Chris Tyre over at the lovely blog Nomad + Camera interviewed me about why and how I chose to leave Silicon Valley tech stress for a more artistic life in South America. And how I got here. Plus you can read up on the tangasm. Why wouldn’t you want to read about that? Here’s the lovely Nomad + Camera interview that’s published today!
Chris Tyre interviews digital nomad types all over the world about how they have created new lives for themselves. The interviews are well worth reading.
David Foster Wallace (RIP) and his hilarious essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again” on the “nearly-lethal comforts of cruises” shaped my opinion of cruises. In 1996, Harper’s Magazine asked Wallace to go on a cruise and write a long postcard back and the result was a hilariously snide series of paragraphs that made cruises sound like hell: floating germ factories of overconsumption. After reading the essay, I thought I would never go on a cruise. Plus, I’ve generally been an independent traveler who likes to get deep into the culture and meet people when I travel. Going on a cruise was not on my bucket list. More like my not-to-do-list.
When I got the opportunity to go on a “social impact cruise” for free this year with the newly formed wing of Carnival cruises Fathom Travel, dedicated to social impact travel, I had to wonder, do cruises and social impact go together? What does that even mean? Fathom invited me on as a blogger to spread the word to my readers and I thought, well, volunteer work on a cruise in the Carribbean. Interesting.
Fathom, a dot.org, it turns out, is a very unique newly launched line within Carnival, one of the largest cruise ship lines in the world. Founded by Tara Russell from Boise, Idaho, who has a background in startups and nonprofits, Fathom has a mission to combine personal growth, volunteerism, and travel, to bring out the greatness of human potential through travel, cultural immersion, and what they call “social impact” volunteerism.
Mother-Daughter Bonding, Meeting Up in Miami
I invited my mother to join me, since I live in Buenos Aires and she lives in Rhode Island, this would be a chance for mother-daughter bonding. We would meet in Miami. My mother said yes but she told me later she was afraid she would hate being on a cruise. I felt the same way, but I had actually looked at the website and saw the cruise was integrating yoga, meditation, storytelling and design-thinking workshops along with service projects in the Dominican Republic. I nudged her along to keep an open mind, and so we made our travel plans and we met finally in downtown Miami, the day before the cruise was set to sail.
7 Days from Miami to the Dominican Republic, and What Would Happen???
The cruise would be 7 days long, Sunday to Sunday. We would start off from the Port of Miami, sail to the Dominican Republic docked for three days to do the service projects and tour the country, then sail back for a day and a half to return on Sunday.
The Sunday to embark finally came, and it was thrilling to finally be ready to see what “cruising,” which I would learn is a verb, is all about. I felt a glee when we first boarded, as I walked through the elegant lounges, bars, and dining rooms, and then out on the soupy-air Miami decks looking at the incredible blue of the water. When I proclaimed that I felt like I was on the Titanic on Facebook and my long-time friend Sara commented that only a true Titanic lover would happily make that comparison. I wasn’t really worried about sinking, no. I was just expecting tacky. The aesthetic of the ship of dark woods, antique lamps and artwork, combined with posters with inspirational travel messages, was really appealing.
The Adonia holds 700 people, as opposed to the 4,000 or so that go on a normal Carnival cruise (the kind Wallace was writing about). The sales director later said they consider the Adonia a mix of English country and rock and roll, and that’s fair, since they also had a cover band on the ship with dancing nightly (which brought together all the generations to dance). At our first dinner we shared a table with Monica, who works for Carnival, who said a normal cruise is as big as a football field and you would have to plan your entire day when you leave the room. To me, that sounded awful. But the Adonia was manageable.
The food — and the service — was fantastic, I must say. I was nervous since I have celiac disease and double-checked to be sure they would have gluten-free options. Not only did they have gluten-free options, they had two special diet cooks who would make me almost any dessert I wanted. Every night a waiter would take my order for the next day so they could prepare special meals for me. In fact, if anything, the food was too good. Even as a celiac I ate way too much. David Foster Wallace was right about the overconsumption if not the tackiness.
The people? There were a lot of families and traditional folk, but there was also a bit of everything. We met an Ottawa woman who worked for the Canadian Army in a long-distance relationship with an economics professor from Mississippi, who met up for the cruise. We met single travelers who came just because “they needed to do something” and the trip was a deal at its launch. We met adult sisters traveling together, an aunt who took her nephew on as a graduation present. I connected with some fabulous travel agents who want to do purpose-oriented boutique trips for their new travel agency Intention Travel. They may collaborate with me on the Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires. Here’s us having drinks.
Making a clay water filter with liquid silver and sawdust with the organization Wine to Water in the DR
So what about the social-impact part of the cruise? What did that actually mean? The Fathom staff was made up of mostly young people, some Peace Corps volunteers and Teach for America alums on the staff, and they had partnered with local nonprofit organizations on the Dominican Republic to organized half-day or day-long activities where the ship’s passengers could sign up to “make an impact.”
The impact activities ranged from helping to pour a cement floor for families who had only lived on mud floors, and planting trees to helping create water filters using liquid silver in pottery to kill bacteria and provide safe drinking water, to teaching English to kids and adults in communities and schools who wanted to learn.
My mother and I took part in two “impact activities.” One one day we worked with the local chapter of a global organization called Wine to Water that’s helping to create technology for safe drinking water around the world. Fathom charged $30 for the water filter activity, which went to support the project. The technology was fascinating: we helped make clay water filters that blends clay, sawdust, and liquid silver to kill bacteria.
Another day we trucked out to a village to meet with a community of kids and adults who want to learn English. We met in their homes to practice vocabulary. Here are two of the kids we practiced English with. When you imagine they are getting to practice weekly with native speakers you realize this adds up over time and can make a real impact on a community.
So were the social impact activities genuine? Do they make a difference? I wondered if the social impact would be real, but my mother and I were both impressed in the end. At our final dinner, she said, “You go to church or read the newspaper and people are all talking about these problems with the environment, safe drinking water, poverty, and then here’s this company that’s not just talking about it, they’re doing something and it’s actually effective.” It is impressive. Some of the cement floors are going to families who have infants.
We participated in the sixth cruise to the Dominican Republic and the cumulative impact so far of the cruises have been:
• 728 English learners learning English from the participants who come to practice with them
• 8,000 seedlings for plants in a reforestation project
• 1,679 cocoa nibs sorted for 49,000 chocolate bars
• 3,850 sheets of paper create for a recycled paper project and job opportunities for the women who work on this project
• 16 homes poured with cement floors
• 316 water filters made with liquid silver, sawdust and clay helping 1500 people get safe drinking water without having to buy bottled water, reducing disease and lost time from school and work
Some fun stuff: Waterfalls! Is there anything funner?
We also did fun stuff in the Dominican Republic. My personal favorite was climbing up waterfalls and then shooting down or jumping off them. I must say my mother was quite the trooper for doing this seven-waterfall hike. We’re lucky no one hurt any joints or limbs. Many thanks to our incredible guide Leoni Vargas who took these photos and was able to navigate these wild falls with his phone in a little plastic bag to keep it safe, then he sent me the photos.
Back to a “supposedly fun thing I would never do again.” Would I go on a Fathom cruise again? Yes. It actually was really fun. I love being wrong sometimes. Life is much much more interesting when you are wrong and discover something new.
Here you can see my mother and I discuss the “Fathom Experience” over cocktails by the beach in the Dominican Republic, by the “Malecon” (boardwalk) of Puerto Plata, near where the ship was docked for three days.
If you missed us LIVE, we have the replay of our boldness hangout on video! YAY!
This Hangout is great to put on at night when you are chilling out . . .it gives you ideas for how to increase your confidence in dance, life, AND dating. It’s also a great preview of the people you will meet in Buenos Aires if you join us and what to expect for this week of “intense enjoyment”!
On the Hangout is Nele, tango dancer and psicotanguera, my Estonian friend who is the co-guide for the Quirky Heart Tango Adventure (and also a great lead dancer who will invite you to dance if you come! that offer is made in this hangout!) and Carissa, world-traveler and new tango dancer who joined us in Buenos Aires in May as a total beginner.
Here are some of our favorite moments from the Hangout.
3:19 I show you how to show desire through your eyes to invite someone to dance–use this dating and meeting new people!
5:52 Nele talks about sometimes going out and feeling frustrated when no one asked her to dance, then learning how to invite men to dance–use this to learn how to ask someone out
13:24 Carissa shares how our psicotango workshop helped her break out of her shell and put herself out there–this has applications for learning to put yourself out there more
18:37 Nele tells us about her first tangasm in Italy—she was a total beginner. Your first tangasm is one you will never forget. And it’s accessible to you even if you have never taken a dance class before.
Spaces are filling up for the next adventures. Choose your week February 21-28 or March 14-21.
If you sign up by December 1, you only need to put down your deposit of $800 to secure your space.
Amanda practices with Nele, our guide extraordinaire, at La Catedral in Buenos Aires
This week I want to share two stories with you from Carissa and Amanda, two awesome women who joined me in Buenos Aires this May for the Quirky Heart Tango Adventure (note new name).
Carissa and Amanda shared with me how tango continues to reverberate in their lives in unpredictable ways.
While some people who joined our Adventure already danced tango, Carissa and Amanda were both total beginners when they arrived. Now Carissa is dancing in Tampa, Florida, and loving her “tango hug time.” Amanda hasn’t taken up tango in Portland *yet* but she is thinking about tango when she thinks about relationships.
Six months after the trip, I caught up with Amanda to see how tango is resonating in her life. Amanda is super insightful about how learning tango has changed the way she looks at relationships. This is why I teach “quirky tango”–learning deep lessons through your body, through dance in particular, can change your life in a different way than “thinking” your way through a problem can. When you learn something through the cells of your body the lesson sticks.
Later this week I’ll share Carissa’s stories of tango hug time in Florida. Stay tuned.
What did you learn through tango about creating a healthy relationship?
I learned what constituted a healthy relationship; the ability to give generously to one another without losing sight of one’s own needs. I also learned how to recognize an unhealthy relationship and walk away.
I learned that learning relationships is like learning to tango; it will take a lot of practice to become moderately good at it but that practice can (and should) be very enjoyable and you can practice with the same person as long as you are both making an effort to improve. You don’t have to enter into a relationship (or the dance) as an expert and when you do start dancing with someone new it will take some adjustment before you moved seamlessly.
What you have applied to your life now that you have been back almost six months?
Tango provided me with a concrete example of how relationships require self-awareness and the ability to recognize and respond to another person’s emotional state. I also realized that my inclination to make excuses for a communication gap in a relationship was counterproductive for all; I just had to imagine how we might tango and how uncomfortable it feels when you are being led by someone who doesn’t seem to notice or care where your weight in centered or how awkward it would be to lead someone unable or unwilling to follow.
Tango is an intimate conversation, much like relationships, and it’s critical that we understand ourselves and each other on a very basic level so that we can communicate effectively.”Read More
“Do what you love, and the partner will follow.” I wish someone had drilled that into my brain six years ago when I was stuck in a swamp of self-doubt, and I thought I needed to stay put in a life I did not enjoy, do the online dating treadmill, and meet a man before my expiration date made me unattractive (read: “unfertile.”)
That is why I want everyone who is single (or coupled) and questioning the best way to live their lives to listen to this podcast. My friend Amy Scott, the creator of Nomadtopia, interviewed me. Whether you have dreams of a location-independent lifestyle or not, listen in. We are talking about living the life you really want to lead and trusting that vitality and confidence will attract the people you are meant to meet. As opposed to sitting around and waiting to meet the “right partner” and then going off to live the life you want to lead.
Amy Scott is a writer and coach who helps people to create lives of freedom and adventure they really want. Amy has been on the location-independent path for over ten years. Amy and I first met when I was about to move to Buenos Aires. We have supported each other along the location-independent and quirkyalone paths. (Amy is married and I’m not, but we are both quirkyalones.)
Amy interviewed me for her Nomadtopia podcast, which is all about “real people living global lives,” sharing stories of inspiration so you can live and work wherever your heart desires. We talked about my the life churn I’m chronicling in my new book (in progress) Wet that led me to these realizations about doing what I love first, my Quirky Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires, the importance of leading the life you really want to lead and questioning societal packages–for example, getting married or buying a house doesn’t necessarily mean “settling down” and being in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean being joined at the hip.
Reclaiming quirkyalone: it’s about being happy on your own firstSasha: “The limited idea of quirkyalone I was running away from was that it’s just about being happy single. There can be this overreaction about reclaiming singlehood where people then flatten out the concept and think it’s just about being happy single. There are people who are totally committed to being single and that’s wonderful and appropriate because that’s how they feel, maybe they change their minds or not, that’s great, but that’s never what quirkyalone was about.”
“The word alone has 2,000 meanings. For me ‘alone’ means an independence of spirit and you approve of yourself. Classically when I came up with ‘quirkyalone’ it was about being willing to going to a wedding alone as opposed to with a date because going with a date is social convention. You’re willing to live your life and it goes to the level of Nomadtopia. You’re willing to leave your life and go off on this adventure alone because that is what you really want to do.”Read More
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!
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.
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.
Demonstrating a figure (though still with connection)
Such a great little speech in tango class today at the Dinzel Studio from Camelo, a Colombian tango teacher who is the son of one of my first tango teachers, Leyda, who lives in Cali (Colombia).
Here it goes. “If you have a lover, which of these two lovers do you want? Do you want the lover who knows all the positions from the Kama Sutra? Or do you want the lover who has a real sense of quality connection, who tunes into sensation, in the moment, with a real quality?” Everyone in the class chose the second option. “Maybe if you were a teenager you would want the Kama Sutra lover, but as you get older you know that you want the second kind. So it is with tango. You waste energy on all these figures. You lose out on the essence of tango if you don’t cultivate the connection.”
Figures are fancy dance steps. What matters most in tango is the connection. People get bored and try out more fancy figures in tango (or positions in sex) because they have not actually just tuned into the connection of the moment. To drop in. Breathe. And actually feel the connection. Which is what makes both things delicious.
Bravo! We don’t get speeches like that from our tango teachers in the States.
Today I’m introducing a new feature. . . it’s called Quirky Characters. I’m starting this feature because I’m a quirky-character magnet. My life is interesting because I attract people who have chosen to live in different ways or who simply emanate a quirky, innovative outlook on how they live their lives. They suggest new ways for us to look at how we live our lives and our world. So I’m going to take this part of my life and share it with you because I think these Quirky Characters deserve a bigger audience.
Leo Jara directly confronting climate change outside the eco-villa
The first official Quirky Character is Argentine Leonardo Jara, an eco-dreamer (he calls himself a “loco” [crazy]) who is building a sustainable community on the Tigre river just outside of Buenos Aires entirely out of trash. He calls it the Echo Movement. Why Echo? I asked. “It’s poetry.” He said. Each little pod of sustainable development will be an echo to others all over the world to create their own sustainable eco-villas: places that have been created to be sustainable, autonomous, and in harmony with the natural environment.
the eco-villa in all its recycled glory, Tigre, Bueno Aires, Argentina
Leo bought this land thirteen years ago when he was 23. Over the last four years, over 600 volunteers (travelers/backpackers/couchsurfers who have come through and spent a day or a week working with him) have constructed a little house made almost exclusively of recycled materials. Everything they use is someone else’s trash: the pots, wood, toilet, mattresses, lamps, wood, chairs, refrigerator, everything. Nothing was purchased (except for some materials for the roof and its system to convert rain water into drinking water). Everything was scavenged or given to them by neighbors. Who, by the way, all have very cute, fancy little weekend cottages and normal lawns–it’s quite the contrast between the wild eco-villa and the weekend homes surrounding it. (Imagine a band of environmental anarchists creating a community in the middle of the Hamptoms. Kind of like that.) Read More
When I first got interested in South America, I spent a lot of time in Brazil (my first South American love as a country) and I heard the saying, “Brazilians party and Argentines protest.” Indeed. Argentines were born to protest. It just seems to be in their genes. Few Argentines dance tango but many talk politics. Argentines are also really good at complaining and looking at the complexities of life, but that’s another story.
The anti-government 8N protest (or cacerolazo, pot-banging protest) in Buenos Aires this past Thursday was spectacular. I’ve never been to a protest quite like it. I met up with two Colombian friends (one of whom has been living here for four years, so she has her things to protest about) on Santa Fe, one of the main avenues with people streaming into the downtown Obelisk, and we joined in for the ride. The streams of people blew us away. We have no protest tradition like this in the U.S. or Colombia where it is a mainstream activity to go out in the streets with hundreds of thousands of people and cheerfully bang on pots and pans to speak your complaint about politics. The crowd was diverse: Girls in their Catholic school outfits, mothers pushing strollers, elderly folks, everyone. People seemed so happy and alive and dignified streaming down the streets. Protesting seems to alchemize complaint into joy.Read More
Dear readers! Dear me! It’s been almost a month since I posted. My life has gone topsy-turvy since moving to Buenos Aires. I’ve been here almost a month now and I finally feel ground below me, enough to post again.
To make sense of it I will make a list of all the things I’ve been getting used to in this new version of life, so far south on the globe:
The colors in the kitchen are my absolute favorite–aqua and green. This place was made for me.
1) A new apartment: It is the tendency of Americans to plan ahead. Everyone in San Francisco asked me, “Do you know where you are staying?” And I said, “No. I will look when I get there.” As a veteran traveler I know that planning sometimes is not the best way and the best thing to do is just show up. My theory worked. i wound up choosing the first place I saw, two days after I arrived, a gorgeous little one-bedroom owned by a tango teacher that actually feels a lot like home, exquisite aesthetic, a balcony overlooking a tree and a very beautiful street.)
2) A new schedule: When someone asks me to have a drink, he wants to get together at 11 pm. The milongas–events where we go out to dance tango–often get going at midnight and go until 4 am. I often went to bed in San Francisco between 11 pm and midnight. It’s taken me a full month to adjust and not feel terminally groggy during the day.
3) A new climate: Hot! Humid! It’s only primavera (spring) but it’s already in the 90s. What will it be like by January? The humidity however is great for my skin.Read More
Hey, I'm Sasha Cagen. I'm the author of Quirkyalone + To-Do List, the founder of the quirkyalone movement, and a coach for women who provides a creative, action-oriented alternative to therapy. I live in Buenos Aires where I teach tango as a metaphor in a 7-day Tango Holiday in Buenos Aires.
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Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. In her well-loved newsletter, Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women get clear on what they want and go for it. Sasha also uses tango as a tool in her coaching practice to help women reconnect with their sensuality and confidence.
A memoirist and a tanguera, she's passionate about using writing, storytelling and tango in her transformative work with women.