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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.

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