Picture it: Buenos Aires, 2014. The calendar moved toward Valentine’s Day, and a plan was in place. Ayaz and I booked a romantic dinner for 2 at an Italian restaurant we’d heard good things about in Puerto Madero, a waterfront neighborhood popular with tourists and even locals.
Puerto Madero dazzles at first glance. The shiny, newly built or newly remodeled shops, restaurants, highrises and lofts straddle a waterway connected by the sexy, mod Puente de las Mujeres. At night, this mostly pre-fab neighborhood glitters with pretty young things heading toward nightclubs and tourists scouting out mediocre food in overpriced, mostly forgettable big-box restaurants.
We knew this when we made our dinner reservations, but still, we had a soft spot for the Puerto — its shiny newness, glowing bridge and river dotted with small boats are genuinely pretty and romantic, and hey, it was Valentine’s Day after all.
The plan was to arrive early, grab a drink then head to dinner. But first, we decided to take a stroll. We had time. Walking past restaurants hawking prixe fixe menus and drink specials, we entered a land of glossy, highrise apartment buildings with gated entrances, guards and fleets of luxury autos parked outside.
We approached a park, which seemed slightly more human, where teenage boys rode skateboards, families pushed strollers and couples held hands and smooched. Past the park, a busy road, and past that road, in the distance, a promenade.
The promenade caught my eye because I saw little bursts of twinkling lights scattered along it’s length. Carnival lights, I thought. Except … carnival rides don’t usually smoke, right?
Tufts of smoke curled into the evening sky above what could only be food stands, dozens and dozens of food stalls stretching as far as the eye could see, and they were all grilling meat. The lights twinkled on, like my very own North Star. I had found Meatopia.
Eyes glazed, we trekked toward the smoky scents of grilled beef and sausages. As we approached it became clear we weren’t alone. The promenade was growing crowded with Argentines. Families, couples, teenagers, old folks — they were arriving en masse and they were hungry. Musicians seemed to appear out of the woodwork, hauling amps and generators. Spectators gathered, more meat was tossed on the endless series of grills.
This was Friday night for locals — not the locals who lived tucked away in shiny, gated highrises, but those who lived, breathed and padded around this great city — feeling it, breathing it, eating it. Getting down and dirty with a choripan on Valentine’s Day night.
I loved it. There was no decision. Dinner on the water in a nondescript Italian restaurant was off. We got in line for 2 choripans and sodas, loading the sammies up with spices and sauces. I tucked a napkin into the neck of my slinky “big night out” dress and dove head on into my chorizo. And it was glorious.
That night marked one of my favorites in Argentina; it felt real. The people felt real. I had a glimpse of what it felt like to belong here, to call this town home. I was grateful I lived here, that I had time to wander and explore, and had time to seek a real-life experience, not the glossed over one so many travelers are forced to experience thanks to time constraints.
There are a series of moments I can look back on over the past year and a half that marked my memory of a place, that marked the moment when I saw a place’s magic. Or felt its heartbreak.
When I think of this collection of moments — a Brazilian street fair erupting into a samba party, rolling down my car windows to feel the warm, dusty wind hit my face on a spontaneous road trip to the Grand Canyon, dancing my ass off and joking in faltering Spanish with strangers at a Rod Stewart concert in Argentina, exploring Glacier National Park at a time when there were (miraculously) few to no other visitors — I know they came because I was living in these places, taking time, absorbing.
That realization makes me want to stay location independent forever. Travel is like a drug. The more you see, the more you want to see. Only, the more you travel, the more you become aware of all the other places you still haven’t seen: how much of the world is left to be explored. The itch to travel only grows. Now, it’s in your blood.
And oh how I do want to take in more and more and more of this great, wide world. I want to find the secret spaces and hidden worlds that define a location’s character, that give me insight into its heartbeat. I want to drink it all in and never, ever stop.
But I also miss having a home. I miss sinking into a comfortable bed. I miss returning somewhere I dependably love. I miss seeing friends and family.
Moving back to New York City has reminded me of this, so much. It makes me certain I want a place to call home. As long as I also have the freedom to leave that home when the urge strikes, and do so for extended periods, still grasping at the world, still setting out to explore.
Yes, there are digital nomads out there who have been living this way for years, non-stop, endlessly cycling through new destinations. Part of me envies them for all they have been able to see, experience. But part of me knows I may not be cut from their same cloth. And that’s ok.
Not everyone embarking on this lifestyle needs to follow a set of rules — there are, in fact, no rules. We define how we chose to live, regardless of how others might define a set of circumstances.