Portuguese Sardines and Spanish Paella - And a New Laptop
Editor’s Note: Naum Kaluzhny, a Fuze employee, has been traveling and working abroad, as part of a four-month program with Remote Year. Read more about his journey:
The sun was shining and the sound of passing boats surrounded us as we waited to start the 6 kilometer walk from Lisbon to Belem at eight in the morning. All 50 of us with our cell phones open to the “Charity Miles” app, ready to click start. The goal was to walk as far as possible for the next two hours, with each step raising money for the charity of our choice, while also getting our group one step closer to winning the friendly competition between all the Remote Year groups currently around the world. Several individuals immediately began to run or jog, and while most of the group walked at a slow steady pace, my friend and I realized that we were ahead of those walking, away from the group and doing our own thing at our own pace. We talked about life, about the trip so far, laughing and also having several serious moments. While all of us arrived at the same destination, we all arrived at different times, completing the challenge the way we were personally able to. This is what Remote Year was all about: living and working each day the way that suited you best, growing and changing at your own pace, while still having a support group around you to help you get to the finish line
Arriving in Lisbon on a gloomy Sunday morning, after spending February in Morocco and the previous five days in Rome, was a liberating and refreshing feeling which almost immediately relieved me of the anxiety I was holding onto for so long. I was without a cell phone (it was stolen in Rome), and was feeling a bit distant from my fellow remotes. Portugal is a gorgeous country filled with diverse cities and small countryside towns, each offering a unique glimpse into the past, while sharing the wonders of a land untouched by World War II. With its cobblestone roads, never-ending hills, rooftops and bridges, incredible street art, and of course, amazing food, Portugal (dubbed the San Francisco of Europe) really has it all. The positive energy radiates off the walls in Lisbon, which truly inspired and uplifted everyone in our group. Every street is unique with its own art, incline, and pastry shops, many leading to a different vantage point from which you can look out over the entire city and enjoy the gorgeous sunsets.
In Morocco, our community went through a period where we were more separated both physically and mentally, with many people struggling to adjust while dealing with personal issues. Lisbon brought us back together and helped make our bonds stronger than ever. We had nightly group dinners, tons of sunset parties, group activities by the water, bike rides, and many fun side trips. Being a small walkable city played in everyone’s favor, as it was extremely easy to get from one place to the other, and I would commonly bump into my friends on the street either on the way to lunch or workspace. The amount of parks and outdoor cafés made it easy to work and relax outside, and I found myself spending hours sitting on the same patio talking or people watching. It was an extremely different sense of freedom than what I had felt the month prior, and I felt the uplifting energy return to me and to others in the group more and more each day.
Our workspace in March was a bright large open space, with a rooftop and outdoor patio. We shared the space with a program called Iron Hack, a coding academy for individuals looking to make a career shift into a developer role that would allow them to work remotely. It was interesting to chat with the students, learning about their previous careers and what pushed them to enroll in the intensive three-month course, and it was also an opportunity for us to describe our experiences in a career that combines travel with work. I was not surprised to find out that these sorts of programs are growing in popularity as many companies realize the benefits of allowing their employees to work from anywhere.
The first weekend in Portugal we took a trip to Porto, a smaller city three hours away. It was an amazing weekend filled with walking tours, hilltop sunsets and deliciousness on every corner. Several friends and I chose to stay at a hostel, instead of a large Airbnb with the rest of the group. Everyone we spoke to at the hostel was very interested in Remote Year, and I am pretty sure some will be signing up for the program this year (hopefully using my referral link). That Friday I worked from a café, a park, and the hostel lounge, finding strong Wi-Fi connectivity everywhere I went. The road trip home allowed us to get amazing pictures of the ocean, cliffs, and small towns. It was on this trip that I remember realizing that we were more than halfway done with RY and pledged to myself to use my remaining time wisely. One of my favorite days was when we took the ferry across the river to a fishing village, meeting the local fisherman and riding bikes along the coast and forests. I even got to rap battle our tour guide’s boyfriend who was a local music producer.
Lisbon was the most livable place and best of the four months in my opinion as the combination of the marvelous city with the encouraging group vibes provided a joyful and heartening experience that I think about daily. I cannot wait to return to Portugal to relive all the incredible experiences while discovering so much that is left for me to see and do. It is crazy how important your environment is, and it was a truly eye opening month which will help me find my happy place in the future.
While the final transition day from Lisbon to Spain was easier than all the previous ones in terms of logistics, it was the most challenging mentally as we all knew this would be our last time relocating together while on the program. Arriving in Valencia at night, my new roommates and I were pleasantly surprised walking into our apartment, discovering that it was the largest and most modern apartment any of us have ever lived in. Valencia is a much larger city than Lisbon, and while it is still quite walkable, all our apartments were more spread out and we had to endure a longer commute to the workspace and city center. Being the third largest city in Spain, one would assume that Valencia would attract a similar level of foreign tourists, like most other large European cities. To our surprise we learned that most tourists that come to visit the city we called home for the month of April are other Spaniards, either from the countryside outside the city, or from other regions of the country. Due to this, most people in Valencia do not speak any English, with usually only one or two store employees or restaurant waiters being able to understand most of what I was saying. I early on realized that the level of Spanish language knowledge I possess is nowhere near as good as I thought.
After only a couple of days of being Spain, half of our group boarded a plane to Ibiza for a weekend getaway to celebrate one of our group member’s birthdays. In mid-January, before even really knowing anyone in the group, I booked a large mansion Airbnb for 20 of us to stay in - and the property was a paradise. The home featured 10 bedrooms, floor to ceiling windows, a large pool, hot tub, creative décor, and giant wrap around balconies. We were taken aback by the stunning views of the surrounding hilltops and ocean, and even though it rained several times, we got incredible pictures of rainbows and colorful sunsets.
Overall, our trip to Ibiza was a wonderful experience, with just one slight hiccup. Our last night there we went out into town to celebrate leaving one person in the home as they were tired and wanted to rest. When we returned home later that night we came to discover that our Airbnb was broken into and brutally robbed. All our laptops and electronics were gone, several items of clothing and jewelry, and whatever loose cash we had in our bags. One of our members is a professional photographer, and it was tragic to discover that seven thousand dollars worth of his camera equipment was stolen in the heist. Luckily the thieves left our passports and credit cards, and we were able to return home the following day after filing a police report. Unfortunately, Airbnb and the authorities were not able to assist us, resulting in a massive financial loss for many of us.
Such a devastating event has the potential to destroy a group, killing all hope and creating a downward spiral. But we are not just any group. Kuungana is composed of many intelligent, creative, and compassionate individuals, each of whom is always willing to help in any way they can. Instead of falling into a communal depression, we came together and began to recover. Anyone that had a spare laptop or tablet came forward in aid, we helped each other file insurance claims, and made sure that we were there for one another physically and emotionally. We once again proved that our tramily is a circle of strength and love, rallying and helping each other through the darkest of times. “You can steal our stuff, but not our smiles”. I was very fortunate that Fuze was able to replace my laptop extremely quickly, with me being up and running normally in only a few days. The ability to access Fuze on any device came in handy while I was waiting, as I was able to log into all our systems and authenticate my friend’s computer through my cell phone. A week after the incident one of our fellow RY travelers led a cyber security workshop, providing tips and guides on how to ensure all our digital information and accounts are secure. This was a prime example of the skill sharing workshops we ran over the course of the program, as the individual previously worked for a cyber security firm for several years. Overall, while this was a shocking and disturbing incident, we were all grateful that no one was hurt, including the individual who was asleep during the whole ordeal, and we all recognized that while material possessions can be replaced, our experiences and time cannot be. We carried on with a positive mindset and used our remaining weeks in Valencia to create more unforgettable memories.
Valencia is dubbed the “City of Arts and Sciences” for a good reason: there are several large impressive science and art museums, as well as a myriad of art galleries and street art on most buildings. While the museums were overall interesting to explore, the most interesting activity I participated in was a several hour street art tour with the artist David de Limón. He is a well-known local artist whose work can be seen throughout Valencia’s streets, and he often creates commissioned masterpieces for business and even the government. After showing us a variety of forms of street art, we were invited to his studio where we created our own stencils which we then spray-painted onto tote bags. The hands-on creative workshop made this particular tour stand out from all the other street art tours I have ever taken (I took one in every city we lived in during RY), and the final product was tremendously satisfying. If anyone reading this ever visits his studio, you will find my Darth Vader stencil hanging on his wall (humble brag since he only kept mine).
Spain being a primarily Catholic country made it no surprise that the people who live there take Holy Week very seriously. Most businesses and many Restaurants shut down for the week (resulting us in stocking up on way too many frozen pizzas), and the city enters a celebratory phase. Each day there would be parades all over the city, with hundreds of people in robes and outfits marching the streets with bands playing and the processions blocking all traffic for hours. I have never witnessed this sort of religious tradition, and I found the countrywide participation fascinating and unifying.
The last three weeks of our Remote Year journey were consumed by group outings and events. Every month we had several activities that were included with our monthly payments. In April we were fortunate to have a wonderful tour guide who organized a sunny paella picnic in a nearby farm town, where her husband prepared the massive dish for us while she led an olive tasting. We also had the pleasure of having her lead us through the ancient town of Sagunto, where we explored old ruins, visited churches, and observed a Palm Sunday parade.
Every month, we would have a different Positive Initiative, where we would work with local groups in the community to help raise money and awareness, while physically helping any way we could. In Valencia the PI organization was a Flamenco dance school that focused on helping children from Gypsy communities be more accepted into their society through the medium of dancing. We organized a fundraiser at a local restaurant and even participated in Flamenco class where the children stole the show and gave my ballroom dancing skills a real test. Knowing that we helped each community we inhabited and made a real difference in people’s lives is a satisfying and rewarding feeling which is a definite highlight of Remote Years global initiatives.
As the final week approached us there was an overall sense of sadness, fear of separation and the return to our normal lives, but also gratitude for everything we have experienced together. I worried about what was waiting for me back home, pondered what it would be like returning to Fuze HQ, and asked myself if I had accomplished everything I intended to when I applied for Remote Year last June. Having the privilege to travel and work remotely abroad has been and incredibly eye opening, and I aim to incorporate everything I have learned over the first four months of 2019 into my everyday existence. Travel is more than the sites and the food; it is about the locals you chat with who provide a glimpse into an unfamiliar world, the friends you make and the connections you form which will impact you forever. The next blog post will be my last, in which I will reflect upon the final days of Remote Year, the people who shaped my life in a profound way, and what it has been like being home since.