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...


The Seventh Test

Magnificent Montserrat

The Black Virgin was found here at the Santa Cova!

Follow in the direction of the sea which is surrounded by earth. Close to a big city, a legend says that the angels came down from the skies and sawed the rocks to build a throne for the Black Virgin who is found there.

I had figured this location prior to leaving Vienna, and although it was uncharacteristically way down south from Paulo's usual Camino hunting grounds, I was convinced that I had guessed this correctly.

Having solved and completed the test at Sos del Rey Catholico, also taking my photo at the "The Wall", I had continued on towards Jaca, and as light was fading, I had decided to spend the night there. I drove around for a while trying to find somewhere to park the car, and having done that I set off to search for an Albergue that was open at this time of the year. Take several wrong turns in the narrow alleys of Jaca, I finally found the Albergue, just before it was about to close it's doors for the night. The lady at reception was not entirely happy to see me, and once she took me upstairs to show me the dormitory and my bed, I became aware as to the reason why... I was alone... not a single soul in the building!

She remined me of the rules, and said that she would stay the night and would lock the door behind her at 22:00 pm, not returning again until 09:00 am the next morning. So I prepared for a 'dark night' absolutely alone in this huge building.

As I still had 30 minutes to spare before the doors were closed, I dashed out to buy some food and drink, as I had not eaten anything all day.

I made it back just in time for the lady to say good night, and lock me in. I felt more like a prisoner that a pilgrim.

Having fed myself, and cleaned myself up, I rolled out my sleeping bag and climbed in, grateful to have found a bed for the night. I slept without stirring and awoke to a beautiful sunlit but cold morning. The lady had not yet arrived but I decided to pack my things a go downstairs to wait for her. I noticed however that the door opened in one, outward direction, so I picked up my things and depated the empty Alebergue.

First having to scrape the ice off the car's windscreen, I then headed off in the direction of Huesca and Zaragozza. Many of the road swere unfinished but the journey went well and in about six hours I came into the viscinity of Manresa and Montserrat.

The first glimpse of the bizarre mountains out of which the sacred alter of the black virgin was supposedly carved, was awe inspiring. I had never seen anything quite like it during my wordly travels.

I new that the Cathedral held the original of the Black Madonna high up behind the altar, but the Quest's test was to take a photos at the place where the Madonna was found, so I made my way down the steep amd winding path to the Santa Cova. A beautiful but strenuous walk of about 35 minutes led me to the place where she was found, and I arrived as a group of Hungarians were being ushered through the tiny chapel. Fortunately a Japanese lady was here to take photos so I asked if she would so kind as to take my picture. I returned the favour and then sat in silent meditation, to reflect on my journey thus far and to give thanks. I lit a candle for those no longer with us, and made my way slowly back up the steep path to the main Cathdral area.

According to Catholic tradition, the statue of the Black Virgin of Montserrat was carved by St. Luke around 50 AD and brought to Spain. It was later hidden from the Moors in a cave (Santa Cova, the Holy Grotto), where it was rediscovered in 880 AD.

According to the legend of the discovery, which was first recorded in the 13th century, the statue was discovered by shepherds. They saw a bright light and heard heavenly music that eventually led them to the grotto and the statue.

The Bishop of Manresa, present at the discovery, suggested that it be moved to Manresa, but the small statue was discovered to be so heavy it could not be lifted. Thus the Virgin had indicated her will to stay on Montserrat to be venerated there.

By the 9th century, there were four chapels on Montserrat, of which only one remains - St. Aciscolo's, which is in the monastery's garden. In the 11th century, the abbot-bishop Oliba founded a monastery on the mountain of Montserrat, next to one of the chapels. Many miracles were reported through the intercession of the Virgin Mary at Montserrat.

According to historians, it was then, in the 12th century, that the statue of the Madonna and Child was made. The Madonna statue soon earned widespread fame as numerous miracles were associated with the intercession of the Black Virgin of Montserrat.

Many of the first missionary churches in Mexico, Chile and Peru were dedicated to Our Lady of Montserrat and many saints and popes have visited the shrine over the centuries. St. Ignatius Loyola made a pilgrimage to Montserrat after being injured in war, and it was soon after that he wrote his famous Spiritual Exercises.

Due to the great numbers of pilgrims that flocked to Montserrat throughout the Middle Ages, the monastery was enlarged from its original humble size. In 1592, the grand basilica of Montserrat was consecrated.

In the late 18th century, almost the entire sanctuary was destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion. But due to the widespread devotion to the shrine, it was soon restored.
In 1881, Montserrat's Black Madonna was crowned in accordance with Canon Law and proclaimed patron saint of Catalonia by Pope Leo XIII.

My visit here was a wonderful experience and I felt a deep connection once more to the feminine face of God.

Having taken my compulsory photos, completing my task here, I moved on towards and through Andorra into France, where I would spend the night, prior to my encounter with Brida...


The Sixth Test

The Wall in Aragon

Sos del Rey Catolico with the distant wall behind

Continue walking toward the rising sun. On a hill in the middle of a plain was born a king whose wife would mark the history of the country where you find yourself. On the top of this hill, look around you: in the distance you can see a long stone wall that is not a wall, it is stone. The wind has fashioned it so that it seems to be the vestiges of an Incan temple.

Your image in front of this wall is the sixth test.

As I had done with all the Enigma tests, I had thoroughly researched this location, and was convinced of the stronger rootes of the powerful royal pair within Aragon. So the wall was in the aforementioned state and not Navarra!

Standing up high at and above Sos del Rey Catholico, and given that the atmosphere allowed a beautiful unhindered view, I could see the wall far off in the distance towards the Pyrenees. I took photos at Sos, then driving on down through the beautiful Aragonian countryside towards the wall I had seen from a distance at Sos. A truly imposing structure reaching high up into the Pyrenean sky. Driving on towards Jaca, I experienced most the beautiful countryside, and a large reservoir to the west (right).

Sos del Rey Catolico was founded in 938 as a border town during the Reconquista.
It was the birthplace of King Ferdinand the II (1452), in whose honor the town, formerly known simply as Sos, took the name del Rey Católico. It is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Aragon! Large parts of the old town are said to look much like they did at the time of Ferdinand's birth. The Palacio de los Sada was birthplace of the Catholic Monarch.
Ferdinand the II married Infanta Isabella, the half-sister and heiress of Henry IV of Castile. The two young monarchs were initially obliged to fight a civil war against Joan, Princess of Castile, the purported daughter of Henry IV, and were swiftly successful. When Ferdinand succeeded his father as King of Aragon in 1479, the Crown of Castile and the various territories of the Crown of Aragon were united in a personal union creating for the first time since the 8th century a single political unit referred to as Espana (Spain), the root of which is the ancient name Hispania, although the various states were not formerly administered as a single unit until the 18th century, but rather, as separate political units under the same Crown.
The first decade of Ferdinand and Isabella's joint rule were taken up with the conquest of the Kingdom of Granada, the last Arab-Muslim state in the Iberian peninsula, which was completed by 1492. In that same year, the Alhambra Decree was issued, expelling all Jews from both Castile and Aragon, and Christopher Columbus was sent by the couple on his expedition (ostensibly bound for east Asia) which resulted in the European arrival in the Americas. By the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, the extra-European world was split between the crowns of Portugal and Castile by a north-south line through the Atlantic Ocean.
Violating the treaty that they had signed with the former King of Granada, which guaranteed religious freedom for Muslims, they forced all Muslims in their dominions to convert to Christianity or else be expelled. The only Muslims that remained were architects, who had designed the Alhambra Palace in Granada.

So one can truly say that nobody shaped the course of Spain's history more indelibly than Ferdinand and Isabella! 

I can thoroughly recommend a visit to this beautiful and historic place.

The Fifth Test

The sanctified Pimp - Mon Amigo - Acacio                                                         Paul working for Acacio

Due to the following post in Paulo's Blog, we all had to return to Test Five after February 7th... this presented some wit problems, and for some it was a blessing... Had we taken Paulo's Update seriously, several people would have been sitting outside Acacio and Orietta's Refugio in Viloria de Rioja for two days until they arrived. Fortunately Acacio was reachable by phone, so we were able to learn of the correct date in the end.

UPDATE 18/01: From 18/01 to 05/02 the person mentioned in the Fifth Test will not be there. He will become the Guardian. So you still can continue your journey, and eventually take the required photo after that date. The road does not need to be linear...

Continue walking toward the east. A former pimp gives up everything and decides to shelter pilgrims who adventure out in winter and summer, in the fall and in springtime. Little by little he begins to approach sanctity. The roof of his hostel was donated by Saint Joseph.

Work there for a day. Shelter those who need shelter and care for those who are in need of care.
Your image with this man is the fifth test. 

The image of someone you took care of is also the fifth test.

Having spent the previous night at the Albergue in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, I was able to make a comfortable start after taking breakfast in the only coffee shop that was open on a Sunday, in that historic town.

I arrived, as expected, at 09:00 am, only to find that I was not the first of those who had been waiting for Acacio to return from location number twelve. It was Carolena Sabah, Brida's past incarnation ;) who sat at the large kitchen table with Orietta, Acacio's lovely wife. Of course the surprise factor was loosing it's polish, and we greeted each other in the usual friendly manner... "fancy meeting you here...;)"

I was offered a cup of Coffee and Acacio informed us that he wanted to wait for the arrival of SantiagosDream and two others before explaing our tasks which needed to be fulfilled at his Refugio.

SantiagosDream came soon after, followed by Rosa de los Vientos accompanied by her husband Emilio.

I asked Acacio if he was expecting anymore, and he said no, so we may begin with the briefing.

So in effect we were 4 warriors completing the fifth test at Viloria and our tasks were:

Carolena: Translation of Mantras from a tape deck into written form in the computer

Rosa: Was to be our cook for the day and I knew we were in for a Galician Treat

SantiagosDream: The sorting and washing of some heavy building rocks to the side of the Refugio

PaulfromAustria: To sort and remove nails from beams of the old roof, for use in future as firewood

Poor Acacio was quite apologetic when asking us to complete these tasks, he felt that we were all noble warriors, and didn't want us to hurt ourselves in the process I think. We all completed our duties bravely until around 13:00 when Acacio called us in to lunch, which had been prepared as I said, by Rosa and I'm sure with a little help from Orietta and Carolena.

The meal, made up of typicaly Galician dishes, was absolutely delicious, as could only be expected from our dear Rosa, whose culinary abilities I had experienced in Ribidiso last year when she came down with Emilio to visit me on the last stages of my Camino. Back then she had brought a home made Empenada of tuna fish, andthis time we were spoiled with the delights of vatious cooked meets and vegetables, and an Empenada, with a speciality desert to round the midday meal off. Orietta made us Coffee and we all sat there enjoying each other's company, and the social ambience of that winter afternoon.

Rosa then came in with 3 beautiful Roses. She handed one each to Carolena, Santiago and me, saying "whichever one of you wins, he or she who recieves the Sword, should please replace the Sword with this Rose." I wept inside when she said this, for this was a true warrior fighting for the Sword herself, but it was more important to her that the Sword be replaced by a Rose. Thank you dear Rosa, you are a Rose! A winning Rose at that!

I had comletely forgotten about the Sword... when suddenly Rosa looked at me and said "Paul Go... be careful... but go!" She had seen something that I had not, SantiagosDeam was saying goodbye and making for the door. I immediately woke from my midday dream and scrambled like a world war 2 fighter pilot, with my bags, briefly hugging everyone and saying my goodbyes... I ran up he hill to where my car was parked, and saw SantiagosDream heading off into the distance.

My God, I thought, this is going to be a car race to the finish. Of course I could not know if SD had pinpoited the location of number twelve prior to coming back to number five, but I couldn't take the risk of lifting my right foot. In a small rented and underpowered Peugeot, I drove as fast as I could, not braking for anything, and pulling the last kicks of horsepower out the poor little car. I had no navi system like SantiagosDream had in his BMW and had to rely on my instinct and orientation prowess with good old paper maps.

I drove extremely fast but careful as not to receive unwanted photographs on the way and as not to scare any of the local villagers as they made their way home from Mass. I don't think I would have received extra points for them anyway...;)

I was soon out of Spain and into France, but I had noticed that Police were standing on every bridge that crossed the Motorway between San Sebastian and Bayonne... perhaps they were looking for me?

Well they couldn't be blamed, after all, 170 kph through the small lanes and villages of spain was certainly not their usual experience of driving on a Sunday afternoon.

To my amazement there were road blocks ahead, with flashing blue lights all over the place... OMG they've got me now, I thought, but as I drew nearer they simply wave their hands to slow everyone down, looking carefully into each car as it drove by. Phew that was close, I thought.

So on through Bayonne and beyond in the direction of Toulouse. I held the pedal to the metal not lifting for anything. I did receive a few flashing headlamps from angry Sunday afternoon drivers, but otherwise no other hinderances all the way to Tarbes.

Then then supergau, once leaving the Motorway, I made a wrong turn, which forced me to drive a great distance in the wrong direction before being able to turn around. I lost precious minutes through this move, and hurridly made my way around the ringroad and turning off in the direction of Horgues.

Now on the right road to St Martin, and having checked the location almost two weeks previously,
I was sure that my chances were still good to be the first. As I turned down the small country lane towards number twelve I felt a tingle of excitement, I'm almost there. As I turned the last corner I nearly died... SantiagosDream's BMW was blocking the driveway of the entrance to the gate. The BMW was still hissing and ticking from it's arduous journey.

There was also no sign of SantiagosDream either, which was a bad sign, for it meant he had been alowed inside, because he had shown the guardian all the right photographs. I was paralyzed, shocked, depressed but could not weep!

I rang the doorbell, a futile action with hindsight, but nobody came. I waited an eternity, and finally decided to return to my car which I had parked around the corner. I sat in the car, absolutely numb with disappointment after 17 days of mental and physical exhaustion. It was so important to me to win the sword, not because of any materialistic value, the money was also not the most important factor for me, but I wanted to prove to myself that this old warrior was still capable of a good fight, and capable of winning!

Two figures finally came out in front of the Gate and looked up and down the road to see who had rung the bell. I then walked towards them and saw that it was SantiagosDream and the Guardian, Marcello. Marcello confirmed that SD had all the correct photos and was the first at the gate, so he was the winner.

I  gave SD my hand, congratulating him for this fantstic feat, as Marcello filmed the entire process. He then asked me to say a few words on film, but I was so shocked and lost for words at my defeat. I did manage to say something, but I doubt that it was coherent, so I hope he has errased it since...

The three of us walked inside and I felt as if I were in a trance, still high from all that fast driving, but still numb from the shock of not winning. I tried my best to be chipper, but my efforts were fruitless... I was downright depressed.

We all walked over to the manger on the other side of the lake and once inside, Santiago laid the Rose he had been given by Rosa, in the place where he had previously lifted the Sword... as it turns out... it was his very own Sword... but that's another (his) story...

Well done all those who took part, and all those who worked for the Enigma test locations, and last but least, thank you dear Paulo Coelho for this crazy idea, which sent us all over the place, searching not really for a Sword, that was sysmbolic, but searching for and finding our true selves...

We stopped being who we were... and became who we are... thank you... Much Love, Paul

The Fourth Test

Cruz de Ferro

The cross at Foncebadon

Continue walking toward the rising sun. You will come upon a hill, and on the top of this hill you will find a wooden post placed there by the Romans in homage to the God Mercury. Leave your stone there.

Close to this monument there is a city that I prophesized in 1986 would be reborn. It was reborn.

In the center of this city stands a cross.

Your image standing next to the monument to Mercury is the fourth test. Your image in front of the cross in the city is also the fourth test.

At least I was able to rescue test 4 out of the ashes of test 3... and as I mentioned in the wrong Test Three, I was able to leave my stone and a silk bracelet given to me by a fellow pilgrim on last years Camino, and have my photo taken at the Roman's homage to Mercury, The Cruz de Ferro.

I have now passed this cross 4 times and it never ceases to tug on my emotions. I have left quite a lot of excess baggage at that place on the top of the Camino, and this will, I hope, allow my wings to fly higher & further.

The wrong - Third Test

The real third test - 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.

I was convinced that Manjarin was the location implied by Paulo when he said, "a city born out of the ashes"... this place had given me that impression during my Camino in 2009. I was so convinced, that I even came back a second time to insist on receiving the magic potion. Neither visit was a waste of time, on the contrary, I learned so much from my mistakes and from the interaction with Tomas and his Team, and from those who "just happened?" to be there... but that is another story...

Well I have to begin my report on this stage 3 a little back to front, having first believed that this place was Manjarin and the person, Tomas of Manjarin. I therefore set out from O Cebreiro in the belief that I needed to walk up to a city that looks as though it was born out of the ashes, but apparently wasn't. I walked through the Bierzo wine region, through the wonderful Knights Templar city of Ponferada and on up via Molinaseca, Riego de Ambros, Acebo and on to my destination for the day, Manjarin. It was a long hike and exhausting day but I felt good about having walked, and looked forward to a pilgrims meal with Tomas and his team.

I knocked at the door several times, but no-one came, so I gently opened the door and called to see if someone heard my voice. Still no answer, so I entered the dark and smokey hut, only to be greeted by Antonio, a man as wide as he is tall, who promptly ushered me out of the hut in no uncertain manner. "What do you want?" he said in Spanish. Not a good beginning to this, my third test, I thought, and endeavoured to explain in sign language (2 hands cupped together at the side of my head by my right ear) that I would like to spend the night. Not daring of course to attempt sign language to explain the in and outs of the test I should perform there.

He mellowed within a relatively short space of time, allowing me through the tiny door and muttering what I could only assume were words of rules & regulations. As fate would have it, I was right, and Antonio set a mode d'employ written in the English language abruptly in front of my nose. He continued jabbering in Spanish, although by this time he must have realized that I didn't have a clue as to what he was saying. Never-the-less he did then have the decency to offer me the choice of a cup of tea or coffee. The day previous, someone had warned me about the coffee, so I accepted the tea with gratitude. We sat in silence, I drank my tea and rather hoped that an English speaking pilgrim would wander by soon.

Alas, as it grew darker with the fading sunlight, it became clear that I was to spend the niht alone with this little round man. He had seemed far more friendly on my way through the year before, perhaps because he was able to sell me a small amount of souveniers and keep sakes.

At last the door was flung open and in came Paco, Tomas' right hand man, or was it it left, I can't remember...? and Paco greeted me with a friendly smile as Antonio muttered a few words of explanation. I asked if Tomas would be coming to supper, which was of course important if I was to fulfill my quest by insisting that he perform the magic potion ritual. I was told again in sign language of course, that Tomas was attending a Hospitaleiro conference in Leon and it is doubtful that he'd return that night. So I prepared myself to expect 2 nights in this little hole in the wall, near to the summit of the Montes de Leon.

Antonio showed the stairs to the loft bedroom, where, to my surprise, a young girl was sitting and reading what appeared to be a religious book. I said hello and she replied with a nod and a brief smile. I continued to lay out my sleeping bag and unpack a few things. The girl's face was familiar to me and I remembered that I had seen her bording the bus in Santiago. We finally began conversation, and E M (full name respectfully witheld) explained that she had completed the "Camino" a few days hence, and was returning partly on foot "to a few important places" as she put it, on her way back home to Valladolid.

To me, she appeared very religious, and interestingly, she then asked me if I was. I said that I believe in one unexplainable God, and that my God is all things to all men and women. I fact, I said, God is within us all and each of us is a significant part of the whole universe. A great mystery to be accepted with humility, wonder and a great deal of love. I told her hat I acknowledge the beliefs of all who live on this beautiful planet, but do not allow myself to choose one religion or the other as a medium. I do not require a medium, as I believe that I have a direct connection, and anything along the way would only slow down the speed of... Light!

I then asked her if she too was religious, tears formed in the corners of her eyes and she jestured with her palm, first upward and then downward. The poor dear was in a state of flux, and was searching desperately to make contact with her divine spirit. I said let's go and drink some tea, and she followed me down the stairs to the old kitchen with its wood oven and the hundreds of pictures of Tomas de Manjarin, who, as predicted, had still not returned to the highest Albergue on the Camino.

In keeping with the little round man's book of rules, Tomas did appear punctually for supper at 20:00 and we sipped soup and ate home made bread... but drank absolutely no alcohol...;) We were joined by two more pilgrims, Renate from Germany and Gregorio from Spain.

Given that Tomas had a long day behind him, it was quite obvious hat I wasn't going to get my Ritual that night at all. So I resigned once more to possibly having to spend a second night in order to convince him. With that, it was off to bed, with a stern reminder from Antonio that we were not allowed (and we obeyed, for fear of being hung drawn & quartered) to stir before 09:00, which for me is an absolute torture when you consider that I usually get up at 05:30 every day to make my beloved daughter's breakfast & lunch packet.

The night began peacefully enough, until the dogs began to howl at the moon. A further disturbance of the night peace was caused by the ladies week bladders, at seemingly regular intervals. I wondered how Gruppenführer Antonio was going to react to all this tooing and frowing in the middle of the night. Finally dawn arrived, but it was still only 08:00, but I thought that if I'm quite enough, I certainly wouldn't disturb anyone... right...? wrong...! As I attempted to creep slowly downstairs, I was met by a very angry Gruppenführer, who promptly gave me the blame for "everything" that had been going on the night before! There's no justice! ;(

Needless to say, the atmosphere at breakfast could be cut with a knife, and I decided hat there was just no point in trying to remain for a second night under these circumstances, and hoped that Paulo would not be too hard on me, for not having achieved the Magic Potion Ritual?

Paco had offered E M a ride to Foncebadon, because she had to reach Astorgo in time for her bus to Valladolid, which left at 19:00 pm. She asked me if I wanted to ride in the trash container behind and given the circumstances of the night before, I quickly accepted the offer.

But I still needed that photo with Tomas, and EM said "look he's coming down the road, you're going to get your desired gift!" I wasn't so sure myself, but anyway she spoke to him, and he led us to an Indian Teepee up the hill. Inside was an altar with various religious figures, including Madonnas and a smiling Jesus. In addition, he had a treasure trove of glistening Templar Swords, and for a second I thought, perhaps he'll give me mine now? ;) Of course that wasn't the case, but he did allow E M to take a photo of the both of us in the tent. I was fairly satisfied that this would suffice, and made my way to Paco and his car, to make the daily trash dumping and water collection run to Foncebadon. I climbed in the back with the trash, and after an emotional farewell with Tomas, E M did the same and joined me for the ride. I asked Paco to stop at Cruz de Ferro to take a photo and drop off my stone.

Upon reaching Foncebadon, we disembarked, stinking of refuge, said our goodbyes to Paco and continued on down to Astorga. I still needed the photo at the cross in this desolate village, so E M kindly obliged and whilst I was repacking my rucksack, she timidly expalained that she was in a hurry and needed to be going if she was to make it to Astorga in time for her bus. I told her not to wait for me and that if she wanted copies of the photos I had taken, she should give me her email address. She politely declined and disappeared slowly around the bend and down the hill towards Rabanal. I continued reshuffling by bag, whenI saw a figure coming back up the hill about 500 meters away. As the person drew nearer, I could see that it was E M and upon reaching me, she said briefly "perhaps I will give you my email address... you never know?" She hugged me, turned and walked back from whence she came. I never saw her again that day, so she either hitched a ride or ran all the way to Astorga... bless her!

It was a lovely day, and I continued at a comfortable pace down the path toward Astorga. Having walked some 3 km I decided to take a break at a water trough and took out my Blackberry to look at the photos I had taken so far. To my utter amazement, the picture at Cruz de Ferro was missing, gone without a trace! Still in shock, I raced back up the hill, past Foncebadon and on up to the iron cross. I seemed to fly up there and upon arrival, I was glad to see that a couple of tourists had gathered, so I asked one of them to take my photo, a couple of times to be on the safe side. Once cross checked that all was saved on my chip, I headed back down past Foncebadon and on towards Astorga for the second time that day. I passed several pilgrims coming up the hill and this reminded of the ordeal one year ago. I visited the places I had rested last year, including the beautiful old oak, into which's trunk I had placed a heart shaped stone. The stone had unfortunately been removed, but I hugged the oak and whispered that it had my heart always.

I arrived in Astorga around 19:00 and hoped that E M had made to her bus on time. I found the local Albergue which was fortunately open, and reserved my bed for the night.

The next day I took a bus to Burgos and as the bus was just about to enter the city, I decided to contact my dear friend Rodrigo, who I had met on the Camino last year. He answered, thank goodness, and was absolutely thrilled to hear my voice. He said "wait there for me, I'm taking the day off and we will go out to lunch together with his wife Victoria". Such spontaneous and wonderful people. We talked over lunch and they listened with amazement and wide eyes as I told them about the Quest that I was endevouring to win. "You can make your base camp here, in our house" they said, and I didn't have the chance to say no. So I did something that I have found it very hard to do in my life thus far... "accept hospitality or anything for that matter, from others".

The Second Test

Hugo from Quebec, Canada

The Holy Grail at O Cebreiro

The second Test:

Walking toward the rising sun. in the mountain that was given the name February, I found my sword in front of the Holy Grail.
Stay there for a day. Talk to the third person you meet.
The image of the Holy Grail is the second test. The image of the third person you meet is also the second test.

On January 22nd I got up early, as usual, and made my way with the morning commuters of Santiago de Compostela, to the bus station which is situated on the town's periferal road.

Upon learning that I had some time to spare, I headed for the cafeteria, looking forward very much to my first Cafe con Leche of 2010. Sitting there, amongst other travellers, in the brightly lit coffee shop, I began to think back to May of the previous year. It was here that I began my homeward journey, and I found myself comparing my feelings of then, to those of now.

I remember thinking that I would definitely see this place again one day, not knowing how soon or the reason why. It was almost like coming home, because Santiago gives you that warm welcome feeling. I had done full circle, and it was a similar feeling to the one I had last year, first in Lourdes, and once again in St Jean Pied de Port, prior starting out on my approx 900 km journey.

This time it was to different, not only because I was starting my journey in Santiago, the place where I had finished in pain the year before, no, this time I felt like a little boy when he goes off on an adventure. Although quite sure that I had done my homework for all Paulo's cunning exercises, consequently in the comfort of my office, I felt a buzz of excitement in my veins, and was eager to arrive at the location of the second test... O Cebreiro.

A mysterious and old celtic town with it's quaint houses of straw rooves, O Cebreiro had not given me the feeling I had expected after climbing from Vega del Varcace via La Faba last year. I had therefore continued onward in the stiffling heat of that May afternoon, and beyond to Fonfria. This time I was preparing to spend the night, and to make an attempt to"catch the spirit", which for some visitors is apparently unmistakable, and perhaps I'd even see the lamb ... again?

After the 4 hour bus journey from Santiago via A Caruna to the small town of Pedrafita, which lies some 5 km, in the valley below O Cebreiro, I started slowly up the hill, happy to be walking again after all the sitting thus far. It was still raining and quite foggy, usual for Galicia and the time of year, so I made haste for the Albergue which lies at the town's exit to the west. The Hospitaleiro, a woman of 40 approx, was surprized to see that the last stamp in my pilgrims pass was made in Santiago, "You didn't walk all that way today?" she said, "No, I took a bus naturally!" I said and she kindly showed me the room with hundreds of bunk beds. "Take your pick!" she said, "we're not expecting too many more today!" she continued, with a smile.

I unpacked my things, laid out my sleeping bag, sat on the floor looking out to the hill with the cross, and perused Paulo's test for this location once more. Being the perfectionist that I am, I pondered the implication of Paulo's words, wondering if the 3rd person could be someone that Paulo had placed there to proof our impeccable honour and verify our attendance at the location... "of course not" I mumbled to myself, "absurd to think that such would be planable during an event which is basically open until the end of the year".

So I waited patiently for the second and was intrigued to learn who the third person might be. A small group of mixed nationalities arrived, returning from a small shopping spree in the villages quaint souvenier stores. They were happy and loud, but number two didn't appear to be among them until they headed once more out of the room to the kitchen. Then one of them said "hello, where are you coming from?" and after a brief dialogue, he followed his friends to make supper.

A second group arrived, having also done some shopping and one they had laid their wares o their beds, one of them came over to me and said looking out of the window into the foggy late afternoon "Hello, I'm Hugo, a mysterious place this, isn't it?" "it certainly is, quite an atmosphere" I said. After a while of small talk, Hugo asked me if wanted to join his small group for dinner. I accepted gratefully, but said that I had to go in search of the Holy Grail before supper. With that I dressed for the inclement weather once more, and headed for the small church some 7oo meters on the other side of the village.

Despite the fact that I had already met my "third person", as I walked to the church I expected someone to spring out of one of the small houses saying "Hi Paul!"... silly me I thought, and continued on through the mist to the ancient building at the east side of the village.

As was the case the last time I was in O Cebreiro, the church was empty and I made my way to the chalice & plate, "The Holy Grail" situated to the right of the main alter, beyond a wooden carved black madonna perched on the wall to the side. I spent some time in silence, thinking of family and friends who had passed on into the next, perhaps better, life, and then made my photos of the Holy Grail for my Quest. The information stand is also in the church behind, and as I was about to leave, the lady in charge came in and asked me if I needed my pilgrim pass stamped. I did this, and walked quickly back to the Albergue, where Hugo and his companions were waiting with a simple but delicious supper.

Gildas, Taewook, Wan ho Jang, Hugo and I, enjoyed the lighthearted evening atmosphere and we were the last to enter the dormitory which usually should have "lights out" by 22:00 pm. It was Midnight...