Sunday, 21 February 2010

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 Gruppenf├╝hrer 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 Gruppenf├╝hrer, 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".

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