Living in paradise and working like a dog
Everything costs more here. Fuel is 80 cents a gallon more than anywhere else in the states. Real estate is out of sight, and people are putting junk on the market and selling it for more than a million dollars. Those who didn’t buy real estate when they had a chance now find themselves priced out of the market, destined for perpetual renter status or forced to move away. The locals all have two or three jobs and they patiently tolerate the tourists and their endless questions and silliness. The retail center is poorly conceived and there must be a major redesign. Construction and tourism are the two main industries in town. Chain stores are champing at the bit to sink their teeth in here, and they’re on the way. There are traffic jams, and it takes half an hour to creep five miles. Donald Trump has a presence here, and he’s said it’s the best real estate opportunity to come along in decades. They’re building a new golf course down the road from the airport, and the ranches north of town have a cross hairs on them for time-share condominiums. But it’s paradise, and paradise tends to get screwed up, doesn’t it?Aspen, right?No, it’s Hawaii – the Big Island, Kona. We were fortunate enough this January to spend a week on the Big Island and a week on Kauai, and it was a good perspective on how we do things back home.For me, the Big Island was a lot like Colorado – not just the resort environment, but the landscapes and the climate. The east shores of the island near the airport are covered with bunchgrass and stands of brushy trees, much like New Mexico or West Texas, certainly not everyone’s idea of Hawaii. There are lava flows everywhere, big dark spillages of rock where little, if anything, grows. I spent a day hunting mouflon sheep on 13,000-foot Mauna Kea with a friend from Hilo, and it was much like sheep-hunting in Colorado at high elevation. It was cold in the morning, there was snow on the top of the peak, and high mountains are high mountains. Wild sheep are wild sheep. The cattle ranches on the north end of the island were … well, cattle ranches, a perfect use of the lush green pastures – at least until the golf courses and condos start coming in.My wife, however, preferred the island of Kauai, because it looked more like her idea of Hawaii, with big beaches, palm trees, lush vegetation and surfers everywhere. However, the locals on Kauai were snotty and had a tedious “I live here and I’m so cool so why don’t you get out of my way” attitude. That attitude was prevalent in Aspen in the 1970s and 1980s, and it just doesn’t wash, especially from someone who just moved there two years ago. I found Kauai too small and confining.The Big Island, on the other hand, actually has some incredible wide-open spaces. You can walk for miles along the slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and never see another soul. There are few roads in the backcountry, and you can find wild pheasants, chukar, quail and a type of grouse, not to mention wild sheep and goats. And, with miles and miles of coastline, there’s all kinds of fishing and diving. Surprisingly, there aren’t many beaches, however. The lava flows that dump right into the ocean make for really rough shores, and nice sandy beaches are miles apart.But I enjoyed the people of the Big Island most of all. It seemed like they had a common thread of feeling lucky to live in such a great place, and were willing to put up with a lot of difficulties to stay there. Nobody I met was making a great living. They were all just getting by or getting a little ahead, but working hard and struggling to make their mortgage payments or rent. Every adult is “Uncle” or “Auntie” to every child, and the hospitality is incredible, with gifts of coffee, fruit or pastries a normal occurrence. You always take off your shoes before you enter a Hawaiian house.Speaking of houses, there are several hundred real estate agents in the little town of Kona, and poorly built houses routinely cost more than a million bucks. The Kona downtown area is shabby and tacky, and someday someone will buy big chunks of it and scrape it for new classy malls and hotels. The same thing will happen to a lot of the ramshackle houses on Kona – pitiful construction on top of gorgeous view lots. Sound familiar?We fished with a charter boat captain named Alan who worked his tail off to get us onto a couple of mahi mahi. There are literally hundreds of fishing boats on the island, and the early-morning scramble to find the best spots reminded me a lot of a busy day in August when all the guides leave Aspen and Basalt with their clients in a mad dash to the river. Alan was extremely professional and cared a lot more about getting my two boys onto a fish than I did, going the extra mile. It was obvious, however, that the daily catch takes an incredible toll on the fish populations, and that someone needs to regulate both the sport fishermen and the trawlers to reduce the catch and let the fish grow. It sounds a lot like our big-game herds. Ah, Hawaii. You’ve got some tough times ahead. I feel for you, brothers and sisters. Aloha. I hope to see you again.Gary Hubbell lives in Marble, where he and his wife, Doris, operate OutWest Guides. They offer summer horseback rides, fly-fishing trips and autumn big-game hunts.
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