The ease of being

A Mariachi Band crashing your house party – only in Mexico.

Have you ever been in South America? If so, you know what I’m talking about. If not, I highly recommend you visit this part of the world.

Four months into my remote work experience here in South America I’m having trouble imagining going back to a world with less music, less dancing and less of an easy going, chilled and laid-back attitude, not to speak about the weather.

Despite all the hardship, the obvious disparity and the resulting social and political unrest the people are facing in this part of the world, they have a much more positive approach to life than the average European has.

All of the countries I had the chance to live in for a while are struggling with a huge disparity between rich and poor. But nevertheless, they never seem to lose their smiles and optimism.

Viva la vida!

Medellin/Colombia for instance – the City of Eternal Spring – has transformed from a violent past into a hub of entrepreneurship and an up and coming tourist destination. Colombia was seen as dangerous and conflict-ridden, a country known for drug wars, violent crime, poor infrastructure and corruption. Spending a month in Medellin I have not had a minute where I felt in danger or uneasy. Colombia still has problems, no doubt, but it is rebranding itself and I would not hesitate to return to Medellin, to its music, to the incredible landscape, the variety of birds not found anywhere else on the planet, to the rich literature culture and last but not least the modern and lifestyle hub it has become. Viva la vida!

The same is true for Santiago de Chile. A city that has been making international headlines for the last few months with people taking to the streets to raise awareness about an insane disparity in income. As I learned, the minimum wage in Chile’s private sector is approximately 350,000 Pesos, less than 500 Euros, and employees in public sector companies’ bag in millions of Pesos – some senators in Chile earn more than our German chancellor Angela Merkel…

But it’s not only about the money, it is about opportunities – be it in education, health care or equality in general. A message the protesters (most of them students) plastered around the city in countless graffities. They express their anger, their frustration, but also the hope for a new Chile. A blooming and economically stable country that wants to leave the past behind, especially the not so distant past during the cruel Pinochet dictatorship and its violation of human rights, tortures and disappearances. The people of Chile are fighting for a country where dignity is a habit.

And as far as I can tell, they have not lost their hope and optimism. I’ve hardly ever came across a nation that is distant and reserved at first but once you’ve cracked their shell is welcoming and warm hearted.

357 eyes and we can still see – a strong message about pain and hope.

Pursuit of happiness

Having spent the past four months in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile and now Mexico I got a taste of freedom, a taste of what is really important in life and especially a taste of what the ease of being can mean. Far away from our European or American way of life of buying things to be happy, I found my happiness in just being. Life is more lively here, there is more life to be lived there, the pursuit of happiness is not just an empty phrase.

I also have to admit that living out of a suitcase and sharing my accommodation with at least one or two other people contributed to it. I always thought that having more, is making me happier. That collecting possessions and making a lot of money defines who we are. It’s not. It is how we connect with other people, it’s the meaningful conversations, the walks in a city that you have never seen before, the experiences and the pure joy of being that makes a life happy. At least for me.

Connecting with people, having meaningful conversations and experience the world together – this is my happiness.

Working across time zones

It’s said that working remotely gives you the freedom to work at your own terms and to work wherever you feel most comfortable. That much is true, but it is also challenging. You have to be disciplined, organized and structured plus as with any job – you need a certain routine. It took me a while to find mine. A routine not to just find the right balance between work and explore but also to figure out the best working hours and where I need to set up my office to be productive.

In contrary to most of my fellow remotes I prefer not to work from the Selina Co-Working space in Medellín. I choose the quiet of my apartment over the lively open plan office we’re offered at Selina. Despite missing out on the energetic vibes and the occasional chit-chat with my fellow remote workers, it gives me the freedom to be a bit more flexible in my working hours – and that is crucial as I learned in my first week.

Never underestimate the time difference!

I really underestimated the challenge of working across time zones – especially if your clients are six respectively nine hours ahead of you. When they fire up their laptops and enjoy their first cup of coffee, I’m fast asleep dreaming of new adventures. And once I get up in the morning, they are busy making plans for their evenings.  

Lucky me to have understanding clients who share my passion for remote work or at least allow me the freedom of doing so. One of them even postponed a scheduled conference call from 9am to 12pm so that I can be part of it without getting up at 3am in the morning. Nevertheless, I still sat there red eyed and with my video camera switched off – 6am is still tough for a serious and productive conversation. But that’s nomad life and a small price to pay for the flexibility and freedom that I enjoy working remotely.

Lost in translation

When you think your Spanish is proficient enough to master the friendly chat with your doorman or the casual conversation with your Uber driver and figure out in the end that they are just too polite to tell you that what you meant to say is not what you actually said… I’m in Medellín for a little bit over a week now and I’m still lost when it comes to speaking Spanish, not to speak about the Colombian Spanish. But the good thing is that I’m confident that all of this will change soon. Spanish lessons are in full swing and I do make it a habit to have these little conversations on a daily basis, no matter how bad they might me. They are always good for a hearty laugh.

Love at first sight

Other than that, Medellín already stole my heart. It was love at first sight. And I cannot even tell what it is – is it the landscape with its incredible views, the life loving and welcoming attitude of the people here, the somewhat Caribbean vibe on the streets or even the admittedly dark history? Anyways, Medellin is definitely a place I’d like to explore further and even more so Colombia. Next week I’ll have the chance to learn about the coffee culture, get some exercise while practicing Bachata and Salsa, take a day trip to Bogota and Guatapé and hopefully dive even further into Colombia’s past, present and future.

Trouble in Paradise

Precious moments at Pedra do Arpoador.

What can I say… after South America greeted me with some amazing impressions and a fabulous time in Rio de Janeiro I had an email in my inbox that quite upset me. My trip to Santiago has to be postponed due to the unrest there and my first Remote Year stop will be Medellín in Colombia. While I understand the reasons for the change, it still got me. I was so much looking forward to my stay in Chile. But it is what it is, and Santiago has to wait just a little bit longer.

Anyways, my first impression of South America is a fabulous one. Rio de Janeiro is definitely a must visit spot – and not just for the Carnival. It’s a city of contrast with a beautiful landscape and greenery beyond belief for a place with a population close to seven million (almost 13,5 million including the region). The versatility and the life loving attitude of the people really won my heart.

And hey, despite not speaking a word of Portuguese, I got along. With my basic Spanish and a lot of hand and feet talking it was even fun to navigate my way around the city. I spent hours strolling up and down Rio’s famous beaches Copacabana and Ipanema, enjoyed marvelous views from the mountain tops and of course gazing open mouthed at the Christ the Redeemer statue on top of Corcovado. Fascinating street art, live bands, bohemian neighborhoods and the general optimistic and somehow carefree vibe of Rio made my stay.

To be continued. I’m already in love with South America.