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  • The Curious Traveler

Sounds of the World

We rarely talk about the sounds that we encounter when traveling and how they may differ by or even define a destination. We highlight the other senses—views from the trail, the tastes of cuisine, the feeling of dirt beneath our feet, and the scent of pine or the ocean, but we don’t talk about what we hear.

Soothing sounds have positive effects on our moods and give us a sense of place, whether that’s the hustle and bustle of a large city or the seagulls calling out overhead. If you close your eyes, you may just be able to hear some of the moments I’ve described below.

Water

The sound of water varies greatly, from massive waterfalls like Victoria Falls that go deep into a canyon to small streams that bubble down Norway’s steep fjord slopes. Then there’s the gentle sound of a lake lapping at its shore —vastly different from the crashing waves on the rugged cliffs of Scotland. And of course, the gentle lapping of water against a kayak in the tranquil lagoons of Palau.

 

Crunch

One of my favorite things about Vermont’s autumn is the sound of dried leaves crunching underfoot. It’s a sure sign of the season, as is the crunch of snow. Crunching on gravel with each step while walking the Camino de Santiago signifies something different—a physical, historical, and sometimes emotional journey. And then there’s elephants crunching away on tree bark and roots just a few feet away from where you sit.

Wind

While wind doesn’t produce sound itself, it helps other things make sound. Patagonia is famous for its wind, which almost never stops—neither does the sound of rustling leaves and grasses, ebbing and intensifying based on the gusts. In the Himalayas, the flapping sound of prayer flags is ubiquitous. And if you stop in a forest, you’ll hear the creaking of limbs and trunks as trees sway in the wind.

Food

What sound does beer make? If you’re in an old English pub, it makes a satisfying thump on the wooden bar when the bartender serves up your pint. Sawing a loaf of crusty, artisan bread for a trailside picnic can make your mouth water. The sound of popping and decanting a bottles is familiar at winery visits. And in Morocco, tea sounds a bit like wine as it’s poured from high above the glass.

Bells

In Bhutan and Nepal, a small bell chimes with each full rotation of the larger prayer wheels. It can be almost meditative. Meanwhile, while hiking in the Alps, you’re almost never far from echoing bells. From giant cowbells and smaller ones for sheep, to iconic steepled churches ringing out the hour, the cacophonous chorus somehow creates a unique and charming auditory backdrop.

Quiet

And sometimes, you may notice a lack of sound, as I have. Like the quiet during or shortly after a snowfall, as fluffy snow (like in Finnish Lapland), absorbs sound and creates a dampening effect. Those who have witnessed total solar eclipses observe that birdsong quiets as the eclipse progresses and sometimes stops completely during totality.

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