Nine signs that I’m in Hilo, my hometown

Always something blooming in my mom’s hibiscus collection.

1. A Hilo downpour

There’s nothing like falling asleep to the loud drumbeat of a Hilo rainstorm. In a downpour, you’d be soaked in a minute. When I moved to Vancouver, I was a bit disappointed with the misty drizzle, blowing into my face and frizzing my hair, lacking the satisfaction of palpable pounding raindrops. Since Hilo’s average annual rainfall is 130 inches, people assume that it’s raining all the time. But Hilo’s showers alternate with brilliant sunshine. Big rain, big sun. No wishy-washy weather here.

2. Using the human bank teller

Living on the mainland, I use ATMs almost exclusively. In Hilo, I wait in line with my mom at her bank. She’s not the only one. Locals seem to use human tellers more than ATMs. They prefer the face-to-face interaction–Good morning! May I see your ID? Have a nice day!–and trust humans more than machines.

Taro Pineapple
Among my dad’s edible plants are taro and pineapple.

3. Local fruit

Sure, you can buy tropical fruits worldwide. But there’s something different about Kapoho Solo papayas, sweet-tart apple bananas, mellow white pineapples, and local varieties of mangoes, mountain apples, and avocados. You also can’t beat the prices: five papayas for two bucks (if you know where to look).

4. Active volcano

Kilauea Volcano, located on the eastern side of the island, has been erupting nonstop since 1983. Often, the molten lava flows underground into the sea, invisible. When a flow shifts and becomes visible from land–occasionally threatening homes and towns–the eruption hits the front page and reminds us that we’re living on an active volcano.

Dendrobiums practically grow wild in Hilo.

5. The thank-you wave

In Hilo, if I let another driver pass ahead of me, I always receive a thank-you wave. It might be the local shaka sign or a simple wave of the hand. Either way, it’s a given. While I love my current city, Vancouver, I’m too-often disappointed when I let another driver pass and receive no acknowledgment. I miss that momentary connection between one stranger and another.

6. Mosquitoes

Growing up in Hilo, I had a tolerance for mosquito bites. Once I moved away, I lost my tolerance and now, if bitten, my immune system triggers those irritating red welts. When the Big Island had a temporary outbreak of dengue fever last fall and winter, I was dismayed. If I could change one thing about Hawaii, I would banish all mosquitoes.

Hapuu Anthurium
Pebble footpaths lead through native hapu‘u ferns and anthuriums.

7. Coqui frogs sounds

Originally from Puerto Rico, coqui frogs arrived on the Big Island in the 1990s (apparently by way of potted plants from Florida). This invasive species is now ubiquitous on the island. After dark, they emit a distinctive loud call. From my bedroom window, I can hear a few in the backyard. With earplugs, they don’t bother me much. But it is always catastrophic when invasive species proliferate and upset the Hawaiian ecosystem.

8. Trade winds

On the best days in Hilo, my hometown, the trades are vigorous and constant. Open a window and–whoosh!–in comes the breeze like long, cool drink. Since the sun is shining and temperature warm (daytime highs around 80ºF/26ºC), the winds are refreshing rather than chilly.

9. Slowed-down time

I can’t prove it, but time passes more slowly in Hilo. On the mainland, I wake up, deal with a few things, and suddenly it’s 1pm and then 6pm–and in a flash it’s past my bedtime. Here, despite an active, on-the-go morning, I’m often stunned to look at my watch and find a whole hour still available, at my disposal, before noon. A luxury.

Images: All photos shot in the backyard where I grew up.


  1. I grew up (in Missouri) with the thank-you wave. It may be a generational thing; younger drivers rarely wave. However, I keep waving—hoping to spark a response or just to amuse myself. “Oh, you’re welcome,” I say, as the other driver powers ahead, oblivious.


  2. Sounds heavenly – pounding rain is also more reflective of my hometown upbringing and “the wave” when let in or passing (it was a given) in the car. Also a smile when on a walk and you pass by another walker. Little things that as you write, keep us connected on a human rather than techno level. Love the photos – must be difficult to leave such a wonderful “home”.


    1. Thanks Laura, Deb, and Alicia for your comments. I don’t know what compels the thank-you wave or the hello smile while walking. Maybe some cultures are more reserved. Sometimes I, too, will more pointedly wave or say “good morning” to a stranger in Vancouver, just to see their reaction. We are lucky to have grown up with these gestures.


  3. Hi Luci! I’m so sad that I missed both you and Judi. I can relate to the nine signs of Hilo! Thank you so much for thinking of Chablis. She loves the salmon jerky. Hope I can meet up with you the next time you’re in Hilo. (Or maybe at Neils). Love, Jan


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