11/28/2011 07:29 am ET | Updated Jan 28, 2012

Exploring Exotic Vanuatu In The South Pacific (PHOTOS)

When I travel, I want to be Marco Polo, a pioneer encountering little-known people and places. I want to feel the exuberance of newness rather than the comfort of well-trodden paths. I want to be transported to a world unlike my own, where I am emotionally, visually, physically stimulated by all that is unfamiliar. I want to bask in the excitement of the exotic.

I just found it all in Vanuatu.

"Where?" you probably want to know. You'll find it on a map of the South Pacific, between Fiji and Papua New Guinea. If the map is more than 30 years old, it will still be called by its former name: New Hebrides.

Vanuatu consists of approximately 80 islands, where locals speak more than 113 languages. Before independence in 1980, it was under the unusual dual-power colonial rule of the English and French. Both English and French are still widely spoken, but the common language for all islanders is Bislama, a charming pigeon English.

The most important Bislama word I learned is "kastom." It refers to the deep, fascinating tribal culture that has persisted in spite of the colonizers' and missionaries' attempts to wipe it out. When I visited "kastom" villages and experienced the intriguing ancient ceremonies, music, dances and beliefs of Vanuatu, I was Marco Polo.

Come with me to the South Pacific. For a moment in time, you too can be Marco Polo, through the photographs of Paul Ross. And maybe, one day, you will have a personal experience of Vanuatu; I wish this for you.

Exploring Exotic Vanuatu