The mood was pretty relaxed back at Aussie Central on the night of the Final Mass. Groups wandered back at various times during the afternoon or early evening, depending on how long they stayed at Copacabana or whether they headed back to Rio straight after the event. Most arrived back late in the afternoon and, for once, the students had a little extra time to shower and start the process of packing.
This would be the pilgrims last night at Aussie Central, their base camp in Rio for the past week. Tomorrow, everyone would fly out of Brazil for Iquazu Falls on the Argentinian/Brazilian border. It was a two-hour flight which had been specially chartered, and people would be leaving at different times, from 6.00am in the morning to 9.00pm at night. So back at AC, there was packing to do, and some groups who ate earlier in the day headed out to find somewhere to eat for their last night in Rio DeJaneiro (on Sundays in Rio, virtually everything shuts down with only a few cafes and some fast food restaurants remaining open on limited operating hours, so finding somewhere reasonable to eat that close by was a challenge).
Everyone was still pretty weary from sleeping out on the beach the night before. I would not underestimate how physically and emotionally taxing the whole experience of the past few days had been for us all. There had been two trips back to Copacabana, one being a 9km walk carrying a 3 kilo backpack, two huge WYD events, the sleepout, negotiating the massive crowds on both days, as well as the always-exciting Rio metro or bus system. A few groups held short reflection sessions on that last night but it is fair to say that most students were in bed and asleep pretty early. Hardly surprising.
I was on the 6.00am flight out of Rio which means that the bus to take the few of us who were on that flight to the airport arrived at Aussie Central at the insane time of 2.30am. I was writing and uploading photos onto the blog until about 1.00am so there was no point in going to sleep for hour an hour so I had a shower, drank two cups of the strongest coffee I could stomach, double-checked to make sure I had everything packed and eventually wandered down to the bus pick-up area.
The chartered flight out of Rio on andes.com airlines was pretty uneventful although when we arrived at the airport at 3.00am, we were greeted by a group of Venezuelan neoecumenical Catholics singing in full voice, accompanied by a bank of guitars and percussion instruments. It was all good fun for the first song or two but they had a whole set to work through and at that time of the morning, and with no sleep (there were a few of us operating in that mode), I started wondering if they would considering taking requests - my first being to take a two-hour break.
Eventually the band packed up and we checked in, went through all the usual painstakingly slow procedures of security and immigration checks (every country has its own unique way of doing that stuff, but it doesn't seem to matter how it is done, it always seems to take so damn long!) and we eventually found ourselves in the Gate 9 departure lounge, with still a lot of time before the scheduled departure.
There were only 7 of us on this flight and we were travelling with another Sydney pilgrim group but not a school group. Even as tired as I was, I really enjoyed this rare opportunity to sit and chat properly with members of our small travelling group, some of whom I had spent little time with over the past two weeks. I was reminded (not for the first time on this trip) just how many good and generous people there are on this adventure). We talked about some of the things we had seen and experienced over the past few days and the time became a bit of an informal debrief - for my part, a much-needed one. Being in the company of good people is energising; I was now more wake than I had been for some hours.
That changed when I sat down on the plane. I am a chronic poor sleeper (especially on planes) but almost from the time I planted my backside on seat 1C , my eyes closed over and I thought that I just might get just a little bit of sleep this time. However, like a lightning storm that promises plenty and delivers nothing, nothing happened. I persevered for a while, then gave up even trying. My colleague next to me slept little either so it was good to have someone to talk to for the remainder of the trip.
Iguazu Airport is located very close to the border of three South American Countries - Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There is actually a point not far from the airport where the borders of the three countries actually meet at a single point. The airport itself was about the size of a largish regional airport back, say like Bathurst but despite being smaller, there was no escaping the long processing queues. Eventually we got through without incident and were met by with our guide and mini-bus driver who quickly loaded up out gear and started out for the hotel which was only 15 minutes away.
It was refreshing to be out of the city air. Glen Thompson, one of my Bus 1 colleagues, talks about each city having its own unique smell - I think he is right. Once you have been there for a while, you become acclimatised to it, but on arrival, it is distinctive and dominant. Rio had a kind of musty, stale-air smell; here, it was sharp and clean and fresh - and much welcomed.
The weather on our arrival was bright and sunny and so were out spirits when we saw the outside area of the hotel we were staying at. It was situated on a huge expanse of land, there was large pool and spa out the front, an enclosed mini-soccer field and volleyball court and landscaped grounds. They had breakfast waiting for us which we all loaded up on. We then checked in and find our respective rooms.
Sadly, the spledour of hotel's exterior was not matched by the accommodation. It was 1960s scout camp style: tiny rooms, fitted with two sets of double bunks , a small bathroom and that's about it. Oh well, no matter, we are on pilgrimage after all! There are four of us in together, and we will manage just fine.
The rest of the bus groups arrived in two main batches - around lunchtime and in the evening. Once they had checked into their rooms, there was dinner, Mass and for some groups a short reflection, a scurry to get onto the limited wifi available here just to make sure that the world as they know it is still operating (and check Facebook and Instagram) and bed. Tomorrow is a day of great expectation and promise: a visit to one of the natural wonders of the world - the mighty Iguazu Falls that straddle the boarder of these two might South American countries. It will be one more special day on a trip that has seen many special days. I expect our cameras will get a workout tomorrow. Will post up some pics as soon as I can.
A big thanks to all who have sent messages via the blog or email - they are very much appreciated by us all. We are close to the end now, but I suspect there remain a few more surprises to come yet. Stay tuned, you were hear of them...