Medical Writing

Deborah Liao, PharmD

Crossroads - from Armenia to Stockholm and in Tbilisi

One thing I do have to say about my wandering life is I sometimes come across other wanderers of sorts. And they are always quite interesting. Admittedly, this is based on an n of two, so my sample size is inadequate to draw hard conclusions from. The first one I've already mentioned in a previous post. The second one I also met in the Caucasus region. This time in Tbilisi. But I should make the caveat that I have been lucky to meet other generally interesting people because I think the way I live my life weeds out the timid, the scared, the non-out-of-the-box thinkers who think I'm too wild when in actuality, the majority of my time is spent working and trying to find a decent gym to work out at. Oh, and snacking. Because I do love good food.

However, back to the Armenian. We had matched on Tinder a few weeks earlier but she had departed Tbilisi. But since I was in Tbilisi and the surrounding regions for a 5-week stretch, it turned out that she came back for work and we decided to meet up. By she, I mean a queer, feisty, outspoken, and E to my I (as in extrovert to my introvert) Armenian who went to college surrounded by Mormons in Utah who now lives in Stockholm. She also works in the NGO world trying to advance the dismal state of queer rights in Eastern Europe. Let's just say the woman has her work cut out for her because the way nationalism and conservatism is rearing its head across the world, there's a lot of hate out there for queers (see Georgia and Poland and recent marches for "traditional values", aka, murder the gays if they could. Also see Uganda with the government support and attempts to re-instate a jail the gays for life or "kill the gays" law).

What was most interesting about meeting her was--besides the chemistry of meeting an intellectually and physically compatible cutie--her perspectives and insight into this region of the world, having grown up in Armenia, with family still in Yerevan, time in the US (she stayed with a hippie host family in a conservative Texas suburb at one point), and life in Stockholm. She was the one who brought it to my attention that Tajikistan has a gay registry, purportedly for the public safety (I still want to visit Tajikistan but as my travels take me into less and less friendly territory, more and more discretion is required). And as well, that in Armenia, the state of queer rights is dismal yet it is not uncommon for straight-identified women to be in relationships with queer-identified women until such time as the straight-identified woman decides she wants a husband/family/children. It seems like a sort of unfair situation for the queer women who get their hearts broken. And I actually semi-experienced this when I matched with a woman in Armenia and our conversation basically turned a corner into her saying, I want a boyfriend and let's meet for tea. I was a bit thrown off by that and decided not to pursue it further, but yes, it is a thing. 

I also can't imagine what it must be to do the work that she does. To go to these countries to meet and help empower and organize these marginalized and disenfranchised people who are willing to fight against the government and the deeply rooted absolute murderous hatred people have towards them. And in the name of so-called traditional values or religion. I may not be religious, but sometimes I think I have more empathy and compassion for people from all walks of life than lots of people who claim to wholeheartedly embrace religion and its teachings. Or maybe my understanding of what religion should be is completely off base and if that's what religion is about, disenfranchising, hating, loathing, murdering, and violence towards "others", no thank you. And I can't even imagine being one of those people who fights this kind of fight, against such overwhelming odds, and at risk of everything. Their life. Their safety. Their liberty. Their pride. Their freedom. Their love. Their jobs. Their family. Their everything. The strength it takes to fight that fight. The courage it takes to stand up against the state, literally. I honestly don't know if I could do it. I would probably be a coward and hide and try to fly under the radar. 

Dinner Date in Russia

Before arriving in Russia, I wasn't sure if it was okay to even use Tinder to try to meet local women in XXXX. Part of me wasn't sure if authorities use it to entrap queers. I wouldn't be surprised, honestly, as it happens in other countries with different apps (see Brazil and Grindr). The other part of me was too curious to worry too much. And considering my otherwise very boring tendencies to work, read, work out, nap, and eat, I'm pretty low key. I don't go to parties. I don't stay out super late. I don't drink and vomit in the streets considering I can barely handle half a beer or half a glass of wine (Asian flush is awesome). Drugs are not my thing, unless I need some diazepam to help me with sporadic bouts of insomnia. 

With that said, I finally met up with YYY, an XX-something-year old woman who lives in XXXX. Of course sometimes meeting locals can be hard if there is a language barrier. Since I speak zero Russian and can basically only read Russian words like restaurant, cafe, bank, supermarket, mini market, and a few names, it limits the pool of potential dates. But she's a curious type, open to meeting people from all over the world and she's got the travel bug as well. 

We met at a public spot and tried to go to a local restaurant that she recommended. Because it was full, we had to go to another location, which was great because it wasn't as packed and it was easier to chat. We had dinner and talked about life, work, travel, the very few people in life who get to do what they love for work, and future plans. As in what she would like to do next after her current business venture and what I would like to do if I didn't work in my industry. I said I just wanted to hide in a hut on a mountain in front of a fireplace with books, some dogs, and workout equipment. And we agreed that mountain life is a different kind of life - something beyond and something peaceful and profound. It's hard to describe if it's not your thing but for those of you who like those environments, you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

After that we got tea and took a leisurely stroll around the city. For me, it was interesting hearing about her experiences growing up queer in Russia. She didn't grow up in XXXX. She grew up in a smaller city. So she had never met anyone who was queer. When she finally understood that she was attracted to women, she still had a belief that she had to marry a man, because it's what society and family dictates. YYY also felt like she was the only person who was queer and it was only when she moved to a larger city that she met other queers. But even then, in her daily life, there are large aspects of her life that she can't speak about or feels like she doesn't want to be part of. She brought up an example of the Eurovision contest winner, Conchita Wurst, and how typical conversations are basically hate-filled diatribes about what Conchita Wurst being an abomination, from hell, the devil, and how homosexuals are disgusting. YYY's attitude is who cares. This performer isn't hurting anyone. But her opinion is definitely the outlier so her approach is to avoid participating in these conversations. 

Another example is when she used to be a teacher of sorts. However, due to the "gay propaganda law" in Russia, she had to be extra careful and silent about her personal life, which at the time, involved a partner. While her students could ask her coworker if they were going home to their family and kids, my date had to give a completely different answer. And in her current business endeavor, none of her staff knows about this aspect of her life. Her attitude was that at this point, the people that she still has in her life will stay there and the ones who wouldn't be supportive have already left. 

And while she has queer friends who have more accepting, or perhaps more tolerating, families, she said her family doesn't know and she would probably never tell them because her mother is very religious and homophobic. In a conversation with her sister, the topic of considering moving to Europe was brought up and one of the responses her sister had was, why would I want to move to Europe where being homosexual is okay and homosexuality is disgusting, evil, a sin, etc. And she has to listen to her family saying this. To her face. Without them thinking twice that their daughter or sister might be one of these "disgusting" people who should be wiped out. That must hurt. 

I think one of the most striking things during our conversation was her wondering what it would be like to live in a place where it's okay to be queer. Where you could be out at work or get married or raise a family or create a family of people who are accepting of who you are. For me, I don't know how people have the strength to be true to who they are and love in places where most of the population and the government would rather see you dead. It makes my heart hurt. 

 

From Russia With (only hetero) Love

Besides the political not-quite butting of heads between Russia and the US, of course I thought it would be the perfect time to visit. No lines at the visa processing center in NYC? Even better! I have a special hatred of crowds and being stuck with that special breed of super loud and nonstop talking type of US person who makes it clear to the entire neighborhood they're from the US and their opinions on everything and nothing. Yes. I bet you know the type. Because non-US people know the type. People from the US are quite well known for being loud and voluminous with their words when they are in other countries. 

Anyway, since I'm not a fan of the toxic digital bromad (including women) white appropriative culture that dominates the digital nomad space, I am trying to steer clear of the huge digital nomad hubs where all the people I didn't want to see in NYC ended up. Like, why would I leave NYC just to hang out with other remote workers from NYC while in Thailand, for example? I travel to meet and learn about other people and their lives and their cultures and customs. I'd rather be uncomfortable and fumbling with my horribly Spanish or miming what I want at a coffee shop because I don't speak Russian. And considering 7 trips to Thailand over a decade, I've seen how much Chiang Mai has changed since it became a DN hot spot with the ubiquitous "trendy cafe" that is usually out of the price range of the locals who live there, the jacked up local economy (songthaew prices were almost double what they were in a space of three years), etc. I could go on and on about this stuff, but I won't. Yet.

But this is how I ended up in Saint Petersburg--by trying to avoid the places where DNs typically work from--despite knowing Russia's reputation for homophobic laws and a dramatic increase in hate crimes and murders. It is one of the few places I've been where homophobia is deeply institutionalized. "Russia introduced nationwide legislation banning "the promotion of non-traditional relationships to children" in 2013, building on older legislation on individual Russian regions." I only semi-jokingly said that if I disappeared, it would probably be because of being queer (entrapment of queers by app can happen). Again, it must be really awesomely amazing if you're completely hetero and you never have to think twice about that. Because in addition to the normal fears that one has as a solo female traveler, you get to tack on the possibility of someone hating and fearing you because of your sexuality. Which is a fine line I tackle with everyone I meet. Have you ever had to think to yourself, well, this person is super cool and friendly so far but it's a possibility that they could become enraged/violent/murderous if they found out about my sexuality? It's not off base, FYI. People in the US do it all the time, so don't think people in other countries don't do it. 

Anyway, I am actually surprised by the number of women on Tinder. Perhaps impressed. Then again, Saint Petersburg is a city of almost 5.3 million people and it has a reputation for being more artsy than elsewhere in Russia. With the few women I've initiated conversations with, it's been pretty interesting hearing their perspectives. As in, it's generally okay-ish to be queer but mainly in Moscow and SP. And many Russian celebrities are queer and people are aware of it. If you're in Chechnya, you're shit out of luck. And given the political situation with Russia vs the world, Russian queers don't have good options if they want to go to a more queer-friendly country due to visa restrictions and whatnot. As one article title reads, "A lot of girls would probably rather die" re: living life as a lesbian in Chechnya. If you're still okay with this kneejerk hate and violence towards queers, don't eve get in my face and tell me that. You're a horrible human being. End of story. No ands, ifs, or buts. 

I think what really drove home the rampant homophobia here was when I came across the Labor Day rallies after visiting the Hermitage Museum on Tuesday. Although I had no idea what was going on. I wasn't expecting to see a series of vehicles that looked like police detention vehicles. I thought it was for police to ride in  until one vehicle passed by and I saw a man holding a rainbow flag to the window. I had a millisecond of eye contact with him and it broke my heart to see someone, one of my people, disenfranchised so openly. And I wished I could help him, but I couldn't. This is the kind of experience that really drives home what you read about. What people experience. It's invaluable even if it's distressing. Because it's so easy to shut your eyes and pretend it doesn't happen. That humanity isn't shitty. That people can't live their lives without fear. Especially for me, someone who comes from a place, from NYC, where being queer is fine, the community is huge (even if I don't like being part of it for various reasons), and you have way more rights and privileges. And it reminds me of what conservatives are trying to do, to strip us of our rights and take us back to times that currently exist in repressive countries. It makes me so angry. 

Baku good? Azerbaijan good?

I’m not sure I’d say Baku was good. Or Azerbaijan was good. It was interesting and educational, more than anything else. It also didn’t help that I was pretty busy and stressed with work so I didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked. And I was only there for a week, having traveled by overnight train from Tbilisi. Which, by the way, is way slower than actually taking a bus or car or mashuktra from Georgia to Azerbaijan.

As is typical of me, I fail to do any reading about a place before actually going there. What interests me more is the geographic location and the relative lack of knowledge I have about a place. Sort of like Paraguay. I looked on a map of South America, saw Paraguay, didn’t know anyone who had gone there, and decided to take a 24-hour bus from Montevideo to Asunción. But that’s a different story.

Basically, I like this go in clueless approach because way too often, I hear stories about people who do a ton of reading about a place only to find themselves disappointed by the reality. Which is often smaller, less glamorous, and dirtier than most people imagine. Because travel guides don’t talk about the plastic trash coating most surfaces throughout the world. It doesn’t sell and it’s not exotic or glamorous or IG-worthy. And that’s another story entirely (our tendency to edit photos to be IG-worthy).

With that said, that’s how I found myself in Baku, Azerbaijan after a fitful night of sleep on the train. Partly because of our midnight border crossing with very stern and non-English speaking customs agents on the Azerbaijani side (the Georgian side is way friendlier and they basically wave you in and out with a smile). Partly because the stopping and starting kept on waking me up. And partly because I woke up feeling like I was being broiled to death in the middle of the night when the heat kicked in and I had to strip off my extra layers. At least I had the compartment to myself, so that was good.

Anyway, standout moments during the train ride? I’ll say that being a heavily tattooed Asian woman who is also queer, has been interesting. Less so for the queer part, in most instances (because people see my Asian features, my heavy tattooing, and my at least hetero-acceptable presentation). In this part of the world, I’ll say that being a very heavily tattooed female elicits various responses. The young men love it and think it’s so cool. Most of the younger women also think it’s so cool. The older women (although some are probably close to my age), usually stare and think disapproving thoughts in my direction. For example, one of the two train attendants, both of whom didn’t speak much English (and I had zero Georgian or Russian), saw my arms and sternly told me “too much tattoo”. To which I shrugged and awkwardly laughed. The other, who saw me in the morning, was enamored with my tattoos and enjoyed touching my skin. It’s a slightly intimate and awkward situation having a stranger stroking your flesh. And since I spoke no Georgian or Russian, they totally talked about me in front of me. Most of the time I can get the gist of what they’re saying based on body language (which is a good skill I’ve picked up from my travels – you can generally understand what someone is TRYING to say to you even if you can’t understand the specifics). Usually it’s like, holy shit, can you believe this, look at all her tattoos. And I also got the comments about me being American (based on my passport). I guess they thought I was from China or somewhere in the -stans.

From the time I did have to wander around Baku, my main impressions were a sandy colored and dry city. As well, my impressions were of poverty, until I found the fanciest place to work out at, the Club Port Baku. Located next to the BP offices, it’s obviously the place for the wealthy and overseas BP executives (and their wives, girlfriends, or mistresses) to work out and be seen. I didn’t think that women actually wore almost sheer body stockings to the gym to “work out”, but it is actually a thing. I just had to put that out there because I was so amused when I did see it. And the vibe there was so Russian but in a city that is no longer controlled by Russia and is so rich in oil and so close to the Middle East but not as Middle Eastern as I would have thought (forgive my shitty and poorly informed US education on the region because our media doesn’t generally care at all about covering news from this region of the world). I was confused. As I think most of the world is. Or at least us uneducated and less worldly folks from the US.

Which brings us to my fun international dating as a queer, Asian-American, and heavily tattooed woman in countries where it’s generally not okay to be queer. Although not specifically outlawed according to Azerbainjani law (unlike in Russia where it’s institutionalized), let’s just say the Caucasian region sucks for queers. Take Chechnya as the prime example (and possibly fuel for Azerbaijan actions against queers?). Well, in 2017, according to Human Rights Watch, Azerbaijani police conducted “a violent campaign, arresting and torturing men presumed to be gay or bisexual, as well as transgender women...Government officials have not denied the crackdown, and have instead attempted to justify it on spurious morality and public health grounds” (also, see news re: Tajikistan’s gay registry on similar “public health grounds”). Keeping that in mind, the really fucked up part of my brain thought, well, at least I’m not a gay man. Because somehow, I feel like it’s worse for gay men, even though non-heteronormative women are also murdered, raped, etc. for not playing by society’s rules. In my head, I assume that gay men in some regions of the world are more likely to be killed and tortured whereas a generally hetero-appearing queer woman would “just” be raped. Or something along those lines. Which is also horrible, but on a scale of horrible to horrendous, well, some things are possibly worse? I don’t know. And I’m also totally wrong because queers (men and women) are probably just as likely to be killed in some countries (according to the 2017 spartacus gayguide, the worst 10 countries are: Cameroon, Libya, Malawi, Qatar, UAE, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Chechnya; Azerbaijan is #111 on the list of 197 countries). And let’s be honest, that shit happens in the US too (see Brandon Teena, for one of the most notorious and well publicized cases). So yeah, the US is actually #39 on the list, amongst the lowest of industrialized countries (the first 38 are Canada, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Reunion, Spain, UK, Austria, Gibraltar, Greenland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Uruguay, Colombia, French Polynesia, Israel, Malta, New Caledonia, Switzerland, Andorra, Australia, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Argentina, Czech Republic, Estonia, Guam, and Puerto Rico).

With all this context, I Tinder matched with a Pakistani-Norwegian medical student. In this case, for those of you white folks who don’t have identity issues and don’t know how else to explain who you are and where you’re from or where your parents are from and what generation you are, when I refer to her as the Pakistani-Norwegian, I’m using it like we use Asian-American in the US. I know, it’s confusing. You might think she’s a half-breed. Or that I’m a half-breed. Us non-white folks generally know what it means. She is a first-gen Norwegian of Pakistani parents and is ethnically Pakistani. News flash. She’s not white.

Because it sometimes gets lonely on the road and going to the gym only does so much for me, we ended up going on a date. To an Irish bar (Finnegan’s). In Azerbaijan. Because there’s an Irish bar in every corner of the world, it seems like. At least every place that I’ve been. Except for maybe Mongolia, but I’m pretty certain there is at least one Irish bar in Ulaanbaator. And maybe the Faroes, but again, I wasn’t seeking out an Irish bar in those areas so I cannot confirm or deny the existence of one.

To say the evening was interesting is an understatement. To say that she’s not an outspoken and fiery and feisty date is also an understatement. It all started out innocently enough when we got snacks and drinks. Then an Azerbaijani guy started to horn in on our conversation. At first he was sort of amusing and doofy. And he was really into my tattoos. As in excited by them. And with the addition of alcohol, he started getting handsy. He wouldn’t take his hand off of me and wanted me to go home with him. And he also tried to kiss me and my date. That’s when her feistiness reared its head and she got up in his face, verbally told him off, then when that didn’t work, physically started shoving him. It was sort of hot. I like tough women. I’m too passive and let that shit fly and hope the guy goes away. I should learn to stand up for myself a bit more when I’m getting groped. Oh, did I mention he also tried to get me to touch his crotch (through his pants)? At the bar? Talk about no self-control.

Anyway, brief scuffle aside, the bouncer dude also stepped in and kept a watchful eye on the situation. Then we left. And wandered around. It was late. I was tired. But I also wanted some company. Because I’m bad at directly asking people back to my place, we ended up wandering down to the park by the Caspian Sea at 4:00 am or so to continue our chat. We also thought it was sort of safe to be a little physically closer, although earlier in the night we had joked about the possibility of getting stoned to death for being queer. Because let’s face it, I doubt white hetero couples really make jokes like that in foreign countries when they hold hands. And if you do, maybe it’s because you’re afraid of Muslims and not really thinking about the fact that you can’t exist as a queer person in some countries and you have to live your life in fear and live a lie with a marriage and kids and all the things that you wanted but not with someone of the gender you can’t help but be attracted to. Which reminds me, if you think it’s a choice, you're an idiot. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Because if you were stuck in a horrendous life situation like that, it would be SO MUCH EASIER to not be queer. And you’d be more likely to stay alive. But we can’t change it. Even I’ve thought it would be easier to not be queer, but I still like women way more than men (let’s say it’s a 97% to 3% split). Sometimes I hate that I can’t change it because hey, you can coast through life everywhere and no one wants to murder you because you're married to a man. Yet here we are and these were the cards I was given in life.

However, back to the Caspian Sea and my date and I at 4:00 am. We thought we were safe and no one was watching. But one of the guards spotted us and hid behind a toilet. And then he snuck off to tell his guard friends. Because out of the darkness, we were approached by 3 or 4 guards. I don’t quite remember how many, but it was more than 2. It was probably 3. It was also 4:00 am and it was dark and I was briefly scared. I didn’t know if we were going to get arrested or if they were going to attack us or something. But the Pakistani-Norwegian has traveled in the region extensively (and also speaks Arabic, Russian, English, Norwegian, and Spanish) and read the situation well – she said they were too cowardly to do anything to us. They would just stand there awkwardly and semi-threateningly. In the end, we walked away quickly and checked to see if they were following us.

Some people might say we were stupid for doing that. Perhaps we were. Yet it’s something any straight couple could get away with and not fear for their lives. At the very least, nothing happened. I think it could have been way worse if we had been men. And she was a really fun date. I like tough women like that. She’s a real warrior type. I need more of those in my life.

International Adventures in Healthcare, Bolivia Edition

Guess who found motivation to create a new blog post (I know, I suck at blogging and most people don't really care to read anyone else's blog all that much. I'm okay with that)?

But first, this picture of a Halloween dog seen last night in La Paz, Bolivia. I think his face accurately conveys my grumpiness. 

This morning I was enjoying my breakfast of eggs and coffee while the very friendly house cat curled up on my lap for some loving. I've been here a week and she's generally been fine with me, although my host did mention that while she gets along fine with men, she tends to bite women. What I didn't expect was for her to really truly bite me like she was trying to kill something.

With that said, I guess today was my lucky day. Because the instant I took my hand away from her, she struck with such speed and sank her tooth into the meaty part of my hand between my thumb and pointer finger. Which is probably a better thing than on the bone or joint, based on my online research following the incident. At the very least, I knew, from pharmacy school, that cat bites are bad news. So I said F*#K a few times, rushed to the sink to wash the wound immediately, and then applied the closest thing I could find to a disinfectant, hand sanitizer. And then decided I needed to go the the doctor or hospital. 

Because I have no problems with going to healthcare facilities in other countries, and because my Spanish is improving very slowly, I felt more than comfortable running to the ER at Hospital de Los Pinos in La Paz. For 10 bolivianos, I hopped in a taxi and got dropped off. I think because it was a Wednesday morning, the ER was pretty empty and I sat with a woman who was there for stomach pains and we watched the local news coverage about rabies in Cochabamba and the alms for Todos Santos today and tomorrow. 

It wasn't clear to me what the triage system was. You don't go to the window. You wait for a nurse to come out and ask you what's wrong and in my case, it was, un gato me mordio mi mano a la siete y media en la manana (forgive the lack of accents - I'm on a PC) y necesito limpair la herida y necesito recibir un curso de antibioticos. This was 8:30 and I was told that I would be seen at 9:00 am. So I ran out to get cash from an ATM near the Hipermaxi supermarket and came back. At 9:00 am I was promptly brought to the large and clean triage area where the doctor asked me what happened and then cleaned the bite while we conversed in English and Spanish. After being wrapped up and receiving a prescription and directions for care, as well as advice to come back on Friday for follow-up. 

And just a note, in the hospitals here, after you're seen by a doctor, you go to the cashier's window to pay for the medical consult but first you need the ticket from a guy standing near the machine near the window (the C1-005 caja ticket). If you also received a prescription, you bring it to a separate pharmacy window where they print out a bill and you go back to the caja and pay for the prescription then back to the pharmacy window to pick up the medications.

All told, it took me about an hour to be seen and cost me 45 bolivianos for the consult and 46.20 bolivianos for the 7-day course of dicloxacillin every 6 hours (I have an alarm set for every 6 hours to ensure I take it!). From the time I was bitten to my first dose of dicloxacillin, it was maybe 2.5 hours. I'm hoping that there won't be an infection. My hand does hurt and I imagine my body is working hard to stave off an infection. I also skipped my evening workout in favor of keeping my hands clean, not stressing my body with a hard workout, and resting more. 

So, send me healing vibes! I'm a dog person and today just sealed the deal. 

Taking Those Risks

As a female traveler, and especially when you travel by yourself, you always have to wonder if you're making the right decisions on a near constant basis. Should I wave down this cab? Should I get in this car? Should I respond to these guys who are talking at me? Should I ignore the guys talking at me? Do I smile? Do I make eye contact? Should I walk around after dark by myself? Should I take up this guy's offer to show me around? Do I need to be prepared to fight? Are these guys going to rape or mug me? Etc. It can get a little tiring sometimes.

However, it doesn't mean that you have to shut yourself off to all possibilities. I think it's a constant risk assessment based, in large part, on intuition or gut feel. 

Tonight was one of those moments. I took some time out from working so I could do a weekend in Fez and Chefchaouen. At the moment, I'm in Riad Borg Derb in Fez which I left around 8:30 pm in an effort to find dinner. As I was walking out, a young man called out to me to follow him. I said no, I was going to get dinner. But he insisted and said that he worked at a riad where I could get dinner. He also showed me a photo of him at work. 

Normally, if this exchange had happened in Marrakech, I would have definitely said no. In fact, my first day in Marrakech, a guy on a motorbike followed me and kept on telling me he would take me to the square and to see the tanneries if I would hop on the back of his bike. But he seemed sort of sketchy and super pushy, not taking no for an answer. So I kept on saying no and he would drive off but then reappeared on two other occasions. I guess it doesn't help that I'm really easy to spot. I think he also told me to go f#&k myself (or something along those lines) when I said no a few times. 

But tonight, I didn't feel as sketched out and said why not. Of course, as we walked through some of the darker parts of the neighborhood, I wondered if someone would come up behind me and assault me or if I'd be led into a trap. And the ex-fighter part of me was on alert to the possibility of violence and to be ready, JUST IN CASE. 

However, Lhassan was just taking me to Riad Rcif, which is an absolutely stunning place. The mosaic tilework and the woodwork in this hotel is AMAZING. The crazy thing is that you could just walk past it and never know how beautiful it was inside. Regardless, I was the lone diner and enjoyed a substantial spread of cooked salad items, a chicken tagine, and dessert, plus a beer on Lhassan (of course, I did watch to see that it was opened in front of me). I also got a chance to see the awesome views from the terrace after which I asked Lhassan to walk me back to my riad because I was unfamiliar with the winding route (FYI, it's so easy to get lost in a medina). On the way back, I briefly played with an adorable puppy, met his mom and brother, who tagged along for part of the walk (and were super friendly), and talked to one of his friends for a few minutes. And then I was dropped off at my riad to conclude a pleasant evening which started with an attitude of, ok, why not? 

And to top it off, my Bolivia-residing Mexican photographer friend, whom I met in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, is on WhatsApp so we can harass each other (me with Google translate to help with my Spanish) sporadically. I am hopeful that I will get to see her in November as I plan on returning to Bolivia so I can pre-acclimatize in La Paz before heading to Mendoza for an attempt on Aconcagua. Additionally, a random connection I made in Quito (a stranger, whom I spoke to for a few minutes during dinner and who ended up surprising me by paying for my dinner and then subsequently found my LinkedIn based on snippets of our conversation) sent me an email (we've exchanged a few) wondering where I am in the world and touching upon his future travels and feelings about the death of possibilities that come with the death of friends (as the price of longevity). 

Sometimes it's so easy to remain closed off. But sometimes it's more fun to be open-minded and curious about the possibility of saying yes to an unplanned event. In some cases, it leads you to connections, even if brief, with people who may be on the same wavelength as you in more ways than family or friends, most of whom drop off when you no longer live the same life as they do. It is really about the human connection. We are all very much the same more than we are dissimilar. 

 

From Seed to Fruition

When I talk about location-independence, I think it's easy to gloss over how long it's actually take to make it happen, from the first time I thought about traveling for more than 2 weeks at a time, to where I am today with a raggedy-looking passport that has seen better days but plenty of adventures.

But first, I have to say that it's part luck, part timing, plenty of planning, and LOT of hard work. When I look at the sequence of events that have culminated in recent events, everything started over a decade ago.
 

2003

After working at the bench in R&D at the NIAID, NIDCR, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and Progenics Pharmaceuticals, I decided to go back to school for a PharmD.

I had considered a PhD in molecular virology or something infectious diseases-related, but every PhD I met said it wasn't worth it. I had thought about medical school and had even taken it as far as the MCATs and getting wait-listed for the program at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science, but I felt ambivalent about it, never mind the don't ask, don't tell policy in the military at the time.

2008

I landed my first agency job. I had no clue what medical communications was about. I had no idea what medical writing was. But there I was, thrown into the fray on a big blockbuster brand at the end of its lifecycle. A great way to learn, but definitely a bit of trial by fire, which I think is the best way to go about it. If you come out of it okay, you've been tempered like steel. Hopefully more resilient and stronger than you were before. If it wasn't a good trial by fire, I'd probably liken it it to being thrown in front of a bus. I think if you've been in the industry long enough, you get to experience both ends of the spectrum. 

2010

I ended up leaving the first agency. Part of it was the appeal of better pay (of course, who doesn't like that), more responsibility (a double-edged sword), and exposure to different therapeutic areas.

Another part of my resignation conversation with the boss focused on salary in relation to student loans because I had left school with $72,000 in loans. By 2010, I think the balance was $65,000. The other part of the conversation was about the possibility of taking a sabbatical from work to travel but their policy was a resounding NO. Which helped push me out the door.

After that, I bounced around at a few agencies, kept on paying down my student loans, and then went freelance in 2014.

2014

Going freelance in 2014 was probably one of the scariest decisions I've ever made.

When you're on staff, even if the company can up and fire you, your day-to-day is generally more stable or has a greater semblance of stability than that of a freelancer. As a freelancer, I've had days where I woke up thinking that I would have a full day of work only to find emails telling me to hold off on a job and by noon I'd be slammed again with work from other clients. 

As a freelancer, too, even if you've got a good commitment from one or two agencies to do work, there is a deep-seated and unshakeable paranoia that makes you say yes to more work than you need. Part of it is fueled by the need to cover your bases. JUST IN CASE. So you think 2 or 3 clients is a good number. But then the work is sporadic for 1 or 2 clients. So then you say yes to 1 or 2 more. And then one delay on one project means all your deadlines for all your clients fall around the same time and you end up swamped. But you're also grateful because you're busy and busy is better than NEVER WORKING AGAIN. Which is a deep seated and irrational and persistent fear that I butt my head against yet find myself strangely reassured to hear from other freelance friends. Because they know the fear whereas when I was on staff, I was completely oblivious to it.

While my clients may not love it when I'm slammed and can't commit more time to them, I am grateful that they accommodate my schedule (and travel). And I accordingly prioritize my clients based on the relationships we've built. I jokingly say that my main client relationship is like the perfect relationship that I don't have in my personal life. A great science team (especially appreciated when I have spent too much time by myself and I think I don't make sense and need other people to bounce ideas off of), nice and smart people that I enjoy working with,  interesting and challenging projects, the kind of integration and responsibilities that you don't get with most other clients (ie, business pitches, working on RFPs, live meetings, responsibility for content, etc vs being the anonymous fingers on the keyboard). Oh, and the freedom to travel for me (and them) and to work for them at the same time. So they get most of my time and they are literally the only compelling reason I have for coming back to the US for more than a few days at a time. I also think it's essential to have some face time (workload permitting) every so often.

Some days, though, I feel like I'm the equivalent of the office feral cat that disappears for a while and then comes back a little bedraggled (after 361 days of travel, I came back maybe 15-20 lbs lighter, minus a tooth, and had experienced a terrible food poisoning episode, rabies PEP, dengue, a broken toe, a successful mountain climbing summit, and the collapse of a 4.5 year relationship).

I also have two other long-standing relationships that are awesome in different ways and I'm happy to be working with them again! Thank you, everyone. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the relationships we've built over the years.

Anyway....tangent aside, 2014 was a very busy year. Too busy, but again, as a freelancer, it's nice to be busy. And I was able to take advantage of being busy to earn more than I would have as a staff employee. With that in mind, I was able to pursue my two primary goals: pay off my student loans (approximately $55,000 in 2014) and save for extended travels. 

2015

2015 was another busy year. Too busy again. I hadn't worked out consistently in 2014 let alone 2015. BUT, by May 25, 2015, I had paid off the remaining $30,000 of my student loans. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. The insane work hours I put in were worth it even if it sort of sucked for a while and I was bursting blood vessels in my eyes on a regular basis.

At that point, the only thing left to do before embarking on extended travels was making sure my finances were in order. But the sheer amount of work I was doing at that point was more tolerable because I didn't have to juggle two financial goals at once. I also had a departure date and could look forward to doing some volunteer work and taking a much needed sabbatical from work-induced burnout. 

And so I set off on November 15, 2015, for a 19-country, 361-day trip around the world. 

2016

At some point during my travels, I had updated my LinkedIn to say that I was looking for a 100% remote position. I totally forgot about it until my previous and current main agency squeeze (as I like to say) saw my profile update and asked me if I would take on work, even though I was in Bangkok at the time. So after 8 months of not working, I started working sporadic part-time hours. I worked from Bangkok (hotel and Wolf coworking space), Myanmar (the Novotel at Inle was decent to work from and Hintha coworking space in Yangon), Malaysia, Nepal, Fort Kochi, Greece, Rome, and Barcelona (at Transforma BCN coworking space). And as the time neared to return to the US in November, I started emailing old clients and sent out my CV to numerous other agencies (most didn't bother responding, but that's fine). 

2017

Which brings me to today, 2 days away from flying to Morocco for a 4-month stint after a month in the US following 3 months in Latin America. Then I'll be back at the office in October. 

I think the most challenging thing is the perception that my availability will be more limited. I reiterate here that at this point in time, my priority is full-time work. If you have work to throw at me, I'll take it if I have capacity. Yes, I also want to do tourist activities, but I already had a year of doing whatever I wanted every day. At this point, I prefer structure to my days and the mental stimulation of work. The weekends are for sightseeing whenever possible, but I enjoy the weekday routine I establish wherever I go, which typically looks like the following:

  • Wake up at 5:00 am
  • Drink coffee
  • 6:00 am workout
  • Breakfast/shower get ready for work
  • 7:30-8:00 am, start working until dinnertime
  • Dinnertime at a local place if possible
  • Relax until my 9:00-10;00 pm bedtime

I'm not as exciting as people think. In between the fun things, there are a lot of hours spent working.  I think the main differences are that I like my freedom more than most people, I'm not particularly close to my family, I have no relationship/children/pets, and I have a really high tolerance for change. Let's face it, living out of 2 bags for 18 months is not most people's idea of fun. Some days I'd really like a hot shower or a bath tub to soak in but even those things are hard to come by in some places.  

Wherever There's a Bed

 

Nomad life isn't for everyone. Actually, it isn't for most people who like having a regular schedule, amenities, lots of things, a sense of ownership, etc. Living out of two bags can be challenging at times, but I rather like this minimalist approach. I feel like I buy less and waste less, aside from the flights, obviously.

One of the things that I get asked about is how frequently I move around. Yes, the pace the last 18 months has been a bit fast, but I'm okay with it. If I feel the need to, and can slow it down, I do. I actually will be staying in most places for 3-4 weeks, if possible, although with work trips, things get a little broken up and hectic here and there. But that's okay. I'm used to it.

So, at this rate, since November 2015, I've slept in a wide range of places! Here's a more or less full list. 

  1. Finca La Puebla, Costa Rica 
  2. Flutterby House, Uvita, Costa Rica
  3. Cafe Mariposa and Guesthouse, Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica
  4. Cerro Chirripó base camp, Costa Rica
  5. Expedia, Hotel Posada Canal Grande, San Jose, Costa Rica
  6. AirBnB, Backpacker La Bo'm, Cusco, Perú
  7. Salkantay trek campsite #1
  8. Salkantay trek campsite #2
  9. Salkantay trek campsite #3
  10. Salkantay trek, hotel (I can't remember the name), Aguas Caliente, Perú
  11. Expedia, Hacienda Plaza de Armas, Puno, Perú
  12. Sleeper bus, Puno to Paracas 
  13. AirBnB in Paracas National Reserve (no longer listed), Paracas, Perú
  14. Expedia, Hotel Gran Palma Paracas, Paracas, Perú
  15. AirBnB (no longer listed), Lima, Perú
  16. AirBnB, Auckland, New Zealand
  17. AirBnB, Rotarua, New Zealand
  18. AirBnB, Wellington, New Zealand
  19. Dusky Lodge and Backpackers, Kaikoura, New Zealand
  20. AirBnB, Christchurch, New Zealand
  21. Hostelbookers, Franz Josef Montrose, Franz Josef, New Zealand
  22. AirBnB, Auckland, New Zealand
  23. AirBnB, Sanur, Bali Island, Indonesia
  24. Friends of the National Park Foundation, Nusa Penida, Indonesia
  25. AirBnB, Ubud, Bali Island, Indonesia
  26. Bali Wildlife Rescue Center, Tabanan, Bali Island, Indonesia
  27. AirBnB, Rama Garden Retreat, Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia
  28. AirBnB, Sanur, Bali Island, Indonesia
  29. Expedia, Morwing Hotel II, Taipei, Taiwan
  30. F Hotel, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  31. Deb's parents' apartment, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
  32. Ooshima-san's house, Hirakata, Japan
  33. AirBnB, Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto
  34. AirBnB, Osaka, Japan
  35. AirBnB, Yugawara, Japan
  36. Kimi Ryokan, Tokyo, Japan.
  37. Expedia, Hotel Kanda-Jimbocho-Ekihigashi, Tokyo, Japan
  38. AirBnB, Tokyo, Japan
  39. AirBnB, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 
  40. Ger #1, Amarbayasgalant Khiid, Mongolia. 
  41. Hotel, Bulgan, Mongolia.
  42. Ger #2, Mongolia.
  43. Ger #4, Mongolia.
  44. Ger #5, Mongolia.
  45. Ger #6, Mongolia.
  46. AirBnB, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  47. Sleeper train, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to Beijing, China
  48. AirBnB, Beijing, China. Hutong style
  49. AirBnB, Xi'an, China.
  50. Sleeper train, Xi'an to Chengdu then regular train to Leshan, China
  51. Ctrip, Ibis Leshan City Center, Leshan, China
  52. Xixichiang monastery on Emeishan, China 
  53. Expedia, Leeden Hotel, Chengdu, China
  54. Sleeper train, Chengdu to Anshun, China
  55. Double Tree by Hilton, Anshun, China
  56. Sleeper train, Anshun to Kunming to Lijiang
  57. Ctrip, Yue Gu Lu Inn, Lijiang, China
  58. Ctrip, Shangri-La Home Inn, Deqen (Shangri-La), China
  59. Expedia, China Old Story Inns, Dali, China.
  60. AirBnB, Kunming, China.
  61. Expedia, Tu Linh Palace Hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam.
  62. Sleeper train, Sapaly Express, Hanoi to Sapa. Note, the Sapaly express is way more comfortable (thicker mattresses and blankets) and spacious than the Violette train despite the Violette train being newer
  63. Expedia, Sapa Dragon Hotel, Sapa, Vietnam.
  64. Sleeper train, Violette train, Sapa to Hanoi.
  65. AirBnB, Hoi An, Vietnam
  66. AirBnB, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
  67. Bus/sleeper bus (Giant Ibis) Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh/Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
  68. Expedia, Ombra Angkor Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  69. Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, 100 km outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia
  70. Expedia, Prince D'Angkor Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  71. Booking.com, Dokchampa Guesthouse, Don Khone, Laos
  72. AirBnB, Pakse, Laos
  73. Expedia, Cold River, Luang Prabang, Laos
  74. AirBnb, Bangkok, Thailand
  75. Expedia, Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
  76. Expedia, Pat's Klangviang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
  77. AirBnB, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  78. Panviman, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  79. AirBnB, Lotus Boutique House, Yangon, Myanmar.
  80. Expedia, Best Western, Yangon, Myanmar. 
  81. Expedia, Gracious Bagan Hotel, Bagan, Myanmar
  82. Hotels.com, Novotel Inle Lake, Myat Min, Myanmar
  83. Hotel Grand United, Yangon, Myanmar.
  84. AirBnB, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  85. AirBnB, Bangkok, Thailand. 
  86. Hotel Osho Home, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  87. Hotel Radisson, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  88. Lukla Everest Teahouse
  89. Campsite 1 
  90. Campsite 2
  91. Campsite 3
  92. Campsite 4
  93. Campsite 5
  94. Campsite 6
  95. Campsite 7
  96. Campsite 8
  97. Campsite 9
  98. Campsite 10
  99. Campsite 11
  100. Campsite 12
  101. Campsite 13 (I may be forgetting or adding a few?)
  102. Lukla Everest Teahouse
  103. Hotel Radisson, Kathmandu, Nepal
  104. AirBnB, Le Linda's Homestay, Fort Kochi, Kerala, India
  105. AirBnB, Mumbai, India
  106. AirBnB, Athens, Greece
  107. AirBnB, Santorini, Greece
  108. AirBnB, Athens, Greece
  109. AirBnB, Rome, Italy
  110. AirBnB hosts' home
  111. AirBnB, Barcelona, Spain
  112. AirBnB, Barcelona, Spain
  113. Sublet, NYC
  114. Kimpton Rouge Hote, Washington, DC
  115. Sublet, NYC
  116. Parents
  117. AirBnB, Piermont, NY
  118. Parents
  119. AirBnB, Accord, NY
  120. Parents
  121. AirBnB, Harlem
  122. Parents
  123. AirBnb, Managua, Nicaragua
  124. AirBnB, Managua, Nicaragua (different place because of accidental double-booking; better wifi)
  125. AirBnB, Montevideo, Uruguay
  126. AirBnB, Asunción, Paraguay
  127. Cosmopolitano Hotel Boutique, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
  128. Lodge in Parque Amboro, Bolivia (my favorite place!)
  129. Cosmopolitano Hotel Boutique, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
  130. AirBnB, Quito, Ecuador
  131. AirBnB, Quito, Ecuador (first host didn't tell me she was showing the apartment to potential buyers)
  132. AirBnB, Panama City, Panama
  133. Parents
  134. AirBnB, Stamford, CT
  135. Aloft Hotel, Panama City, Panama
  136. AirBnB, Stamford, CT
  137. AirBnB, Marrakech, Morocco
  138. AirBnB, Rabat, Morocco
  139. Riad, Fez, Morocco
  140. GLO hotel, Helsinki, Finland (work)
  141. AirBnB, Tallinn, Estonia
  142. Limes Apartments, Prague, Czech Republic
  143. Marriott, Chicago, IL (work trip)
  144. Apartment Berlin, Germany
  145. AirBnB, Szcecin/Stettin, Poland
  146. Apartment, Split, Croatia
  147. Marriott, Boston, MA (work trip)
  148. Berlin, Germany
  149. AirBnB, Riga, Latvia
  150. Apartment, Split, Croatia
  151. Berlin, Germany
  152. Iberostar, NYC, NY
  153. My apartment, NYC, NY
  154. AirBnB, Stamford, CT
  155. AirBnb, La Paz, Bolivia
  156. Casa Grande Suites, La Paz, Bolivia
  157. Atix Hotel, La Paz, Bolivia
  158. NH Cordillera hotel, Mendoza, Argentina
  159. Los Penitentes, Argentina
  160. Confluencia, Aconcagua
  161. Base Camp, Aconcagua
  162. Camp 1, Aconcagua
  163. Camp 2, Aconcagua
  164. Camp 3, Aconcagua
  165. AirBnB, San Pedro Sula, Honduras
  166. French Market Inn, New Orleans

 

 

Overdue Updates

Admittedly I sort of suck at keeping a daily blog. There's always something else that takes up my time, from conversations (digital or live) with other travelers, to practicing some Spanish, tourist activities, working out, reading, and working. They all take precedence over trying to keep people updated as to my whereabouts and even then, my little snippets on Facebook do tend to serve the same purpose but with less of a time investment. Because let's face it, blog posts can eat up time and they're not as fun in some ways. 

But here I am with some thoughts. And I'm procrastinating on pre-work that I've assigned myself before an ebook chapter kicks off at the end of the month, which isn't all that far away and it's in an area that I'm completely unfamiliar with. Not like I haven't been in that position numerous times and I'm grateful that I seem to be the type of person who can, and will, pick up on new things as needed. I think it suits my personality. I get bored of doing the same thing over and over, so the novelty of something new is motivation for me and I bring more energy to those projects because the fear of failure is more intense. 

I'm writing this comfortably ensconced in my hotel room at the Cosmopolitano Boutique hotel in the first ring of the capital of Bolivia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra. I arrived here yesterday after a somewhat long flight from Paraguay. I had thought about taking a bus from Paraguay to Bolivia, but I'm glad I chose not to after my 24-hour stint from Uruguay to Paraguay. I wasn't in the mood to do another day-long trip. Additionally, because I only have two weeks in Bolivia, I have less time to waste to do at least 1 or 2 fun things. I was still tired from a 7:20 am flight with a layover in Sao Paolo where the connection process, being stamped in AND out of Brazil (so happy I have a 10-year multiple entry visa because I don't know what would have happened otherwise), had me cutting the line to make my flight on time (I got to the gate at 10:00 am when the flight was due to leave at 10:25 am). 

As is my habit upon arrival in a new place, I consult Google maps, mark off some nearby restaurants, landmarks of interest, and grocery stores. Then I hit the grocery store to pick up snacks and shampoo and conditioner. One thing to note about Latin American grocery stores is that every mercado has a locker to store your bag. In fact, it's not an option. There are security guys who tell you to stick your bag in the locker. But you can use your credit card everywhere, even in some of the smallest towns in Costa Rica. I'm so happy I invested in Visa when it went public, but too bad I didn't have more money to buy thousands and thousands of shares, because damn, I only have chump change compared with other people. 

Regardless, I do like this hotel quite a bit and this is more of an upgrade (price-wise) than I was paying for the apartment. However, I do miss the convenience of making coffee whenever I want to, having a laundry machine (dryers are rare outside of the United States), and eating breakfast when I want to. On the plus side, I get a fancy breakfast made for me every morning while I'm here. On the downside, I'm back to doing my laundry in the fancy tub until I can find a lavandería. 

So I sit here, more than halfway through my 13-week stint away before I'm due back for the promised face time at the office with the super flexible and accommodating agency that I contract with on a long-term basis. And then I'm allowed to jet off overseas again, which I greatly appreciate! It's like the perfect relationship that doesn't actually exist haha.  

But now is a good time to sit, reassess, and wonder.

Reassessing is pretty clearcut for me. Because being on the road is exactly where I need to be right now. After some tumult in my personal life, I'm enjoying going to bed early and waking up at 5:00 am. I'm enjoying solo tours. I'm enjoying eating dinner by myself wherever I want and whatever I want to eat because I'm not picky and also enjoy eating where the locals eat. I'm enjoying reading the books I somehow stopped reading over the last 2-3 years. I'm enjoying working out at CrossFit boxes around the world (I even bought myself a Mbarete CrossFit shirt from Paraguay because I had such a nice time there). I'm enjoying talking to strangers because even if I may be introverted at times, and not so interested in staying up late because it'll throw off my 6:00 am workouts, I like learning about how people live their lives in other places! I'm also really enjoying doing whatever the heck I want to do (if I have time) like sandboarding. I'm enjoying going anywhere that sounds interesting and not restricting myself only to those places that are popular on the tourist trial. Indeed, In Paraguay and Bolivia, I've gotten quite a few questions about why I chose to come here. I always say why not?!

I'm also wondering where I'll go and what to do. But I suppose those are the benefits of having options. I do know that there are at least another 50 countries I absolutely want to visit. Maybe all! But definitely these: Algiers, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, BHUTAN!!!, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, East Timor, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Madagascar, Morocco (have a flight booked), Namibia, Nigeria, Norway, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Scotland, South Africa, Suriname, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Zaire, and Zimbabwe. 

I guess I'll just have to continue playing it by ear. And I'm okay with that. 

 

Day 4, Montevideo, Uruguay - Rest Day=Early Work Day

Because I don't know if I can do CrossFit 5 days a week, I took today as a rest day. So it ended up being a long work day, partially because I also get distracted by the news coming out of the states. It's always fascinating observing the US news from outside the US. 

At any rate, I ate part of a takeout dinner for breakfast instead, along with some of the chivito bread because it's so soft and doughy and delicious. Then headed over to Espacio Serratosa around 8:00 am where I was probably the first one here. One thing about Uruguay, people start late. This is very distinct from Nicaragua where everyone is an early riser and the earliest CrossFit class was at 5:00 am. I prefer the earlier the better, honestly. I find I get more done with my day. But when traveling and working abroad, you have to be flexible.

Anyway, really do like this coworking space. I have a lot of room to spread out and the price is WAY cheaper than the coworking space I used in Yangon, Myanmar! Yes, Myanmar is way more expensive than you think for some things, like fitness centers and coworking. It'll be on par with NYC prices. Here I'm paying $12 per day (US$183 with taxes included) for 15 days here AND a locker to store some of the stuff I don't want to lug back and forth to the apartment. 

There was no rain when I left the office so I made a point of wandering down to the Puerto Mercado for dinner, just to try it. I had a Merluza fish with potatoes. It was pretty good! And not meat. They do eat a lot of meat and the meals can be heavy here, so I will put on weight here lol. The Puerto Mercado was nice enough albeit it is definitely a place for tourists as well. But there were plenty of locals. If this were in NYC, it'd be a hot spot. The Ciudad Vieja area is still run down and businesses are trying to rejuvenate it. I sort of like the decrepit areas although there are quite a lot of homeless people. Which is a bit surprising I guess. I wonder what that's about - if they are out of the public support system, opted out, etc. And what are the resources for these guys? Or are there none? I'm very curious. I also like walking past people hanging out on the sidewalk chatting and drinking their mates. Where NYers clutch their cups of coffee on the go, Uruguayans clutch their thermos and mate gourds. It's quite awesome. 

 

Day 2, Montevideo, Uruguay

A not so exciting day but surely a very sore day to come. I started it out at the Crossfit Cimarron, which is nice enough to let me train there. I think it's about US$65 for 12 classes over 3 weeks. Not bad at all! The workout was the Jared...800 meter run, 40 pull-ups (LOL, I have zero so I did ring rows), and 70 push-ups x 4 rounds for time with a time limit of 35 minutes. I finished 3 rounds. Ow. my chest hurts as I type this. I was wondering why I was so sore when I woke up this morning. And my back. : p

Then I went back to the apartment, ate breakfast, showered, and went over to Espacio Serratosa to work for the day. Nothing exciting. Remote working full time is not as exciting as one may think. But I like the change of scenery. I like wandering around a new place, even if it's on my way to or from the office space. I like taking in the sights, the buildings, the sky, the temperature, the glimmering water in the distance. There's always something new and stimulating in even the smallest things. I think that's the difference. Because at home, the old is old for me, and I find it stultifying at times. I admit that I like novelty in life. I get bored with things when they become routine. So this is not a bad way to go. 

The coworking space is nice and spacious. And I briefly met an American from Iowa! I think he was the first Iowan I've met. We didn't speak much aside from a hello and where are you from and what's the password and then we both had to get to work. The wifi is great. I was on VPN with no problems, moving files around from cloud drive or server to wherever was also super easy!

Other than that, I'm in a holding pattern on some projects while we wait for client comments so I harassed other people for work :). Hurray. I like being able to make money because then I can donate to things like the ACLU. I donated $50 yesterday and I would like to continue donating. And then I finished my night by wandering down to the central area and ate dinner at La Fonda. A gigantic plate of fish with onions and peppers and potatoes. Delicious bread. And dessert all for under 300 Uruguayan pesos or less than US$10. Not bad at all because this city is somewhat more expensive in some ways than I thought. In other ways, far cheaper (ie, working out, the coworking space). Then I closed out my night by getting into 1Q84, which I'm carrying with me. I'd like to get through it while I'm here so I can stop carrying it! It adds a decent amount of weigh to my backpack haha. I am also making more of a point of reading more for pleasure than I have in a long time. 

Day 1, Montevideo, Uruguay

I arrived super early after a LONG day of layovers and flights. Ugh. I always think that South America isn't that far, but it is! It took us almost 24 hours to get from JFK to El Chalten in Argentina a few years ago!

I'm staying in the slightly sketchier Ciudad Vieja area of Montevideo. I did pass a lot of VERY nice and large and modern beachfront houses along the Rambla overlooking the Atlantic. It seemed quite posh in areas. This area, not so much so I'm wondering if maybe I pay more to move to a more secure-feeling spot (my door lock is also broken so I can't lock my room when I go out and the front door latch is not quite secured to the door fully [although the lock is separate from the handle]). I think Espacio Serratosa also has lockers so if I feel that the space is secure enough, I could lock up my computers there and stay in this spot. I'll see how I feel in a day or two. 

And it's funny, I'm finding that Latin America AirBnB listings are far messier than they look in photos. Sometimes they are quite accurate, like in SEA. Here, not so much. I attribute it to these dudes opening their homes to strangers since dudes are not known for their cleanliness. Otherwise it's a large and peaceful space with a hot shower, a kitchen that I can use to prepare meals because it's actually quite a bit more expensive here than Nicaragua. So I made some pasta and vegetable meals for myself, but I may get tired of cooking for myself and just do oatmeal breakfast at home then a cheap sandwich for lunch and a better dinner. I'll sort out a rhythm for myself soon enough.

I also walked around a little bit today. Montevideo is DEAD on a Sunday because most businesses are closed. Managua also felt a bit dead during the day but people came out during the night. So it's partly a function of culture and schedule. Here in Uruguay, they tend not to start early. In fact, the earliest Crossfit workout on schedule is at 7:00 am! At least there's a 2-hour difference so even if I get a "late" start to my day, the regular day on EST hasn't started. 

I also noticed that people in Nicaragua are WAY nicer than people in Uruguay. I blame it on proximity to Argentina because Argentineans do have a reputation for being...not so nice. I bet it bleeds over to here. I have gotten a LOT of hard stares for the tattoos, which is similar to how people stared at me in Argentina. Yay, fun. And less people are willing to say hello or smile in my general direction. It's a hard stare. A flat stare. Or serious side eye to look at my tattoos. If you're going to judge me, don't throw shade. I appreciate it more when people ask me straight up what the deal is with the tattoos, like my cab drivers in Nicaragua. 

Anyway, I am looking forward to getting back on schedule tomorrow. I'll be starting my Monday through Friday working at Espacio Serratosa. Excited to be surrounded by other professionals! Give me more work! :)

Transit Life, January 28, 2017

I am writing this from the Gastro Pub at the San Jose, Costa Rica, airport. It's an airport that I'm quite familiar with because we traveled through Costa Rica last year. In fact, it was the first stop on our world trip. And now I'm back with a 5-hour layover before I head to Lima for another layover and then to Montevideo on a redeye. 

What amazes me is how so many airports in "less developed" countries, have free wifi that works AMAZINGLY. This is compared to the ripoff Boingo wifi hotspots in the US. You have to pay for it, it's not cheap, and it sucks. It's so slow. I just had amazing wifi in Nicaragua at the airport and now here. 

Regardless, when you've been on the road so much, being on the road and having layovers is all part of the process. I'm trying to stir up some work for Monday and Tuesday. I mean, I believe I have sufficient work that I can do, but I want to be conscious of budget on these projects and not just futz around working on them when there are only so many hours to be billed. It's basically a waiting pattern for some projects - for client comments, etc. That's the nature of the business. And then it'll all come at once, which I'm expecting at the very least!

I am excited to get to Montevideo, though. I'll be able to fully unpack my bags and set up shop. I'll also have to make a point of hitting the supermarket so I can stock up on foodstuffs for breakfast and possibly lunch. I'll likely go out for at least one meal every day. 

For now, I'll work on a chapter update from the airport. I see a few other nomadic workers with their laptops out. I also have a great location with my back to the corner and an outlet to charge my devices.

 

Nica Life, January 27, 2017

Today will be an unexciting day. I am happy to say I made it through my 6:00 am Crossfit Las Colinas workout with Ivan. We did 12 minutes of 45 seconds on and 15 seconds off of planks to work our core. Then we had a terrible 25 minutes of increasing number of reps (1, 2, 3, 4, 5....) of the following: hang power clean, burpee over the bar, and then thrusters. The suggested weight was 65 lbs for women for the clean. I could do that for fewer reps but had to eventually take weight off. And I'm not so strong on weighted thrusters so I eventually took more weight off that. And I don't want to hurt myself, which is likely if I try to push it too hard. My hands are busted, as in, they are sore. At least this grip strength work is good for climbing, which I hope to partake in at the bouldering club in Montevideo.

My workload for today has consisted of tweaking slides for a vaccine project, I need to submit invoices, arrange times for teleconferences, get on a teleconference for another project, wait for two references for ebook chapter updates, and perhaps get a jump on research for another ebook chapter that I'm doing. Also waiting to hear if I get more work from a new client (thank you!!!). I admit it, I like working. Too much downtime and I get mentally bored and stilted and stagnant. I need the stimulation to feel sharp and alert.

 This is my serious setup for when I am 100% online for work for the day.

This is my serious setup for when I am 100% online for work for the day.

Oh, and the rest of today will consist of packing a few items in preparation for an early departure tomorrow. I'll be heading to Montevideo. I am actually really excited about Montevideo! I'll be working from a dedicated coworking space (Espacio Serratosa) with an adjoining restaurant. That way I can network with other digital nomads and freelancers or businesses in Uruguay. And I can socialize a little bit and go out with people. I've also started trying to connect with other digital nomads but most seem to be in southeast Asia. It's also hard to find other queer digital nomads....not so many of us, unfortunately? So the only other thing I've got planned for tonight is dinner with Caz and Ted (UK and US, respectively). Caz is a lady from the UK who runs a vintage clothing business. Ted is a retired gentleman from Detroit who has been to Nicaragua a few times before and did a stint with the Peace Corps many years ago in Costa Rica. 

Dinner with them was quite good. We went to Jimmy Three Finger's Alabama barbecue. I would never go to Alabama so this was the closest I'll get, because they do know how to do barbecue. It was a nice evening out getting lost looking for the old location and then finding the new location. Some conversation, good food, and just hanging out with other travelers. I may be introverted, but I do like getting to know strangers and see how they tick and what their perceptions are of the US, like Caz, who said that most of the television shows depict the US as a bunch of idiot hicks. And that was confirmed during her visit to Florida but then she felt better about the US after going to California, after which I told her that mainly the west coast and northeast go against the grain of those shows. The rest of the country....well, I dunno. I'm biased, but yes, the perception in the UK must be that we're all a bunch of idiot yahoos. 

Nica Life, January 26, 2017

I'm rather amazed at how time flies. Considering how I booked this trip to Nicaragua on such short notice, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that it's already Thursday and I head out to Montevideo soon! 

Highlights of the day. I'm attempting to write things down, but I may get lazy with this. And I'm also ambivalent about having this here versus a more personal site? I guess the boundaries are blurred because it's a remote working/travel trip but the priority is work. 

When I booked the lodgings for the places that I'd be staying at, I did look at the proximity to fitness centers of any sort. Depending on the country, it can be difficult. However, the Americas are way better about it than, let's say, Nepal or India. So I'm all good. In fact, yes, I did start doing Crossfit while in Rockland because I can no longer do Muay Thai without a great deal of pain or discomfort AND there are no good Muay Thai schools anywhere outside of Manhattan. I know that sometimes people think it's a bit cultish, and it can be if you choose to let it be. I know I have a lot of limits from age and injury, but it's been nice getting back into shape after almost 3 years of slothfulness. 

With that said, today was the third time I went to the Crossfit Las Colinas near my AirBnB. It's been nice working out with other people. And it's an interesting mix of locals and people who have moved here from elsewhere or who are visiting. In fact, the owners are a couple from Atlanta who took over the box 4 years ago. I was attempting to speak terrible Spanish when the wife told me that it was okay to speak English. And it was funny when she said that she hadn't seen a US $10 bill in a long time. 

Today's workout was bench presses with increasing weights, 12-10-8-6-4-2 weights. Then a 25 minute time period for the metcon, which consisted of 4 rounds of 100 double-unders or 200 singles, 12 handstand pushups, 20 sit-ups, and a 400 meter run. I managed to do the metcon in 18:51 but I'm not sure if the 400 meters was accurate because I was estimating 5 minutes per round knowing how fast or slow I run 400 meters in general. I also met a 1/2 Asian 1/2 Nicaraguan American from LA who is married to a Danish man and has lived in Nicaragua for 11 years. We were commiserating about the state of affairs and discussing life in Nicaragua and options for living outside the US. 

Anyway, I spent a few hours of the day wandering around the city. It's surprisingly not very crowded and not too exciting. I sort of wish I had headed down to the south near the beach where I found a coworking space. I would have also loved to head into the forest, but since work is the priority, I'll have to put that off until later. And, I only had a week here. Sometimes you just don't feel like hopping from place to place every few days, especially after I spent most of the last year doing that. It's also harder to get work done when you're that mobile. The next time I will make sure to do so. Oh, and that coworking space didn't have any hot desks, so it wouldn't have been so useful. Even though I can work from the places that I'm staying at, sometimes it's nice to meet other professionals who may or may not be digital nomads. 

Regardless, I basically walked from the lake back to the Intercontinental, a few miles in the hot sun. I also did a quick jaunt through the National Museum. It was US$5 and it had some interesting history about Nicaragua. For example, I had no idea they had mastodon fossils in this country! And a lot of ceramics. From what I have seen in museums throughout the world, ceramics. Ceramics. So many ceramics. You can get ceramic-ed out, sort of like you can get templed out in Siem Reap. Oh, and please note that the signs are only in Spanish. I could read a decent bit of it but I notice that I get mentally tired if processing ALL Spanish for too long. Funny how the brain works. But apparently my spoken Spanish is bad but not so terrible that I can't have conversations with my taxi drivers about where I'm from, what I do for work, if it's my first time in Nicaragua, if I am traveling by myself, how many tattoos I have (and why I like tattoos), and if I'd tattoo my face. My listening is slightly better, but if someone speaks too quickly, it's difficult. 

I also did not feel unsafe walking around, even through slummier areas. There were always plenty of taxis that I could have waved down. And lots of rocks to brain someone in case of emergency. It was also broad daylight, which is always the best time to wander about and feel relatively safe. And then I got takeout from La Colonia (el combo tres con una Coca Cola cero con hielo) because I was feeling antisocial, lazy, and like the new space I got shuffled over to (pictured below). I was able to transfer 209 PDFs, via Google Drive, to my other laptop and from there, moved it all onto the server via VPN! Yay, technology! However, I had to spend 15 minutes on the phone with IT (AGAIN) to resolve a) not being able to log in to the IT problems ticketing site when I was able to do so a few days ago and b) not being able to get onto VPN (AGAIN). Thankfully both problems were resolved. I also spent some time expanding my LinkedIn network and messaging some people in my network about different things like work needs and work visas in case I want to be able to work for UK, Singapore, or Hong Kong agencies. 

 

 My second AirBnB because the app messed up my booking. But I like this one better. 

My second AirBnB because the app messed up my booking. But I like this one better. 

Full Time Digital Nomad Life - Nicaragua

Here I am, safe and sound in Nicaragua. 

It took a bit longer than I thought to get here, but that's because most of the trips taken last year were a few hours apart in SEA. Sometimes it's easy to forget the distances when going north to south or vice versa. 

I admit that I booked my ticket to Nicaragua only a week in advance. I wasn't planning on coming here but then a few things changed and I I figured why not check out another country. Especially when I could change or cancel my flight on Copa for free!! If I had had to pay a penalty, this leg of the trip wouldn't have worked.

I am staying at an AirBnB, at a colonial mansion. I am also close to a CrossFit gym so I can keep on training and making progress with recovering my strength and fitness. It should be interesting learning how to say all the lifts in Spanish, but that's part of the fun. And sometimes part of the fun is picking a place, doing no research on what to do, and landing there! However, I rarely overplan travels because I know it's more at the mercy of my whims or situations.

Today I will go out and explore a few surrounding areas. I think that will be about it for touristy stuff while I'm here for the week. I have a few projects on my plate that require 40 hours of work, at least, this week. I am more than happy to have the work, though!!! I truly appreciate having clients who don't mind me working remotely. 

PS, wifi situation in Nicaragua is not so great. I might even say it's worse than Kathmandu and Kathmandu was actually pretty decent. Vietnam had the best wifi of any country. Oh, and apparently there are no coworking spaces here, but there is an Intercontinental hotel that I may visit because they have a business center and I can hopefully work from there. It's also a little more central to the downtown area. The only thing I would hesitate doing is wandering around with my laptop(s) while sightseeing. 

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