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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.

 

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