Half a World Away: The Power of Connection in Travel

by Samuel Cook



This past week, I took the opportunity to take my first real vacation since the summer of 2007.  It is ironic that an executive of a travel company never gets to travel himself, but such is the reality of running a business –  I have had to put my passion for traveling on the back burner as I have built a business around serving the needs of other travelers. My last vacation was a whirlwind trip around the United States to visit friends and family before I deployed on my second tour to Iraq.  I was also looking for somewhere to attend graduate school, and it was on this trip that I rediscovered New York City and decided this was the place that I had to live and start a new life.  It was on this trip that I discovered the power of connecting with the local population and engaging them on their terms.  Instead of Times Square, I found the taverns of Greenwich Village, and strolled the streets of New York City, far and wide.  And what I found is that the magic of travel is to truly interact with the local population.

So this past week, I went on a vacation to Fiji.  I was there at a conference, but the conference was focused on improving your health, life, and finances, so while I was in classes for most of the day and evening, I found it be a well needed break.  It wasn’t a typical trip I would call a vacation – on those I usually attack them full on as an adventure, a call to action to see, experience, and soak in the local culture.  That was not the purpose of this trip; I had intended it as a time to relax.   But on this trip, I encountered some truly magic moments that reminded me of why we travel in the first place.

Fiji is a set of Islands in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Australian continent.  It was first settled over 3,500 years ago by voyagers from the Polynesian culture of Asia.  It was first discovered in 1643 by a Dutch Explorer named Abel Tasman while he was looking for the great Southern Continent.  Fiji had a long history of fierce tribal warfare and cannibalism, which mainly deterred European voyagers from frequenting the Islands, and it was known for a long time as “The Cannibal Isles.”  Fijians today call this period “The Time of the Devil.”  With the discovery of Australia in the late 1700s by Captain Cook, Fiji fell under the influence of Britain as a key strategic way station for its new pacific holdings.  Fiji received independence from Britain in 1970.  Today it is a vibrant country sustained on tropical agriculture and tourism.

I spent my time in Fiji on the Namale Resort near the small Island town of Suva Suva on the Island of Vanua Levu.  The views from our resort were breathtaking, situated on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the expanse before us so vast that at sunset you had trouble telling where the waters ended and the heavens began.  I took snorkeling trips in pristine coves laced with Coral and brimming with tropical fish, and also did some swimming in the ocean and hiking around the tropical forests surrounding the resorts.  And all of this was spectacular, but what really made the trip worth the effort were two special interactions with the Fijian people.  Now while the Fijian Islands used to be known as the Cannibal Isles, that has long since been replaced by a wonderful, carefree spirit that makes you wonder how they manage to not see how serious life should be!

We visited a Pentecostal local church, and the Fijian people in the congregation sang in a natural harmony that we spend years teaching in our music schools.  I think if I lived in paradise, I would probably also learn to sing so well. The highlight of the local interaction came on the night that the local villagers donned their ancient war outfits while singing. These traditions once sustained the Island before Western life invaded the Islands.  I felt like I was on a magic carpet ride through time, watching men in ancient warrior garb with spears dance in front of men, jumping in and out of roles they played with such deadly ferocity centuries ago.  And then hearing these deep baritone warrior voices blend with the sweet soprano of the ladies who form the backbone of their tribal clan – the ladies invariably far outlive their warrior husbands.  It is hard to describe the sound of a proud group of people singing about their land in an enchanting beautiful and unintelligible tongue.

This break, although too short and not the typical adventure I would embark on, reminded me the reason that I got into this business in the first place.  Sometimes in the midst of owning a business, I tend to lose sight of the passion and the reason that I was inspired to create my vision in the first place.  At the end of the day, I got into this to provide the unique experiences to visitors that I have had the honor of experiences during my travels all over the world.  Just as there is magic in the tribal dances and singing of Fijian culture, there is also magic in the streets of New York City. Seeing the Fijian singers, I am reminded of a wonderful summer evening last year in New York City, when I was leading a pub crawl through Greenwich Village. On Bleecker street, around sunset, a group of street singers began their routine across from the hot dog stand. Everyone stopped ; the whole street was too enchanted by their wonderful harmony to move.  All we wanted to do was just stand there and let them keep singing, bringing us back to those memories in our mind of those times that we cherish.

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