Seashells (Not) By the Seashore


I’m no beach bum. I can handle approximately 10.3 minutes in the sun before I start to sunburn. At the start of summer I told my doctor about our plans to visit the Big Island of Hawaii in the coming weeks. “Buy a rash guard. Long sleeves,” she said. It was more of a command than a piece of advice. Point taken.

Despite my low tolerance for sunlight and beaches, I love the snorkeling opportunities that tropical islands offer. To gaze at the vibrant colors and aquatic life underneath the waves is otherworldly. It slows my pulse and makes my mind race all at the same time.

How unexpected then that I would see so many of these underwater colors before dipping a toe into the water!

I parked my rental van in one of many empty spots along Ali’i Drive, somehow surprised that the rest of Kona was still asleep. These parking spots were filled at most any other hour of the day, but my jet lag had set off my internal alarm early enough to help me “get the worm”. And by “worm”, I mean “parking spot”.

My camera and I had ventured into town for an early morning photo walk. I hoped to be able to take my sweet time to wander around to the sorts of interesting corners that would make for good photos. These are the same corners that might bore my family if we all were walking around town together while I tried to shoot. And aside from being able to take it slow, these times give an introvert like me a chance to think, pray, and reflect.

I started out across the street to visit what looked like a shantytown in a nearby parking lot. As I came closer, I could see that these were not homes at all, but booths whose shared walls created a sort of farmer’s market. The tourist crowds had not yet arrived, and only a handful of shop owners and workers had begun to arrive. They hoisted crates of pineapples out of tired hatchbacks, and others set out local handicrafts on the tables to woo the shoppers that would arrive later that day.

For a moment I felt as though I had arrived in another country.  It appeared that all of these shop owners were native Hawaiians. Their skin color, their dress, and their speech gave away the fact that they had taken their first breath on this island, and would probably breathe their last here too. They also drove plain ol’ cars, which were a total contrast to the waves of shiny, new rental cars that tourists drive across the island. With my camera in hand, I suddenly felt like an intruder and an outsider, and a complete tourist. Maybe a bit like when I go snorkeling.

Fortunately, my feelings didn’t get the best of me, and I stuck around to capture some fun images. I shot a few images of a fruit shop with a far different crop than the farmer’s market back home. I also snapped a few images of folks moving slowly to set up shop, gradually working up the ability to offer the cheery “Aloha” that tourists expect. At least, I suspect that’s what was going on internally.

My favorite of the batch was this image of local seashells woven on to a fish net wall. While so much of this marketplace was built with corrugated ceilings, plywood, and whatever else the owners could find, this shop opted for something different. I can’t remember what was for sale here, but I can remember being struck by the vivid colors of these seashells. It was as if the colors I had seen on previous snorkeling trips had been lifted from the fish of these tropical waters and applied to these shells. The pacific seashells I’m used to are usually just white. And so in yet another way, I felt that I had arrived in another world.

With another 30 minutes, I would be back at the condo enjoying the tourist life over a bowl of cereal with a few of my favorite people. But for a fleeting hour, I got to be a stranger in a strange and colorful land.

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When you travel, what are the sorts of spots you visit to discover “local color”? Tell us in the comments below.