John Potess

2020: The Phoenix Rises

Rediscovering my authentic self

travel | explore | grow
March 1st, 2021

The year started out - like most years do - January 1st with a massive hangover.

December 31st had been had been one for the books. I was in Lisbon and had gone out with some buddies and another nomad group the night before to hit a sick Chinese buffet.

Stacks of pre-game drinks and crowed tram ride later, we were in Baixa working our way to the Tejo river.

The streets were alive with groups of laughing, dancing, stumbling people all making our way down to the Tejo for the fireworks display.

New Years plaza

Somewhere along the way I’m offered a box of cooking wine - hence the future hangover.

If you know Portugal or you know wine, you also know there was absolutely no reason to be drinking boxed cooking wine in one of the most interesting countries in the world for wine.

Bottom-shelf wine in Portugal would surprise the uninitiated pseudommelier (pseudo-sommelier). If you're visiting Portugal - prepare that pallet and get ready to test your self-control.

Pink street

That said, why we had boxes of 1.5 euro red and white wine? I don't know, but we all enjoyed in the shared destruction of standards.

After the countdown on the Tejo river and the fireworks show, we continued the party in Barrio Alto until I finally stumbled back the 30 minute walk to my spot in Lapa and faded into oblivion.

And so began 2020.


January 1 I moved to my new spot in Santos and settled in for a couple of weeks then flew halfway around the world to get a totally non-sketchy divorce.

Long-story short, Guam is both a US territory and the fastest way to get a divorce - with only a 7 day residency.

FYI for my fellow US expats, this is about 9 months faster than it would have taken to go back to my home-state Texas and file there.

This was also my first solo trip where I wouldn't know anyone in the country.

Looking back now, and to seasoned travelers, this might not seem like a big deal - but there's a distinct difference from stepping out of customs at the airport and knowing someone in a city, vs realizing there's literally no one in that country even knows you exist.

I think this solo trip gave me a boost for this completely open-ended lifestyle I've entered.

Guam from above

My trip to Guam was interesting and where my love of islands began. There was a cute little coffee shop - Coffee Slut, that I worked out of every day and even a local craft brewery - Carabao Brewery.

The first thing I seek out when I go somewhere new is a craft coffee shop, and a local craft brewery.

Guam hermit crab wall-art

Guam - Inarajan Pools


So I stayed in Guam a week or so, then headed to Thailand to visit my dad, living in Bangkok.

I love Thailand and Bangkok: the exhilarating moto rides, the grittiness of the streets, and stifling heat is enough to snap you out of autopilot. And the street food - heaven. No comparison - at least not yet.

I joined a cooking class and made a friend and we connected over Thai food, brews, and sky bars. Until Singapore!

Bangkok sunset

Bangkok cooking class

Bangkok Sky 20 skybar

After hanging on my own for a while, my dad returned to Bangkok from a trip so I went and stayed a couple of weeks with my step-family who I hadn't seen in a few years.

My bro Santiago

Sis Saranda

Spending time together, sharing food and stories (and more than a few late nights and a bottle of Macallan) was exactly what I needed.

Squid and hot salsa

Thai beef noodle soup

Sharing a bottle of Macallan

Then I headed back to Lisbon, I love this city so much.

Jardim das Francesinhas

This time when I got back, I had a new roommate in the flat - on my bro bro bro - Gustavo - probably one of the coolest guy's you'll ever meet 🤙

Bro Gustavo

But it was a short trip, and I was off to Amsterdam for VueJS Conf Amsterdam. This was a cold, windy trip.

But wow, Amsterdam, incredible.

This was the first other country in Europe I had visited. I was in the ClinkNooord hostel on the other side of the river - (a total win being able to take the ferry every morning).

The trip was about a week but a highlight was finally getting to see Tycho live.


Amsterdam street

The show was incredible and he played songs from Weather for the first time. After this show I swore to myself - this year I'm going to go to a TON of shows. And bring live music back into my life.

Little did I know on the day back to Lisbon, was the day Covid exploded in Italy.

I remember watching in real-time how humans group-react to fear.

I was at the airport (all flights delayed for 2 days beacuase of storms) as an entire fight headed to Italy was delayed, and seeing how people started moving away from the Italians as more news came out about the massive spread in Italy.

The fear was palpable. It was just a small taste of what was to come throughout the rest of the year.


During the couple of weeks before Covid spread around the rest of Europe, I just settled into the casa and started going out more and experiencing the Lisbon vibes.

The open-exploration in Lisbon was shortlived as this is also when Covid-19 hit the rest of Europe.

Lisbon sunset on the Tejo river

I remember the night before the lockdown as I neared my apartment, the small store across the street was packed with people leaving with bundles of food.

An older woman on the other side of the road was sobbing pacing up and down the street holding an empty shopping bag. It was surreal.


To be honest, the one and a half-ish months of heavy lockdown in Portugal were a good time for me.

I used them to self-contemplate and work many of the areas I needed to post-divorce. It gave me some space to prioritize rediscovering myself, my dreams, desires and passions - and what I want my life and and expression of my self to be.

I'm thankful for that.

I stayed in consistent Keto for the whole lockdown - mainly to give me a reason to not just binge on pasta all day. I normally do Keto about one month per year - usually when I'm wanting to focus on a big project and become a superhuman.

(The amount of Keto meal pics I've documented on my phone is insane)

I also read a ton of books.

This month is also when made learning Portuguese a priority. I started doing online video conversations with my language instructor and now friend Marta, and focused intently on daily practice.

Every day pretty much followed the same pattern:

  1. Yoga
  2. Keto meal while listening to audio books
  3. Get ready for the day
  4. Work online
  5. Keto and audio books
  6. Practice Portuguese
  7. Read or audio books



May was a continuation of the April schedule but with the addition of starting to take trips with my bros David and Daniel as the country started easing restrictions.

We went frequented Cacilhas across the Rio Tejo, visited Setúbal to sample the best Choco Frito, and visited the beach island of Trioa,

David, Daniel and I in Cacilhas

Ponto de 25 de Abril

Cristo de Rei



On one particular trip to Cacilhas is where I decided to look into sailing. We were sitting on the banks of the Tejo in the Jardim do Rio with Daniel and David when we saw this Sailboat go by.

We started chatting and I shared how i’d love to be able to just join a boat crew and sail wherever and they both encouraged me that I should do it.

That night I went home an found Clipper Round the World race, which I’m joining the 2022 - 2023 race around the world and will join for the Australia to China and China to USA legs (now updated to the 2023 and 2024 race because of covid).

The boat that started it all


My favorite and longest month.

Lisbon was at this point had eased most of the regulations and was almost in the full flow of things. Life was good and I also had my best birthday ever.

I spent the day visiting all my favorite gardens, cafes and locations in Lisbon including:

Monasteiro de Jeronimos (literally I was the only person in the entire monastery)

Monasteiro de Jeronimos

The glorious Pasteis de Belem.

Pastel de Belem

Then met David and Daniel out in Cascais for some drinks before heading to Boca do Inferno.

Praia da Rainha - Cascaís

David (the fantastic violinist) brought his violin down to the waters edge and we all sat and watched the sun set, the portuguese fishermen on the rocks to the side of us and listened to David play the sun down.

Sunset and violin in Cascaís


I moved to Porto! Now one of my favorite cities.


Since I needed to move my things from Lisbon, I decided to just rent a car and turn it into a road trip, of course David was down to road-trip it.

The two spots we wanted to see were the the sureal village of Monsanto nestled between the boulders of a mountain and the medieval city of Sortelha.


But also had the nice surprise of staying with an expat Englishman now running a goat/pig/duck farm and the occasional summer music festival.

Basically living the dream.

Found the literal best liquor I've ever tasted in my life. The nectar of the gods. Sitting at the top of the village in Monsanto, overlooking the valley below.

Nectar of the gods

Vale do Mestre

David crashed at the new casa in Porto for a couple of weeks where we had many a #wineclub, city roaming and food cookoffs.

Shrimp Dinners


Porto is a magical city and I can't express how much I appreciate the friendships I made there.

I can't not mention D'Epoca wine, hands down, the best wine ber I've been to in Portugal with the absolute best people.

I made lots of trips with friends this month to different parts of the North of Portugal ❤️ Daniel, Ash, Martha, Junaid, Sara ❤️.

Dan in Porto

Dam in Gerês


Ash and John in Coimbra

The tradition of #wineclub continuing throughout

Wine club Douro river

Dinner Parties


I decided to go to the Azores, the remoteness of the island life was calling to me. and it did not dissapoint.

I stayed at Procyon Inn and met some amazing people, the owners - the incredible Mafalda and Felipe, and fellow wanderers Steph and Christian.

Sete Cidades

Lagos do Fogo

Village in São Miguel

The Azores were great, I'd like to go back and stay a while longer to really explore the islands.

So then I went back to Porto, and just a couple of days Christian hit me up becuase he was going to be in Porto a few days.

We were all having drinks with some friends at a local bar/restaurant/live-music venue and Christian had no cash to pitch on drinks.

So instead of figuring out a way to pay me later with some cash, Christian, being the catalyst for adventure that he is, bought me a plan ticket to Brussels for two weeks later instead.

I can't think of a better way to pay someone - when in doubt help people travel.

Christian in Porto

But this was still two weeks away and I had a retreat to go to in the Douro valley before I'd make my way to Belgium.

And so Borderless comes into the picture. I signed up for Borderless in the hopes of meeting like-minded people with similar lifestyles and who were looking to make real connections.

I'm also interested in alternative living styles and was wanting to see how this form of coliving could work. The cofounders Marta and Maris that all run it. Incredibly beautiful people with a vision for real community and relational living.

What was so incredible about the people and experience was how quickly the bonds of this community grew and became like a small family. It was idylic and how I'd imagine the best case scenario of community coliving could be.

Borderless firepit

We had such a great time together that some we decided to extend the coliving experiement. I was already planning on going down to Tarifa, Spain to learn how to Kiteboard, so about half of us decided to rent a house down there for a few weeks together

But first I had my trip to take to Belgium!


In Brussels I crashed at Christian's place with his flatmates and then proceeded to have my mind blown by the level of beer in Belgium.

I would legitimately like to stay in Belgium for a few months in the future just to fully experience this wonderland of fries, waffels and beer.

Brussels Square

Belgium Fries

Belgian Waffle

Belgian Beer

After a couple of days chilling in Brussels with Christian we set out on a three-day camp/bike/beer extravaganza trip that Christian and his flatmates happened to have planned for that weekend through the south of Belgium - biking from brewery to brewery and camping in between.




My trip to Belgium was short and packed full of adventure and I know I'll be back to stay a longer time next go around.

Then I hopped down to Tarifa, and crashed with my Borderless/Tarifa crew for the next couple of weeks and chilled, had a good time, and learned to kiteboard.


From Tarifa I went to Sevilla to explore this gorgeous, unique city.


Plaza de España

One of my favorite places is now the Real Alcázar de Sevilla - the 16th century Moorish palace.

Royal Alcázar of Sevilla

Then I met up with my friend Sveta for a few days in Sevilla before we headed back to Portugal.

IMG 8604


Borderless 8 retreat in the Algarve!

Karaoke Night

Borderless 8

Then I began my farewells to Portugal, starting in the south, working my way through Lisbon and up into Porto for a few days before heading to Texas for the holidays.

☹️ I love Portugal - the people, culture, food, language and all the wonderful friends I've made there this year. There's a special place in my heart for Portugal and I know I will frequent it often and keep those friendships.

Procyon crew

Porto Sunset

Although it was difficult to say goodbye for the time-being to Portugal, I was also looking forward to seeing family again back in Texas. So I boarded my flight and arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.


It had been almost a year and a half since I'd been in the US and seen any of my US family so December was just some much needed relaxation/chill time with the fam, catching up with friends and enjoying the holiday season.

I had forgotten what it was like to live for so long with my family. It's nice to have a longer period where I could live with them and not just have short moments of interaction.

Wine club Texas edition

Wrap Up

I feel like this year I was able to live out my true desires and self, explore and learn more about myself, and put myself into new and sometimes uncomfortable situations that helped me grow and enter more into who I am.

I have nothing but gratitude for this year and enter 2021 with hope and appreciation.

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