Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Different Hats We Wear

They wear them on airplanes
They're worn in a pool.
 We wear them as tourists,
Or just to look cool.
We wear them on birthdays.
  Or hiking through trees.
They're worn in apartments,
So Granny won't freeze. 
 We wear them in salt mines,
they cover our head.
In Bogotá's "summer,"
we wear them to bed.
Hats are for working,
    or just fun to wear.
Hats are a blessing
    for us with no hair.

We hope that you have lots of nice hats!
Paula & David   

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Take only pictures, leave only bribes!

To continue our trip with Mike, we left Ibagué on Tuesday morning, and started up "La Linea."  Here's the profile of the trip.  The vertical-ness is not exaggerated.  
La Linea is part of the main route for transport of commerce from Colombia's Pacific port of Buenaventura to Cali, then on to Bogotá, cities of 2.5 and 10 million respectively.  That means a lot of loaded semi's, winding slowly up one curvy road.
The views were huge, with mountains disappearing up into clouds.
Road signs were provided by the Colombian Department of the Obvious.  This one means "Dangerous Curves," and if one had been placed on each such bend in the road, you'd not see the views for the road signs.  
This one indicates the valor one must possess to pass over this particular bridge.
 La Linea finally topped out at 10,700 feet, but not before we had a full-blown CCE (Colombian Cultural Experience) at about 10,000.  And I'm not talking livestock here.
Waved over to a police checkpoint, I gladly opened the trunk, then the luggage, then the dirty clothes bag, then the shampoo bottles... Disappointed that he couldn't find any contraband, the police guy then brought me over to his 'desk' of sandbags, shaking his head sadly that he was going to have to give me a ticket for crossing the double yellow line.  "Huh?! Say WHAT?!!" Every single solitary vehicle on La Linea that day, and the day before, had crossed the double yellow line, including the old guy ascending on his bicycle.  
The police guy looked very sorry as he informed me of the $500,000 (Colombian pesos - about $300 US) fine that the ticket would bring, and that of course we would not be allowed to leave the country without first paying it.  "Wow!" I said, in nervous, not-so-good Spanish, especially since he was now in possession of our passports, my North Carolina driver's license and our Colombian ID cards, "I never recognized the infraction!"
"Well, what can we do here?" he asked, looking me in the eye.  "Uh, I don't know," I said, "What CAN we do here?"  Once again, he asked, "Señor David, WHAT CAN WE DO HERE??" I again expressed lack of knowledge of possible alternative actions.  Rolling his brown Colombian police guy eyes at the naivety of this gringo, and wondering how such matters are disposed of in the United States, he suggested, "OK, Señor David, you ask ME, 'What can we do here?'" 
As I did so, the light finally blinked on in my naive gringo brain - I was being hit up for a financial transaction that might not show up on the records!  "Yes, I see, officer, this matter will present difficulties!  Is there any way that I could, perhaps, possibly, maybe pay a portion of the fine here?"
Relieved that he had finally gotten through the language and stupidity barrier, we got down to brass tacks.  When I pulled out my wallet, he looked quickly around, his Colombian police-guy sensitivities highly offended, and led me around behind the sandbag desk where we could interact in a more civilized fashion.
Once the transaction had been completed, we continued onward into the clouds, topping out soon and starting down.
Our next CCE involved not recognizing the number of Texaco stations in Armenia, in the heart of coffee country on the other side of the La Linea.  
This was important when we couldn't find the little country-farm hotel where we had reservations for the night.  I finally called, noted that we were next to a Texaco station, and caught directions from the rapid-fire Spanish speaker on the other end.  We followed them exactly.  It didn't look like any little country-farm hotel we wanted to stay in.  ("How did they make those pictures lood so good?")
We finally figured out that the proper Texaco was somewhere across town, and found the "entrance."
However, once we got past the well-camouflaged entry, it turned out to be a great little place!
The rainbow was a good sign.
Everyone kicked back and relaxed, and no, that's chocolate she's drinking.
The next day, it was off to the National Park of Coffee, arriving by beautiful country roads.  We rode the gondola,
and the train around the park,
 and of course checked out coffee beans,
and strolled through some unbelievable bamboo,
and answered questions about appendicitis.  I am not making this up.
 It was a nice day in a beautiful place.
After a restful night back at the finca hotel, with cows mooing in the background, and little birds twittering, and crickets chirping, and ..... zzzzzzz... it was back up "La Linea," which was not as restful.  
They are gradually straightening out the road with bridges and tunnels, the work being due to be done in about ten years.  No, hold it.  That was the estimate about 15 years ago.
The final CCE was Thursday afternoon and evening in Girardot, at the comfortably warm altitude of 1,200 feet.  We stayed there in order to avoid a fine of (I'm not making this up) $500,000 Colombian pesos if we had been caught back in Bogotá with the wrong last number on our license plate for the day.  The Hotel Tocarema had been originally built in the 1950's, but had become a big place for narco-trafficker conventions before it was confiscated by the government.  Now, it's just a nice, old funky hotel with some great swimming pools, which after a water-activity drought of two years, Mike really enjoyed.
Underwater yoga.  The sessions were relaxing, but short.
A relaxed, warm evening, 
then back on the road to Bogotá.  Mike packed up that evening for the trip on Saturday to LA, then on to Provo to start BYU for fall semester.
All in all, a great ten days with Mike, and a chance for some CCE's.  He's excited to get back to school and see friends and get on with the next phase of life.  
We hope that your Cultural Experiences aren't as costly, but are as interesting.
Dave & Paula

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

He's here! He's here!!

Mike, our 21 year-old youngest son, arrived "home" on Wednesday night, after completing his two-year mission in the England London South Mission.  No one in the family is in Raleigh, so the Church returned him to us... in Bogotá!
It was pretty cool, having all three of us with name tags!
Upon returning home, missionaries are interviewed by the local Church leader over the area, and "released" from being a full-time missionary.  Since we're about 6,000 miles from North Carolina, this was accomplished thanks to Skype, a new method for a release.
So, what do you do when you get home from your mission?  You buy banana leaves and make tamales.  Duh!
 So, anything else?  Well, you can take the cable tram up to the top of Montserrate, to the old cathedral, which has been updated with great lights, as all old cathedral should be.
 The view from the top is spectacular.
And, you don't have to go very far, like a couple of streets from the apartment, to find some mountains to ascend,
also with a great view of the city.

You've got to catch up with friends online!
And play guitars with the Bishop and his family!
Yesterday morning, we packed up and taxied to the rental car place, only to find that they weren't open because someone had wrecked one of their cars, and we'd have to go to another rental place, and...
Anyway, we finally got out of Bogotá and headed south, descending through the mountains to warmer environs.
 Today we're in Ibagué, a beautiful city in the foothills of the big Andes, with what can only be described as a perfect climate. 
 Mike got to swim for the first time in two years! 
 And loved it!
Hot-tubbing is also on the "thou shalt not" list for missionaries.  But not when they get "home!"
Those smiles are not faked.
After another swim this morning, we're heading up over "La Linea," the route for most commerce heading from the Pacific port of Buenaventura to the interior, and which tops out at about 10,000 feet crossing a branch of the Andes.
We hope your "home" is as interesting as ours for the next while, and that your kids are also doing well.
Dave & Paula