Day 135. Porto, Portugal

Surfing, Jiu Jitsu and Family

Bruno, our surf instuctor, helping out Svenja with standing up.

A few days after the Copenhagen Camp I ended up in Porto, Portugal. I wondered what I would do when I got to Porto. From the start of my trip I knew my family was coming to Portugal. I had to decide what to do before I met them in Porto. My options were I would either walk another Camino from Porto to Santiago, hang out in Porto for a week, or…. wait for it. Go to a surf school.

How long does it take to not be self conscious in a wet suit?

Porto will be an unforgettable chapter in my trip.  I learned to surf and met other beginners from all parts of the world. I trained Jiu Jitsu in the afternoon and nights after surfing. I drank and hung out with cool people whose couches I could use in the future. I was reunited with my family and I had old fashion family vacation.

Food brings people together. Argentina, USA, The Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, and France.

I booked the camp when I was in Vienna after talking to Tina, from Leipzig post, who described her love for surfing.  I thought that I should try it out. One should push themselves outside of their comfort zones. How else can you grow as a person? I found Surfivor on Google.  A great place with very comfortable accommodations. Bruno and Albert are very good surf instructors.  It seems they still have a lot of enthusiasm for it after many years. There were plenty of beginner students just trying it out.  Most nights the students ate dinner together and drank together. This experience has made me really enjoy surfing.  I will continue to surf in the future.

Gabriel from Romania. He just finished the Camino Frances.

I get my recommendations where to train from the BJJ Globetrotter Facebook Group.  I simply remember or search where people go to train on the forum. So far every place I’ve trained at has not disappointed me. I account that this is also a very open community that loves the sport and showing people their love for Jiu Jitsu.


Focus Jiu Jitsu in Porto, Portugal was one of the best places I’ve trained.  Manuel Neto, the head instructor, was very friendly and welcoming.  Focus has Jiu Jitsu three times a day Monday through Friday with one class on Saturday. The location of the gym is located inside a bigger gym/crossfit/MMA place about three blocks from the beach.  I rented a bike and it took about 15 minutes from my hostel.  A large amount of higher belts, one them just came back from Worlds and was awarded Black Belt. The facilities are clean, showers and a large mat space. The majority of population of Porto could speak English and the gym was no exception. I will definitely return to this place in the future.


My family visiting Porto before they attend a wedding in Lisbon was my favorite part.  I love Jiu Jitsu and surfing, but I enjoy spending time with my family.  It’s a good recharge from the months of travel I’ve been through.  There were many times on my journey where I get homesick.  I would call my sister and see how things are doing back home.  I did this more on this 4 months of travel than my 7 years in the Navy.  I took them to the restaurants that Tiago, the surf camp owner, recommended to me. They enjoyed the Francesinha, Restaurante Ababia do Porto and eating at the grilled fish street. We spent roughly two days in Porto together but I instilled them the love for Porto that I felt.

After 4 months of traveling I am reunited with my family.

My plan is to come back for a month to Porto maybe next summer. The surfing, Jiu Jitsu, and the amazing Portuguese food are a few reasons why I will return.  I’m already planning my return to Portugal.  I want to continue surfing when I return to California so I will be better when I come back.  The lifestyle is very similar to something I imagine myself I would be when I grow older.

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Day 122. Copenhagen, Denmark


My first BJJ Globetrotter Camp. When I first decided to travel around the world this was the first thing I booked, it was also one of the cheapest camps. All I had to do was travel to Copenhagen, lodging not included in price. I didn’t know what to expect for my first Jiu Jitsu camp. I kept my mind open and trained as much as my mind and body let me.  At the end of the camp I gained many friends and invitations to different gyms all over Europe.

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Peter from Sweden, Nick from Wisconsin, Patrick from London,

Some of my favorite tips from the Copenhagen Camp Information Guide by Daniel Bertina. Pace yourself, take notes and be social. Six days of 8-9 hours of Jiu Jitsu is a lot for anyone.  I didn’t want to burn myself out so I went to open mat at least once a day and I attended an average of 2.5 classes.  I would have liked to have attended more classes but it will just be a goal for next time.  I took notes for the classes that I did attend.  A tip that I will do next time is record myself doing the moves again in sequence with a partner to accompany the written notes. I should have been more social during the camp. This is one aspect that I did not take advantage until the end of the camp which was too late.  Next time I will attend the welcome meeting/ Jiu Jitsu speed dating, dinners and a few drink afterwards. The trick is to have a right balance of socializing and rest for the next days training sessions/classes.  As you can tell I’m already convinced that I will attend another camp.  The next important question is which one?

Nikita from Ukraine and Brian from the US.

A rolled with the original BJJ Globetrotter on the last day, Christian Graugart. Many years ago he went on a trip around the world to train Jiu Jitsu in as many different gyms as possible. It spawned into the friendly travel community we now know. He is not the first to make Jiu Jitsu camps but his BJJ Globetrotter brand has the most amount with 10 camps in different locales around the world. I felt honored to roll with him. He rolls like a black belt, relaxed and very composed against a lower belt, like myself. Although very playful and fun. A very approachable guy, it was interesting to pick his brain about the camps and his travels.

I trained everyday during the camp. I didn’t go to every class even though I wanted to. I socialized more on the last few nights. I should have went out more in the beginning especially for the Jiu Jitsu speed dating session to meet people.  I should have recorded myself summarizing the techniques I just learned. A Gopro is good but my iTouch with a tripod would have been fine. I met people from all over the world and received many invitations from gyms and gave out just as many.  I wonder when and where my next BJJ Globetrotter camp will be?

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Day 114. Dresden, Germany.

 

Thomas and I at Bastei.

Dresden, Germany. A city famed for being bombed on February 13, 1945.  I stayed with my friend, Thomas, on old Camino friend. We went hiking to Bastei and reminisced about the Camino. The weekend I came to Dresden there happened to be the biggest party of the year. I met some local Germans, had a picnic, and drank some beer. Dresden has the advantages of a small town and of a big city.

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Frauenkirche Church in Dresden.

I originally heard of Dresden in Howard Zinn’s You can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train documentary.  During the final weeks of the war, Dresden was bombed to great extent. The amount of casualties is still up to debate because of the amount of refugees from Czechoslovakia. Most of the old buildings were destroyed and the old town was leveled. Since the end of World War 2 and the fall of the iron curtain, the restoration has reinvigorated the old town and the city itself.

Thomas, Louis, (unknown friend), and I.

I walk with Thomas and Maria during my Camino hike last October. I visited Yun-Jin (Maria) last month in Seoul. I made a point to visit Thomas in Dresden.  It was great to go to a new city and already have friends. It’s one of those things I really appreciate traveling through Europe alone.  I slept on Thomas’s pull away Ikea couch. We saw another Camino friend, Louis, who studies in Dresden. It was during the biggest party of the year in Dresden.  It was a great experience. On Sunday, we went on a hike to Bastei. It was good to get out of the city and see nature. Thomas had to work during the week but we hung out when he came home.  We met up with Louis again my last night.

Frauenkirche building out of legos in the Karstadt.

We had a picnic BBQ next to the Elbe.  In central Europe it is very common to see people in the park having a picnic and drinking outside. Thomas has this small convenient grill that we used to cook some chicken, pork and steak. It was a perfect day for a picnic when the weather is perfect. I met Rebecca, Thomas’s room mate, and Thalia, Rebecca’s sister. I heard Rebecca’s au pair experience in Arizona. It’s interesting to hear other people’s travel experience of my own country.  Picnics are one of my favorite things to do. I have to do more when I get back to the States.

Rebecca,(Thomas’s roommate, Thalia?(Rebecca’s sister), and myself at BBQ

I spent five days in Dresden, but I felt that wasn’t enough time.  I saw some friends and met new people. I tried to train Jiu- Jitsu but google maps led me on wild goose chase. I was able to get some exercise by hiking and biking to the ghost gym. The weather was really excellent to enjoy with friends.  I don’t know when I’ll return to Dresden but I had good memories here.

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Thomas and Louis on the Elbe.

 

Day 108. Prague, Czech Republic

What was Prague like? It was beautiful and very picturesque.  I had long term travel fatigue episode, I had coped with it. I tried out my first couch surfing experience. I’m glad I’m an older solo traveler, I can’t keep up with these young people. Meeting local people is my favorite part about traveling. I met up with a old friend from when I was in the Navy.  Took a train out of Prague to Dresden.  I will definitely love to come back and visit the city.

The Dancing House by Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić.

I came to Prague with over 100 days on the road.  It is very tiring being a tourist.  Some days you just want to go back home. Yes, even for the people living their dream there are bad days.  After I had this thought of long term travel fatigue, I looked and there was already a blog post about it, here.  I read this post after I recovered.  What did I do to recover. I kept going, I pushed through.  There are interesting places everywhere, you just have to keep looking.  I went to the National Technical Museum in Prague, practically no tourists there.  It was an inspiring to see different types of technology evolve with time. There is a photography exhibit, medical technology, film, architecture, appliances, printing presses and many more. Then I went to see the National Gallery.  I enjoy looking at painting and modern art because I studied a little bit when I was in art school. It was really exciting to some famous artists that I admired.  The title picture is a close up of a Alphonse Mucha. I love his decorative style and color palette.  What got me out of the slump was to keep doing what I’m doing, keep working, keep searching, and keep exploring. Eventually it will pass. That’s advice if you need it. Please see the link above, that post is also good advice for any plateau.

Sometimes you just need an afternoon to read and drink in a Beer Garden.

You know when your friend would send you a postcard from Europe, Prague is a perfect card. Prague is located in central Europe as the capital city of the Czech Republic.  It’s the fifth most visited city Europe.  To say there were a lot of tourist is an understatement. When Richard Simcott, the polyglot superstar, studied here in the 90’s he described the Charles bridge as walking through a living radio when you turn the dial fast.  So many people and so many languages you can hear maybe five or six walking through it.  I didn’t have that exact experience, but I did hear a lot of English. Prague is beautiful but the amount of people detract from it. There are cool things to do you just have to look closer than the average tourist.

I managed to get some training amidst my slump.  In fact, Jiu Jitsu is a really good way to get back into it.  Exercise is good to way to move forward with a situation.  I have now taken classes in Spanish, German, Czech and English. I wonder how many more languages I can learn Jiu Jitsu in. Honza Stach told me about Richard Andres at Penta BJJ. It’s great to meet people and that other people recommend. Richard spoke English very well and took time to show me certain details in English.  He trained on and off in Minnesota. He is as technical as Honza said he was.  I really enjoy that the network of Jiu Jitsu is just an interconnected network of people.

Richard and I at Penta BJJ.

I met Jan through a mutual acquaintance.  I was in Chile on a bike wine tour. A fellow, Matej from Slovakia, told me to check Czech Republic out and if I was going to Prague he might know someone to put me up.  I didn’t think anything of it. I gave him my email address, usually nothing comes from these situations. Maybe because I’m American and people are flaky in America. I’m used to it. After a few weeks he emailed me some advice on Slovakia and Czech Republic. He gave me a contact for Prague.  That is how I ended up on the Jan’s couch.  It’s so great to hear the perspective of a local about their city.  It’s honestly a priceless experience. I don’t think many tourists experience traveling this way.  I learned a lot about the history and attitude of Czech People through Jan.  He is one of the reason I want to return and really experience Czech Republic.

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Jan and I at Palour

I extended my stay in Prague an extra day to see and old Navy buddy, Robbie. I was his LPO(Leading Petty Officer) in the department of ICU. He is now stationed in Japan.He has been traveling around Europe for about a week now.  He showed me his itinerary and I managed move some things around and spend a day catching up. We went to pub crawl, urgh I thought. A bunch of other English speaking tourists. Not really my scene but nonetheless I had fun. I met some new people, I got lost, I found my friends and I had a great time. Normally I would shy away from stuff like that. The further I go along in Europe I will probably go on more drunken nights with big groups of strangers.

Austrialian Adam,  Me, Nina from Colorado, Robbie, Justin from Canada.

Overall a good time in Prague.  Sometimes you feel down even in the most beautiful locations. Just keep going and learn from the experience. Keep your hobbies close so that you can feel normal even in a foreign country.  It’s great to meet new friends and old friends all in the same city. Czech Republic left as space in my heart I will try to fill it some day.

Day 80. Seoul, South Korea Again

Seoul is the only place I visited twice on this trip.  That is fortunate because this time my  long time friend Carolina is visiting me.  I was able to spend more time with Yun-Jin too.  Carolina and I hung out with Yun-Jin, Yun-Min, her older sister, and Catherine, Yun-Min’s room mate.  The second experience was just as memorable as the first.  I am thankful to have a guides that know the language and show me around.  The generosity of strangers continue to amaze me on my journey.

Catherine, Yun-Jin, Carolina, and Yun- Min

We went to Incheon to visit Yun-Min and she took us out to eat at a seafood place. It was delicious.  Koreans know how to eat.  Carolina and I asked if this was a special occasion kind of meal.  They said no, this is how they normally eat.  I love that idea.  We went to the beach and looked for oysters.  We also grabbed coffee/ice cream.  Then they showed us the Incheon China Town.  Hearing a little bit of the history of Incheon and Seoul was sobering.  A divided nation that has indefinite time frame of when they will rejoin, if ever.

Fish Ice Cream. Don’t judge the taste by the wrapper.

The next day Carolina and I went to Hongdae and ate American breakfast.  That was what I wanted to eat.  I really enjoy a big breakfast.  There’s a satisfying feeling when I can eat eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns and pancakes.  We went to Lotte world after that.  Lotte world is basically the Korean version of Disneyland. That was what Carolina wanted to do.  It was an interesting experience, they basically compacted an American sized theme park in a mall in the middle of a city.  We ended the night with eating Korean BBQ.

Korean BBQ with Caro

On the last day we went to eat sashimi at the Noryangjin Fish Market.  I would like to say it is a unique experience to eat fresh fish straight from the fish market.  There are many places in the world where this is possible I think.  But this is Seoul.  The experience was one of kind.  We ate an assortment of fish, shrimp and sea urchin(uni). Like most meals I’ve had in Seoul it was accompanied with Soju and beer.  We were stuffed from all that food and decided to walk it off.

Fresh Sashimi for lunch

Yun- Jin took us to her school,  Seoul National University. Carolina and I compared the feeling of being in an American College and Seoul National University.  We were seeing not as much school pride as US schools. You know ever third student you see walking by has a sweatshirt or shirt of their school name. I’m all for school pride but it gets over the top at some schools, i.e. Stanford, Cal.  She showed us her graduate office, where a couple of other master students were working on their thesis.

Yun-Min got us tickets to opening night at Jamyung-go, a Korean Opera.  I have never been to an opera before so it was a first for me.  There was an orchestra, set design and a full cast of costumes.  It played for only three nights. They had English subtitles for me on a screen above the stage.  Carolina speaks Korean say she probably followed along better than me. The story is about a magical drum that warns the city if invaders are approaching and the division of two kingdoms trying to reunite despite the opposition of inside forces.

Like most countries on my trip I say that I will return.  I really mean it for Korea.  I plan on learning Korean and planing my next trip back to Korea after my world tour.  It maybe because of the culture, a certain someone or that I didn’t train Jiu Jitsu there. Either way I had a memorable experience that I wish to have again in Korea. I recommend Korea to everyone.

The church group took a group picture with the leading lady. Jamyung-go

Day 73. Guam, USA

Somewhere between Peru and Chile I decided to take a detour and visit my old home, Guam.  I lived on Guam for 3 years when I was in the Navy.  I look back on my time on Guam as my transformation into Adulthood.  It was the first time I really was away from home.  I lived by myself without room mates.  I paid rent, utilities, cleaned my home, cooked my food, and solved my life problems on my own.  There were many ups and downs that came with the experience which is why it feels like a home.

Guam is a small island in the Pacific Ocean.  It is a United States Territory, like Puerto Rico. Citizens on Guam cannot vote during federal elections but they do have a delegate in the House of Representatives.  The US military is the islands #1 employer.  The bases cover 27% of the islands land mass. Most of the income comes from tourists that visit from Asian countries like Japan, China, and South Korea. Here is a video by Wendover productions for an overview.

It is very expensive to fly to Guam from the United States. The average round trip ticket is around $1000 USD.  I was initially going to spend three weeks in South Korea.  My thought process was that I can take a cheaper flight to visit Guam now than when I return to the States. So I took a detour and made some arrangements with some friends that were still on the island.

 

Jordan, Emily and I in front of Naval Hospital Guam

My friend, Jordan, and his wife, Emily, were hosting me during my stay.  They live in Mangilao, Guam.  They gave me my own room and bathroom.  It was a luxury that I rarely had during my trip.  Both of them were working during my stay but we caught up at night.  Jordan even let me borrow his car while he was at work.  Jordan worked during the day and Emily at night but she comes home at 8 to 9ish. At that time we would eat dinner and have catch up on life.

 

I visited my duty station, Naval Hospital Guam.  I was a Hospital Corpsman at NH Guam for 3 years.  One of the most frustrating jobs of my entire life.  Though it helped shape the person I am today because of my experiences there.  I ran into some old peers that were still there.  It felt great to catch up but it didn’t feel good to listen to the consensus of low morale.  It was a good reminder of why I left the Navy to travel the world.  I know where their dissatisfaction comes from because I lived it.  I hope they find their peace with the Navy.  I compare the hospital visit felt like going back to your old high school, if your high school took care of sick and dying patients.

Hiro(Japanese Tourist), Jordan, me and Tyler. We went sailing on Lasers. It one of my favorite past times while on Guam.

My friend told me it would be a good morale boost to be on American soil and be around friends.  I didn’t realize until I left how true that statement was.  The ability to speak English freely without thinking if the other person understood me was comfortable.  I used to live on Guam, so when Jordan let me use his car, it felt like driving around my home town.  I revisited my favorite restaurants McKrauts, Gabriels, Cafe Tu’re, Asu Smokehouse, and Pikas Cafe.  I cooked risotto for Emily and Jordan as a kind of payment for hosting me.  I’m so thankful to have friends on the other side of the world.

 

Cooking risotto while drinking. 

I trained Jiu Jitsu twice.  I went to Vida once. It wasn’t too far from where I was staying. It had a good core of students.  Some are MMA fighters on Guam.  Every night was competition training for them.  It was a good push. They waived the mat fee too. Then I trained at Spike 22 at Steel Athletics.  I had to pay a $15 mat fee for that day.  Only two people showed up for lunch open mat.  Rohin was training for a MMA fight in July and Mike was there training with him.  It was good training with heavy weights that just used technique, especially Rohin.  Rohin could have crushed me, he looked over 250 lbs.  It was a chill rolling session.  Despite the $15 mat fee and the few people it was a good experience.

 

 

Vida BJJ in Mangilao, Guam.

I went to see Gabe Baker, my coach when I trained at Carlson Gracie Guam.  We had lunch at a Thai place next to the academy.  It was getting renovated, new mats, so I couldn’t train at my old gym. Getting a one on one with my old coach was what I needed. It felt at times that I was stumbling through the dark with what I needed to work on.  He gave me some guidance that was worth more than the two training sessions I had on the island.  He had an interesting philosophy on the belt system.  I’m grateful for the training I received on Guam and I thanked him for all that he taught me.  I will visit Guam and Carlson Gracie Guam again some day.

 

Gabe Baker in Carlson Gracie. Work in Progress.

“Purple belt is the longest belt, and is the belt most people quit at.  A brown belt is just waiting for his black belt. “

Day 69. Seoul, South Korea Part I

I enjoy stories.  I believe every good story has a great beginning.  The origin of how Yun-Jin and I met has an interesting start.  We met in Spain on the Camino de Santiago.  The first time I met her was in an albergue in Pendueles, Spain. We had just finished dinner and the table started singing songs from the different countries they were from.  There was Germany, Colombia, Poland, and three old Spanish pilgrims recited a dirty song in Spanish.  Then when it was her turn, she beautiful sung a Korean song and won the prize of another carafe of vino tinto.  She, of course, shared the prize with rest of the table.

 

Yun-Jin and I in cool looking ponchos.

We ran into each other the next day on the Camino.  We walked together that day from Pendules to Po, I think.  It was a long day.  But it was full of adventure and learning from each others story and history.  There was scattered rain along the path.  At the end of the day we walked close to 8 hours.  An ice cream truck pulled up to the albergue and we bought ice cream. We enjoyed the fact that the day was finally over, while enjoying our ice cream.  I have heard shared adversity and overcoming it brings people together.  I think that its true because we both recall that day vividly.

 

We ran into each several times, obviously, because we were going to the same place.  I took different paths some days and walked at my own pace.  During the last part of Asturias and all the way to Santiago, we walked together with Thomas, from Germany.  It was mostly just of the three of us.  It was an interesting crew.  Rasmus, a pilgrim from Denmark, said we reminded him of the Harry Potter Crew.  I’ll take that reference.

 

A Korean picnic on top of a mountain.

Fast Forward to seven months later.  I’m on a Jiu Jitsu/ travel world tour.  I choose to stop in Seoul to visit Yun-Jin.  Food, hiking, and adventure were on the itinerary.  It was an amazing experience.  After getting over the initial language barrier and metro system I was able to really take it in the culture.  Especially when you have a guide. It was a busy week of activities and trying new food.

 

Some where in Yeoeuido-Dong.

 

We did many activities while I was there.  I have to summarize a lot of it. We walked around Myeoung-Dong and had ramen at a very old restaurant.  We hiked up a mountain to a Buddhist temple where they fed us lunch for free.  We took a bike ride to Yangsae-Myeon and stopped by a strawberry farm.  There was a night where we just ate chicken, drank beer, soju, and rice wine.  We saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in a really fancy theater.  Afterwards we ran into a music festival in Yeouido-Dong.  There were many food trucks and we sat by the river eating poutine and steak while drinking Mojitos. It was a great week. I’m very thankful I had a local guide to take me through the city.

The wall near Dongdaemon.

Currently I’m in Guam.  I will go back to Seoul for three days to finish my time in Asia.  I will reunite with Yun-Jin again and my long time friend Carolina. More to come.

How to get to Seoul:

Incheon International Airport (ICN) Bus 6002 can take you to Hapjeong station for $10,000 KRW.

A “Korean” picture for the memory.