As one of my New Year’s resolutions, I vowed to make at least one trip to a new foreign country once a year. During my Navy days, discovering new places and cultures was inevitable and something I took for granted. But it did teach me some valuable lessons on how to make the most of strange and foreign lands.

In those days, there was little to no time to prepare. In the interest of “national security,” we were not informed of our port of call destinations until sometimes the day before arriving. If we were lucky there would be guided MWR trips available, but that meant hours on end with the same people we were forced to live and work with every day for months on end. Our freedoms were limited as well. We had curfew restrictions and buddy requirements, not to mention the overzealous Shore Patrol, eager to catch us misbehaving. Despite all of that I somehow managed to make the best of the situation. While my shipmates b-lined it for the nearest bar, brothel, or shopping mall, myself and a carefully chosen companion would walk the streets of whatever city we found ourselves and simply explore. With no time to familiarize ourselves with the lingua franca and often with not even a map to guide us, we allowed ourselves to get pleasantly lost an discover each city’s secrets on our own.

Since my separation, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to continue my travels but with the added luxury of complete and total freedom to wander as far as I want, stay out as late as necessary and partake in things that might have been restricted otherwise. It’s difficult to even describe the liberation one feels to be free of dress codes and curfews and to truly let the wonder of a foreign place consume you without fear of reprisal for getting too drunk or missing the last shuttle back to the ship. It makes the experience that much more pleasant and exciting, even if the travel expenses aren’t funded by Uncle Sam.

But as exhilarating as it is to discover somewhere completely alien to you, it’s nice to have a guide – someone who knows the country and the language – to show you the things you might otherwise miss. Last summer, Matt and I went to Panama and it was his prior experience and connections that it made it the best vacation (however short) of my life. It also opened my eyes to the wonder, charm and accessibility of Latin America.

So when considering the destination of my next excursion, the choice seemed rather obvious. My step-mother is a native Brazilian so when I was home for Christmas I brought up the possibility of traveling there soon. A few weeks later I was applying for a visa and stoked to experience South America for the first time.

The trip was planned during my step-sisters’ Spring Break which meant missing Harvest of Hope, something I had put a lot of effort into to ensure my press pass. But as with all things that are worth doing, this voyage required a sacrifice and suffice it to say the decision was not a difficult one to make.

Unfortunately with Chicken & Whiskey going on tour and Burro Bags changing locations, I had little to no time to learn any Portuguese or research Recife (the city we would be visiting). My limited knowledge of Brazil went as far as an idea of what the Amazon, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo might be like but it is a giant country as diverse as our own. This didn’t bother me as I knew we would be in good hands under my step-mother’s guidance.

After returning from tour, I had less than a week to help the guys catch up on orders, get the new shop operational and prepare for my trip. It really snuck up on me and before I knew it I was boarding a plane and flying all night away from the comfort (and drama) of Jacksonville. I arrived in mid-morning in Recife, dehydrated, exhausted and without a clue as to how I was to get anywhere. My phone’s international roaming wasn’t cooperating and I was given no instructions so I changed some money and prepared to take a cab to the hotel thankful that I had the foresight of recording the address. Luckily I spotted my father just as I was about to hail a cab.

And so it began.

To be continued…