Visions of rugged paradise danced in my head when we booked an affordable little rental house in Miloli’i for our Big Island honeymoon. The Internet indicated that the views were spectacular and all of the reviewers raved about how secluded it was, perfect for a romantic getaway. We made a reservation without giving it too much thought and tucked it away as something to look forward to after the wedding.
When we pulled up in the driveway, it was clear that the place was exactly as depicted in the photos. There was the wooden sign carved with pineapples, the sweeping overlook of the ocean in the distance, and that spa nestled in the corner of the lanai. All of the elements were there, yet it felt like something was missing. We hadn’t really paid attention to the fine line between seclusion and isolation—we were halfway down a hill, miles from the nearest grocery store, and our neighbors were few and far between. Then there was the fact that the house had been built on an old lava flow, which managed to double as an optimal breeding ground for mosquitoes.
“This is our honeymoon,” I reminded myself, trying to conjure up feelings of romance.
“Get inside, quick,” Jared said. “Or the mozzies will eat you alive.”
We stood at the screen door, admiring the view through the safety of the mesh. I was impressed with what I saw, but silently concluded that perhaps we had missed our chance for a justifiable luxury holiday. Did it count as a honeymoon if I smelled permanently of OFF! and wore the same two t-shirts for a week straight? It seemed a lot like backpacking dressed up as something fancy. We’d planned our honeymoon just as we plan most of our trips, and I secretly wished we’d gone a touch more upscale.
Hawaii, of course, was still in our favor—it’s hard to feel like you’ve missed an opportunity when you’re on a tropical island. However, the feeling that a honeymoon was supposed to be SUPERSPECIAL still nagged at me. If it felt the same as our other trips, were we doing it right? That night we sat on the stiff sofa, smacking stray mosquitoes as we flipped through a guidebook the owners had left. We talked through a loose budget, made a grocery list, and discussed whether or not we’d need to put petrol in the car the next day. Once the sun went down and chased the bugs off, we took a couple of cold beers to the hot tub. It felt romantic at first, but then we started talking about how much of a hassle it would be to have one of these in your house. It was my first inkling that maybe we’d actually planned a honeymoon that was true to who we were as a couple after all.
The next morning we drove down to sea level, where our guidebook promised that a fifteen-minute hike would lead us to a “secret” black sand beach. It was barren but beautiful, all perfectly curving palm trees and salt-and-pepper sand. I sat on a pile of lava rocks, trying to be present. We’ll have other trips, but we’ll never have another honeymoon, and I knew that it would be over before I was ready. In a week I’d be back at home, reminiscing fondly about that beach, wishing I were still there. During the wedding I had no problem being in the moment, but something about the honeymoon made me feel like time was slipping through my fingers.
Jared did not have the same concerns. He immediately selected a fallen coconut and set to work tearing off its husk. It was a laborious process, but after half an hour he broke through to the white flesh. He handed me a chunk of coconut meat and I gnawed at it, feeling very much like someone who was waiting for a rescue boat but happy all the same.
We weren’t alone on the beach; a smattering of other tourists must have had the same book. A woman in her fifties had been watching Jared with interest and eventually charged over to see what we were up to.
“Did you just break open a coconut? Holy cow, it’s like Survivor over here!”
It was like Survivor. My honeymoon was like Survivor.
Jared offered her a piece of coconut, which she accepted gratefully. “I gotta try it,” she said. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and she nearly burst when she found out we were on our honeymoon. I wasn’t shy about telling people we’d just gotten married, because I was acutely aware that we’d never be able to say it again and I wanted to indulge in it.
“I can’t believe it! Here I am, part of your honeymoon.”
She waved at her girlfriends. “These guys are on their honeymoon!”
We learned that she’d been married for thirty-six years. Her husband was at home in Idaho or Iowa, I can’t remember which. She was here, enjoying life and everything it had to offer.
“You know what one of my favorite things about marriage is?”
When people find out you’re freshly wed, congratulations are sometimes followed with advice. Sometimes it’s a tired reference to letting a woman believe she’s right, but most of the time the words of wisdom are well intentioned. Our new beach friend put her hands on her hips and laughed at what she was about to say.
“My favorite thing is that after thirty-six years of marriage, we have so many great inside jokes. We just lie there in bed and laugh and laugh. There’s nobody else you can do that with in the same way. I just love it.”
In thirty-six years, I have no idea what Jared and I will be laughing at, but the woman on the beach is probably right. There will be things that nobody gets but us. There’s a good chance that in 2050 (!) one of us will turn to the other and say, “Hey, remember the Survivor lady on our honeymoon?” and it will make us smile. We can get luxury at any point in our lives, but that moment, the finite period of time where we could honestly say we just got married? We can’t get that back. Being pampered would have been nice, but the only essential parts that made up the honeymoon were the two of us, and the right time automatically made it the right place.