2021 recap

Dec 31, 2021  ·  13 min read

What a wild year.

I’m writing this from a hospital bed on a tropical island somewhere in the middle of the ocean. If I tilt my head to the right, I can see a small plastic bag hanging from something that looks like a metal coat rack, dripping a translucent yet yellowish liquid at a very constant rate. It’s connected to me through a very soft and squishy plastic tube that meets my right hand at the place where a nurse punctured it to set up my IV line just a few days ago. As I type on my laptop, the muscles in my fingers make the cathether inside the vein wiggle just enough to feel funny and remind me I’m laying on a hospital bed and not at home.

Fortunately, this whole situation is unimportant enough that I’ll probably be out in just a couple of days, just in time to celebrate New Years Eve with friends [update from the future: this was true and I’m already home and healthy].

IV line: not painful, not fun either

But to understand how I got here, we’ll need to pick it up –quite literally– just where I left it off on my 2020 recap:

As for plans for 2021, things are starting to clear up (…) With the vaccine coming and the borders potentially reopening in the following months, I’m starting to hear friends talking about going to Southeast Asia next year, and the idea of traveling there and starting living truly remotely is really tempting – so if the circumstances allow I might as well do the “nomad” thing. Really hope 2021 will be the year I finally get to live abroad.

Guess what.

⛄️ Winter: Do the nomad thing.

You know those things that come completely unplanned, but turn out exactly as planned in the end?

In January, a sudden change of events put me in a rough spot. I won’t get into details – just life doing its thing. I found myself needing to pack, find a new place and move literally from one day to the other. I managed to buy myself some time to think and plan by moving in with my friend Jorge for a couple of weeks, and I can’t be thankful enough to him and to all the friends that helped me out during those days of chaos. I was frantically looking for apartments, and I was already seriously considering one or two apartments in Madrid when a thought struck my mind: why the fuck was I searching for accomodation in Madrid, when I not only could but also desired to go somewhere else?

And so, I started my search for nice places abroad. It had to be somewhere close enough not to commit to really long distances at first, where prices were low, cities were beautiful and where I liked the vibe. I had been in Warsaw and Krakaw before, and both cities ticked all my boxes, so I was definitely considering moving to Poland by mid January.

That very day I was at a random cafe in Madrid, not even a few hours into my search, when by pure chance I joined an online call with some internet friends.

Luckily enough, my friends Pieter and Marcwho I met a few months before on my trip to Lisbon– were hanging out in the call as well. When I told my story, they very rightfully asked why the hell was I considering Poland as my first option: a place that’s freezing cold and where I had no friends. I had no good answers, so they asked why didn’t I just come near Lisbon with them. After all, Portugal ticked all my boxes as well: close, cost effective, beautiful and I loved the vibe. It didn’t cross my mind until that point, but it made the most sense. Within a week, I had already booked plane tickets and accomodation. I was off to PT.

I arrived in Portugal mid February. The weather was awesome, especially coming from a freezing cold Madrid that had just been struck by the largest snow storm in recorded history.

The welcome was really warm as well, and I immediately felt at home. I wrote more in detail about those first days in this blogpost.

Arriving in Portugal

I spent a really great two months in Portugal. Probably, the best two months of 2021. The place, pepole and vibe were all just right. My girlfriend came a few weeks after me, my friends Javi and Javi from Tot-em also came visit, we surfed and had a blast. Definitely one of the highlights of this year.

(From left to right: Javi, Javi, and Javi)

But all good things eventually come to an end.

🌷 Spring: Ah shit, here we go again.

As every turning point in life, several things happened at the same time in a matter of a few days.

  • My girlfriend was throwing a TEDx event mid April and had to leave for a few weeks to organize things and make it happen.
  • One of the people in our group was not from Europe and their visa was expiring, so they had to leave Europe, which put the group in a “let’s all go outside Europe” kind of mode.
  • My friends had already been for more than half a year in Portugal, and were already looking for a change.
  • Asia was starting to reopen. With very strict conditions, but travel was at least possible for the first time in months.

In my original plan, back in 2020, going to Asia was already my first option on the list, so this all looked like the perfect setup to go there with friends.

I packed my things, flew back to Madrid to attend the TEDx event and get a few things sorted out and started planning our next destination: Thailand.

Getting a Thai visa in the middle of a pandemic was a bureaucratic nightmare, so I was really happy when I finally got mine

One of the things I did around this time was inspired by my friend Lenilson years ago, who I think was also inspired by the nomad scene itself. I decided to put all my stuff on a table and only take the most important 100 things that could fit in my backpack, and commit to travel with only that.

Computer stuff takes up most of the space. After that: notebook, passport, money, medicines, bathroom stuff… and that’s pretty much it.

I also threw 7 days worth of clothes in a small carry-on suitcase, so I could effectively travel only with my work backpack and live out of my suitcase.

These are all the clothes I’ve been living out of since Spring

So I took my whole life, one that by that point felt really light and liberating, and took a plane to Bangkok.

There I lived what I believe at the time was the most strict travel quarantine in the whole world.

In Thailand’s “ASQ” quarantine, they escort you from the airport to a special hotel in these hazmat suits, and you’re not even allowed to leave your room or open your windows for 14 days.

It was just nuts.

Talking about the whole Bangkok quarantine experience would easily deserve a whole post by itself, so let’s just say it was like straight out of a sci-fi movie and that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. In any case, some days later I was free to go anywhere, so after wandering around the city I took a plane and landed on one of Thailand’s many paradisiac islands.

What I lived in the month that followed was the trigger to write this:

The island experience started off fairly bad, I must admit. The initial shock was brutal: I arrived at night in a place nothing like home and I was greeted by hordes of bugs on the very first day. I was tired, disoriented and submerged in total chaos. It was not fun for a few days. I thought about taking a flight back home multiple times. But as I wrote in that blogpost, I just pushed through and eventually things were okay. But kids, please, do not ever arrive at night in a new place. It makes things 10x more complicated, and it’s very unnecessary and easily avoidable.

Over the next few weeks, things got really good and I actually started to love this small bit of paradise.

It was right about this time when we first met Dan, a guy that left his life in the US, friends, family and startup included, to travel across the globe and come with us to do the nomad thing. The travel shock was even bigger for him I’d say, and the whole experience was really intense for all of us.

Going for a swim in the middle of the jungle

☀️ Summer: Change of plans.

Island life was good, but after a couple of months on the island, things started to get old. These islands are beautiful but small – great for vacation but maybe not the best option for long term stays, especially now that everything is closed due to Covid.

We were missing a place with more of a city vibe, somewhere bigger and a bit more exciting, with more people like us, but not crowded enough so that Covid would really impact our lives. That’s why we set up to move to Phuket. So we booked hotels, rented a car and let our landlords know when we were leaving. The morning before departing, literally just as a nurse was poking my nose with a swab for the mandatory Covid test to travel between provinces, the news came in. Phuket had been completely closed down with immediate efect, and interprovincial travel started to get impossible for us as cases rose exponentially in the whole country.

We were effectively isolated on an island.

We were planning on traveling just about when the curve slope was maximum

We needed to change our mindset. So we set up to spend a few months on the island, and get some shit done. Turns out a small island in the middle of nowhere is probably one of the greatest and safest places to be on Earth in the middle of a pandemic. Isolation => zero cases => no restrictions => normal life. A perfect environment to get things done.

One of the first changes we implemented was signing up for a real gym. Hotel gyms are small and deficient, and they barely work even for maintaining muscle mass. This period was a time of Personal Records at the gym for all of us, breaking through plateaus and hitting goals we never thought we were able to hit. I personally got the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been, growing a lot of new muscle and nearing 140Kg deadlift, 120Kg squat… but that’s for another post.

Focusing on goals tends to yield some results

Since we were going to stay for longer, my girlfriend also came visit for a couple of months, and we got to explore some amazing places. Good times.

Sunsets in Thailand are pretty nice

Changes came with this turn of events, not only life-wise but also business-wise. A really long and deep conversation with Piet and Dan one night shortly after the Phuket drama made me realize I needed to make some critical changes to the way I operated my business. A night-long convo that essentially came down to one single piece of advice: I needed to leave everything I was doing to focus on launching new products.

The real story, of course, was a bit more convoluted than just that, but let’s just go with this simplified version for the sake of clarity. I needed to wrap up, and get everything ready to start transitioning to the new phase. And since the only thing that sets apart mere good intentions from goals are dates, we agreed on a deadline to keep me accountable – and that very day I started working on the new stuff.

Right about this time, Andrey flew to us and I got to meet him in person for the first time after a few years talking on the internet. When deciding what idea I should work on next, I even put together a mini deck and one night over pizzas I pitched three or four different ideas for feedback. It was fun and exciting.

Pitching startup ideas over pizza for feedback

Changes were promising.

🍂 Fall: Maybe end?

That’s how a month and a few weeks later I launched WebVitalsRobot, which turned out to be… not so great. Reasons are many, and figuring out how to relaunch it and give it a second chance is on my to-do list. It was a bit of a setback that made me realize I used way too many weeks and drained too much of my motivation because of this project. Which is a normal feeling, by the way, it’s happened to me before and it will happen to me again – I think it’s just the price to pay for any creative endeavor. Some things you do are really good (and make you feel like a genius), some are not (and make you feel like shit).

Coworking sessions look something like this: computers, coconuts, coffee, and the ocean

I was on a period of in-between projects, trying to come up and sketch up the next idea, when, with only a few weeks left in the year, a couple of good friends of mine approached me with an idea we could build. I thought it was interesting, and the timing was next to perfect, so we got started.

A week and a half later, I noticed a tiny wound on my leg, the size of small drop of water. At first I didn’t give it much thought. I initially thought it was a spider bite, because I think I got another one back in Summer and this one looked very much like it. But as the days started passing, the bite only got more painful, more red and more swollen. One night I hopped on my motorbike and rushed to the ER.

Turns out, whatever that was, got really infected and the infection was spreading to the rest of the leg, almost reaching my foot, which was also swollen by the time. Doctors suggested I should get admitted to the hospital immediately to get intravenous antibiotics.

I’m not gonna lie: it was scary. Being isolated in the middle of nowhere, with something that’s evolving rapidly… one can only start thinking about worst-case scenarios and contingency plans in case shit hits the fan. And scaringly enough, there was no real good alternative: a flight back to Spain/Europe would have taken me close to 48h total, two full days without treatment which would have only worsened matters; and flying to a nearby big city like Bangkok was an option full of uncertainty, because I was unsure how much better hospitals in mainland would have been (my hospital on the island was really good IMHO). My best bet was to remain on the island, far from home and far from civilization, and trust the local doctors.

It worked alright. Even though I got to spend my first Christmas holidays in a hospital, I was luckily discharged after just a few days. Now I’m at home with oral antibiotics and infection is almost gone already.

To be honest, the whole experience was just scary. I don’t think there was any significant medical risk at any point, but being hospitalized while isolated in the middle of the ocean and far from home doesn’t necessarily help think about the upsides. But frankly, I’d rather have 10 of these infections over anything more serious. I’m thankful it was *just* this and it got easily solved with a few IV bags full of antibiotics. Thank you, science; thank you, medicine.

I’m ending 2021 in a weird state. On the one side, the whole hospital adventure weakened me over the past couple of weeks. I can easily make up for it by going back to the gym and getting back to my routine, but it definitely didn’t help my psyche.

I’m starting to get bored of the island life, I crave west and normalcy. I also feel like I’m less motivated with work since a few months ago: I don’t necessarily feel the creative strength I was feeling 2 or 3 years ago. I often feel the work I produce is not up to my standards, and I wish I could do better, but it’s as if I were no longer myself sometimes. I feel dissociated from my work. I understand this is all part of the creative process, though, and I wonder if a change of environment in the near future could help unblock the situation.

In any case, even though 2021 ends on a low note, I think this year was absolutely net positive for me. I got to do so many things and I’m thankful for my close ones, for everything I have and everything I’m experiencing.

Plus, I got to finish 2021 in the best way possible: happy, healthy, surrounded by friends, and celebrating New Years Eve with drinks on a tropical beach watching the fireworks 🎆

NYE 2021

Closing down

In 2021 I’ve lived abroad, in 17 different houses/apartments/hotels, in 5 different places across 3 countries. I effectively became a nomad.

I love being a nomad, but I hate traveling, just because I hate having to look for and set up new routines in every new place I go to. So I guess what I value most is being location independent, and not so much tourism and getting to know as many places as possible. Which probably means I’ll just tend to stay long times in places, switching when I get bored or for any other good reason.

I was really hoping we would have this whole coronavirus thing already figured out by now, but it is what it is. Things still look uncertain for 2022, and I’m starting to feel like I’ve lost 2 years of my life, even though I’ve objectively done quite a few things. But it’s not the same, and all decisions in these past 24 months have been at one point or another conditioned by the corresponding pandemic restrictions. It’s starting to get old.

Last year’s recap’s last paragraph was kind of prophetic in a way, so let’s try again this year:

I can’t know for sure what’s going to happen in the next 12 months, but everyone in my tech-related environment is talking about Lisbon in one way or another. It seems like it’s going to be a great tech hub in the upcoming months, especially for all things web3/crypto related. Plus, Portugal is the only place all my nomad friends can agree on. So I’m hoping that, somehow, I’ll end up living there in 2022, hopefully surrounded at some point with many of my internet friends – and any IRL friends that get tempted. To be honest, I’m really looking forward to it.

P.S.: Huge shout out to all the people I’ve met and enjoyed time with but I didn’t get to explicitly mention in the post: Cam, Trisha, Luca, Tibo, Julia, TWIP and all my IRL friends.

P.S.: Follow me on Twitter to stay in the loop. I'm writing a book called Bold Hackers on making successful digital products as an indie hacker. Read other stories I've written. Subscribe below to get an alert when I publish a new post:

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