when: October 2 to October 14, 2008 where: Spain and Portugal what: R&R With Judi © Rob Crimmins, Felton, Delaware, USA
I have a pilot’s license and I like to fly. It’s better when I’m at the controls but I usually like airline flight too, when it isn’t too long. Our route was over Saudi Arabia, Jordon, the eastern Mediterranean, the tip of Italy and the coast of Spain. Being over the places from the Bible and the classics after living in lands once occupied by Alexander in an airplane with people from those territories was thought provoking. The beers I was enjoying helped me relax and I let my mind drift and be uplifted by all that others had done. Sumerians from where I’d been in Iraq had invented writing. The innovations of the Persians and Greeks, Rome and Egypt all led to the civilization and technologies I was enjoying at that moment and the reunion with my wife. If it weren’t for the perspective gained from my isolation I wouldn’t have been thinking of all that but because I was I spent most of the trip looking out the window and realizing how lucky I was. The wider perspective, the war on terror, the causes for it and the causes for which it is fought have little to do with me. I have no control or affect over them so I’m not sorry for not being a victim and I’m glad that my skills are of value to my country. I’m not proud either and there’s no guilt. Mercenaries don’t suffer the guilt of the righteous. Judi was outside of customs waiting for me. It was so good to see her! We hugged and kissed and gazed at each other. We literally just looked into each other’s eyes for at least a minute before either of us moved. After we exchanged dollars for euros we picked up the rental car and drove to the hotel, which turned out to be very hard to find. At one point we went around the same circle about ten times trying to figure out which route to take. Finally, we made it to the AC Coslada® Hotel and went to bed. Food and all other needs
and desires were nothing to us until morning. Our final destination was Alvor on the southern coast of Portugal and although it was an eight hour drive we chose to meet in Madrid. Portugal is a relatively poor country. Lithuania and Latvia are the only two Euro zone countries with a lower per capita GDP and there are no inexpensive flights to the regional and municipal airports in the Algarve region so the money we spent driving was worth it especially since Judi and I both love road trips. Eventually, we not only drove from Madrid to Alvor, but from there a few days later to Lisbon then to Cape Saint Vincent, back and forth along the southern coast, north again to Monchique in the mountains and then back to Madrid via Seville. All together we put about twenty-five-hundred miles on the car. We stayed at the Pestana® Alvor Praia Hotel. (Praia means ‘beach’). It was late in the season but we had fairly good luck with the weather. We were there for seven days, until October 11th, and it was sunny and comfortably warm until the last couple days when it became overcast and cooler. The ocean was too cold for Judi but I went swimming several times and loved it. We’re drawn to capes and whatever-most points of land. We’ve been to the southeastern most point of the United States in Key West several times and when I lived in Seattle I took a cathartic journey to Cape Flattery on the Olympic peninsula after my father’s death. That’s the northwestern most point of the forty-eight
states. Cape Charles in Virginia, Cape May in New Jersey, Point Fermin in Los Angeles and Cape Lookout in Oregon are among our collection of points of land we’ve been on. Cape Saint Vincent, known to ancient Romans as the end of the world and the last sight of Europe for Magellan and Vasco da Gama, had a lot to do with why we chose Portugal for this trip. We’d also hoped to go to Gibraltar but that didn’t happen. Despite our love of the road I ended up spending a little too much time behind the wheel. Except for visiting Cape Saint Vincent and swimming we hadn’t planned anything so after exploring the beach and the properties neighboring the hotel and sunbathing the first day we looked for a destination nearby for the evening. In Alvor, right down on the harbor we found a place called the Seattle Style Bar and Restaurant operated by an American couple, originally from Seattle. There was live music (three Americans with guitars) and good food so Judi and I hung out there. We met the owner who drank with us and told us a bit about herself and her husband. A few days later we spent the afternoon there in the sun on the upstairs terrace overlooking the harbor. Another day we went out on a sailing excursion out of the inlet to Alvor Harbor on an old wooden boat of the kind used to haul goods on the rivers. It was a heavy wooden vessel about forty feet long with a wide beam, brightly painted with a single mast that was gaff rigged, a rounded bow, forward and aft decks, center cabin and a tiller above the gunwale. I wouldn’t want to take it too far offshore but it rode real well on the gentle swells just a couple miles out. The captain and owner, Toby, was a Brit and an able sailor who had lived in Alvor for quite a while with his wife and child. He operated two boats like the one we were on, the Trigana and the Formosa, and a dive shop. One other couple, from Scotland, went out with us and their conversation was pleasant consisting of news of their family and retirement. Immigration, trade and tourism has been carried on for centuries between England and Portugal so there are a lot of expatriates in both countries. Their mutual enemy, Spain, has had much to do with making the Anglo-Portuguese alliance so long lived. The one man crew was an American from New York who told us that Judi and I were the only Americans he had seen all season. There are hundreds of extremely large wind turbans on the hills around Monchique and on the way to Cape Saint Vincent. We took a service road out to them to take video and to listen to the massive blades as they slice the air. From the road they look big but close-up they are awesome. When we were
there the wind was brisk, fifteen to twenty knots. The blades are one-hundred-and-fifty feet long and the hubs (nacelles) are on towers that are well over twenty stories. The blade tip speed is six to seven times the wind velocity so the ends of those massive blades when we were there were traveling 120 miles per hour. Every time a blade swept by the ground it “wooshed” like some huge whip. Monchique Municipality is thirty kilometers north of Alvor in the mountains. The day we drove there fog had rolled in so part of the drive was in the clouds. The flora is lush and dense in places and cork oak, many partially and carefully stripped of the valuable bark, grow along the road. Seeing them I remembered that I had chosen Portugal as a report subject in elementary school because of the explorers and the country’s maritime history and it was while doing that research I first learned where the cork on my bulletin board came from. I had completely forgotten my earlier interest in the place. Tree trunks with portions stripped of the bark was on an image I had cut from a magazine and pasted to a sheet of construction paper. Spreading paste with a popsicle stick and how much I liked geography class were things I’d nearly forgotten too. Since the highest point in the Algarve is near the town of Monchique at Foia we ended up there, not intentionally, but by instinct and natural inclination the drive took us there. To satisfy the itch I climbed to the very top of a pile of boulders that marks the peak. At first the fact that our time together would end isn’t important. That’s true for about half the trip. In the final days though sights and moments affect us differently and we hold each other more often and a little longer. After Foia we drove to Silves, an ancient Moorish capital on the Arade River with modest homes on narrow cobbled streets. As the sun was setting I first felt the sadness that would build until we’d say goodbye. In the last few hours there are times when I wish we hadn’t even put ourselves through it. Judi’s flight was in the afternoon and mine was at 10:20 PM so after I took her to the airport I went back to the hotel. I didn’t feel like doing anything else so I went to the airport long before the flight. There were no gas stations between the hotel and the Madrid-Barajas Airport so in order to top off the tank in the rental car I had to drive past the airport to the city. I got back to the airport at about 6:30. As I walked across the street in front of the terminal after dropping off the car I took my wallet out to get my passport so I could check in. It was a big, military type wallet with a separate compartment for the passport and it wasn’t there. I took off my backpack and went through
it, looking in every possible place, and it wasn’t in the backpack either. I had one piece of luggage so I went through that too but it was gone. I went back to Hertz®, searched the car and then called the hotel. They hadn’t found it there either. There was time to do something before the flight so I tried to think of where else to look. I didn’t give it to Judi and there was no reason for her to have taken it. I couldn’t get in touch with her anyway. She was in the air on her way to Philadelphia. With the car already turned in I didn’t even have transportation. Then my mind turned to all the trouble and expense I was about to suffer. I went back to the rental agency and after searching the car a second time I concentrated again on when and where I’d last seen my passport. It was when we checked into the hotel in Madrid the day before. At least I knew it wasn’t in Portugal or somewhere between there and Madrid. That was good but it still left a lot of possibilities. We had been all over the city trying to see as much as we could our last day together. There was one possibility that I could act on in the little time I had. I took the wallet out when I got gas just before coming to the airport. It was possible I’d dropped it there but when it’s in that wallet it’s tucked away. There’s no snap or Velcro® to lock it in but it’s a pretty snug fit. That’s all I could possibly do and I had to do something so I rented the car for three hours and left the airport to see if I had dropped it at the gas station and if someone had turned it in there. The problem then became finding the gas station and I couldn’t! I hadn’t followed a map to get there earlier. I just drove away from the airport until I found a station and then followed the signs back. I couldn’t retrace my route back and I got lost . . . in Madrid! . . . without a map! Judi had taken them all with her because we didn’t think we would need them again. So I ended up in the city, in traffic, not knowing where I was or where to go. That was at about 8:00, two hours and twenty minutes from flight time. I could have just resigned myself to having lost the damn thing but I was in search mode and desperate to find the road back to the airport, the A2, E90. That was the route that I needed to take to get back to where I’d originally started when I found the gas station the first time except now it would be dark. Making illegal U turns, and zipping through circles I finally found a sign that said A2 but it didn’t say which way. Finally I found the highway and just as I got on it and all the way to the left lane for the airport I saw the gas station above the highway on the opposite side! I wasn’t even looking for it but there it was and I had about a second to cut back across all four lanes of traffic and make the exit. The move to the exit was so sudden I lost traction but not control and I didn’t run anyone else off the road.
It was one of those big stations with ten or more islands with pumps and a convenience store in the middle. Inside I asked a girl behind the counter, who didn’t speak English if anyone had found a passport. She said, “Eh?” So I asked again, this time with gestures of airplanes in flight and opening small books and she seemed to get it. While she was looking another clerk came over. I gestured and explained to her too so she looked around as well. They didn’t have it. I had always been so careful whenever I went anywhere always checking repeatedly that I hadn’t left behind my glasses, my orders, the Ipod®, my CAC card, my multi tool, my computer and its power supply, cables for all my electronics, the flashlight, my shot record, the book I was reading at the time, the thumb drive, my wallet and most of all my passport. I went through the checklist and the routine compulsively hundreds of times. Now, I’d failed in a big way and the gravity of my situation sank in. Until then I’d been frantic and on the move but the inevitable was upon me and I had to decide what to do. Hotels won’t accommodate people without passports so I had to take care of that as soon as possible but I didn’t know where the consulate was or if it was open. I could rent the car for a few more days and sleep in it until I got a new passport. I’d have to call work and tell them what happened, and I’d have to buy a ticket at the last minute to Doha which would cost thousands of dollars. I’d lose seven hundred dollars per day in wages for every day I wasn’t on the job and I’d have to spend at least a couple hundred dollars per day while I was stuck in Madrid. This was going ot be an expensive screw up. All this occurred to me as I stood in the store watching the traffic and unwilling to begin the steps to get out of the mess I’d put myself in. I turned back toward the counter before leaving and saw one of the clerks who tried to help before kneel down and disappear behind the counter. She was probably getting money out of the safe for the cash register or looking in her purse for lipstick but I hoped she decided to look in a place she hadn’t searched before for my passport. Or maybe before she didn’t understand what I’d lost. Maybe I was clinging pitifully, like a hopeless looser, to false hope and miniscule possibilities. Anyway, while she was down there I walked towards her as the hope grew and when she stood up there was a passport with a blue cover in her hand — an American passport! As I walked to her she was opening it to see the picture. Then she looked up and smiled and waved it. What a sight! I had dropped it there and some honest person had picked it up and turned it in. Seconds earlier I was ashamed of my quixotic behavior in the country where Don Quixote himself committed similar blunders but in the end pursuing an unlikely hope, although not an impossible dream, as hard as I could was the right thing to do. I took her hand and almost kissed it. Instead I covered it with my other hand, squeezed it and said, ”MUCHAS gracias, I love you.” With plenty of time left I drove slowly and carefully back to the airport. After turning the car in again and telling the guy at the counter who helped me before of the “miracle” that had occurred I checked in at the ticket counter, went to the gate and waited for the flight to board. I was very relieved, tired and very satisfied. It was a HELL of an end to the trip.
Judi At Home “Reacting” To The Passport Story