Cultural Travel to Paradise

We all have our ideas of paradise. Mine includes mountains and beach, a pristine environment where no other tourists have traveled. Believe it or not, I have been to such a place  in the remote regions of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Cultural travel embraces the notion that one is an explorer of sorts. As a cultural traveler, you see, taste, smell, and hear the sounds that make a cultural trip an experience that lives within you. This is the richness of cultural travel. No one can explain it, nor can it be conveyed in words. The trip is the cultural experience that transcends what you think you know about a place into what you KNOW about a place based on experiencing it. The experience is the treasure. No one can take it from you, no one can buy it from you, it is yours forever. This is what I love about cultural travel.

I usually have a quest that takes me to a particular place. Many times the quest is related to the material objects or textiles that a culture makes. I like to explore culture in this way because it draws me into the beliefs and values of a culture and a particular place. The nectar lies within the object itself, because there is a story attached to it. In the South Pacific, it is the Tapa cloth that draws me in. The tapa cloth is created from the bark of the mulberry tree, and the making of the cloth is a very arduous task. The bark is stripped, and beaten so that it becomes soft, and then it is painted and dyed. What makes the tapa cloth extraordinary from a cultural traveler’s perspective is that the whole community participates in the process of making a tapa cloth. There is a long historical background about the South Pacific and the tapa cloth. The cloth itself is what knits the community of people together, and its symbolic, social, and spiritual context is rich with meaning. It is an important ingredient within diverse communities of the South Pacific.

Tapa Making in Tonga

Tapa Making in Tonga


Sometimes I am envious of  processes that are so collectively rich, that the process itself glues a community together.  This collective sense of belonging is what we all yearn for, yet do not know how to create. The Tapa Cloth is an example of how tradition, story, beliefs and culture can be the thread that travels from past to present to future. What is the cultural thread that holds your life together?

Often I think of exotic places to travel to based on the material objects that are created, or because the place itself transcends what I feel like I know about life. The place might be so beautiful that it lifts the boundaries of what is possible in life. But I am not alone in this imaginary wonder of place and exotica. There are other fellow cultural travelers that also live in this dreamy state of mind. I recently read an article by Judith Fein about an exotic place called Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

“Where is Vanuatu?” you probably want to know. The answer: in the South Pacific, roughly between Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and it consists of approximately 83 islands where more than 113 languages are spoken. It used to be called New Hebrides until its independence from French and British colonial rule in 1980. Because of the former dual-power occupation, English and French are widely spoken, and the common language of all the islands is Bislama, a charming pigeon English.

Vanuatu South Pacific

Vanuatu South Pacific

The prehistory of Vanuatu is obscure; archaeological evidence supports the commonly held theory that peoples speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands some 4,000 years ago. Pottery fragments have been found dating back to 1300–1100 BCE. This is a place in the middle of the ocean that is really isolated from other places. The closest place is Paupua New Guinea. I am feeling the call to get on a plane headed to Vanuatu. Cultural travel at it’s best. What about you? Are you feeling the call to go to the South Pacific? You can explore more when reading Fein’s full article here.


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