Drink beer

The speakers are blasting American pop songs that are played all too often. Carly Ray is singing at the top of her lungs. I swear it doesn’t matter how many times she serenades me—I’m still not going to call her.

The smell of Cannabis hangs in the air, begging me to breathe it in and let my mind wander into thoughts generally left unearthed. The kids at the table next to me are passing a joint around, casually as if it were a mere cigarette.

João, a fellow tour mate from the bike ride we just finished, sits down across the table from me. I’ve been minding my own business up to this point because I’m hot, sweaty, and sunburned. All I want to do is take a hot shower and curl up in a clean bed.

“Hey man. My name is João. I’m from Brazil. Wanna grab a beer?”

Hell yes I do. In a country where things intended to be cold are almost always lukewarm, a cold beer from a bar that has an operating refrigerator sounds heavenly.

“I definitely want to get a beer. Maybe a few.”

So João and I drink. And we talk about life. I learn all about Brazil and reincarnation. We order more beers. He learns about Canada and Christianity. We don’t finish our 700 mL bottles by the time our van is leaving, so we just take them in the vehicle with us. Because this is Bolivia and you can do whatever you want here.

A man I didn’t know half an hour prior is now a good friend. And it’s all thanks to letting loose and listening for a few minutes. Consequently, I now have a place to stay in Sãu Paulo, the largest city in the Western Hemisphere.

It’s 3 weeks earlier and I’m in Copacabana, a small Bolivian town on the shores of Lake Titicaca, one of the largest lakes on Earth. I’m roaming the streets with Rachel, an Irish girl I met a few weeks earlier. Rachel’s family runs the town pub back home. She’s definitely Irish.

We have no obligations and all the time in the world, so we find a pub and have a beer. The chairs are comfy and the walls are lined with books, the old leather-bound kind. We have a few more drinks. Then we end up talking about life for 7 hours. Rachel learns all about my desire to listen to people. She indulges that desire and I learn about what it’s like to be a doctor in Uganda for 9 months.

The best conversations in life are unplanned. They just happen. The music is calm. Or maybe it’s loud. The chairs are soft. Or maybe they’re hard barstools. You’re close to home. Or maybe you’re on the other side of the world. And maybe you’ve been there for a while.

Let your guard down and have a drink. Ask that interesting person sitting alone at the bar what their story is. How do I know they’re interesting? Easy. All people are interesting if you let them be. Meet someone new.

And most importantly, listen.