Interacting with locals is essential to truly experiencing any destination. And most people realize that, I think. Especially those within the adventure travel sphere.
However, beyond simply interacting, it is also just as important to respect local traditions and knowledge. That, too, may seem common sense. Yet, it can be rather surprising how many people still take this point for granted when travelling. But when we truly keep our minds and eyes open, we see evidence of thriving ancient traditions all around us. So many cultures in this world have extraordinarily beautifully ancient cultures and traditions. Generally, the less exposure to European colonization a culture has — such as, say, Nepal or Laos — the more prevalent these ancient customs.
For many of us, experiencing these vibrant cultures is what drives us to travel, to see the world… And the deeper off the beaten track we go, the more authentic our experiences.
So, how can we make the most of these cultural interactions?
In many of these cultures, we will also have the privilege of meeting wise elders. These elders have varying names from one culture to another. In Cambodia or Vietnam, we may encounter them as Monks. In India, we may encounter them as Hindu Priests. Or, in Ecuador or Peru, we may encounter them as Shaman. No matter what their official names, these wise men or women are the purveyors of ancient traditions and wisdom and, generally, in their day to day lives, they embody a set of principles and practices based on this wisdom. As a result, they are very highly respected within their communities. So, it is important that we also remember to bestow the same level of respect upon them as would locals.
The more respect we show to these elders, the greater a connection we can develop with them as well. I’ve seen the most serious looking elders absolutely light up and smile ear to ear upon my simply expressing appreciation for their culture. After all, we must remember that for these elders, little is more important to them than having their ancient wisdom and traditions respected, by anyone and everyone, as part of their community’s historic and cultural legacy. So, showing our appreciation of the value of such traditions, even as a foreigner, really deepens our connection with them.
Finally, when we have the good fortune of witnessing a sacred traditional ceremony, or when we are lucky to be invited to participate in one, it is best to jump in and embrace it — all while realizing that in these places, it is hardly a “tourist spectacle”