What I love the most about scuba diving is the feeling of floating, and everything around you is a party of colour and beauty. Every creature on this planet is so amazing, so unique. When you are in the deep of the ocean, it feels like time slows down. It brings you to a present moment, where there is no distinction between ‘my body’ and ‘the rest’ – you just breathe and contemplate and float.
My name is Carla Astrain, and I’m from Argentina. I’m a software engineer who is passionate about sustainability, and I am always thinking about ways to push us in that direction. I am always trying to grow mentally, physically, and most of all spiritually. I’m a certified yoga teacher and practice yoga and meditation regularly. For me, both the logical and the creative are equally important, and I find my happiness in the balance between them.
I first came to Europe many years ago, when I moved to Italy and then later Spain. In Argentina, it’s very difficult to plan for the long term – it seems that the poverty and insecurity there grows every day.
We first came to Berlin to visit some friends. It wasn’t really on our radar as a place to live. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed the city, and having decided to change professions, I found a software engineering boot camp here in Berlin. Although I sometimes crave a little more sun, we decided to move here permanently and I’ve loved it ever since. It is a city full of life, full of entrepreneurs and start-ups, full of art and history. It’s a city that cares about sustainability and has lots of vegetarian food options for people like me.
My career in software engineering began as a result of my love of logic and creativity, and growing up in an environment that stimulated both. Since I was a child, my dad loved to give my sister and me puzzles and logic games. My dad is a lover of chess and he taught us to think in a logical way. His love for chess runs in his family. My uncle used to play us blindfolded, without ever actually looking at the board, but would nevertheless beat us every time.
My mom, on the other hand, is a modern dancer, artist, and activist. She grew up in a family that was outspoken about equality and social justice. That ideology almost cost them their lives when someone placed a bomb under their house. Everyone in my mom’s family has some connection to art, creativity, or spirituality. There are musicians, actors, and even a Buddhist Monk.
After the fun and freedom of growing up in this environment, I studied yoga and meditation, searching for some connection with myself and putting order to my chaotic mind. Next, I studied business and economics, because I loved maths and I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Then I met my boyfriend, who was a Software Engineer. He encouraged me to explore software engineering, believing it would be a good fit for me. And he was right. Software engineering gave me a unique outlet to apply both the logical and creative aspects of my personality.
Outside of work, I love getting out into nature, whether it’s biking, scuba diving, or just going for a long walk in the woods. I believe human beings are amazing creatures who just belong to nature. I used to walk all around Buenos Aires, from one end to the other. Walking is another form of meditation for me. I feel connected when I do it, especially if I am in the countryside. Meditating is another big part of my life; it gives me clarity and brings me joy and love.
I first became interested in scuba diving through my boyfriend and his family – they are all big fans and it’s something that they do any time that they can. The first time I dove was in Costa Rica with them. They were diving almost every day, so I decided to do the certification course to get my licence so I could join them. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. I remember one of my first dives: we were exploring a reef, and it was full of sharks. We probably saw more than 30 on that single dive. Those types of sharks, Black Tip Reef Sharks, are pretty harmless to humans, but for an inexperienced diver, it’s a bit nerve-wracking to be in the water with them. On that first dive trip, between the sharks, sea turtles, and sounds of whales singing in the distance, it would have been difficult not to fall in love with the experience.
Diving is like being on another planet. Imagine floating slowly through blue space, discovering amazing creatures, plants, landscapes, colours, and sounds that you’ve never experienced before. I used to be a fanatic of The Little Mermaid when I was a kid, so I guess that in some part of my subconscious, there was this curiosity to know a “new world.“
Costa Rica was beautiful, but my favourite dive location so far has been Saba, a very small Caribbean island in the Dutch Antilles. We went to Saba specifically for the diving, which was excellent, but it’s also just one of the most incredible places that I’ve visited: green, full of life, and with some unique geology. Despite its tiny size, the island features the tallest point in the Netherlands. For our next diving adventure, we are planning to rent a catamaran for a sailing / diving trip in the British Virgin.
While I did say that diving is like being on another planet, we have to remember that it is our planet. And the health of our oceans is directly and inextricably linked to the future of mankind. And with climate change, overfishing, and plastic pollution (the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains at least 79,000 tons of discarded plastic!), we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy everything our oceans have to offer.
Looking at my other activity, I’ve always been interested in cycling. I love the freedom of it, the open road, the air in your face, the smell of the trees. Being outdoors in the forest or the mountains instantly makes me feel relaxed. Cycling is an opportunity for adventure: to explore places, enjoy nature, and create memories.
I ride a hybrid bike, a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. It’s a nice compromise and is capable and comfortable in a variety of terrain. It was perfect for our trip from Spain to Italy, which was mostly on small roads along the coast but had a few off-road sections. We bought our bikes from Cyclogical, a family-owned bike shop in Guardamar del Segura, Spain. The owner was just an incredible cyclist and he gave us a ton of tips for our trip.
We bring a lot of gear and equipment when cycling. Staying hydrated is very important, especially on long rides, so we load our bikes up with several bottles. On long ride days, we’d put one bottle full of ice so it would thaw during the first hour of our ride and we’d still have cold water. We also used a lot of electrolyte tablets, which replenish the minerals that our bodies lose when we sweat and also taste great.
I also mounted a bracket to hold my phone for GPS directions when necessary. The last piece of critical kit is a tire change kit and a couple of spare tubes. If you are cycling long distances, you will inevitably get a flat and will have to patch or change your tube.
I remember once being somewhere in France and my bike just stopped; we were going up a hill, but my bike wouldn’t move. The chain had slid off and was stuck in a very weird way, and there was no way to repair it without some specific tools that we didn’t have. We were on a small road about 10 kilometres away from the nearest town. We tried to repair it with what we had for at least one hour. There were maybe two houses on that stretch of road, but there wasn’t anybody nearby to help us. The house closest to us had a sign saying “private property”, but I could see in the distance that they had a kind of ‘car workshop’ on their property. We spent the next 30 minutes deliberating if we should jump the gate and borrow some tools.
Considering that our only other option would be to carry the bike all day back to a town, I decided to just go for it and jumped the rope to borrow some tools from the workshop. Thankfully, we were able to repair the bike and I put the tools back.
After that, we bought some more tools!
Last summer, we did a cross-country cycling trip from Guardamar del Segura, Spain to Castiglioncello, Italy. It would be about 1600 kilometres if you did it directly, although we took some detours, either because we wanted to visit a place nearby or because the route we were following was not navigable. In the end, we did ~1900 kilometres.
We visited a lot of amazing places on that trip. In Spain, the most memorable places were Tossa de Mar and the Calas nearby (Cala Giverola for example, where you can rent a kayak and explore the sea caves nearby). In France, the place that impacted me the most was Parc National des Calanques. It may not be the best place to cycle – the route that we did is a route mostly for hiking – but it’s incredibly beautiful. We ended up carrying our bikes most of the way, sometimes climbing or descending two-metre rock walls. Not recommended for cycling.
That being said, it was so beautiful that we forgot all about the slog it took to arrive. We had a magnificent lunch perched at the top of a cliff next to the sea, enjoying some French cheese and fruit from a nearby town. It was one of the most spectacular views I’ve seen in my life.
Hiking back out and carrying our bikes, we ran out of water. We were already extremely tired, and the path was just brutal. People we met along the way kept asking us how even arrived there with our bikes. We even got several flat tires that day on both our bikes. But when we arrived at the end, there was a wonderful little town was waiting for us: Cassis. We spent several days there, and it was one of the cutest towns that I’ve been to – all the people playing bacchii in the park, lots of live music, street markets, and delicious food.
If you are cycling through the south of France and you go through Nice, it is mandatory to stop in Café du Cycliste, where you can take a coffee and have all the tools to adjust your bike for free.
And then there was Italy, la Bella Italia. Italy has always had a special place in my heart, and it’s difficult to pick my favourite parts. We went all the way to Castiglioncello, a small town where a dear friend lives, which is very beautiful in the summer. I have wonderful memories there, just enjoying a drink at a bar overlooking the sunset on the Mediterranean.
I definitely have a few future goals with my Scuba Diving & Cycling. We are trying to organize a trip with a big group to rent a boat in the British Islands. The idea is to do scuba diving in different spots. My brother-in-law is both a Dive Master and a certified boat captain, and our intention is to do a trip where we are self-sufficient, sailing between islands and diving wherever we want.
With cycling, we are thinking to do “El Camino de Santiago”, either on bike or hiking. And at some point, I would love to the Andes Trail, an 11000 kilometre route going through all of South America, crossing volcanos, Incas ruins, rainforests, and glaciers. But for that, it probably would be useful to do a little more training.
I see a few similarities between software engineering and scuba diving & cycling. Coding is a constant process of learning, exploration, and discovery. In software engineering, you always have to be mindful of constraints. This is the same with scuba diving (where the most obvious constraint is the available oxygen in your tank) or cycling (where the constraints include the steepness of the grade, the amount of water, sun exposure, etc.). Success is achieved by managing the constraints effectively.
I believe that my travels and adventures help me foster curiosity and creativity, both valuable skills in a software engineer. And software engineering also gives me a great deal of flexibility to choose when and where to work, allowing me to continue to travel.
I’m currently working on a project related to an online plastic-free grocery. It’s in the very early stages, but it’s the kind of project that inspires me. We are in a critical moment, and I believe that there are more and more people who want to contribute in some way to help the environment, but at the same time, don’t want to sacrifice the comfort and facilities of this modern world. Technology is a powerful catalyst to provide more convenient products and services while minimizing the negative impact on the planet.
My advice to anyone interested in scuba diving or cycling is to just do it! For cycling, even if you are not trained at all, you can start small, and increase the distance as you improve. The truth is that it’s easier than it looks, and you can adjust and push yourself a little more every day. Bring water and plan a little ahead. Go early in the morning, especially in the summer when the sun can really become heavy. It’s easier to avoid traffic too, in case you are in some densely-populated area. There are lots of apps out there to help you plan routes and find interesting destinations.
If you are interested in scuba-diving, find a good teacher and practice the exercises first in a swimming pool so that you feel comfortable enough with the basic skills when you are in the ocean. Rest well, eat well, enjoy yourself, and if you do it with more people, make sure to do it with good company. There will be challenges all the time, so better be with people that can laugh and make your time enjoyable, even in the worst situations. It’s an adventure, so enjoy it!
There is always more than tech. It’s great to go deep into a technical problem, but don’t forget about your body, spirit, and community. Being in contact with nature helps you to be aware of that interconnection that exists between everything. In the end, we can learn so much by observing nature and the natural process of life. When you travel, you learn more about different cultures and different ways of thinking. You can then integrate them, and you will become more creative and more innovative. Just get out there and enjoy, share, explore, be with the people you love, and discover something new every day.