Last week I reunited with some of my favorite people on the Big Island: Hoffa, Mama, Georgia, Sweet RoRie, and Mr. Cain. Since 2007, my parents have prioritized an annual family vacation. I use that term loosely, since these trips rarely involve too much relaxing.
Sometimes we take on exotic international places. Last summer we flew to Ecuador, exploring the Amazon Jungle and quaint mountain town of Banos. Amidst adventures like white water rafting and biking to waterfalls, we also got really sick, had our water cut off, and endured a twenty-hour bus ride circumnavigating landslides throughout the country.
Other times we remain domestic inside the great US of A. The summer before in 2014 we exchanged homes with some folks in Durango, Colorado, chug-a-chug-a-choo-choo-ing along an old-time train to Silverton and putting on our cowboy boots to experience a bit of the Old West.
Invariably, we never have a solid plan. Every year there is a recurring pattern in which we waste our first day getting our bearings and figuring out what we will do. When I met Georgia in the Kona airport, she asked if I got adventuring out of my system for the second part of the trip. I scoffed. It was definitely a good move to do some extra rugged adventures on my own, but I decided to break our family streak of ignorance and indecisiveness this year.
I spent hours internet searching, reading and re-reading sections of the Big Island Revealed guidebook, and heeding friends’ advice. Each morning, we have managed to get out the door by about 9 (thank you East Coast jet lag). We hiked and drove through fields of lava craters, though unfortunately missed the active lava flow. Cain and I cliff jumped into crystal blue Pacific waters. When they were too tired or lame to get out of the car, Mama and I dragged the rest of the family on a stroll through lush tropical forest to 425 foot Akaka Falls. Even the complainers admitted it was worth it. We have laid out on white and black-sand beaches and snorkeled among brain-squiggle coral reefs, colorful fish, and sea turtles.
We’re only halfway through the trip, and I am pleased with all we have seen and done in our first week; it has been phenomenal.
Those activities occurred because of all that planning and a lot of effort on my part. Before I left, I made an itinerary on Google Docs, shared the folder with my family, and asked them to please do some research and contribute as well. I know they were really busy, but despite my request, no one added anything. Some of us continue to be utterly ignorant.
A couple days ago driving north, Georgia asked, “So…we’re on the Big Island right?”
HOW do you not know that??
Others are just dependent. “What are we doing today, Jess?”
“Should I pack water?”
Yes, and your lunch.
“Where do we go?”
I know as much as you Hoff. I have it plugged into the cell phone already. Just follow the instructions.
“Make Google Maps work! It’s not telling me anything!”
Turn the volume on!
It would be one thing if we all just did what I said we were going to do. Instead, every night I find myself adjusting the plan, relinquishing a totally set day for new information Mama neglected to tell me earlier, or what needs to be cooked for dinner, or the family whims come 8:00 AM.
The responsibility is exhausting; it sucks all the fun out of trip planning, and much of my pleasantness. It doesn’t take much to rile me up before I start to vent my frustrations on my family.
“Geez Jessica, calm down.”
Mama mercifully defends me. “Why don’t you try to plan for the day Cain?”
That shut him up. It’s easy to be in charge of yourself, decide to do something, and do it. Multiply that decision times six, and it’s exhausting just getting out the door.
Our jaunt to the Waipio Valley a couple of days ago perfectly exemplifies these minor family tensions. I had read how stunning the valley was, but to get to the heart of it, there’s only the Muliwai Trail – an eighteen-mile overnight trek – so I had disregarded it.
Mama meets me in Hawaii, and the only thing she is dead set on doing is this trail. “Not the whole thing, of course, but the first ridge. Susan says it’s the best hike she’s ever done. Ever.”
I adjust the itinerary; I’m certainly not going to complain if my family wants to go hiking. We get to the overlook at the parking lot. The guidebook states that the next mile of twenty-five-degree-grade road is exclusively for off-terrain vehicles with excellent four-wheel drive. The swanky Yukon XL we rented doesn’t exactly fit that description, so we begin walking. We descend all of twenty feet down the road, and Mama’s knee starts wondering if our tank of an SUV could make it after all. We return to the car for a very steep, very bumpy, muddy ride down.
Venturing where few other rental vehicles will go has its benefits. We make it to an isolated black-sand beach – I’m racking my brains to avoid redundancy, but once again, “paradise” really is the most fitting adjective to describe this secluded strip, distinguished by wild horses, crashing waves, and a sweeping cliff line.
After hours of driving that day, I’m ready to hit the trail.
“Alright, let’s go on that hike!”
“Or…we could just stay here. Why keep climbing when this is already the perfect spot?”
I cajole my reluctant brother and the rest of my family a quarter mile down the beach to a river crossing. We go upstream a little bit and begin to wade in, but the small rocks are slippery, and we turn back about five feet into the stream to try closer to the sandy ocean. I start again, and when I get about thigh deep, I take my daypack off and lift it above my head as a precaution. I take a few more steps until I am hip deep in the middle of the river, turn back around, and discover that no one is following me. They stand there waving me back to them. I disregard their beckon and continue on to the other side.
Over the roar of the ocean, we can’t hear each other, but we’re both waving our hands toward ourselves, futilely urging the other party to cross. Then Mama begins doing the same motion in a perpendicular direction, ocean to river, indicating that the tide is coming in. I’ve given up on my family crossing, but I’m still keen to hike, so the sign language compromising begins. I hold up my pointer finger, and mouth, “One hour?!” She eventually concedes. It’s hard to make it up a whole switchback cliff face in thirty minutes, but I did as much as I could, and was rewarded with a sweeping view of the side of the valley from which we entered.
When I returned an hour later to my family relaxing on the beach, Mama explained that the likelihood of electronic car keys and cell phones making it across that river dry was not high. Yeah, yeah.
Yesterday, since the plan had been to hike the day before, I had a beach day scheduled. But since my gung-ho hiking family effectively bailed on me (or, it may be argued, I bailed on them) in Waikio, they were ready for some hiking. Ohmahgash people. More itinerary modifying, here we go.
I definitely get annoyed. But I also treasure the quality time inherent to #ComptonsConquer trips, especially now that I live on the other side of the world. Maybe my family is not as adventurous as me, but they’re still down to give it a go. Even if the “go” didn’t get past the river crossing, everyone had a great time. We went to Waipio, and a whole lot of other remote places, which is a helluva lot more than the Hilton hotel folks who venture no further than the pool or cocktail bar. Plus, though young at heart, the rest of my father is 61, and I’m impressed with the way he keeps up with us. We like early morning bike rides and local farmer’s markets and bumpy roads to unvisited beaches. We are definitely not resort people.
It drives me crazy when Hoffa screws with my agenda and randomly pulls off the highway. That I say we’re going to listen to live music this evening, and he realizes it’s Friday, and proceeds to nix my plans because he met a musician in the airport. But that spontaneity led to some of the best experiences of the trip so far – exploring a coffee farm, getting a personal tour through a private plantation house down the road, and dancing at dusk under the palm trees with my now-very tall brother.
There are so many small facets of just being together as a unit that I love. We shamelessly belt out Johnny Cash tunes in the car. The fridge is stocked full of breakfast berries and avocados and turkey meat, all of which I’m too cheap to buy for myself. Between Rosa Marie’s quick giggles, Hoffa’s impossible obstinance, and Mama’s tipsy state after one drink, there is so much laughter.
I love that every morning, I find RoRie doing a quiet time, and I see how she has become even more compassionate, loving, and forgiving. Which convicts me… my frustrations do not reflect the same fruit of the spirit.
I am learning anew to just let it go. Plans are good, but people, especially these five, they are better. With serious boyfriends (looking at you Duncan Donut), and encroaching big-girl jobs, #ComptonsConquer trips as we know them may be coming to a close. More than the activities, I am remembering to value the company.