Sunday, 21 February 2010

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...

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