I have never hitch-hiked before having been well warned of the dangers of it from an early age. Who knows what kind of deranged maniac might pick you up with his (yes, I say ‘his’ because it usually is) lunacy carefully concealed behind a broad, welcoming smile and a big, friendly car. But travel half way round the world to The Big Island and things are quite different. Hitch-hiking is common because the public transport system is notoriously bad; buses on the island run once every two hours and are excruciatingly slow.
I would have never dared hitch-hike had I not met a fellow guest at our hostel who persuaded me that it would be worth the adventure. ‘Ran’, a gentle young man from Israel, had been hitch-hiking his way through the Hawaiian islands, saving a fortune in money along the way. He reassured me that if we hitch-hiked as a pair, the chances of me being garroted with an old shoe lace by a red-faced Jack Nicholson lookalike were minimal.
So off I went with Ran to hitch-hike to a pretty beach on the north west coast of The Big Island. Ran taught me the basic etiquette to maximise pick up opportunities: firstly you have to hold your thumb up high and straight like you really mean it; secondly you have to smile, no-one wants to pick up a dullard; thirdly, always put a girl first as they’re more likely to catch a driver’s eye. That may be sexist, but it is true. I stood ahead of Ran with one arm stretched out and a big smile on my face. To begin with I had my spare hand resting on my hip, but I began to feel vaguely like a highway prostitute so I quietly dropped that arm to my side.
It didn’t take long before we were picked up, the first of four rides that day. It was always kind, generous locals and I learnt some fascinating facts; one driver told me in detail how Captain Cook was murdered by the native Hawaiians in 1779 and another told me about the existence of a tiny Hawaiian island called Niihau, better known as ‘The Forbidden Island’ (look it up, it’s very interesting!). Our last driver shared his organic cigarettes with us, which were surprisingly pleasant and I felt quite exhilarated by the time we got back to the hostel in the evening. From a financial perspective we saved about $200 in taxi fares as well which made the whole experience even richer. The only slightly unsavoury ride was from a man who was on the way to the rubbish dump; Ran and I had to sit in the back of his pick-up amongst all the stinking refuse bags, not the best, but it could have been worse.
I arrived in Japan yesterday, a whole new experience after the bliss and warmth of Hawaii, which I was truly sad to leave, I could have stayed on in Waikiki indefinitely. However, as one adventure ends, another begins. Yesterday at Honolulu airport I marvelled at the number of Japanese passengers wearing mouth masks, I can only think it must be related to germ avoidance on the aircraft. I’m pretty sure I was the only white person on our flight, like a turnip in a field of pumpkins. As we boarded the aircraft, the Japanese air hostess told us several times that we must do our seat belts up as soon as we sat down as the plane would be ‘moving away quickly’. I had this vision of the plane just suddenly taking off and everyone falling about the aisles in their mouth masks clutching onto their luggage. Being back in Japan in some ways feels quite familiar, but in other ways very strange. My Walking Tour begins this afternoon, I hope it’s not full of more oldies….we will see!