Duplicating a Perfect Experience in Argentina

Two weeks ago, I had a perfect day.

The weather was sunny and breezy.  I rode a horse through the Argentinian countryside with some of my best friends. I ate a homemade meal of empanadas and chicken-and-rice from an abuela (grandma) which was absolutely delightful. To cap it off, I rode home on a bus that stopped at the absolute CLEANEST bathroom I’ve ever come across in South America and then had a delicious dinner and thoughtful conversation with my roommates back in Cordoba.

This adventure (minus the clean bathroom and roommate add-ons) was sponsored and lead by my program leaders & city team with Remote Year, who called it Gaucho Day as it showed us the average life of a Gaucho, which is essentially the Argentinian version of a cowboy.  We learned about lassoing, horse shoes, and cooking and even had a little Argentinian wine.

So when the opportunity arose to go back into the hills for Gaucho Day Part Two (it was such a hit the first time so others wanted to go as well), I jumped right on board.

I asked a number of people if they were also riding again, and heard the same answer from each of them.  Because it was such a nice day, they didn’t want to go again and ‘ruin it.’

I wasn’t sure what to make of this – ruin it?  How could another day spent riding horses with your friends ruin anything?  I suppose I understand the logic: you can’t recreate the exact same experience.  But I didn’t want to recreate the same experience. – I wanted a new experience!

I knew there were different people going (plus my friend visiting from the states) and I’d wear different clothes for all the dang photo ops. I didn’t know we’d take a different route through the mountains, or that lunch would be carne and potatoes (and still those amazing empanadas! Thank God).  I didn’t know it would be slightly rainy and then super overcast for amazing clouds over the hills, or that the sky would open up midday to clear brilliant blue.  All I knew was I wanted a nice day, and set my expectations accordingly, knowing that nothing I could do on THIS day would ever impact what happened on the first day.  That experience was already in the books; I’m no time traveler.

And I had another perfect day.  Followed by cooking and eating a few dozen empanadas with my roommates.  I just really like empanadas.

 

I’ve heard the ‘going to ruin it’ notion a few times this year – specifically about cities or countries where someone had been, maybe with a significant other, and didn’t want to tarnish their memory for one reason or another.  But I disagree with this notion!  I firmly believe your thoughts create your world.  Thoughts become things.  So choose the good ones!

 

Second Trip

 

First Trip

 

First Trip

 

Second Trip

 

Second Trip

 

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I told you I liked empanadas.

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Lima by the Numbers

My Life in Lima, Peru:

5 weeks

3 roommates

92 hours of Spanish lessons

2 notebooks filled with Spanish notes

200 flashcards of verbs, nouns, adjectives, and conjugations in various tenses

1 new freelance client

10 resumes reviewed

1 salsa class

11 articles ghostwritten

6 bowls of ceviche

2 times I said ‘oui’ and not ‘si’

1 epic flat tire

12 sunsets over the water

2 police officer visits

1 website relaunch

3 boat rides

1 Groundhog Day celebration

13 mornings where I woke up before 6am

2 drunk sushi nights

1 surf lesson

3 sunburns

1 too many pisco sours


= 1 helluva month

 

An Average Day for CCJ: Lima

6:00 am – Alarm goes off.  If I’m feeling awake and not lazy, like today, I get up and take a walk-slash-run to the water.

7:00-8:30 am – Start work in the dining/living room of our apartment.  My roommates Josh, Meghan, and Chris are awake and we chat, Meghan usually making a sassy comment, Josh coming in sweating from a Crossfit workout, and Chris reminding me to do my Spanish homework, which I forgot about AGAIN.

8:30-9:00 am – Do Spanish homework.  Walk to Spanish class with Chris.

9-11:00 am – Hablo español.  Hablo hablo hablo español.

11:00-11:20 am: Coffee break.  It’s someone at the school’s birthday (there’s at least one every week, apparently people time their trips to Peru with their coupleaños) and we get a slice  of torte or queque.

11:20-1:00 pm: Hablo hablo hablo español.

1-2:00 pm: Meet a fellow Remote for lunch, or grab an empanada on the walk to the office.

 

2-6:00pm: Work at our co-working space called Comunal.  Today I have several resumes to revise, 2 content articles to complete and a few invoices to send.

 

I check Slack and WhatsApp to see messages like this:

 

Work involves laughing – and noise usually increases at the 4:30 mark — just like in a real office!  I told you we do real work!

My “co-workers” are awesome.

 

I grab a happy hour beer with two remotes, which turns into three beers with seven remotes.  Then I head to Saqra with Sam and Patrick for dinner.

 


 

 

If I don’t have any programming or official social events in the evening (this month I’ve had a ceviche cooking class, a tour of a local brewery, several networking options, pub trivia, entrepreneurs meetings, a love fest, fishing trip, murder mystery party, and more — and that doesn’t count normal get-togethers and dinner dates), I make plans to either cook at home or meet up with someone for dinner.  Alcohol drinking varies and is not based on the day of the week (because Mondays, ya know?).

With seemingly endless opportunities for fun, be it hanging out watching a movie with one friend, or going bowling with 6 friends, or watching the sunset at dinner in a group of 20, this year I’ve had more options than ever.  Planned events + spontaneity = my perfect day.  ❤

 

 
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Visiting KL: Tasty Outlet to SEA!

Kuala Lumpur has me by the heart and wallet, even though food is cheap and I’m not buying any clothes.  I’m finding that KL – for me, subjective obviously – is one of the most livable stops for a digital nomad so far on our Remote Year itinerary.  I explored why this is by writing it all out, so wanted to share with you!

Convenience

Kuala Lumpur is known for its intense mall scene, which can be off-putting for some.  But guess what?  I’m a Jersey girl.  I grew up in a mall.  If you compare this to other Asian countries where I need to go to 4 different places to get food, socks, a phone charger, and a bottle of wine – this is a dream.

My coworking space was in a great location in Bukit Bintang.  We were a stone’s throw from three (count em, three) malls.  Our office space shares the building with a mall.  Across the street?  Big doozy of a mall.  And a block down the road is another mall.

Admittedly, I did very little shopping, for two reasons.  One, I’m spending my money on experiences not things, and Two I have no space in my suitcase for extra crap.  But, looking at this city as a potential place to live long-term, the convenience of this city is very attractive.

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Culture

Our city managers explained this well our first week in KL – when you say culture, in KL this means FOOD.

Jalan Alor is a road home to the coolest street food night market, which I lovingly call ‘food street.’  Here the food is ready to eat, cheap ($2 ish for a meal), and even though you might not know 100% what it is, it’s a ton of fun.  The place becomes alive at night and stays open till who knows when, I’m in bed by then anyway #grandmastatus.

Now, I mentioned malls before.  A favorite during my month in KL was the big doozy called the Pavilion, mainly because of its intense food court.  This may be a more, shall I say, diluted experience compared to Jalan Alor, but you can get regional food freshly prepared for you for about $3-4.  I enjoyed the curry hot plate, Mee Goring at the Indian/Malay spot, and really I can’t count how many other things I tried.  I often forgot to take pics of my food but here’s a few.

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Another great spot is the food court at the Lot 10 mall, which I stumbled upon by accident before remembering it was highly recommended by the RY city team.  You go down an escalator to the home of a collection of delicious street food stalls.  Fun fact: the owner of Lot 10 convinced the owners of these stalls (spread around the city) to open a location in his mall to attract younger generations to the traditional food, and to preserve longstanding cooking methods and dishes.  Very cool.

 

I can’t even begin to touch on the amazing noms we had during our food tours, like hot bacon in Chinatown or banana fritters in Little India.  There was so much to explore and I feel as though I’ve bearly scratched the surface!

 

Accessibility

Pro tip: flights from KL to almost anywhere else in Southeast Asia are super affordable.  I went to Bali (I’m a brat, I know) for $130 RT and I could have done it cheaper had I bought the ticket earlier.  Flights to Sydney can run $300-400.  Singapore for $40.  Bangkok for $70.  Ho Chi Minh City for $80.  This makes KL a great hub as you continue to travel.  If home is where your big suitcase is, then make a place for yourself in Malaysia.

 

So this is certainly not a goodbye to KL, this is a see you later.

Things I Never Said Before Remote Year

This year is full of new experiences, and thus, new sentences come out of my mouth every day.  Sometimes I’m talking, and realize Wow, I’ve never said THAT before.  Here are just a few examples:

— There’s only one way to find out.

— Oh good, it’s not a squat toilet.

— Lock the fridge or else the monkeys will get in.

— I don’t know if it’s Greek yogurt or sour cream, but I’m having it for breakfast every morning with granola.

— I launched my own business!

— Yo tengo 30 anos.

— The best rakija is always found in water bottles.

— Should we get pho for breakfast or for lunch?

— My taxi ride to the salon was more expensive than the haircut.

— No thanks, I do not want to try your scorpions.

— Guys!  You can see the Acropolis from the bedroom!

— (After a wine cruise down the Danube) Well I think we need to get more wine.

^^Actually I probably have said that before.

— That elephant’s mouth is slimy.

— I think we’re going to have to jump in the fountain.

— Look at this map.  See the blue dot?  THAT’S WHERE WE ARE RIGHT NOW!

— I guess we get naked now.

— No tuk-tuk, I’m walking thanks.

And best of all,

— I’M GOING TO BALI TOMORROW!

2017 Travel Bucket List … Kinda

As you know, the first half of my year will be spent traveling with Remote Year.  So in order to plan a teeny bit instead of flying by the seat of my pants which has been my MO (and has turned out completely fine, by the way.  Overplanning is overrated), I drafted a 6 month travel bucket list.  As I used to tell my teams at my old job, this is a fluid document and is subject to revisions and updates at any time.

 

Malaysia

  • Visit Batu Caves.
  • Eat something weird (as defined by me.  Bull Penis Soup is on the menu for an event on Wednesday and that is not going anywhere near my mouth).
  • Stop having literature ADD and actually finish a book.

 

Indonesia

  • One week in paradise – lose the watch, forget what day it is.

 

Peru

  • Hike Machu Picchu.
  • Visit Lake Titicaca and message my family Groundhog Day jokes.
  • Make friends with a llama or an alpaca.
  • Set aside time every day to write.
  • Decrease checked bag size to 18 kg.

 

Argentina

  • Become a wine snob.
  • Visit Mendoza to achieve ^^
  • Learn to salsa.
  • Buy a pair of fabulous heels in which to salsa.
  • I have two months in Argentina.  Go on a one-on-one date with everyone in Remote Year.

 

Chile

  • Have a 10 minute conversation comfortably in Spanish.
  • See a penguin up close.
  • Stay up all night.
  • Focus on saying ‘See you on the road’ and not ‘Goodbye.’

12 Times I Was Proud of Myself This Year

— The time I saw a gigantic bug crawl on my arm and I don’t freak out.

— The time I enjoyed a meal not knowing what exactly I was eating.

— The time(s) I rode a motorcycle.

— The time I spent over 20 minutes trying to communicate even when I didn’t know the language and the local didn’t know mine. And I didn’t give up. And we ended up discussing the meaning of our names (Casey meaning Brave).

— The time I visited a city I didn’t even know existed.

— The time I booked a trip I wasn’t sure I could afford or even enjoy.

— The times I said yes, even when the activity in question sounded weird or scary.

— The time a 20 minute drive turned into 2 hours, which turned into surrendering myself to a Cambodian driver for another 5 hours, having no control of the situation not getting upset.  Because (1) even if I got mad it wouldn’t change the circumstances, and (2) Cambodia, ya know?  Roll with the punches.

— The time I decided clothes don’t matter so much.  And that wearing the same clothes over and over doesn’t matter so much.

— The time I realized wearing eyeliner doesn’t mean I’m prettier.

— The time I remembered that my job description isn’t a self description.

— Oh and the time I made the decision to quit my job, left my friends and family and cat to go CIRCUMNAVIGATE THE GLOBE with some ridiculously interesting people.  Pretty proud of that cold day in February; this one Yes enabled me to do all of the above.

Rehabilitation and Release

This month I had the amazing experience of a behind-the-scenes look of a Cambodian wildlife rescue center with the help of Wildlife Alliance, a local nonprofit dedicated to protecting forests and wildlife with a focus on rehabilitation and release.  They work with the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, which is just south of Phnom Penh.  I, along with my gorgeous-inside-and-out travel partner Joelle, had the opportunity to support the conservation work by taking a day tour to meet animals rescued from the wildlife trade.

What I appreciated from the start of our experience at Phnom Tamao was an explanation of how to identify if a ‘rescue center’ is actually abusing their animals.  While it was sometimes sad to see animals in enclosures at Phnom Tamao, it was reassuring to know that the primary focus of their work is on release – as opposed to places that train/abuse animals with bull hooks, drugs, and sleep deprivation so a tourist can take a picture with a lion, or ride an elephant.  There’s a lot of literature on reputable sanctuaries, so if you’re interested in visiting, do the research.

 

 

We spent the day watching animals be cared for and fed.  Some notable experiences include :

— Meeting tigers (interbred cross between an Indochinese tiger and a Bengal, which is sad because these guys have a lot of back and hip pain from the improper genetic mix).

— Meeting tigers who peed on me.  Pro tip: when the tail goes up, MOVE.

 

–Meeting Chhouk, a baby elephant who lost his leg on a snare (our guide believes he got caught, struggled and self-amputated his leg in order to return to his family).  Eventually, his herd made the difficult decision to abandon him, which is when Wildlife Alliance were called to relocate him to Phnom Tamao.  We watched as he did ‘tricks’ for us, meaning standing in the proper position for health checks to change his prosthetic leg.  Chhouk made himself a little pina colada after (alternating bites of pineapple and coconut) which was completely adorable.

The bottom of the prosthetic is made of a car tire!

 

— Meeting my DREAM MONEKY, a gibbon.  This poor girl was caught in the pet trade, and has adapted too many human behaviors to be released into the wild.  Examples: making steady eye contact, and completely freaking out when she sees another monkey.

GIBBON!

 

I started thinking about the parallels between myself and these rescued animals.  It’s not infrequently that we are asked the question “What will you do after Remote Year?” — and the fact that we’ve spent the past month with another RY group who is on Month 11 has brought this question to the forefront of my mind.

Am I spending this year on a sort of mental/emotional rehabilitation?  Nurtured by my experiences and friendships abroad?  Am I meant to be released back into Corporate America/the wild/my natural habitat?  Am I taking this analogy too far?

The beauty of changing cities every month is that I really can’t dwell too much on future plans.  My immediate future includes moving to Kuala Lumpur and finding more work projects, and that’s about as much as my poor brain can handle these days.  So do me a favor and check back in with me … oh I don’t know, maybe three days before the end of RY.  Hopefully by then I’ll have a plan.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about Wildlife Alliance or to a sponsor an animal, check out http://www.wildlifealliance.org.

 

**Special thanks to Joelle for this amazingly unique and unforgettable birthday gift.  I’ll never forget it for all my days.

Items seen on the back of a motorbike, ranked by strangeness

Motorbikes, being the primary form of transportation in Hanoi, transport not only people but anything their owners are carrying.  4 weeks living in the Old Quarter has led to some odd sightings.

Listed in Order of Strangeness:

  • Baskets of flowers
  • Crates
  • Crates of chickens
  • Boxes
  • So many boxes that they have to be strapped in and are twice the width of the bike
  • Badass women in heels and a pencil skirt
  • Sheets of metal
  • A tree
  • Remote Year participants
  • Baskets of fish heads
  • An infant
  • A family of four
  • A pile of feather boas
  • A casket
  • A mattress
  • A 16 foot bamboo ladder
  • A Corgi
  • ME!

 

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(Almost) Birthday Reflections in Hanoi

I often like to pretend there’s an alternate reality where I never went on Remote Year.  I never saw the Instagram ad, or thought it was a hoax, or maybe even applied and was rejected.  It allows for good perspective when I imagine what Alternate Casey would be up to right now, right this very minute.  Sometimes it’s easy, routine, like a Monday morning where I’d be driving to work instead of walking along a lake in Vietnam, dodging motorbikes.  It’s especially easy watching videos of my friends’ weekends, Oh for Halloween I’d be in Hoboken in a last-minute costume dancing like a fool and probably drinking too much vodka, as opposed to being at Dracula’s castle in Romania in a last-minute costume dancing like a fool and definitely drinking too much vodka.

I thought about Alternate Casey today, as I make birthday plans (or rather, my best bud Josh makes our joint birthday plans, and I am just a pain in the ass).  What would she be doing on her 30th birthday?  How would she be feeling?

I came up with a few likely scenarios.  One, she would be in Pennsylvania, at work at my old job, getting ‘surprised’ with cake (but more likely fruit salad) in the mail room by my amazing team, and receiving a singing birthday call from my Nana and Granddad.  I’ve had that birthday before, and it was very pleasant, and I’d end up getting dinner with some friends and going home to my cold apartment (heat turns on in January) to snuggle my cat.  Not exactly the stuff of birthday legend, though I miss that cat fiercely.  Alternate Casey might be feeling mildly content but probably a little lonely, probably with a suspicion that something is missing.

Another scenario would be what I’ve threatened to do for years: drag my best girlfriends out to Las Vegas for a blowout.  The reality is that Vegas, while still one of my fave cities (true), is cold in December and the pools are closed, so it’s not an ideal time to visit.  So I imagine I’d have a handful of quite chilly drop-dead-gorgeous ladies in tow, walking the strip in impractical heels.  This would make for some funny stories, but perhaps would not be the most fulfilling birthday.  PSA to those girlfriends: my hypothetical bachelorette party IS happening in Vegas.  You have years to plan for this – no excuses.

But if I’m honest, Alternate Casey is probably about to celebrate her birthday with Mom and Dad, and maybe Austin, Tori, and Erin.  The Carr-Jones family.  With beef burgundy, some really nice cabernet sauvignon, an apple crumble pie for dessert, and a heartfelt rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ on a call with my grandparents.  This is probably one of the only times I would like to temporarily swap places with Alternate Casey, just for the day.

Just for the day.  Because truly, the real me is more comfortable with turning 30 than I ever thought I would be. No house, no kids, freelancing and entrepreneuring (yes I’m making that a word) instead of a full time job, living out of a suitcase and thoroughly depending on a group of people I met only 6 months ago.  Not exactly a scenario I ever had in mind, but it appears to be exactly what would cure me of the keeping up with the Joneses blues.  I’m half Jones, so how’s about you try keeping up with me??

 

Cambodia Saturday!

 

P.S. The best part is, no matter where I am on December 1st, I can count on Nana and Granddad to call and sing.