, Not a Paradise: Insights from 15 months on the Big Island

Happy Newbit!

Even though it’s been months since my feet have rested upon the raw terrain of Hawaii’s Big Island, I occasionally find myself back there in dreams.

Once, I thought I’d slept in and missed my flight back to the mainland. I panicked when I thought of the consequences, only to wake up in my bed in my new home.

Now that this has happened a few times, I’ve decided to explore a short retrospective of my time on Hawaii in the hope that looking back on the decision to leave may yield some insights.

Insight 1: You Don’t Need Lava to feel Burnt Out

It’s a funny feeling. Part of me was really burnt out on living in Puna. (And it wasn’t because I was living near the most active volcano on earth.) I was tired of worrying about getting burned by the equatorial sun, the abundance of sharp rocks on the beach that sliced me up more than once, and the friction associated with using hitchhiking as a primary means of transportation.

Lava flow on edge of Kalapana, HI

Don’t get me wrong. I still love the weather, the landscape, and even the hitchhiking, but there was a kind of friction to that lifestyle that wore on me after a while.

In the end, I had to admit to myself that living in Puna just wasn’t the best match for me, or for my writing career. (Mind you, all of this was before the recent lava flow that threatened to cut off the area, starting in September.)

But why? I can hear you practically screaming.


It’s quite simple, actually, and it hit me without warning.

Insight 2: Even Paradise can feel Limiting

By early last year, I had already acknowledged the feeling of friction that I mentioned above. I loved Hawaii, but I also felt deeply that my situation was subject to change at any time. My lifestyle there was open and fun, but also constricting at the same time. The job market in the Puna district was pretty atrocious, and it was difficult to find clients to consult for.

Malama-Ki pool

If you came to Malama-Ki at the right time, these pools became magic.

Still, I loved being so close to the ocean, and I get nostalgic for places like Malama-Ki park sometimes. And every week, there were an abundance of community events nearby, filled with fascinating characters.

Events like La Hiki Ola’s open mic night, Cinderland’s Taco Tuesday (later, a vegetarian potluck), Uncle Robert’s famous night market (complete with live Hawaiian guitar), and the Sunday morning drum circle at Kehena beach were events that my friends and I looked forward to every week. (Sure, most events were full of hippies, but many of the hippies I met were pretty fantastic people and not necessarily luddites.)

Taco Tuesday Cinderland sign

The sign I’d see every week for Cinderland’s Taco Tuesday. Good times, good food, & good people.

For a district smaller than the island of Kauai and a population around 45K, there was a surprising abundance of events each week; and community engagement was definitely way above average compared to what I’ve seen in other parts of the US. Of course, there are probably more intentional communities per square mile in that area than in any other part of the country. (And I’m surprised these communities aren’t written about on more sites. Of course, the internet isn’t exactly a priority for many of the people there.)

Still, something was creeping up inside me. I felt it was time to move on. Once you’ve attended 40+ potlucks, served food at them dozens of times, snorkeled all around, hitchhiked to the top of Mauna Kea itself, and heard “That’s My Number” performed live by Uncle Robert’s numerous sons more times that you can count, you may be ready for a change.

What many people don’t realize is, Hawaii isn’t a paradise. Hawaii is a place. It’s a wonderful place, yes. But as anyone who went through Hurricane Iselle knows, it has its share of problems. Most of my friends didn’t have any kind of reliable access to the web, not to mention reliable cell reception. If these aren’t important to you, then it might be the place for you; but for most of us in the 21st century, living in certain parts of Hawaii can feel like going back in time.

Insight 3: Love prevails all Trauma

Even with all this in mind, it’s hard to quantify exactly why I knew it was time to move on, because it was primarily intuition.

And then I met her.

Freaky Mysterious Sea Creature

We found this freaky sea creature with 27 tentacles. I dared her to touch it, until we realized it could be venomous.

Needless to say, I’ve never met anyone like her. Even from our first meeting, we seemed to have a second language of in-jokes, a love of the natural world, and a healthy pride about our nerdy-ness. And that was only the beginning.

After a few months, it had become clear: our connection went deeper than either of us had ever imagined. We became each other’s confidant; each other’s safe haven; each other’s radiant joy.

Short version: We fell in love.

But there was a catch. She had only made a temporary commitment to stay on the Big Island. Not long in the grand scheme of things, but long enough for me to decide if it was worth going back to the mainland. Sure, I was ready to leave the Big Island even before I met her, but this changed things. A lot of reflection went into the next step of my journey, and I decided to observe how the relationship went for a few months. Were we really as compatible as I thought? I’ve learned from experience that only time and plenty of communication can reveal the truth.

Of course, you already know the decision I made. We had some pivotal conversations about it, and in the end, we decided that our relationship was worth the risk of changing the environment to a completely different state, climate, and social situation. Yes, there was fear, on both sides. We both had heartbreak in our past, but when we were honest with ourselves, we simply knew that it didn’t end there. Intuitively, I knew she was worth it. And thankfully, I do have a job that is quite mobile.

It’s like my friend Harry Jim says, “Love prevails all Trauma.”

Hawaiian bloom

It certainly did here. (Of course, he is a kahuna who kahunas, so I shouldn’t be surprised.)

So that’s the short version of how it happened. We don’t rule out living on the Big Island again someday, but I don’t think I’ll have the same lifestyle if we ever do go back. It’s not that I hate it. Hawaii profoundly changed my life. I grew in many ways during my time there, and then it came time to move on.

I know by now that, to be happy, I have to follow my path with a heart… wherever it leads.

The Future of Byteful Travel

So, now that I’m back on the mainland, what does that mean for this blog? What does it mean about my travelling adventures? Will I stop writing about Hawaii?

The Truth Beyond the Sky in La Hiki Ola kava bar library

I donated a copy of my novel to the kava bar. Positive ripples…

Far from it. I have a huge backlog of adventures to share, most of it being crisp, HD video. In fact, I’m considering pivoting this blog to more of a video-based site.

So yes. I’ll keep posting about new places I travel to, but the form might change. I’m starting to feel burnt out on writing destination-based articles. After all, I’ve been writing travel articles for this site periodically for over 7 years. And these days, my focus has shifted to writing Mythic Fiction (if you haven’t already noticed). But as I said, I’ll keep posting here, too.

Hawaii Rainbow over the jungle

With all the rain, this happens a lot on Hawaii, actually.


Paradise can be found almost anywhere if you look intently enough.

My lady and I began the year with a kiss atop a hill in San Francisco. That night, even shivering at midnight was a slice of paradise.

You know it’s funny. I never imagined that I would be willing to move for a relationship. But that’s easy to say…

Until you meet someone who’s worth it.

with love,

p.s. Pretty excited to start a new Hawaii video series, which will kick off with last year’s New Year’s Eve in Hawaii when a home-built tricopter with exploding firecrackers flew over the crowd at Uncle Roberts. (Since that’s apparently what New Year’s Eve looks like in Hawaii.) Look for that soon, and thanks again for liking and retweeting these articles. It helps more than words can say.

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Are you ready to Drop Your Assumptions & Follow Your Path with a Heart?

In Life, there is a remarkable Spectrum of Experience available to you.

And it’s on you to decide how you spend your time — and thusly your Life.

But there’s a next step, beyond consciously choosing what you do.

During my travels on Hawaii, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a fascinating flock of people from all over the spectrum: business owners, artists, wanderers, massage therapists, builders, poets, and of course, vagabonds. Each of them show me a different color of the Spectrum of Experience, and invariably I find the ones who are the most unconventional are the ones I learn from the most. And believe me; saying that there are plenty of unconventional people in Puna is putting it lightly.

For instance, an elder woman of the island told me about a man who travels all over the world doing bodywork, healing people from all kinds of ailments. She said she had been bedridden from a car accident for years, and because of him, she could walk again.

I’ve also met people who simply live hidden in the jungle. The fact that this is illegal (despite the fact that most of the land is in varying degrees of complete uselessness) doesn’t even phase some people; and I know more than a couple people who have done this or are currently doing it. And those who live “hidden away” seem happy with their lot.

Not interested in living in the jungle? You could live in a meditation center. I know a handful of people who lived for months on end at a respected meditation center on the island. They help keep the place running in exchange for a place to stay, good food, and a pretty good meditation hall.

Obviously, this isn’t a great fit for everyone, but for the right person, a consciously-chosen atypical lifestyle can provide much greater growth opportunities (not to mention joy) than a traditional one. In one of my favorite examples, two of my good friends on the island make vegan ice cream for a living. They create some incredible combinations that I’ve never seen anywhere else. (Rose-Petal Pistachio, anyone?) They’re able to pursue what they love, which is making ice cream, in a healthy, locally-sourced way. And their business is growing beautifully.

People choose unconventional living styles all over the world, but I’ve never seen it as obvious and ‘on display’, at least in the US, than on the Big Island of Hawaii. There is a kind of admirable shamelessness about it, and it goes together perfectly with the entrepreneurial vein which runs through the island. There is an attitude of ‘I give from my abundance and you give from yours.’

So how do you choose which path is right for you? Which color of the Spectrum appeals to You?

Colors of the Spectrum of Experience

All of the people in the situations I’ve just mentioned, and indeed dozens of examples I haven’t included here, are bravely pursuing what they feel drawn to do. They aren’t blindly following the script laid out before them. While traditional society might have them get a predefined degree and find a jobby-job at any place that will take them, these people are forging their own way forward.

To be perfectly clear, I’m not saying that getting a degree is necessarily unwise. (I don’t regret mine.) Traditional education can be valuable (and quite necessary) in some fields, but be cautious about following the well-paved path. Who ever said that following a predesigned path ensured a happy destination?

In my experience, happiness and fulfillment isn’t so easily stumbled upon. In the USA, we operate on dozens of assumptions that we don’t even know we’re making. Who said that there was only one path to success? Yet thankfully, in this increasingly entrepreneurial world, the assumptions are changing.

And as tempting as it may be, I’m not going to bring up examples of people who have dropped out of college to go on to become successes, because that’s not even the point.

The point is: You are going to die.

You know this. You’ve been told this. But do you really get this on a deep level?

I thought I did — until 2012, when I had a near-death experience in a car accident. Calling it “surreal” doesn’t do the experience justice. The vehicle flipped. Twice. (I’m not one to half-ass anything, even a car accident.)

The vehicle was totaled, but miraculously we walked away from the accident with only a few bruises. There wasn’t even any guilt attached to the event. I wasn’t driving, and it wasn’t the driver’s fault, either. Perhaps I’ll go into more detail in a later date, but the practical upshot of this was that my concept of my own mortality shifted, in a big way.

Are you Wasting Your Life?

Of course, such moments are bound to change you, and I’m glad to say that it changed my perspective for the better (although perhaps not in all the ways you’d expect). Yes, I value life in a deeper way, but I also understand viscerally that it could end any day, at any time. I constantly remind myself to savor it. But I also feel much less judgmental when I see someone “wasting” their life.

After all, who am I?

Who am I to say how they’re supposed to spend their time?

When I was in college, I used to judge what people picked as majors. Social work? Welding? Cosmetology? I’m not proud of the fact that I felt a sense of disappointment when someone told me that one of the above was their area of study. I placed judgment on certain areas of the Spectrum of Experience.

But today, my attitude is completely different.

I’m not sure if it was the accident, living on Hawai’i for over year, or all that and more; but my values have shifted. Now I see how absurdly short this Earth Experience can be, and I say: Go for it.

If beautifying hair makes you bubbly, do it. If living in the jungle makes you joyful, do that. If all you want to do is make different flavors of vegan ice cream, please for glob’s sake DO THAT. (And thanks Sean & Ashley at Nicoco’s for their incredible vegan ice cream.)

Smarter Than Your Head

How much longer will we blindly follow The Program before we realize it isn’t a recipe for happiness? How many more years? How many more lives?

Have the courage to pursue your path with a heart. No one else’s. Because you will get good at what you do. Sure, it takes time, but the time is going to pass either way.

Don’t misconstrue this. If your heart calls you to get a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, then DO THAT. (And not just because I love astronomy.) Do it because, when you’re dead honest with yourself, you already know your heart is smarter than your head. Choose the part of the Spectrum of Experience that you intuitively feel is right.

If you have the courage to do that, your life will be utterly transformed.

When you are passionate and congruent with your work, you’ll be far more effective, and people will respond. They’ll see that your attitude is in a higher realm (a realm that most people experience rarely, if ever), and it will electrify everyone around you. Remember that everything you see is temporary. Your possessions, your relationships, and yes, your body, are in a constant state of flux. Everything is transient, on some level. It’s just a question of the timescale you take most seriously. But if you come from a place of congruency and something in your life changes (which it inevitably will), your fundamental vision, your Path with a Heart, will guide you beyond that.

Follow the Path with a Heart. Or, heck, if you don’t like that label, then just follow your gut, and it will work out in the end — often in ways you can’t predict.

Perhaps this got you thinking. Perhaps you’re angry or annoyed. That’s good. Even anger is a higher consciousness-level than apathy. And if you support these ideas and want to see them spread, click Like or Retweet and share this article. If these ideas don’t resonate with you, then you’d best move on, because it only gets more interesting from now on.

‘Sitch might just get polemical around here.

I’ll leave you with one of the final photos I took on Hawaii:

“Potential minus Commitment equals Zero.”

Potential minus Commitment equals Zero.


Are you completely congruent with how you spend your time? If not, when does Now become a good time to change that?

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