Unlike our trip to Rome, my Catholic youth group's trip to Fatima was "just" a pilgrimage. No service aspect, just visiting the place where Mary appeared to three children and discussing and meditating on our faith.
We flew to Lisbon from Frankfurt. I thought our chaperones were saints then for dealing with a plane-ful of kids, but the chaperones who do this sort of undertaking post 9/11 must have the patience of Job or just be really, really insane. Especially in Europe where there's no such thing as a "non-smoking flight."
There were two things I noticed about Portugal by the end of my first day there: a distinct lack of cows on the countryside and an average height of about five feet for the population. The lack of cows often made its way into conversation whenever we sat down to eat something like a burger. I think we decided that all of our red meat must be coming from the lambs we saw everywhere. As for the height, well, that just made picking out other folks in our group very easy, to the chaperones delight. We could be spread out over an entire block in a thick crowd on its way to mass, but you could wave to nearly every single one of us without standing on tiptoe. This average height issue caused problems in the hotel. I wasn't quite my full 5'8" at that point, and I had to contort myself to see the top of my head in the mirror and sleep hugging my knees so my feet didn't dangle out in the cold off the end of the bed. I feel really bad for the tall basketball players in our bunch. Must've been a very uncomfortable trip.
I don't remember much of what we did on this trip: breaking out into discussion groups on the cozy roof of our hotel, trying to sing along during the Portuguese mass by intoning "Watermelon" over and over, twisting my tongue around the name of the Portuguese currency (Escudo, which didn't quite sound like it looks), subsuming simple Portuguese phrases into silly use (muchos abrigados is all I remember, and somehow my friends and I started calling each other "muchos" for the rest of the trip), playing card games late at night, and attending a candlelight vigil.
In fact, the most detailed memory I have of the trip was when we were trying to find the starting point for the Stations of the Cross hike. One of our chaperones kept directing us around the esplanade, telling us the stations started just over here, just a little further, etc. Finally he stopped in front of the bathrooms and, smiling as if he was so darn clever, said, "Here it is." We were all just a tad confuzzled. Then he pointed to the sign that said "WC" (for the European "water closet", aka the bathroom). When we still looked at him like he had Escudos coming out of his ears, he said, "See? WC. Way of the Cross." I think we would've found his joke more amusing had he not led us on a five minute trek through the Sanctuary of Fatima. This wouldn't have been so bad had it not been surprisingly hot that day. (In fact, it was so hot that one of our gals got sun poisoning. Well, it didn't help that she stayed out on the roof of the hotel without sunscreen or shade for three hours or something; I think she wanted a tan.)
The other snapshot I have of the trip was one of the guys singing the Gilligan's Island theme song whenever he was late to a meal or meeting. He did it very well. In fact, he did it so well, that I think a few of us were purposefully late once just so we could try to outdo him with some other song (obviously, we didn't succeed in our task if even I can't remember which song we sang).
I wish I could remember more of our discussion groups. It seems rather sad that I went on a pilgrimage to a remarkably holy site and can't remember anything of the metaphysical there.
Next Week: I'll complete the Catholic Youth Group Spring Break Trip Trifecta with a recounting of our trip to Lourdes, France, 1996.