Several years ago, Laura and I spent a week at Rio de Janeiro’s Maze Inn. It’s an incredible, Gaudi-esque building set in the Tavares Bastos favela, and during my visit I spent plenty of time gazing out onto the city below, and talking to charming host Bob Nadkarni.
But one moment stands out more than others: The inn hosts jazz nights, and amid the crowd we were introduced to a man who lived down the alley. He talked about turning his home into a community center — homes there are can be a sprawling mix of indoor and outdoor spaces — and somehow the conversation turned to music. When I told him I played drums in several bands, he quickly invited us back to his place to jam.
Several other guests from the jazz night joined us as we descended deeper into the tangled brick and tile alleys. Finally, we came to the home, which was closer to a music venue with panoramic views of Rio’s glittering lights. There we listened to music and, eventually, I joined in to play a song or two on the drums. It was one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve ever had while traveling.
Another time, in Salvador, Brazil, Laura and I were staying in Hotel Artemis (which seems to still exist today but under different ownership). Because it was winter and got dark early, we tended to end our nights out a bit earlier during that visit, and the hotel owner and a friend/staff member would often still be hanging out on the balcony.
One night, despite the language barrier, Laura ended up having a conversation about art with the hotel owner. The owner was painting a mural along the wall, and after Laura mentioned that she too was an artist, he invited her to contribute.
Later he had Laura pose while he painted her face into the mural. I have no idea if the mural is still there, but at the time it was another one of those rare, incredible experiences that make traveling worth it.
The common thing between these two experiences was that Laura and I both used the talents and interests we already had to connect with like-minded people in our travels. Music and art offered some common ground for us to begin building a relationship and learning about what life was like for those in places we were visiting.
I speak some Portuguese, but it’s not perfect and Laura speaks almost none. The great thing about being into music and art, respectively, then, was that it also helped us overcome the language barrier; it’s a lot easier to communicate with gestures and a limited vocabulary when both people know they’re talking about drumming or color or whatever specific topic.
This tip doesn’t always work — I’ve been on plenty of trips where I didn’t meet other people who were in bands — but I’ve found it to be a useful thing to keep in my proverbial travel tool box as I try to make connections with the people I meet on the road.
— Jim Dalrymple II