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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.

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