I read some travel advice before departing on our trip that suggested creating an itinerary by keeping an eye on language barriers and infrastructure. The idea is that, being from the US (or from any other Westernised, developed country) we are generally used to having good infrastructure and being able to communicate in English. So when deciding what order you’d like to go to a list of countries, it might be better to ease into it, and hit some countries similar to your own first; then go somewhere wildly different from what you’re used to. Since living abroad in Japan and having travelled to different countries in Asia, I figured we would be fine and didn’t factor in that advice when creating the itinerary. But it seems that we’ve done just that- and I’ve also noticed another thing. First, we’re starting by visiting countries that are culturally very similar to the U.S. Then, we’ll go to Asia- a place we are reasonably comfortable with, after having spent three years there. Next we’ll hit Russia and Europe- places that are fairly unknown to us, but we know at least there is some good infrastructure for travellers (in some cases, great.) We’ve left the cultural opposites/ complete unknowns for last- Middle East, Africa- but by then we’ll be salty travellers, ready for any challenges.
Accidentally, we ended up creating an interesting juxtaposition in our itinerary by following Hawaii with New Zealand. These two places form two corners of the Polynesian triangle (the third corner is Rapa Nui, a.k.a. Easter Island) that encompasses the entire area that was settled by ancient people who, I suppose, got bored of Indonesia and New Guinea so they hopped onto boats and sailed to faraway islands. (Okay, it probably wasn’t out of boredom, but that’s not important for this blog post.) New Zealand is called Aotearoa on this map: that’s the Maori name for NZ, meaning “Land of the Long White Cloud.”
The corners have something in common in that they were the last Polynesian islands to be settled. They have something else in common, too- all were taken over by invaders from other countries. The native Hawaiian presence in Hawaii, to me, was barely noticeable- only the commercialised, touristy aspects (i.e. paying $75 to go to a luau. Then again, we only went to O’ahu which is the most commercialised island.) The Maori presence in New Zealand is much stronger, particularly in the North Island. The same touristy stuff still exists- here you can pay NZ$75 to go to a hangi. We don’t have that kind of money to spend on one night’s meal and entertainment, and we probably wouldn’t go anyway. I find it unnecessary, because the culture is still alive and there are opportunities to experience the living Maori culture, not the romanticised one of the past. The Maori are fascinating to me because first of all, the culture is interesting, and also because their resistance efforts against the Europeans were at least somewhat successful- much less so than American and Canadian Indians or Australian Aborigines. In another juxtaposition, it will be interesting to visit Australia next, and learn about Aboriginal culture.