Back to my prebaby weight


I finally lost my post-baby weight and it only took less than 5 months! Here’s how I did it.

The biggest reservation I had about having a baby was the post-baby weight I’d be left with. I was scared of piano legs, having a double chin and inheriting a pudge that resembled a bag going through radiation inside a microwave. Once I realized how superficial that was, I created healthy habits that included strength training, some cardio (via salsa and bachata dancing), meditating, eating more greens and consuming less red meat. I did this a year before trying to conceive. In that same year, I also barraged my momma friends about how they gave birth. C-section? Via the vagina canal? Which results in less of a pudge? 


Now I don’t remember getting a straight answer but they all look good today so that was inspiring. My sister-in-law, who had two girls has a small frame. She once rolled up her sleeves and I saw some guns. I had spent half the day with her and observed the countless times that she picked up her girl. She’s getting her reps in! So talking to the right people also put me in the right set of mind.


Once I got pregnant (or learned about it on the fifth week), I hit the gym three times a week. I tried to eat healthy but I also ate whatever the hell I wanted. And whenever someone said, “You’re eating for two people.” I noted that the other “person” is the size of a sesame seed. So, no, not really. But if you want to use that as an excuse to be gluttonous, that’s your prerogative. 


Once upon a time at a gym, this happened.

I actually exercised until I was 39 weeks pregnant. I swam a lot during my third trimester and I wish I had done more of that instead of cycling. I gained the recommended 35 – 45 pounds when I was pregnant. I worked hard to stay in shape, my arms did not increase in mass and my calves did not turn to cankles. That’s what fear did to me.


When D-day came, I pushed her out vaginally, without an epidural. It was the most painful day of my life. The OB actually made the executive decision to cut me and I was so glad that he did because as soon as he did, she flew out like a bullet. It was a shit show and the most taxing day of my life. But also, the happiest day of my life. 


When Santana was born, nothing else mattered. I had stitches down there and it felt like I was pissing fire so exercising was the last thing on my mind. I had frozen my gym membership for two weeks, I didn’t return for two months. I was ravenous all the time and yet my appetite was gone. I thought, this in itself should get me back to my pre baby weight. And if it doesn’t, I DON’T CARE!!! 


Once I got out of that funk, I used a Haakaa to pump six ounces of milk out and stored it. As some of you may know, breastfeeding burns calories. Or rather, your body burns calories whenever it produces milk so for that reason, I made my body produce six ounces more, per day, of that liquid gold. I did this for two months. For those who don’t like to pump, the Haakaa collects the let down of the other tit while you breastfeed. It’s a lazy and yet productive way to build a stash and burn more calories.


Next, when I finally started going to the gym, I did some cardio but I focused a good 20 minutes to building back the muscles around my thighs, calves, and ass. Por qué? Those are the biggest muscles we have on our bodies and when you have muscle, your muscle burns calories while you’re at home watching Netflix or doing nothing. 


Then recently, I got a pedometer and learned that I’m clocking in less than 10,000 steps a day. I usually get in around 5,000 steps.


I thought I was better than that and I wish I could tell you that since then, I have been getting in 10,000 steps!

I have not. 

But if you want to accomplish anything, being conscious about what you need to do is the first step. So I choose my days to get past 10,000 steps and if I don’t reach that goal, then oh, well. 

That brings me to the last thing that has made dropping the pounds so easy. And it’s one that NOT so many women have. It’s that “oh, well” attitude. I live a relatively stress-free life. Relative to what? Relative to the mom who has to work 9 to 5, pump during her lunch breaks and go home to a crying baby who misses her. To those moms out there, you’re amazing! I don’t know how you do it. But if it weren’t for you, I would not exist. 


I have the luxury of taking time off whenever I want and working as much or as little as I want. I work from my laptop, my clients are awesome and they understood when I was pregnant. They knew that I would be back. While I never actually took any time off, I did decrease my hours to 1-2 hours a day. My husband picked up the slack and he continues to do that while we get used to taking care of our little tyrant who needs me more than him. Less stress = less cortisol = less abdominal fat.

James has been excellent at putting in the extra hours and doing all the chores around the house. Santana is a handful because she needs constant stimulation, attention and she doesn’t like to nap! (She’s better at it now but it took some time) My sister-in-law said that having a baby is her workout and I can agree with that now. Especially if you breastfeed. 

To summarize, here’s how I lost the baby weight in less 5 months:

  • I breastfed like an industrial cow on bovine for the first two months.
  • I live a relatively stress-free lifestyle.
  • When I hit the gym about twice a week, I work out my legs.
  • My pedometer keeps me conscious whenever I’m idle for too long. It also vibrates every 20 minutes to remind me to move my body. I use that buzz to get some kegels in, too.
  • Being present with my girl. I read to her, I tickle her, I bathe her, I walk with her (using a stroller), I take her to the mall, to the park, I change her diaper. I use her as weights to work out my arms, I get off my ass to hug her and shower her with kisses several times a day just because. She’s this small for a limited time so I’m taking what I can get.


What about food? I haven’t been the healthiest person and as I type this, I’m wondering how it is that I lost that weight without watching what I eat. Whenever James hangs out with his buddies on a Thursday, I sneak in some chicken nuggets from Presto and watch shows like Modern Family, Girls, Fleabag, and a movie like, Late Night. But recently, being really present with what I’m eating has taken the joy out of eating junk food. 


I had kale five times last week. I made a stirfry out of it and drenched it in soybean oil. I enjoy good fats like avocados, olive oil, and peanut butter. It satiates me and dissipates my snack attacks so there you go.


Now that I’m back to my prepregnancy weight, I feel that I need to step it up a notch and work towards a flat stomach. I can not remember the last time I had a flat stomach! Is it possible? What can I do to flatten it while I’m breastfeeding? What has worked for you?

Cuon Restaurant Review – I’d go back

picture of the Sour Sake cocktail at the Cuon Restaurant - Medellin restaurant review Medellin food review digital nomad Medellin expat

Cuon Restaurant Review in Medellin, Colombia

Three stars for an Asian restaurant in Medellin is not bad. It means that it’s worth a try and that in some cases, I’d go back. In my last food jaunt in Medellin, I went with the usual suspects: Trudy and Debbie. This time we checked out Cuon which is somewhat of a high-end restaurant in Poblado. We shared two appetizers, three entrees, and two cocktails.

Appetizers – Cuon Restaurant in Medellin Food Review

I was a fan of the Tempura huevo. Since I was pregnant not too long ago, I couldn’t eat runny eggs for the 7 months and 3 weeks that I knew I was pregnant so now I covet food that feels raw (even when it isn’t, do poached eggs count?) I think this appetizer was wrapped in a slice of ham. I couldn’t tell what it was because we sat on the terrace. A beautiful terrace! But it was so dark that all three of us had to hover our phone-lights just to see the presentation of our foods.

“Waiter, can you bring us another candle, please? Gracias.”

That didn’t help at all.

Next up was the highlight of the meal. The tuna tartare on top (montado) of a croquette. It was three pieces so enough for us to taste. It was a flavor fest and we loved it.

picture of appetizers at Cuon Restaurant - Medellin restaurant review Medellin food review digital nomad Medellin expat

To the left is the runny egg appetizer, to the right is the tuna tartare which was a hit. The chopsticks are misleading.

Entrees – Cuon Restaurant in Medellin Food Review

I was really excited about the ramen. I had tried the ramen at Sumo and Oppa and they’re both legit–enough to fill the void (for what it is at its price point, they’re a solid 4 stars). Since Cuon’s prices are pricier, my expectations were high so we went for the vegan ramen and… here’s my problem with it: the mushrooms were the size of giant marshmallows and the side of kimchi arrived too late. I had to ask for it! While Debbie liked the broth, I yearned for a silver packet of msg. It’s not that it wasn’t salty enough, perhaps it had too much soy sauce, perhaps I needed chopsticks (which they never offered) or perhaps, I didn’t appreciate chewing on a chunk of fungus for half an hour. The unami just wasn’t right. If I want ramen, I’ll go back to Sumo and Oppa.

green curry in the dark at Cuon Restaurant in Medellin Food Review digital nomad medellin expat

My second attempt at snapping pictures in the dark. To the right, green curry! That sake bottle is decoration.

The green curry was good. It had plenty of sweet pineapple chunks. When I brought the leftovers to my husband that same night, it was uneventful. He was just glad that he had something to eat while he watched A Closer Look with Seth Myers.

The Pad Thai was acidic. Trudy felt the same way. I liked that there were plenty of peanuts but there was hardly any eggs. I think a fried egg would’ve alkalized the ph level of this dish.

Cocktails – Cuon Restaurant in Medellin Food Review

Since I’m breastfeeding, I didn’t want to have a full drink but I just had to try the SAKE SOUR. What? Sake, with rum? Yes, please! I convinced Trudy to split the cocktail with me and we loved it. It reminded me of a very good Moscow mule that was not shy to grate in the ginger. There was a layer of foam on top and some cardamom. Mmm, cardamom. They must’ve imported that from thousands of miles away because I never saw that at any Exito or Zona Azul.

Debbie got a pinkish whiskey cocktail that was fabulous. I tried looking up the name of the drink for you but their website doesn’t have a menu; they prefer that you scroll through their social media instead.  I’ve been told not to mix my liquors but when I come back, I’ll make an exception. Drinks are around 30,000 COP each.

picture of the Sour Sake cocktail at the Cuon Restaurant - Medellin restaurant review Medellin food review digital nomad Medellin expat

In love

Will I Return? – Cuon Restaurant in Medellin Food Review

Yes! I’ll return for cocktails and appetizers. Cuon has a nice bar table that reminds me of the stalls in Tokyo (only with chairs). I’ll take my husband here–sometime when I’m done breastfeeding–and share a few cocktails and maybe try out the sushi. Does anyone know if they stuff their sushi with a layer of cream cheese? That’s a thing here in Colombia and I’m not a fan. Not saying that it’s wrong. Did you know that in Japan, people DON’T dip their sushi in wasabi mixed with soy sauce? Must be an American thing and, who invented that? I love it!

The setting at Cuon also makes it a good place to unwind with a friend after a long day at work or hard week in the dating scene (not me). We got a table at 6:40pm and nobody was there but it filled up within an hour. They don’t take reservations but it was a Tuesday night so don’t ask me if it gets busy.

The service was above average for Colombian standards. Our waiter looked super cute in the dark and he gave us some of that silent service. I love it when a waiter refills my water without asking! Just don’t expect them to ask you if you want another drink (Debbie would’ve taken it, I would’ve if I wasn’t breastfeeding). We also didn’t get a dessert menu which was fine by me! Not that I mind midnight sugar rushes. Afterward, Trudy and Debbie went on the prowl for some icecream and I went back home to my hubby and this princess.

baby - Cuon Restaurant in Medellin Food Review

“Mommy, it’s past my bedtime and James doesn’t have any tits!”

$ $ $ $

(out of 5)

Our entire meal with 10% tip cost just over 280,000 COP

Portions were surprisingly decent. We couldn’t finish it all so we took some to go. Since Cuon doesn’t have biodegradable bowls, we couldn’t take the ramen and I didn’t want to throw it away so I forced myself to eat two giant pieces of mushroom. Bleh.

Cultural Differences – Colombians & Americans – A Quick Guide For Pregos and Post Pregos

Cultural Differences - Colombians & Americans - A Quick Guide For Pregos and Post Pregos

Today I’m celebrating my one year anniversary living in Medellin. It’s our second time in the country; we loved it so much then that we decided to move here a few years later, call it home for who knows how long, adopt a cat and hatch a kid. Here’s a quick cultural guide for pregos who are bound for this wonderful country.

Cultural Differences - Colombians & Americans - A Quick Guide For Pregos and Post Pregos

I love wearing my baby and being hands-free!


Touching my belly

When I was pregnant (about six weeks ago), many women touched my belly without asking. I expected it. I probably even welcomed it and wasn’t the least bit bothered by it. It’s like meeting up with a Colombian friend, a friend of a friend who is Colombian or even a doula (who is Colombian). There’s a 97% chance that they will be 30 to 45 minutes late so it’s on you to bring a book or find something else to do to fill in the time. Don’t get mad and complain that I didn’t warn you.

In the US, when a few women tried to touch my pregnant belly without asking, I thought, “Really? How would you like it if I touched your belly?” It’s forgivable but it’s also rude. It’s invading my personal space. You see, many Colombians don’t have a sense of personal space, it’s a cultural thing so it’s tolerable. I would also argue that most Latinos lack a sense of personal space. I was totally guilty of it until I learned about it the hard way in my early twenties when a few close friends began to disengage from me for this very reason (fine, there were many other reasons). 

The upside, in Colombia, you don’t have to ask for permission to pet their dogs. I get a weird look when I ask. Pet away my friend!!

Cultural Differences - Colombians & Americans - A Quick Guide For Pregos and Post Pregos

She looks cute now but give it a minute and she’ll start crying for a tit. And she will still be cute.


Is she premature?

In Colombia, whenever I wear my baby with a wrap, people ask if she’s a kangaroo, meaning, is she premature? First of all, no. She spent 40 weeks plus three days in my uterus. Second, it’s none of your business. I’ve gotten this question enough times that I now omit the second part as part of my response. I simply laugh and say, “No, she was born on time, vaginal delivery, no epidural, I probably pooped on the table… Her name is Santana. Do you have kids?”

People aren’t trying to be rude here. If anything, as friendly and nice as Colombians are already, they’re even nicer when you have a baby in your arms. They want to stop you on the street, ask if the baby is a boy or a girl, ask if she’s premature and admire the little thing, never mind that she’s crying and wants to go home. This has made me slow down. I can’t get upset when they ask this, but perhaps I could act surprised? Since my hair is short, I do not blend in from a mile away. Paisas don’t wear their hair short and their hair is often long and shiny; not frizzy and frayed at the ends like mine. Also, with Colombians and Latinos in general, once I open my mouth, they’re mystified by my accent. Very few can pinpoint where I’m from. 

Here’s what I’m learning. When I first traveled to Medellin a few years ago, there weren’t as many Americans and Europeans who call this home. The expat community has grown since to the point that many Colombians are starting to become used to it and cab drivers are no longer asking me, but why Colombia?

In order to co-exist in peace, I’ll continue to adapt and adopt many of their ways of living. I’ll even add words like “bacano” and “chimba” to my Castilian lexicon. But asking if my daughter is premature me choca and I don’t care for it. So instead of being  straightforward (which is completely frowned upon here) or instead of laughing it off the way that I did just a few minutes ago when I ran downstairs to grab a yogurt parfait, I’ll let the next person know that perhaps, it’s not okay to ask an extranjera, a foreigner, if her daughter is premature. I’ll play dumb, I’ll pretend to be slightly offended, pretend to be somewhat surprised and shrug it off with a smile to let them know that no harm was done. If they ask me where I’m from, I’ll take it as a sign that it worked.

Eating Alone in New York and Other Foods That Have Melted My Heart

A few weeks ago, I went to the Bao Bei restaurant in Medellin by myself.

I said, “Table for one.”new york pizza - woman traveling alone digital nomad2

I showed up early and was number seven on the list. When it was my turn to be sat, the host asked if I would like to share a table with another person who arrived by himself. In the past, I’ve always said yes. But this time, I was reluctant. Here’s why.

I was in New York for a week earlier this year. A friend of mine was traveling for work so she let me crash at her place in Manhattan and I had the apartment all to myself! I’ve always wanted to just live in New York and feel like a New Yorker. My husband had gone to school in the Bronx and suggested that I check out a few restaurants. One of them was Grimaldi’s pizza in Brooklyn.

So one day, I went to Grimaldi’s for lunch. I stood in line for a few minutes.

I said, “Table for one.”

The host asked me if I would like to share a table with another singleton like myself. Without even giving it a second thought, I said yes and immediately met my companion. An Australian with Lebanese roots in her 40s.

We were both flexible with the menu and ordered two pizzas to share. We exchanged a few stories about getting lost in the subway and what brings us to New York by ourselves. By the time the pizzas arrived, I had drunk two cups of room temperature water. I wondered why I was suddenly a bit exhausted. I looked up at my lunch mate and her lips were still moving. Not only was she talking fast but she was also asking me the same question again.

I took a deep breath, I pulled out a slice of pizza from the medium-sized pan, careful not to begin my sentence with, “As I said earlier…”

I took another deep breath, this time to inhale the smell of the brick oven baked pizza. If I take a third breath, this women will think I’m insane and wonder if I heard her question or if I’m ignoring her.

I said, “Yes. I like Italian food, it’s not my favorite probably because I haven’t had much of it.”

I counted the seconds of silence between us: 1, 2 –

“This looks really good. I hope it lives up. “ She said quickly.

1, 2 –

“Oh, the pepperoni is spicy.”

I sprinkled pepper flakes over my slice, added some parmesan cheese.

“It’s not spicy for you?” She chuckled.

“I like spice, ” I said. [bite, chew] “I used to carry my own bottle of hot sauce in my  – “

“Oh, really, that’s funny,” she interrupted.

1, 2 –
“So, do you like sports?” she asked.



This is another question she had asked me earlier but I took my sweet time to answer. I inhaled deeply and I wondered, what incited this question, again? Here’s what she did, she turned her gaze to the TV playing sports over at the bar which prompted the idea of sports, thus provoking her to ask me, “So do you like sports?” 

I grabbed my napkin and wiped my dry lips. Why is my mind behaving like a snob? This woman has a masters in public health. She’s not stupid, maybe she’s just nervous or had coke a minute ago.

“I’ve gotten into it. My husband is from Cleveland so I had to learn a few things. It’s part of the deal. Are you married?”

Yes, she’s married and she has kids. This means that she has an outlet. Though she hasn’t had an outlet for the past two days, can that be sufferable for some people? I have ADHD, I’m pretty sure I used to be this way, have compassion Jane!

Her lips keep moving. I do my best to keep up but she’s talking a mile a minute and my energy is being usurped. I’m not judging. I’m simply observing that her jabbering is usurping my mental energy. After counting up to 3 seconds of silence I give myself a break and let my mind wander.

I ask for a glass of white wine. It’s 2 o’clock, wine not.

For the next hour, I notice that whenever it’s my turn to tell a story or to talk or respond to one of her questions, she interrupts to tell her own story. I noticed that all her questions are yes or no types that serve as a springboard for her to launch into another soliloquy about herself. This is an imbalance and it’s unfair. I’m not a barf bag. 

She’s a very interesting lady but like Trump, she only likes to hear herself talk and she doesn’t recognize my visual cues. Like when I take more than three seconds to answer a question, or when I close my eyes to savor my bite of pizza. Or when I told her how I like to smell the food in front of me for a few moments, maybe even a minute, before diving in… or when I purposely look out the window after she ends a thought. I feel exhausted and the wine isn’t doing anything to loosen me up. I just want to leave.

“So, what do you think about the pizza?” she asks.

1, 2, 3 –

She continues, “I think it’s quite yummy, we did good with choosing the ingredients -”

I interrupt her, “What do I think about the pizza, let me think…”

1, 2, 3, 4, 5,

I look down at the leftover crust, all three pieces of them.


6, 7, 8

I feel her getting anxious and I become anxious for more silence. What if I get my notebook out and tell her that I’m a food critic from Colombia and that in order to judge the food, I’ll need more than eight goddamn seconds to gather my thoughts. I’ll just pretend to write and instead, savor the food that’s in my mouth. I am tasting it. Wow, what a few extra seconds can do.

“I’ve had better.”


I decide to have fun and talk really slow. When will I ever see this woman again? Let’s hope never!

“I  have  haaad b e t t er, hmm,  a c t u a l l y, hmm, the first time, hmm… that I, I mean, d u r i n g  m y first trip to N e w Y o r k…”

In a very slow monologue that included more hmms than usual; I told her that I had better pizza in Staten Island, New York. James’s friend Chris got us a few boxes of pies when we got in late one night. The topping was penne pasta! Who puts pasta on their pizza? I was ravenous so I wasn’t going to turn it down.

I took one bite and time stopped. My four senses of see, touch, smell, and taste amplified as my ears became deaf to the TV playing a rerun of Chris’s favorite show, Impractical Jokers. I sat on the couch somewhat paralyzed, feeling a part of my heart slowly collapse from that one bite and my knees wobbled. I folded the delicate slice of pizza and heard the faint cracking sound of the crust.

Having the best pizza in New York is one of those unique experiences that only a certain place and maybe even time can enable; where the food is unlike anything you’ll ever taste. Some examples in my life include:

Xialong bao dumplings in Taipei.

Asam laksa in Kuala Lumpur.

Fried fish in Boca Chica.

Masala dosa in Singapore City.

Fish tacos in San Diego.

Street tacos in Mexico City.

Crab cakes in Baltimore.

Ramen in Tokyo.

Ceviche in Lima.

For those who can’t afford either the time or money to travel, you can eat. When I was in high school, I used to prop my bike on a bus and take it to the heart of Los Angeles. Somewhere near Rodeo Drive, I had my first taste of Indian food when I was 16. I had no idea what the red soup was but it looked spicy and it had this thing called tofu. Well, I was going through a vegetarian phase so I was stoked. Years later, I learned that the curry dish that transported me to some other world was vegetarian red curry.

“Where is this pizza place?” Asked my chatty Australian lunch mate.

“I, do  not  k n o w,   I   w i l l   h a v e  to  check my phone.”

I usually don’t ever check my phone when I’m at a restaurant with friends but I made an exception then.

I handed her my phone.

“Hey, can you take my picture? I want to show my husband that I made it to Grimaldi’s”

Here’s the picture I took.

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That’s my “I had better pizza in New York” look. It’s not your fault Grimaldis!


There were two slices left.

“You can take them,” I said. “No really, I’m going to a show and they probably won’t let me in with it.”

We split the bill. We hugged each other and went our separate ways.

Back in Medellin, at the Bao Bei Bar, the host asked if I would mind sharing a table with someone else who will be dining alone. I was reluctant and my face showed it. The host said, “You can say no.”

“Yeah, I think I would like to eat by myself tonight if that’s okay…” I said feeling guilty but the host immediately assured me that it’s fine. These Colombians are so freakin’ friendly, it’ll never get old! She sat me, she handed me the menu and I felt giddy.

I ordered a few appetizers and an alcoholic drink. I got my kindle out my cheeks lifted. I was smiling like an idiot and the couple next to me probably noticed and I   d i d n ‘ t   c a r e.


v woolf - new york pizza - woman traveling alone digital nomad

Sad and Lonely in Vietnam

Traveling can feel lonely. My husband and I have been digital nomads for almost four years and it’s not enough to say that we belong to this community of people who travel or work remotely. One of the reasons why we’ve slowed down is to feel settled, centered and not have to start over with looking for friends. As much as I like my home in Santo Domingo and the few friends that we made here, just knowing that we’re going to be on the move again in a few days, makes me unsettled and ornery. There isn’t a huge digital nomad community here and belonging to some community is crucial to our happiness because we’re thousands of miles away from our families and friends in the US.

It’s also not enough to say that home is wherever the heart is i.e., home is wherever James is. James is my husband, my best friend, and business partner. But he can’t replace a girlfriend who understands my need for sunscreen and my losing battle with melasma. James will dance with me and he’ll take a salsa class but he won’t go out three times a week to dance with a bunch of strangers at a club till 2 in the morning. And I don’t expect him to. All this to say that it would be unfair for me to depend for all of my happiness on him alone.

jenna mccarthy what you don't know about marriage ted talk - blog about digital nomad traveling solo and with a partner

When I look back at the times when I was the unhappiest, probably even depressed, the common denominator was that I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.

Currently, I’m counting down the days till we fly to Colombia; we plan to live there for a year or two. We still have another month left in the Dominican Republic because we haven’t seen other parts of the country and since Haiti is next door, we have to see it! How can you not? It’s part of the nomadic lifestyle. But if I could fly to Colombia tomorrow, I would. The thing is that we have friends who will visit in a few weeks and we made a commitment, last year, that we’ll stay in Santo Domingo till then. I guess I can hold on a bit longer… It’s easier to hold on when you’re with someone you trust. It’s times like these that make me grateful to belong to the institution of marriage. It’s no wonder that people who are married are generally happier and live longer lives. I’ve traveled by myself many, many times and I know a lot of people who travel by themselves and are happy. I also know people who travel with company and are unhappy. I’ve experienced both.

A year ago, when things… weren’t perfect, I hit rock bottom. I woke up in Vietnam one day, I was alone. It was a gloomy Monday-like morning, made gloomier by his absence. I felt rotten, terrible… The lack of light made the apartment, with its high ceilings, seem bigger and lonelier so I opened the pink framed double doors and walked to the balcony. To my left, there was Vietnam’s MTV studio. Below me, there were people walking, people driving mopeds and people getting into their cars. Ho Chi Minh was starting to stretch its arms and for once, I didn’t care. Was traveling losing its luster? Was I becoming depressed?

As soon as I became aware of this feeling, I grabbed my daypack, stuffed some cash inside my pockets and walked out of my apartment with my hands in my pockets. I walked west on Nguyen Thi street till I saw Starbucks on the roundabout plaza. I went inside, checked upstairs and scanned the picnic tables outside but he wasn’t there. Then I walked aimlessly around Ben Thanh. He can’t be far. I looked inside every coffee shop and when I started to lose hope, I called a friend via Skype.

Finding me quite despondent, she came up with her medical concerns and asked: “Have you had any suicidal thoughts?”

No. Sort of. Uh, even if I did, I would not entertain the idea for even a second because it’s simply not an option for me. In the past, when I was really, really sad or as they say, “hit rock bottom” (see the upcoming blog, The 26 Jobs That Hired and Fired Me) I jogged to the dog park, dragged myself to a salsa club or walked to a store, a CVS even. Buying a new tube of mascara served as a temporary band-aid.

arctic monkeys - travel solo how to become a digital nomad how to work remotely sad lonley depressed traveler

It didn’t make sense to me that I was living the dream. I was traveling the world with the love of my life for three years. I had a steady flow of income through the freelance work I did online and business was growing.

Why was I sabotaging it? Why wasn’t I happy?

I lived in Ho Chi Minh for over a week and every night and every morning, I woke up to the cacophony of incessant honking from the moped drivers, the honking from cars too, which, when combined with the miasma of fried spring rolls and cups of fresh coffee brewing over pools of condensed milk, has not turned into the white noise that I hoped it to have had. And yet, I loved Ho Chi Minh for her chaos, a town that knew when to sleep. There was even a salsa scene that began early and ended at 1, sometimes 11 at night! You probably didn’t know this either, oh yeah, the Vietnamese love their bachata, salsa, and kizomba EVERY. NIGHT. OF THE. WEEK.

In the midst of all the noise, I tried to think about the worst times of my life. Like the time I worked for a credit card company in La Jolla; they let me go after a month. I was embarrassed because it wasn’t the first job that let me go, it was probably the sixth.

Seinfeld - travel solo how to become a digital nomad how to work remotely sad lonley depressed traveler

Or the time I interned at the mayor’s office in San Diego. I had an outburst, I talked back to a constituent, so they let me go.

“But I’m not even getting paid,” I said.

“That’s what makes it so hard,” said my advisor.

I laugh now, but back then, I felt like a degenerate. I graduated from college and I couldn’t hold down a nine to five job for a month? How could I function if I can’t belong to civilization?

I hated to admit that I actually enjoyed working at Starbucks or at Peet’s Coffee where I stood the entire time, ringing orders and chatting with people. But because it was difficult for me to focus and do too many things at once, the managers didn’t like me making the drinks during rush hour. That made me feel inept.

When I really wanted to work the bar, I would say, “I would like to work the bar today. I can manage it.”

Meaning, I took my Ritalin: please put me on… When I took Ritalin, Adderall or those 60 milligrams of Vyvanse, I got dry mouth. Even though I was better at censoring what came out of my mouth while on the medication, there was no emotional connection at the moment to what was happening: I was mirthless. I was simply going through the motions of a conversation or a task. It was like I lost my edge and my wits.

Starbucks didn’t pay well, my manager was nasty and I didn’t have dreams to climb up that corporate ladder so I eventually found a different job and quit.

Still on the phone with my friend on Skype, somewhere in the noisy part of District 1 in Ho Chi Minh, I turned left onto a dreary street so that I could hear her. She told me to fly back to the States. I could crash on her couch in New York. She could buy my ticket! Although I didn’t take her up on the offer, as tempting as it was to live in Brooklyn and get that experience out of my system, hearing that she cared about me meant a lot.

I have to eat something, I told her. I had no appetite but it was lunch time and I don’t skip meals in Asia. She made me promise to check in later. I hung up and then it began to rain.

I ran up to the corner where a bunch of guys where chowing down on bowls of soup. I grabbed a red plastic stool. I checked my email, my WhatsApp messages and I even went on Facebook messenger.

No messages.

As I sipped my soup, my heart felt heavy as if it were smothered in heavy sludge. I sat there feeling my heart becoming heavier and heavier. I wondered if this is what happens when your heart breaks – it decomposes. Then, an orange and black kitten appeared at my feet and I heard the cutest meow. I held the kitten up to my nose and felt this instant love for the little stranger.

kitten- travel solo how to become a digital nomad how to work remotely sad lonley depressed traveler

“You are so beautiful,” I said.

Her small round eyes, her perfect triangle nose, and symmetrical triangle perky little ears. Basically, the characteristics of a cat.

Then a second kitten appeared – a black and white one. I put my bowl aside and picked him up. My chest began to feel light.

I sat with my back against the wall, curled up with my knees against my chest, trying to look inconspicuous by blending in with the locals – even though most of them held their bowls near their faces and were talking a mile a minute. With the traffic’s noise and the extra noise coming from the heavy rain, I hoped that nobody would notice me – me, a speck of dust in the city – crying! But the lady who poured the soup into my bowl had been observing me and she smiled with approval when I caught her gaze. I hugged the kittens close to my chest and shed a new cascade of tears feeling the tiniest bit of relief. I thought it’s going to be alright. I knew it was going to be alright.

Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s a part of it.

I checked in with myself. Okay, so I’m less distraught than I was an hour ago. I know nobody in this city and I am 100% on my own, wow. I wiped my face with the cat’s fur (no I didn’t) and forced myself to be present. I observed the drivers with their mopeds. I watched the Uber drivers in their long blue raincoats, the Grab drivers in their long green raincoats, each leaned on their left or right foot as they waited for the light to turn green. Torrential rain fell on them but the streets were as boisterous as ever.

I reminisced: Just a few weeks ago, I was hiking through the narrow Cu Chi tunnels left behind from the Vietnam War. After that, I had spent a night on a boat cruising through Halong Bay, and after that, a couple of girls and I were eating Bún chả at the same place where Anthony Bourdain and Obama sat. In his honor, the restaurant offered an Obama special.

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Before Vietnam, we were cruising around the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane in Laos. And before that, I was learning Thai Massage in Chiang Mai… We are living the dream and frankly, I’m not going to get a lot of sympathy from people. What is wrong with me?!

At the moment, I was ecstatic. I was happy to feel Obama’s spirit in that restaurant in Hanoi, (even though I had better and cheaper Bún chả in the French quarter). At the moment, I was happy to meet these two amazing women from France and Brazil who loved Obama just as much! Moment to moment, I was happy. But overall, was all the moving making me unhappy? Was I moving too fast? I thought so. It was making me unsettled to the point that it was becoming hard to appreciate those moments anymore. While traveling, I worked for two to four hours a day on my laptop so I barely had any time to take a pause. Poor me!

That month, I experienced, “Oh, it’s another temple” syndrome for the first time. A few months later, in Japan, I couldn’t fathom making a 45 minute detour in Fukuoka to see a reclining Buddha the size of the Statue of Liberty. Who knows if I’ll ever be back!

I massaged the kittens’ heads with my thumbs, treating them like meditating balls. I could be in Los Angeles, cuddled up on my parents’ couch. My mom would spoil me with ceviche or aguadito de pollo (Peruvian chicken soup) while I watched the last season of White Girls on HBO. But as luck would have it, shit doesn’t hit the fan when it’s the most convenient for you. It’s happening when I’m all alone in Vietnam! If I can make it through this, I can conquer any situation, just as I did the time before, and the time before that. But first, I needed to own up to my truths. I needed to find out why I was sabotaging my perfect nomadic life and I needed to stop.

I need to take a long pause and I need to stop!

To do that, I would need to surround myself with people I can trust because I needed their help.

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A throwback to Mad TV!

I kissed the kittens’ heads. I put them down and emailed the Sivananda ashram in Dalat. I had just spent a week there and it wasn’t easy; James said that my voicemails sounded like I was in rehab. I gulped down my soup and hobbled back to my apartment in the rain. I had to pack my backpack. I had a bus to catch.


I dedicate this piece to Anthony Bourdain, may he rest in peace. I also dedicate this to all the world travelers and especially to the travelers who are searching for happiness. Very few people are as gutsy and can do what we do, to get up and leave the status quo. You are fearless! And you are an amazing soul with many stories to tell. Safe travels!



Working Remotely – Where to Start and How To Find Clients

My first three clients were two lawyers and a fashion designer. I also had a brief gig with an artist in Toronto whom James met online and that left me wanting to work with more ambitious women like her. So instead of looking inside my network for a new client (which has its limits), I decided to pimp out my resume, write a summary of who I am, what I do and WHY anyone would want to work with me and posted it on Craigslist in an effort to find the best fitting client for me.
James supported me but he looked skeptical. I reminded him that I had found everything from roommates to rides on Craigslist – the normal I guess but I also found friends who took me out to West Hollywood when I didn’t have my driver’s license at the tender age of 18. I knew I would find a client and I did!
I met a business coach who hosted a podcast and needed help with promoting it on Twitter. That happened in May 2015 and I am still working with her! UPDATED APRIL 2018
She is part of a rich network of women entrepreneurs and she introduced James and I to two clients. One entrepreneur needed help writing blogs and the other person is a nutrition expert and chef. After just one call, I ended working with Alexandra Jamieson and grew her Instagram account from 10,000 to over 16,000 in three months.
how to become a digital nomad article - how to work remotely
When people ask me: How do you find clients? And what is it that you do? It’s a loaded question and I usually don’t know where to start. So here is my attempt to start answering that.
1. Work with what you got
Find what you can do online and work with what you got. Even though I’ve had many jobs in the retail sector, the restaurant industry and loved being a tour guide in San Diego (I miss my Toastmaster clan at Voyagers), I also had worked in sales and social media selling marketing products to real estate agents. So when the opportunity to manage a lawyer’s social media account came up, I took it.
Want to know what else helped? My bachelor’s degree. No longer a BS degree mind you. Since I was in Nicaragua bartending for $2 an hour plus tips (which rounded to about $4 an hour), I was willing to take any pay raise.
Side note: The average wage in Nicaragua was $1/hr. I got two bucks because I speak English. As a result of my “above average pay” my part-time bartending job was enough to support me.
Now, I loved bartending because it allowed me to tell stories and jokes to strangers but if I wanted to continue traveling down the Central American continent, I needed more dinero!
The job requirements for the social media manager for a lawyer in New York (my first client ever) included learning about real estate law and have an above average grasp for English grammar. My degree proved that I was more than qualified for the virtual assistant role. My competition at the time was virtual assistant in the Philippines who just didn’t get it. Sure I cost more per hour, but this lawyer didn’t have time to instill the American culture and office etiquette to someone via Skype across the Atlantic ocean. As a result of my work ethic, I got one referral from this lawyer and have been working with these two lawyers ever since!
So to you I say, write down all your skills. Even if you only dabbled with the skill a few times or had some experience back in high-school. Remember what Amy Cuddy said, “Fake it till you become it.” You can teach yourself any skill online. Gary Vaynerchuck is a self taught social media expert! How’s that for motivation!
You can also teach anything online. I looked for a harmonica coach the other day and they do exist. If the skill that you offer is quirky or kinky, Google it. Anything is possible!
2. Look inside your network, look online and know your WHY
Don’t be shy about asking your English high-school teacher if she needs help with grading homework. You’re friends with her on Facebook right?
What’s your local real estate agent up to? I’m sure you could help her or him do a better job with digital marketing. Just start with a few hours a week, how could they say no? And if they do say no, move on the next one. This isn’t multi level marketing, you’re not asking them to involve themselves in any scam so chill and allow yourself to make the pitch.
It’s hard to be shy when you know WHY you’re doing this. So WRITE YOUR WHYS ON PAPER. Let them materialize and motivate you. You have soo much to offer!
Examples of whys to motivate you:
  • I want to live in Bali to practice yoga everyday
  • I want to spend more time in Cusco the second (or third) time around and do the Salkantay trek to Machupicchu
  • I hate working from 9 to 5 because it usurps the better part of my week
I’ve always dreamt of becoming a nomad and taking my work wherever I go. I also wanted to become one of those important executives who would take the red eye to Greece and be back in four days.
Did I really? I heard that those people never leave their hotel room so I think I have something better now. Let me assure you that what I do is nothing like going to Europe and returning jet lagged a few days later. My digital nomad life is way more relaxed and grueling when taking many buses in developing countries. It’s not glamorous… If you call sipping on a $5 glass of wine on a sky bar in Kuala Lumpur overlooking an infinity pool with the Petronas Towers looming in the distance, that’s as glamorous as it gets.
When James and I arrived to Nicaragua, we had $200 in our account which was not even enough to buy a plane ticket home for one of us. We wanted to keep going. My intention was to see Colombia by the end of the year! And to do that, I needed to either save up with the bartending money or find some way to make money on the go. James looked for a teaching job, I bartended and cooked to save, and we both propped a food tour business … when that failed, we continued to look for more ways to sustain ourselves. Our WHY was that we wanted to travel for a year. It was that simple and it fueled our ambition to look for ways to do it. So we asked our friends.
Does anybody need assistance with blog writing? A grant proposal? Website design anyone? I notice that you haven’t posted anything on your Facebook Business page since last year…
We began with one client, the lawyer. I was always better at looking inside my cold market so while James continued to look inside our network, I checked Craigslist and Since I managed a huge Twitter account, I also became real active on Twitter and someone from the UK hired me to grow his Twitter account. I should probably write a blog on how to find cold clients online. Stay tuned!
Right now I’m thinking about a past roommate, I’ll call her CJ2. She loves cats, she once worked at Home Depot and I think she’s attending community college right now. Her grammar is impeccable. Although she was quite snarky when I lived with her, her grasp for English makes me think that she would be really good at doing some of the things I do.
For more about the WHY concept, check out this guy, Simon Sinek and How Great Leaders Inspire Action
3. Price competitively and show your best work
Do you know what the cost of living is in Latin America? Or Asia? To give you an idea, a liter of beer cost .75 cents in Nicaragua so multiplying that by seven is $5.25 per week for evening happy hours. Our monthly rent for a studio with a pool cost $350 dollars in Granada, Nicaragua. As a result, we were able to charge a low rate to our clients in the U.S. and live like king and queen.
“Fun things happen when you earn dollars, live on pesos and compensate in rupees.” Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week
So, where do you want to travel? How much work are you willing to put in per week to balance work and travel? For us it’s three hours a day and it has been enough for us to live decently in the third world, save enough for a plane ticket home and save for retirement. It didn’t happen overnight, it took a year and half to get here.
A year and half is pretty fast right? The reason for this progress is that we showed our best work every time. We demonstrated trust and integrity. As a result, we got referrals every month. Why show your best work? It’s not because you might tap into a huge network of entrepreneurs (as I mentioned at the beginning). Look at it this way: Your client is providing you with the opportunity to travel! To live abroad and do whatever it is that you want in that country EVERY DAY.
Imagine spending half of your day surfing in the best beach in the world, focusing on a martial art in Asia, practicing yoga in India or dancing salsa in Latin America for months at a time… and spending only three hours a day working to earn that living. The 9 to 5 is a depravity of life and it should be the other way around.
 social media consultant quote from timothy ferriss how to work remotely
Beyond that, another reason to love your clients is because when they grow, you grow. I learn something new every time I sit down and write tweets for a podcast or do some light research to write a killer Instagram post for a branding expert.
Digital nomads are the best people to hire because they are happy people. And when you hire a happy person, you get great results.

how to become a digital nomad article work remotely

Can you spot the cat?

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Jane is my name, Juana is my Spanish name. Claro que hablo el castellano.

Fukuoka – Fumbling for Sake and Words

After spending four days in Tokyo, we took a Bullet Train to the southwest part of Japan: Fukuoka. In under six hours, we covered a thousand kilometers. Fukuoka was a serendipitous addition to our itinerary because we had originally planned to watch a sumo wrestling match in Tokyo or in a town nearby. Due to our schedule, in order to catch a live match in November, we would have to travel to the other side of the country, Fukuoka.

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The cozy and smoky Yatai we were transported to

So what’s there to see in Fukuoka in November? From the Wikitravel, we learned that Fukuoka practically borders South Korea and that it has a melting pot feel to it; there’s a red light district and a unique street food scene characterized by the Yatai. A Yatai is an outside food stall that looks like a cozy cabin; on the street, they dot the sidewalks like mini greenhouses. Popular dishes include Hakata Ramen Noodles, fresh dumplings, spicy cod fish and sake.

After we checked into our Airbnb, a few steps into our walking tour late in the evening, we passed a crowd of Japanese people being boisterous – a contrast to Tokyo where I’m usually the loudest. The person who we purchased laundry detergent from at the 7-11 was from Nepal and spoke some English; that was as much contact that we’ve had with the west in a minute! My mission for that night was one thing only: To have Hakata Ramen noodles at a Yatai. And sake! Yes, alcohol. Whenever I travel inside a train or bus, the feeling I’m left with is always: I could use a drink. Sure the Bullet Train was comfortable but after three hours, my ass can’t tell the difference between a narrow bicycle seat and a big comfy couch so half way through the ride, I let out a loud sigh. This made the passenger next to me laugh.

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These Yatais have a plastic curtain over them which are surprisingly effective with keeping the heat in. Through the small plastic square windows, you can see whether or not there are any seats left. The first few Yatais we passed had no seats. Then finally, as my level of hunger went from peckish to enough already, I poked my head in a Yatai and saw space for two. The chef was doing his thing, chatting and entertaining the five or six Japanese men in grey and black business suits, half of them drunk. I had no idea what he served and I didn’t care. I was suddenly transported to a scene in Kill Bill, Volume 1, just moments before Lucy Liu chopped that guy’s head off. I wanted to be a part of that scene!

James, let’s go in! But there’s no room, he said. Yes there is, c’mon.

I pulled the heavy curtain over my husband and he squeezed himself between two men. I squeezed in between two other men and sat diagonally across from him.

The man next to James had a medium glass overflowing with sake and he pointed to it with approval.

“Konbawa,” I said with conviction to the chef.” “Simmimasen, sake ni, kudasai!”

Translation: Good evening. Excuse me, sake for two please!

It worked because I enunciated my Japanese with enough zeal to cover my chagrin. It worked because I learned the polite way to ask for things. It worked because we got sake.

My medium glass was filled to the brim with alcohol, and much more was left inside the box where it was placed in. I probably had a quarter of a bottle, I was very happy.

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At a different Yatai where we had Hakata Ramen noodles and glasses that did not overflow with sake

Food time! This Yatai specialized in serving farm animal organs which I’m NOT a fan of. Perhaps it’s the menudo and blended liver soup that I was force fed growing up… I live by the motto of, “I’ll try anything once,” but I’ve made an exception with animal organs. What’s that, chicken liver you say? Gizzard? Just the sound of it spooks my taste buds so I’ll pass. But we ordered grilled chicken intestines. We shared. I then ordered a marinated boiled egg, or tamago, to help me down the sake and chicken intestines.

The guy next to me began to ask me questions in Japanese. I froze like the deer in headlights and felt completely off guard. Why, Jane? I had studied the Rosetta Stone for a month, did the free podcasts, listened to the same Japanese song for weeks while on the treadmill, took notes and read blogs and yet, none of it was helping me at the moment.

Then I heard “douku”.

I replied, “California des!”

He nodded and passed on to the crowd that I’m from California.

He proceeded to talk and I proceeded to down my sake. I heard “nin” and “Nihon” so I figured that he was asking me, how long do I plan to stay in Japan?

“San weeks,” I said in Japanese and English. Three weeks.

He understood. He pointed to James and I heard, “Something, something, anata wa, something.”

I took a sip of my warm sake and digested “anata wa” + James. He wants to know who I’m traveling with!

I dabbed my lips and felt the sake warm my stomach, and my heart. Oh, I knew that one because I practiced it for that very occasion!

“Otto des,” I said.

Translation: He’s my husband.

And to myself, I thought, it sounds good in English and in Japanese. I tried to remember the words for “honeymoon” but it was his turn to talk, so I listened. 

Our evening began with us walking into another huge city in Japan and within moments, our world shrunk as we were transported to this cozy and smoky cabin. The crowd of businessmen talked, they laughed, they ate and drank. It was the loudest scene I’ve been in since I landed in Japan and I loved it. Even though I had very little idea of what they were talking about, it felt great to just be there, observing, with James, my husband who was enjoying the scene, too.

All those weeks of studying Japanese had paid off  in small increments. For the rest of the night I practiced saying “totemo oishi” which means “very delicious.” Meaning, the sake is very delicious. I probably didn’t get as much mileage for the amount of time I’ve put into studying but whenever I understood even one word, and whenever someone understood me – effectively communicating with me – it stroked my ego immensely. Best of all, I can tell that they appreciated me for trying.



Cambodia Joyride – Part 1 – My Last Deal with God


“Weather forecast for tonight: dark.
Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.”
– George Carlin

When I was 20 years old, I tried riding my bike across Cambodia. It was an impulsive decision. I used to blame the Canadian who I was traveling with at the time. We had traveled together in Chiang Mai and bumped into each other in Phnom Penh weeks later – the world shrinks when you’re a backpacker. In Phnom Penh, he was determined to rent a motorcycle and drive it to Siem Riep which is where everybody goes to see the mother of all temples, Angkor Wat aka, the Machupicchu of Southeast Asia.

I hinted and hinted about how much fun it would be for ME to ride on the back of any motorcycle and travel to Siem Riep… but he remained oblivious. So I tried to one-up him by renting a bicycle the next morning and making the journey to mecca on my own fuel. Who’s the badass now?

digital nomad - how to work remotely ride your bike in cambodia women traveling solo

The lonely road to Siem Riep

I estimated that it would take me four days to complete the trip. For reference, it takes a boat four hours to make the trip, and a bus takes about two. When I rode my bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles, that trip took me a full eight days. That too was based on an impulsive decision that got me into some good trouble.

When people ask me, “Why do you do this? And why do you do it alone?”

I say, I don’t know. I’m not even an outdoorsy type of person. In fact, the older I get, the more yoga and salsa I do. And if you ever see a Latina in the U.S. holding an umbrella to block the sun, it’s not an Asian contagion, it’s just me trying to block to sun to abate the inordinate amount of pigmentation spreading across my face so shut up.

How the idea forms: I look at a map, I place two or four fingers between two cities and I think to myself, “Looks doable.”

The reason I ride out these impulses alone is because nobody ever wants to go with me. Or when they do, they first have to take care of something so we have to plan it out and that’s not my style. It’s not everyday that you get an itch to do something crazy that feels right – unless you’re a psychopath then it always feels right. There’s a time and place for things to happen and you don’t always get to choose when.

For example: Once upon a time, after I left my sales job (or it left me, whichever way you want to look at it), I was in no rush to start job hunting or figuring out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life so, when my heart said, “Hey let’s do this” during a moment while I was somewhat lucid and hanging out with my best friend in San Francisco, I said, “Oh it’s you again.”

Let’s see, the balance in my account was dwindling into the double digits so I had no income, BUT I had a credit card! And everyone who knows me, knows that I’m more scared of debt than walking through the valleys of the shadows of death (because I’m just that responsible about my FICO score).

The circumstances for that journey were far from perfect but I had learned years ago that they could never be perfect.

“If you’re heart wants you to do something that you feel resistant to, it’s probably a sign that you should do it” – Swami Sankarananda

This is the story of how this one experience made me believe in god for two more years.

The night before I took off to Siem Riep, I set my Baby-G watch alarm to 6am. I didn’t hear its baby beeping noise and instead, woke up at 8 something. Because I wanted all the daylight I could get in order to get as many miles in, and I didn’t have a flashlight, nor a tent, I was tempted to postpone the trip. Mistake #1: I wasn’t properly equipped.

The bike cost a $1 per day to rent; the seat was pointy and uncomfortable but that’s all the guy had. Mistake #2: I took it anyway.

Mistake #3: I rode the bike in flip flops and a flimsy day pack. To this day, I don’t know how to change a tire. What if I got a flat? I didn’t think that way.

So I was huffing and puffing, enjoying the scene, meeting locals who would immediately191_12734352031_2012_n laugh after I told them about where I was headed. I thought the ride would be a straight shoot going west but there were actually many forks on the road. My Lonely Planet map wasn’t detailed enough so I had to ask for directions.

Since nobody spoke English, I would point to a road and say, “Siem Riep?” many different ways till I got a reaction.

The road was paved. That was nice, anything outside the road was either green or arid and filled with who knows how many landmines so make sure to stay on the road.

When night began to fall and because Cambodia is such a third world country and still recovering from the Khmer Rouge, there were no street lamps. The path in front of me slowly dissolved. I didn’t bring a tent because I thought there would be a hotel I could scurry to. This was 10 years ago, this was before smart phones so I had no idea where I was.

Correction! I had a Motorola Sidekick, remember those?

I began to walk my bike and stuck my thumb out whenever a truck, a car or anybody drove by. But all they did was wave and smile.

The sky turned pinkish orange and there was no sign of civilization, just woods left and right. I began to cry. First I prayed, then I cried. I prayed for light.

I yelled to god, “Hold the sun! Hold the sun!”

I was riding west, peddling as fast I can, trying to reach the next town before the sun became an orange wedge on the horizon, before the sun completely dipped off. I yelled, “Can you hear me? Please god, hold the sun, just 11 kilometers more! Hold the sun for 30 minutes.”

I bargained with him, “I promise not to smoke marijuana for a year!”

When he didn’t hold the sun (ugh, he), I thought of my mom.

Then it happened. The sun disappeared. The skies went from purplish blue to midnight blue.

I remember my hands trembling on the handlebars as I pushed myself off the bike.

Isn’t this the god who created the world in seven days? As illogical as this sounds, why couldn’t he hold the sun up for just a little longer? I was done crying and I felt beaten and betrayed.

I needed help so I asked him for somebody to communicate with. I needed to tell somebody that when a tourist sticks out their thumb in the darkness of the night, it’s a cry for help! I needed somebody to speak English, Spanish or even French. Or for him to give me the ability to speak Khmer! I was in the middle of nowhere so I was really testing this god.

When he didn’t answer again (I thought he could read my thoughts) and I felt ignored, I took the matter into my own hands (novel idea). I could either keep riding west in the dark and find refuge in some other type of light, or I can throw myself next to the glowing white stone dragon statue that was on the grass, to the right, glowering at me as if to say, “This is not your god’s land so stop trying to talk to him.”

Respect. I was never so scared in my life.

Then a “miracle” happened. I looked over my shoulder and saw a light. I summoned that light, all sweaty and smelly. And chilling out under a big palapa thatched roof hut, was a family. A girl who’s name I will never forget greeted me IN ENGLISH. Her name is Jupe. Jupe was 16-years old and spoke English! She fed me soup that night and rice (or brice because that’s what she calls it) the next morning.

The fact that her English was comparable was a sign to me that MY god had sent her. I know, weird. That night, Jupe placed blankets on the floor and a mosquito net over where I would crash. She sat next to me, cross legged on the floor and examined the contents of my day pack.

A bottle of water half full


Jupe and I hanging out

  • A change of clothes
  • Sunblock
  • Small bottle of water
  • A book
  • Another book

She said, “You cannot go to Siem Reap like this.”

She leafed through my novel, “Up Country” by Nelson DeMille.

“Why you read this?” she asked.
“I’m going to Vietnam next.”

For the rest of the night, Jupe read my book to me in English and even asked me to correct her pronunciation. I was lucky, or was it blessed? She was delighted to finally have someone to practice her English with. I wanted to take her with Jupeme to Angkor Wat, she’s never been. She hasn’t found the time as she’s so busy with going to school and helping take care of her family.

I thanked Jupe then I thanked god for saving me that night. That experience cemented my belief in god for another two years until I went to the University of Southern California, San Diego and reached the age of reason (a little too late in my opinion).

Maybe there is a god, but it’s not Jesus Christ or some male figure. I do like the idea of there being a higher power so I use words like “karma” but ultimately, I don’t believe in any of it. It’s more rewarding to not cling on to any religious dogma in order to live a good life, I have my own set of guidelines that keep me from going nuts. You can sometimes find them on Instagram, quotes like:

Jump and the net will appear, maybe.

Resistance is another word for having nothing to lose.

If your dreams don’t scare you then you’re sleeping too much so meditate and you might sleep less and be more productive.

So that was DAY ONE of my ride. To be continued in part 2.

Lunch with Obama in Hanoi

Just arrived last night to the capital of Ho Chi Minh and I’m back with mi chulo! The salsa scene in Hanoi was good and I’m hoping to find even better in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh. I understand the history and it’s interesting how the people in the south refer it to Saigon and the people in the north refer it to Ho Chi Minh. Let me know when Ken Burns releases that documentary about the Vietnam War.
More about the salsa scene. There’s an intensive 8-hour salsa on 2 going on on next week. Did you know that the Vietnamese can dance? Oh, they have style. They’re into salsa, bachata and kizomba. Club hopping was fun the other night because all you need is a phone, the Grab app and for less than $2, you can have a moped driver whisk you off to another club.
I’ll be here till May 21, 2017  if anyone wants to hang out and do some of the activities: dance, check out the Mekong Delta, hike through Cu Chi Tunnels, visit the War Remnants Museum… 📸 I’m really bad at taking pictures but here’s a highlight of my week in Hanoi:
  • I saw Ho Chi Minh. I waited in line for about 45 minutes to catch a few glimpses of him. After he passed away, they preserved his body so yes, I know that he passed away a long, long time ago.
  • I had Bun Cha at a popular restaurant in the French Quarter. I was enjoying lunch by myself and the table next to me picked up the check. Com on!
The biggest highlight was having lunch with Obama! Gabriela, Kenza (who are not from the U.S.) and I had lunch at the same place where Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate. 🍲 Going in, we knew that the reviews and service would be bad but we didn’t care. Obama was there! Both of my non-American companions are fans of the guy. Shows you that the world is still mourning for the man who speaks to my heart whenever he opens his mouth on YouTube.
Update: The service was terrible and we had better Bun Cha for less at other places. But as I said, we expected that going in and Obama was there with us in spirit.

Laos – The Greyhound is No Worse than Communism

That was a hell of a bus ride. I realize this is my second post about buses but my bus rides haven’t been this bad since the US. At least in Laos, the food was cheap, healthy and delicious. The internet was also surprisingly fast. I feel out of it right now.
James has a migraine and I have work to do – a blog about real estate in a red part part of the country – before I go out and feast on my first bowl of Pho in what looks to be one of the many amazing cities in Vietnam: Hue. I’m also running on three hours of sleep, down from my regular nine. Digital nomads are rulers of their world except when communism is involved and leaves you no choice but to take that one bus and overcharge you for it. It could be worse, it could be The Greyhound.
Can you believe it? They called this bus the VIP even though lacked air-conditioner. Crossing the border from Savannakhet to Huey was a miserable 9-hour ride. One passenger saved the day. He brought his puppy onboard! What a coincidence. It’s national Pet Day and I got my fix.