So there we were in our cozy apartment, perfectly situated in the Centro Histórico of Cartagena, Colombia. Our lovely hostess told us all about the best restaurants nearby, how to turn on the hot water heater and the quirks of using the keys to unlock the front door.
What she failed to tell us was that the apartment was Ground Zero for where the party buses converge with the local drinking hangout, which inevitably led to all-night revelry with reggaeton music blaring.
It would be too easy to get angry and curse her for the sin of omission in the Airbnb write-up. However, after dealing with roosters that awakened us at 5 a.m. (India and Cambodia) packs of roaming dogs that barked all night (Ecuador), and neighbors that thought everyone loved drunken outdoor karaoke at midnight (Vietnam), I have come to a singular conclusion: noise is in the ear of its listener.
Sounds of silence
Noise, by its very definition, is “unwanted sound.” But if you are the only one who finds it objectionable or even notices, is it still noise? (kind of like the riddle if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?)
And here’s where culture weighs in.
Here’s the sum total of what I found in my in-depth Internet search: a project comparing the reaction of people in Hanoi, Vietnam and Kumamoto, Japan to noise from motorcycle horns.
In general, the Vietnamese subjects were less affected by horn sounds than the Japanese. Needless to say, there were no conclusions that I could extrapolate.
So instead I will result in a quick and dirty, do-it-myself analysis. In so many of the Latin American countries, we have visited almost every day feels like a fiesta because close families (and friends, neighbors, passers-by) love being together and celebrating. There is certainly no intent to disrupt the sleep of all of us in a five-mile radius–in fact, if we approached the boisterous group, they would likely extend a warm invitation to join the party.
A dog’s life
Let’s move on to the dogs. Unlike most places in the U.S., there are many countries where the dogs run about leash-free and don’t have any owner per se. You can find many of them sprawled out on a sidewalk, looking half-dead on a hot summer’s day–and, yes, you should let sleeping dogs lie.
For the most part, they are harmless until a female dog passes by at a certain cyclical time and all hell breaks loose (thank you, Chile).
Or there is the highly vociferous registering of indignation when one dog starts venturing into another’s marked territory.
And those dogs do not care if you are entering your REM cycle.
How does this impact the locals? Most regard it as background noise because they have listened to it all their lives.
You probably don’t want to hear this, but you will probably be more upset by the relentless poop pathways that line the sidewalks.
And, finally, there are crowing roosters. Now keep in mind that a typical rooster is capable of crowing at a decibel level of 90 which just happens to be the same level as a barking dog.
Coincidence? I think not; perhaps the entire animal kingdom is in cahoots, focusing on human sleep disruption.
So what does a traveler that wants to retain their sanity do? Before you commit to a place, you could inquire about noise levels.
But keep in mind that what you consider head-exploding is just white noise for the locals.
Better to pack your noise-canceling headphones. Really, really good ones.
Want to complain about noise-filled nights in foreign lands? We’re here to listen. Maybe we can brainstorm some creative solutions.