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Avila, Spain

15 August 2011

Thursday week 1: San Sebastian beach, City and Avila by Andrew Aiello
St Teresa of Avila: I loved St Teresa of Avila because I was interested in seeing how she lived and where she lived. I felt the house was small and wandered how she could live in a place like that.
Cathedral: It felt like home when I was in the Cathedral, I really enjoyed it. I loved the art work and the pictures.
Castle walls: I really enjoyed the Castle Wall of Avila because it looked ancient and it must have taken a long time to build.


The hotel at Avila was palatial. Enormous space for us to use and great views of the walls. We had the morning to tour Avila. 88 round turrets in a continuous wall of about 2.5 kilometres. It was medieval Europe in front of us.

We had an hour and half drive to Madrid airport where we boarded the plane for an hour flight to Malaga. From here things went downhill in terms of personal comfort but up in terms of being on an emotional Oblate high. There was no bus to collect us so after over an hour a bus was arranged. Arriving at our accommodation, a girls secondary school (unfortunately on holidays from the boys’ point of view), we were told not to get out of the bus but for a few of the boys to get out and place the big bags into a room and then on the bus again. We raced to the gathering place, got off the bus and were hit by the chant USA, USA as this mob of Texans were about to cross the street and hit us like a wave. Immediately competitive bonding took place as we responded with an Aussie Ooi Ooi whilst at the same time the Anglo Irish contingent rounded another corner. Chants and counter chants broke out and during the next 5 minutes Italians, singing Southern Africans, a tidal wave of Polish Canadians with their very loud hymns. These were followed by people from Hong Kong, Swaziland, China, Uzbekistan, Mexico, Sri Lanka and many more. After many minutes, the Americans broke into various other groups and started the mixing process. The ubiquitous camera that sometimes withdraws the photographer from the scene in front of the camera was this time the cause of people losing a sense of personal space and bonding in the strongest way. Cheek to cheek with smiles, laughter and the obvious joy of a common Oblate spirit it drew the most culturally different people as they posed for the camera. Groups formed and then reformed with a snap of the camera. It was wonderful to watch and participate. Flashing our meal tickets we entered a stadium and received a surprisingly good meal of meatballs and pasta, dairy dessert, chips, can of pespi and bottled water. Having seated us in the stadium it became like an American College Basketball game with massive chants, Mexican waves as country after country tried to outdo the other. However in brotherly and sisterly love smaller nations had their name proclaimed loudly by all as new chants were created. It was tough to settle down but a rock band provided a great segway into a more reflective part of the evening. We were treated to 3 sets of Spanish flamenco dancing and singing, interspersed with hymns by a rock band, flag procession and hearty Spanish welcome.

The euphoria had a chance to die down afterwards with a long 40 minute walk back to our accommodation. The name Carlos (Carlos could be heard constantly was called), our young Spaniard guide had trouble communicating. Our El Salvadorian, Spanish speaking Carlos was called upon to interpret – he was the most popular of our students. The boys did not mind the walk though at least some mentioned, rather than complained, of sore feet over the coming days.
The accommodation proved quite a shock for some. 65 people into a gymnasium slightly larger than a Basketball court, 4 showers and 8 toilets. Now approaching 1 am and many, who weren’t busy talking to the Spanish girls, were ready for sleep, but a hasty meeting decided to sleep the Oblate Youth in an inner courtyard. Open to the skies this proved a wise choice as the Mazenod and Iona boys on the second night slept there with its cooling breeze and more private setting. Still the beautiful tiled floor was a bit hard for some. The boys must be commended for their ease in which difficulties were accepted. Immediate groans were very few and it can be honestly said that I have received only one demanding complaint during the whole trip. Pretty impressive for a week of people being asked to go beyond their comfort zone. That is the life of a pilgrim.

A sleep in till 8 am – wow was it needed!! Breakfast at 8.30 am – what did we have?? Bread?? Of course. Then a beautiful Mass accompanied with the Irish and Anglos. Led in songs by the Oblate Youth with guitar playing by James Edwards, our souls were transported to God on the wings of prayer and song. Fr Fini powered the sermons with messages that connect so much of what we experience.

The day was a walking tour – we know our feet intimately – with the one armed one (the incomplete Cathedral with only one of the corner spires completed) impressive for its emotional art often of a tied, persecuted and sorrowful Jesus.

The afternoon we walked (again) to the beach where most Oblates were gathering. Beach Volleyball in the water, throwing balls, dunking others and generally mixing. All the walks are made enjoyable by the presence of about 10 young Spanish secondary students – mostly female. Many hearts will be broken. They are full of life and the fun and chatter is continuous. They are pleased to experiment with their broken English and constantly call Carlos when more is needed. The Irish, there are some Welsh, Scottish and English amongst them, are also our travelling companions. The walk (yes again) back from the concert was an experience of the Irish. Bringing up the rear Anthony Guiliano, Angus Carney and a Queenslander had a long conversation with two English Irish lasses exploring the differences in English between Irish, Queenslanders and Victorians. Piff (to throw) was declared a Victorian word, Peg was an Irish word to run to escape someone. Accents were copied and great joy felt by all. Walking is good for the fitness and wonderful for the spirit and unity of the world.

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