I was on one of the last flights out of Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005.
When I landed in Lisbon, Portugal I took a wrong bus, ended up at the Mall Vasco de Gama and spent a week’s food budget on a steak lunch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Being that I still remember that meal specifically, it now occurs to me it was totally worth it.
Anyway, I reassessed my situation, and conveniently remembered that I actually spoke and understood Portuguese decently well enough. I made it the train station without another hitch and caught a train for Coimbra, the ancient university city on the hill by the Mondego River.
I found an apartment in the old part of the city, called Baixo, overlooking a Portuguese National Monument, the Igreja Santa Cruz. Construction began nearly a thousand years ago in 1132 and still houses the tombs of the first Portuguese kings.
I spent the first few days lost. Quite literally. I would go out on a run from my apartment, get lost, keep running and eventually find my way back.
Then our first month of intensive Portuguese classes started. I was late for the first day of class because I was a crap student in undergrad and thought I was cool. After class, I got invited to a roof-deck party that night.
I was beginning to feel confident in my choice to go it alone for study abroad. Upon arriving at the party, we were treated to vistas of the wildfires surrounding the outskirts of the city.
It ended up a fitting metaphor, as I was entering into a ring a fire in more ways than one.