Contrary to popular belief, there is more to the Hawaiian Islands than what is portrayed on a postcard. I myself had been to Hawaii before, but at the time I too was mesmerized by the commercialized version of the islands that is ingrained in most people’s minds.
It was my freshman year of high school; my football team had been gifted with the opportunity to play our first game as high school athletes on the beautiful island of Oahu. We fundraised for an entire summer, and on a buzzing August morning we departed to fly and meet our opponents, the Kamehameha Warriors.
Of course, when we first arrived we conducted our typical tourist activities: swimming in the crystal clear Pacific Ocean and paying our respect to the USS Arizona and the Pearl Harbor Memorial. These experiences were enjoyable, and I would love to partake in them again, but there was something else from this trip that made a more profound impact on me and made the trip more memorable.
The next day, the day before game-day, the team and myself loaded up the buses once again. However, this time we drove past the main attractions and what could be considered to be the “tourist area.” We drove inland until we reached a small town with a park and a crowd of people that I did not recognize. We got off the bus and were welcomed by the entire opposing football program and their families. These people had prepared a meal and celebration just for us. When I say celebration, I mean celebration. There was home cooked food, music, dancing, and more, all for us. We spent the rest of the day and evening getting to know the people who in less than twenty-four hours would square off against us as enemies on the gridiron. These people were so friendly and hospitable as they took us into their home; this is what affected me so immensely.
Sure, Hawaii is great in part due to its unforgettable white sand beaches and unique tropical landscape. However, what the public views as a destination, others see as a home. The traveler is often oblivious to what goes on when the beaches and waterparks are closed. Behind the scenes of any tourist hotspot are the people that inhabit the area. The ones who welcome millions of travelers into their home. The ones who share their corner of paradise so that others may experience its beauty too. The ones who keep the area thriving when the visitors leave. These people do not show up on postcards and pop culture advertisements, but their role in creating a welcoming atmosphere is so crucial to the destination.
Not only is it important for tourists to recognize the locals of a destination, but it is also important to respect the fact that as tourists we are entering the homes of others. We can do our part to preserve the natural beauty and culture that the inhabitants embody and that makes these places so desirable. At the conclusion of my journey I remembered the kindness and genuity of the people, not the postcard I sent home.
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