Just before I came back to my hotel room in downtown Buenos Aires, David Cloran, the man most responsible for putting together the WYD pilgrimage, told me that the first group on their way home has just touched down safely in Auckland, the final stopover on their journey back to Sydney. Other groups are also on their way home too. The last three flights carrying Sydney Catholic school WYD pilgrims take off at various times tomorrow, from 6.00am in the morning to 9.30pm in the evening. I am on the second of those flights, the 8.35am one, which means a 4.20am bus transfer from the hotel. That flight gets back to Sydney around 6.00pm on Sunday night.
We all arrived in BA at different times over a 24-hour period, depending on the time of our flight out of Iguazu. All of us got away safely and compared to some of our other journeys, with relatively few problems. We were all booked on normal domestic flights for this leg of the trip so perhaps that made things easier with no need to undergo immigration checks. We were also flying out of a smaller regional airport so there were fewer queues and much less waiting. My flight touched down at around 12.20am and we were at the hotel by about 1.
We began the day with Mass at the main Cathedral which is just a short walk from our hotel. It was in fact the former resident Church of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who we now know as Pope Francis, before he was elected to the role of leader of the universal Catholic Church earlier this year. It is a beautiful Cathedral and the Mass was concelebrated by our WYD pastors, led by Fr Michael McLean. After Mass, the bus groups then had had various amounts of time (depending on whether they were scheduled to fly out today or tomorrow) to have a wander around BA.
We all seemed to stay pretty close to the main shopping strip, the Florade. This is a traffic-free promenade about a kilometre long. It begins just around the corner from our hotel and finishes at the start of one of the city squares where there is also an entrance to the subway. Florade is a crowded, bustling shopping strip with a mix of banks, electronic retail stores, boutiques, discount warehouses, cafes, fast food joints and artisan markets. And from one end of the strip to the other, there are also hordes of very dodgy-looking come-uppers trying to convince unwary tourists that they should exchange with them whatever currency they are carrying for Argentinean pesos. We were warned about these guys by the guide who met us at the airport last night. We were told that we should not do business with them under any circumstances. None of us did (in fact I never saw anybody at all accept their offers of a currency trade) but some must because there were literally hundreds of them.We walked, and shopped and had coffee (it was great to get a decent cup of coffee after so many weeks) and ate lunch, and shopped just a bit more before all meeting up again to head back to the hotel for our final night together.
Most of the students and staff that I spoke to today seem pretty keen to get home now. It has been almost three weeks away and I guess they are missing their families and friends. Most will charge head-on back into the routines of everyday life: school, work, weekend sport - you know the drill. I am aware that a couple of people have tagged on some additional leave to spend a bit more time travelling or resting back home before taking on work again.
I feel weary tonight although I have not had a taxing day. Sorry, I have little to offer by way of reflections or thoughts on the last few days or the previous weeks. Tonight I am thinking of other things. I will probably write just one or two more posts, soon after returning but will keep adding photos and video reflections from the students and staff from all of the groups in the weeks to come. Hopefully the students will be keen to have a look at the pics of their experiences when they get home. While I have done my best to encourage every bus group to send me photos while we have been here (I put up more from bus 3 yesterday), the pace of travel has not made it easy for them and for the majority of time, they have had limited access to decent wifi. So if you will bear with me for a little while yet, there will be a bit more to come.
Here are a few pics from the Mass at the Cathedral this morning and a couple of BA.