Foreheads touching and eyes closed, we gently inhale one another’s breath. The courtly gentleman in his traditional lei and sarong greets each of us in the same way as we walk up the pathway to his secluded home on the tiny island of Molokai. It’s a welcoming ritual that’s hauntingly familiar – and I know what to do instinctively – though I’ve never been to the islands of Hawaii before.
I recognize too, the sound of the conch shell he blows to herald our arrival – a sound that fills the leafy valley and reminds me of other greetings, on other islands, far away. I’ve shared the breath of life with other friends, in just this way, in the islands of Tahiti and again, with the warmly welcoming Maori people in a small village, in New Zealand, hundreds of ocean kilometers away.
As I breathe in, something in my brain goes ‘click’ and the connection is made.
Anthropologists would explain that New Zealand, Tahiti and Hawaii are the three corners of the Polynesian triangle. The people in each place were once connected by perilous canoe journeys over seemingly impossible distances – sometimes to trade and sometimes to make war. Bloodlines mingled and customs were shared with the end result being three very similar, yet far-flung cultures.
Travel is all about hearing that ‘click’ as we make connections between people, places, customs, thoughts and ideas. Today’s uber-technological world makes it easy to know what’s going on in any corner of the world, any time but it doesn’t allow us to make genuine connections. A traveler will tell you that feeling the ‘click’ involves first-hand experiences – hearing the call to prayer in the souks of Marrakech, tasting a fresh mango picked from the tree, smelling the wood smoke from an open fire on a Rocky Mountain trail, or gazing into the eyes of a lion from the safety of a safari jeep in the Maasai Mara. Connecting means being there.
One of my earliest adventures was trekking through the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, learning about the snakes, panthers and eagles worshipped by the ancient Incans. Years and many other explorations later, while wandering through the ruins of Mexico’s Chichen Itza, I found Mayan and Aztec symbols that echoed their Incan counterparts – jaguar, condor and winged serpent gods. Separated by thousands of kilometers, two distinct cultures were links in the same chain and as I saw the symbols, I heard that ‘click.’
What’s best about travel is the chance it gives you to explore, to taste, to see and to feel, making connections between the places you’ve been, that part of the globe you’re experiencing right now, and the next destination on your list. Open your mind to the possibilities and compare what you’ve learned, revel in whatever you’re in the midst of, and allow yourself to wonder about what you’re yet to discover.