Work From Home: Panamá City (land divided for a world united)

Panamá is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, and countries. It makes sense though, right? A bridge between The Americas. If you think about the history and logistics of trade, and where everybody from all hemispheres would have to travel through, it would be  Panamá. 

Chinese, Columbians, and especially Venezuelas are seen in every service industry around the city. People are migrating for a better life and Panamá City is their opportunity.

Although my circumstances are more than likely different, I guess I've always wanted to work abroad in search of a better lifestyle myself, or maybe just a way to break up the routine of a 9-5. My current job allows me to finally fulfill a lifetime dream of mine... working in a different country. 

I picked Panamá City, Panamá for the following reasons:

  1. Creature comforts. I knew I couldn't get too far of the beaten path so I needed a city that could sustain my work requirements. Access to Hotels, AirBnBs, cheap transportation, and restaurants make living and working easier. 
  2. The weather. Columbus, Ohio in December isn't great. Panamá on the other hand is just getting out of the raining season and average temp is around 80 F.
  3. Internet speed. Panamá's internet speed is one of the fastest in Central & S. America. From what I found, it can reach up to 20 Mbps. More than enough to do my work. 
  4. EST. Eastern Standard Time. No time change for me or my co-workers. 
  5. Cheap and easy flight. It always amazes me that in a handful of hours you're in a completely different country.  

The digital nomad lifestyle isn't as glamours as an instagram #hashtag would have you believe. Working and traveling is tougher than I expected. It's hard to get into a routine. Your mind wanders so much, your stimulated by new sights, sounds, and customs... not to mention my Spanish is still terrible. Your constantly planing for what’s next on the itinerary while still getting in your 40 hours. It's especially tough when you first arrive b/c all you want to do is hit the streets to see everything at once. Try "working" in a hotel when a world of adventure and new stories are right outside your door. It's an impossible temptation. Balancing city exploring and team meetings is for a disciplined person and that was challenging for me. 

Poor me I know... I'm lucky to have a job, period. I spoke to so many Venezuelas that are literally running from their country b/c the of the violence, political corruption, instability, and lack of opportunities. There's no complaints from me. 

Now on to the sights and travels. I was in Panamá from December 5th-20th and typically I would have more to show, but in my case I was working! 

Check out the video of mi numero uno thing to do while in Panamá City. The Canal of course! 

Sprinkled in are pics of the Miraflores Locks (the canal), the San Blas Islands (Guna Yala), and my home away from home in the neighborhood of San Felipe. 

What Travel Teaches Me (a running list)

1.) I thought being comfortable equaled success. I was wrong. Being uncomfortable brings far more success and happiness over time.

2.) We all want the same things (health, happiness, opportunity, and the ability to take care of our family). We're more alike than different. But we're also different. 

3.) I am the manority. 3 in 7 people in this world are Chinese or Indian. The world is global, and we're a small part of it.

 "We had our day mate"

-white male Serengeti traveler from Australia  

4.) I am an American, Ohioan... but also a global citizen. 

5.) Fear is self manufactured, it's within and not real.  

6.) Traveling makes you be the best version of yourself because you're often so dependent on other people. This is especially true when on a bike, in the middle of no where.

7.) Solitude. Still waters run deep. Traveling alone allows you to pause and disconnect from frequencies that would normally get the better of you. You can't help but listen to your inter compass and "pay attention to the  omens". Maktub. 

8.) I'm happiest when moving with a purpose, but I can be just as happy moving without one.

9.) Prioritize travel. It’s learning. You wouldn’t tell someone to stop learning after high school. It enriches my life. 

10.) Traveling is the best geography lesson. It’s even a better history lesson. 

11.) There's many ways to participate and pursue happiness. It took me traveling to figure out. 

12.) Travel hustels happen, but it’s more likely to be a miscommunication between you (me) and the local.   

13.) You tip your local bar tender at home $1 drink. Please don’t negotiate over 50 cents for a hand crafted local product that you really want. 

14.) Am I up for the challenge? 

15.) Travel is the truest form of living.  

Vitamin D Deficit? Baja California Bike Tour Is The Answer

If you're thinking about escaping the winter blues for a warm weather bike tour, I'd encourage you to check out Baja California. As a hibernating Ohioan during the winter, it offers everything I wanted in a cold weather get-a-way: not one, but two beaches (Pacific and Sea of Cortez), Mountains, plenty of vitamin D, laid-back and kind Mexican hospitality, cheap beer and tacos de pescados.

There's a few good blog posts that I would recommend if you want to get more details on how to plan for your bike tour or backpacking adventure. 

The Adventure Junkies 

Baja Divide (95% off road so make sure you're using the right bike and equipment)

Crazy Guy on a Bike

Baja Insider

These posts offer great advice so I won't overlap what they've said. What I wanted to share are some tips my trip taught me and some pictures and videos that might nudge you to buy your ticket to the peninsula right now. 

Route and Road Conditions

If you're sticking to the road, the Baja is one of the easiest routes to navigate. It runs in two directions, north and south so it would be pretty difficult to get lost. I was impressed by the road condition on highways 5 and 1. They appeared to be relatively new (last 5-7 years), or at least that what I was told from some of the local Americans who come down for the winter months. 

When I went in February I chose to go north to south (Tijuana to San Jose del Cabo) and had a tailwind 75% of the time. The majority of the riders I met going south to north were coming over from Central and South America and were saying how rough the wind was. Wind is a really big factor on the peninsula and one that I under estimated so I was delighted that I was going north to south. 

One of the factors, and one that I actually prepared for, was the width of the roads, or lack thereof, traffic, and large semi trucks. Knowing this I decided to take a bus from Tijuana to San Felipe. This was an attempt to skip the heavier boarder traffic in the north. In general, the traffic was limited most days so there was room for you and the other vehicles that would pass. The bus and semi truck drivers were very considering of you and your bike, often times even waving or encouraging you up the hill. My rule for trucks, if there were two passing at the same time or if a truck from behind could have a difficult passing (i.e. curve or hill) I would always get off the road. 

The bus network in the Baja is really nice so if you're running behind on your itinerary, you want to take a few more days off to enjoy la playa, or run into a mechanical issue, you can always take a bus in the larger towns to get you to where you need to go (ABC and Aguila are the main bus companies in the Baja). This may vary on the amount of passenger luggage, but what I found is that you can store your bike in the luggage department as long as the wheels are taken off your bike.  

Starting on the Gulf (Sea of Cortez) side meant that I would be taking highway 5 south and then connecting to highway 1 via Coco's Corner. There's about a 25 mile (40 km) stretch, starting little before Coco's Corner and going until you reach highway 1 that is still under construction (February 2017). Although I could have got through it, my 1.4 in (36 mm) tires weren't ideal for the trail so elected to get a ride from my host Miguel in Punta Bufeo. From there I stayed on highway 1 the majority of the way south. Check out my entire route below:

 

Two Must Do's! 

  1. Pet the grey whales. I'm not sure if there's any other place in the world where you can pet a whale. These intelligent, playful, and highly curious mammals can reach almost 50 ft and weigh 40 tonnes. From my understanding, their curious nature and desire for human interaction is why they allow you to get so close to them.  It's a beautiful experience and one that you can do for around $40 (seasonality will apply). 

 

2. Sleep under the stars on the playa of the Bahía Concepción. The entire ride along the bay was one of the most memorable experiences I had during my tour, but the highlight was sleeping under the Milky Way. You can't imagine how many stars are actually in our galaxy. It was a wow moment that I'll never forget.  I stayed on the Playa El Burro and would recommend it because it doesn't have RV hook-ups.

 

Two Equipment Tips

  1. Run tubeless tires. There are cacti everywhere (obviously it's a desert). Even if you're on the road they'll be broken bits of cacti and glass that can be unavoidable. If you hit a cactus, like I did, it could be a trip ender or at least a pain in the ass to hold air because of how small the needles can be. Even if you can tweezer them out, the majority will break off and work their way through the rubber at a latter more inconvenient date. When I go back to the Baja, or if I'm in a desert environment, I'll be sure to run tubeless after my lessons on this trip.   
  2. Be prepared not to find a bike box for the plane ride home. Even though I was lucky enough to find a bike box minutes away from my hotel, there's not a lot of inventory in the area. Wrapping your bike with Saran Wrap is an alternative (idea credit #BajaDivide on instagram). 

Stats: 

Febuary 2nd-21st 2017

650 mi (1,040 km) on bike 

14 days saddle time  

46 miles per ride day AVG

2 bus rides

2 beaches (Pacific and Sea of Cortez) 

10 different tequilas :) 

 

Yellow River Homestay

Only a short trip from Machu Picchu, watch as I take you on a tour of Yellow River homestay and their farm. 

Just some of the amazing fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbal medicine that's grown around Yellow River and a few kms away at their farm. 

My Self Guided Journey From Yellow River to Machu Picchu

Cruises, large group travel, strict itineraries, all inclusive resorts, they never really captured my wonder. I've always been a kid who just wanted to grab a backpack, my pocket knife, an apple and go exploring. I read a quote before my trip that stuck with me and created a philosophy for how I traveled throughout my journey and will travel the rest of my life:   

The draw back to a trip too well-planned, is that it does not leave enough room for adventure
— Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Salta to San Pedro de Atacama

My favorite means of travel is bike touring. Generally defined as long distance rides, ranging from a day to months, even years. I love it because there's no barrier between you and your environment. It's just you and the open road. You're senses become sharp and you begin to pick up on the subtle stories told by your surroundings. 

If for whatever reason you don't fancy many miles on a bike, I've found that ground transportation is the next best option. That's basically, trains, buses, shared taxis, and boats of some kind. To be clear, this perspective is coming from a budget minded traveler who had a lot of time, but I still think everyone should do an international road trip if they want to truly understand a country or region. 

Don't believe me? Think about a tourist coming to the US for a visit. They fly into NYC, take a short flight to Boston, then fly to L.A. where they'll end their trip. That's such a fraction of what the US represents. Traveling by ground allows you to see the capitals, the mid-size cities, the small towns, and the country side. It allows you to have a deeper understanding for the soul of the country and its culture. If you just take a flight from mega city to mega city you miss a lot of that. 

I traveled by bus my entire journey in South America, from Buenos Aries, Argentina to Medellin, Colombia. Here's some pictures and a video from a small portion of that trip I took from Salta, Argentina to San Pedro de Atacama. Enjoy the views!

Buenos Aires

My original plan to fly from Bangkok to Rio De Janeiro was foiled because of a Brazil visa issue, so I decided to fly to South America via Buenos Aires, Argentina instead. Typically, before I arrive in a new country or city I'll do a little online reading ahead of time, watch a movie with the setting in the city I'm traveling to, or maybe listen to some advice from a podcast, but I'm not the type create a list of fifteen must see tourist attractions. I like for my experience of the city to unravel naturally. 

I think that one of the best ways to understand a city is to reach out to your network, people you already know. Some of the best advice I've ever received has come from people who live or have lived in the city I was traveling to. What better recommendations than that of a local or someone who gets all nostalgic about a place they use to live. Social media makes this extremely easy, and you'll be surprised by the places your third cousin, work colleague, or high school sweetheart have lived. 

I was lucky enough to tap into a connection I had from my previous job back home. Here are some of his recommendations, and if you're reading this Mark, I appreciate the pro tips! Your love for Buenos Aries made my experience there that much more enjoyable. 

 A visual of the many recommendations I received, plus a few spots of my own I wanted to explore. 

A visual of the many recommendations I received, plus a few spots of my own I wanted to explore. 

Pictured above is the neighborhood of San Telmo. It's the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires. It's filled with cafes, antique markets, parrillas, tango shows, and plenty of art. To me it's the heart beat of the city and a great place for travelers to instantly understand what BA is all about. If you happen to go, a great place to stay is Hotel Bolivar. It's got character and stories for days, and is cheap with rooms around $12-20 USD a night. If you're looking for a nightcap, hit up The Gibraltar. It's got tasty food (big shout out to Tom!), stiff drinks, and you can't beat the atmosphere. And since it's a traditional British Pub, you'll find expats, locals, and bartenders who speak english or will work with you on your español.

 Also in San Telmo, this little gem of a Parrilla (grilled meat house). It's said that you can cut your steak with a spoon. I'll second that. 

Also in San Telmo, this little gem of a Parrilla (grilled meat house). It's said that you can cut your steak with a spoon. I'll second that. 

 Beef is incredibly delicious and incredibly cheap in this town. The cuts of steak are a little different than the traditional US cuts so do a little research before you hit the Parrilla. 

Beef is incredibly delicious and incredibly cheap in this town. The cuts of steak are a little different than the traditional US cuts so do a little research before you hit the Parrilla. 

 Maté. It's slightly caffeinated, grassy-earthy tasting, herbal drink that's always sipped in a social setting among friends, family, and travelers. This was my first go at it. 

Maté. It's slightly caffeinated, grassy-earthy tasting, herbal drink that's always sipped in a social setting among friends, family, and travelers. This was my first go at it. 

 Empanadas. A cheap, goto meal for locals and travelers alike. 

Empanadas. A cheap, goto meal for locals and travelers alike. 

 The Thinker, situated at Congressional Plaza. It's one of twelve copies in the world. 

The Thinker, situated at Congressional Plaza. It's one of twelve copies in the world. 

 Eva Perón. She came from humble beginnings and when she died it's said that she had more power and influence in Argentina than her husband who was president. 

Eva Perón. She came from humble beginnings and when she died it's said that she had more power and influence in Argentina than her husband who was president. 

 The beautiful, european influenced, Av. Pres. Roque Sáenz Peña.

The beautiful, european influenced, Av. Pres. Roque Sáenz Peña.

 Pope Francis' barber.

Pope Francis' barber.

 Plaza de Mayo with Casa Rosada in the background. 

Plaza de Mayo with Casa Rosada in the background. 

 Teatro Colón. It's one of the most beautiful man-made structures I've been in. 

Teatro Colón. It's one of the most beautiful man-made structures I've been in. 

 Teatro Colón. This picture was taken during a tour that I took. We were allowed to sit and listen to the orchestra practice for an upcoming opera. It's suppose to be one of the top acoustic buildings in the world. Luciano Pavarotti said, "its acoustics are perfect! Imagine what this signifies for the singer: if one sings something bad, one notices immediately."   Ask for tickets for a show. The opera may not be in town, but they hold regular local shows. They're less formal and the tickets are super cheap. I actually got tickets for a Sunday show for free!

Teatro Colón. This picture was taken during a tour that I took. We were allowed to sit and listen to the orchestra practice for an upcoming opera. It's suppose to be one of the top acoustic buildings in the world. Luciano Pavarotti said, "its acoustics are perfect! Imagine what this signifies for the singer: if one sings something bad, one notices immediately." 

Ask for tickets for a show. The opera may not be in town, but they hold regular local shows. They're less formal and the tickets are super cheap. I actually got tickets for a Sunday show for free!

Pictured above is Cemerterio de la Recoleta. You wouldn't think a cemetery would be a must do, but the different types of mausoleums range from super expensive to neglected. It's such and interesting place to spend an afternoon. Oh, and Eva Parón is also buried here. 

 Buenos Aires has a history of revolutionaries and protesters. Many people came out to Plaza de Mayo to show there displeasure for present Obama's first visit to Argentina.   The visit is controversial here because it comes on the 40th anniversary of the March 24, 1976, military coup that the U.S. initially supported, and resentment still lingers over the tens of thousands of people who disappeared or were killed under military dictatorship. (@usatoday.com)  Note: The building to the right is where Bishop Francis, now Pope Francis, held mass on Sundays.

Buenos Aires has a history of revolutionaries and protesters. Many people came out to Plaza de Mayo to show there displeasure for present Obama's first visit to Argentina. 

The visit is controversial here because it comes on the 40th anniversary of the March 24, 1976, military coup that the U.S. initially supported, and resentment still lingers over the tens of thousands of people who disappeared or were killed under military dictatorship. (@usatoday.com)

Note: The building to the right is where Bishop Francis, now Pope Francis, held mass on Sundays.

 Located on the famous Av. 9 De Julio, Obelisco de Buenos Aires. It's often been used as a political prop or to gain awareness for certain issues. In 2005 it wore a giant pink condom for World Aids Day. However, on the day I took the picture you can see the sign "40 years of Justice". What you can't see is the other two sides of the obelisk, "Memory and Truth" So, all together it reads, "40 years... (asking for) Memory, Truth, and Justice"  

Located on the famous Av. 9 De Julio, Obelisco de Buenos Aires. It's often been used as a political prop or to gain awareness for certain issues. In 2005 it wore a giant pink condom for World Aids Day. However, on the day I took the picture you can see the sign "40 years of Justice". What you can't see is the other two sides of the obelisk, "Memory and Truth" So, all together it reads, "40 years... (asking for) Memory, Truth, and Justice"  

 I was determined to go to a tango show, that is before I realized you could find street performers in just about every neighborhood in Buenos Aires. It's fun to sit and watch people so passionate about their craft. 

I was determined to go to a tango show, that is before I realized you could find street performers in just about every neighborhood in Buenos Aires. It's fun to sit and watch people so passionate about their craft. 

 The locks along the Rio Dique. It's just a short walk east of San Telmo. 

The locks along the Rio Dique. It's just a short walk east of San Telmo. 

 One of my favorite things to do while traveling in a large city is to check out their urban parks. I believe I found this charming group of trees on my way up to Palermo. Palermo is a little more roomy and much more modern than San Telmo. It's got great restaurants and a hip nightlife. 

One of my favorite things to do while traveling in a large city is to check out their urban parks. I believe I found this charming group of trees on my way up to Palermo. Palermo is a little more roomy and much more modern than San Telmo. It's got great restaurants and a hip nightlife. 

Another import from Italy, Fernet-Branca maybe the most popular alcoholic drink in BA. Picture credit: lifeandthyme.com

 My new favorite type of wine. Malbec. 

My new favorite type of wine. Malbec. 

 Want a fútbol game? You can find it weeknights after work or weekends every where. 

Want a fútbol game? You can find it weeknights after work or weekends every where.