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Columnist Sharon Nesbit overcame her case of break-through COVID to fulfill her vow of returning to her beloved island paradise.

NESBITMaui. Because most people are outside here, you can almost forget that the pandemic continues with the latest variant.

But there are no hugs of aloha anymore. No laying on of lei. We are careful to keep distance. Most restaurants moved dining outside. People mask without question on entering any building.

On the plane, I lifted my mask only to take a bite.

I promised myself this trip when I had a COVID break-though last summer and was in the hospital with hoses up my nose thinking that it was nothing like snorkeling. If you get out of this, I said to myself, you will go back to Maui and stay longer, by gum.

There are anti-vaxxers here. My first encounter was with an old friend who works in the rental office.

She went off right away about her children being vaxxed and getting COVID anyway. Blaming the shot. Belligerent about being unvaxxed, she was prickly.

You learn not to argue, but I scratched her from the guest list when we gather for potluck dinners.

When Hawaii's tourism industry shut down in early pandemic a friend of mine had no condos to clean and thus, no income. He and his family retreated to their rustic property on the Big Island and lived by fishing.

He went with his growing son in a borrowed boat to catch dinner. I did not have to remind him that that was how Hawaiians used to live.

On this island, acres of rental cars were parked in fields that used to grow sugar cane. While it is nice to think of sugar and pineapple, most Maui residents are employed in the tourist industry.

The dusty rental cars were finally shipped off the island. When tourists returned they were so desperate for transportation they rented U-haul trucks.

Now we visitors are creeping back. But when I speak of the days without tourists, I detect a note of irony. Having their island all to themselves, their beaches open, the roads clear of rental cars gave residents an idea of Hawaii without us.

My friend, Woody, who sells flowers at the swap meet mostly to tourists, put his shovel aside and went down to the beach to swap yarns with the fishermen.

He is back at the swap meet now, of course, but looking different. His days at the waterside left him as tan as a haole. Wearing a battered straw hat and an aloha shirt, he looks like he had been on vacation.

They had a tough time making ends meet but did have the rare experience of having their island all to themselves. Financially hard, but spiritually they admit a wonderful experience.

Sharon Nesbit is a former Outlook news reporter who writes her column in retirement.

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