couple
Image via LotusHead

I could hear the music blasting from my hostel dorm, addictive rhythms and beats beckoning me out onto the beach. While I hated going to the bar alone, I didn’t know if I would be able to resist.

“Want to go get some caipirinhas?” I asked the girl on the bed next me. Although she had a thick Swedish accent, I had heard her speaking English to the receptionist when I checked in.

“Yes!” she said, popping right up. This is why I loved hostels and traveling solo in South America. It was so easy to meet people.

We made our way to the beach bar and placed our orders: one passionfruit and one strawberry caipirinha.

Finding a table, we sat down with our drinks and began to get acquainted. Her name was Alex and she was from Stockholm.

She had come to Paraty, Brazil, to become a certified scuba diver, hearing that it was one of the best places to learn. As we chatted, I noticed the other tables filling up with people. I found myself wanting to mingle, although everyone in the bar seemed to speak Portuguese.

At the table next to us, I noticed a tall, very attractive Brazilian guy looking at me. We made eye contact and he smiled at me, the type of smile where you know the person would like to get to know you more. I waved and beckoned him over.

“Ola” I said, happy I was able to use one of the only two words I knew in Portuguese. “Where are you from?”

He looked confused, and I looked at him questioningly. “Ingles?”

“Un poco,” he replied. “Portuguese?”

I shook my head. “Nada… Espanol?”

He smiled, “Si!”

While I was in no way fluent in Spanish, I could at least make small conversation. And somehow, with a combination of his fluent Spanish and broken English, and my fluent English and broken Spanish, we were able to have some great conversations. I learned that his name was Gustavo, he was born in Paraty, loved to surf and scuba dive, and worked at the next bar over.

“Yo trabajo al Beach Bar,” he explained, pointing to a shack-type structure on the beach. “Come tomorrow. I make you good caipirinha.”

He learned that my name was Jessie, I was from New York, loved wine, and was backpacking for three months. And by watching me bob my head and tap my feet all night, he also deciphered that I loved to dance.

“Te gusta bailar?” he asked, pointing towards the myriad couples showing off their samba and forro skills.

“Mucho,” I smiled.

Without another word, Gustavo took my drink from my hand, placed it on the table, and pulled me onto the dance floor.

“No!” I shouted, suddenly self-conscious next to all the So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance-worthy locals. “I’m not good enough. I can’t.”

But, he had no idea what I had said, and with his left hand around my waist, and his right hand holding mine, began to whip me around in every direction.

Luckily, he slowed down a bit once the petrified look on my face registered.

He broke the moves down for me, showing me how to step back while twisting my hips and shifting my weight backward.

Then there were the turns. He would spin me, once, twice, three times, and then I would spin him. It was dizzying, but the most fun I’ve ever had once I got the hang of it.

From there, Alex and I ended up exploring the town’s nightlife with Gustavo and his friends. We went to Paraty’s only nightclub, Paraty 33, and danced until sunrise.

There was barely any talking involved the whole night, but we somehow ended up becoming inseparable by the night’s end, with photos to prove it.

And when it was time to leave, Gustavo walked me home and kissed me goodnight.

While I could turn the story into something magical and full of romance, saying he quit his bartending job to travel with me, or I decided to spend the rest of my time in Paraty, would be a lie.

The night ended there, a perfect story wrapped in a small, beautiful box. It’s something I can treasure as one of the gifts travel gives you and one of the lessons backpacking teaches you.

Language barriers will not prevent you from having meaningful cultural experiences. And, if you’re open to experiencing new things, you will.

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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