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