Hurtling down a Hawaiian highway at midnight in a stranger’s battered truck is not how I pictured my life would be when I was daydreaming in college exams two months earlier. I was there alone, roughly 4500 miles from the closest person I knew and 7323 miles from my hometown and family, with limited knowledge of my surroundings and a phone with no signal. Apparently I had decided in a state of wanderlust a few months prior, that signing up to stay and volunteer on a farm on the island of Oahu by myself was a perfectly fine idea.
And that decision is how I came to be standing outside Honolulu International Airport clutching my backpack of possessions nervously, waiting in the dark for a ride out to an isolated farm on the eastern side of the island. A pickup truck plucked straight out of the 80s, lime green like a boiled sweet and flaking to rust red, spluttered to a stop in front of me.
“R’you Alys?” a rich, American accent called out of the window, and thirty seconds later my bag is in the back, I’m in the front seat and we’re speeding away from civilisation towards a deep darkness, blacker than any night in my memory. If this sounds like the start of some dark thriller novel then that would quite accurately sum up how I was feeling. Disorientated and tired, I begrudgingly accepted my precarious position and resigned myself to observing everything and anything I could see out the window. Which wasn’t much, just a few roads, and perhaps that was an outline of a mountain, black against the black sky?
The truck spluttered to silence in front of the farm; a dog bark cracked the air like a gunshot as I yanked my bag from the back and followed the stranger to a covered outside space I would later learn was the ‘kitchen’. At this point I was pretty relieved I hadn’t been murdered or something; I was quickly losing my adrenaline rush and my badly concealed yawn probably gave this away. Bouncing torchlight led me uphill across patchy grass to my accommodation for the following two weeks… A tent.
Cockroaches erratically dissipated from the sudden light into the shadows but I was too dazed by the overwhelmingness of the whole experience to have any sort of visceral reaction to that, nor to have any kind of emotion towards climbing into a tent in the middle of an environment I hadn’t even seen. Was I in the centre of a big field? Were there houses nearby? Any other tents and volunteers? Endless questions I could observe but had no urgency to find answers to; sleep was the only thing I craved. Sleep and ignorance of my situation.
Left alone, I zipped myself into my polyester haven and lay face down on the air mattress, already sweating in the Hawaiian humidity. Calling my state over the next few hours ‘sleep’ would be a bit of a stretch, as I hung in a half-conscious fitful state, somewhere between deep, turbulent dreams and heart-racing awakeness.
Countless wild pigs came snorting around the entrance of my tent and in the darkness my mind exaggerated these animals into dangerous beasts that were searching me out for food. A brutal wind came smashing into all sides a little while later, and I felt like the whole world was vibrating. This was followed by a brief but violent downpour, in which I frantically had to close all of the tent’s window flaps I was keeping open to fight off the warmth. At 4:30am I gave up on sleep completely as what felt like hundreds of roosters began squawking, two hours before light started appearing. That’s not how it’s meant to work.
I sat up, nonchalantly observing the trails of ants scuttling along the tent floor around me, unable to feel repulsed through the fog of sleep deprivation and shock at how I had managed to find myself in this tent, on this farm, on this island, at this point in my life.