How well do you deal with noise? If you are about to go backpacking around the world, you had better get good at tuning out cacophony. Or you had better pack a monster bag of earplugs. Get ready to hear night noise like you have never heard before.
I am reminded of this fact every time I go back to my other home of Mexico. In the otherwise lovely city of Guanajuato where I live, a truly quiet night is a rare thing. There are about five barking dogs on the roofs of houses every block and since this city is rimmed by hills, I hear most all of them at some point during the night. If there is also a soccer/football match going on and the bars are hopping, the noise won’t die down until the wee hours.
And throughout Latin America, on it goes with church bells, gas vendors, and drunks singing in the streets. In countries where people live close together and have developed a “live and let live” attitude as a result, you don’t complain, you suck it up and deal. It is often culturally unheard of to complain about the mariachi band next door at 2:00 a.m. or the morning firecrackers as loud as cannons going off at dawn on a Sunday.
They’ll be back tonight for your neighbor’s birthday party…
In Asia, you will find people falling asleep on the subway, on the bus, on benches, and on delivery carts. No wonder: you can’t really sleep at night with all the roosters crowing and everyone getting up hours before the crack of dawn to get their business moving before the heat kicks in. You haven’t really experienced the backpacker life until you’ve slept through a cat in heat, two competing roosters, and a woman who starts cleaning the stairs outside your bamboo hut at 5 a.m.
“Oh my god, the roosters!” You will hear this a lot from other budget travelers around the world. Your previous urban upbringing assumption that roosters crow at dawn gets shattered in a hurry. When do roosters really crow? Whenever they feel like it. Which is quite often it turns out, in the light or in the dark.
In the Middle East, the call of prayer is ever-present five times a day, at least one of them when no sane person should be awake for any reason. If you’re lucky enough to be in one of these countries during Ramadan, you’ll also experience the fun of a person parading through the streets waking everyone up by banging on a drum so the faithful can eat before sunrise. (And you’re even supposed to tip this guy for the service at the end.)
In some countries, drivers have one hand on the wheel and one on the horn at all times. In Egypt they may drive with their lights off at night in the mistaken belief that it saves battery life, but that doesn’t stop them from blasting the horn—even when there’s nothing else in sight.
If you are in a swanky hotel, you can mostly avoid all this. I don’t recall hearing even one barking dog when I was cloistered in the Villa Maria Cristina hotel in Guanajuato while on a writing assignment the first time I visited. The Four Seasons in Mexico City will make you think there’s not really any traffic on that big thoroughfare in front of the hotel and the Oberoi in Calcutta deserves the word “oasis” if any hotel ever did. Money is a great insulator.
Stay at the $4 hostel a few blocks away, however, and it’s a different story. You’ll hear every car horn and vendor shout at close to full voluThat guesthouse “right by the mosque” in Morocco may be easy to find, but Friday morning prayers will drive you to burying your head in a pillow. If you’re on a shoestring budget, or renting an apartment like a typical resident’s, you lose the insulation. I was reminded of this last week when I slept in a tent for five nights in Belize. It was a very nice tent on a frame, one big enough to stand up in, but it flapped in the wind all night at a high decibel level. After a while I barely noticed it and snoozed away, but some people had a really hard time getting to sleep. (They found that rum was a good solution…)
My solution is to forget fighting it and embrace the idea of napping. In most of these noisy places, you’ll see that’s what the locals do as well. Otherwise, you may need some chemical enhancements and earplugs. If you have a noise coping tip of your own, leave it in the comments.
[flickr photo by ***karen]