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Buzz Management - The Blog

Learn about the stories behind the stories, as well as a little this and that - and then some.

Thursday
Jul302009

Yelling at the Top of our Lungs

 

As I said, Bret and I were in a state of constant amazement at the elegance, grandeur, and sheer beauty of the Monasteries of San Millán de la Cogolla.

“Timbo,” Bret kept saying. “It’s like Disneyland and everything is free because everyone went home!”

I kept commenting that the Yuso Monastery reminded me of a set you might see in an Indian Jones film. Imagine looking through a kaleidoscope and seeing in its mirrored images a part of time that no longer exists. Even though monks still grace the hallways and rooms of this massive structure, one can get a sense of the timelessness and history that occurred within the walls. I would imagine there are very few places in the world that still give you this kind of window into the past, and it is for this reason that the Monasteries of San Millán de la Cogolla have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site; That and it was at the Yuso Monastery where the first piece of Castilian literature was written.

For the first two days we couldn’t figure out why no one was around, however, eventually someone told us that at this time of the year everyone is at the beach. Only a bunch of yahoo-Americans trying (pretending - it’s a fine line) to do a travel show would be walking around the mountains and plains of Spain in the July heat.

 

Yelling at the Top of our Lungs

 

Since Jack Will Travel landed in Madrid, it has been pure chaos. We have been running at record speed from one town to the next, from one bar to another, as one mis-adventure after the next unfolds. The pace at which we have been moving has carried with it a record decibel level in our heads. I feel as if, as a writer, I have just been yelling at the top of my lungs, trying frantically to catch up on all the fun, the madness, the stories, the disagreements over what part of Carmen Park in Logroño to slum it in, to where, when, and what to eat. In the process, I feel as if I had lost my voice and Jack Will Travel has not yet found its voice either.

What I was tending to forget because I was a bit rusty, is that there is a rhythm to traveling, just like there is a rhythm to writing, just like there is a rhythm to any endeavor that involves the creative process. Any artistic undertaking requires the ability to tap into a moment, a time, a place, and the ability to sustain that energy. It really is quite a challenge. Your head can’t be doggy-paddling in the future or drowning in the past. It must be attached to your body, which is attached to your legs, which must be firmly planted in the moment. The creative process is about finding flow and Jack Will Travel has not had any sort of flow whatsoever – up until now that is. It took everything that could possibly go wrong to go wrong, as well as us going our own separate ways and then finding each other to get into a flow.

It has been, after all, two years since Bret and I had seen each other. We said our goodbyes in Amsterdam two years ago at the end of Jack Will Travel 1.0 and since then our only communications have consisted of a few Skype conversations during which he served as an ESL teacher in Shanghai and I did my thing in Seattle. It takes time to get into a creative rhythm with another person and it certainly is a process. Being that one of our mottos is “Trust the Process,” that was something we were not doing.

When you lose your voice or when you get sick, you need rest, and that is what Jack Will Travel did for 3 days in the towns of Berceo and San Millán de la Cogolla.

 

Wasting Away the Days in Youthful Bliss

 

I felt as if Bret and I had become the Lego or Playmobile figures of my youth, walking around some medieval castle I may have received for Christmas or my birthday. For three days we hiked in and around these two monasteries and I couldn’t help imaging what it would have been like to walk these hills so many centuries ago.

One of the things I struggle with, and what I think each of us has to discover and consider in our lives, is what it is that ignites our passion, and for these men it was contemplating the great mystery of God and life. I imagine for these men that everything that made its home in the foothills of these mountains was a clue into the existence of God, and it was God that ignited the passion of these men. Mother Theresa said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.” Silence in these hills comes in a symphony of nature, and the picture is of vineyards, poppy fields, and trees painted in Monarch butterflies.

Since the 6th Century when Saint Millán made his home in a cave that is now part of the Suso Monetary, monks, simple men who walked the earth, lived cloistered lives of contemplation while attending to the business of the monastery; gardening, attending to the orchards, cooking, keeping everything spotless, and “Cleaning the place as if the pope were on his way.” This is actually a line from the once Poet Laureate Billy Collins. I had just read his poem, Advice to Writers, a few days before and it was fresh in my head. Seeing as this was the birthplace of the Castilian language, and that I usually maniacally clean before I sit down to write, I kept thinking about it, as well as the saying cleanliness is next to Godliness.

 

Advice To Writers by Billy Collins

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

Could I Live This Cloistered Life?

Thinking back to my most heavy, introspective days, days that were as destructive as they were enlightening as I struggled desperately to figure out what It was all about, I could actually see myself ten centuries ago as a young monk contemplating existence in this monastery. But I would imagine, much like Goldman from Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldman, I would have had to leave the monastery to actually taste the real nectar of what life has to offer. I think there is only so much one can garner from contemplation. There comes a time when you need to test the true value of the wisdom and knowledge that is derived from contemplation and apply it to the world and its inhabitants. But I would not have lasted too long in the monastic world for the main reason being - as Bret said in the Ramblings in a Monastery podcast, “With all those boobies outside the walls, I’d be busting out of this place.” The other challenging problem of living the monastic life is that we are not just spirits; we are complex beings made of mind, body, and soul, and I’m not afraid to admit that I rather like indulgences of the flesh, in fact – for the most part, I enjoy my vices.

But I can’t help but imagine being in a flow of life where what you are tuned into is not the television or the happenings of the world through the lens of CNN, but the rhythms that are going on within you and within in the season; Being so in tune with nature that you can gaze out your window each day and notice the changing landscape as the drama, the joy, and the wrath of the each season’s personality unfolds before your eyes.

 

Things That Were Discussed While Roaming the Hills

 

Walking in these hills was quite symphonic; the birds, the breeze, the buzz of the bees against the atmospheric backdrop. It gave rise to many intelligent conversations such as:

 

  • Discussing how we look like German hikers because of all our gear and quick dry clothing, which led to a discussion about how we believe German hikers are the best hikers because they are all engineers, therefore highly organized and thus pack and plan well. “Industrious little bastards,” Bret added. “And let’s not forget they make great cars,” I said. Which lead to an agreement that they make very good appliances as well.
  • This lead to a conversation about how there is a system to everything we are doing in our travels and endeavor to create – a travel show? Let’s say content at the moment. Every morning we were are constantly discovering new ways to pack our bags, lighten our load, or distribute the weight throughout our packs. And then there is the process of moving content back and forth between four cameras and two computers (well, at one point it was four cameras). It is a constant process and refinement of process, which is much like life. On the trail though, you have to be constantly refining your system. It has to be boiled down to be quick and light. It is the ultimate exercise in economy, and there really is no room for excess, unless of course you have a wig or ridiculous glasses.
  • We could not leave the Germans well enough alone and discussed how their language is somewhat direct. We decided that “ich muss”, which means “I must” is really all you need to know to get what you need in Germany;
    • Ich muss beer
    • Ich muss sex
    • Ich muss eat
  • We also discussed how the Jack Will Travel philosophy is the same as our life philosophy; have the best time possible, learn as much as possible, and don’t harm anyone. And if you do harm someone, buy them a bottle of wine.
  • The “Bro-slap” was also established. This is when one heterosexual male is forced to apply sun block to the back of another heterosexual male because there are no females around to do this. To assert your heterosexuality in this situation, when finished applying sun block to the male, you slap his back with manly assertiveness, which was evinced by a very pronounced hand print on my back for a good hour.
  • Finally, among other things, we discussed our business model. “You know what I think we need to do to make Jack Will Travel really work?” I asked Bret. “Keep going on vacation,” he replied. It was nice to be in agreement.  
Tuesday
Jul212009

The Bro-mance Continues

And just like that, with our reconnection at the bus stop - Bret in his pink linen shirt and I in my standard khaki hiking shorts and blue salt/sweat encrusted Patagonia shirt, 30 lbs. backpack in tow - the Jack Will Travel bro-mance was back on.

As I said earlier, since Bret was broke and had but 2 Euro on his person (the bartender the previous night felt sorry for him so he gave him a free beer), luckily for both of us I had about 40 Euro in my wallet. The two of us went back to the campsite and where normally Bret would be all anxious to get going, practically threatening to leave me, he was more than patient with me, letting me not only set up my tent and campsite, but also let me take a shower after the morning’s walk.

About an hour later we found ourselves at a bus stop and after sitting at what we thought was a bus stop for some time, we determined – or at least we think we did from a Spanish woman – that the bus only came through town twice a day. Later we determined in fact - again, putting our high school Spanish to the test - that a bus didn’t actually come through this town. What we both found hilarious, was that just a day or two prior, Bret was saying, “People just have to get out there and do stuff like this. The last thing they should worry about is the language barrier.” Our travels might have gone a tad smoother if we were a bit more familiar with Spanish, however.

And so we walked back up through the town to a convergence in the road where to the right we would be going back to Najera, and to the left would take us to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. With hiking to these towns not really being an option after my morning speed-jaunt, we decided to hitch hike.

The first car zipped past us without so much as even a glance at the sun burnt foreigners dressed in alien garb.

“Timbo, you be the point guy because you look like a nicer guy. Just throw out your thumb and smile real big,” Bret said. “Let’s count how many cars it takes us.”

No sooner had I done this, than the second car that passed picked us up. This is too easy I thought. How is this one going to go horribly awry? Will we wake up somewhere in a tub of ice missing a kidney? So Bret and I jumped in the car with a man who spoke no English.

We explained as best we could that we had no “dinero” and asked him if he could drive us wherever he was going, which in this case was Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Bret jumped in the shot gun and I rode in the back.

 

Bret and the Sound of Silence

 

It’s moments like these that always crack me up with Bret. I don’t know if he doesn’t like the silence or if he gets nervous, but he tends to just go on with observations even though the other person has no idea what he’s saying.

“It’s very hot out here. Lots of sun. Very bright. Make your eyes hurt,” he might say for instance, driving home what he is saying by pointing to the sky, fanning himself, or pretending to put sunglasses to his face.

“Many wheat fields and vineyards around here.” When Bret speaks to break the silence in these moments you can count on not hearing any stunning revelations about the nature of man or the human condition. Almost everything he says in these instances, should the other person have any idea what he was saying, could be replied to with, “No, shit Sherlock,” or, “Thank you, stater-of-the-obvious.”

And so what could have been a very long afternoon of walking turned into a 12 minute ride of Bret’s topical observations.

The first thing we did when we got into town was pull out 200 Euro each so as to ensure we weren’t going to make this mistake again. Although everything was relatively cheap, we didn’t know how long we were going to be in these parts and we didn’t want to take any chances. In town, we took some time to explore the church in Santo Domingo de la Calzada It was impressive and very high tech. Not sure where the Euros are coming from but they are definitely flowing into its appearance and upkeep. After the church, we grabbed a 10 Euro menu del dia lunch and headed to the Office of Tourism to post some content.

 

Getting Taken For a Ride by Jesus

 

To use the Office of Tourisms computers or even their wireless, you had to be a pilgrim; lucky for us the night before I purchased my pilgrim credentials for 1 Euro at the Albergues. They take this pilgrimage thing very seriously in these parts, so showing my credentials, and the fact that I got stamped in the town prior to Santo Domingo de la Calzada made us look legit. The credentials made us feel like we were finally part of the club, or at least as if we got upgraded from coach to business class.

The was a sign on the wall that read “15 minute limit” but we took advantage of the situation in the pilgrim’s lounge because it had air condition and leather couches. Immediately we set up shop and pulled out our laptops and cameras, and in addition to my own laptop, I was working on the Office of Tourism’s desktop as well. We were passing content pack and forth on thumb drives and SD cards, not your typical tasks for your average pilgrim.

After we got our first video up, we had achieved the tasks we set out to accomplish in the big city. We didn’t have the fortitude to hitch hike home (or feel like our luck could be repeated) so Jesus (not the savior but the cab driver) “took us for a ride” back to our campsite - for 25 Euro.

“Jesus,” I said. “Jesus just ripped us off.”

Hey, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; sometimes when you’re in another country at the mercy of someone else, you’ve got to nut-up and pay a little extra to get done what you have to get done.

 

Nightmare on Calle Street – Part II

 

When we got back the campsite, the pool was open so we took a nice swim and just lay around in the hot Spanish sun. We kept talking about doing a Jack Will Travel fitness segment, but that’s just one of the many we never got around to.

As I may have said earlier, getting power for our equipment has been a challenge. It must be very expensive because when people see you plugging in at a bar or restaurant, they act as if you are stealing their electricity – and so – that is what we did. Bret needed to charge his computer so he very casually plugged it into an electric outlet that was part of a mobile home hook-up. He said it was somewhat hidden, but as we later discovered, it in fact was not hidden at all.

While we charged the computer, we walked the kilometer from Berceo to San Millan de la Cogolla to see this monastery that Bret kept talking about.

“Timbo, you’re really not going to believe this place.” And he was right.

When we finally reached the Monastery I was in complete awe and literally speechless. It is, without a doubt, one of the most stunning specimens of history I have ever laid my eyes on.

I would like to go on about its magnificence at this point, but I didn’t even have time to enjoy it. No sooner had we arrived than we looked back in the direction we had come to see black, ominous clouds moving swiftly towards us.

“Oh fuck. Are you kidding me? Not again” I said to the sky in exasperation.

Having learned our lessons about rainstorms in Spain, our rain flies were up and our tents tightly secured; HOWEVER, Bret’s Mac was laying out only in a plastic bag. And so began the nightmare on Calle Street – Part II.

While Bret was somewhat lackadaisical in our retreat, I was taking no chances. We started back in a light jog and about halfway home, I broke into an all out flip-flop sprint. I was taking no chances. If Bret’s Mac got ruined in the rain that would be the final nail in Jack Will Travel’s coffin. Losing the HD camera was one thing, but I didn’t think we’d be able to recover from a dead laptop. The problem was I didn’t know where the Mac was hidden, so I came tearing into the campsite in a sweat, running up and down the main stretch where the computer most likely was, not noticing the barrel-chested man staring me down.

 

Be Careful Whose Electricity You Steal

 

When Bret finally caught up to me while I rested my hands on my knees dry-mouthed and panting like a dog who has been playing in the hot sun, Bret’s computer was nowhere to be found. Great, we thought; we beat the rain but what we didn’t count on was the computer getting stolen. And then, the barrel-chested man who spoke little English appeared.

To give you an idea of what this man looked like, imagine someone who works in sanitation in perhaps Newark, New Jersey or Long Island, New York. And I’m not talking about someone who collects garbage off the street; more like in the “management” area of sanitation – a.k.a., the type of guy who makes bodies disappear. I suppose you could call him a Spanish Soprano.

The shit-house brick-layer of a man walked up and into Bret’s personal space as I watched from a small distance. The large man asserted that Bret was using HIS electricity, pointing his big thick finger at the computer and then his even bigger pecs.

Bret did the smart thing, which we were getting closer to perfecting; play the dumb tourist, but it seemed the large man wasn’t buying it - so Bret did the next best thing. He went to the store at the campsite and bought the Spanish Soprano man and his wife a bottle of wine. Like a calculated chess match, Bret was a move ahead of his adversary and bought him the middle of the road bottle of wine - (not the cheap one) – knowing very well that man would be able to check the price at the camp ground grocery store.

New Jack Will Travel Policy: If you steal someone’s electricity, buy them a bottle of wine. 

Tuesday
Jul142009

Game On 

“Tourists demand. Pilgrims give thanks.” – from a plaque on the door of the the Albergues

Gustav told me he and his crew were leaving at 5:30am. I couldn’t believe it but sure enough, I rolled over in the darkness to see him gathering his possessions to hit the trail. While the thought of getting up and going crossed my mind, that was as far as it got.

When I awoke, gathered my possessions, and headed towards the door, the clock in the Albergues read 8am. I was disappointed with my late start but even more surprised to find out that almost everyone was already gone - the place was vacant. This further proved my theory that this pilgrimage thing was a little too intense for me and wasn’t exactly my speed at this point of my life. With no one to say goodbye to and no need to check out, I threw on my pack and was out the door for the 11 kilometer hike before me. As I walked out the door, my eye caught a sign that read, “Tourists demand. Pilgrims give thanks.” I liked that and said a quick prayer of gratitude for this wonderfully dysfunctional experience I was in the midst of.

Upon reaching the first tiny town, the only clock I could see read 7:22am. This confused me somewhat but it was digital so I assumed it was more correct than the old one in the Albergues. Perhaps they used “bar time” in the Albergues to get the pilgrim riff-raff out and about early.

The journey before me seemed long because I felt like I had a small window to reach Bret before he packed up and possibly left for his next destination. We had only partly discussed this part of the trip so there wasn’t even a trail I was following; just the road. I entertained the idea of hitchhiking, but it was such a beautiful morning, walking at a quick pace just seemed more appealing.

The whole area of La Rioja is beautiful, but this area was exceptional. I was moving from the plains towards the mountains, and steadily the flat, plotted vineyards became rolling hills of golden wheat fields which swayed and undulated in the morning breeze. When you get out of your head and into the moment, the sound of nature is electric and the country side was buzzing around me. If you want to know EXACTLY what this area smelled like, go to Trader Joe’s and buy a pack of Jasmine Pearl tea and put one or two spoonfuls of honey in it. My whole walk was graced with this wonderful scent and you couldn’t help but feel alive.

A Chance Encounter at the Bus Stop in Berceo

Every day on our walks, I was a good 10-15 feet ahead of Bret, and sometimes, I wouldn’t even realize it because I was so into the walk and into my head that I pulled far away in front of him. Apparently you can take the kid out of New York but you can’t take out his stride. I have had friends who have told me they imagine I burn through the soles of my shoes because I am always hauling ass here or there. Cruising solo with the intense focus on reaching Bret as early as possible in Berceo, I felt I was making good time, but I didn’t know how good of time I was making.

The funny thing about walking these trails is that you will come over a rise and see a town and think, thank God, I’m not far now. But this is more often than not an illusion. I spotted a town in the distance and couldn’t believe I had made it to Berceo so quickly, but not only was it much further than I thought, but it wasn’t actually Berceo. On a positive note, at least I had finally seen a road sign for Berceo.

After another two hours, I came upon the next town but I assumed it was yet another tease; much to my surprise and relief, however, it was Berceo. Judging from the sun in the sky, I figured it was about eleven. The town was obviously small but it still seemed my chances of finding Bret were not in my favor - but I was still hopeful. I at least knew he was at the campsite in Berceo.

The town of Berceo is basically one road about 200 meters long. I was following signs to Berceo camping (campsite of the year – that was all I could make out in Spanish on the road sign; have no idea in what category) which I was starting to feel good about. Much to my surprise, upon rounding the first corner, who do I see sitting on a stoop in his best duds but Bret. He was wearing a pink linen shirt and pants, both of which he picked up in Madrid because he was heading back to the big city of Najera where we had just come from. (He later told me he had heard some hiker tearing ass through town and was imagining some jack-ass coming around the corner. In part, he was right.)

I wish I was more prepared and had my camera out, because in my mind the look on his face was priceless. There he sat on a step looking dejected, lost, and hopeless, and I round the corner and he lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Timbo! What the hell are you doing here? You’re the last person I expected to see here!

“What are you doing here? I’m just out for a morning walk,” I said. “And well, to be honest, I kind of missed you.” (I know, this is indeed a touching moment). It was also only 10am. I had hauled some ass.

As we caught up about our experiences of the previous evening, I came to discover Bret was sitting where he was because he was waiting for a bus. When he had left the night before, he had almost no money in his pocket, and something neither of us could have foreseen was that some of these towns are so small that they don’t have a bank machine for miles. These are the things you take for granted when you live in an urban environment, but where we were, it couldn’t get much more rural.

A Baguette, a Can of Sardines, and Two Euro

When I found Bret at the bus stop, he had the butt of a somewhat stale baguette, a can of sardines, and 2 Euro which he hoped was enough for bus fare to the next town. The previous night he had used the rest of his money to eat, and the bartender felt so sorry for him that he gave him a free pint of beer. I just about busted a gut laughing at how ridiculous this entire trip had become. What we were setting out to do, as far as the travel show was concerned, we weren’t really sure. As we’ve said before, our two mottos are fake it till you make it and trust the process – and in the process, everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. I guess that’s part of the process.

What we thought and hoped was that in the making of Jack Will Travel, we might actually be able to provide some valuable or informational content, but in fact Jack Will Travel has turned into a Jack Tripper (from Three’s Company) type sitcom about two jack-asses trying to make a travel show, but in fact they have no idea what they are doing and everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong. Maybe it’s just Spain because our experience during Jack Will Travel 1.0 could not have gone more smoothly.

Reunited and It Feels So Good

In hindsight, in that moment where Bret and I reunited, I think Jack Will Travel turned a corner and I felt like we were back on track. Our plan was to stop moving about so furiously and just hang out in this area for about 3 days, in other words - the vacation was actually starting.

Without even saying it, I think we both realized this adventure was going to be a hell of a lot more fun in the company of each other than doing it on our own. When you are traveling with someone, on some days you might be hung-over or exhausted, and frustration is inevitable. It seemed like we both just need a time out. A little time apart seems to do wonders.

 

Saturday
Jul112009

Jack Will Travel Parts Ways Outside Azofra - End of Story?

The Break-up - in 6 parts

I’m writing from a small Albergues in an even smaller town called Azofra, which is barely a blip on the map of La Rioja region. Albergues are the hostel-type housing for pilgrims along The Way of Saint James. They are bare bones accommodations and for the suggested donation of 6 Euro you get some shelter and a place to gather with other pilgrims. In some, and luckily at this one, there are 2 to a room, but you can have up to 24 bunk beds in one large room. To officially become a pilgrim, you need credentials, which constitutes paying 1 Euro for a passport type booklet, and in every Albergues and church you visit along the pilgrimage route, you get a stamp. I am now, as of today, officially a pilgrim. You may find yourself asking, why is Tim now a pilgrim and where is Bret?

Well, to begin with, we had our biggest hike in front of us today from Najera to Santo Domingo. It was a 21 kilometer hike, and as it has been with most days, we got a late start, but today was even later than normal. Not only did we get up late, but we needed to go to the Post Office to mail some of our heavy non-essentials home. When we finally did find the Post Office, we realized we had no cash so I hoofed it back to the main part of town to get some Euros. By the time all was said and done, it was noon; nothing like setting out on 21 kilometer hike through vineyards and the plains of Spain during the hottest part of the day.

When all was said and done, our spirits were in decent moods. Packing up and getting out of your campsite and a town can be an ordeal, especially if you want to get up and go and you have to wait around for the other person. One of us is regularly waiting for the other on most mornings.

The first tiny town we passed through was Azofra. One of the ways in which Bret and my style are different is that I am usually more inclined to bust-ass to our destination and set up and chill-lax (chill and relax for those of you not familiar with that nomenclature), whereas Bret likes to meander and occasionally stop for some tapas or a glass of wine. When I get moving, I am focused on reaching my goal swiftly and wine during the day tends to make me tired - then again, we are in the wine region of Spain.

A discussion ensued at this crossroads in Azofra about stopping at a bar to have some wine. With 15 kilometers ahead of us, I didn’t want to stop, but I am learning that Bret needs food, and sometimes that includes a glass of wine. He won this debate and so we stopped for a glass of wine.

Melee in front of the only bar in town

We left our bags out front of the only bar in town for a minute or two during which the initial conversation took place. There were a few workers milling about and a van with the back doors open selling everything from toiletries to produce blocked the street. Another car was also coming up through the town trying to get passed the van and it parked in front of the bar we were heading into. One of the workers was trying to get through a doorway which our bags were blocking so we picked them up and moved them inside. Two small glasses of Rosato and we were on our way.

Right as we left the town’s boundary lines, Bret said, “The camera. Where’s the camera? Do you have the camera?”

He quickly pilfered through his day pack with no luck. The HD camera was gone. The last time we saw it we were cresting a trail and taking some footage of a machine that trims vines in the vineyards. After those shots, he said he had a new quick shoot system where he clipped the camera to the outside belt of his backpack. In and out, we kept saying – pull the camera out, quick clips, put it away – that was the game, but now, it was game over.

This was truly unbelievable. One thing after another. Not only was the mercury rising on the thermometer, but our frustration level was achieving new heights as well.

Bret headed back into town and I sat under a tree on the trail that was to lead us out of town. As I sat there by myself, I thought what Bret had thought a few nights back; I’m not sure this is working for me. Perhaps this just wasn’t meant to be and it was time for me to head out on my own.

A few minutes later, I saw Bret round the corner and I could tell by his body language the HD camera was gone. Down two cameras, one left.

A Parting of the Way For Jack Will Travel

Now you might find this hard to believe, but it is difficult to do a travel Web-isode without video, but then again, necessity is the mother of invention. But as I have come to discover, Jack Will Travel is not a how-to-travel show, but a how-to-not travel show. As our new motto states – we make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Both of us walked back to a little park like two puppies with our tail between our legs and ate our packed lunch in an awkward, mournful silence. This camera was Bret’s baby; it was small, light, easy to use, very accessible, and took a great picture. I could feel the weight of his disappointment, but I had some feelings stirring within as well. After a while, he shook it off and threw up his arms in disbelief.

“Oh well...what can you do. But damn it I liked that camera...Well, should we get going?”

“I gotta be honest Bret. I’m not feeling it right now,” I said. “Maybe we should just stay in this town and regroup for a night.” But that wasn’t on Bret’s agenda, and so, Jack Will Travel parted ways amicably.

Bret walked south towards the tiny town of Berceo and I stayed in town to head west the following morning. It was weird leaving each other and I had no idea what would become of the rest of my journey, but something told me to just park it for the night and think things through.

“Well, just be checking your email,” I said, “and hopefully we’ll meet up in Pamplona or something...”

“But if something else takes you or me in another direction, then we’ll just do that too.” To me, that sounded like Bret was saying – see ya later, maybe back in the states at some point. I was assuming the same thing.

And that was it. The honeymoon was over before it even got started.

Lucky Number 13

Once Bret and I parted ways, it quickly became evident that I was not feeling very well and perhaps this had something to do with my decision to just stay in town. We had had a pretty big evening the night before celebrating the Festival of Saint Peter and Paul in Najera and maybe it was a combo of the sun and dehydration, but I felt myself going down.

Other factors at play to leave Bret and stay in Azofra:

We had no idea how far away Berceo was - not to mention neither of us knew if there was even a proper trail to get there since we had no map for this area. Facing the unknown as such, I just wasn’t mentally up for the journey of uncertainty before us.

· Heading toward Berceo meant we would be leaving The Way of Saint James, and I really liked the idea of being on this pilgrimage. As I may have stated earlier, the previous year was one of the most challenging years of my life and during the course of it, I felt like I had lost everything, including my faith. The idea of being on this pilgrimage in a community of the faithful and devoted felt good, and I was hoping it would rub off on me.

· I felt like crap and was on the verge of exhaustion.

No sooner had I checked into the Albergues and found my room (luckily only a two person room) I hit the pillow and passed out for a good two hours. It just so happened that my room was room number 13.

Normally this sounds like bad luck, but before I left a friend of mine game me a print-out of my Mayan Astrology sign, and said my number was 13. I know how that sounds – totally fruity-tutty, new-agey crap, but that is all a point of view. You can look at events such as this as coincidences or you can look at it as a sign post. I chose to look at it as a sign post and in some strange way it brought me to peace with my decision. I just had a feeling, no matter what happened, everything would be all right.

Dinner with Pilgrims

And so feeling somewhat better, when I awoke I found Stephanie, a veterinarian from Germany, and Maive, a school teacher from Ireland. We had seen them earlier in the day on the trail sitting under a tree having lunch and commenting to each other about these two men tearing ass down the road towards them. Not only were they amazed at the pace we were keeping, but the fact that our packs were at least twice the size of everyone else on the trail. When we told them what we were doing, and that in addition to the camping equipment we were lugging around two computers and – well, at least at one point – four cameras, they got a hearty chuckle and told us we were crazy Americans. No foolish mortal brings this much crap on The Way of Saint James because everyone stays at Albergues.

To make a long story short, the three of us had dinner together at the site of the HD camera heist because it was the only joint in town. I brought a hand written letter from the woman at reception at the Albergues that said in Spanish, “I lost a camera here. If you see it or it turns up, please return it to the Albergeus.” I had the utmost faith it would be returned, but of course no luck. I was sure I was going to find it and be the hero, but it wasn’t in the stars. I had even walked up and down the street before dinner on the chance that it fell off.

Stephanie, Maive, and I had a nice menu del dia dinner for 10 Euro and half way through were joined by Rick, from Holland. It was hard to place his age but he was a wiry, awkward lad who it sounded like was on an extended college program and trying to finish up his philosophy degree. I was a philosophy major and Maive had actually given a talk in the small town in Holland where he grew up so there was no lull in the conversation. If anything, Rick pulled too much philosophy into the dialogue and brought many of the topics we were discussing in circles, which is after all, what us philosophy majors do; just talk the shit out of everything and never really coming to a conclusion. We just look at something from every possible point of view, and then agree there are no absolutes.

While the conversation and company was entertaining (although Rick was a bit much) I was already missing the Bretster. Bret and I hadn’t really been meeting people along the way but rather just doing our own thing. Bret is fine with that but for me, I love to meet new people and hear about what makes them tick, as well as learn about the different paths they have chosen in their life to get them to the present moment. One of the great things I love about traveling is this brief sharing of the stories of our lives.

But when all is said and done, unless there is some amazing connection, these are just superficial meetings, one instant, a Polaroid of the convergence of two lives of choices and experiences. What they ultimately lack is a history behind them, and most likely, they have no future before them.

Every sharing of experience carries a lifetime behind it, and I was missing sharing this experience with Bret, because, after all, we had almost a 20 year history between us. We know each other’s families, as well as friends we have shared from high school through college through living in New York City together, in addition to several weeks of traveling together for Jack Will Travel 1.0.

Pilgrims Don’t Party on the Trail

And one more thing here, since we’re being honest; I like to knock back a little vino from time to time – you know, let loose, have a good time, and see what happens. There is a reason after all that the Bretster calls me Timothy Two-Thirds.

It quickly became apparent to me that these pilgrims were on the trail for different reasons than myself. They meant business and were all about logging kilometers and getting to the next town. There really was no time for partying and they were so exhausted by the end of the day that they barely touched their wine. Both Stephanie and Rick had but a taste of wine, leaving the rest to Maive, the Irish woman, and myself. I knew I liked Maive from the get-go.

So that did it. While I admired these pilgrims for their dedication and devotion to hiking the 800 plus kilometers, and in a different setting there’s no doubt we would throw a few back, I was more about the good time than logging kilometers.

After dinner I had a new roommate named Gustav who was from Mexico. He was heading to the Monastery at San Millan the following morning, which I had no idea was a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birth place of the Spanish language. To get there, you had to pass through the town of Berceo where Bret was. Gustav showed me a trail map and so I made up my mind to head there the following morning at first light. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to track Bret down, but my goal was to reach him before he packed up and moved on.

Sunday
Jul052009

1. “You tell us what to do in real-time!”

As you’ve probably figured out by now, the “you tell us what to do in real time” part of this grand experiment has not exactly worked out. Even in our utter lack of planning, we could not have accounted for the scarcity of wireless access, as well as the constant power struggle – literally, the quest to find electricity - but more on that later. We’ve come to the realization that real-time is relative time, and relative time has a point of view, therefore – well, we’ll release things when we can. Too many factors involved to make it happen like we wanted to this time. Now onto business...

I’m sitting beside Bret in the Plaza de San Miguel in the small town of Nájera. It was a mountainous 15 kilometer hike to get here today from the town of Naverrete and we are quite exhausted.


I guess to get back on track, we need to go back to getting out of Madrid and taking the train up to Longrono, the capital and jumping off point of the Rioja wine region.


Our train left Madrid at 6:35pm and was supposed to get us into town around 9:55pm, but as luck would have it, the train was delayed about 30 minutes, which put us into town about 10:30pm. There was a somewhat heated debate about whether we should eat or go to the campsite and set up - and then eat. The lion was roaring but I did not head the call, and so the decision was made to find the campsite. All travel and no eating makes Bret an angry boy. “A Man’s gotta eat,” he has told me countless times. When will I learn?


As luck would have it, the bridge to the campsite was out and so we returned into town and went into the first 2-star hotel we saw. After determining it was too expensive, we asked about the campsite and they were nice enough to call to make a reservation. Perfect we thought; someone to finally help us out and now, at least we had our sleeping arrangements for the evening settled. We had our clothes on our back, now we had shelter, and next all we needed was food. Simple – no problem.


But as you can imagine as our story has gone, the campsite turned out to be completely full (perhaps she just called her friend to chat and then told us it was full in the hopes of making us stay there).

As the evening slowly slid downhill, food became a priority, not only for Bret, but for me since his appetite seemed to be affecting the course and comfort of our evening. There was plenty of crap to eat, but Bret wanted a sit down meal. He was tired of eating at Museo del Jamón and Donner Kebab (gyros and falafels) which, since we had been on the move so much, we had been doing out of necessity. One place after the next didn’t seem to add up to what we were seeking until, out of exasperation, we found a happening little plaza.

2. The Soundtrack of Jack Will Travel 2.0

All around us as people walked out of bars, news of Michael Jackson’s death was on everyone Spaniard’s tongue, and in turn, Billie Jean and other classics pulsated out of every. Bret and I will always know where we were when we heard the news of Michael Jackson’s final act.


Before dinner, things were a bit tense for a while and it felt like Jack Will Travel’s wheels were coming off. Even ordering was somewhat of a fiasco and we struggled with options for the Menu del dia.

“Timbo,” Bret said, “This isn’t working out for me.” I tried to assure him things would get better once we got on the trail, but as fate would have it, things would again get worse before they got better.

Jack Will Travel note to self: above and beyond all else, feeding Bret is of the utmost importance.

Once the first course came, as well as a great bottle of chilled “tinto” Rioja wine, Bret’s mood changed for the good of Jack Will Travel. I can go for a long time not eating, but it’s probably not healthy for me. One would think I would learn by now that some people, when they need to eat, they need to eat. I had an ex-grilfriend who as this way and as a result, we got in a huge fight in the Samaria Gorge in Greece, one of the most beautiful gorges in Europe. Sorry for the sidebar...


As a moment of luck would have it, a fantastic meal changed both of our spirits as well as the course of the night. We had finally accepted our fate and the fact that fact we would be slummin’ it, sleeping somewhere under the cover of darkness and brush in the city’s main park. On the upside, not only was our meal gastromically delightful, but it was also the most affordable meal we had had yet; three courses and an excellent bottle of wine for 24 Euros total.


The rest of the night was spent wandering the main park on the outskirts of town looking for an ideal place to sleep – one were we wouldn’t get rolled (mugged) and one were we wouldn’t get busted by La Policia. We scoured the park for possible sleeping arrangements and debated the merits of sleeping out in the open versus sleeping deeper in the woods. Bret wanted to sleep completely out in the open, but I thought we were too exposed, so I wanted to sleep deeper in the woods where we most likely wouldn’t be seen. What does anyone think about this? Would love to hear some comments from anyone who has slept in a public park in a foreign country.


When we finally agreed on a place to sleep, despite the fact that it was more or less smack-dab in the center on a pedestrian path, Bret said, “Come on. Let’s head back to that other place before some other bum gets it.”


We both got a hearty laugh and that pretty much summed up that evening in one succinct sentence. In all honesty, it wasn’t a bad spot; it was secluded by rows of bushes on three sides of us - and how many times do you get to illegally get to throw your camping mat and sleeping bags beneath a canvas of Spanish stars?

3. Our Gift to Longrono

The following morning, daybreak’s first light woke us up bright and early as joggers and walkers exercised around us. After a pastry and a coffee, we found our way into the city center to the Oficina de Tourismo to get some maps of the area and to chart a course to Haro – the one place we definitely knew we were going to go.


(Obviously, there are no definites on this trip.)


In the process, Bret determined that one of our video cameras was too heavy, and in addition, it was outdated technology for what we were doing (not to mention we didn’t have a firewire port). And so, while Bret went in to get the lay of the land, I left a gift on the back steps to one lucky patron of the town of Longrono. Down one camera.


As we walked out of town and discussed the situation, as well as the fact that the Batella del Vino festival in Haro was on it’s second to last day, we elected instead to follow El Camino del Santiago, otherwise know as The Way of Saint James. The way of Saint James is one of the most famous pilgrimage routes in the world, and begins in France and ends near the coast of Spain. It has been in existence for more than a thousand years. As the story goes, if I am correct, Saint James the apostle was sent to evangelize Spain and when he returned back to his homeland, King Herrod wasn’t having any of that so Herrod chopped James’ head off. Since Spain was where Saint James was evangelizing, his body was sent by ship back to Spain and at the end of the trail in Santiago del Compostela lays his remains. Scallops and scallop shells, abundant on Spain’s Galacian coast, are associated with Santiago throughout Europe. Pilgrims who do the entire 800-1000 kilometer hike, depending on where they begin, wear a scallop shell on their person to show they are pilgrims.


All along this route are impromptu rock piles where people have made offerings or said a prayer. You may also see along a stretch of chained-link fence hundreds to thousands of crosses pilgrims have made out of twigs, twine, hay, or whatever they might have at their disposal. I added my own and said a quite prayer of thanks for this extraordinary experience.


Despite your religious belief, it is an impressive sight to see how many thousands of people walk upon this trail per year, and it is even more astounding to think about how many millions of people from all walks of life, from all parts of the world, have walked these paths for centuries.


Once we came correct and started following the Trail of Saint James instead of heading towards Haro, I think we both felt like Jack Will Travel was back on track. I was also personally excited to be a part of this pilgrimage route since I had never done anything of its kind before.

4. Nightmare on Calle Street – Part I

Camping at El Ruedo camping grounds in Nájera was fantastic. We camped inside an old, private bull ring and the camping was right in the town. This is the kind of camping Jack Will Travel likes.


Once situated, Bret and I made our way into town and split a bottle of Rose and then decided to eat dinner before the music started. Not only did we have our cheapest, most fantastic dinner yet, but we got to watch the first half of the United States vs. Brazil in the Confederate Cup final.


What the hell is going on? Is there a revolution happening in American soccer? At half time the US was up 2-0 and Bret and I were shamelessly high fiving, but I had a feeling, since he was tired, I was only going to get him for a half.


Although Bret was tired I was riding the high of the first half and some Rioja wine and no matter what, I had every intention of seeing the rest of the game. Jack Will Travel note: never challenge “no matter what.”

5. The Inertia of Bret-strocity

There’s a little thing I like to call Bret-strocity. This is where I push Bret, even if he is tired, past the tipping point. Once we get there, our combined energy can make anything happen, for instance, we started a dance party in a small French town called Apt on Bastille Day two years ago. With the camera rolling, we are constantly pushing ourselves. Since the second half of the Brazil – U.S. game was about to start, followed by a band playing in the main plaza, I figured this was a night I needed to get the Bret-strocity going.


After eating a great meal and paying the bill, Bret and I left the dark recesses of our restaurant and stepped outside just as the sky was beginning to open up.
“Shit! We didn’t put our rain fly on! Run!”


While it wasn’t exactly full-fledged rain yet, it was sprinkling enough where the ground was covered, but the dark clouds overhead told of impending doom. This one’s not passing over, I thought, as I sprinted in flipflops back to the campsite. Jack Will Travel travel tip: always put your rain fly on when you leave the campsite.


As I believe I said earlier, luckily, the camp site in Nájera is basically within the city, where as in Navarette, it was a good half a kilometer away. We dashed through the city center like foreigners with a purpose and got back to our campsite where everything we owned was on the verge of being completely soaked. In the flurry of the moment, I threw my somewhat wet sleeping bag out of the tent while I attended to getting things off the floor and keeping my clothes dry. Bret’s tent was under a tree so his belongings didn’t get as wet as mine and he did a good job of quickly batting down the hatches, much better than me, for, as you see - what I forgot in the moment was that my sleeping bag was out in the rain, and not only did it start raining, but a thunderstorm like I haven’t seen in a long time rolled in. The dry earth turned to mud and everything I owned became caked in the earth of Najera.
I stripped out of my wet clothes down to nothing in my tiny, less than spacious, one-man tent while I attended to the business of keeping everything dry. With my sleeping bag completely soaked and looking at limited options, I elected to focus on keeping my dry clothes dry.


And so I put on my wet camping shorts, grabbed my dry clothes and my sleeping bag to dry, and headed towards the bathroom to take a long hot shower while the stormed raged above. I thought I had seen a dryer earlier but when I found this alcove off the main house, it turned out it was a washer that didn’t even work. I stood there in this dank, cob-webbed room wandering what the fuck I was going to do for the night as I hung my wet belongs from the rafters. I would make due until morning, no matter how, I thought, even I have to stand here and do jumping jacks all night to stay warm
I surprised myself by staying calm. These things are going to happen when you’re traveling, so what can you do? Either bitch about it or deal with the situation. Traveling, especially what we are doing, rarely goes perfectly, so often times it is the misadventures that make the adventure.

6. From the darkness, a man with an umbrella

As I stood in this dank room shaking out my stuff-sack that also serves as a pillow, I made out the figure of a man with an umbrella coming toward me. It was the owner of the camp site who spoke no English (and once again my high school Spanish under-served me). He motioned that the dryer was actually a washer, but it didn’t work. That much I understood. We traded a comedy of undecipherable sign language for a bit until he used his hands to tell me to stay put. OK – I thought – what next?


He disappeared for a few minutes, long enough for me to wonder if he was actually motioning me to follow him. I was just about to seek him out in the darkness of the stormy night when he returned and motioned me to follow him. Much to my surprise, he took me to an empty camper on his lot and offered me its shelter for the night, which is where I’m recounting this evening from.

***

The next morning I woke up bright and early with all of my layers but still shivering in the camper. As Bret slept peacefully in his tent, I decided to take a hot shower to warm myself up. I then went through the wreckage that was my tent and belongs. Mostly everything I owned was wet so I spent the first few hours of the morning moving it around to the different parts of the bull ring the hot, early morning sun was shining upon.


I got a little lucky last night. I have heard and read about the kindness of strangers along the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James trail), and since we have been on the trail for two days, I have experienced two acts of kindness. The first was when we walked into our campsite yesterday, obviously tired after a long day’s walk, and a lovely couple from Germany came up to us and offered us two German tall-boy beers. And tonight the owner of the campsite has offered me his camper to sleep in. I feel very fortunate and blessed.


I wonder what happened to the band when the rain came? Unfortunately, if I heard correctly, the U.S. lost to Brazil 3-2.