For PEF and Self-Reliance purposes, Colombia is currently divided into two areas, roughly along a north-south axis. Each side has a full-time employee of the Church administering the efforts of self-reliance in the stakes and districts that correspond to each (Edgar Gomez on our side). Cali, Medellin, and Barranquilla (to which we had already booked flights for a quick tour at mission's end) correspond to the “other” area. There is no Self-Reliance couple serving there, but Jorge Cadena, the administrator for that area, has done a fantastic job recruiting local members to volunteer for service missions to the Self-Reliance programs. Unlike our side, where some of the basic infrastructure existed, they basically had to start from scratch.
We had been hearing rumors for several weeks that we might be sent for a week or so before departing in order to hold training sessions with the new service missionaries in the other area. Well, we got the tickets and the plan, and prepared to spend most of the entire week of April 21-27 among the great saints of Medellin and Barranquilla. Our plan was to share what we had learned about the Self-Reliance program and discuss the future of this great effort. Medellin and Barranquilla are both cities of between 2 and 3 million people, but much different in climate, food, and ambiance. Since our itinerary home included a stop in Barranquilla, we thought it a great idea to pack up one of our biggest suitcases with things going home and store it at the chapel where the training would take place. This would enable us to drag one less suitcase from city to city just one week later. The plan was to collect the suitcase before flying to Cartegena, then home to the U.S.A.!
We were up early on the morning of April 21, caught a taxi to the airport, and were landing in Medellin before we knew it, the flight being only an hour or so. Medellin sits in a very deep valley at about 5,000 feet, the climate being mild, like Bogota. It is considered (and we would agree) the most beautiful and modern city in Colombia. The infrastructure is in much better shape than in Bogota. The modern airport is located on a plateau high above the city. Jorge picked us up in his car and it took about an hour to get to our hotel, where we checked into our room and dropped our bags. The views of the city as we cleared the edge of the plateau and began to drop into Medellin proper were fantastic and the depth of the depression in which Medellin sits, as opposed to the surrounding mountains, is startling. In all our travels, I am not sure we have seen anything quite like it. After refreshing ourselves, we headed to one of the local chapels to meet the volunteers/missionaries. Beforehand, we tried to get Brother Cadena to define more specifically what he wanted us to discuss in our sessions, but he left it open for us to discuss what we thought was important. As a result, we prepared various outlines; the idea being to gauge the group and go where the need and the Spirit dictated. I did most of the teaching, while KR added enrichment and worked with individuals when it came to practicing techniques on the phone, etc. We met with two groups of people on Monday afternoon, two more on Tuesday, and one on Wednesday morning. The service missionaries were people of all ages and backgrounds, and had been assigned specific shifts during the week to work in the Self-Reliance Center, hence we did our training in small groups that more or less corresponded to their weekly shift times. I presented a general outline of issues and we had a wonderful time with these sweet and humble members of the Church discussing ways in which they could help the members of their stakes improve their temporal lives using the programs of the Church. We had such a great discussion during the first session, that we more or less followed the same structure the rest of the week. We received a sandwich between sessions and around 7:00 p.m., exhausted, we closed up the chapel and headed to the hotel in pouring rain to get some rest (the weather had changed while we were in the chapel). We were so tired we didn’t even venture from the hotel, having dinner in the on-site restaurant (very nice). The hotel itself was a wonderful, small boutique affair that I would use again anytime. Jorge picked us up and dropped us off at the hotel each morning (we had breakfast there). The weather stayed rainy and overcast for most of our stay, so it was hard to see the much of city. One interesting aspect that was very apparent, however, was the huge number of red-brick, high-rise apartment buildings, much like Bogota.
Pictures that follow: 1,2) Medellin nestled in a mountain basin, 3) Mike in discussion mode, 4) dinner banana chips, 5) Medellin at night, 6,7) the Self-Reliance office in Medellin, 8) KR doing phone training, 9) our Medellin hotel, 10) Mike getting ready for another session, and 11) our hotel dinner.
We spent Wednesday afternoon enjoying lunch with Brother and Sister Cadena before driving around the city a bit. Jorge is my kind of guy and we had a great time. We had a quiet dinner in the hotel then packed our bags for Barranquilla.
We were up early, had breakfast at the hotel, and Jorge was outside waiting for us. The three of us flew from Medellin to Barranquilla together. He frequently travels between the two cities in his work with the stakes and has the routine down. The following picture is KR and Jorge in the Medellin airport.
A car service picked us up at the airport and as we drove into the city we experienced culture shock. Medellin and Barranquilla are definitely different in almost every aspect. It felt like we were back in Honduras. Barranquilla is hot and humid, with a definite Caribbean flavor to its demeanor, food, language, and look. The locals are mad for futbol! Their city team had just won an important match about the time we were driving to our hotel and crowds of people filled the streets yelling, screaming and waving banners and flags. Most of Thursday and all of Friday was spent replaying our Medellin training with a new set of wonderful volunteers. Our Barranquilla hotel, The American Golf Hotel was definitely a step down from the previous night’s stay. We were confused by the name as it was NOT on a golf course. There were pictures of golf courses in the lobby, so maybe that was it. Barranquilla did not strike us as a golfing mecca. The sheets on the bed smelled like mildew and KR wasn’t enamored with the cleanliness factor, but at least there were no ants or other creatures lurking about. Mike discovered some new things during our stay - 1) dichos (sayings) that he can use and 2) limonada con coco (coconut lemonade). The people of Barranquilla use unique and interesting phrases to convey their thoughts such as, “puye el burro” – which means “speed up” (roughly “spur or jab the burro”). Such local phases always spice up one’s Spanish! Jorge also introduced Mike to limonada de coco which instantly became a favorite beverage. KR passed on the drink after one or two swallows. The drink is made with limes, ice, and condensed coconut milk run through a blender. Very tasty. Look up the recipe on Pinterest and check it out! Featured: 1) some of our Barranquilla missionaries, 2,5,6) typical Barranquilla street scenes, 3) Mike asking questions, 4) the American Golf Hotel, 7) the Rio Magdalena enters the Caribbean at Barranquilla - Colombia's largest river, 8) no seat belt necessary, 9) the future temple site, and 10) we literally yelled out the car window - escape while you can!
We toured the Barranquilla area on Saturday morning with Jorge. Seeing the location for the newly announced Barranquilla Temple was a highlight. It is uncertain when construction will begin. We were exhausted upon returning to our chilly Bogota apartment Saturday afternoon, but satisfied with what we accomplished in Medellin and Barranquilla.
We attended Stake Conference in an adjoining stake, as we wanted to say goodbye to friends there and a new Stake Presidency was being announced (no one predicted the new trio). After a quick bite to eat and a nap, Edgar picked us up for our stake training session (our last one) in the outlying El Dorado Stake.