One of our favorite contributors & friends Nikki Engel just abandoned us for a new life and new swells in Hawaii. We asked her to check in now and again as she adapts from SoCal livin’ to Island life. Here is the first part of her journey from a rowdy send-off, through a rough flight and into a whole new adventure.

The distant faint buzzing grew louder and obnoxiously louder. In a failed attempt to “sleep it off,” I awoke abruptly. It was last call to board my flight. I stood up, and grabbed my bags in a hazy rush. I noticed my neck pillow still resting on my shoulders as the airline attendant scanned my ticket. I was barely ‘functioning’, on a mere three hours of sleep within the last 48+ hours. I’m just not the type to leave SoCal quietly. I wanted to make sure I went out with a bang! Sleep had not an option.

Nikki Engel Hawaii
©NikkiEngel

I had been celebrating my decision to pack my bags and move to Hawaii. Now, when I say “celebrating”, I mean throwing myself a going away party, excessively drinking three nights in a row, then finishing it off with bottle service, sparklers, and front row dancing to tropical house DJ, Thomas Jack. I changed my planned 10-day vacation into a oneway ticket only two weeks before departure. Lastly, when I say “move to Hawaii”, I mean minimizing my entire life into two checked bags and a carry-on. Then I left my hometown of 26 years, and ended up in a place I’d never seen before.

I left the nightclub in San Diego, and went straight to the LAX airport. I fought to stay awake the entire ride. Occasionally, I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t falling asleep. Also, to make sure this wasn’t a dream, but in fact, reality. Being half-asleep, half-drunk and half-hungover made it a little more difficult to grasp that I was in the final countdown until takeoff. It was at the end of a chapter, and the start of a new one.

Nikki Engel Hawaii
©NikkiEngel

Feeling delirious, I boarded the plane. The heaters were pouring out hot air. The last thing I wanted while being hungover, aside from being in a cramped plane, was excessive heat. When I arrived at my row, I discovered someone already in it. I attempted a coherent take of “You’re in my seat.”. He looked confused as he double checked his ticket then shook his head at me. I looked at my seat number again. I was wrong, one seat too far back. Ah, crap. Good one Nikki I thought.

I struggled to get over the couple sitting next to me. Took my seat at the window, and felt relieved to have made it. I put my neck pillow back on & tried getting into a comfortable position to sit for the six hours flight. I looked around for the button to recline my seat. I refused to believe that reclining wasn’t an option, until seeing the sign in front of me, “Seat does not recline.” You’ve got to be kidding me. Exhausted, I convinced myself to get over it.

I put my headphones on and dozed off for an hour. My hangover woke me with an immediate need for hydration. I spotted the flight attendant walking down the hall with her cart and flagged her down for a water.

“Oh, I’m sorry, but we don’t have free water,” she said.

What?! No free water?! I must have looked distraught and in dire need, because she quickly followed with, “I can give you a cup of ice.” Being stubborn, I refused to pay for the bottled water and took the ice. She gave me two cups without me even needing to ask. I felt bad for the couple beside for my excessive ice chomping, reeking of booze and making them get up every hour to use the bathroom (I blame my entirely too small of a bladder on that one). I ended up giving in the last hour of the flight, and bought the damn water.

Nikki Engel Hawaii
©NikkiEngel

The plane finally landed. I grabbed my bag and ukulele exiting the jail cell-of-a-plane as urgently as I could. I stepped off looking like Tom Hanks returning home from the deserted island on Cast Away: hair askew, tattered sweat pants and tired beyond recognition. I grabbed my bags from the rotating belt and exited the airport doors.

Out the doors, I was hit with a rush of excitement and a sense of newness. Hawaii welcomed me with warm rain and surrounding lush greenery. I watched a few surfers pick-up their board bags. I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. The flight was long and draining, but that was all in the past. I was turning the pages of my book to the next chapter. I waited in line for a taxi. To my surprise a limo pulled up.

“This is my taxi?” I asked.

“Yup, you got lucky,” said the man directing the line. Shrugging my shoulders, I climbed in, and smiled as I kicked back and looked out the window as my new home passed by.

Nikki Engel Hawaii
©NikkiEngel

I’ve been in Hawaii for over a week now. I’m still trying to get accustomed to the traditions, common phrases and culture here. First thing I learned was that, I’m considered a “Haole” a.k.a. a white foreigner. When showing gratitude, most people throw up the “shaka” instead of a hand wave. The majority of people drive scooters (without helmets) to get around town. If surfers need to transport a surfboard, they lay the board flat on the scooter seat and sit on it. The first time I saw this, I thought the dude was inventive; until I started seeing people all over town doing the same thing. Another lesson I learned was to always take your shoes off before you enter a house as a sign of respect (even the repair man does it!). One of the most challenging things I’ve come across though, is the way Hawaiians greet each other. I’d describe it as a mixture of  half hug and half kiss. The touching of cheeks and making the kissing sound seems to be the more important part.

Why is that so challenging for me? Well, I’ve always been an awkward hugger. I remember one time I went to hug this dude I had just met, and somehow rammed my face & lips right into his neck. Don’t ask how I managed to do this, because I don’t even know. So, you can only imagine how adding in the kiss on the cheek, would completely throw me off.

I’m learning, slowly but surely. In the meantime, I will continue to add pages to this new chapter. Hello Hawaii.

Nikki will be launching her own blog soon detailing her adventures, featuring her art and photography called Mermaid Livin’. We’ll keep you updated!

Nikki Engel Hawaii
©NikkiEngel