Travel Log Day 348: Nomad Update

coffeeshop-albania-juice-travel-blog

Last Thursday I stayed in bed all day and watched The Blacklist on Netflix. I ate vegan, had 3 cups of tea and did about 25 billable minutes of work (14 minutes of which were a phone call). I booked a flight to Morocco and researched Cape Town. I meditated for 14 minutes and made plans to do yoga, pushups, social media work, blogging and head to the beach - none of the latter was accomplished. 

Marketing schemes that romanticize the digital nomad life are everywhere nowadays. I have to admit, the experience is unreal. It's the sort of solo experience everyone owes themselves for at least 1 month:

  • Research a country
  • Book a ticket
  • Book a non-luxury place to stay for the first few nights
  • Figure it out as you go

But there are some downsides that are often brushed aside and more and more nomads have been blogging about these. Not until you actually experience them does the sting settle in. A year ago I read these lists and brushed them aside, "Pfft I can handle that, I'm the greatest." Well I can say for a fact now that these are all components that I take into account when deciding how long I plan to pursue this lifestyle. Accordingly, here is MY list of downsides - however, I end each on a positive note, because perspective is everything. 

Digital Nomad • Loneliness

As an introvert I avoid over-committing myself socially, and can't do more than a week in hostel dorm rooms. When I do make a friend, we usually have a weekend to get to know one another and then one of us is moving on. Twice now I've used Tinder as a means for meeting people, but there is an implied layer of sex when you meet someone on there - also, it limits the connections to the opposite sex (I don't misrepresent myself as a lesbian). POSITIVE: Being outside of my comfort zone forces me to change for the best. I can't use my introversion as a crutch to stay in a few stale friendships, but instead I am opened up to new and more rewarding connections - should I choose to embrace the challenge. 

Nomad • Drinking

The communal language of bonding is drinking here on planet earth. I've cut down on that (1-2 drinks one day each week) to such a degree that going to a bar to "see what happens" just isn't a thing for me anymore. Believe me, some rich and exotic tales have spun from those nights, but as a solo chick in the Balkans I think it might attract the wrong attention. POSITIVE: I'm drinking less and finding more interesting things to be the basis of new relations - animal rights, minimalism, veganism, travel... Conversations about your new handbag? BYE.

Nik + me hiking in Kotor

Nik + me hiking in Kotor

Nomading • The Whole Enchilada

Opportunities like Remote Year combat loneliness by pairing a group for a month in each location around the globe. Resulting experiences are often very positive, but you're buying in for $2000 per month or more (not including food, alcohol or flights to and from the experience). My daily average for ALL expenses since November is averaging $34 per day ($1020 monthly), half the cost and including everything. I do often arrange trade situations (like my current at Playworking) and that has defrayed a lot on the spending end of things so I am on the low end of cost, but DIY is absolutely less expensive. These experiences simplify finding housing, coworking spaces, friends, events and excursions - but figuring those things out is half the fun and experience of nomading. They're like the cruise ship of nomad life... The Disney cruise ship... POSITIVE: The more people attracted to this sorta life expands global compassion and understanding of other cultures, regardless of how the experience has been packaged. I'd love if these companies could incorporate an eco/humanitarian component to the experiences... (Ok new brainstorm is starting in my head ATM... Adding volunteer opportunities like dog shelters into the experience where nomads walk dogs/assist shelters and donate some $). Speaking of, I convinced the owner of my coliving/coworking space to let me foster a local pup - he said no. And now I have a foster named Nik for 4 weeks... ;)

Digital • Romance

I'm always the one leaving. Or we are both leaving. Yes, there is a romantical component of my brain that loves the idea of getting swept away by a fellow nomad and then pursuing the adventures of the world together, but the more common reality of the situation is that you either meet a fellow traveler and then stay in touch less and less as the miles between you grow OR you meet someone who lives in a place as you pass through and they scheme up ideas of how they also want to travel the world and do things, and then you leave, and then they stay. Relationships are not impossible to find, but are certainly less promising than when you've got roots planted in a location. POSITIVE: Traveling with someone speeds up the getting to know you process. Knowing there is an end date makes it easier to be open and honest about intentions. It's a lot less likely that you'll hold onto someone out of convenience, which in turn leaves you open for the extraordinary - if you believe in those sorts of things ;)

Digital Nomad • Stability

Being on the go all the time precludes you from easily having a pet, a fridge full of your favorite foods, your own space where everything has its own place, exercise rituals. These are things that make me happy! I miss them! POSITIVE: These things and others are not impossible on the road, just harder. By staying 1-2 months in a few places I've been able to get my fix of all these things, but it's an exercise in patience and letting go. I'm an impatient, OCD, occasional control freak, so that's probably a good thing to learn.

NET POSITIVE:

I still get Netflix and chill days where I encounter no other human life forms, but despite those, my brain is constantly igniting with ideas, dreams and schemes. I broke out of a materialistic rut that had sucked my soul for the past decade. I'm creating a life I love on my own terms, and after stripping away the bullshit, I'm learning what I want to add back in. 

Improvements

I said I could drive. I never said I drove well.

my handiwork

my handiwork

Accordingly, within 3 days of arriving here in Montenegro I drove the jumper van off the road. In the middle of the night. On a mountain. Alone. 

My lack of depth perception has resulted in similar scenarios in the past: off the side of a cliff, hitting a house, and bashing into the cement pillar at the Walden Galleria (and that was just my first year driving. Curious? Read about it here).

Driving vs. Dating

As it turns out, there are quite a few parallels between my driving and dating styles. I can't really see where I'm going, avoid it when possible, but when I start, am fully committed, even though I can't really see where the edge is. This has led to some dramatic and cataclysmic breakups. The good news is that I might be improving at one of these - and it isn't driving. 

lulakilla-old-logo-blogger-travel.png

Back in February I co-branded this blog with my then-boyfriend of military background, hence the old grenade logo.  But I think it's pretty apparent that my "killa" side has almost nothing to do with violence, and not for lack of trying. I stabbed a tarantula to death in the Philippines with a machete, yet to this day, feel bad about it. I've gone vegetarian, and am debating doing the vegan thing. And oh, the dogs. In Portugal I volunteered 4 days a week at sanctuaries and found an endless supply of love. So goodbye grenade logo and hello perfect, new design, crafted by the oh-so-talented Maggie based on my tattoo that Nini @ NINja Ink created (pictured below, in case you have forgotten what my ass looks like). 

Maybe most important, in a recent relationship, I opened myself up to be honest and vulnerable. When incompatibilities came up I didn't lash out, get nasty or run to another guy as a quick fix. And do you know what? I'm beginning to think my small heart grew three sizes.

Ow My Ovary

looking up with dad

looking up with dad

Last week I was informed that my notions are too romantic.

Let me back up. I have one ovary. In 2010 the gynecologist found an ovarian cyst the size of a softball resting comfortably on my left ovary. Said cyst had suffocated the ovary and its eggs had died. Aka half of my half babies (are you following me?). 

Instead of rushing down the altar and into motherhood, my thoughts about dating and life evolved. Maybe I won't be able to have kids once I'm ready. And maybe I'm open to finding a man who already has kids of his own so as to take some of the pressure off of me. And that man I am suited to be with, he will love me if I can have kids or not, because it will be us first.

That right there is my too romantic notion. I'm not so sure though. We're all just bunches of atoms configured together in a majestic pattern that has somehow lucked out and received this dope, unique soul. For me, a successful life is going to be without misery and avoidable physical pain, plus adventure and a lot of people (and animals!) around me that want the best for me (and vice versa). I think it would be great if that group of people involved my own spawn, but I can't consider it a failure if my remaining eggs don't cooperate.

A friend and I even brainstormed a Kickstarter campaign to fund the freezing of a couple eggs. The play would be that I spend a ton of time volunteering, US insurance is a joke, I'd like to slow down my biological clock, and (most obviously) my genetic makeup MUST be replicated. But asking for money is not an option for 3 reasons:

  • Old-school Irish pride
  • I don't like getting all science-y about something so natural as getting knocked up
  • And to mom's point: 
Right now, the life you are living is one of beauty, travel, independence and freedom (from debt, obligations, a relationship, a reg job). That is a wonderful and enviable thing. For any number of reasons, you did not choose the June Cleaver, Leave It To Beaver life—more Jack Kerouac hits the road. And that carries natural consequences.

Asking for money to fund your eventual/potential/maybe and never-before-expressed desire to have a child (even to me) while you are living in paradise might strike some as disingenuous, whimsical, an afterthought, and even irresponsible. Like: Why doesn’t she settle down like the rest of us schlumps and marry good-enough, boring Joe and get knocked-up the regular way while she still can?
— Mom
romantically inclined.

romantically inclined.

So for now, I'm going to be a little more romantic than usual and take my time. If it's meant to be then it will all come together... 

Infested

Tonight I made pesto pasta in the electronic teapot in my hotel. And it made me so fucking happy. 

Little pleasures like this really matter while enduring a harrowing bed bug infestation. In the last 6 days I've accumulated around 50 bites covering my upper back, face and arms, oh and 9 on my knee, for good measure. For those of you that don't know, bed bugs hide in mattresses, bed frames, walls and travel in clothing and other objects. They can lay dormant for up to a year as they wait for their favorite thing, human blood. For some reason, they LOVE mine. So although I was staying in a relatively nice hostel, someone before me must have left them behind, because, 24 hours post check-in the nasty bumps made their debut. 

(L to R: selfie on day 2; note-to-self in phone; gratitude journal, May 17th)

After a day of scratching I went to a dermatologist who immediately diagnosed me and prescribed some stuff (ugh $). Then I washed all 15kg of my clothes on the hottest setting and was moved into another dorm room in the hostel, with promises of an exterminator. But hello, I woke up this morning with new bites. Cue 3 more rounds of laundry, bagging of belongings, checking into a hotel to cortisone my naked body on repeat while I Netflix & chilled with bae (me), and the teapot pasta. 

tick infested pups, bed bug infested Lulu. samesies.

tick infested pups, bed bug infested Lulu. samesies.

Most of you haven't had a skin condition that marks you in such a miserable and obvious way since the chicken pox, so let me explain, the red bites come in clusters, mostly on your arms, back, face - they can raise into hives, and are so itchy that each night I wake up scratching the shit out of myself. These welts then either blister or open into sores, and as of Day 6, are still quite visible. Did I mention they were on my face? A quick Google search yields interesting responses to bed bug outbreaks such as alienation, depression, oh and suicide. Nice. 

So, I did what any logical woman would do. I joined Tinder. Insert Marilyn Monroe voice "If you can't love me at my worst...blah blah..." In fact, this was not my reasoning but still pretty funny. My first dating experience in Portugal was nice, but isn't that the kiss of death? Nice. Although my sores didn't frighten him away, his lack of a job did frighten me away. 

Through all this I've managed to work, buy a bike, find an Airbnb for the next 2 weeks and volunteer with the dogs at Goldra (a dog sanctuary with 110+ dogs!!). While picking ticks and fleas from the body of an abandoned 4-week-old puppy, it dawned on me that maybe I don't have it so bad. 

Chocolate Cake

Last night I got 2 wonderful presents. 1 was chocolate cake. 

I'm a few days into a 30 day social media cleanse - removing Insta-gratifications and the pseudo-connected feeling that apps can bring, while adding free time and a considerable amount of mental space. Yesterday was devoted to sightseeing, including a Port wine tour, climbing an ancient church tower with 2 Korean friends, and eating at a vegan co-op with some hippie guys that are obsessed with Rainbow (note: don't call it a festival - also of note, don't let them know you work in marketing, because that's totally like, selling out man). 

Porto, the home of Port wine

Porto, the home of Port wine

At one point I was skipping down a path and taking panoramics of gorgeous Porto, giggling at my good fortune. This moment was in sharp contrast to a meltdown, hours later. Let me explain, I am so grateful to be alone right now and devote a considerable amount of time thinking about what this means. The train of thought led to questions on why we need a partner at all. And if that's the case - why the fuck are we even here on the planet, when all we do is destroy it? Cue the tears - thanks wine. 

And the tears wouldn't stop. And then I was sobbing and leaning on a park fence in the dark, crying into the night when 2 girls stopped. 

They asked me if I was OK. And they cared about my response. And they didn't leave. Because I wasn't OK. Then they insisted I join them for coffee. This gift of kindness was exactly what I needed. My loneliness stemmed not from a lack of people to interact with, but from a lack of loving interactions. This love doesn't need to be a romantic one, and it's defined by special human beings that come and go and sometimes stay. But really, the length of time is irrelevant. 

I spent a few hours with my new friends and they bought me chocolate cake. It was the best cake I've ever tasted. And today I walked to the Atlantic, pranced into the waves and waved to the East Coast and my friends back home. We are looking at the sun at the same time now ♥ 

Offal or Awful?

We have been in Ho Chi Minh City for 14 days. This is long in backpacker time, yet short for the standards of what qualifies for most as a home. When choosing the nomadic life 3 months ago, I was fairly ill-informed. But now, as we continue this journey I'm starting to determine parameters that need to be in place for the perfect blend of transience and consistency - the most important being great wifi, with a close second of having interesting, fresh and varied food options (shockingly sparse in the Philippines). Coming in third, (surprising even my introverted self) I miss my girlfriends and girly-giggle-time. The lack of this leads to an acute sense of loneliness at times. To combat this, I've started to make plans with other digital nomads I've found online, try to stay in touch with other travelers we've met + now (thanks to good wifi) can call the States pretty regularly. But still, ouch.

pho-gasm

pho-gasm

HCMC is an amazing destination for both wifi and delightful dining options, sometimes under the same roof. Fresh herbs and vegetables are bountiful as you motorbike through the city - from the inexpensive food stands to the many small markets with fairly priced options. The culinary journey gets confusing though. I've downloaded an app to assist (Vietnamese to English food item translations), but it has about 100 items, whereas the Vietnamese food options seem to range somewhere in the thousands with variations in name based on which part of the country the specific recipe originated. Based on the food nomenclature we're always one Pha Lau away from a savory coconut stew - of offal (which by the way, is delicious, and weird). Offal = Internal organs + entrails of a butchered animal, FYI.

Trying out new food every day is one of my favorite parts of HCMC. These endless options create an adventure that is at times frightening but with a potential reward of total yum! This list includes Vietnamese foods I've tried and what they most simply mean in English IMO. Most definitely not comprehensive and probably not always 100% accurate based on my specific vendor experiences, so let me know if you see any errors!

  • Banh bao: fluffy bun stuffed with meat, potatoes, etc. inside
  • Banh beo: custard-like rice in little dishes, topped w dried fish or crumbled peanuts, use a chili oil on top
  • Banh mi: delicious sandwiches on french bread with sliced meat (cured or fried) + fresh herbs
  • Bun ba hue: rice vermicelli (thin) noodle soup with beef
  • Ca phe sua da: iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk (yum)
  • Com tam: rice dish, usually served with grilled pork
  • De vu nuong: this is the breast of the goat, we went to a goat bbq place with friends, so YUM
  • Luc lac: delicious cubed beef, always a safe bet
  • Pho: obviously the most well-known Vietnamese dish - linguine-type noodle soup, delicious meat + tasty herbs

Eat, Pray, Play in Ubud

Just in time for the Year of the Monkey + VALENTINE'S DAY, here's a MUST list for Ubud (Bali, Indonesia)! Ubud was the setting for the Love portion of the book Eat, Pray, Love and was also the site of days 4-7 of my first date with my ex... You know, the "date" that kicked off my traveling, nomadic life!

temple wandering

temple wandering

EAT at Naughty Nuri's. You do not want to miss this spot while in Ubud. Seriously "The best martinis in the world" - just ask Anthony Bourdain - and a rack of ribs that are so delicious that I polished off the entire rack and then half of a second! When you arrive just seat yourself anywhere there is room at one of the communal tables. 

Another must EAT is the Baba Guling (suckling pig) at Ibu Oka. This is one of Indonesia’s most famous dishes, prepared very early in the morning. Make sure to seek it out at lunch time to ensure the freshest and bestest roasted pork and availability. Definitely a must have in Ubud or anywhere in Bali.

PRAY (or meditate or do whatever the fuck... just no physical contact between males and females!) at Pura Gunung Kawi: This is my favorite temple in Ubud, take a motorbike as the tour companies charge too much money and then you'll have time constraints. There are 2 options to get there:

  •  The front entrance where you will find 200+ stairs and hawkers trying to sell all of their wares OR...
  • The back entrance via Google Maps. We obviously took the back entrance (hehe...) and Google brought us to a local neighborhood which seemed to be a dead end. The locals there welcomed us (and were used to people getting mixed up) from a tiny pagoda where they were carving wood figurines for tourists (the ones for sale on the street in the town). One offered to take us to the temple via the rice terraces! Although we avoided the entrance fee, our guide asked us to buy something from the gift shop on the back side of the temple (a hair pick for $2 USD). Then afterward we chilled in their pagoda for a while and they even gave me a little wooden elephant to take home (we tipped our guide even though he didn't bring up payment).  Thank you to Google for being wrong (this time…).

Bring a sarong or other covering (knees must be covered for men and women) - otherwise you can borrow one from the front entrance at the temple.

PLAY in the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary: No trip to Ubud is not complete without playing with the monkeys. Some of these monkeys are quite wild, however the tame ones are a delight and will play with you. Note: Do not antagonize them, especially not screaming at an alpha, while staring him in the eye, while he climbs up your body for the banana treat you are holding out for him (oops). There is a small conservation fee to enter that allows you to explore the temple and see monkeys everywhere!

Special reminders:

  • DO NOT BRING FOOD WITH YOU!! Buy bananas from the banana lady and offer them to a monkey that seems interested 1 at a time. To do so, hold it up as high as you can then hang on tight. One or two monkeys will likely jump onto you, climb up, grab the banana and possibly sit on your shoulder to eat it - so make sure a friend is ready with a camera.
  • Take all your valuable possessions (jewelry/phone/etc.) off for this visit, or else Curious George may walk off with your cell phone 

Fishy Thingz

bye El Nido!

bye El Nido!

The day before leaving El Nido we were getting the last minute things pulled together - basics for the boat like Skyflake crackers (an addiction that will be sorely missed), mini bananas, ramen + oats - so we swung by Atienza to confirm our ferry and bike transport details.

"Hello - just checking on our cargo ride."

"Oh that's not happening. not for 2 more days, the boats somewhere in Manila."

"?"

Somewhere in Manila. and we were going to find out when we rolled up at 7am the next morning to get on our boat. The nice woman then offered to take all of the motorbike paperwork and ship the boat for us...

"NO FUCKING WAY YOU'RE GOING TO STEAL MY BIKE!"

He's so delicate and careful with the words he chooses...

trippy thingz

trippy thingz

At this point we figure out we can get on one of the smaller, shittier boats (the Bunso) for 700 extra pesos to ship us and the bike, fine. All-in shipping a bike from El Nido to Coron = 1086 pesos + 4.5 hours of my life never to be seen again.

The next morning the boat ride is going as well as it could be given that T had his final divemaster test - the snorkel test (drinking alcohol through the snorkel in a round robin trivia game). after a lunch of fishy shrimp, rice and indiscriminate vegetables T surprises me by puking overboard.

This sickness culminates in a glorious, triumphant entrance to our hostel where T rides up on the motorbike and pukes fiercely + immediately (while on the bike), his projectile only narrowly missing a tiny local girl frozen mid-step with a look of true horror on her face. I pat his back in solidarity which unfortunately releases his other end. Yes. Joke's on me however, because within an hour I've already vomited 4 times, which repeats through the rest of the night.

WWOOF Dreamz

6 days left in El Nido before we leave on the Atienza ferry (cheaper if bought right at the port office - which is a shipping container where the hours are irregular at best) to chillax in Coron for a few days of wreck diving and island life before Manila > Vietnam.

In the meantime my skillz are improving:

  • I am meditating more
  • I am working on honesty + setting healthy expectations / boundaries in our romantic relationship - sticking to those as the goal, not a specific outcome revolving around *us*
  • I drove the (135kg / 298lb, MANUAL) motorbike through windy Palawan for 3 hours without stalling it, laying it down or fearing for my life (except when the bus rattled by @45km/hr well over the center line on a corner I had judged taking from the mid-right of my lane, near heart attack for sure)
  • I secured all of our travel + accommodations through Ho Chi Minh and am working on setting up a cool WWOOFing experience
  • Dinners are getting dope @ the greenhouse - chili bread bowls, spam fried rice, "spaghetti", pulled chicken + roast potatoes (Note: this is a feat due to the supermarket + outdoor market selection, as well as the kitchen which is 2 gas stove burners and a toaster oven)
  • Social media for Deep Blue Seafari is my project for the last 11 days in El Nido, it's actually fun to grow a brand's social presence again

Speaking of WWOOF, I am currently researching farms that we can divide up our Vietnam motorbike extravaganza with. We are planning to ride from Ho Chi Minh up and work on farms in exchange for housing and food along the way. Vietnam has not entered the "official" WWOOF site yet, so the process (per usual) is not clear cut. There are 2 sites which you can pay the annual membership fees on, however only the latter option has been established with actual farms: 

http://wwoofvietnam.org/ VS. http://www.wwoofindependents.org/

WWOOF independents has only 10 farms in Vietnam and some seem like they are defunct or not accepting volunteers. I paid the $22 usd fee and messaged 3 of the farms in the south - so far no response but I don't expect these places to be all that high tech and tapped into their email, so we will probably just show up on their doorstep and hope for the best! The most exciting by far is the bee farm on the southern island of Phu Quoc, I reallllllly hope that this one works out, especially bc when he was a little nugget, T used to collect honey for a neighbor. 

February 4th note: TranGarden responded and they are no longer hosting WWOOFers. This leaves a possible 8 or less spots available from the list provided. I heard back from none of the places I emailed.

Accidentz

Ride Or Die. Literally.

Ride Or Die. Literally.

Melissa tells me my accident prone behaviors in Southeast Asia are (potentially) a desperate cry from my subconscious to ensure that my new boyfriend will take care of me. if that is indeed true, I'd like my subconscious to seriously stop messing with my shit and be a little more resilient.

For example, when I was taking the motorbike out yesterday I really wanted to prove I am capable of taking the painstaking lessons he has imparted on me and am in fact a Ride Or Die Bitch. Instead, while backing a non-running 125cc motorbike down a tight alley I lose control and "laid it down" ever so gingerly against a tree, Resulting in a big ass dent on the gas tank. At this point it might have been smart to call the proving quits, but my ever-rational brain determined that the net-net of a 30 second experience with one crash would seem less bad if that one crash was averaged over a much longer span of riding successfully.

Not four minutes later (after a jerky exit through a wooden plank bridge, rock wall + shoddy sand grooves in the sand), I turn right onto a dirt road and need to come to a sudden stop, which results in me trying to hold up said 278 lb. bike on my right leg, Failing and ultimately causing lay down 2, as well as an embarrassing rescue from a local, who yells after me "Drive Careful" as I stall out while careening away down a dirt hill, gripping the clutch and slamming on the foot brake for dear life.

The fortunate net-net of the biking extravaganza was a dent and a bruise to my leg, which T took remarkably well, see:

Until I picked him up at the dive shop... "Woah, that dent is like the size of my arm, you realize you dented it in the worst spot where we can't pop it out and it will for sure rust and suck for whoever has it long term. Not worried about the money though, the bike is only worth $500, but if this was a nice bike you'd be fucked."

Thanks. This on top of my firework injury. On top of my coral scratched knee that took 4 weeks to heal. On top of a UTI last month. And the scrape on the top of my foot (from dancing / doing a split in Pai). And my total dependence on contact lenses. And my general limpiness on my once broken foot. And a few other things. I'm definitely the ultimate liability for someone whose been compared to the hybrid version of James Bond, Chuck Norris, Macgyver, Transporter...

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