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The Kindness of Strangers at ETI, or, How I Overcame Despair in One of the Worst Solo Travel Experiences of My Life

that's the spirit of ET!!

that’s the spirit of ET!! photos by Juan Williams Tango Photography

Last week I took the leap for another solo travel adventure, this time to a unique and totally Argentine tango festival called ETI (Encuentro de Tangueros del Interior). ETI is special because it brings together hundreds of passionate tango dancers from around Argentina, and they are often friendlier than the tango dancers in Buenos Aires. They have incredible passion for this democratically organized festival and even have an “assembly” during the festival to discuss where the next one will be held. It’s democracy in action in tango and the celebration of life, unlike any tango festival in the world.

While ETI is spectacular, this was in many ways the worst travel experience of my life. At least in the top 3. That says a lot, as I have lived a lot of intense travel experiences in South America that I am chronicling in Wet.

The weekend was also outrageously good, rich in learning, dancing, and new people. Isn’t that the way? With the very worst often comes the very best, equal to our fortitude for both.

Here’s the story. I took the bus last Friday and arrived at Crillon Hotel and checked in at 5 pm. Fabulous.

that's me!

that’s me!

The true adventure starts when the problems begin.
I didn’t bring my passport because I didn’t realize that was necessary. (I live in Buenos Aires, so this was domestic travel; if you’re in California and go to Nevada, for example, you don’t bring your passport.) The receptionist at Crillon Hotel told me he would let me into my room, but this might be a problem, he would have to talk to the manager. I went to dance in the square for the afternoon milonga.

When I got back, he told me there is a law in Argentine requiring foreigners to show their passports at hotels. I called the owner of my apartment and asked her to enter my apartment and take photos of the relevant pages of my passport. She kindly agreed and sent them on Whatsapp within an hour. The manager accepted these, and let me go to my room. I cried tears of relief. Half an hour later, he called my room and told me I would have to leave. He looked at me with eyes that said, It’s not my fault, don’t hate me. It was a cruel act.

At 10 am on a Friday night they threw me out on the street and there were no hotel rooms available in the whole city because of the festival. (I knew the hotels were all booked because the day before I called ten hotels in order to get a single room reservation. This exuberant ETI festival drew 900 people to a relatively small city Rio Cuarto in Cordoba.) I was all alone.

I took a cab to the ETI Festival with my suitcase to talk to the organizers. The woman organizing the festival said I could stay with her but she was obviously harried since she was in charge of an event for 900 people. I sat down, drained, glum, on the verge of tears. I didn’t have the energy to stand in line for a Coke, and I was desperate with thirst and needed sugar.

Uncontrollable tears
Fifteen minutes later a man asked me to dance. I said yes, knowing I needed to shake myself out of this defeated state. During the dance I started crying. I couldn’t help it. Tango music is emotional, and I was emotional; the tears just flowed. He asked what was wrong, and I explained the situation.

After our tanda (four dances) Angel led me to his girlfriend Nora. Nora turned out to be my heroine. She called and networked for the next two hours and miraculously procured me a hotel room at a place that would allow me to stay with images of my passport. I spent the rest of this weekend in a comfortable bed in my own room and with this amazing table of women and men. They were fantastic, fun, warm and caring, and they saved me. I felt loved. They’re my new friends in Buenos Aires now.

As my friend Sue said to me later, “So glad you cried and allowed yourself to be with your true feelings instead of stuffing them down during that dance. And then to see what transpired from it.” In fact, I’ve never been able to hide my feelings and I’ve gotten more comfortable with crying ever these days. Hallelujah for the release of tears.

Nora and gang. Nora is second for the right. Savior and new friend! She helped me find a room

Nora and gang. Nora is second for the right. Savior and new friend! She helped me find a room

Perseverance pays off.

Folkloric dance!

Folkloric dance!

the healing tango embrace

the healing tango embrace

The weekend was incredible. A true celebration of life. Nine hundred people of all ages dancing for hours and hours. I danced until 6 am two nights in a row, and I do not do this in Buenos AIres, even though that’s common. I met so many wonderful new people. Perseverance pays off to experience magical moments. I want to recognize the organizers too. Valentina and Martin, and Valentina who got me a special gluten-free meal for every meal because I am a celiac. This was absolutely spectacular and also made me feel loved.

When my mother heard about what happened, she said, “I’m glad those folks came to your rescue. ‘The kindness of strangers’ is very heartwarming. It isn’t expected so it feels like a gift.” I wonder why we don’t expect it more. If anything, I think that’s the lesson–to venture forth and trust fellow human beings will help us when we really need help.

Now I am back in Buenos Aires, appreciating a quiet moment before August, when the city will be abuzz for the Mundial, the world tango festival.

For those you who are ready for an adventure, albeit one with a hotel room!!!
The AUGUST 15-22 TANGO ADVENTURE in BUENOS AIRES is a month away!
sasha_tango_photo_tangasm4This Tangasm Adventure, a 7-day immersion in learning tango and tango as a metaphor for your life, is going to be special because it’s smack dab in the middle of the Mundial, the biggest tango festival in Buenos Aires with the world championship and energy from around the world. However, you won’t have to worry about the hotel room because we have that set for you. It’s going to be an incredible time to experience tango in Buenos Aires, so if this moves you, click HERE to fill out this form and let’s get you here.

Here’s what Megan Cramer who came in March said, “Every day has been a great mix of dancing and connection. I learned a lot about being a good follower on the dance floor. I learned about relaxing, relaxing my body, relaxing my thoughts, just being able to go with the flow of what’s happening. If you want to have a full-body-mind-and-soul experience that fills your five senses and even your sixth sense because you have to sense things happening around you come on this tango adventure.”

Wanna dance? Click HERE to join us!

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Posted in Argentina, Sasha's Tango Blog, Single Life, Travel, Traveling Alone

Dear Sasha: How do I create my own Eat Pray Love journey in Brazil?

Note: I get so many fabulous questions from my readers. So I have decided to start answering them. This will be an ongoing column, “Dear Sasha.” If you have a question, send it in!


Dear Sasha,

I’ve been thinking of having my own sort of “Eat Pray Love” journey in Brazil and any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. I haven’t planned anything yet, but researching for now. Eat Pray Love for me means re-discovering yourself through travel, visiting a country and discovering a culture and people and learning to love yourself. I’ve been drawn to Brazil since I was young perhaps because I’m from a very mixed background and there are so many mixes in Brazil and also from reading Brazilian literature.

This may be a stereotype but I feel that happiness and joy for life and simple things is ingrained within the Brazilian culture, and also there is a sense of women being strong, sensual and owning themselves as women. I need to be around that :) Samba, music, the sea…and discovering a new culture. I also feel there is a great visual aesthetic and relationship with beauty, colors, patterns, craftwork and I want to explore that more.


Dear Maye,
First, let me say that your intuition is right on. Brazilian joy may be a cliche, and it’s true. Brazilian people do have a very special kind of joy, and that alegria knocked me out and changed my life when I first visited Brazil in 2007.

I get an emotional tune-up from Brazil each time I visit. Brazilian people have more than their share of misery and difficulty, of course. Many Brazilians suffer with poverty, long commutes, and violence. But in general, Brazilians make the choice to be connected and to smile and to look at the light side of life more than we do in the U.S. They are more connected to each other through joy. They make the choice for humor, to say tudo bem (all good) and really mean it. (Tudo bem is the way people ask each other, How are you? All good? All good.) Another possible greeting is “E a‚àö‚â†, beleza?” which is a way of asking, “Hey, over there, beauty/great/fabulous?” They throw their arms up in the air and choose life. Brazilians are also masters of living in the moment. I wrote about that here.

I have now visited Brazil four times and lived there for a total of 8 months. A third of my next book Wet takes place in Brazil and in that book I’m sharing my stories of what I learned from Brazil.

Let me give you some bits of advice and refer you to some of my favorite posts about Brazil.

If you feel the urge, you must go
If you have an instinct to go on any adventure to discover yourself through travel, I say go. It can be scary. That’s the point. Going into the unknown will teach you so much about yourself.

How do you create your own Eat Pray Love journey in Brazil or anywhere? There are many ways, and you need to find your own. You certainly don’t have to figure it all out before you go. Be sure to leave yourself some free time for exploration in the moment. Elizabeth Gilbert constructed Eat Pray Love in the book in a very orderly way, saying she was exploring x in this country and y in another. That’s usually not how life works. I recommend setting an intention for what you want to explore, but also know that you will discover so much more than you initially intend. We have a hunch, but then the waters of life rush up to meet us and fill in the rest. So I say, set your intention, and then be open.

Traveling alone without a plan is brilliant. Going with a friend is also great, though you will likely have more experiences of self-discovery on your own. You will need to make your own decisions, and this is a big challenge to meet on your own. When everything is stripped away from our patterns of everyday life, you find a blank canvas. What will you choose to do? In essence, where will you put your attention, what will you do, whaat will you choose to create? Traveling without a plan is scary and exquisitely creative. Your life truly becomes art.

Let yourself be open to what happens. There is a Brazilian samba song called “Deixar a vida me llevar” which means “I let life take me.” This was my anthem during my travels, to get off my to-do list mode and let life happen, let life take me. To travel without a plan. Brazilians are probably more likely than Americans to travel without a guidebook, to let the unexpected happen. Take your cue from them and try out this style of travel if you have never tried it. And listen to this samba song for inspiration.

Learn some Portuguese, even just “tudo bem”
Brazilians will love you if you take the time to learn some Portuguese. At the mininum, learn how to say “oi” (hi) and “tudo bem?” Brazilians embrace foreigners and if you learn even a little bit of their language you will be one of the family. Perhaps because they are surrounded by Spanish, they feel “quirky” and different and will appreciate your effort. You will be loved.

Brazil is a super quirky country. Enjoy.
In addition to being a sensual country, Brazil is a quirky country. Read about my favorite quirky spots in Brazil here.

Here are some of my posts on Brazil:
Quirky Places in Brazil
“The Trouble with Brazilian Men.”
An Unexpected Quirkyalone New Year’s in Rio de Janeiro
What It Feels Like to Travel Alone in Brazil
Brazilian Happiness, Part Two

To find out more about my Brazilian adventures, be sure to sign up for the Wet list. Wet is my new book and it starts in Brazil. And let us know how your adventure goes!

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Posted in Advice, Brazil, Travel, Traveling Alone, Travels

How Travel Can Be a Laboratory for Change

Today I am interviewed over on the website sharpheels about how travel can be a laboratory for change in your life.

Here is an excerpt. . .

“For women in business, banishing the feelings and pressures associated with biological clocks, settling, and relationships or the lack thereof, can be challenging. Embracing their quirkyaloneness through travel and tango could make strong women even stronger.

Keeping high standards and insisting on the best life possible is something that inspires Cagen, and she helps people traverse that journey. Her desire to bring quirkyalone people together has birthed the travel program, Quirky Tango Adventure. Participants join Cagen in Buenos Aires where they “use tango as a metaphor for growth and connection.” The tango is a dance requiring the pairing of partners who know their own space first so that they might relate and share that space with another. It combines a strong sense of self, power, and sensuality to which many powerful women can relate, but which some find elusive in their relationships.

How has travel molded you into the person you are today? Has it had a major influence on your career and personal life choices?
A big part of my business now is curating Tango Adventures for self-discovery, and I found my passion of tango through traveling. Ironically, I first discovered tango in Cali, Colombia, the world capital of salsa. That’s what traveling is all about, unlikely discoveries!

Traveling through South America alone for 14 months in my mid-thirties really made me who I am today. I got more comfortable with following my intuition and taking risks (two qualities I needed to start my own business). When I came back home, I was bolder and had the courage to try things I never would have done before. I learned so much about pleasure, passion, and enjoying life from the people I met in Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina. There is a different quality of presence in these countries, and a different way of expressing love in the everyday.

You are an expert on being single, and call it the quirkyalone movement, can you tell us more about that?
When I was 25, I created the word “quirkyalone” as a way to describe myself and friends. I noticed that I had spent a long time being single, and so had they. I was also noticing imagery and stories in pop culture (Ally McBeal and Sex in the City) that spoke of another reality, of a group of women (and men) who preferred to be single and enjoy the freedom and friendships of that life rather than settle for a less than meaningful or satisfactory relationship.

The concept has become a lot more mainstream now, as being single has become more acceptable in the last ten years and it seems like common sense to not settle. However, being quirkyalone makes people feel like they are outside the norm because they hold out longer than a lot of people do. The concept provides important validation. Ultimately, being quirkyalone is not about being alone or being single. It’s about making a commitment to yourself first to not settle in your life or relationships, to stay connected to yourself and to fully enjoy the time you do spend single.

How can travel help women get back in touch with themselves?
I learned about a concept called liminality in a college anthropology class. Liminal zones are where the structures of the everyday are suspended and we get to discover something new about ourselves and the world. Travel is a liminal zone. When you travel, you step outside your everyday expectations. You leave behind the people you know and their expectations of you. You get a fresh canvas in the liminal zone to try new things and be a new version of yourself. This is a huge opportunity to get back in touch with the things that truly bring you alive and rediscover what you really want in life, and then, to bring that back home to your life—to recreate and layer in new things and ideas in your life.

Many people take my online classes and find courage to travel. Then they wind up changing their lives—for example, leaving a job they didn’t like anymore to start a business, or to then go live abroad. Travel is this huge laboratory for change in your life.

This is an excerpt–get more details on International Quirkyalone Day, my favorite travel destinations, and more. Click HERE to read the whole interview.

October 1 is the last day to get the early-bird discount on the February and March Tango Adventures, so if you are considering joining us in Buenos Aires, get in touch today.

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Posted in Advice, Quirkyalone, Traveling Alone

Imaginary family

Cab drivers often ask me what I’m doing here in Argentina and whether I came alone. This time I decided to lie and created an imaginary husband in New York and two children who are here with me, ages 5 and 8. My cab driver was very concerned that we were not really in love because how could I be so far from my husband for a month at a time. No, love does not work that way, he said. He thought we had love in quotation marks and not real love. He thought I had an open mind but not an open heart. I could not really say a word. I was so astonished by his outpouring in reaction to my trickster story. I wanted to amuse myself with a lie.

He told me of his long-distance loves, and how he is single now and wants to come home and cook with someone. We said we would meet again if it is our destiny. I shut the door to the cab and opened the door to my apartment in Buenos Aires with takeout food, wondering what it would be like to have that imaginary husband in New York and two kids with me here, and also happy to go home in quiet and peace. In between fiction and truth, imagining other lives.

P.S. Today we start the second Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires.

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Posted in Argentina, Traveling Alone

Five Reasons to Travel Alone

img_5687 During 2010, as I traveled alone through France, Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina, I regularly encountered people who find it courageous to travel alone. I remember a hairstylist in Bogota. As she blow-dryed my hair, she told me she couldn’t picture it. I asked her why. She couldn’t really say. So it goes. For most people, traveling alone is unimaginable.

Traveling alone still gives me a thrill, but it’s not scary anymore, I’ve done it so much. Traveling alone can be occasionally lonely, yes. I have felt pangs of loneliness at times. Scary, in South America or Europe, rarely. It’s easy to meet people when you travel alone if you stay at hostels and hook up with couchsurfing, a global network of travelers who support each other through hosting and advice. People think that couchsurfing is only for finding a place to stay, but it’s also for making friends. Go to the “groups” section and find the city you’re visiting, find out what people in the couchsurfing community are planning. Post a message saying that you are coming to town, does anyone have advice or want to have coffee? Couchsurfing members are astonishingly friendly and helpful.

Here are five reasons to travel alone, some classic, some idiosyncratic. There are also reasons to travel with a romantic partner or with friends. Each experience is unique, but traveling alone is undoubtedly rich. Add yours in the comments.

1. Learn how to make decisions.
For me, traveling alone was one crash course in making decisions–just keep on rolling the dice and see what comes up. Stop the research. Stop the analysis paralysis. Just keep choosing and living. In travel, everything is as it is, and there’s always another day to change course and choose again. A lot more happens in life when you stop worrying about what to do and just go. That problem dogged me in the year before I made the decision to travel. I was so freaked out by the idea of putting my life in storage and jumping off the known career path that I pondered the decision to death. I planned to travel only four months and wound up going for over a year. Once I got started I didn’t want to stop.

dsc03710 2. Openness to the world. The sense of risk and heightened reward is what draws me to traveling alone. Traveling with a friend can be an adventure too, but the adventure quotient is usually higher when you are alone. You’re more vulnerable in the sense that you have to seek out company and help. There is a lucky charm in traveling alone. My friend Mark lived in Rio for three years right by the beach in Ipanema. On a solo trip to Rio I stayed with him and he jokingly told me he could always spot the solo travelers by the red streaks on their backs: the spot they couldn’t reach themselves with sunscreen. Apt observation and probably true for some solo travelers but not all. But hey, just because I’m traveling alone doesn’t mean I can’t ask a hunky Carioca volleyball player to put sunscreen on the hard-to-reach places. That’s the advantage of traveling alone, isn’t it? Openness to adventure. :)

3. The grace of trusting in strangers. Traveling alone also teaches you to trust your fellow men and women. They are the ones who help you out when you are in need. I will never forget the man who stopped a long-distance bus for me in Colombia so he could go buy me Coke and toilet paper (I confessed to him that I had “digestive” issues right before we got on the bus). Then he invited me to his family’s home for lunch, and I still get emails from the family saying they will never forget me. I have had similar experiences all over Brazil and Colombia. The kindness and welcoming spirit is unbelievable.

4. Star in your own movie. When you travel alone, the trip is completely yours. You are the star of your own movie. All the mistakes are yours to make, the serendipitous discoveries to enjoy, and the insights to savor. The recollection of the trip is entirely personal and private. Even though I have blogged extensively about my travels, there is no one who was along the whole journey with me who can say what it was all about. Some people prefer to share memories and make meaning from the trip together. That is beautiful as well, but there is also a soul-searching power in doing an odyssey on your own.

When we set out on an extended travel by ourselves, we may not know why we are going when we begin, and it may only be clear when we come back. When you finally understand the narrative of your solo trip, it’s your secret.

Me and my Belgian BFF

Me and my Belgian BFF

5. A new best friend (or love) 4-eva. In a whole year of travel, I made a new best friend who I know will be a friend for life. We will be at each other’s weddings if we get married, we coach each other through our post-(or newly)-travel lives, and we hope to meet up for other adventures in Africa, Asia, and to dance tango in Buenos Aires. We spent close to two months together in Cali, and we met up again in Buenos Aires for two more months. Our friendship is pure gold and we have both helped each other grow in innumerable ways. That openness to a new friend might not have been there if I had already been traveling with someone else. And who knows? You might meet the love of your life. Thataforementioned friend did actually . . . .

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Posted in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Travel, Traveling Alone, Travels

Deciding to Enjoy Life

The dreamy streets of Barichara

On my final afternoon in Barichara, a tiny, beautiful, impossibly tranquil Colombian mountain town I have now decided is heaven, I dropped in to a sweet bakery and coffee shop for a rainy-day cappuccino. A Colombian woman, around 50, asked if she could park her bags and herself at my table. Of course. For me, meeting locals is really the whole point of traveling.

My new friend Shoya is a painter and also rents rooms to tourists. She would like to organize artistic tours of Barichara to show visitors the artistic side of the city: sculptors’ studios and the beautiful interiors of Barichara homes. My Brazilian friends Roma and Iracema and I stayed in a couple’s home, sort of an informal bed and breakfast worthy of being written up in Conde Nast Traveler, that only cost $17 a night. The interiors are indeed stunning. The ceilings are about twenty feet high and have exposed driftwood beams, the floors are large cobblestones, and every windowsill and bookshelf was adorned with a piece of unexpected art. My shower consisted of water that shoots over a piece of rock, creating the sensation of taking a shower out in nature.

A hammock in my home away from home in Barichara

Shoya and I talked about writing, sculpture and painting, and how to avoid suffering during the creative process, when the answer to a problem is not yet clear. It sounded like she had spent enough time in solitude painting. While she loves painting, the solitude is not always fun or easy. So she wants to spice up her life doing other things she enjoys.

Somehow conversation turned to San Francisco’s cable cars and the enjoyment of life. She asked me about the cable cars, and I said, yes, they are great but they are for tourists. Why, she said. I explained they don’t help me get where I need to go. And that in twelve years of living in San Francisco I never even took a cable car.

In my thirteenth year, I decided that I wanted to take a cable car. I wanted to enjoy life and somehow taking a cable car–doing a touristy thing in my own town–became symbolic of enjoying life. I told her I wanted to “disfrutar la vida,.” I finally took a cable car ride with my best friends Jenny, Liz, Sonya, and Adam, and Jenny and Adam’s son Kai as part of a scavenger hunt we organized for Jenny’s birthday. None of us had ever gone on a cable car before. The ride was magic.

My new Colombian sculptor friend immediately latched on to this phrase, “disfrutar la vida,” and become quite animated.
Read more ›

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Posted in Colombia, Personal Growth, Travel, Traveling Alone

Why I Always Celebrate My Birthday—And You Should Too (Yours, I¬¨‚ĆMean)

One of my stylish dance partners at the tango club, La Matraca, on my birthday eve

I just celebrated my birthday in Cali, Colombia with more than 24 hours of celebration.

Many people around my age prefer to de-emphasize or ignore their birthdays rather than call attention to getting older. It is easy to be filled with anxiety about a new chronological age. I won’t even get into the reasons why: We all know them.

As Bette Davis famously said, getting older is not for sissies. As I get older, I feel like it’s even more important to make a big deal out of the day that I was born to counteract all the negativity around age. I’m a believer in the extended birthday celebration. Why only one day? My friends Sonya and Liz, twins, and I share the same birthday. One year, when they turned 30, we celebrated for a whole week with four separate celebrations, including a piano concert at 7:30 am at a Turkish cafe on our actual birthday before work.

As I get older, I am more and more committed to being happy on my birthday and creating a great experience. I remember turning 29 in Hawaii. I was on a weeklong vacation with my dear friend Ali, who is six years younger than me. I moped about turning 29, how I hadn’t published a book yet, found the love of my life, whatever. Ali was very annoyed with me. I can’t believe that I wasted that birthday in Hawaii whining about nothingness when I could have been appreciating the moment, or created an experience that I would have loved. In this respect, I am starting to believe that people really do get happier as they get older. You learn how to live.

I’m really committed to never lying about my age, and instead being proud of all my experience. I think of my friend Ira in Rio for inspiration here. We celebrated her 40th birthday together with her toting around childlike candles for 4-0 the whole weekend, and she kept saying how happy she was to have made it to age 40. She was so joyful in her gratitude. She didn’t always believe she would survive (and we’re not talking about someone with a fatal disease) til age 40. I never heard an American woman talk about being grateful for making it to 40.

A Colombian friend Yeimmi gave me a great idea for how to answer the frequent question, How old are you? Her aunt Olga (her role model in life, who runs a cleaning business in Florida and sounds like a very feisty, smart woman) taught her how to joke and answer with a smile, “20 with x years of experience.” That way you get to be forever young with layers of sexy wisdom and maturity.

For the last five years I have been celebrating with Liz and Sonya. Part of me would have loved to have been in San Francisco to celebrate with them. But I also wanted this birthday to reflect the spirit of this year’s adventure. Even if it absolutely sucked and I was totally alone in some random shitty hotel, I wanted the chance to see what would happen. I wanted that sense of risk. The feeling of being suspended in air for my birthday in keeping with the rest of 2010. Life is more memorable when you change things up.

So I decided to stay in Cali, though, which has become home over the last three weeks anyway. This hostel is the coziest places where I have stayed and I have become close with several people here. I am having one of the times of my life losing (and finding) myself in Cali’s dance culture, learning Caleno-style salsa and tango. (More to come on these in future blog posts.)

My birthday eve was Sunday night at La Matraca, a magically nostalgic tango (and salsa) club in a dodgy neighborhood that my Belgian friend Griet and I discovered three weeks ago. We have become regulars, fancying ourself “Las Reinas de La Matraca” (The Queens of La Matraca). There are many other Reinas — graceful tango dancers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who are an absorbing joy to watch.

My birthday eve at La Matraca included four fantastic things:

An out-of-this-world performance by a 74-year-old woman who might be a lunatic but is also a singing and dancing genius. Watch this:

Dancing in a circle with a group of women and men in their 60s and 70s. In my opinion, exuberant dancing in a circle holding hands is one version of heaven.

My first tango in public. Doing tango in public had the barrier-breaking quality of hanggliding or bungee jumping. Survival! I just stared at my tango dancer’s upper left chest the whole time, which is where the woman is supposed to look.

Thanks to my Colombian friend William, I got to live my dream of a birthday dance. In my travels in Brazil, I noticed this tradition at a capoeira class and at a weekly afternoon “baile” dance at the Carioca Cultura Center. A circle forms and the focus is totally on the birthday girl or boy for her or his spin on the dance floor with one partner after another. It’s a euphoric thing to watch, the happiness of the person moving from one partner to the next. I always thought that was a great fusion of birthdays and the dance culture in South America, and I was thrilled to live that moment myself. I really have no idea what this dance is. It’s not paso doble or fox or . . . ? But I played along. Here’s my birthday dance. Unfortunately YouTube doesn’t have a rotate feature so it’s sideways: rotate your head.

Oscar and Griet leaping into an icy cold natural pool below a waterfall on the birthday hike

On my actual birthday, a new friend and ecology student Oscar led me and my Belgian friends Wouter and Griet on a slippery hike along a river to a spectacular and icy cold waterfall with a natural pool below it. Back at the hostel, Griet and two others at he hostel cooked a tall stack of crepes for a communal birthday dinner. I felt so touched that people whom I met just three weeks ago took the time to create a birthday dinner. And finally in the 24-hour birthday marathon, we went salsa dancing at Las Brisas, where we danced with our salsa teacher and saw salsa world champions from the school Swing Latino perform their superhumanly fast footwork.

Not bad for 28 hours in a country where I knew no one before arriving six weeks ago. This was really a magical birthday and I’m grateful that I took the risk of celebrating while traveling. Now I am resting. Whew! I really have no idea what the next year will bring. But after all, I’m only 20 (with 17 years of experience). I’m not supposed to know yet.

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Posted in Colombia, Traveling Alone


12002600_902897086456109_8186366802280296051_o If you are new to me and my work, please check out this "about" page. You can also get to know me through the words I have created (or redefined):

the tangasm

My Books

Sasha Cagen's books Check out my books: Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics
"Of all of the books that I've read, Quirkyalone has definitely been one of the most important books for affirming my journey and cultivating self-acceptance. I've picked it up at many different moments and it always brings so much wisdom and joy. Thank you for all that you've created, because it's truly a gift!"--Caroline Leamon, Montreal
To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us "Sasha Cagen's glazomania (list obsession) spawned a to-do list empire, from a blog to a book to a magazine, where she celebrates these scribbled bullet points to ourselves."--Neal Conan, Talk of the Nation, NPR

Come away with me to Buenos Aires

Discover yourself through tango through a tangasmic tango adventure. . . or a personalized adventure

What is “wet”?

What is wet? Learn about my new book-in-progress Wet and join the conversation about what "wet" means.

Sasha on CNN, at Google, and on Nomadtopia