Six Questions with Avichai: X Days In Y Travel Adventures
Recently returning from a six-month voyage across the islands of the South Pacific, Avichai is able to share incredible stories of the amazing sites and cultures he experienced. He came up just 2,642 miles short of circling the Earth twice – visiting 21 islands in 5 countries. At first, I was interested in learning more about the Marquesas Islands, known as ‘the Mysterious Islands’. These magical places in French Polynesia have had little contact with the outside world.
But what I became equally interested in, more so even, was the inspiring story I realized Avichai has to share. He quit a comfortable job at Google to pursue his dream, and by doing so, he found some of life’s greatest treasures!
His website, X Days In Y, offers in depth guides to the fascinating locations holding these treasures. Before his travels, he asked himself, can Heaven be found on Earth or does Paradise exist? He was able to answer this question for himself by exploring, and dares you to discover the answer for yourself too!
So yes, I want to learn more about the Mysterious Islands, but I also want to learn more about his personal journey and other discoveries too. Enjoy!
- 1) You describe your journey to the islands as understanding what ‘dreaming with your eyes open’ means! This sounds so beautiful to discover. But what inspired you to quit your day job and go island hopping for six-months to experience this? When was the first time you felt you wanted to do that? Did you think you would ever get the chance?
For me it all started with an early 20’s backpacking trip to Australia and New Zealand. Travel agencies were selling cheap flights to Fiji and I decided ‘why not?’ In a matter of just a few hours, I found myself on a tropical island in the South Pacific and absolutely in love with the heat, humidity, beaches but above all – the story of how these ancient people found their way to remote islands and the culture they developed without outside influence for centuries. When I got back home, my fascination with Pacific islands grew. In the hours of procrastination while studying for college exams, I would stare a world map that hung above my desk and wonder ‘what goes on those tiny islands in the South Pacific?’
The idea of embarking on ‘the mother of all backpacking trips’ started to develop, but it always seemed like something out of reach, something nobody really does. It’s expensive, time consuming and logistically difficult to explore this vast region, perhaps the reasons so few ever try. For years, I wondered if this trip would remain a mere dream that vividly lives inside my head but at the same time, an inner voice said that I must realize this dream and the sooner the better.
While working at Google, my obsession continued, growing stronger yet at the same time also slipping away with every passing year and with each promotion. Not wanting to feel a deep sense of regret, I decided to take a bold move and… just do it! Let me tell you: the feeling of accomplishing something you’ve dreamed of for so long, of putting your money where your mouth is – cannot be beaten.
- 2) During your travels, did you ever get bored with the scenery, the lifestyle, or the traveling? Was the trip what you expected and always dreamed of? Were you surprised in any way (for good or bad)?
Playing out this voyage in my head for over a decade had the risk of leading to some disappointment. Nothing is ever as you imagined. There were some aspects that fit that cliche but overall, this voyage exceeded all expectations. My sincere interest in the South Pacific islands meant that I didn’t need a pretty white sand beach to make my day. Though there were challenges along the way, my motivation and curiosity kept me going and always positive.
I discovered that no two islands are ever the same. Some are high volcanic islands, some have a protective reef while some are pounded by the ocean, some are mere coral atolls – essentially flat donuts floating in the ocean. And that’s only from the geological standpoint. The people of each island are unique and it’s easy to understand why. We’re talking about ancient tribes that miraculously made it to these remote islands, with very little inter island communication. They created their own language, culture, religion, art etc. Even in modern times, islanders are proudly unique, kind of like how New Yorkers are different from L.A folks…
- 3) The images you share on website of these places are absolutely stunning. Can you share some of your favorite spots on the various islands you visited, and why? Were there any unexplained sites, stone statues, or amazing finds?
This is a really tough one but I’ll try.
In Vanuatu, I visited Tanna Island. The island is known for Mount Yasur, dubbed as ‘the world’s most accessible active volcano’. You can walk up to its rim and enjoy a spectacular light and sound show every night. But the island is also home to the Yakel Tribe, an ancient tribe that hasn’t changed over the centuries. Drawing anthropologists from around the world who study the tribe’s ways, visitors can also get an authentic village tour. It kind of feels like accompanying those folks at BBC on one of their documentaries.
In American Samoa, it took a lot of effort but I managed to make it to Ofu Island. Only 200 very traditional Samoans live here and I was lucky to attend Sunday church service and witness the strong sense of community. Ofu is also home to one of the world’s most magnificent beaches, and its sister island Olosega has a wild beach where creepy looking eel work in teams to catch terrified crabs.
In French Polynesia, the Marquesas Islands were the most dramatic. These are some of the most remote islands in the world and its original residents developed a culture like nowhere else in the South Pacific.
The islands are home to incredible ancient Polynesian temples that were miraculously excavated not too long ago. Walking around these sites is an extremely spooky experience, especially just before sunset and perhaps because you’re usually the only one there. Not only were human sacrifices carried out here, but giant stone statues known as ‘tiki’ were somehow erected. Some seem to be smiling, others seem to be wearing sunglasses, some are over 7 feet and some even have six fingers! Nobody really knows how they were made but there is one rule of thumb on the islands: no matter how small the tiki is, DO NOT move it! It’s an absolute taboo to move the statue that is believed to be a protector of the home and island.
- 4) The different peoples and cultures you met seem just as delightful and remarkable as the landscapes. On your website, you mention asking the many islanders you passed by the same question and hearing the same answer. Would you share what that is and your thoughts on how you feel about that answer?
Though every island does have its problems (lack of employment opportunities, boredom especially for the young generation and the destructive forces of nature), Islanders always seemed so happy. I asked islanders what was their secret to happiness and the answer I got was usually the same – no matter the island, the country or tribe. Islanders are no longer isolated from the outside world like their ancestors were. They all have Facebook and watch TV. While they appreciate some of the comforts of the Western world, they also see the stress, the global security issues and the constant worry about ‘the future’.
Islanders suggested that “it’s best to focus on the present”. Such a cliche, right? Turns out that this is their philosophy, the meaning of ‘island time’ and the meaning of ‘island life’. Pacific Islanders have very few man made distractions, leaving their minds free to enjoy the present and the beautiful miracles that take place every day – the miracles ‘we’ so often fail to see.
I’m talking about greeting each hello, replacing expensive jewelry with colorful flower necklaces, looking at the stars at night and enjoying a meal with the extended family every Sunday.
Is this possible back home? Can a car drive in second gear while everyone around is in fifth? The annoyingly fast pace of our modern lives, its competitive nature and values that put ‘growth and productivity’ above everything else – slowly chip away from the secrets to life that I learned from Pacific Islanders.
- 5) Not everyone would be able to take six-months and have the magnificent experience you did. However, they might be able to take a few weeks off to enjoy such a breathtaking voyage. Where would you suggest going first, and do your travel guides include travel tips for shorter time spans of adventures?
That’s probably the million dollar question since we’re talking about an incomprehensibly vast area of our planet. The answer really depends on where you’re coming from and what you want to see. Vanuatu is a developing country and a diverse destination with a combination of beach and adventure, Samoa is inexpensive and has the most authentically Polynesian culture, Fiji is both for backpackers and luxury travelers, the Cook Islands is a great beach holiday destination and French Polynesia really has everything and is certainly not only for luxury travelers.
The guides I publish do offer sample itineraries for the common periods of time visitors tend to spend in each of these destinations.
- 6) Are you planning on taking another six-month journey or where else might you be planning to visit?
Mmm… once you start, it’s really hard to stop. I mean, how can you sit again in an office after all you’ve seen? My current plan is strike a balance between work and travel. I hope to be in Hawaii in a few months and spend a considerable amount of time exploring the northern tip of the Polynesian Triangle.
EXCITING life you lead! Thank you for taking this time to share your absolute awesome adventures, Avichai. I love hearing and learning about it all, and can’t wait to read about more of your travels. You offer such inspiration to follow our passions, and have proven you can live the dream! Thanks again. Just excellent.