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Monday, November 20, 2017

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Buenos Aires

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After an exhausting 14 hour flight from Sydney, we were welcomed to Buenos Aires, Argentina by Pablo our tour guide! Tired and hungry, we had a delicious steak dinner at a local diner and went straight to bed!

After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to explore the neighbouring suburbs of Buenos Aires. We first visited the iconic Floralis Generica which is a large metal flower that opens its petals with the daylight. We then went on to visit the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires which was where Pope Francis was once the Archbishop. It was fascinating to celebrate mass in the crypt of this Cathedral.

We travelled to ‘La Boca’ which is home of the Tango dance and the famous soccer team and had some time to explore the local shops here. We drove past a few more suburbs, ports and shanty towns which opened our eyes to the reality of how fortunate we are. We visited the Plaza de Mayo where stands the famous political buildings such as the Pink House where the president resides.

Our afternoon consisted of free time to explore down town and sample the local cuisines like empanadas. We then gathered as a community to have dinner together back at the hotel. Loving Buenos Aires so far, Buenos noches to all, Hasta manaῆa!

Colonia Del Sacramento (Uruguay)

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Saturday brought us to our third country in three days. The groups trip to Uruguay began with an early start before the sun rose. After breakfast we made our way to the ferry terminal in southern Buenos Aires. During the wait, we spent the time getting to know each other better and share our excitement for the day ahead. Our story of 'The One Day in Uruguay' started with a walking tour of the area surrounding the wharf, in and around the old town of Colonia del Sacramento. We were welcomed by our tour guide, Maria, who was kind enough to share her knowledge and experiences of the historic town. The walk took us through century old structures and ruins, including some which have been left in their original state. One such building was the famous lighthouse of the town that is still in frequent use today.
 We were then lucky enough to be able to sit and reflect in the oldest church in Uruguay, the Matriz Church. The church was very simple in its design compared to others of the same time period but this simplicity created a beautiful and reflective atmosphere for the pilgrims. Fr. Fini then led the group in mass in the chapel within the church.

After a community strengthening mass we travelled along the vibrant streets by foot to La Pasiva, where we enjoyed a wonderful and traditional Uruguayan lunch named Chivito.

After lunch we were free to explore the town and truly experience a new culture. People chose different options and some included walking the streets and exploring the multiple shops, museums and cafes. Others decided to venture either by foot, hired bike or golf cart to the Plaza de Toros, a bull ring, a few kilometres north of the old town. The journey along the shore offered beautiful views of Buenos Aires across the water and an unforgettable sunset. The arena was a spectacular sight and gave those who went a good indication of the history and traditions that once existed in the area.

 The day came to an end at the terminal waiting for the ferry as each person in the group shared a bit about themselves and a highlight and a challenge they have experienced so far in the pilgrimage. It gave everyone a great opportunity to understand and get to know each other better and really added to the strength and trust of the group.

 We travelled home tired but thoroughly enjoyed our experience in Uruguay. We will all be able to take some new knowledge and unforgettable experiences and share them with many for years to come.

Lujan

After an exhausting Saturday, we were allowed a much needed sleep in for today. The continental breakfast served at the hotel was once again delicious. However many of us were still getting accustomed to having cake for the first meal of the day! 

With a 9am departure, we made our way to the city of Lujan to visit the Basilica of our Lady of Lujan. The area of Lujan was settled primarily by the Gauchos - the South American version of the cowboys- and the geography of the area consisting of flat plains coupled with plenty of vegetation made for perfect cattle breeding grounds. It was here that our Mother Mary appeared to a Gaucho and this subsequently lead to the establishment of the Basilica as a place of pilgrimage.

On our way there, our tour guide Pablo gave us a detailed history of the Gauchos complete with a number of props. One such prop, was the famous poncho which we found that the Gaucho had many uses for in addition to shielding them from the elements. We also had the opportunity to try Mata-a traditional South American drink. Made from leaves of a native shrub and infused with spices, it's brewed by adding hot water and then served in a decorative gourd. The brew tasted very much like green tea that had gone off and was certainly an acquired taste. 

Arriving at the Basilica, we were greeted by one of the most impressive churches we've seen on this trip. The Basillica is an architectural neo gothic masterpeice, with exquisite statues and engravings on the exterior and an intricate gold and marble alter inside. We celebrated mass in the crypts which was an interesting experience to say the least. The area could best be described as a thoroughfare, with hundreds of people chatting away, merchants advertising their souvenirs and announcements blaring over the PA system and thus many of us found it difficult to concentrate during mass. However, the environment coupled with Fr. Fini's sermon made us realise that life is certainly chaotic, challenging and full of distractions, but as Christians we must focus our lives on Christ in order to discern his mission for us. 

After mass, we then made our way back to the hotel to freshen up for a formal dinner followed by a Tango show. As Tango originates from Buenos Aires, it was certainly a cultural experience not to be missed. To add to the excitement, the whole group took part in Tango lessons before dinner which gave us a greater appreciation of the complexities of the dance. The show was spectacular and a perfect way to conclude our short stay in Buenos Aires! 

Posadas

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Iguazu Falls

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