All this talk of quarantine brings me back to sipping Kona coffee with my husband on a Pacific-facing lanai along Hawaii’s Kohala Coast. Lulled by pounding surf and sultry trade winds, Bob suggested we adopt a simple life: quit our jobs, abandon our belongings, and have the pet sitter ship our cats to us.
Such a move would not be unheard of in his family. Uncle Bill, whom we had visited days before in Honolulu, did just that (minus the cats) in the 1960s. A recent college graduate, he sat for a federal civil service exam in western Massachusetts, where ice pellets echoed off the windows of a vaulted auditorium. Those pings prompted him to select the newly admitted 50th state as a desired location. He moved, met and married Aunt Lydia, and never looked back. He did, however, visit the mainland often.
Among the many considerations Toni Polancy lays out in her book, So You Want to Live in Hawaii, is budgeting for off-island mobility. Island Fever is real, Uncle Bill would say. It’s a form of claustrophobia. Loneliness and isolation, however, are only a couple of the negative aspects of moving to, and living, in Hawaii.
Cost of living is another. Hawaii is expensive—very expensive. According to the Family Support Center at Joint Base Pearl Harbor, it’s at least 35% higher than on the mainland. Despite that, you will live longer—four years longer, statistically speaking. Baked into the state’s cultural luau is a healthy outdoor lifestyle, low incidence of obesity and tobacco use, and high respect for the elderly.
Conversely, those same elderly face expensive housing, high food and medical costs, limited public transportation, and scarce assisted-living options. Yet they enjoy substantial benefits. Pension and Social Security income are exempt from state income taxes, and senior homeowners enjoy ironically low property taxes. On the other hand, many properties are held in trust for Native Hawaiians, so rentals are a good option for retirees.
Many rentals, however, don’t allow pets—if you can even get your pet into the island state. Strict quarantines keep Hawaii rabies-free. Our tabby, Nina, cringed at the mere thought of a quarantine. Her disdain for change includes seething and ignoring us when we return home from a vacation.
“You may want to move to Hawaii,” she glared when Polancy’s book arrived. Nina reminded us that of our three cats, she alone yowled her way through the airport terminal upon her arrival from Louisiana 14 years ago. Like us, she had lost her home in New Orleans to Katrina and then bounced between Houston and Baton Rouge. Having heard that a pet could be subject to a 30- to 120-day confinement, she glowered.
While the law does allow a five-day quarantine or even direct release after inspection, Bob and I then cringed when we read that between vaccinations, travel containers, and quarantine fees, the process can cost well over a thousand dollars—per cat.
Nonetheless, we looked at houses on the Big Island and Oahu. In the mountains overlooking Waikiki, I jumped out of the car to take a jaw-dropping, postcard-worthy picture of a quiet neighborhood. Golden ‘illima papa popped against the dazzling fetches of the vast Pacific, dotted with catamarans and surfers. Deep purple awikiwiki spilled like leis over neat fences, and puffy white hoawa bushes mounded themselves like cotton into manicured lawns.
While loulu palms beckoned, chords from the London Bach Choir drifted from someone’s lanai. “You can’t always get what you want,” the voices chanted as a karmic typhoon hit my forehead. I sang along, “But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
Thus we carefully and honestly scored Hawaii’s livability. In addition to the cost of living and isolation, Nina insisted that whatever move we make, it should involve minimum disruptions, a short flight, and no quarantines.
So we bid aloha to Hawaii. That complex greeting means far more than hello and good-bye. It encompasses affection, gratitude, and sadness. Aunt Lydia always says, aloha a hui hou, which means “so long, until we meet again.” That more accurately sums up our love of Hawaii. Our quest to find a place in the sun will lead elsewhere.
I think I’ll grab a cup of Kona, ponder those possibilities, and bid aloha to quarantines.