NATE MENNINGER: The last time I posted a “blog post” was on September 22nd from the confines of a 7×5 ft. dorm room in Mendoza, Argentina. For $2.50 a week, I drank tea in the morning and ate the same, shitty mixture of white rice and hot dogs every day. Salt was a luxury and onion was a dream.
Surviving meant everything.
Now, almost a full two months later, I find myself sitting comfortably at my parent’s marble countertop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The cabinets before me overflow with food, the water runs hot and the lights shine incessantly.
Even in the steel, smoggy city of Pittsburgh, I can see the differences in life everywhere I look. The luxuries with which my parents live and most Americans for that matter baffle me; for while I enjoy them too, I now know that there is only one thing I need in life:
Believe it or not, while most of you reached this conclusion as a toddler, it took me nearly seven months of solo traveling to discover what I needed.
After living in Mendoza, Argentina for over a month, I packed my bag and made my way across the country towards Uruguay. I spent a night at a hostel and two couch surfing with random people from the internet. One of my kind hosts even sported their own weed nursery in their bedroom — that was a cool place to sleep.
When I finally made it to Uruguay, I found work at a hotel in the center of Salto, a city known for its citrus production. I fell under the control of a Swiss hotel mastermind — to put his stature in perspective, during the Cuban Missile Crisis he owned the American hotel where all of the world leaders gathered before their conference.
If you remember the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, my life greatly resembled that of the bitch, bell boy. I did everything to a T: that meant walking through specific rooms, eating behind closed doors, greeting guests with the exact right phrase etc. etc.
I learned a lot, but I learned even more working for his girlfriend at her ranch about 30 minutes outside of the city. I cleaned chicken coupes, rode horses to search for wild ostrich eggs and helped with construction projects.
Towards the end of my stay, the owners held a wonderful dinner party with home cooked deviled eggs and more. The night started off with a bang but then everything changed.
I watched as the cousins, sisters, nephews and parents shared in a beautiful moment and for the first time in months, I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. I felt so selfish for leaving my own family behind to simply enjoy the bullshit that is ‘traveling.’
Why on Earth was I traveling anyways? I abandoned my family to look for what?
I figured I just needed a change of scenery to rid my mind of its depressing thoughts, so I took off once more. I passed through the capital city of Montevideo and via a friend’s recommendation, settled into work at a surf hostel in Punta del Este. I stayed for a week, tried surfing and failed, found a Trump Tower in construction and met some amazing people. Specifically, I met a Swedish couple staying at our hostel. We absolutely hit it off and decided to continue on to Brazil together.
Brazil was my safe haven. If I got there, I just knew I’d be happy.
We left on Sunday and spent the night in Cabo Polonia, an ocean village with minimal electricity, no internet and a hoard of hippies. Embracing the local culture, we bought some “4/20 brownies,” a pile of meat and a few beers. We sparked up a fire on the beach and enjoyed a true Uruguayan barbeque.
I’ll remember that night forever, and not just the tingling sensation all over my body but rather the wonderful food, company and scenery I shared with my two new friends. For a moment, we were family.
We made our way to the border the next day and booked a bus to Brazil. Unfortunately, that night the border patrol sent me home packing. I didn’t have a visa, so just like that I was forced to say goodbye to my new family.
I spent the next two days gathering my credit card funds and paperwork for a Brazilian Visa. $200 dollars it cost me, sending my bank account rifling into the negatives. I kept my head up, because I knew that if I just made it to that Brazilian island, everything would be okay.
Five buses, one boat and nearly three days later, I arrived at the Brazilian island of Ilha Grande: the world’s largest Atlantic Rain Forest area. The place was gorgeous, I mean absolutely breathtaking and the work was a breeze. I did have to buy my own food, however, which posed a serious problem.
I created and coined the “cookie diet:” one pack of cookies for every meal. My body felt like shit, but I wasn’t hungry! Eventually, I switched to mangos, which proved a lot healthier and tastier — plus Brazilian fresh fruit is unreal.
As the days passed, my work ethic quickly faded. I craved sleep and found myself getting angrier at the littlest things. Luckily, I stayed afloat by playing music at bars and at random house parties that I walked into — yea, I literally just walked into houses where I heard music — but there was no doubt about it; I was depressed.
I spent every day thinking about my family, and finally, with my parent’s help, booked a flight home. I couldn’t take it anymore.
The next Monday I told my boss I wanted to stop working and leave the island. Coincidentally, she fired me on the spot. Like I said, I had a negative attitude.
I caught a boat to shore and searched for a bus to Rio de Janeiro. With no plan, I sought out help from the people around me. One woman took me under her wing and showed me exactly where to go. When we got close to the center of Rio, she asked if I wanted to stop at her house and use the internet to find a hostel.
Fuck it, I thought.
I followed her into a small, Brazilian neighborhood that lay on the border of a Favela.
I didn’t leave until my flight the next week.
She and her two sons kindly offered me a spot to sleep on the floor, and with a few blankets it proved the perfect place.
They taught me the bus system, how to abuse the train system, the best places to visit, where to play soccer in the favela and much more. I will forever be grateful to Elizabeth, Guillermei, Deisi and Jorge for their hospitality giving my one of the best experiences of my life. I still wear the necklace they gave to honor their kindness.
Even though I lived in what many Americans consider the most dangerous part of Brazil, I never once encountered danger. I even ran through one of Brazil’s most dangerous favelas at 3am and saw nothing! In fact, the Brazilian people were nothing but nice to me. I only wish that I began my adventures in Brazil; although I know I’ll be back soon. It’s a dope country
Once I have a bit more time to relax at home, I’ll post a list of the most important things I learned in hopes of helping you guys out if you’re planning on doing the same.
If you’re reading this and I met you along my journey, thank you so very much for everything you did. Whether you knew it or not, you were my family. You were the reason I traveled. You are everything to me.
It was an amazing experience traveling the world but in the end, family brought me home. In retrospect, I think that’s why I traveled: to figure out just what it is that I value.
Dare I say it’s your turn?
Live Without Limits,