"Being together is like catching a sunbeam; each new memory we make reflects light hinting there is more to see and know."

June 21, 2015

WEEK 18 ~ New Temples and Eternal Blessings for Peru

Arequipa, Peru
I know it seems like we are always playing on our mission .... not always.  However, because of our assignment as area auditors, we are required to travel throughout the area to meet with and train our 35 Assistant Area auditors in all five countries in the South America Northwest Area.  We finally were able to travel to the Southern half of Peru where we held another AAA training meeting in the beautiful, colonial, and historical city of Arequipa.  Before we met on Saturday, we spent two days in the old part of Arequipa, walking the four hundred year old cobble stone streets and visiting the many historical colonial buildings and cathedrals.  We felt the spirit of the area, especially as we gazed upon the breathtaking, panoramic view of three snowcapped volcanoes rising over the valley and city which was literally built from the white volcanic rock that once flowed from these three sister volcanoes. 

We stayed at the Hotel Casa Andina, a 1600's restored colonial mansion.  It is nestled in the heart of the colonial district and from where we took our daily walks to the places you see above.  The air was clear, crisp, and clean, quite a change from the current conditions in Lima.

We couldn't get enough of the unique blend of colonial Spanish and indigenous cultures.  It was absolutely amazing, a surreal combination of the ancient, the old, and the somewhat modern ... but not really.  Yes, hard to describe.  We did have a feel for the special pride the residents take in their city and surrounding beauties.

Our trip was especially "special" as we were given a guided tour of the valley of Arequipa by our dear brother Alejandro Nunez and his dear and kind wife, Mildred.  They took us to the other side of the valley where we  climbed a tower overlooking the green fields, blue skies and the three volcanoes.  We were able to see clear across the valley to the slopes of the Arequipa temple site. We then drove to the site and looked across the valley from the other direction from the temple site. It will be beautiful on the hillside under the shadows of the three volcanoes. Alejandro and Mildred are now and forever our friends, brother and sister.  Such good and humble people. Just today, we were blessed to attend the dedication of the new Trujillo temple in northern Peru. We will be there in Trujillo this coming weekend for training of the assistant auditors and will attend the newly dedicated temple on Friday.

One place we were told NOT to miss visiting was the Santa Catalina Monastery.  This really is a city within a city. At its height, the monastery housed approximately 450 people (about a third of them nuns and the rest servants) in a cloistered community. In the 1960s, it was struck twice by earthquakes, severely damaging the structures, and forcing the nuns to build new accommodation next door. There are approximately 20 nuns currently living in the northern corner of the complex; the rest of the monastery is open to the public.  We found the many arched paths and living areas fascinating.

We loved our trip to Arequipa, one of our “highlight” visits so far.  We want to return next year to experience more of this amazing valley in the ancient shadows of these towering, majestic 20,000 foot volcanoes.   Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo. 

June 14, 2015

WEEK 17 ~ New Sights, Sounds, Smells, Savory Foods and Good People

This blog is kind of a continuation of last week since our trip included Bogota, Colombia. I just couldn't get it all prepared since there were so many pictures to organize. I hope you are enjoying our experience as we see such diversity in the different countries.

Bogota, Colombia

We had arranged for a bike tour for most of the day. It was not what I expected. I hoped to see some cathedrals, plazas and parks, but instead we rode through heavy traffic, streets and sidewalks full of holes, dirt and lots of people. Sometimes we were on the back roads, then it was more pleasant riding. The tour was a good history lesson on the troubles of Colombia. We saw the National University, lots of graffiti and painted murals everywhere on every bridge, wall, building or gate. 
We passed through the plaza where riots took place, a chocolate factory (but we couldn’t go in), a coffee factory with a little tour and time to relax in the café, and the busy market with every kind of fruit, vegetable, fish and meat you could imagine. That was the best part of the whole ride.

The tour guide was kind enough to mention to us that the tour included the red light district which we opted out of. One of the young guides took us around and back to the shop where we waited for our taxi. While we were waiting, Joe engaged in a conversation with Manuel Sanchez. It was obvious he was looking for truth and is searching different religions at this time. He spoke English pretty well and we told him of the Book of Mormon and the gospel of Jesus Christ. He knew of the Church and lived close to a building, so we encouraged him to check it out and learn from the missionaries what we believe. He said he would and Joe has his follow-up information. That was such a blessing to be with this young man having chosen not to follow the tour.

After the tour, we made a very quick clean up and change to attend the temple. It is a beautiful building and we enjoyed our session there. I listen to the endowment in Spanish and each time I attend, it is a little easier to go through the veil in Spanish. This time I didn’t have a help card and did okay. It was a beautiful experience and a quiet refuge from the crazy city of Bogota.

Our day Saturday started promptly at 7:30 when Jesus Lopez picked us up at the hotel. It was a very fine meeting with both the brothers from Colombia and those from Venezuela. As US citizens, we are not allowed in Venezuela because we probably wouldn’t get out alive. It is very dangerous there and the people blame their problems on the sanctions of the United States when actually it’s their corrupt government. Even Columbia has so many problems, but I found the brothers to be of strong faith and commitment to their testimony. They were a happy bunch and we had a great meeting and enjoyed lunch together.

The people of Colombia and Venezuela have a hard life! In Venezuela, there is a terrible shortage of food and the people are only allowed to shop one day a week, and that day has to correspond to the number of their ID card. When they shop they have to stand in line for at least two hours and then, when they get in the store, they are limited as to what they can buy. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, there is no food. Those with money hire a “line person” to stand in line for them. There are no Bishop’s Storehouses so the people have to help each other.


While the men finished the agenda items during the afternoon, I walked around the mall across from the hotel. This was bigger than any mall I’ve been in!! Four levels of shops, restaurants, a movie theater, banks, food court and a play area, all set up in a maze. I actually got all turned around and came out on the boulevard opposite the hotel. Even though most don’t have money and the country is in trouble, they sure have the fine clothes and other luxuries available at the mall. Our hotel was close to a university so we saw quite a young crowd, and all the women I saw wear the tight pants fitted into boots . . . every one! Here in Lima we don’t see many who smoke cigarettes but in Colombia, we saw it everywhere BUT it is still prohibited in the restaurants and stores.

We are having a wonderful time during our few months of travel. We have two more meetings in Peru requiring air travel, one to the north of Peru and one to the south. We are always glad to get back to our little apartment in Lima. We just feel really fortunate to be able to see other parts of South America, the people and culture!

June 7, 2015

WEEK 15 ~ Every day is a new journey

 Coming in on the plane, Quito, Ecuador is such a beautiful place, green and lush with lots of hills and mountains and farming. As soon as we got to the hotel and had a bite to eat, our AAA friend, Arturo Espinoza, came with his wife, Betty, and took us on an auto tour around town and up the hill to the Quito Penecillo with a complete view of the city at night. We are standing next to The Madonna statue overlooking Quito.  Tradition says she is the one that protects the city.  We, as Latter-day Saints, also remember and think this is a sacred place as it was the very spot where President Spencer W. Kimball stood and dedicated the land of Ecuador for the preaching of the Gospel on October 9, 1965. We enjoyed the friendship of the Espinosas as we spent the evening with them in this beautiful and significant capital city of Ecuador.  

 Basilica del Voto Nacional

The next day was even better as we went to the Basilica del Voto Nacional and even climbed the bell/clock tower there on the left all the way to the top. Phew! It really took our breath away with Quito at 9,000 feet. The church was started in 1883 and not dedicated until 1988. The construction continues and legend says when the Basilica is completed, the end of the world will come.

 Cruz Loma Tram
Betty Espinoza took us on the Teleferico tram straight up the hill where we enjoyed the site of Quito during the day spreading in every direction. The height was about 15,000 feet and quite cold with spectacular views. 
Presidential Palace
This palace is used as a home for the family when the cabinet meets or other political business. The presidential address given to the people is also given in this building. It was really nice to see the beautiful gifts on display throughout the rooms given to Ecuador from other countries. We even saw the crystal bowl as a gift from Hillary Clinton. The huge bouquets of beautiful roses, almost 100 roses in one vase, were incredible. Some of the arrangements were arranged with large pieces of driftwood. 

Center of the Earth, the equator just outside Quito. We went to the traditional monument which was quite uninspiring. It was pretty costly to get in but the monument was not much more than a monument and a lot of tourist shops. With a little detective work, we found another rival museum a short walk up the road, the Inti’ Ñan. We really liked that one with better displays and visual experiments to interact with the magnetic forces at work. It was pretty amazing. We saw a sink of water that swirled one way in the north hemisphere, on the line the water went straight down and, on the south of the line the water swirled the opposite direction. There were a few other experiments that defied gravity and reason because we were at the center of the earth.

The displays of tribal life at the Inti Nan represent the ancestral culture in Ecuador, that of the Waorani tribe and also the Quichua people. There are two pictures of real people as of the last five years, people who are currently living in the Amazon jungles of Ecuador. There were ritual artifacts on display as well as hunting, fishing and basic living tools.

June 6, 2015

WEEK 14 (continued) ~ "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20

This is a continuation of our trip to Ecuador last week. These blogs will also be used to create our mission book when we get home. We can't possibly share all our pictures but there are a lot of them here!

In conjunction with our meeting with the Assistant Auditors, we met at the Guayaquil temple for a session together. It was in Spanish but the spirit was great and the temple so beautiful. I went through the veil in Spanish. We met at the Kennedy Stake Center for our training meeting with left to right Richard Prado, Alturo Espinosa, Gustavo Villacres, and Carlos Purunacajas. We were staying at the Hampton Inn which was close to everything.

We walked to the Bolivar Park after church last week. That was a unique experience because it was full of iguanas, big ones, and they were very friendly. Many of the people were feeding them lettuce so it was fun to watch. We walked around the Metropolitan Cathedral which was typical of the Catholic churches. It was just loaded with beautiful flowers which are so plentiful here. The Metropolitan Cathedral was right across the street.
We walked up the hill Las Penas with 468 stairsteps to the top. There was a little lighthouse and small church at the top with a wonderful panoramic view of the city and river. It was pretty hard on Joe’s knees so I’m glad he was at least able to do it. It was a unique walk up with the little shops, residential houses and gardens, and cobblestone streets with art galleries. Joe bought a bottle of water at the top from a local street vendor. He was so thirsty I had to ask him if the bottle was sealed . . . it wasn't. Poor Joe, in the garbage can in went!
We went on a tour of the mangroves just south of Guayaquil. In the map at the top, the brown area is where the mangroves were. Also with us on our tour was Richard and Jo Webber. They were fun to be with! It was a great experience, first with a canoe ride along the river to see the birds and mangrove forests. The river empties into the Pacific Ocean so it rises and falls with the tide. One of the pictures above is a man coming out of the swampy jungle with a catch of crabs for the day which is when the tide is low. He has as many on his back as he has in the front. The crabs always leave a hole and the men just reach in and pull them out! It is unlawful to collect the females which is evident from the larger holes. Also in the little pictures is a wasp nest, a nest of baby rodents, a tarantula in a hole, our two guides Mario in blue and Jairo in white, mangos high in a tree, the mangled tree roots that fall out of the top of the trees, and a tree trunk that looks like a rose stem with thorns.  The second part of the trip was a hike in the beautiful jungle where we heard the howler monkeys in the trees but we couldn’t see them. They were very loud!

Week 14 ~ It is said that "man can't live by bread alone" ...... but chocolate sure helps

Hello all.  Sorry it's been several weeks since our last blog.  We had a ten day trip to Ecuador and Colombia for training with our AAAs in those two countries.  We wanted to begin this blog entry with our first stop  in Guayaquil Ecuador.   Come enjoy the journey with us!  In this blog section we begin with our trip to a small cacao finca where we met the Lara family of 10, 9 sons and a daughter, Ninfa, who is the "heart" of this delightful small family business.

Ninfa showed us her family cacao finca that was started with her grandfather.  Now she and her 9 brothers, father and mother run this marvelous 15 hectare (about 38 acres) family farm.  She showed us the process from start to finish of how they get from the planted seed to the finished chocolate.  In these photos we start with:
1. Planting of the best cacao seeds taken from the cacao pods on their farm
2. The seeds are grown in small black plastic bags that keep the seed warm and moist
3. The seed grows (in about 2 weeks) into a seedling which are sorted into the best of the best
4.  Can you guess how many seeds are planted during an 8 months period  ...... by hand?
     (over 100,000)
Here Ninfa is showing how they speed up the process of getting the cacao trees to produce fruit.  When her grandfather and then father began this cacao farm, it took four years for the seedlings to grow into a producing tree.  Some years ago Chinese came to the farm and asked if they could show the family how to "graft" small branches from mature producing trees into the seedlings.  They spent days "schooling" the family on the process.  Now these hybrid seedlings grow to mature trees in about a year.
 Once they reach maturity, cacao trees flower continuously during the entire year. The flowers of the cacao tree are tiny pink and/or white five-petaled blossoms. They are found on the trunks and lower branches of the tree, while in general, trees produce their flowers and fruit only on the smallest branches. Botanists refer to this phenomenon as cauliflory. Fewer than 5% of cacao flowers are pollinated.  These flowers can only be pollinated by small, gnat-like midges that can work their way through a cacao blossom's complicated parts.
It would seem that only 5% of the flowers producing fruit would not be very productive, however we learn that this is natures way of thinning the tree and allowing the "correct" amount of pods to grow, not burdening the tree with too much weight.  Even then workers need to prop the branches up to prevent them from breaking and destroying the tree.  Amazing how mother nature takes care of its own. 
Cocoa beans, the base for making chocolate, are the seeds of the cacao tree. They are found inside the cacao pods, surrounded by a sweet white pulp. Each pod contains between 20 and 60 cocoa beans. A variety of chemicals, including theobromine which is very similar to caffeine, give the seeds a bitter flavor. Beans can only germinate within 2 weeks of being harvested. When monkeys, birds, humans or other animals break open the pods to reach the delicious sweet pulp, they spit out the bitter-tasting seeds. This is the clever adaptation that the cacao tree evolved so that its seeds hit the forest floor and sprout into new trees.  We tried this sweet pulp.... yummy!
After showing us the orchard of cacao trees and pods, we were shown how they harvest the cacao beans and remove the pulp surrounding the beans.  Most of the pods on this farm are picked and then sold to larger companies that separate the beans and pulp.  The process of getting the cocoa bean to a dry state ready for grinding into chocolate is explained this way:
1.   Harvesting involves removing ripe pods from the trees and opening them to extract the wet beans. 
2..  The pods are harvested manually by making a clean cut through the stalk with a sharp knife    
3.   The pods are opened to remove the beans within a week to 10 days after harvesting. 
4.   The best way of opening the pods is to use a wooden club, striking the central area of the pod, causing it to split into two halves.  
 5.  After extraction from the pod, the beans undergo a fermentation and drying process. After 48 hours the pulp begins to separate from the bean.
 6.  The beans are left to dry and "die" at which point chemicals are released that allows for the breakdown of the cocoa bean. 
7.  When they are completely broken down through the fermentation and drying process they are ready for dry roasting. Here we see Ninfa's father, Estalin, with me stirring and heating the beans in a big cauldron.  
8.  When ready the beans were put into a hand grinder and at this point the pressure of the grinding made the beans release a dark chocolate paste, Estalin then mixed it with a little brown sugar and then made us some hot chocolate. Diane said it was the "BEST" Chocolate she had ever tasted.  

Estalin also was delighted to talk to us and told Diane and me, that we were the first Mormons ever to visit his finca.  We were honored to be his guests.  Maybe his little grandson will remember us happy gringos who loved his grandpa's cacao farm!