Saturday, May 26, 2012

You have to be THIS skinny!

Paula had her first ride on the local buses today.  They are all old diesels, and you just hang your hand out when you see one with the correct sign in the window and they shriek to a stop in the middle of traffic and pick you up.  
Really, I don't know who maintains the brakes on these things, but they are deafening.  
Anyway, you leap on, and the bus lurches back in to business.
Remember the signs at the amusement parks?
Well, the difference is, in Bogotá, your BMI (Body Mass Index) has to be under about 19 (normal range 20-25) to fit through the turnstiles on the bus.  No wonder people in Bogotá are slender.  They have to walk until they burn off enough fat to fit through these things.
As you are seriously sucking in your gut, the bus swerves off again, and the guy sticks his hand back and you pay him 1,500 pesos (about 80 cents), and you're off.  
When you get where you want to go, you stumble to the back, hit a button and he lets you off wherever the bus is at the moment. 
At last count, there were 15,895 licensed buses in the city, all of them with shrieking brakes.
Anyway, we hope that all your public transportation is as much fun.  And that your turnstiles are more forgiving.  
Dave & Paula

Monday, May 21, 2012

And I don't even HAVE a bucket list!

Just when you think you've pretty much seen it all in Colombia, you learn otherwise.
We had the good fortune of accompanying President and Sister Casablanca of the Bogotá South Mission for five days last week to Leticia.  Pull out your Colombia map (or use the one below) and you'll remind yourself that it's the absolute southern point of the country, and in fact sits in the Southern Hemisphere, part of the half of Colombia called the "Amazonas."
You can't get there from here, unless you have an airplane ticket, or take a boat up the Amazon from Manaus, Brazil for about three days.  There are no roads to get there, and we're not kidding.
The purpose of the trip was to reorganize the two branches of the Church, in to Portuguese and Spanish units. 
That's because the Colombia/Brazil border runs through town, splitting it into Leticia, Colombia and Tabatinga, Brazil.  The border is marked by some pretty substantial-looking saw horses with some fierce-appearing stripes.  At least on the side of the street heading in to Brazil.  
The Colombia side has an official-looking booth, but no saw horses.  Looks like the guy in shorts is being brutally questioned by the guy he woke up in the booth.
The difference on the two sides of the border was stark.  There were at least three signs we saw that said something in Portuguese.
However, as far as you run, you can't hide anymore.  They found me on the end of my cell phone.  The signal may have gone through the Brazilian towers, because my phone has quit working, having hit its $$ limit for the month.
It's Colombia, and a couple hundred yards from the Amazon, so it had to rain.
And, it had rained a lot.  The Amazon was up about 15-20 feet, and the saw horses and planks had to come out to get to some parts of town.  If you look closely, Sister Casablanca (in pink) is trying to squeeze to one side so the guy with two suitcases on his shoulder can get by.  We could hear a lot of discussion with a Puerto Rican accent going on.
With several very-musically-talented missionaries in town, a nice program was given on Saturday night.  Don't let the picture fool you; he doesn't really play.  The violin, that is.
After the practice on Friday, 
President Casablanca treated the missionaries to dinner at a local bizarre restaurant.
Here, Paula is trying to decide between the piranha bolognese or the anaconda filet, while the missionaries slug down the guarana by the bottle-full.
What was swimming in the Amazon yesterday may show up on your plate today.
I was brought along to try and cement a previous accord with one clinic, and explore other facilities for the missionaries' health care.  The small clinic/hospitals were modest, but their managers were proud of their capabilities, and willing to pursue contracts with the Church.  Whew!
OK, maybe not all the medical facilities were modest.  
The above billboard-size sign heralded the presence of the local herb/bark/dead-animal-parts store, which claimed, among other things, the ability to cure, all at a reasonable price, the following:
Amazing!  Hard to believe, in fact impossible to believe!  On the other hand, the reasonable price... The proprietor took a look at the President's bad toe, and prescribed a bottle of dark stuff ($3.20) to take by mouth and apply directly, and by the way, it's good for the prostate.  And the gall bladder.  And his hair may come back.  
The preferred method of transport in town was definitely the moto, meaning motorcycles, motorscooters, motorized bicycles... and the three-wheeled taxis imported from India.  If I'd only had the key we could have escaped - maybe to Brazil!
Sister Casablanca loves her grandchildren more than we do ours, and also has a shipping allowance when she goes home at the end of June, so she hit the local tourist shop for t-shirts.  We relaxed with a Quattro at a street table, and realized that the umbrella was not only for the rain, but to protect from the 1,543 green parrots roosting for the night in the tree overhead.
The President declared Saturday to be Preparation Day (usually Monday), and we all headed to the Amazon.  For you engineers out there, these are average boats, propelled by a Honda industrial 10-25 horse motor on a pivot, with a 10-foot shaft tipped by a mean little propeller.  Be careful where you swing that thing, pardner.
We, on the other hand, partook of the luxury of the Marisol II, flagship of the fleet.
Like I was saying... believe it or not, in the middle of the Amazon, they can still find you.
We stopped along the way upstream at a couple of flooded bumps in the road.  (If there had been roads.)
Paula charmed not only the locals, but also the wildlife.  It was that or the crackers.
While I did my best pirate imitation.
Speeding upstream, we arrived at Monkey Island, which surprisingly is full of monkeys, starting from a colony originally begun by a German guy who bought the place and who is now doing time for drug running.  The island is being argued over by the Colombian government and his family.  The government has more guns at the moment, so they're collecting the admission fee. 
The island, like everything else, was flooded, so we had to approach stealthily, with the Honda running wide open.
Stealth, was however, not needed.  Bananas were sufficient.
As soon as we got within leaping distance, they were landing on our heads and grabbing the stuff.
 It was every monkey for himself.  
 They were actually nice little guys, no biting, no inappropriate bathroom use.
Once all the inhabitants of Monkey Island were full of bananas and ready for a nap, we headed down river.
 However, no tourist-type trip would be complete without a stop to see the neighborhood ocelot.
 I've been called a sloth, but it was the first time I'd held a sloth.  They are indeed, slothful.
Having read "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" to kids and grandkids until it was memorized, grandma just had to hold one.  Luckily, it must have been full of bananas also.  We counted and granny still has 10 digits.
Back on the river, I was thrilled to see a real-live, rust-bucket diesel river cargo carrier, complete with assorted livestock, barrels, people, boxes, and about 6 inches of freeboard, heading up river, about two days to Iquitos, Peru.
On the walk up from the dock, I discovered another product of the jungle - 40-watt fluorescent bulbs, growing right there by the hotel!  Listen, people; if we expect to continue to reap the wonders of the rain forest, we've got to stop it's destruction!
Like any true jungle explorers, it was time to hit the pool.
The Conference on Sunday went well, with all in attendance thrilled at the new organization of the Branches.  President Casablanca did a masterful job of picking the new leaders, explaining it all to the members, and Sister Casablanca even gave a talk - in Portuguese!
Because the Casablancas finish their three-year assignment at the end of June, there is an excellent chance that they wil never see any of the missionaries assigned to Leticia again; most come from Latin America.  As we were about to leave the hotel, the missionaries gathered, and with tears in everyone's eyes, sang "God Be With You 'Til We Meet Again."  It was a sweet, poignant moment indeed.
It was altogether a great trip.
We hope that your fluorescent crop is also good this season! 
Dave & Paula 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Super Cali ( know the rest)

We had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Colombia Cali Mission last week, which includes much of the western portion of the country, including the cities of Cali and Medellin.  President and Sister Prince are the delightful couple leading the Mission.
Cali itself, as President Prince explained, is built on the edge of a valley, backing up to the Andes, "exactly like Denver and the Rockies."
"Except there wasn't ever a Denver Cartel.  And Denver doesn't have a 120-foot concrete statue of Christ. Otherwise, they're pretty much identical."
The President, who in his former life as an executive with Freddie Mac visited 50 different nations, says there has to be a factory somewhere cranking these out, because they are everywhere.  "I believe this is their 35-meter model."
The view out our bedroom window from their apartment stretched up in to the real mountains.
At one point, we flew from the Medellin airport
(what a beautiful sunset-in-the-air picture!  Only, notice the clouds.  That means it's raining underneath.  In Colombia?!  No!!)
to Cali, where the Super Cali Zone Conference was held, with about 100 missionaries in attendance.
Because of a previous shortage of typhoid vaccine, we held an impromptu vaccination clinic, with Diana, the nice nurse from the nearby Red Cross helping out.
Lunch was catered by a local member of the Church and her friends, complete with one of the larger soup pots I've seen (note the physique of the attendants), black from the wood fire.
We were also privileged to attend Zone Conference in Pereira, which is located in the heart of coffee country.  Remember Juan Valdez?  Seemed like a pretty simple country guy?  Well, he must have gotten a good business manager, because there are Juan Valdez franchises all over the place.
The hotel where we stayed overlooked the two most common and hallowed institutions in any medium-sized Colombian town - the local Catholic church, and the local Éxito department store (yellow thing behind cathedral).
We took a couple of hours on Saturday morning to visit the well-known and well-done National Coffee Park, a truly interesting and lovely place.
I learned more about planting, growing, harvesting, processing, drying, roasting and packing coffee than I have ever known.  President Prince commented, "Yes, Colombia.  We have everything a Mormon could want - coffee, marijuana, cocaine, tobacco, some great wines...."
Of course, what would any visit to a National Park in any country be without the obligatory pictures of your face set in the local costume?  Eh?  That's Juan Valdez Henderson on the left.  Some cute Colombiana on the right.  Hey señorita - wanna grind some coffee beans?  Eh?
Back at the hotel, I noticed that they had gone way overboard trying to make a guy from North Carolina feel at home.  Look closely - though labeled "Salchichas," they are sublabeled "Viena Especial."  That says Vi-eeena sausages to me, and that means Good Eatin'!
We ended the trip by attending a truly sweet District Conference in Armenia, in which the Bogotá Temple President and his wife (couple on left) and President Prince and his wife spoke.  Paula was honored to be included on a panel of women who were questioned by the men in the meeting as to what women of the Church feel is important, and I was proud that she gave her opinions in Spanish. 
It was a rewarding visit, including the tours of local hospitals and the early stages of accords for the care of the missionaries.  The beauty of the country and the people continue to amaze us, as well as the loving care and inspired leadership of the Mission Presidents.
May all of your views be as lovely, and your Viena Sausage supply be plentiful wherever you are.
Dave & Paula