2 Years and 26 Countries

Close to three years ago I finished a two year journey around the world. I traveled from city to city telecommuting for work and spending generally a month or two in each city except for the last few months where I made a mad dash to the end through several cities.

I wanted to learn another language, find a place to eventually live, investigate places to launch a business, travel and see what it would be like to live in various different places around the world. I faithfully wrote several posts documenting the first six months of my trip but then quickly fell behind and eventually stopped all together.

This post is an attempt at summarizing the 26 countries I visited or lived in from January 2005 to December 2006.

South America

My last entry dated over four years ago left me in Colombia. No I haven’t been in Colombia since then although I was very tempted to stay and still consider it one of my favorite countries in the world.

My Colombian Parents Pilar and Fernando in Bogotá

My Colombian Parents Pilar and Fernando in Bogotá

Colombia is beautiful, untouched, and has some of the most friendly people that I’ve ever met. When I arrived I was essentially adopted by a wonderful family that took me in and treated me as if I were one of them. I miss my Colombian brothers sisters, parents, grandparents, and cousins and I’ll definitely find my way back someday to visit my Colombian family and their beautiful country.

After Colombia I spent just over three weeks in Lima, Perú with a short break during the long Thanksgiving weekend to see Machu Pichu. Machu Pichu is definitely in my top 5 places that I’ve ever visited. I haven’t been everywhere in Latin America but Perú probably has the most varied, interesting, and yes I dare say best food in Latin America. From the ceviche to the anticuchos de corazón, wonderful spices and even guinea pig on a skewer, I was more than satisfied.

At Machu Pichu with my Swiss travel partner Karin

Rainy day at Machu Pichu with my Swiss travel partner Karin

That's my guinea pig... hmm

That's my guinea pig... mmm

From Perú, I flew to Argentina, unpacked, relaxed for a few weeks and then flew to the States for the holidays and to stock up on tech gear. At the end of 2005,  laptops went for about triple the cost in the US. The amount I saved on the laptop covered the round trip flight.

Back in Buenos Aires, it was nice to return to a familiar place where I worked hard, ate out almost every night, and just enjoyed staying in one location for a while. I also spent a few weeks in Córdoba to see if I could consider living and setting up a business there but it just didn’t compare with the cosmopolitan and vibrant life that Buenos Aires offered.

Next up Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio is surrounded by mountains, jungle, islands, and of course beaches. The locals known as cariocas say that god spent six days creating the world and the seventh day on Rio. After spending a month in the city I think the statement can be justified.

God spent the 7th day on Rio

God spent the 7th day on Rio

I found Rio to be the most difficult place to work from because there are so many tempting things to do outside. It’s tough to return to work when everybody else is headed to the beach.

The most shocking thing about Brazil, at least from my very little taste of Rio, is that everybody appears to be exceedingly happy. Compared to Buenos Aires, where very few people make eye contact or smile at least when in public areas by themselves, everybody in Rio smiles all of the time. The people always seem to be in a good mood, easy going, and enjoying life.

Hang gliding over Rio

Hang gliding over Rio

I studied Portuguese for three weeks after arriving and was surprised at how fluent I became in such a short period of time. The language sounds nothing at all like Spanish but is very similar grammatically. At first I didn’t like the sound of it at all but after studying for a day or two I completely fell in love with the way the Cariocas speak and the song like nature and tone of the language.

Europe

It was turning into winter 2006 in the southern hemisphere so I decided to do some traveling in Europe. My first stop was Munich and I arrived on a nice sunny spring day where everything in the world strangely seemed to work and people actually obeyed traffic laws to the point of not even jaywalking. I had definitely left South America.

Relaxing in Berlin

Roughing it in Berlin

My brother Chris lives about 45 minutes from Nuremberg and I used his place as a base. I spent a few months in total in Germany while traveling back and forth to Austria, Hungary, Poland, Belgium, and Holland. I then realized it would be too difficult to see Europe before winter if I were to continue telecommuting so I let my client know that I was going to take a break for a while to focus on traveling.

I spent the next six months bouncing from city to city spending weeks here and there and made a nice swath from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea.

Enjoying a Little Mud on Corfu Island in Greece

Enjoying a Little Mud with Some Travel Friends on Corfu Island in Greece

I spent a little time in Eastern Europe investigating whether to live and setup a business there but the winters were a little too cold for my taste. I also had the feeling that Eastern Europe was still a bit too much of a risk compared to Argentina or Panamá which were my two top choices at the time.

When I made it to Paris my roommate Sophie who I lived with in Panamá invited me to stay with her and her boyfriend for a few weeks in Paris. I tried to talk her out of hosting me but she insisted. I am very grateful to her, her boyfriend and her parents who also invited me their place close to La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast.

Amazing dinner with Sophie and her family

Amazing dinner with Sophie and her family

I thought the French, even the Parisians, were very friendly and polite which ran counter to several negative comments I previously heard from friends and others who have visited France. I’m sure my love of French food and respect for their appreciation of life to even the smallest detail helped us start off on the right foot but I’m still shocked how many people have said they’ve had bad experiences with the French whereas I fell in love with the people.

By November I’d seen enough churches to last a lifetime and it was also getting too cold for my blood so I bought a ticket to Bangkok and bid farewell to Europe. There were many places I wanted to see in Asia but after two years on the road I decided to focus on figuring out where to settle and setup a business.

South East Asia

I spent a few weeks in Bangkok writing a business plan and looking into the feasibility of bootstrapping a business there or somewhere in Vietnam. I had been to Thailand before and love the food, culture, and of course the beaches. Regardless, I came to the conclusion that due to costs, language issues, and availability of software engineers that the Philippines would be better from a business perspective so I packed up after a few weeks and headed off to Manila.

On my way there I stopped over in Phuket to relax for few days and enjoy the beaches which was a nice break from Bangkok and then stopped in Singapore for a few days on my next layover.

Short Touristy Break on Ko Phi Phi Beach from The Beach

Short Touristy Break on Ko Phi Phi Beach From the Movie "The Beach"

I’ve never made it faster through customs and immigrations than in Singapore. My seatmate who was an expat living in Singapore commented that even with his electronic ID, which allowed him to walk straight through immigrations without stopping, could never get to baggage claim before his baggage arrived. It took me took about 10 minutes to get through customs and immigration to my baggage claim from the plane and of course my luggage was there waiting for me. I wish other airports could copy how the Singaporeans manage an airport.

Singapore is a nice city but too perfect and cookie cutter for my tastes. I can see why it attracts so many expat retirees. You could consider it the Florida of Asia. I only stayed two nights so I’m sure there is a lot more to Singapore than what I saw. I did manage to catch up with Henrik an old friend I met years before in Thailand who ended up making Singapore his home. He showed me around a bit and we enjoyed some great food before I left for Manila.

Catching up with Henrik in Singapore before Christmas

Catching up with Henrik in Singapore before Christmas

Manila was completely opposite of Singapore. They definitely didn’t win any speed records for getting people through immigration or customs. It was also completely insane getting downtown. There was so much traffic on the highway that kids came by knocking on the doors asking for money and street vendors peddled their wares through the traffic on the major highways. Ahh, a little bit more reminiscent of South America.

Manila is not pretty by any means but I had a great time and it’s not too far away from beaches. I don’t know if I could live there but I definitely think there could be some very nice places to live in the Philippines and it has a fairly friendly business environment.

After a few days I left for Puerto Galera to take a class to get certified as an advanced open water diver. There is some great diving there and it was an amazing place to get certified. My favorite dive was a drift dive where we were swept quickly along for several kilometers along the side of a coral cliff.

Final Advanced Open Water Test (US vs. UK)

Advanced Open Water Diver Final Exam - USA vs. UK

Once I finished my advanced open water certification I headed back to Manila for a day or two and then finished my trip flying back to the States for the holidays and to make one of the biggest decisions of my life. Where to settle and setup my business.

In this quick recap I left out many great locations, friendships and interesting anecdotes from my two year trip but I don’t think I would ever finish this post if I tried to mention them all. It was an amazing experience and one that’s changed my life in many ways. I never imagined I would see so many places or meet so many great people. It was a trip of a lifetime.

Below are all of the countries I entered into or exited from during the course of my trip.

CountryEntry DateDeparture Date
Argentina1/30/20054/3/2005
Uruguay4/3/20054/3/2005
Argentina4/3/20054/20/2005
United States4/21/20055/4/2005
Costa Rica5/4/20057/11/2005
Panama7/11/20058/11/2005
Colombia8/11/200511/18/2005
Peru11/18/200512/6/2005
Argentina12/7/200512/23/2005
United States12/24/20051/8/2006
Argentina1/9/20064/7/2006
Brazil4/7/20065/10/2006
Germany5/11/20067/2/2006
Austria6/23/20067/2/2006
Hungary7/2/20067/7/2006
Poland7/7/20067/21/2006
Germany7/21/20068/1/2006
Belgium8/1/20068/4/2006
Holland8/4/20068/6/2009
Germany8/8/20068/10/2006
Czech Republic8/10/20068/11/2006
Bulgaria8/11/20068/27/2006
Greece8/27/20069/6/2006
Italy9/6/20069/14/2006
Germany9/15/20069/23/2006
Switzerland9/23/20069/25/2006
France9/25/200610/10/2006
Spain10/10/200610/27/2006
Portugal10/27/200611/2/2006
Spain11/3/200611/3/2006
Germany11/3/200611/11/2006
Thailand11/12/200612/6/2006
Singapore12/6/200612/8/2006
Philippines12/8/200612/19/2006
United States12/19/20061/13/2007
Argentina1/14/2007

Beautiful Women and One Month in Medellín

It’s hard to believe how quickly a month can go by but working full time and living in a foreign city definitely defintely helps time fly. I had a great time in Medellín.  Probably due in large part to living in a huge penthouse apartment, with a nice pool, and fellow expats to pass the time.  Or maybe because Medellín also has such an incredible amount of beautiful women.

My second night in Medellín  I went to dinner in Parque Lleras and I was completely blown away by the number of georgous women in the restaurant I went to. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, probably because I was distracted, but I do remember thinking that every one of the female patrons could have been Victoria’s Secret models.

As a straight guy, one thing you take note of, whether you admit or not, is what the women are like in each place you visit. It comes up in almost every hostel conversation between guys at one point or another: “where are the hottest women?”. Definitely Colombia, and Medellín are tops on my list from here on out.

The Paisas (girls from Medellín) are naturally very beautiful but for some reason cosmetic surgery is very popular. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place where I’ve noticed more women with plastic surgery. Note: I haven’t been to Hollywood or LA yet. I have even heard that breast implants are a common gift for girls on their 15th birthday.

Unfortunately the few Paisas that I met appeared to be princesses; beautiful but very high maintenance. I also found them a bit difficult to get to know past a very superficial level. Of course I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions and my stereotype is from only a month in Medellín but I heard the same complaint from many guys and even women.

It was a great month in Medellín and I could have easily stayed longer but I think Medellín is one of those places that if I stayed any longer I might not ever leave. The weather, people, and environment are too beautiful and I have too many other places that I plan to visit.

Off to Medellín (The City of Eternal Spring)

View from the apart-hotel

View from my hotel room

After spending a few weeks in Bogotá I took leave for a month and flew to Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia. On the flight I met two Colombians who were nice enough to give me a ride into the city. It’s amazing how easy it is to make friends in this country!

I arranged to stay in an apart-hotel for the first week which I figured I could stay in if I couldn’t find other accommodations. Unfortunately once I arrived the receptionist at the apart-hotel told me they had accidentally overbooked and didn’t have any rooms available. They offered to put me up in higher priced apart-hotel for the first few days for the same price but after wards I would have to pay the full price. I took the offer but started looking immediately for cheaper options.

Another view from my hotel room

Another view from my hotel room

I checked out two local hostels Casa Kiwi and the Black Sheep Hostel. Both looked like nice places to stay with cool owners but the owner of the Black Sheep Hostel put me in touch with a friend of his named Itamar that was looking to rent out rooms. I wanted a comfy place that would be easy to work from since I had just started working with on a new project with some friends at Tacit Knowledge. Little did I know how my luck was going to change.

I gave Itamar a call and he wouldn’t tell me much about the place other than I just had to check it out. I wasn’t too optimisitic that it would be a good place but when I arrived I was quickly convinced. Itamar had rented with a few friends a penthouse apartment in el poblado, which was one of the nicer neighborhoods in Medellín. The apartment came with maid service every weekday, my own room with bathroom in-suite, and a huge terrace with a private pool an jacuzzi. I would have to share the place with a few other folks but this would be the best accomodations I had had for a long time and for a good price too. $500 dollars for the month. Needless to say I moved in right away.

Weekend trip to El Guamo

My new Colombian family

My new Colombian family

One nice thing about Colombia is that if you don’t like the weather just drive for an hour or two. This past weekend I rented a car went with Olga to El Guamo to visit the Juan Pablo parent’s whose apartment I’m renting. We drove about two and a half hours up and down through the mountains to get to the little town. The temperature in El Guamo is around 20 degrees warmer than Bogotá. Colombia is so mountainous that there are cities and towns at almost every altitude and every temperature.

Juan Pablo’s parent’s were wonderful and treated me like a son. I think it might just be a very Colombian thing or I’m just lucky but everyone I meet here seems to treat me like a close friend or family shortly after meeting. It’s definitely one of the things I’m starting to love about this country. Anyway they treated us to nice barbecue and we spent most of the time hanging out at the pool. The next day we drove out to Giradót, a slightly bigger town not to far from El Guamo, and got a little lost on the way.

I was driving and ended up turning the wrong way on a one way street. Fortunately there weren’t any cars coming but we passed a policeman holding what I think was an ak47, which is very common here, and noticed that he wanted me to stop. I signaled to him with my hand in some obviously misunderstood way that I was going to turn around. I was thinking that since we were close to the street and if another car came I would have to back all the way down the street. It seemed logically at the time but the policeman didn’t seem to agree. I continued on about 30 feet to where I planned to turn around and when I noticed the policeman radioing someone and unstrapping his gun. Fortunately he didn’t fire on us but I did play my I don’t speak Spanish well and let my friend do the talking routine. In my defense there weren’t any signs where we turned on the road to that indicated the direction of traffic. I don’t think he cared much because he didn’t seem to happy but did let us go.

Even with the encounter with the friendly policeman we did have a good time and it’s great feeling like you have family and friends in a place you just arrived in.

A Nice Welcome to Colombia

Olga and I in Juan Pablo's Apartment

Olga and I in Juan Pablo’s Apartment

I arrived in Bogotá on August 11th from Panamá City. The first thing I realized after arriving is that it’s cold here especially for being so close to the equator. The city sits at an altitude of around 8000 feet which gives it an average temperature of around 65° all year. That’s cold if your coming from Panamá. Bogotá seems very organized and most people appear actually follow the rules; well at least more so than the other countries I’ve visited in Latin America. It’s definitely different than one expects after seeing so many movies depicting Colombia as practically a war zone.

Olga, my flatmate from Panamá City and local native friend, arranged for me to stay at her friend Juan Pablo’s apartment since he was studying in England at the time. Olga was even nice enough to pick me up at the airport which was a very nice welcome and introduction to the city. Juan Pablo’s apartment is in a part of the city known as the Zona Rosa, which is one of the nicer neighborhoods about 45 minutes from the center. There are also a lot of nice bars and restaurants close by and it seems to be very safe. I definitely owe Olga a big thanks for making my first to days here absolutely painless.

One of Botero's Obese Hands

One of Botero’s Obese Hands

The first few days Olga showed me around Bogotá and introduced me to a few of her friends. We checked out La Candelaria, which I believe is the oldest part of the city which has cobble stone streets and beautiful colonial style houses. Close to La Calendaria we went to the Botero Collection displaying a nice collection of the Colombian artist Botero’s work. Botero’s claim to fame is drawing and sculpting overly obese versions of everything from people to horses to still lives. We then walked to the the main city square called Plaza de Bolivar. The square is surrounded by many interesting government buildings and a beautiful catholic church. Of course we also went to one or two of the numerous shopping malls which the Colombians seem to be in love with. They’re huge here and definitely compete with the size of the malls in the States. Unfortunately anything imported was much more expensive than buying it in the States as seems to be the case everywhere in Latin America.

Catedral Primada at Plaza de Bolivar

Catedral Primada at Plaza de Bolivar