The road to forgiveness.

Day 8 – 24th September 2015, Cizur Mayor to Puente la Reina.

Hello friends!

Thanks for staying with me so far. I do hope you will continue to journey with me!

So as I was saying, our happy band of pilgrim-travellers arrived safe and sound at Hostal Casa Azcona in Cizur Mayor. This means the cumulative total kms I have walked so far is 72.9 km (approximately, you understand if you know the Camino guides), which leaves about 724.2 km to go to Santiago de Compostela. Jolly good, this seems like some progress…ah but only one tenth of the distance covered (oh God, I’m turning into one of ‘those’ pilgrims, who obsesses about every kilometer travelled…)

Laurie and I were up reasonably early, in the dark, to take advantage of a good breakfast before an epic climb up to Alto del Perdon, which means ‘Mount of Forgiveness’. Today’s leg of the Camino (approx. 18.8 km) would be quite challenging in terms of long ascents and sharp, rocky descents, so we thought it best to get a wriggle on. Unfortunately, Alan had succumbed to a nasty bout of food poisoning and needed to rest a while before beginning the trek, so we went on ahead and wished hima speedy recovery.

First of all we had to find our way back to the Camino de Santiago proper as we had veered off to our Hostal. I was grateful for a map the nice lady on reception gave us, on which she had marked the best route through the housing estates to the trail. Confident I set off with map in hand and navigated for Laurie and I. About 45 mins later we were still walking around in a massive circle, while the local kids were going to school. My bad – we had overshot the turning and I asked for directions. A few minutes later we picked up the trail and it was pilgrim rush hour!

It was a beautiful crisp and clear morning, the sun was out and the sky was cloudless. The trail pretty much stretched out ahead to the foot of the mountain. Oh boy did it look steep and the long line of white windmills loomed into view, standing strong like sentinels. According to legend, once upon a time, many years ago, a pilgrim ascended Alto del Perdon, but he was struggling. He was hot, tired and thirsty. Just then the devil approached him to offer him some water if the pilgrim renounced God. The pilgrim refused his help and sent the devil on his way. There are two versions of the ending of this story – one version tells of a group of bandits on the mountain, who, seeing the pilgrim, offered him some water in a scallop shell; the second account describes an act of faith, for the pilgrim prayed and suddenly a spring of water appeared. This spring exists today, see below, but can you see a devil or a bandit?


Just before the really steep ascent, Laurie and I stopped for a coffee break at the little shop next to La Posada de Ardogi in Zariquiegui. I must admit I do look forward to my morning ‘cafe con leche’ breaks! After that we pootled over to the beautiful church of San Andres. Here we received a lovely stamp for our pilgrim’s passport. I can honestly say that this little church felt holy and a ‘thin place’. I decided to light a candle for Denise Thiem, who tragically lost her life on the Camino, after her disappearance in April. I dedicated the light to her and offered up a prayer for her and her family. I cannot imagine their suffering, knowing their daughter had been killed. The Mount of Forgiveness, led me to wrestle with thoughts about how difficult it must be to forgive someone, who has killed someone you love. How does a person find within themselves the power and will to forgive such an act? It is a tall order indeed. My thoughts meandered to and fro along this theme. I reflected, how practicing forgiveness, although tough, can release anger and pain, from the body, mind and spirit and lead to a healing of sorts. I was reminded of the truth and reconciliation or community justice courts called ‘Gacaca’ in Rwanda, that were put in place after the genocide and after I had left my humanitarian mission in the Rwandese refugee camps in Tanzania. These courts had a profound effect on survivors and perpetrators alike and brought communities through a painful process of forgiveness towards healing. I then began to wonder what kind of world we would have if there was more appetite for redemptive and restorative justice instead of locking people up (where inmates can learn from the best criminals) or, in some countries, instead of committing acts of torture, amputation or doling out the death penalty…

I stepped outside and my pilgrim friends Laurie and Silvio, lifted me out of my sombre reverie by re-enacting a scene from the film The Way, where Sarah (the Canadian) approaches Joost (a Dutch guy) and says “Hey have you got any drugs?”, to which Joost replied, “Oh, I love this girl!”. I guess you have to watch the film to understand what I mean, but here is a glimpse…


Silvio is a lovely chap from Panama, who we met at the albergue El Palo de Avellano in Zubiri. He happens to travel with a rubber chicken called Camilla (he assured me she bears no relation to Prince Charles’ wife), that has piercings. There is a pun in there somewhere but I can’t find it at the moment…

Anyway I digress, onwards and upwards we climbed towards the massive windmills. As we got nearer and nearer, I could hear their powerful vwooming sound as the blades rotated. I looked around and was amazed at the sheer number of them stretching out along the ridges of hills like a necklace. I offered up a quick prayer of gratitude that Spain had invested in producing renewable energy in this way – great gain for the planet! I remembered conversation Alan, Laurie and I had a couple of days before, about how important it is for countries to integrate their various modes of generating renewable energy, such as wind, solar, wave and tidal power instead of investing in only one or two and also improving storage of this energy.

Eventually, as the sun was baking down on us, we reached the top of Alto del Perdon, took the obligatory photos next to the bronze statues of pilgrims, while battling cross winds and then began a very sharp descent down towards Uterga, Muruzabal and Osbanos. By Osbanos my knees were grumbling and I was hot and not a little bit knackered. I began to day dream about lemonade…you know the traditional, cloudy kind made from real, freshly-squeezed lemons? Just as I propelled myself up yet another steep incline of concrete in the town, my eyes nearly popped out of my head! Was it a mirage? Was I hallucinating in the heat? There at the side of the road was a brightly coloured kiosk, where a boy (who must have only been about ten or eleven) offered home made lemonade in exchange for a donation. Laurie and I took a glass each and it was sheer bliss! How is that for prayer or ‘law of attraction’ in action? The lemonade gave us both a lift and a much needed boost of energy to finish walking the remaining two kilometres or so into Puente la Reina, where we stopped for the night at the Albergue Jakue, where you can actually get private rooms at a good price! Result – not a squeaky bunk bed in sight, but the evening pilgrim meal was a little bit surreal. I ordered chicken and received a plate of pork stew and chips instead…how very odd I thought, perhaps Camilla the chicken had somehow intervened…

Tune in next time for another exciting episode…

Peace, love and light,

Sarah xxx


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