Thales Grilo


Nomad Diaries 1

“Become an airplane pilot!”

Shouted Alex as I stepped outside, leaving behind that cozy home just across the bridge in Ladywell Road. It was the perfect closing note to my third and longest visit to London.

Today is December the 8th, 2023. I’m still alive. I broke up in February and wasted ridiculous amounts of money on a lifestyle I’m frankly not enjoying. It’s the 12th month of the (so far disappointing) third Lula office, the hottest summer yet in Brasilia, and likely the coldest to come. Elixir turned 10yo, the rust-lang community is split, UK water is carcinogenic, the far-right won in Argentina, AI influencers are making money off of ads, Dublin manifested against immigrants, it’s illegal to be gay in Russia and the palestinians are being erased from existance. I’m out of silver linings to end this paragraph.

People often ask about the digital nomad lifestyle - a conversation I’m usually eager to avoid. The truth is: It sopped making sense quite a while ago now. It was this crazy combination of getting kicked off of home, bolsonaro, covid and the rise of remote work that led me to pursuing a lifestyle of complete and utter freedom.

The first two years were breathtaking - ripe with amazement, new friends, new cities, new languages and new projects. I learned how to speak spanish and how to serve mate - also that my best life is lived by the beach. Eventually I learned that loneliness is a major enemy of digital nomads, and on the third year of this journey I began sinking deeper and deeper into it. After a period of burnout and depression earlier this year, it seemed appealing to begin writing again.

Given the choice, I would do it all over again. Fuck it, it was exactly what my younger self needed at that moment. It gave me a sense of empowerment knowing that wherever I am, whichever the circumstances, I’ll still be able to provide for myself. It taught me a lot about myself and showed me what live a healthy, joyful life means to me. If all goes well, I’ll be leaving this period of my life behind soon, and on that note I’ll start this retrospective.

(2021 BR) Pirenópolis

Pirenópolis is a small city in Goiás-BR, surrounded by breathtaking waterfalls everywhere within a 10km radius. Everyone in Brasilia has gone there at some point - this was my first time. Me and 4 other friends booked a house for a month. I was delivering the BRING website and working at p5 as a mentor.

It was a great time. We’d cook food for each other, play music together - there were two synth geeks in the house so it worked nicely -, stroll through the city and swim in sweet water on weekends. The most memorable moment was visiting the 7 Lakes waterfall, climbing it to the top and catching an amazing view.

I shortly came back to Brasilia before hitting my next location:

(2021 BR) Vitória

Vitória is the capital of Espírito Santo (the Holy Spirit), a coastline state between Rio and Bahia. I really needed some support at that time, so I reached for my brother and stayed for a while at his place.

I fell in love with the city. That was the healthiest moment in my life. I’d serve myself black tea and cook some breakfast in the morning. I had landed a client which paid me relatively well at the time. I was close to finishing college at the time too, so worked hard in the morning and took classes in the afternoon. Every day after 6 I’d grab a bike and ride to the beach (Camburi) and back. It was beautiful, refreshing. At night I’d usually have stuff to do.

I cooked Christmas dinner for my family and we went to the beach for new years eve. Shortly after my birthday I headed back to Brasilia for a quick checkpoint before my next trip.

(2021 BR) Ubatuba

Kim invited me to travel to Ubatuba with him. His family owned a house there so we’d stay at no cost. Also, one of my closest friends was born there so I’ve always been wanting to pay the city a visit. So in August 2021, Kim and I drove from Brasilia to the coast of São Paulo in a Fiat Siena from the 90s.

The beaches in Ubatuba are beautiful beyond words. I have no vocabulary to capture it. Within two months we visited the following beaches - ranked by personal preference

Sunset in Praia Brava da Almada: top 5 most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

(2022 BR) Floripa

Floripa is the capital of Santa Catarina (Saint Cathrine), just south of São Paulo state. Some of my best friends live there and I decided to pay them a visit. At this point, it would be the first nomad stop I’d do alone, so it made total sense to be near a support network. It turned out to be an excellent move - our bond got stronger, we had tons of fun together. Plus, the city itself is amazing. Just coming down from the airport, I could already feel something in the air. The air is lovely, breathable, refreshing. Still that’s not quite the biggest remark about Floripa - for me that would be the sky. Being less equatorial, the city is more seasonal - as such the sunsets are quite long during summer. With its low verticality, that means you get an amazing 360 view of a beautiful clear pink sky for hours.

I stayed at a hostel near Trindade. The place was honestly pretty shit but it was also dirt cheap and relatively well located. Sadly I was far from the beach which was aggravated by Floripa’s terrible transportation. It’s super complicated and expensive to move across the city. Buses are chaos, traffic is chaos and forget any concept of trains. You usually uber around, which can be sometimes tricky because they’re terrible exploited.

I lived in Floripa for 7 months. One lives great in Floripa all things aside. Each part of town is a different vibe - I mostly like Costa da Lagoa and the beaches do the south. I’d live an uneventful life during weekdays and hangout with my friends on weekends. Nightlife is great near Madalena and daily activities included hitting the lake for some food and sightseeing, or one of the countless beaches in the island.

During that time I graduated and switched jobs. I moved in as I was joining BTG, the biggest investment bank in South America. Decent pay, a chance to learn Elixir and to work with friends. Quite worthwhile. It was an interesting experience to work for a metropolitan company living near the beach. Sadly you still gte overworked anyways - one reason I eventually sought after my next job. I graduated remotely defending my research on AI for continuous generation of music. I scored an A* (fuck yes) in a pretty challenging topic. I developed ornette in the process as a way to run my tests at that time. It was fun but also an unbelievably demanding couple of months.

September 2022: I lived in a paradise island finishing a thesis while working full-time at a bank and delivering a freelance UI project to a contractor. I had to book in my calendar the days I would and wouldn’t sleep - usually every other day - and no more than 7 hours a night.

I love Floripa. I eventually came back to visit with my girlfriend at the time. That was at new years from 22 to 23. We had a beautiful, 5-star date at Santo Antônio do Descoberto - complete with a bottomless oyster serving and all.

(2022 UR) Montevideo

This was my first time outside of Brazil on my own. The realization came as I entered the bus from the airport to the Tres Cruces terminal. The busdriver was blasting some cumbia as we drove down a road - something about the vegetation, the houses and the street signs in spanish just made everything feel… different. I eventually made my way to the flat in Ciudad Vieja (Old City) and I have to say. What an amazing place. God I loved that flat. I’d live there forever and then some. I shared it with my best friend Artur, who’s half uruguayan. The host, Martin, was also amazing - he even took me to a nighttime bicicletada - a cycling meetup - through the city center. He lent me his bike so I could ride with them. That’s one of my favorite memories of the trip.

I need to own a bike and to live in a cyclable city

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, an irreductible country squeezed between Brazil, Argentina and the Atlantic. It has half the population of the country, which adds up to the population of my hometown. There, I befriended a cat, smoked a total 0 grams of weed, learned how to serve myself mate - the proud south-american tea-shaped caffeine bomb - and became a fan of cumbia. In Montevideo buses are electric, everything’s expensive, soccer is a thing, people are lovely (and very political), cars are old, beaches are just for looking, people fish a lot, young people sit in parks, and barbecue is really fucking good omg.

The Uruguay period also pushed my language skills a lot. At this point I was leaving the bank to join Up Learn remotely. On a typical day, I’d wake up, chat to Artur (in portuguese), walk to a pastry shop to get breakfast (in spanish), serve myself some mate (or coffee), work in the mornings (in english), go out for lunch with Artur (in portuguese), work in the afternoon (in english) then go out for a stroll (sometimes with a mate) across the Paseo, the most famous sidewalk in Uruguay. It’s a wide and ridiculously long sidewalk through the shoreline which is great for a relaxing sightseeing stroll. People usually go fishing or having mate there as well.

We visited Artur’s family in a few occasions. They’re amazing people. We went to Minas, a small town in the countryside, to have an asado (barbecue) and some drinks. On another occasion, we went to Punta Ballena, to catch an amazing sight of the coast, and to Punta del Este. Another time we found out about dominguear (“to sunday”) - apparenlty a popular local hobby whereby one drives slowly through the coastline. That’s literally it. It was fun but spending time in a car is usually quite the opposite of fun for me.

(2022 AR) Buenos Aires

My initial plan was to stay for two months in Buenos Aires and then hit Cordoba then Santiago del Chile. That plan was dead on arrival - I fell in love with CABA so much I ended up living there for an entire year or so. The city is mostly flat, very bike-friendly, reasonably safe, super cheap in general, has an amazing nightlife, a surprisingly good techno scene, great food, great people, tons of cultural activities, great museums and amazing parks. It’s just a very good place to be.

I moved in with a friend for the first two months. It was super fun in the beginning but quickly grew unsustainable - we didn’t fit together at all. I was very aware of my own shortcomings around focus, and investing a lot of energy in becoming more focused, predictable and with a better routine - she on the other hand lived a very chaotic lifestyle which worked for her, but I found very hard to cope with. Sadly, we don’t speak anymore to this day. I moved out within two months. I also hated the flat anyway.

I finally grabbed a place in Chacarita, a lovable neighborhood near the city center. 20min walk from Palermo (the nightlife neighborhood) and still retains a peaceful, quaint vibe. Good restaurants, right above the red line and crossed by Corrientes, one of the main avenues in the city, which just so happens to have a dedicated bike lane. Five months in, I decided to buy a bike: ordered a custom made on from a nearby bike shop. Best bike I’ve ever owned and really not expensive. The entire experience changed after that - I really no longer needed ubers or subways to get around. Every point of interest was at most 30min away, except if crazy far.

I made friends with some amazing people from the techno scene - we went to a concert together to watch Matias Aguayo which blew my fucking mind. I eventually even played a techno concert with one of the chicks. Buenos Aires has an amazing musical scene - people are extremely engaged and energetic. I met Elektrash and Forello, as well as many livecoding friends - CABA’s a livecoding hub, which is why I chose to visit in the first place. I also played a livecoding gig there at an amazingly fun night, and had a blast mingling with nerd music friends in general. In particular, Iris and Munshkr were just ❤️❤️ such amazing people.

I even got to watch Argentina win a world cup!!

I ate ridiculous amounts of food within that time - everything was great and super cheap. Fucktons of sanguchitos de miga, empanadas, milanesas, choripans and bifes de chorizo. It became addicted to vermouth, gin tonics and great wine. On weekdays I’d usually go for choripans at El Leon Dorado, bifes con papas at Chetito, lamen at Chinofino, tacos at La Fabrica, mushroom-based food at Donnet. Weekend technos at Ro, pizzas at Electrica Pizzeria, beer and clubbing in Palermo, shopping at the San Telmo fair, cycling around Plaza Italia and spending time at Parque Centenario. I’m convinced one’s bound to live a great life in any decent neighborhood in CABA. In fact I applied for a local resident permit while I worked out the details for a UK sponsorship.

(2023 BR) Brasília

In January 2023, I had to touch base in Brasilia for a few reasons. Mostly to finish Prece and Include. I lived for 6mo in a small flat without windows, only a half-open ceiling in a patio just outside the bedroom. Brasilia is a tough city to live in. For starters you need a car to get anywhere. It’s also really expensive and with a challenging dry weather most of the year.

I don’t really have all that much to say about Brasilia, the car-centric brutalist south-american highland savannah. It felt like a period of standing by. I kinda decorated an apartment to my liking which was refreshing, but always avoiding too much effort since it was a temporary stay. That felt frustrating.

Around April I requested a visa sponsorship for Up Learn. It should be a very straightfoward thing, as advertised when I joined. We agreed on early August as the date for moving, which meant staying around the UK right after the company retreat, in late July. Around late May they stepped back and decided to sponsor me starting November. At this point I really started fueling some resentment about not staying put anywhere. UK was really the only move I was interest in making at this point. Watching move away really didn’t sit well with me. Plus, it kind of screwed up my plans: I had to piece together a poorly made plan for sticking around Europe until I had a chance to move, which in hindsight was a pretty silly decision.

(2023 EU) Europe

This was a brief respite where a friend and I took a few weeks vacation to get to know Europe for the first time. We visited Dublin, Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam.

(2023 DE) Wuppertal

Bitte, ein hafer matcha boba mit tapioca belle. funf und zweizig zücker danke schöne

That’s my german right there. That’s the only thing I know.

Ah, Wuppertal. Home of the glorious floating tram which scared a baby elephant into jumping off mid-flight. Here’s where plans really started going sideways. The original route was Berlin, where many of my friends are, but two consecutive airbnb bookings cancelled on me. The solution was to book something very close to the travel dates, which ended up being super expensive. I chose instead to visit a smaller city where I could afford a better WFH with that money, so I went to Wuppertal, the industrial city in Nordhein Westphalia where Engels was born. I hated Wuppertal so much.

The city is super hilly, everythin involves tons ladders up and down, the only tram is floating in the air, buses take weird routes, there was no variety of food around the flat. The flat didn’t have a washing machine! One must ride 40min by bus just to get my clothes clean. Plus, Germany: Why do you have to sit and wait for your laundry to finish?? It just sucked. There were two saving graces: 1. the flat was tidy and 2. I could take trains anywhere in NW. That’s what I did most weekends. Some days I’d even go to Düsseldorf to work from a cafe instead of home, to avoid getting depressed.

In Wuppertal was also the worst day of the trip. I broke a toe in the middle of the night. It was tough to find a hospital in a town with very few ubers, getting there on a visitor visa and explaining the whole situation - to the only english-spearking person in the hospital. As luck would have it they took me in, treated me and gave me a pair of crutches - the cab back home was a moment of pure and complete gratitude. Waking up the next day is where I started getting really depressed: feeling drained out of time, energy and money. Meanwhile, having to pay attention to a music project happening back home. That’s when I decided to cease any attempt at professional music.

That same weekend my only friend in a 150km radius came to visit. That’s when I learned another important point.

I need a support network, and that’s very hard to have as a nomad.

Eventually I got better, and came to visit quite a few cities: Köln, Düsseldorf, Bonn, Essen and Berlin. I went mostly sightseeing / eating / having a few pints around. In Essen I was lucky enough to catch an international beer festival - especially timely since kolsch local brew sucks. They even had an allegedly brazilian brew which sounded fun - turned out it was literally Guaraná and lager mixed together. I got drunk, ate an amazing pork chop, got more drunk and bumped into Ghostbusters cosplayers.

My friend Kim lives in Berlin, whom I got to visit at the end of the trip - crashed at his place and we went visiting spots around town in my free hours. Berlin is beautiful, what a tasteful city. It’s understated but always aesthetic. It’s easy to see why people fall in love with it.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that despite the lengthier stay due to company change of plans around my visa, my salary was still a brazilian rate at this point - in fact that’s still true as of the date of this writing! That of course that didn’t help the overall sense of dread of the german months of 2023 - an ironic feeling as this was the period of the trip I was most excited about.

(2023 UK) London

This part of the trip was an even further change of plans - the original stop was Zagreb, Croatia. Why? Because it was in Europe yet outside of the Schengen zone. Until this year 🙄 therefore it wasn’t possible to stay as long as planned there (3mo), which defeated the whole purpose. Learning from the german experience, a support network felt more appealing than new experiences, and the plan became to stay in London as long as the visa allowed.

This time I stayed in Lewisham - Ladywell to be more precise - in order to save some cash and to know south london in the process. A good move? Not really, but it wasn’t a bad place either.

Sticking around it should be easy then to strengthen bonds with friends and to also look for places to rent. Alas, friends were often just too busy, so became a case staying home most of the time. Out of boredom I got into baldur’s gate and legend of the five rings (again) with friends - I also grew obsessed with perfumes and slightly disappointed at work.

This visit was more about establishing and understanding my needs for when it’s time to move. Some fun stuff happened in that time nonetheless - getting a bike made everything a lot easier. London is a lovely city to cycle in. It took an hour to work plus an hour back later, but still a lot more rewarding than taking a TfL or bus.

Getting hella drunk between Wapping and Soho one night at a friend’s birthday party made for an unforgettable night. Finally, I bought two objects of great joy: an array mbira - an instrument I’ve dreamt about for years - and a steam deck, culprit on th baldur’s gate addiction.

What now?

Honestly? I’m kind of ready to settle down for a change. I’m ready to leave this chapter of my life behind. I wanna have a cat and a hammock. I wanna grow my own weed. I want to share moments with friends face to face while I’m still young. The 30s are just around the corner and I want to walk into them with my mental health game 10/10. I want to buy a house and to decorate it with my humble art collection. I want not to worry about where to live 6 months from now. I want to travel for fun, without working 80% of the time and without carrying all my personal belongings with me. I want to sail smooth now.

I’m a different person after breaking a bone. I don’t run anymore. I don’t want to move fast and break things - this is exactly what I’ve been doing since college, and it’s only ever made me miserable.

I’m writing now the final chapters of this journey. I’m heading to Thailand - literally, I’m in the actual airplane. Two months from now, I’ll be in Brazil finishing the final steps of my visa application to begin a new chapter in the UK. Will I stay there? I don’t know. I’m not worried at all: there are a dozen amazing cities to live in Brazil, I’ll build a decent life for myself in any of them. Whatever happens my only wish is to find peace and to live slow.

Move slow and stop breaking shit.