Sunday, 28 February 2010


This is the story of Paul from Austria's personal Quest for the Sword... on Paulo Coelho's Enigma Challenge... Chasing Santiago for 4500 km, from the north west corner of Galicia to the foothils of the French Pyrenees. The journey never ends, as in life itself, it a circle, always returning to the beginning, to allow us to correct any false courses (paths) we may have taken... God always offers us a second chance... take yours... I have!

Please take into consideration that this blog is not finished, it has just started, and it is my first ever attempt at such. Therefore you will find mistakes, until I have found and corrected them myself, and you will note that the quality of the photography is not always the best, due to the fact that I was mostly alone and took them at arms length with a mobile telephone. 

Do please consider my privacy and the privacy of others, and be courteous when posting a comment.

I do hope you will enjoy reading about my journey, and those of my fellow competitors, and that it will inspire you to stop, think about your life, and to change that part of it with which you are not happy... perhaps we only get one... it would be a shame to waste it!

Love, Paul

© The content of this, my blog, is a personal account which I have chosen to share for the benefit of others. However, you may not use or copy any material herein, for public use, without my permission. Thank you for your understanding.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The right - Third Test

The utensils for the "Burning Drink Ritual"

Sarka from the Czech Republic
Jesus Jato - Ave Fenix

Continue walking toward the rising sun. In a place born from the ashes, a man with two gold teeth prepares a magic potion on nights when he feels like doing this. This potion has the gift of exorcizing evil spirits, and obeys a ritual where fire, water, earth and air are invoked.

Work there for a day. Shelter those who need shelter and care for those who need care. Convince the man to perform the ritual for you and for those who arrive on that day.

Your image with this man is the third test. The image of someone you helped is also the third test.
Before you leave the place, pick up a stone.

Several days, two countries, thousands of kilometers and the solution of many tests had passed before I had come to the conclusion that I was not satisfied with my solution of the Third Test. Basically, it was the Magic Potion Ritual that concerned me most of all, and the more I thought about this, the more I was convinced that I needed to go back to Tomas at Manjarin and insist that he perform the ritual for me.

Returning the rental car that I had needed to circumnavigate the Pyrenees, to Burgos, I spent one more day with my dear friends Rodrigo & Victoria, to rest from the exhausting road trip thus far. During this well needed pause, I became more convinced that it was going to be necessary, if I wanted to complete my Enigma fully and properly, to return to Manjarin.

One day was enough to decide, and I took a car once more, driving back along the Camino de Santiago to Manjarin at the top of the Montes de Leon. The snow was still visable in Foncebadon, so just in case the heavens opened once more during my return, I decided to leave the car there and continue on foot to Manjarin. Aprehensive as to the type of welcome I would receive, I walked up once more via the Cruz de Ferro to the sparsley inhabited village.

This time it was Rosa, Paco's wife, who greeted me at the entrance to the ramshackle hut, and she quickly ushered me inside and out of the cold wind, immediately offering me the choice of either coffee or tea from the wood stove.

I felt comfortable her company, despite the fact that we could not converse coherantly in a language of mutual understanding. Spanish will cerainly be one of the next foreign languages that I'll attempt to learn, but for now we continued with hands, eyes and facial expressions.

Paco soon came in and was both surprized and happy to see me, though he didn't ask why I decided to return, just carried on with his kitchen chores. I asked if Tomas would be present at supper and i received a positive incline of the head, from both. We were joined later by Maria a good friend of Rosa, and Louise, finally someone I could converse with in English. We all prepared the table for supper which, as written in Antonio's book of rules, would begin promptly at eight. Both Antonio and Tomas joined for the evening meal, and have the luxury of my new found translater, I took the oportunity to ask about the possibility of Tomas performing ritual. They discussed the subject at length and Louise said theat Tomas would perform the ritual at 11:00 am prompt the next day. Satisfied with this, and now assured that I had made the right decision to return, I headed up to the loft for a good night's sleep.

Well rested I woke before sunrise but waited obediently until nine to stir. Once again we all sat at breakfast which consisted fo dry cakes and coffee or tea. I asked Louise once again just to be sure that Tomas would perform the ritual as promised at eleven. She comforted me and said that he would keep his word. I waited patiently as eleven would soon be here after getting up first at nine!
Punctually at eleven, Paco came out in front of the hut, and began a series of clangs on the bell beside the front door. It was rather like morse code and once finished, we were ushered back into the living-kitchen, in the corner where Tomas' shrine of Madonnas & Jesus' offered those who believed, a place to pray. Tomas had changed into his version of a Knights Templar Uniform and he began his so called "Calling of the Angels!" to which he said through my dear translater Louise, that he usually performs this every year for the first time on March 19th, but hat he was performing it today at my request and in my honour. Apparently today was perfect according to Tomas, because it coincided with another special day in his religious calender. Tomas summoned 7 Angels, utilising those present as manifestations of the descending heavenly bodies. The entire process took about 25 minutes, after which I gratefully thanked Tomas and all those present, for this honour... but something was not right, I thought to myself. Where is the magic potion? Not wanting to appear ungrateful, but needing to confirm that I had experienced the intended ritual, I asked Louise to carefully put my question to Tomas. "Where is the magic potion?" I asked. Louise looked at me and smiled, "Ah, I know what you are looking for... the burning drink ritual with the woooh!" "But Tomas does not do that here, that is done by his friend Jesus Jato at Ave Fenix in Villafranca del Bierzo!"... My mouth was wide open in amazement. OMG, I have been to this tiny hut at the top of the mountain twice now, believing that this is the place that was "born out of the ashes", and as soon as Louise had uttered the name Ave Fenix, I knew that it was where I should have been all along. I felt so foolish, I should have known, I had even passed the said Albergue 3 times already. I hugged Louise, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, and thanked her for putting me back on the right path. I packed my rucksack hurridly, and this had not gone unnoticed by Tomas. He was chuckling to himself as I rushed down the stairs with all my seven things, and said "careful careful, Jesus will wait!" ;) (Authors Note: I read "The Pilgrimage" in 1987 and not since, so my recollection of the location of Ave Fenix & the person Jesus Jato, was not saved in my memory)

I thanked and hugged all present, and made my way back to my car, which was of course parked several kilometers in the wrong direction at Foncebadon. This didn't bother me in the slightest, I was only to happy to have solved the location of Test Three properly this time. Passing the Cruz de Ferro once more, I stopped to leave yet another symbolic burden, and hurried down the hill to Foncebadon.
Once there, I raced back up the hill and on past Manjarin, hooting and tooting the car's horn, all the way down via Molinaseca, Ponferada and on to Villafranca del Bierzo.

The right 3rd Test solution:

I arrived at mid afternoon and Marielies, the German Hospitalero, welcomed me at the door. She asked me to sit down and take the weight off my feet, not knowing that I had actually arrived by car. Beginning to register me and check my credentials, I found it only fair to mention that I was no ordinary Pilgrim, although the statement alone sounded pretty toffee nosed ;). She didn't seem to be surprized, but asked me to explain. I told her that I had a mission to perform and she immediately changed her tone, similarly to that of Antonio at Manjarin. Given that I was not the first person to arrive at Ave Fenix in search of the magic potion and making the quest for the Enigma, she was well informed and had prepared a number of rules by which she interacted with such Knights. First showing my quarters, she then showed me the ablutions (male & female) the kitchen, bar & restaurant, which was to be my revier for the next two days. She also explained that she understood the length of the task as being one whole working day and therefore enveloped by two whole nights. I did not question her logic, only too pleased to be able to complete my task as an impeccable warrior, and began immediately with the chores at hand.

Jesus Jato, the owner of the Albergue, came in and out at regular intervals, wearing a set of typical workman's blue overalls. He was busy rebuilding an adjacent family residence for future use. As Marielies bored holes in Conche Shells, I completed the humble gifts for Pilgrims by feeding the thread through the holes Marlies had made in the Shells. It is said that by wearing the Conche Shell as one would a neklace, with the shell directly placed over the the top of the rib cage, this both protects and gives strength to the pilgrim's heart. It was a very medative task and we completed it with very few words, enjoying the peace and tranquility of room warmed by the wood burning oven on a cold winters afternoon.

A single pilgrim arrived shortly before sundown, it was Sarka from the Czech Republic, and I assisted her with the usual tour of the complex and carried her heavy bag to the room. Sarka is a landscape gardener with her own business, and was on her second Pilgrimage, which she was able to make during the off season, when her plants didn't need intesive care.

Jesus came in, this time without his overalls, followed by a German and Spaniard who had been assisting him on his building site. Jesus went straight to the kitchen and assisted Marielies with preparing the evening meal. I had of course discussed the "burning drink ritual" with Marielies and she had said that Jesus Jato would decide about that later, and if he did not, it was certainly for a very good reason...
Marielies had inaugurated me in the details of Jesus Jato's indiosycracies, one being that at the table, each should serve himself, and not attempt to serve another. Perhaps this was his interpretation of a saying I had often heard, namely, "That God helps those who help themselves"? I have often wondered if this applies to criminals who break into houses? ;)

We all sat down to supper after first linking hands while Jesus Jato said his usual prayer. The selfish fight for all that lay on the table began... Jato first of course. ;)

As the evening drew to an end, it became apparent to me that I was, yet again, not going to receive my ritual, so I headed off to bed with the resignation that Test number Three was going to be a real tough nut to crack. If only I had re-read the four books before setting out, I thought to myself.

It had poured with rain during the night and the morning air was fresh and the sun made an effort to break through the scattered clouds in the valley del Bierzo. having completed my ablutions, I made my way down to the central stone walled room of Ave Fenix, where Marielies was already sipping her first coffee, awaiting the arrival of her guests and enjoying the peace and quiet of the early morning hours. 
"Guten Morgen Paul!" she said "und wie hast du geschlaffen?" "Danke, nicht schlecht" was my response, and I sat down with her at one of the long wooden tables. The wood fire had gone out and it was quite cool in the room with the high ceeling. But I remembered her saying that we were not allowed to touch the ashes of the fire... that was Jesus Jato's privilage alone!

Sarka finally joined for breakfast and Marlies informed her of the two route variations that open for her continuation up to O Cebreiro.

The infamous and trecherous valley route, which Hape Kerkeling had over dramatized in the hilarious account of his Camino "Ich bin dann mal weg", was one of Sarka's possibilities. However the more strenuous but scenic hill route, as long as the weather allowed, was certainly more rewarding, recommended Marielies. With this advice, Sarka hesitated no longer and following our friendly hugs and  good wishes, she headed off for O Cebreiro, via the mountain path.

Once again the Albergue was devoid of Pilgrims, and following a brief exchange of small talk with Marielies, I continued with my "Enigma" responsibilities, by cleaning the Bathrooms, Toilets and Bedrooms. Thereafter we continued the preparation of Conche Shells for the coming high season in the holy year of Xacobeo 2010.

Later, someone appeared at the door, and I recognized the tall young man whom I had seen previously at Saint Savin in France. It was SantiagosDream, this time he was chasing me ;) Marielies soon got wise to fact that she needed a task for him to perform for day, so she introduced him to Jato and his German assistant, and they all headed for the building site.

The day progressed without any particular high or low notes, a time to meditate by doing mundane tasks for the Albergue. Later that afternoon, a few Pilgrims came by, some just requiring infomation and continuing on their way, and few had decided to spend the night with us. I was pleased about this because it increased my chances of receiving the "burning drink ritual".

Whilst attempting to brake firewood to size for the stove, Marielies trod on a long nail and she became quite ill thereafter, so much so that the German builders had to take her to the local medical centre for treatment. She was not sure when she had received her last tetinus injection, so she was naturally concerned about a possible infection. Upon her return she sat for a while with us on the table, but it was quite clear that she wasn't improving at all. When Jesus Jato finally came in, she burst into tears and appologized to Jato, saying that she could not prepare supper and just wanted to go to bed, which she then did. We all helped Jato in our small way to prepare supper and finally sat down together to eat.

I was a little concerned that the distraction might have caused Jesus Jato to forget about his ritual, but as supper was over, he began to bring out the utensils for his mysterious show. First darkening the room, he began by explaining the process and instructing us about the part we should play. Our sole responsibility was to say whoooooooh, after every stage of his ritual.

Once completed, the first cup of fire water was passed through the entire group of roughly 7 people, then promptly emptied back in to the burning pot. The remaining cups were filled and passed around to those in attendance. The concoction had a very syrupy flavour and was actually quite enjoyable. 

SantiagosDream and I of course made our compulsory photographs. Jesus Jato immediately headed off to wedding party, to which he had been invited. SantiagosDream also departed immediately toward his next Enigma Test location.

Needless to say I was relieved and happy to be able to have fulfilled the tasks of this location.

The following night was restfull and in the morning I packed and left once having said goodbye to Jesus Jato and Marielies, but without taking breakfast... after all, I had spend enough time solving the Enigma Test Three...

The Twelfth Test

Paulo Coelho's sacred workplace...

It was an an incredible feeling to be able to stand here, at Paulo's desk... in the hallowed grounds of a place which has given birth to several of the author's masterpieces. It was also a great relief after the stresses and strains of the Enigma, to have finally reached the location of the Twelfth Test!

I believe Paulo is writing his latest novel from this very desk at this very moment. It is surely a blessing to have made acquaintance with a respected and admired artist while he is still with us. I was not able to make acquaintance with Van Gogh, Renoir, St Exupery, and CG Jung in a similar manner unfortunately.

Despite the fact that I started out 10 days at least after SantiagosDream, I finished, not even, 10 minutes behind him. I congratulate the winner and all those who took part in this journey of a lifetime and I am truly proud to have finished the Enigma with all Tests correctly fulfilled... It remains for Paulo Coelho alone to judge, whether or not I was an "Impeccable Warrior!"

On the last day of the Enigma, Sunday February 7th at 15:00 pm in Viloria de Rioja, there were only 2 warriors who had completed all the Tests, bar one, the Twelfth, succesfully. I am proud to say I was one of those people. There were 4 warriors at Acacio and Orietta's residence at 15:00 on that Sunday afternoon...

Rosa de los Vientos together with her husband Emilio, Carolena Sabah, SantiagosDream, and myself. Two of us, SantiagosDream and I, drove like lunatics to the final location in the French Pyrenees...

"Chasing Santiago"

I chased Santiago(sDream) all the way from the Galician City of Santiago de Compostela to the quaint little town of St Martin in the Pyrenees, fighting fiercly and fairly. We met three times on the road, always courteous, never-the-less, on this challenge, there was no 2nd place on the podium... Well done SatiagosDream!

But then, everyone who took part, was a winner... Yeah!!!

I will carry the memories of this fantastic journey of Paulo Coelho's Enigma Challenge, surely into my next life...

With Love, Paul from Austria

The Eleventh Test

The second Fountain with Sun and Frog in Viscos

The Cathar Witch - J P and Fountain at Saint Savin

In one of the seven valleys there is a village on the top of a mountain where Pilar and her companion sat at the spring and chatted. Later on, Pilar will go down to the river Piedra and weep in sadness, but that is another story.

The important thing is that in this village lives a witch of the Cathar tradition whose house caught on fire and she came out unscathed.

Your image next to the first fountain and your image with the witch is the eleventh test.
Continue walking toward the mountains. In a village Chantal met the devil, and to remember this feat there is a second fountain, where a frog drinks the water of the sun.

Don’t ask too much about the origin of this fountain – the inhabitants of the city will say that the writer create a story that does not exist.

Your image in front of the second fountain is also part of the eleventh test.

Test eleven also proved to be a difficult one to crack for me. It had been so long since I had read the pertaining books, the finer details of which were somewhat vague in my memory.

I had also begun to feel extremely tired and unconcentrated, folowing the days prior, searching for that silly block of stone in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere. I didn't meet a singe inhabitant who had a clue as to it's existence, and yet it was under their very noses the whole time. Don't these people go for walks, I thought to myself?

I had basically relied upon my reading pertinent parts of the Devil and Mrs Prym, thus coming to the conclusion that the miniature village of Viscos, high up in the Pyreness above and beyond the valley town of Argeles Gazost, was the place I needed to search for the fountains and the Witch.

I found the second fountain quite easily, you sort of stumble over it when you arrive at the tiny nest's only restaurant. So that photograph was soon taken, and I went into the restaurant to ask a few questions about the Witch who apparently lived in the viscinity...

I entered the Hotel and Restaurant La Grange aux Marmottes Les Campanules, asking to speak to someone who spoke English, which is not quite as bad as asking a French person if they speak German... the man at the reception counter said "wait a minute please" and I perused the quiant reception area with it's large stone fireplace, as he went upstairs to ask someone to come and assist me.

An attractive lady with a slight delicate figure came down the stairs from the kitchen. You have to understand that the restaurant is built into the side of a rather steep hill and the place where ladies cook in this case, was on the first floor.

Madame Senac greeted me with a pleasant smile, asking how she could be of assistance. She smiled because I was naturally not the first person to be asking for this strange kind of assistance. She told me that even a TV Team from Russia had been there, searching for the sword.

I began by asking the whereabouts of a possible second fountain, but she was quite sure that there was no such thing in Viscos. She also politely informed me that although she had been the proprietor of the restaurant and hotel here in Viscos for over 20 years, she had never heard such a story nor had she had the experience of a meeting a witch. I thanked her for the infomation anyway and left to ponder the situation of my unfinished task.

I walked up the snow coverd and steep path which climbed up towards the next village. It was a beautiful day and the fresh clean air filled my lungs and helped me to think more clearly about my predicament and the solution. I beacme convinced that I had not placed my questions correctly, and decided to return to the restaurant and the gentle Madame Senac.

I called up the the kitchen and asked the chef who looked out of the door on the first floor, if he'd be so kind and send Madame Senac down again. She came down the stairs, smiling as before and I appologized for troubling her once more, and said that I needed to ask her a few more questions. I asked her if perhaps the second fountain could be in another village higher up, or lower down? She said "well all I can tell you is that there is another village which appears quite often in Paulo's books, Saint Savin!" I said, "but that is a pesron, a protagonist" and we both laughed. This was all I needed, Madame Senac had given me the hint that I had needed to continue my search, and I thanked her once again. She wished me luck and waved goodbye with her ever present gentle grace.

I made my way down the narrow and icy road to the valley once more, turning back towards Argeles Gazost, this time turning left, on to the road which struck a course above and parallel to the main valley road. I came into Saint Savin, another quaint Pyrenean village with beatiful views towards the surrounding Mountains. I frist stopped the post woman who was racing around on her scooter as if she was late for a hot date. She stopped, surprisingly, for me, took off her helmet and asked how she could help. I told her that I was looking for a witch who's house had been burned down and for a fontain that had been built in her name. She smiled but shook her head, and said that I should rather go to the Cafe on the square and ask there. And off she sped, weaving in and out of the tiny streets, sometimes reappearing from the left and then from he right. It reminded me of the film "Return of the Pink Panther" starring the late great Peter Sellars. I smiled to myself, and thought, "Am I in the wrong film?"

I continued as she had advised, to the Cafe on the square. I enetered, asked the waiter to bring a Cafe au lait and went into the empty room beyond the bar. The waiter brought me my cafe and a croissant, and I endeavoured to explain my reqirement with sign language and facial expressions. He also laughed and said, quite sure of himself, that there were definitely no cathars in this village. They were far away, he aid, by Montesegür. I said that I had already been there, but that this was about a specific person, or perhaps a image or statue. No, he said, there is nothing like that here. I thanked him and continued, somewhat subdued, with my Cafe au Lait.

After pondering my situation for a while, I decided to just make a complete tour of the village, as does the postwoman every day. I drove in and out of all the tiny streets looking for a sign, a statue, a hint of a Witch, but alas, I found nothing which met the description.

With resignation engraved in my spirit on that beatiful afternoon, I desided to call ita day and head back towards Lourdes, where I would spend yet another night. Driving back down, it occured to me that I needed to buy the book soemwhere and read it in my room, before setting out once more in search of the Witch. I arrived at the very basic little Motel with it's free WiFi connection, Japanese bathrooms, in which there was no room to swing a mouse, let alone a cat, I checked in and immediately showered and got into bed. I felt feverish and cold, and somehow quite exhausted. I hoped I was not becoming sick.

I sat up in bed, opened my laptop and logged into the net. I search for Paulo's "I sat down by the river piedra and wept" and found a talking book version offered by iTunes, so I bought it and downloaded it to my harddrive. It took forever, and during which I fell asleep. I awake later only to find hat he downloaded files were incomplete, so I closed the laptop and slept.

I spent the entire next day in bed, and having finally downloaded the book, I listed to it for well over 4 hours. I did not however feel any the wiser thereafter. Had I missed something, fallen asleep perhaps? I still felt unwell, so I continued to doze on and off througout the day, not even getting up for food or drink. I felt cold and weary. The next day, I woke rested and in somewhat better form than the day previous. I decided hat I needed to go back to Saint Savin and try my luck once more.

Prior to heading off, I wrote a text that I would present to unwitting villagers of Saint Savin, and google translated it into French. With that I drove once more via Argeles Gazost to the sleepy hill top village of Saint Savin. It was another beautiful day when I arrived, and I parked my car next to the Majory office and walked to the fountain, as if it would perhaps offer me a clue to the whereabouts of the person to whom it was donated.

A man with his little dog came up the road towards me and I greeted him with a friendly Bonjor Msr. He immediately replied and seein that I was armed with a map and a pice of paper, he asked if he could be of assistance. I showed my pre-googled text, and as he read into my masterpiece, he became more and more aggitated... No Msr... he said... it's not possible, and off he went very disgruntled, in the direction of the cafe on the square. I was beginning to think that Paulo had sent me on a wild goose chase...

Knowing that the old man and his little dog had gone into the cafe on the square, i decided to try my luck in he post office opposite to the cafe. Two young girls, unaware of their imminent fate, were working diligently at those things which people do in a post office, shuffling letters here and there. I said good morning, applogized for my inability to speak sufficient French and presented them with my googled masterpiece. They scratched their heads for a while, one said she had no idea and in communication with her collegue, she asled me to wait just a minute. her collegue, bless her, summed up the entire school English she could still remember and said go to the Visco otel over there, they may know of this, they have been here forever. I thanked the, we all chuckeled and little over the subject matter and i made my way accross the square, first to the little store next to the cafe to see if here was anyone there, but it was devoid of people and light.

I continued on to the Hotel Viscos at the corner of the square and tried the door. It was locked. I tried to see if anyone was inside, and saw some figures at the back of the reception, so I knocked on the door.

A young man came to the door, and rather as Antonio had done at Manjarin, the young man closed the door behind him and asked me what I wanted. I immediately thrust my google text under his nose and he smiled immediately and said, "What you are looking for, is inside, she is here!" I could not believe my ears. Yes he said, the lady you are looking for is inside, please come in. After all this work, I couldn't believe how easy this day had begun.

As I walked in, I could see that the Hotel was empty, except for a small group of people and the back of the reception area. A small elderly lady was sitting there opposite a tall young man, who appeared at first inquisitive as to who I was. I was still not sure of my luck and asked the lady if she was the Cathar Witch? "Oui, Oui Msr." she said, and I think I even bowed in acknowledgement and respect at meeting such a rare and distinguished person.

The young man sitting in the corner observed our interaction with grat interest, and I'm not sure if he was aware at this time, of the fact that I too was on the Quest for the Sword. It did not take long until we both became aware that we were fighting the same fight. "I'm SantiagosDream" he said, and we shook hands.

Logically there was not too much more to say to each other. We both had our consecutive tasks to fulfill.

We all went outside and took our obligatory photos at the fountain. I had a small exchange of words with the Cather Witch - Jaqueline Peyrot, and she told me that she knew Paulo Coelho very well and had met him on a numer of occassions. She also said she would be in Melk for his St. Josephs Day party and I told her that I look forward to welcoming her in my second home town. Madame Peyrot insisted that we exchange contact information and that done, we said farewell until Melk!

Certainly not every day that one meets a real Cathar Witch... Fascinating!

The Tenth Test

Our Lady of Lourdes

A young girl sees another girl dressed in white. The girl in white asks her to dig a hole, eat the earth and drink the water. A spring is born there.

Drink this water, and wash your face with it.

Your image in front of the place where the spring was born is the tenth test.

Given that I had begun my Camino de Santiago of 2009 here in Lourdes, the tenth test was, for me, as easy to solve as the first test, and when standing in front of the Grotto, I remebered my feelings of Good Friday last year. I had said prayers for Monika, my dear friend who is now no longer with us.

The emotions rose once more and it was once more quite clear to me that this return to the beginning of my Camino was certainly no coincidence. Having placed a stone for Monika at every single possible point on the path last year, the universe called me back to close the circle, and to end the time of mourning, giving way to a time of freedom and joy, knowing that she was now looking down and watching over those she has left behind. I said my prayers, lit a candle, washed my face and drank of the fountain. This was no drilled task, it was a ritual of deep communication with the feminine side of God.

I kept my visit relatively short. in order to move on to the next location... up the valley and into the mysterious mountains, which set many a scene for Paulo Coelho's marvellous books.    

The Ninth Test

Continue toward an old Roman camp that was baptized with the name of a Phoenician princess. Ask there for an old Celtic monument in the middle of a corn field. If no-one knows the answer, take the old road that leads to the city where a king lived who decided to put food on the table of all the residents of his kingdom. Walk three to five kilometers, and just before you reach a place where women cook, turn right and go straight ahead. You will find the monument.

Your image in front of the monument is the ninth test.

I had also begun to feel extremely tired and unconcentrated, searching for that silly block of stone in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere. I didn't meet a singe inhabitant who had a clue as to it's existence, and yet it was under their very noses the whole time. Don't these people go for walks, I thought to myself?

Once again I became aware of the fact that, as i life itself, things, unlike people of course, don't always appear or happen exactly when they are expected. It is quite obvious that Paulo's gps or measuring stick, was not entirely accurate on the day he planned this particular task. The Obelisque was in fact, exactly 7 kilometers along the old road and after turning right, one still had to make a number of further turns. Sometimes I even had the feeling that Paulo was hovering around in a Helicopter, watching and having fun as I was desperatley seeking... this obscure object, which no-one had ever heard of... Thank God I finally found it, and thereafter, instead of turning around, I raced accross the fields as if in a world cup ralley... the car looked at least as though I had done, as i raced past one of the locals who had denied the obelisque's existence... I can imagine what he might have been thinking as I saw him through the rear view mirror, scratching his head... décidément, il est fou... 

The Eighth Test

The Fortress Warden... or a past incarnation? ;)

The Fortress on top of the hill - mysterious

Brida's Fortress at Montesegür

Cross the mountains following in the direction of the east, then walk NW. At the top of one these mountains rises a fortress where Brida discovers her past incarnation.

Your image at this fortress is the eighth test.

Following a restful night, this time in a small Hotel in Tarascon-sur-Ariege, not far from the border of France with Andorra, I awoke refreshed and ready for the assault on the south face of the Montesegür..;)

Unlike the days that precluded this night in the small French township, I had uncharacteristically taken both dinner and breakfast, which had given me a respite from the basic feelings of hunger of late. I relaxed during a breakfast consisting of a cup of hot Cafe au Lait and Croissants with butter and marmalade. I reflected on the journey thus far, and basically felt quite confident that I was moving very fast and executing the tasks correctly, as an impeccable warrior only could.

I paid my dues, and packed my things into the small french rental car. I knew where I was headed and needed less than 30 minutes to reach the old Fortress perched precariously on the top of a very prominent mountain in this mysterious and ancient Cathar stronghold region.

I parked first at the crest of the hill which lay some 700 metres below the ramparts of the daunting ruin. Snow already lay thick on the ground, but as I looked up toward the extremely steep gradient leading to the Fortress,  a blizzard began to blow over the entire area and I decided to return to the car and drive down to he village which lay on the other side.

I drove through the mysterious old village, not sseing a soul. The only sign of life was offered by a rather angry looking dog, and he decided to escort me out of the village, I decided it was better to stay in the car rather stop and ask one of the ghosts of this ghost town for information.

I drove on down, trying to get a glimpse of the oher side of the mountain, but it appeared to be just as steep on all sides. So I turned around and made my way back to the crest of the hill below the Fortress.

I changed my saturday clothes for my ski and mountaineering weatherproofs. I then made my way down  and around the corner to the begining of what appeared to be an path leading up towards the ruin. Just as I turned the corner a young woman was making her way up the path. She wore a off white bobble hat with braids, and what appeared to be a racing jacket in red with stripes down the arms, you know the type that Steve McQueen used to wear. She turned around a couple of times to see who it was walking up behind her. I came closer and closer, and she stopped, turned around and said "hi, are you going up to the Castle?" I said yes, and she looked at me again with her piercing and beautiful dark eyes, "Paul?" she said... I was stunned, "who is this woman?", I thought.

I was stuck for words and not wanting to give myself away, I just said "who are you?" and she said "are you Paul?" I still had not recognized her and she continued "You're Paul aren't you?" and at that moment I realized that it was... Carolena... Carolena Sabah... Athena from Paulo's film of his novel "The Witch of Portobello".

We embraced and couldn't believe that we had met here, exactly at this place of Brida's past reincarnation, for the very first time, having been virtual friends for a long while. We were somewhat dumstruck for a while, and continued on up the very steep path in silence.

It wasn't until we reached the entrance to the Fortress that we spoke once more. We took photos of one another with the beautiful snow covered backdrop, just for the record and continued on inside the mysterious ruin.

It was awe inspiring... white with snow and not a single footprint to be seen anywhere, we abslutely alone and the first to have braved the climb that day. We were both quite speechless at this coincidence? The setting was just perfect for the filming of... Brida. But that will be another story...

We took more photos and then slowly made our way back down the way we had come.

Upon reaching Carolena's car, we looked at each other and I said "It seems strange for you to come this far (from LA) and to part here, not knowing when or if we'll see each other again?" and Carolena said "aren't you hungry?" I said that I wasn't particularly hungry and that I really needed to get going as planned. I believed that the Sword belonged to me, you have to believe if you really want something badly, and I wasn't going to let anything get in my way. My opinion on this did mellow with time, but not at this moment, and with it, the possibility to have lunch with a beautiful woman, an online friend, vanished in the thin cold air of Montesegür...

So we said our goodbyes, hugged and with that I turned around and headed for my car wich was parked up and out of sight, around the next corner. I wanted to look back, but knew that if I did...