My journey to Zuzalu was not straightforward. My 3 am train to the airport was canceled, and my flight was delayed. The weather was too bad to land the plane in Montenegro, so we were diverted to neighboring Croatia. It took a taxi, a boat, and a golf buggy to get to my apartment in this “pop-up city community” in a resort on the shore of the Adriatic Sea.
Zuzalu is the brainchild of Vitalik Buterin, the creator of the cryptocurrency Ethereum. But the co-organizers of the event stress that it’s a collaborative endeavor. One of the organizers, Janine Leger, who works at the blockchain platform Gitcoin, says the team wants Zuzalu to be a decentralized community, with little to no hierarchy.
Only people who aren’t status-oriented were invited, Leger told me. People who didn’t fit in, or who bothered attendees, were sent packing. “There was a very high bar to entry and a low bar to exit,” she said. As we talked, Leger made it clear she was not particularly happy about my presence. When I asked her what the highlight of the event was for her, she told me it was the lack of media coverage. I got the impression that Zuzalu, for all the purported lack of status-seeking, is a very exclusive event.
The resort itself is a luxury development that was built from scratch around a decade ago. What was only recently a wild coastline now included around a billion euros’ worth of apartments and hotels arranged over around 2.7 million square miles of land, mostly steep hills.
Everything was incredibly clean and felt very upmarket. I didn’t see a single piece of litter or even any insects during my stay. The resort felt very much designed for the rich. Zuzalu attendees can get around using free golf buggies, driven by resort employees who can be summoned via WhatsApp.
I was just a visitor to Zuzalu for a few days. The residents will stay for two months. Each week of the event has a different theme, ranging from synthetic biology to public goods. I arrived in time for the longevity biotech conference.
There’s no agreed dress code at Zuzalu. Some people were walking around in suits, others in shorts and flip-flops. But there were a lot of people wearing clothes with logos, company names, and slogans emblazoned on them. Everywhere I went, I saw “Longevity” stickers that had been slapped on hats, bags, tops, and laptops. I saw people wearing T-shirts that read “Molecule,” “Say forever,” and “I sequenced and analyzed my genome. What about you?”