If I am not mistaken, it was the night of January the 13th of 2010 when I saw ‘The Quest of the Sword’ on Paulo Coelho’s Blog. I was in disbelief . . .  ‘The Quest of the Sword,' a challenge by Paulo Coelho. I didn’t waste time reading on.

It was a challenge that required the participant to have read four of Paulo’s books; The Pilgrimage, By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept, Brida and The Devil and Miss Prym. No problem so far, I’d read them all. 12 tasks needed to be completed correctly, and photos taken as proofs, in order to win Paulo Coelho’s Sword.

Photos; this requires travelling, how exciting and wonderful, and what a genius idea, I read on.

Twelve tasks; Spain and France, walking through Paulo’s footsteps, seeing all the places mentioned in his books which inspired him to write the novels. Wow . . .  I wanted that Sword, the Sword that would make me worthy of a Warrior of the Light. But there was one problem, my financial situation. I knew it wasn’t the wisest idea, with the economy being the way it was. Nevertheless, even if I wasn’t going to go, I wanted to solve the Enigma, I wanted to know exactly where all the twelve locations were so I started to delve into it, research it, dissect it, and the more I did, the more excited I became about it. Oh I wanted Paulo’s Sword so badly, I thought for sure I would do it at a later feasible time, perhaps in the summer, when I could walk the Camino instead of having to drive it, and especially with the cold weather in the mountains of Spain and France, probably would be freezing cold and not the best time to go anyway. I decided that I would definitely do it at a later time.

As I solved most of the 12 tests, I got struck by madness. I wanted that Sword with a passion and I thought, if I’m going to get it, I must go now. There is no point in waiting, a little cold never killed anyone, and besides, I still have the entire Atlantic Ocean to cross, and anyone who lives in Europe probably already started or would have a head start from me. Even if I didn’t get to win the sword, I might have the chance to see Paulo and that would make it all worth it.

It didn’t take long to book a flight and rent a car. The car rental guy told me over the phone that I would need an International driver’s license otherwise they will not rent me a car. An international driver’s license? where in the world am I supposed to get that from? An automobile club, he told me.

The first thing I did after I hung up the phone was to call my automobile club, AAA. The lady over the phone said, “I’m sorry ma'am, it’s Saturday and all the offices are closed.”

“Closed? No! Okay, Monday, how do I go about getting it on Monday, I’m flying in the afternoon, I’ll have time in the morning.”

“Monday is a holiday ma’am all the offices are closed.”

“Holiday? What Holiday?”

“Martin Luther King ma’am.”

“Oh . . .  I have a flight on Monday, please aren’t there any offices that would be open today?”

She asked me where I live and told me to wait a moment. After a minute or two she said there is an office in Burbank that is open on Saturdays and they are open until 2pm. Great! I looked at the clock and it was a few minutes passed 1:30 pm. Shoot! I grabbed my phone and my wallet and ran out the door.

On my way, I called the Burbank office to tell them my situation, that I’m on my way and to please wait for me. The reply I got was: “The doors lock automatically at 2 pm, if you can make it here before 2 you are in if not there is nothing I can do.” The doors lock automatically? Are you kidding me? She assured me that they did and by that time, it was already around 1:45 pm, just as I, very surprisingly, hit a bumper to bumper, completely stopped traffic. Very strange for such traffic on a Saturday, surely something had happened. Nevertheless, if I sat in that traffic I would never make it, I hit the emergency lane, stepped on the gas, passed the traffic to a few honking horns. I drove like a maniac till I got to the parking lot, passing through the doors at 1:58 pm with 2 minutes to spare.

Whew . . .  that was quite a journey in itself and a sign, an omen; despite so many obstacles, I made it, I got my international driver’s license, and I was ready to go. It took me only two days to fly out of the US; book my flight, pack a backpack, map the driving directions from one test of the Enigma to the other, minus the few I hadn’t figured out which I would have plenty of time to do so over there.

The funny thing is that when I landed into Spain on the 19th of January, I wasn’t even asked to show an international driver’s license. Perhaps because I got into Santiago de Compostela at 11:45 pm and the lady who rented me the car was in a hurry to get off work. 

Now in my rented car, I took a moment, sat back and prayed. I asked God to bless my path, to take me safely to the sword and off I drove to the First Test.

FIRST TEST

In the place where Pelayo saw a rainfall of stars, a city was born between the Tambre and Ulla rivers. In the middle of this town, an old worksite was transformed into a public square, and in the middle of this square there is a mark on the ground.

 

The image of this mark is the first test
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San Tiago and the city were fast asleep. I was so excited being in Obradoiro square, the final Pilgrimage destination of the road to Santiago de Compostela, in front of the Cathedral where the remains of one of Jesus’ apostles were held, James the Greater; Santiago.

I was beginning here and already done with the first test. I took the picture at night and briefly looked for a place to stay. Not finding one, I decided to sleep in my car. I didn’t want to drive too far being completely unfamiliar with the area, and besides, it was late and everywhere was closed. I was parked in a small street just in front of the Cathedral; I reclined the driver’s seat and attempted to sleep at 2:30 am. An hour passed by, and another and I found myself still wide awake. Eventually I fell asleep, and a few hours later I was up. I had my first coffee in Spain, visited the Cathedral and Saint James’ tomb and the tourist office, and prepared to begin the drive to the Sword.

 

Saint James the Greater ( one of the 12 apostles of Jesus)
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Unfamiliar with the roads, signs and the roundabouts, I managed to get on the freeway heading east towards the rising sun, I had about a 3 hour drive ahead of me. It was a cloudy day, the sun would peak through the clouds every once in a while, but it was mostly overcast.

As I got nearer to O Cebreiro mountain, it started to rain and became very foggy, so much that I could not see beyond 5-10 feet ahead on the road. It was a slow and at times a scary drive up the mountain; When you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t see the road ahead and you’re driving very slowly, a short distance seems like an endless road. I drove past the village. It was so foggy that I had not seen the sign that indicates the end of (O Cebreiro), when I noticed the sign for the next village, I assumed I must have driven too far.

The fog in O’Cebreiro, it was just as Paulo describes in The Pilgrimage, one minute so foggy you cannot see ahead of you and the next, it’s gone. I turned back and entered a restaurant/hostel that seemed to be open despite the desolate look of the area; cold, rainy, foggy and misty. I thought it best to ask before driving again, since I could not see anything and I needed a break from the hours of driving, and to shake off the stress from the extra cautious driving up the mountain. I entered and ordered a glass of wine. I asked the man if there was any food and with an irritated look and tone, he said a firm “No!” Then he asked me if I’m a Pilgrim; Pilgrims are looked upon with great respect and admiration. I smiled and said yes and no. I said it’s a difficult situation to explain, especially given that he did not speak any English. A few minutes later he stepped outside, must have been to take a look at my car. He came back in, took a look at my shoes, walked away, then came back with two pieces of lamb sprinkled with red pepper, and a piece of bread. Oh I was so thankful, but for a long while, I was just staring at the meat without any desire to eat it. One of the pieces was pretty much just all white gooey fat. The other one had some clean meat on it. Okay, that could work, perhaps. I recently started eating meat again after over a decade, although not like so. Though I could not imagine not eating any of it, I did not want to disrespect, so as a gesture of appreciation, I slowly took a bite with lots of bread. To my surprise, it was very tasty! So tender and fresh. I ate the one piece with the clean meant, but did not touch the other one. It was a small glass of wine. I finished up, asked someone for the village and headed back down. A few minutes later I was there at The Second Test.

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.


As I entered the church of Santa Maria la Real, I heard beautiful Gregorian chanting. I wanted to get closer to the music. There was a door inside the church, I was curious as to where it led to, but it was locked. I sat inside and meditated to the music for a while. The church was empty, there was no one there except me.

My image of this test will look slightly different from the other guys, why? because the test did not ask for the original Holy Grail, the original chalice used when a Eucharist miracle took place at Santa Maria la Real. Truth be told,  I did not know the one I was looking at was not the original one.

 

Replica of the Holy Grail at Santa Maria la Real
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The Altar where the Eucharist miracle took place
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Inside Santa Maria la Real
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The Third Person I met
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I spent some time in O’Cebreiro and had another glass of wine at the above bar. I may be sounding like an alcoholic by now, but let me tell you, all the intensity, excitement and stress was really tensing me up. The wine was very relaxing. I walked around a bit, came upon the graveyard by the side of the church of Santa Maria a Real.

 

Santa Maria La Real
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Just as I had been on an intense energy rush even before embarking on the quest, I was still riding that wave . . .  I was on a mission, out to get my Sword, nothing else mattered but that sword. No time to waste, no time to lose. I must keep going, fast and strong.

 

O Cebreiro, Lugo, Galicia, Spain
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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.   Before you leave the place, pick up a stone.


Two tests done. Perfect! I’ll be done and to the Sword in no time, I thought. When I initially researched at home, and most of it was done before I had even decided to go on the quest, I could not figure out the third test, but eventually I became pretty sure it was at the ancient chapel of the Templar’s Castle in Ponferrada. It was right there in The Pilgrimage just before Paulo heads out to O’Cebreiro, where the ritual took place. The priest must be the man with the two gold teeth, invoking “all things celestial, of the air, of the earth, and of the infernal realm.” Born from the ashes; the Templers built the castle from a ruined Roman-Celtic fortress which had been ruined by the Goths, so it must be it, it must have been burned by the Goths, I thought.  After all, the Templers were the protectors of the Pilgrims on the Camino from the Moors, it must be a location to be seen, and there is a hospital nearby, that is where we are to care for those who need care. Must be that one!

Darkness had fallen when I got to the Castle. It was still early enough, around 6 or 7 pm. The Castle was closed, but the Church was open. Great!

 

La Encina Basilica, Province of Leon, Spain

 

 

I walked into the church as the service was about to begin. I walked into the priests’ quarters, beyond the altar. The priest told me to wait for another priest, as he did not have any idea. Shortly the other priest came, he knew Paulo Coelho, but had no idea about a man with two gold teeth. After talking to the priests, walking round and round, asking various people, being led and shown the hospital, I had encountered my first obstacle. Everything so far had been great, I had found the tests with no problems, but now, what in the world was I to do? I do not speak Spanish well at all. No one there knew anything about this man with the two gold teeth. It was dark, I had nowhere to go, there was no one to help me . . .  I was alone.

I kept walking, decided to spend the night there, relax and think it over tomorrow. Though I was so stressed from being on such a high that I could not relax. I had been driving and running around like a mad woman and I had used up all my energy. I came to a stop. Not knowing where or how to find this man with the two gold teeth, I got a room at a hostel, took a shower and cried. Wondered what was so important about winning the Sword and what difference would it make in my life. I was hungry, so I went to get pizza. I ate and fell asleep on the table in the restaurant, with the map spread out under me. 

The next morning I woke up early, too early. The town was still sleeping and all the shops were closed. I was clueless and still down and tired and hurt and upset and unable to think. I was happy wallowing in my sorrow because I did not know what else to do. I walked around the square killing time. There was no internet anywhere, and the few places which had wifi, they were not connecting well.  I could not think of anything else to do, so I decided to waste the day.  I went in and out of bars, tried to look over the other clues to see if I could be wrong on them as well, but my brain was not functioning at all. I cried some more and as darkness was beginning to fall again, I decided to hit the road. I did not want to stay there any longer yet I did not know where to go. As I started walking to my car, I thought, where am I going? I have nowhere to go. Pilgrims! take me to the Pilgrims please. I started walking towards the nearest albergue (albergues are hostels for pilgrims).

Had I spent the day any differently, the miracle that took place might not have occurred. I walked into the office of the nearest albergue, there was only the hosteller and one pilgrim. I started questioning about “una hombre con dos dientes de oros”, only the pilgrim spoke a bit of English. They had absolutely no clue and since they were in the middle of registration, I was apparently being a nuisance to the hosteller. I was called an Alien for “walking in here asking for a man with two gold teeth.”

I said, a bit irritated myself, “Si senior, yo soy un alien.”

“Oh you speak Spanish well” he said in Spanish.

Well enough to understand what you just said.

The pilgrim offered to help after he was done. He did not know anything about a man with two gold teeth, but after a while of conversing, he called the owner of the albergue he was at the previous night, as he thought that he might know. (On my trip I’ve met and spoken to many people, I regret that I don’t remember all their names). The Pilgrim said that the hosteller from the other town said he knows a man in Villafrance Del Bierzo who makes a drink that is like a potion and if I can wait a few minutes, he will pass by. Can I wait? Of course I can wait!

He showed up in less than 5 minutes and after a long, interesting and slow (because of the language barrier) conversation about Paulo Coelho and The Pilgrimage and the Camino, I was gleaming with a huge smile, extremely happy and elated to have found Jesus Jato. I headed out to The Phoenix.
I had with me a printout of one of Paulo’s writings, “Twenty years later” but not in its entirety. Had I had it, it stated it clearly, and in it he shares a story which I would like to share with you:

Taking the road to Santiago twenty years ago, I stop at Villafranca Del Bierzo. One of the most emblematic figures of the walk, Jesus Jato, built a shelter for pilgrims there. People came from the village and, thinking that Jato was a sorcerer, set fire to the place, but he was not intimidated, and together with his wife Maria Carmen he began all over again – the place became known as The Phoenix, the bird reborn from the ashes.

Jato is famous for preparing the “burning”, a sort of alcoholic beverage of Celtic origin that we drink in a sort of ritual, which is also Celtic. On this cold spring evening, at the Ave Fénix there is a Canadian, two Italians, three Spaniards and an Australian. And Jato tells of something that happened to me in 1986 and that I never had the courage to include in my book Diary of a Magus, certain that the readers would not believe it.

“A local priest passed by to say that a pilgrim had come through Villafranca that morning and had not reached Cebreiro (the next leg of the walk), so for sure he was lost in the forest”, said Jato. “I went out to look for him and only found him at two o’clock in the afternoon, sleeping in a cave. It was Paulo. When I woke him up, he complained: ‘Can’t I even sleep for just an hour on this road?’ I explained that he had not slept for just an hour; he had been there for more than a whole day.”

I remember as if it were yesterday: I was feeling tired and depressed, so I decided to stop for a while, came across the cave and lay down on the floor. When I opened my eyes and saw the fellow, I was sure that only a few minutes had passed, because I had not even moved an inch. Until today I do not know exactly how that happened, nor do I look for any explanations – I have learned to live with mystery.”


 ~ Paulo Coelho

 

With Jesus Jato at The Pohenix010.jpg

 

The pilgrim I helped
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This is the same pilgrim I met in Ponferrada who helped me find Jesus Jato. He showed up the following day. I helped him settle in.  I wish I remembered his name, though he was very sensitive about his space, I did not want to invade it more than I already had.

I was so happy to have arrived there that evening and as I entered the albergue, Marlis was in a rush getting everyone ready and out, or whoever wanted to go to the church down the street. The service was about to begin. A group of about nine of us walked to the church. It was a small church with 12 to 15 nuns, and two priests. They were chanting and although I did not understand Spanish, I could understand the numerous repetitions of Santa Maria. I felt very safe there. After all the craziness I had been through, I felt a blessing, a white light surrounding and protecting me, it was very meditative, comforting and calming.

Back at the Phoenix Jato had prepared dinner and the table was set when we returned. We all held hands as Jato said a prayer, then we had a delicious dinner. The tuna salad was absolutely yummy! After dinner, he made the burning ritual drink.

 

‘Burning’ Celtic ritual drink
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Jesus Jato preparing the ritual drink
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I worked the following day sweeping the rooms, cleaning the bathrooms and washing the dishes.  Marlis was very happy to have me there because her thumb was infected and she could not wash the dishes, so I took over that task and helped as much as I could around the kitchen, her condition seemed painful. There I met Archie, the first person I came across who was also on the Quest of the Sword. He left shortly after breakfast.

In the afternoon I told Marlis that I was getting ready to leave. She said it was up to me but she thought it a better idea to stay the night and leave in the morning. Of course she wanted me to stay because she was in a lot of pain but she was right. In a few hours darkness would fall, I did not know the roads, nor the area, where would I find somewhere to sleep? At that time of the year there weren’t many people around, not many places open. I stayed, and I am very glad I did, the road to the following destination would have been a nightmare in the cold and the dark, all alone, or perhaps, I most likely would have gotten lost.

So I stayed and looked over ‘The Enigma’. My mind wondered into the details and I panicked, the Second Test asked for ‘THE IMAGE of the third person you meet, not YOUR IMAGE WITH. I did not want to take any chances, thinking that just in case of a tie, that might be the determining factor so I decided to drive back to O’Cebreiro to take a picture of the person without me in the image. I was pretty sure the lady who was working at the bar would be there, she was the third person I had met.
It was a half hour drive; I had to detour because the freeway was blocked off due to construction. I arrived at O’Cebreiro at about 7 pm. It was dark and foggy again, I could barely see where I was going . . .  It was crazy again.

I parked the car and got out. The fog was so dense that I could not see ahead to locate the bar. I was walking toward the village when all of a sudden I heard a loud vicious growl and sensed an animal charging at me with a vengeance. I could not see anything, but his barks were loud and vicious. For a moment I panicked. I had encountered two other dogs previously, driving slowly up the mountain, they were barking at me while I was inside the car, safe. But now, Holy Moses, what the hell am I supposed to do? In a flash of an instant I remembered the dog that attacked Paulo in The Pilgrimage and in the same flash, I said to myself, I’m not scared!  I ignored the barks and kept walking like I knew where I was going; I could not even see one step ahead of me in the dense fog, but it did not matter, I just kept walking confidently and ignored the dog.  It helped that I could not see the dog in the fog. He barked a few more times then disappeared. I was so relieved!

I was only a few steps away from the bar and the lady I had taken the picture of was there, as I had thought. I bumped into Paulo there, a Brazilian who had left the Phoenix that morning. We chatted for a while, and afterwards I headed back to the Phoenix.


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The following morning I headed out to the:

FOURTH TEST

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:

It was yet again, a very wet, rainy and foggy drive. It was an ordeal getting to Foncebadon. I was not at all familiar and used to driving on roads where at any moment the car could get stuck in the mud. I wasn’t on an actual road, it was a dirt road, I thought I had taken a wrong turn and drove into the bushes and ditches; it was scary all by myself. The roads in-between the villages were so narrow that I did not think my Ibiza car would drive through. Although since I love driving, parts of the scenic, winding roads were beautiful and enjoyable to drive on.

It was raining non-stop that day. The road to Foncebadon and the entire area seemed deserted but when I saw the Iron Cross, I was overjoyed. Luckily, there was a Pilgrim passing by whom I asked to take my picture under the cross.

 

Cruz de Ferro (monument to Mercury)013.jpg


 I left my stone there and drove a bit further to the city which Paulo prophesized would be reborn, for the second picture.

 

Your image in front of the cross in the city is also the fourth test:

Manjarin, Spain
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Pilgrim sign, yellow arrows
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At Ponferrada, the hosteller who had told me about Jesus Jato suggested I visit Tomas in Molinesca, he said Tomas knew Paulo and perhaps could be of some help.

Leaving Manjarin, I stopped by Tomas for a visit. With my broken Spanish, I communicated to him the quest I was on. I do not think anyone from the quest had passed through yet as he was not familiar with it. Luckily, the guy who took my picture by the Iron Cross happened to have stopped by and he spoke English and was a great help in translating the conversation between Tomas and I. I questioned Tomas about a couple of the tests to double check my accuracy and as a result he told me many interesting stories about the Camino.  He said currently there are tests being done in the area because the electromagnetic field is strong on the Camino, that many people used to walk it barefoot in order to feel and absorb this energy which strengthens ones intuition. He told me stories about the Templers, how they were the first protectors and worshipers of the Virgin Mary. It would have been nice if I had stayed longer to listen to his interesting stories, but I was on a mission—no time to waste, no time to loose—I had to get back on the road again and onto the next test. We exchanged hugs, took a picture, and as I was walking out, he looked at me and said, “Use your intuition.”

 

Tomas, I and Alan, the pilgrim/translator018.jpg

 


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So onto the:

FIFTH TEST

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.

The update on Paulo Coelho’s blog stated that the person in the fifth test would not be there to take the picture until 05-02. I assumed that if he is not there, then someone else must be and that I could go and do my task and since he was going to be the Guardian, I’d take the picture at the final destination. Even if there wasn’t anyone there, at least I would find the place and make it easier for when I returned. Wrong!! It was foggy again. I could barely see the road. I was driving extremely slow because I could not see ahead.

Later on in my journey when I returned to the same area, I saw how spacious and green the fields adjacent to the road was, but at this time, and so far on the quest,  I had no idea what the Camino looked like because it had always been foggy, rainy and dark.


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It was worse than the picture above, but since I took the picture while driving, I had to wait till I could see at least a little bit in front of me.

Well, I made it there, and to my slight surprise, there was no one there. I stayed there for a bit again trying to shake off the stress of driving in the dark. I wanted to just stay there, parked in my car, somewhere safe . . .  but I had to keep going.

My next destination was Sos del Rey for the sixth test. Initially I had thought that the Ninth test was in Obanos, Princess Felicia of Aquitaine. It made sense to me, and I really didn’t think Paulo would put the tests in a linear order, that putting it so would make it just too easy. So I drove to Obanos, it was nighttime. There weren’t any hotels or hostels in that village, only one bar was open and I managed to find someone who spoke a little bit of English to help me find this Celtic monument. The person who helped me was involved with the play they put on annually in the village, on the Legend of Guillen and Felicia. He said there is no Celtic monument anywhere in the area, that Felicia’s grave is in a nearby village in Labiano, that if it was anywhere, it would be there.

It was late and it was dark. There was nowhere to sleep in that village so I decided to drive out to Labiano. It was again, a very dark and lonely drive. I couldn’t believe how small Obanos was, only one street connecting two others, that was it. At first I saw a sign I thought it must be there, I saw some wheat in a field, so I started driving up that road, but it wasn’t exactly a road, it was a muddy driveway in the middle of an uphill field. I drove it up a bit, but I got very scared because it was very possible the car would get stuck in the mud or that I would get a flat tire, and since it was late and no one around, I didn’t think it was such a good idea to be driving up there. If I got stuck, how would I get any help. I couldn’t see well at all to make a u turn so I backed it up all the way out onto the road. By the way, I have backed up so many times in the middle of the roads, on freeways, on the roundabouts that I’ve lost count. 

There was nowhere to go at that hour, and I really couldn’t drive anymore. I drove through those three streets probably ten times, I don’t know, I was hoping a hotel would just magically appear. I ended up parking in one of those streets and again tried to sleep in my car. It was very cold; I wore my gloves, my hat, bundled up in a ball and attempted to sleep.

I was well prepared for the trip, I had even taken toilet paper with me except a sleeping bag, I hadn’t thought about that, although I never needed to use that toilet paper. I had to turn the car on a few times to get the heat going. It helped a little bit, and I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep. In the morning I looked around a bit then decided to leave. Since I was close to the city Pamplona, I decided to visit a tourist office to see if I could get any information. I stopped over for a few hours.

I got there early in the morning, the office was not open yet. The tourist office was no help either. On my way out, the city was very busy with quite a bit of traffic. I was so happy and relieved to leave Pamplona. I had no affinity for the city at all, not only Pamplona, but I did not want to be near or inside any cities, businesses and crowds. I liked the serenity of the wild outdoors, even though at times it was scary and lonely, the city seemed worse.

So now I was driving to Sos del Rey Catolicos for the sixth test, but since it was on the way, I decided to stop at Saint Martin de Unx. I wanted to visit the place Paulo talks about in his novel, By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. I just had to detour a little to the South, then I would head East again for Sos.

I saw the little village from the freeway; I parked my car and walked up to the church where ‘the doorman would not allow Pillar and her companion to enter’, in Paulo’s story— it was closed. I walked around town a bit then decided to have a bite to eat since I was hungry. I walked back down and entered a bar/restaurant, one of the few that was open. The wine was delicious and so were the olives, oh the olives were just amazing. I had a salad and a glass of wine, then headed out to Sos.

 

Saint Martin de Unx
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SIXTH TEST

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.

When I initially researched the sixth test on the internet at home, I came across a site that stated that from Hotel Parador a long wall was visible across the way. Although, I was not sure about the king whose wife had marked the history of the country, so during the quest, whenever I had a chance, I asked about this king. The answers were consensus, Fernando de Aragon or Fernando Catolico, Fernando the Catholic, as he was known. His wife Isabel funded Christopher Columbus’ expedition which resulted in the discovery of the Americas, the New World.

It was raining, again, cold and very windy. I got to the Parador, it was closed. I drove further up to the top of the hill to Sada Castle where Fernando was born. I looked around and did not see any long wall, except a very tall watchtower. Similar to the other villages, most of the hotels and shops were closed, so I was very surprised to see the castle open. I walked in and questioned the lady behind the tour desk about this wall. She was not aware of any long walls in the area and said that the watch tower was probably it. 

I walked up to the top of the hill. I looked around and found nothing, absolutely nothing. It was foggy, and I thought I’m not seeing anything perhaps because it’s foggy, but I thought that if there was a wall, that regardless of the fog, I should be able to see it. Not seeing one, I decided the watch tower was the ‘long stone wall that is not a wall, but stone’.


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I was wrong, this was not the wall. It’s interesting to me that I did not remember that I had seen it on the internet. I had completely forgotten that I had seen it online, the wall of the village that runs along the town.

Night was falling, I looked for a place to stay. Checking in at the hotel, the owner invited me for a drink to which I refused, I was on a mission, I had to get to the sword.

At breakfast the following morning I asked the hotelier about the bright, almost fluorescent red colored drink they were all drinking the night before and he told me it’s a berry liquor specific to the area. He pulled out a bottle of a homemade version of it and gave it to me. Oh I was so very happy. Regrettably again, I cannot remember his name. If y’all haven’t noticed by now, I’m not very good with names, but a face I will not forget. 

For the first time on my trip, the skies were clear and the sun was shining; it was a beautiful day. My heart was so happy to see the sun that I forgot to take another look for the wall. I was in a hurry to get to the next test—no time to waste, no time to lose—so I hopped into my car and took a long drive, enjoying the beautiful open landscape, and the open fields.

 

Sos del Rey Catolico
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I pulled over on the road to take a picture of the herd of sheep
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I should have headed to Barcelona next, for the Seventh test, but while I was preparing my route, I thought that the Enigma was definitely not linear, otherwise why else would Paulo allow an entire year for the Enigma. Besides, I was closer to Zaragoza, so I went on to the:

ELEVENTH TEST

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.

It’s not hard to figure out where I was headed . . .  Zaragoza! To the Horses’ tail, the Iris cave, the ‘fountain’ where Pilar and her companion sat and chatted.  I drove south for about 3 to 4 hours. It was a nice drive, but even prettier when I got nearer and nearer to the waters. I headed straight for the Monastery of Piedra, I bought a ticket for the museum took a quick look inside but had to quickly get to the fountain for the picture before nightfall.

 

Claustro, Monastery of Piedra, Zaragoza, Spain
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The Wine Museum
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On the grounds of the Monestary
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I walked around the park once, but missed the Iris cave where Pilar and her companion sat at the spring and chatted and where she runs out of the cave and goes down to the river and weeps in sadness, but that’s another story.  Second time around I saw a man and asked him about the cave. I was glad he spoke English. He was Antonio Carmona, the director of the Monastery and he had met Paulo Coelho. He took me to the Iris cave, took my picture and gave me a tour of the park.

 

Inside Iris cave
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Inside the Iris cave
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The Horses’ Tail outside the cave
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He told me that Paulo Coelho loves the area, especially the birds which are 2 meters long. The monastery puts on a show with the birds every summer. He told me about the rocks of the caves that keep growing because of the minerals that get deposited as the water runs down. In some areas the rocks have to be cut down every five years and others up to twenty or more.  He told me about the fish farm they tend in the little lake there, which supplies the fish to the nearby lakes to encourage tourism, vacationing and fishing. He also told me about the kingdoms and wars within the country, about how Isabella and Rey Catolicos’ marriage unified the kingdoms of Aragon and Castille, joining the territories into a unified Spain.  He told me about the history of the monastery, how it used to be a defensive fort built by the Moors (Muslims) before twelve monks took 23 years to build the monastery over the castle. He also showed me where the monks used to live while they were building the monastery, in a little house nearby. And finally he gave me a tour of the Monasterio de Piedra hotel.

In the celebratory spirit of traveling, he showed me a motor bike which was displayed inside the hotel. This motor bike belongs to an owner of the hotel who is also a friend of Paulo Coelho. Federico had bought the bike in India and driven it all the way to Spain, to the Monastery, in 30 days. If you think about it, that is some crazy travelling, I didn’t feel so lonely for a moment. I wish I had taken a picture of the bike, but I was so overwhelmed with all the information, kindness and hospitality he showed me that I forgot.

That evening I stayed in Nuevalos, (“the village on the top of a mountain where Pilar and her companion sat at the spring and chatted”). All the other hotels were closed except the Cazador, it was winter and off season, the town was quiet and vacant. Cazador was also a bar which the locals would frequent and that evening, I went to the bar to find out about the witch. It took a while to explain to the men who I was looking for, there were only men at the bar. They were quite surprised and probably thought I was crazy looking for a ‘Witch’. Then one of the men said he knew a witch, a healer and he drew me a map of the way to her house, which was just up the street and around the corner from the little center. The following morning I went to see the witch and little did I know she was already expecting me. It’s a small village, word travels fast.

I knocked on her door a few times before she answered. Her answer was “Go Away!”

I said “please, un momento por favor.” After about 10 minutes, she came down to the door.  She was by nature very friendly I could tell, but she was being very pissy. I tried to speak to her and question her but it was just not getting anywhere, she did not speak English at all.

I asked her if she is a witch, in Spanish, she smiled, looked at me and said, “tu es bruja?”

I said “Si.” Then I asked her if she’s a Cathar, and after a times, she said yes, and showed me her wedding ring. She became very sentimental and sweet, but when what I asked her again, she flipped.
She was sweeping while talking to me, I was sitting on the floor in front of her doorstep because I refused to leave without a picture. She starting to sweep me off the floor, literally, and she was yelling go, go away, in spanish.

I didn’t go very far, just moved to the center of the square nearby, where I had the view of the river Piedra just down below.  Little by little people came out to see what was going on. Then her son came and they all started questioning me, what I’m doing and why I’m bothering the little old lady. I was being attacked on all sides. The only person who spoke just a little bit of English was the lady in the office of the city hall. I used Google translator to explain to them what I was doing and who I was looking for. No one knew about the witch. The lady at the city hall gave me a map of the seven valleys which were created by the rivers that ran through them. No one really knew a witch and they did not like talking about witches, but there was a rumor that there lived a famous witch in Calmarza, the village just around the corner.

I took a drive down to Calmarza. It was a beautiful drive through the canyon and the river. The village people seemed to be very strict in their beliefs, they seemed to be offended and looked at me with suspicion when I asked for a witch, and no one really knew what a Cathar was. In Calmarza, the village was almost completely vacant, there was a bar which was closed but there were a couple of people inside so I knocked on the door and asked them and they told me that there used to be a very famous witch named Natividad, but that she had left to Madrid many years ago. I was considering going to Madrid.

I drove to another village, then drove back to Nuevalos. I walked the village knocking on houses, every door I came across, questioning . . .  Nothing! I was frustrated, alone, tired, and helpless. I could not help but to cry. A few moments later the guy who worked at the Cazador, Vlad, drove by asking me if everything was alright. I thought, news sure does travel fast.

I could not stay there any longer, I had exhausted all my options, so I decided to move on and come back after I got the other tests done. Feeling defeated, I drove towards Barcelona without stepping on the breaks. It was a four hour drive, I made it there in three.

SEVENTH TEST

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.

Your image in front of the place where the Black Virgin is found is the seventh test.

 

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Trying hard to keep a smile


I walked down to the cave where the Virgin was originally found. It was closed.
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So I jumped the fence, hoping the door to the small shrine would be open, it was not.
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camera set on timer


I walked back up, a slow and painful half-hour walk up the steep hill.  I was disappointed that I had to come back the next day for a picture in front of the place where the Virgin was found.

I drove down the long winding road, a beautiful drive, to the nearest town and because of a specific event, all the hostels and hotels were occupied. It was dark already. I had to drive to Manresa, the nearest place I would find anywhere to sleep the night. I didn’t know anything about the area and ended up in the shady and sketchy part of town, probably downtown.

As I exited the freeway, I asked a pedestrian if he knew any hostels around and he said there are a few but they are not easy to find and offered to show me if I wanted. I took a minute and decided to trust my intuition and let him inside my car. He was a big man, barely fit in the passenger seat, he could not reach the handle to pull the seat back.

I parked in a no parking zone. I turned the hazard lights on and we walked to an apartment building and he rang the bell. I became very alarmed. He spoke with someone over the intercom in Arabic, I was getting ready to walk away when I asked him why we are here. I started to imagine that he is going to lead me up into one of the apartments and God knows what he will do to me.

He said he is just asking where there is somewhere to stay nearby which is not expensive. I was slightly relieved. There were many Arabic speaking people around. Arabic sounds very rough and tough. It was a busy city, crowded with people, many of whom looked gangster. After all I had been through, I began to feel very scared.

He was friendly, I thought perhaps a little too friendly so he might have some ulterior motives, but nevertheless, I trusted my intuition even in the presence of fear. We walked to a nearby bar, which looking from outside, I would have never guessed would house rooms, upstairs. It was not expensive, about twenty Euros for a night.

Now I had to look for parking as there was none available in the streets. He said I had to be very careful where I parked,  the cops gave lots of tickets and he offered to help me do that as well. He knew a rundown parking lot not far away, we parked there and he told me to be careful, to remove everything because they might break into my car or try to steal it. He said the economy is very bad, people are hungry and likely to break in and steal.

Walking back to where I was going to stay the night, he said this is where we say goodbye. I was very thankful for all his help, we shook hands and parted ways. I could not stop thinking about the safety of my car. What if they broke in, or it got stolen, what in the world would I do? All by myself, not a lot of money with me, it would be the misery of miseries.

I asked around the bar if the parking lot I had parked in was safe, but no one knew about the parking lot—it was only about twenty feet away. So the owner had her son walk with me to check it out. He said it should be fine and not to worry. Well, I certainly did feel better after checking, but still, I was just way too anxious to get out of there the next morning, to get to my car and see it in one piece. There was a drunk man in the room adjacent to mine who was singing all night long, I could hear him loud and clearly, the walls were hardly preventing any privacy.

I woke up super early and apprehensively ran to my car and was greatly relieved that it was still there and in one piece. I drove back up to Montserrat, walked down the long road to the cave; I still had another hour and a half before they opened the gate. I sat there reading, though it was so cold that I cannot remember which one of Paulo’s books I was reading. It was a freezing early morning.

 

Montserrat, Barcelona
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The walk to the cave was very arduous, especially the walk back up the hill, although it was a beautiful path with many interesting sculptures along the way.

 


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Eventually they opened the gate and I entered the shrine.048.jpg

 

There she is, the original Black Virgin. Legend says that the statue was discovered by shepherds who, after following the bright lights and the heavenly music, were led to this exact grotto where they found La Moreneta, another name for the Black Virgin.

La Moreneta, Montserrat, Barcelona
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It was around noon and a three and a half hour drive to Montsegur, France. I thought I would be there in no time.

EIGHTH TEST

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.


I felt very calm and relaxed driving towards the beautiful Pyrenees and away from the city.

 

Pyrenees, France
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I took a wrong turn somewhere
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and ended up with the cows...
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As I got closer to the mountains, I got closer to the snow053.jpg

 


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It was such a beautiful and serene drive through the Pyrenees, although I kept imagining the death of me and I would feel very strange.  I kept having this recurring thought that just would not go away; I thought, what if I skid and cannot keep the car on the road, I’ll fall down and die, and no one will ever know, and by the time they found me, I would already be dead, this would be the end of my life. What a way to die. It was an uncomfortable thought but at least it kept me concentrated and focused on the road, tense and on my toes, or rather, the tires on the road.

I was happy to see some civilization when I passed through a small town. I drove up past it but thought to stop by the ski resort there to inquire about the distance to my destination, darkness was beginning to fall again I did not want to end up sleeping in my car in the cold mountains.

 

Pyrenees
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The ski resort was a few feet ahead. With the help of the workers there, we all agreed that it would be best to go back to the village I had passed on the way up, Ax Les Thermes. It was snowy, cold and beginning to get dark, the next village was further up and the chances of finding somewhere to stay was slim.

I drove back feeling silly for not having stopped at Aux Les Therme in the first place, I could not afford to be wasting gas, but thank goodness I had not driven too far.

The least expensive place I could find was 38 euros including breakfast. It was the cutest room I had stayed in so far. It was small, with a bed, a table, and a sink inside the room, the bathroom was outside. It was decorated tastefully; colorful and flowery, and the windows looked out onto the street.

The village was bustling with vacationers; skiers, couples, teenagers, kids and babies. I strolled round town, soaked my feet in the hot water fountain, had a bite to eat, can’t remember what it was, pizza I believe. Had a drink at one of the bars. It was a fun night.

Ever since from the Phoenix in Ponferrada, I had a habit of waking up at 4 am sharp, (when I wasn’t awake) but that night, I slept through it. I still woke up early, around 7 am, ate breakfast and got back on the road.

The road was icy and covered with snow. I thought twice about getting on it, I did not have chains but nevertheless, I drove on, though cautiously. It was scary, my car did skid a few times and the thoughts of my death were back again.


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I drove in first and second gear only, until I was relieved to see a truck clearing the snow from the road. I drove on for a few more miles, and when I saw the castle from the road, I had to stop the car and get out; I had to take a picture.


Montsegur, France, castle of the Cathars
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I made it up, parked my car and headed for the half hour walk up the mountain. As I started the climb, I saw a man following behind me. I wondered if he was also on the Quest, so I took another look.  I had a moment of, he looks familiar. I turned around again and waited till he approached, I said “you are Paul aren’t you?” he would not answer me at first, but as he spoke, I was sure it was him, Paul Von Austria, from Paulo Coelho’s blog. Oh I was so happy to see him.

with Paul Von Austria
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We climbed up the mountain, had a nice chat, took some pictures059.jpg

 

Montsegur, fortress of the Cathars
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and walked back down
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ALS CATARS ALS MARTIRS DEL PUR AMOR CRESTIAN 16 MARS 1244
The Cathars, the martyrs of pure Christian love. 16 March 1244

 

In his book Brida, Paulo Coelho ties in the story of the Cathars through Brida’s discovery of her past incarnation. It is written so beautifully. Here Wicca is telling Brida about them:

“The Cathars, or the Perfect Ones, were the priests of a church founded in the south of France at the end of the twelfth century. They believed in reincarnation and in the existence of absolute Good and absolute Evil. The world was divided into the chosen and the lost, which meant that there was no point in trying to convert anyone.”

It felt amazing being inside the castle, the last stronghold of the Cathars, way up on the mountain top. The space felt rich with history.


Monségur, France
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As Paul and I parted ways, I thought about asking him if he would like to continue on together, as a team. Seeing him and bonding was a warm friendly feeling I was enjoying. It had been a long journey, I was tired, lonely and partly defeated. It had not been easy driving on roads and freeways I was not familiar with. Seeing Paul was like bumping into an old friend. Although I did not ask because I did not think he would want to. I thought, he’s out here to get the Sword, as am I, what meaning would it have if we won it together? It would not have the same meaning he or I started out with. So I drove on, all by myself again.

Since I had thought the path was not linear, the plan was to go to Viscos for the second part of the Eleventh test. I made my way towards Viscos but along the way I realized I will be passing through Saint Martin and Lourdes, test ten and twelve, so I decided to make those stops first.

Saint Martin was the final destination of the Quest, the twelfth test of the Holly Oak Tree. I wanted to go and find the location of the holly tree so that I would know where to go when the time came.  I had no clue as to the whereabouts of this holly tree. A holly oak tree . . .  must be in a church, I thought.

I had read that Paulo had an old mill in the Pyrenees, but was not sure if it was there, if he would open his house to the public like so. I had a printout of an aerial view of the small city of Saint Martin. I found a church but it did not house any oak trees.  Since the city was basically just one main street, I thought it must be in Paulo’s house.  I looked for a mill but did not see any. I drove west in the city but it was proving difficult. Somehow I could not find roads that connected so I ended up driving into the mud and feared again that the car would get stuck.

I drove out of the mud and onto a street where I finally saw another car on the road. I stuck my hand out the window and waved at him to stop. First thing I said, “Do you speak English?”

He said “little.”

I said, “I’m going to ask you a very strange question, do you know Paulo Coelho?”

Right away he said “ah yes, yes” and he made a ‘come along’ gesture. I turned the car around and followed him. In less than 50 feet he pulled over in front of a house and said, “This is it.”

I thanked him and he drove off.

For a moment, I felt a strong déjà vu. I felt that entire scene had occurred before; It felt as if I had been there before, perhaps in a dream.

I rang the bell and said I am here to take the picture next to the holly oak tree. The lady behind the intercom told me that this was the final location and that I had to go there as the final step.  I was adamant about taking the picture next to the tree thinking that since the person in the fifth test was the guardian, I would already have the picture of the twelfth test and he would check my pictures at the fifth location and I would win, then we would drive together to get my sword. Sounds funny, but I was dead serious at the time. I left a bit disappointed when she did not let me in,  but extremely happy that I had found the twelfth test and had been at the gates of Paulo Coelho’s house.

TENTH TEST

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.


Shortly after leaving Saint Martin, I arrived in Lourdes. It was pouring. Driving in Lourdes was daunting, I kept going on Mary go rounds . . .  Most of the streets were one way and only a few connected to the main boulevard.

I made it to The Sanctuary of Our Lady. I washed my face, and drank the holly water and prayed at the Grotto under the rain. I had an empty bottle of water which I filled up with the holy water.



The Grotto of Massabielle, Lourdes, France.
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Then I entered the chapel upstairs, and meditated and prayed for a while.


The Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
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It felt so safe and comforting being there. But soon I had to get back on the road again. I had to get to Viscos, darkness was beginning to fall.  

ELEVENTH TEST(2nd part)

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 created a story that does not exist.

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

It was still pouring when I left Lourdes. The drive to Viscos was dark and scary. I was driving up a steep hill on a narrow two-lane road. Although I could not see anything except only a few feet ahead. It was raining hard, and the road was slippery. I had no idea what type of a hill I was on, one slight slip and I could possibly fall off the cliff and die. I am not one to shy away from driving at night or being scared, but I was stressed and tired and could not see around me in the darkness.

I drove all the way to the top of the hill. The only hotel there was La Grange aux Marmottes, right next to the fountain. I went inside to rest for a bit. It was very cozy, the fireplace was burning, warming up the room, the sound of utensils clinking on plates echoed throughout and the delicious aroma of dinner being served was a soothing welcome.

All the rooms were booked but luck was on my side that night, they had a cancellation shortly after my inquiry. I took a hot soothing shower and slept comfortably on a queen sized bed.
In the morning I took a look around and took the picture by the fountain.


Viscos, France

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I had trouble finding my car because it was hiding under the snow. I ignited the engine to warm up the car and meanwhile used my umbrella to clean off the snow. I wanted to go into the mountains to see if I could find the Y shaped rock from The Devil and Miss Prym, but it would be impossible to find… Viscos was covered in snow.


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The drive down the mountain was beautiful. Although I had to be very cautious, I did not have any chains and the road was icy and slippery, I drove in first gear. I could finally see all the beauty that was around me.

Now only what remained were the Princess (the Celtic monolith of the Ninth test) and the Witch (the first part of the Eleventh test). The Fifth test I considered it a done deal, I had already been there, and it was just a matter of time until I returned on the 5th of February.

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 wheat 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 left Viscos, which I should not have, the Celtic monument was only a half hour walk away, but I left, for reasons explained further on.

During my initial research, I figured the princess must be Felicia of Aquitaine. Paulo writes her story in The Pilgrimage:

“Many centuries ago, a princess who was walking the Road to Santiago, Felicia of Aquitaine, decided, on her way back from Compostela, to give up everything and live here. She was love itself, because she divided all of her wealth among the poor people of the region and began to care for the sick.
Her brother, Duke Guillermo, was sent by their father to bring her home. But Felicia refused to go. In desperation, the duke fatally stabbed her there in that small church that you can see in the distance; she had built it with her own hands in order to care for the poor and offer praise to God. When he came to his senses and realized what he had done, the duke went to Rome to ask the pope’s forgiveness. As penitence, the pope ordered him to walk to Compostela. Then a curious thing happened: on his way back, when he arrived here, he had the same impulse as his sister, and he stayed on, living in that little church that his sister had built, caring for the poor until the last days of his long life.”

All this took place in Obanos, Spain. Since I had been there already and had not found the monument, I thought then it must be in France, Aquitaine, the city baptized after the princess, Felicia of Aquitaine.

Although I did not know which King it was who put food on the table, nor had I any idea where that place was where woman cook. It must be a restaurant near the monolith, I thought. Since I had not researched completely before embarking on the quest, I had not figured this one out and it was difficult to do so on the road; there were so many things I was preoccupied with, directions, the roads, the signs, avoiding getting lost and wasting time and gas, getting to a safe place before nightfall, finding somewhere to sleep, lack of internet connections, that settling down my nerves to focus was quite difficult. But when I did, I found who the King was that put food on the table; King Henry IV of France, Henri de Bourbon, born in Pau. I was sure it was him because of the following description I found on Wikipedia: 

“A declaration often attributed to him is:

Si Dieu me prête vie, je ferai qu’il n’y aura point de laboureur en mon royaume qui n’ait les moyens d’avoir le dimanche une poule dans son pot!   (If God spares me, I will ensure that there is no working man in my kingdom who does not have the means to have a chicken the pot every Sunday!)”

Well, I found myself in the middle of Aquitaine with miles and miles of grape vines and wheat fields. I was near Cadillac, no one spoke English, I did not know what to do nor where to go. I asked for the nearest tourist office. The lady spoke a bit of English but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I could not find an internet so my best bet was a Library. I thought I could find some information there. The only one nearby was in Bordeaux.

I wonder why I did not just look at the book, but I had to be on the move, my nerves were too hyped, even when I had the chance to look it over at the hotel, I could not. So I drove to Bordeaux. Oh . . .  what a mistake that was! I drove like a maniac to get there before it closed. Back in a city, I was dreading it again, literally. I spent a couple of hours in the library but to no avail. None of the librarians were of any help either, although they tried. I left the library wondering what I was going to do now.

The streets of Bordeaux were confusing like in Lourdes, they were narrow, very narrow, I could not find an internet café. I asked a couple of girls where I could find one and they were debating amongst themselves in French for a good five minutes as to where I could find an internet café. Five minutes… If I had taken off, they would have still been debating. Well, they we no help either.

It was already nighttime. Traffic was heavy, and I had nowhere to go. So I found an underground parking structure, parked my car and got out to see if I could find a place to sleep. I walked around the center of town, there were a few hotels but beyond what I could afford so, it was yet another night of sleeping in my car.

I needed to kill time until the following morning so I went to get something to eat. I saw a little shop that had these grilled chicken sandwiches with pita bread. I had had similar ones in the French Alps many years ago and they were delicious. I ordered one, then sat in the corner by the window, and what do I see?

 

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It was a little boost that I needed a whole lot of because at this stage, I was done, annihilated, feeling fragile, broken, scared and lonely.

I have never been one to quit in the middle of anything, never really known surrender. Having an Olympian mother (1964 Tokyo, in Shot-put and Discus, she still holds the record in Iran) taught me endurance, strength and seeing things to the finish line. I as well love a good challenge and fight. But for the first time I tasted the bitter taste of defeat. I was considering abandoning the quest. I thought perhaps this was my lesson, to learn to let go. Of course I was trying to find a good excuse, but I was very weary.

I have travelled extensively in the past, by myself, to third world countries and others, but on this trip, I burned out. I put so much pressure on myself that I had no more juice left to move on.

The chicken pita sandwich was very tasty. I befriended the two young owners of the shop and they let me use their laptop and internet. The connection was not good and I was having a hard time concentrating. I closed the shop with them and made my way to a nearby bar. I closed the bar as well and headed home into my car.

That night inside the parking structure I realized I never finished The Devil and Miss Prym. At the time when I was reading it, The Winner Stands Alone published, then I had to go to Rome, The Witch of Portobello was World Premiering at the Rome International Film Festival, (one of the winning films was mine), so I never got to finish The Devil and Miss Prym. I had left off just before he talks about the Celtic monolith. So that night I read on. A wave of fire rushed through my body when I read the monolith was back in Viscos.

He begins the chapter with it:

“The Celtic monolith was half an hour’s walk from Viscos. For many centuries, people had thought it was merely an unusually large stone polished by the wind and the ice, which had once stood upright, but that had been toppled by a bolt of lightning. Ahab used to hold the village council there because the rock served as a natural open-air table.”

Although I will never forget when I started reading the book. In the second chapter he writes:

“In less than two hours, all the 281 inhabitants of Viscos knew that a stranger named Carlos had arrived in the village . . . ”

281are the first three numbers of my cell phone which I have had since the invention of cell phones. Although I would love to say that he was making some sort of reference to me, but the book was copyrighted back in 2001, I had not met him yet.

I managed to get a few hours of sleep, then left super early in the morning. I could not wait to get out of the city. I headed back south towards Spain.

Back on the freeway again, I headed south. Naturally I should have drove to Viscos, but a half hour walk from Viscos could be anywhere and I wasn’t prepared to go back to that part of town so I headed for St. Jean Pied de Port.

It was a sunny day, the warmth of the rays felt soothing on my skin. I thought maybe I will bump into Petrus, from The Pilgrimage at St. Jean, or perhaps I could find a safe haven there.


Near St. Jean Pied de Port
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Into the Pyrenees Mountains
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St. Jean Pied de Port was snowy, cold and vacant. I found one bar open with no customers inside. I had a cup of tea, and spoke with the bar owner for a while. He told me that Paulo had stayed there in the past, but our conversation was not fluent, he did not speak English very well and neither did I speak French well.

Seeing that the town was sleeping, I decided to head to Roncesvalles. As I got there, I saw a few guys playing in the snow. I asked them if they knew where the Albergue was and they pointed to a nearby structure and told me to hurry up because the office was closing and the church service was about to begin.

I parked my car and one of the guys walked me to the office but it was closed. He told me not to worry that there were many beds available and that I could stay there.

We headed to church for the service. I was once again, feeling safe;  I was with pilgrims and inside a church, I felt at home. The guys were very excited because the priest was blessing the path of the pilgrims who were beginning their journey on that day. After 10 minutes of prayers, all four of the pilgrims walked to the altar and formed a line. The Father said a few prayers and blessed their journey. I wanted to go and stand in line too, but I was a pilgrim in a car, not on foot, and did not feel worthy to be standing in that line. But I stood up, next to my chair in the back of the church and accepted the blessing as well.

Later on I asked the guys if that was Father Jordi who blessed them and indeed it was. I wanted to go and talk to Father Jordi, and tell him that I was on Paulo Coelho’s Quest, but it did not work out.

After the blessing of Father Jordi, something in me had changed. I was overcome with a strong sense of reassurance. I felt blessed, safe and whole. I felt like my journey was just beginning.  I was calm, relaxed, able to enjoy my surroundings and convinced that I was on the right path regardless that I had not solved all the tests.

I thought about the Sword, and the meaning it would have for me if I found and won it. What was it about that sword that was driving me like a madman? How would I or my life change if I won that Sword? Pondering on those thoughts, the symbol of my sword became evident. I had found my Sword.

After church, I had a wonderful Pilgrims dinner with the pilgrims; soup, lamb, bread, and wine, and a fun atmosphere. We had many laughs and warm feelings of friendly bonding. One of the guys would laugh excessively every time I would say “Mucho Bueno.”  He kept making me say it, he found it too funny.

They were a funny bunch. The Asian hardly spoke any English. There were many laughs because he had gotten lost and what was a four hour walk had taken him ten hours to walk. He must have been going in circles. I had already met another Asian Pilgrim who had made the pilgrimage more than once because of Paulo’s book The Pilgrimage, it was this guy’s first time. At first I thought maybe he is also on the quest therefore being so secretive, but he hardly spoke English.

I spent the night there. It was only the five of us in the Albergue. I was the only female out of four guys.  I was eager to take a shower because it might have been another few days until I could take a shower again. I am very glad the door had a lock on it because the guys would not stop knocking, they even tried the handle to open it (they probably wanted to take a peek).

 

Before dinner
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After dinner
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The next morning we woke up bright and early. The guys went on their way and I headed down the road of Santiago de Compostela. It was a beautiful morning, I had an amazing time driving through the mountains.


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I was happy on the road and thoroughly enjoying the drive. I stayed clear of the major freeways, driving only down N-135, N-111 and N-120 down to and through the country side of Northern Spain, with its beautiful fields, valleys and small villages. The scenery was serene and beautiful, and the weather was great. I was headed to Viloria de Rioja for the Fifth test. It was already time the albergue would be open as the update in the Enigma stated.

On the way I saw signs for Astrain, I took the off ramp to the village, I wanted to see what it was about the place that Paulo named it after his Messenger, his personal devil, in The Pilgrimage, even though it was not the real name of his devil. The village was pretty much vacant like the rest of the places I had visited. I entered a bar for coffee, I had with me The Pilgrimage. I asked the bartender if he knew Paulo Coelho, showing him the book. He shook his head side to side in slow motion indicating no, and he was looking at me like he had seen the devil himself. I quickly drank my coffee and got back on the road.

Throughout my college years, I had heard a few times that I have a reading dyslexia. Although I have a good enough reason which explains why I thought what I did next.  There was an update to the Quest:  From 18/01 to 05/02 the person mentioned in the Fifth Test will not be there. In the United States we write the month first, then day, so February 5th would be written as 02/05. When I had originally looked at it, I was confused but looking at  18/01, I figured that 05/02 is February 5th, but my mind had held on to the 2 as the date the Albergue would be open and every time I looked at the Enigma and the update - 05/02 I would think February 2nd.

Well . . .  that evening when I got to Acacio and Orieta’s Albergue it was the 1st of February and again there was no one there. I drove to the next village to sleep the night and return the following morning to finish the task of the Fifth test. I returned the following day and again, there was no one there. The little old lady, the neighbor across the way told me that they are not here and they are not coming back for a while.

I said “no no, they are supposed to be here today, they are returning today” sure that I was right; I had looked over the test the night before and in the morning as well.  

She said “no they are not” with such reassurance that I ran to my car and looked at the test again, it took me a minute to see it but I realized my mistake. 

Four days till I had to be back here again on the 5th, I thought it would be a good time to go and look for the witch so I headed back down to the river Piedra. I went back to the Cazador and I started my search again.  I had no idea that the mountains of the Pyrenees formed seven valleys, but the rivers in the area created seven valleys as well, it made perfect sense, and so I started to look for the highest village in the area. Molina de Aragon, it was a beautiful 45 minute drive but when I got there, the village was a small city, much bigger compared to the other villages in the area. I doubted that the witch should be here, but since I was there, I had to at least look for her. After asking a couple of people, no one had any idea. I stopped a couple of police officers and asked them, they suggested asking Los Bomberos, the firemen. I drove to the Bomberos office, and the two firemen there tried to help me, but it was hopeless, no one knew of such a person. I returned. On the way back I stopped at the villages on the way, Campillo De Aragon and Cimballa and inquired about this witch. Some were very annoyed at my questioning for a ‘witch’ most did not know who or what a Cathar is and others helped me with no answers. I went back to Nuevalos to the Cazador. I felt like a local, everyone already knew me and if they did not know me, they had heard of me. I was Ms. Popular.

The following day I hit the road again, going to Ibdes, Jaraba, Monterde, Munebrega. Despite of it all, the drive and scenery was beautiful and serene. Disconcerted, I returned to Nuevalos and went to another bar to look over and read By The Piedra I Sat Down and Wept.

I had read of the fountain with the dove and the serpent, but for some reason I highly doubted that it would be there. Perhaps I was drawn to the river Piedra. The area was surrounded by water, lakes and rivers, and the roads and villages were safe and serene. Perhaps the pull of the waterfalls were pulling me in.

I had spoken with the bartender and he said he knew a very famous writer in Carenas who would be able to help. How wonderful!  I thought and headed to Carenas. I entered a bar and questioned about an author, one of the men was kind enough to take me to his house. After a few minutes of shouting and knocking he came out, although he was of no help either. Disappointed, I left, on my way out of Carenas, I saw a Sheppard, a real Sheppard with many many sheep. He was in the middle of the road, I stopped my car and said “una pregunta por favor” and he said in Spanish, “one answer for one question.”

Of course he knew Paulo Coelho. He did not speak much English so called his girlfriend to translate.

 

Carenas, Zaragoza, Spain
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Andres Nuño, the Sheppard. Despite the language barrier, we understood each other right away. He spoke the language of the world, he could communicate and understand the Soul of the World, he was a dreamer, just like me. It was as if I had met Santiago, the Sheppard boy, from The Alchemist.

Seems like my journey would not have been complete without having met a Sheppard boy, a Santiago. Perhaps that is why I stayed around so long.  He was certainly familiar with Paulo Coelho’s books and in fact, he was an author himself. He has a published book, Relatos del Pastor de Carenas, he also speaks on a radio show and writes a column for the monthly newspaper of Catalayud. Right away he said, “do not worry, I am going to help you find this witch” and he always said ‘no te preocupas, yo te ayuda,’ and he lived up to his promise.


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That evening, I parked my car nearby and walked with him to lock up his some 800 sheep so he could help me find the witch. We gathered all the sheep, put them in their stalls, I milked a goat, and helped feed the little ones . . .


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And even met his horse.
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For three days Andres did everything he could to help me, called every single one of his friends from the different villages and welcomed me into his home. He told me that I was going about it the wrong way, he said that people were not so open and that I shouldn’t be asking for a bruja (witch) but rather an hachicera (sorceress) or a curandera, (curer). I spent a couple of nights at his and his girlfriend’s home. It was the warmest sleep I had during my entire journey, they had a spare room with a portable heater positioned right next to me.

Even still, I woke up bright and early. During those few days, I met his family and they welcomed me into their home as well, had lunch with them, met his mother and father and sister and brother. They were all lovely and did everything they could to help me. Andres told me not to worry as I did not want to be a burden, he said it was a great pleasure and excitement that I was there and that things like that did not happen in the village; someone traveling from America to Carenas looking for a witch on a Paulo Coelho quest.


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Thyme grows wild on these mountains, there was so much of it, I brought some home with me. It has a very subtle taste and is a very tasty herb to cook with, it's delicious. I also grow some in my garden. There was also Rosemary, not as much. The Rosemary in my garden is better though, full with flavor and aroma.


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The first evening we went to the village bar, the place became packed. I showed them my picture with Paulo Coelho, it caused great excitement and joy filled the bar. The bartender brought out a magazine, I believe XL and showed me the column Paulo Coelho writes for.

I was in Nuevalos at the Cazador reading over By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, when Andres walked in, slapped a Spanish version of the book down on the table and said “I found her.” He said “look,” he opened the book and said it’s her, Teresa of Avila.

I told him I had thought that it might be her as well, but it says that she lives, “she is alive not dead” I told him.

“No”, he said “look, it makes sense, she lives in the Monastery. Her house, the Monastery, burned down, but she is alive, (her statue in the Monastery), she lives.”

I said “but she is not a Cather.” I had already looked her up and had found nothing on her being a Cather. He assured me she is and we got on the internet. We looked her up and in Spanish, it was there—Teresa de Avila, a Spanish Mystic, a Cather.

I could not believe that I had found her. I wasn’t sure about it, but it all made sense. He called a monk and asked if Teresa’s statue is in the Monastery and he said that it was, in the abbey church.

We were celebrating, we were so happy to have found her, and he was feeling very proud. We had a bite to eat, had a couple of beers and he headed home and I to the Monastery parking lot to sleep the night and wait for morning to take the picture.

During my search, Andres had gotten Federico’s number through a friend of his who knew him, Federico, Paulo’s friend. I spoke to him over the phone, I thought perhaps he would have some idea. I was going to meet him as he was to come to the Monastery the following day, but by then I had already left. As well, Andres was going to announce it on his radio show, but it did not get to that, we had found the witch, Saint Teresa of Avila.

I spent a lovely evening in my car in the parking lot of the Monastery. The sound of water was very calming, but the cold was chilling to the bone. I managed to get a few hours of sleep and again woke hours before anywhere was open. Once they opened the museum, I rushed right in, went to Saint Teresa, took her picture.

Saint Teresa of Avila and I
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Since, I have become friends with Saint Teresa of Avila, and even though she technically wasn’t a Cather, in heart she was, she was pure. Devoted her life to God, she was also known as Teresa of Jesus. Throughout Spain, she founded seventeen convents and monasteries of which the first was named St. Joseph.  She spent her life in devotion to the divine, contemplative prayer and writing. And here I would like to share one of her poems:


Let weeping be my joy,
fear my remedy for fear,
Sorrow my solace;
Let losing everything be my reward.

Let me find my love in the harrowing storms,
and my delight inside the wound itself;
let me discover my life in death
and my approval in rejection.

Let poverty be the source of my wealth,
my struggle: victory,
my labor, rest,
sadness my contentment.

Let darkness be my light;
may my greatness lie in the lowest place.
Send me up the short, steep path;
make the cross my glory.

Let my honor hide in my humility,
triumph within my suffering,
satisfaction inside my desire;
let me gain through losing.

May hunger be the origin of my fullness,
despair my wellspring of hope,
terror a cause for rejoicing;
let grieving be my joy.

May forgetting be the same as remembering,
humbling one with exalting,
my reputation nothing more than disrepute;
let failure be my success.

Let contempt be my praise,
trouble lead to tenderness,
my dignity a distant cave;
Let me prove my worth in solitude...

~St. Teresa of Avila


I made the three and a half hour drive back to the 5th test on the 5th of February and to my surprise, there was no one there. I called Acacio and he said that it is tomorrow that everyone is meeting up. I was surprised that I was not on the same page as everyone else, but I did not have internet connection.

Well, I spent the night in the next village in an Alberque and went back the following morning. I was the first one there, and soon, Paul from Austria came followed by Santiago’s Dream, and Rosa and Emilio. When I had looked at the Enigma for the first time, my initial thought was that Rosa, whom I knew from Paulo’s blog but had never met, would win, since she lives in Galicia, although I did not know if she was on the quest, so it was very nice seeing her there.

We had a lovely lunch prepared by the lovely Rosa. During lunch, Santiago’s Dream spoke about the monolith and the witch, how he met Paul from Austria at the hotel in Saint Savin, and when I heard this, It felt like someone poured a bucket of ice cold water over my head. Everyone was talking but I could not hear, I was just nodding  my head, in disbelief that I had driven all the way to Zaragoza not once, but twice to find Jacqueline. Santiago’s Dream was nice enough to offer to help me find the monolith. I was surprised that he should divulge out such information to an opponent, but I figured he must be done. 

with Acacio
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with Orietta
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with Henry (Santiago’s Dream, The Winner of the Sword)
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with Rosa
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Heiko, Acacio, Paul, me, Emilio, Rosa
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After lunch everybody started leaving, starting with Santiago’s Dream, then Paul, afterwards me. I knew that someone must already be the winner of the sword, but I was not going to give up on an assumption. There are many things that could go wrong, the pictures might not be right or they might not know the last location. So I headed to France, to Saint Savin to look for, yet again, the witch.

When I got near Saint Savin, it was dark, and I was feeling exhausted and I said to myself, won’t somebody already win this sword, and in a matter of seconds, my phone beeped, I got a text that the Sword had found a Winner.

I pulled my car over, partly sad and partly happy, and I cried. I cried for a good ten minutes, I was both happy and sad.

I got a text from Paul from Austria. I told him to wait for me in Saint Martin that I was just fifteen minutes away. I wanted to see Paulo’s house, I was not going to leave without having tried at least. We rang the bell and Marcello allowed us in. I was hoping Paulo Coelho would be there himself but he wasn’t, although it was a very pleasant feeling to be inside his house. It felt like I had made it, no matter that I had won the sword or not, I had found my sword, (back in Roncesvalles).

I liked the newspaper cutout of the pretty picture of St. Bernadette on Paulo’s desk, and I especially liked this plaque on the wall:

Words cut sharper than a Sword
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For the next couple of days, Paul and I made the drive back to Santiago de Compostela together. On the way we stopped by Acacios and celebrated Paul’s birthday there. It was a lovely time with Champagne and wine and a lovely dinner made by the lovely Orieta. I had noticed and complimented Paul’s necklace and little did I know Acacio had made it. Orieta gifted one to me.

Thank you Orietta and Acacio
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The following day we drove non-stop to Compostela, I took Paul to the airport and I spent one more night there then flew back to the States the following day.

“Love your path, without this, nothing makes any sense. If you listened to your heart before making the first movement, you chose the right path.” ~ Paulo Coelho

I did choose the right path, I cannot imagine having missed out on all that I lived through and experienced. I am ever so happy I took the journey. Thank you Paulo Coelho for an amazing experience, I learned many things, about myself, about history, I think I learned more history than I did all through high school. History was never a favorite subject of mine, but having been to these places infused with it and learning all I did, I’ve found a new love for it.

As well, I want to thank you for bringing my faith back to Christianity. Not to say that I did not believe in God, on the contrary it was the great search of my life, but I had turned away from Christianity from a young age and read on all other religions except the Bible. You have shown me Christ’s face and being on the Camino so rich with the history, made me understand many things and I thank you very much. Thank you for all that you have given me, all that I have learned from you, I cherish you.  

I think the most important lesson I learned from this quest is to be more accepting and forgiving of my mistakes. I was hesitant at first to write about my quest because of all the mistakes I made, but I learned that it is through mistakes that we learn. As well, I learned the importance of preparation.

My journey was almost surreal. I really did feel like I walked in Paulo’s footsteps, well, parts of them anyway . . . Everywhere I went Paulo was there. At first I was so adamant about getting to the Sword, just like Paulo in “The Pilgrimage,” even though I was aware of this, it was difficult to change my one track mind, until something changed in me and I began to understand the symbol of the sword, the secret of my sword. Then it all made sense, I made sense, I felt whole. Experience really is indispensable. Certain things we do not understand until it becomes our reality, we experience it for ourselves, only then are we able to really understand them and grasp them.

I would like to thank my  friend Tikran Siranians who supported me though the journey. He was a great support from beginning to end, and endured my cries and complaints, thank you Tikran.

I would like to thank all the people I met on the road, and the people who helped me in one way or another, you made the path sweet and it was through you that I felt love and care, thank you all.

I would like to thank Andres Nuño, he as well his family, gave all they could and more to help me in my quest. It was truly wonderful to meet a soul so open to the world, someone who spoke the language of signs and the soul of the world, who is caring and helpful.  Muchas Gracias Andres, el todo mundo es loco.

Oh, I am so thankful to so many people, Tomas, Acacio and Orieta, Jesus Jato. Paul from Austria, it was very wonderful having a friend to share the last days of my journey with, we had a great time, thank you Paul.

Santiago’s Dream, thank you as well and congratulations again, I feel very honored to have been alongside great Warriors such as yourself, Paul Von Austria, Rosa and Emilio. So many people whose names I cannot remember, but who touched my soul in their own way.  I am so thankful for all the experiences I lived through, experiences and feelings and emotions that I couldn’t even possibly begin to describe with words. Places I have been to that I would have never seen had it not been for the Quest of the Sword.

As Andres said, I left a part of me in all the places I visited and took parts of these places with me. I’m not the same person I was when I started out and I’m still absorbing and trying to put into practice what I learned along the way. The end of one journey is the beginning of another. I will remember this Quest with great joy and enthusiasm.

At the end of the day, what is the Sword but a symbol. All that I experienced I will hold close to my heart.  Thank you Paulo, your light shines bright in many places and thousands and thousands of miles away from you. Thank you!