Sometimes all it takes is an invitation.

“Hey Dave, you should come down to Brazil and visit me in Rio de Janeiro.”
“But I don’t speak Portugese.”
“That’s okay, I’ll be here to translate for you.”

That’s how easy it is to find yourself traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language. In my case, I was lucky enough to have a college friend, David, who was down there on a scholarship to study Brazilian jazz guitar rhythms. Saying yes was the easy part. After all, David would definitely take care of me in Rio. The hard part was taking the risk to venture out on my own in a country where I’m essentially a 2-year-old, communication-wise. When I remembered, however, what Emerson once said about “Always do(ing) what you are afraid to do,” I knew my path was clear. If I was afraid to leave the safety of Rio and go up north by myself, that was exactly why I needed to fly to Salvador, Bahia.

About 750 miles northeast of Rio, Salvador is the capital city of the state of Bahia. It’s famous for its music, its food and its architecture. As the first capital of colonial Brazil, it’s also the center of Afro-Brazilian culture. I like a LOT of things about Salvador. For one, it’s a split-level city, much like Lisbon in Portugal, with an Upper Town (Cidade Alta) and a Lower Town (Cidade Baixa). To go between the two, you have to take an ancient elevator (reminding me of the great scifi tv series, Silo.) Very cool!

For another thing, Salvador has some fantastic colonial architecture, akin to places like Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. In fact, the Historic Center, located on the outskirts of Pelourinho has so many historical monuments from the 17th century onwards that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. I always find colonial neighborhoods like this such a great place to wander and get lost amidst their atmospheric, cobble-stoned streets, their colorfully-painted building fronts, and their ever-present buskers, cranking out riveting Brazilian jazz.

The final thing I love about Salvador is its unique cuisine. Two of my particularly favorite dishes are Moqueca, a seafood stew made of tomato paste and coconut milk, and Vatapa, a creamy Afro-Brazilian dish also made with coconut milk. Both dishes are rich and spicy and really different from other cuisine you find in Brazil. Quite often, the waitresses in Bahian restaurants wear their white, traditional garb, transporting you back to Salvador’s early days as a gateway to Africa.

Did I struggle with the language? Of course, I did? Was I afraid? Yeah, sometimes. Am I glad I “took the risk?” Most definitely. How else do you grow if you don’t push yourself? Thanks for the invitation, David.

(What are you most of afraid of doing? I’m not talking illegal acts or dangerous feats, like robbing a bank from a bungee cord. What I mean is, what prosaic actions give you the chills? Starting a new career? Getting a driver’s license. Asking someone out on a date? Consider TED talk speaker Mel Robbins’ advice: count to three, take a breath, and go do what you’re putting off. Don’t think! Just count to three and do it!)