We were up early and left Pamplona by 0630 reaching Cizur Menor in under an hour. Time for coffee and a quick breakfast. Tortilla and coffee – pilgrim fuel.
We climbed steadily past the ruins of the 16th century Guenduláin palace, church and pilgrims hospital – a castle/monastery complex once built for the protection of pilgrims – a stark reminder of the risks faced by the early travellers on this path.
The views were amazing over the rolling fields with the ruins and forest in the distance. The Brierly’s Guide tells us that:
It was over this ground that Charlemagne’s army defeated Aigolando’s Musim army in the 8th century.
At one point, we passed a memorial for a Belgian pilgrim. We paid our respects, and used the nearby seats under the tree to take in the beautiful surroundings.
We walked on to Zariquiegui (pron: Zarikegie) where we received a warm welcome and had a wonderful dinner with our fellow pilgrims.
We wanted to stop here in order to get an early start and catch some photos of Alto del Perdon (Mount of Forgiveness) at dawn. From the path, we could see tomorrow’s destination in the far distance.
The dorm room had bunks, which we shared with some wonderful friends and we had told them of our plans to be out before dawn to get up to the Alto del Perdon before sunrise.
We had pre-packed so it was just a matter of quietly slipping the sleeping bags down and out the door with our packs to pack outside and get going.
Sure enough, we crept out and set off up the path – with our headlamps on. We arrived among the steel sculptures amid the gentle susurration of the wind farm all around us. The colours were just starting to show on the horizon, so we had the place to ourselves. We had even beaten the coffee cart’s arrival.
The concept of the Mount of Pardon is that in climbing it you are forgiven of your sins past and present. Tradition has it that pilgrims who reach the summit gain forgiveness of your sins, and your spiritual health was guaranteed for the rest of the route in the event of your death. I eyed the circling vultures warily…
The place invoked the concept of forgiveness – which in so many ways is of course about forgiving oneself and enabling one to go forward in life with the reset button pressed and the cached baggage of our lives cleared – at least for the time being. While this does hang on the concept of an omniscient all-seeing God, like the deepest surveillance fantasies of paranoid conspiracy theorists, I prefer to turn it around.
For me, forgiveness is about one’s conscience, one’s sense of what is right or wrong and that inevitable comparison we make between our imperfect selves and the ideal represented by our conscience. It is the distinction between the ideal self and the one we live with on a day-to-day basis.
The unfortunate part of modern living is that the past – as our conscience is wont to remind us – is immutable. We cannot change our past, but at the same time, our conscience reminds us constantly of our failure to live up to our ideal self.
In a sense, the concept of the Alto del Perdon is precisely what Alain de Botton was getting at in his book Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion. And that is, that there are some psychologically healthy aspects to being able to let go of the past, freeing oneself to focus on how we intend to look to the future.
Religion provides a means to do that through the concept of forgiveness of sins – a project more difficult for the atheist in the absence of an all-seeing and all-forgiving compassionate God. Fundamentally, forgiveness is about letting go of emotional baggage, and accepting that we cannot change who we have been or what we have done, but the Camino also provides a space where we can position ourselves to move forward into the future – a future that is not set in stone, but rather is contingent upon our future choices and decisions, guided once more by that image of the ideal self.
There is something very healthy about that.
The El Perdon mountains at 770m also marks 700km to go – and that means we have already covered our first 100kms.
The sculptures are by Vincente Galbete and they are called “when the route of the wind crosses that of the stars” Very evocative! The steel sculptures evoke the succession of pilgrims across the ages, stoically battling winds and weather to make their way into their future. So too, we make our way from here amid the storms of life and into the future we build for ourselves.
As we were preparing to go, one of our Camino friends caught up with us with exclamations of surprise – she had asked others in the dormitory if we had made it out early, only to be told ‘no, I think they’re still asleep’. She took a couple of photos for us against the sculptures before we turned to go. The coffee cart arrived as we departed.
Meanwhile, the sky gave a spectacular show of colours from a deep orange through indigo to the purest deep blue. And it was time to pick our way down the steep loose shale towards our next destination – think walking downstairs on a mix of marbles and lego… And we were again accompanied by our camino guide – the robin…
It is a good feeling to have crossed the first 100km safely.
INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the beginning, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
here is a link to the index page – which can also be found in the navigation bar at the top of this blog