I was standing in the center of the lounge/dining room/bigcommonspace of Equilibrio Eco Lodge (with whom I was bartering in exchange of accommodation and food in Las Salinas, Nicaragua) holding my cellphone in my right hand. The weak wi fi had an elusive sweet spot in the Hangatorium (that’s the nickname the owners had given this multipurpose space) so I was trying to sync my email and other apps. As I scrolled down my FB feed (looking for who knows what) I suddenly saw an Ad from the Wi Fi Tribe. This ad was inviting me to co work and co live with digital location-independent entrpreneurs and professionals.
I had read about group travel projects for digital nomads before. I had even met some of the Remote Year group that was in Buenos Aires in April during a meetup for digital nomads I attended a few weeks before starting my own nomadic adventure. But this ad made me curious. I gently pressed the enticing image on it: 4 people in their swimsuits standing inside an infinity pool with their laptops on the edge and the perfect blue sky and ocean as the backdrop. My curious touch took me to the Wi Fi Tribe’s website. I don’t know how many more curious touches later, I was reading the list of their upcoming destinations. Nicaragua was one of them. I touched again. This stretch of their trip was beginning in only 6 days and would last for 6 weeks. Without further thought, I copied the name of the beach and pasted it on Google Maps. I was still walking around the Hangatorium trying to keep up with the moving wi fi sweet spot. Gigante Beach was less than an hour away from that fleeting sweetspot. I laughed out loudly in the middle of lonely common space. I knew this was not a coincidence but an algorithm. Regardless, I was feeling the same tickling excitement that interesting coincidences usually give me.
I went on and looked them up on Facebook right away. I had checked their prices at their website and, although they were not completely unaffordable, I was not willing to pay those prices for a level of comfort and convenience I don’t need (although I can very much enjoy). My thought was that with so few days remaining until the beginning of their stay, they would most likely be willing to arrange an exchange with me if they still had any free beds. I sent my proposal in 3 or 4 facebook messages that described the situation, the coincidence algorithm, the affinity and interest. I also backed it up with a handful of links and completely forgot about it the minute I set foot outside the Hangatorium. Somebody walked by and said something to me, or I went out kayaking or to record a scene for the Equilibrio video, who knows. Luckily they replied that very afternoon and we went straight into negotiating my happy second Nicaraguan barter. It only took 2 or 3 emails and a Skype call to have our deal: I would edit a video for their future Facebook Ads and get a spot in the house and meals for 15 days in return. I was very excited about this change of circumstances. These people and I would have things in common that I don’t have with most travelers: the wifi related lifestyle, the entrepreneurial attitude, the technological and digital interests. Those things I can’t share neither with the slow paced handcraft creating, hostel exchanges travelers nor with the blond, surfboard carrying English-speaking tourists. The ones travel for a long time with very little money, the others travel briefly on their strong currencies; but neither tend to have a lifestyle similar to mine. I truly enjoy putting my chameleonic skills to test by dramatically changing my circumstances and was very happy I would get to do that again so soon. The idea of finding myself among digital nomad was thrilling because it would light up colours in me that are not lid up by the other travelers.
The first week at the Wi Fi Tribe House was quite interesting. The things I had in common with the others quickly vanished from my perception, as it tends to happen with whatever is comfortable. My attention, on the contrary, diverted to the many differences we had. I always imagine what I do and don’t have in common with others represented in Venn diagrams, those eliptical representations that would overlap in order to show elements that belonged to more than one set. A tiny voice inside my head complained about my attitude telling me to stop it but my attention continued to fall on to the elements that were sitting outside every intersection. I was being a faulty chameleon: instead of blending in, I was flashing complementary colors. We had lots in common: the technological interest, the need for stable wi fi, some of the culture enjoyed when growing up (bands, films, a taste for design) and immediate circumstances: house ,weather, food. Still, during the first few days, each sitting behind their own screen; I didn’t feel we were sharing much. It probably wasn’t intentionally or knowingly. First Realisation: To have in common doesn’t necessarily mean to share.
The Language and the Bodies
They couldn’t speak to the locals. In Nicaragua, almost no locals speak good English. The big house all the nomads were sharing was kept by 3 locals: Ana, Gerar and Emérita. Ana was the cleaning lady, Gerar took care of maintenance and Emérita cooked delicious food for us every day of the week. Apart from them, there was a Nicaraguan man who rented out the car we were all sharing. I was the only Latin American on the side of those who were being served. It was strange to feel the strength of everything I had in common with them, the other Spanish speakers. The language, the warmth of the bodies more prone to hugging, the simple small town sense of humor (in which it’s more importante to want to laugh together than the actual wittiness or spark of the joke), the awareness of how rough life can be in this place. Some things occured that intensified those intersections. During one of my first days at the house I saw Emérita sobbing as I walked past the kitchen. At first I thought this had to do with an allergy she had mentioned to me and offered to turn off the fan. As a reply, Eme burst into tears on my chest. Half an hour later she and I were in the Wi Fi Tribe’s car; I was driving her 45 minutes to the hospital so she could stand by her sister during a family tragedy. That was the first time I ever drove the common car and also the first time I ever drove an automatic one. And I didn’t even request it, I just took it. I was possesed by an assertive and determined fire that reminds me of my Mom: to have an impression of what a situation requires and getting on with it. That was the day Eme and I became friends. During the following weeks we would go shopping together. I would feel slightly guilty because nobody was paying her for these extra hours of work, but she was calm maybe even enjoying the ride and being able to pick her own ingredients. We cooked, gossiped, laughed and sang each other “Happy Birthday”. Ana, too, approached me after hearing me sing at the house: she wanted to share her music with me and introduce me to her family. Her son picked me up on a motorbike and took a dirt road leading to their place where the whole family was awaiting me with lunch: patio chicken soup and melon juice. They tought me how to build a base guitar out of a bucket and a branch and they used it to play and sing for me.
On the other hand, as I spent time with the other nomads I was feeling the differences between my Latin culture and third world origin with their Saxon and first world background quite strongly. Many of them were business people. That to me meant they work with the goal of making money. This is absolutely conventional, I know, why else would anybody work at all? But at the same time I’ve always felt a stranger to that concept. For starters, I have (or had) a rejection towards the word business. I’m trying to make peace with it because I’m obviously an entrepreneur too. The problem is I connect that word with forms of conducting activities that I dislike. These forms are obviously not the only ones but the sole idea of focusing more on the how much than the what, how or why makes me nauseous.
There’s something about the abstract goal of money that seems to mask and justify any step taken in its direction. But that’s of course my own prejudice: that every business is soul less and intends to grow infinetly – the cornerstone lie of neo liberalism that I so greatly despice. Truth is none of the other nomads were unscrupulous or cruel business people. They are just people who were born in the winning team of a game at which most of humanity is losing. However privileged, they are not entirely stagnant or comfortable. They are still searching, they are curious and want to see other things. As I started learning about everyone’s individual story through co-living and deep conversations, prejudice gave way to understanding and empathy. The organisational challenges we were facing helped us get to know each other better. I was often the one in charge of communicating with the “outside world” for every one else. The appreciated and thanked me for it. They made sure I knew they thought that was valuable. They never hesitated to express their surprise at my versatility. I, for the most part, was enjoying the pendulum: I would swing from fluently interacting with locals in order to solve domestic issues; to discussing business ideas, issues and trends with the nomads. Many mornings I’d knead chapatis (a simple type of pastry made with flour and water) for them, jump on the 4 trax (stick drive) to do the shopping for the week to edit my videos, discuss online platforms or plan the next recreational activity upon returning. It’s apparent that I am a bridge person who doesn’t feel entirely at home in any of either shores, but quite happy at both. Maybe that’s exactly why I can’t stop swinging. Maybe that’s why I can’t commit to spending 8 hours behind the screen everyday but do enjoy the many I do choose to spend. Maybe that’s why this lifestyle suits me so perfectly. Maybe that’s why after the 15 days of our deal, the WiFi Tribe organisers (who were not in Nicaragua) asked me to stay all the way until the end in exchange for continuing to help with organization. Second Realisation: Becoming part of a set one expects to belong to, also helps stress one’s own singularity.
I ended up staying at the WiFi Tribe house for over a month. There was time and space to share both what we had in common and what we didn’t. Collaborating, brainstorming, confessing secrets, laughing, taking care of each other. I spent the most unbelievable birthday during which every single person I had been sharing intersections and differences with, made me feel a lot of love. Saxons and Latins. I recorded another videosong almost entirely around the house, using the edge of the pool I had seen on that very first photo to setup the glass bottles with which I played the base line. I made friends I would have never made under any other circumstances. That’s exactly why it’s so interesting to live with other people, to share the daily spaces, the adventures and misfortunes and of course, the troubles. Aaron, one of the wifi tribe participants, amazing problem solver teammate and my first ever Texan friend told me, as we spoke about the paradoxical value of misorganisation at fostering deeper bonds among us: “That’s when you see people’s true colors”. Third Realisation: I must be less of a chameleon than I thought, showing my true colors all over the place and falling in love with the colorful world of the others.
This was my 4th videosong: “It burns” recorded mainly around the house
This is the video Ad I put together for the Wi Fi Tribe