April 28-May 2 The Last Week

Monday April 28

Trying to squeeze in a few sightseeing trips before leaving Colombia, we hired a driver and headed to Fusagasuga to visit a coffee plantation. It is located an hour by car from Bogota (supposedly), in the mountains to the west, along the land route to Cali. We relaxed while our driver battled the traffic getting out of the city. Within an hour, most of the heavy traffic disappeared and hillsides covered with thousands of houses changed into hillsides covered with green trees and bushes. Winding our way through little towns, we finally arrived at a large, red metal gate with a sign indicating we had arrived at our destination.

Once inside the locked gate, we traveled along a tree-lined lane which opened up at the end into a beautiful, lush yard/garden filled with flowers and beautiful trees and plants. A well-kept, older home sat in the middle of the property. The owners formerly lived in the house with their family, but now live elsewhere. A nice young man served as our guide and we happened to be the only two on the tour. We strolled through the gardens, enjoying a bit of history about the farm and the family who owns it. When we got to the coffee plants, we learned a lot (probably more than we needed) about how to care for and nourish the plants and harvest the berries. We then proceeded to an area where the harvested beans (removed from the berries) were dried. A single layer of beans covered a flat area on the roof top of one of the buildings. Off to one side was a roof cover on wheels which could be slid into place to protect the drying beans at the first sign of rain. We observed the grinding and roasting process and surprised our guide when we declined to taste freshly brewed coffee. We did smell it though, which he appreciated! We now understand why good coffee is so expensive. It’s quite the process from berry to liquid! We are still not sure if we really saw the modern process though, as what we saw was pretty low-tech. This particular farm produces a high-end, gourmet coffee that is sold in small quantities under their brand name. They still use very traditional growing, harvesting and processing techniques and equipment. Our driver was a bit annoyed that it took so long to do the tour (Mike asks way too many questions), as he was afraid the darkness would overtake us before we got to our other stop.

Mike previously read up on the waterfalls around Bogota and told the driver he wanted to see Tequendama Falls. He agreed and we soon discovered why he gave us a funny look. We hustled back toward Bogota. as we were losing our light. We left the main highway and wound down a steep mountain valley, where we hit the Bogota River (unfortunately downstream from Bogota) and followed it a couple of miles to the waterfall. Salto del Tequendama is a 515-foot waterfall, located about 30 kilometers southwest of Bogotá. Nearby El Abra and Tequendama were the first permanent, dated settlements in Colombia, their earliest habitation dating back to 10,000 B.C. The river surges through a rocky gorge, narrowing to about 60 feet at the brink of the falls. Tequendama Falls has the dubious honor of being the largest wastewater falls in the world. Liquid waste from Bogota is flushed, untreated, into the Bogotá River at the lower edge of the sabana, a few miles upstream. This was the smell and sight that assaulted us when we first spotted the river. The locals commented, “Just try it on a motorcycle.”

What is truly sad is that the falls are absolutely stunning and the location breathtaking. The overwhelming smell, black sewage water and brown suds lining the banks obviously ruins what could otherwise be a great national treasure. Perched on the edge of the canyon overlooking the falls is an old, abandoned hotel (the reason why it was abandoned also very obvious). It has been the site of many suicides and is said to be haunted. As we looked over the valley in the diminishing light, the stench and the crumbling hotel made the whole experience a little creepy. We did not stay long. As we climbed into the van to leave, flickering lights appeared inside the hotel, moving about, just as described by hundreds of witnesses whose experiences were recorded on the signage out front. Chills shivered down our spines until we spied a watch-e-man exit the side door! There is talk of reopening the hotel and cleaning up the river – let’s hope some progress can be made in that direction. Darkness descended as we exited the valley and made our way home after a long day. Shown below: 1) Fusagasuga, 2) the coffee plantation main house, 3) KR inspecting the maturing berries, 4) Mike inspecting the drying beans, 5) Salto del Tequendama, and 6) the haunted hotel.

Tuesday April 29

We arrived at the office gate this morning at the same time as the Amaya's and both of us had mountains of bags filled with food and clothing. Hermano Amaya even had a guitar strapped to his back. We knew it would be a fun day! Within an hour, the office bustled with people and activity as the preparations were underway for our special farewell party under the direction of Hermana Amaya. We had no idea what they had planned. A leader from Bucarramanga, who was scheduled to meet with Mike for training this morning, called to say a protest in Boyaca had completely blocked the road, he was unable to pass, and would come tomorrow instead. It was actually a good thing, as the "party program" began at 11:30 a.m., followed by "almuerzo" (lunch) at 1:00 p.m.

Several days before, we were asked to prepare a skit. Not having much time to prepare anything, we fell back on some rather dumb magic tricks looked up on the Internet. When we sat down to begin the celebration, we noted a printed program had been prepared to the very last detail. We looked at each other and quietly groaned as most of the presentations were REAL talents! Maria directed the program beginning with a Powerpoint presentation about the various regions and customs of Colombia, which would be represented by our beloved missionaries. The Cely's performed a musical number, with Hermano Cely singing, and Hermana Cely singing a response to some of his words. The Amaya's performed a traditional number, in costume, with Hermano Amaya playing his 8-stringed guitar. The Olayas presented a traditional dance, in costume, from the colonial era - complete with a black top-hat for Hermano Olaya! The Amayas sang/danced another number, followed by sweet thoughts from two of our young volunteers, Camilo and Mateo. We then presented our dumb magic tricks, which they actually thought were kind of funny. Edgar, our director, finished up by sharing his heartfelt feelings, which got tears going. Sniff, sniff. Lunch was a delicious chicken and mushroom soup served in bread bowls, green salad, fruits, plus a pasta salad and Impossible Pie by Kristi (using up the last of our apartment food). A traditional cake was dessert. Gilma Preciado and Hermana Cubillo, two of our CAS especialistas, also joined in the fun. We will miss these people. After the party, we closed the office and all caught taxis to enjoy a temple session together. Did we mention we will really miss these people? We attacked our packing with earnestness in the evening.

Wednesday April 30

On our last day at the Self-Reliance office, we finally finished the cleanup and organizing that began four months earlier. Hopefully, like good scouts, we left the campsite better than what we found when we arrived. Our Bucaramanga lost sheep showed up and we enjoyed a final training session with him. We hope some of the work we did here has some lasting effect. We picked up our new passports on the way home without incident. We got the larger ones with more pages as our current ones have run out of space! Our packing received an A+, as it looks like we will get everything in our suitcases and not be over our weight limit.

Thursday May 1

Our cleaning lady came to help us spiffy up the apartment, while we finished packing. The Amaya’s came by to say farewell, which is always difficult when you may never see dear friends again. President Andelin and his wife invited us to the mission home for dinner along with several elders who were leaving the next day also. I (Kristi) helped Hermana Andelin with the final preparations, while President Andelin interviewed missionaries. When it was my turn, he asked what my favorite part of the mission was. The tears began flowing and I managed to blubber, “The wonderful people.”

Dr. Piepgrass and his wife joined us for dinner also. They always add a fun and lively element to any gathering. After dinner, all the women quickly did the dishes and put the food away as the Andelin’s were flying out that evening for a three-day conference. As we rode down the elevator with Dr. Piepgrass and his wife, the thought came to ask her where their new apartment was. (They previously lived in our apartment, but had problems with asthma there). I knew it was nearby, but didn’t realize how close until Hermana Piepgrass waved her hand towards the other side of the street. For some reason I can’t explain, when we exited the elevator, I asked her to point out the specific building and set of windows which were their apartment. As we finished saying goodbye out front of the Andelin’s building, the president’s car exited the parking garage and we waved goodbye as they drove past, heading to the airport.

Since it wasn’t that far to walk home, Mike and I started down the street. Two blocks later, I started feeling cold and thought, “I wish I had brought my coat with me.” Immediately, panic struck as I remembered that I DID bring my coat with me and it was hanging in the closet at the Andelin’s apartment! My heart started racing as I realized my cell phone was in the coat pocket as well, along with the ONLY KEY to our apartment (where all of our belongings sat by the front door neatly packed in suitcases).

A speechless Mike stood on the corner while I turned and started running back to the Piepgrass apartment. Praying all the way, I thanked God that I knew where they lived. Knocking on the glass door of the lobby and ringing the bell, the guard inside came and opened the door. I rapidly explained that it was an emergency and I needed to talk to Dr. Piepgrass immediately. He looked at me suspiciously until I showed him my missionary nametag. Giving me the apartment number, I raced up the stairs and rapped on the Piepgrass door. Dr. Piepgrass opened the door dressed in his pajamas and I quickly explained the situation necessitating the use of their cell phone to call the Andelin’s before they boarded the plane.

The doctor’s phone was dead and his wife’s was almost out of battery, but the call went thru. The Andelin’s were just boarding the plane and said that there should be an extra key at the office and that the office elders should still be there. I called and was so relieved to hear someone pick up the phone. I explained the situation and the elders said they would look for the key, then meet us in front of the Andelin’s building.

Thanking Dr. Piepgrass and his wife profusely, I walked outside and began looking for Mike, who didn’t have a clue where I had gone, since he hadn’t heard the earlier conversation in the elevator about the location of the apartment. I spotted him wandering down the street looking for his wife. We parked ourselves outside the Andelin’s building and waited for the missionaries. When twenty minutes had passed, we began worrying that they hadn’t found the key and began making contingency plans for breaking into our apartment to get the suitcases and passports. Breaking the glass panel next to the front door wouldn’t work, as the lock is a keyed deadbolt and the key hung in the kitchen about five feet away from the door. Just as we were beginning to lose hope, we spied two young men striding rapidly up the sidewalk. When we saw the black missionary tags on their suit coats, we breathed a sigh of relief. In short order we were into the apartment, retrieved the coat, and were on our way home, key and cell phone in hand.

Our last night in our little apartment was a mixture of sadness and great joy. We were so excited about going home to see our family.

The pictures are: 1) Luz Marina, our cleaning helper, 2) our final dinner with the Mission President, and 3) the bags packed and ready by the front door.

Friday May 2

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MIKE! A beautiful morning dawned as we snapped our suitcases shut and waited for Andres and Pilar, who had agreed to come with their car and take us to the Marriott to drop our suitcases. The rest of the day passed quickly. The Calixtos took us to Andres’ military club for a delicious birthday lunch, then to a wonderful bakery where we enjoyed some pastries. Next was a trip to the office to say our last goodbyes to Edgar, the Amaya’s and everyone else who was there. Andres and Pilar wanted us to see their new apartment, so our final stop was a quick tour of their new digs (military housing). It is much larger than their former apartment and is located in a nice part of the city. As we got in the car for our trip to the hotel, Andres and Pilar presented us with beautiful, thoughtful gifts to remember our time in Colombia. We tearfully hugged goodbye at the door of the Marriott. It was dinnertime, so we had some wonderful food served in our room and then proceeded to climb right into bed for a good night’s rest before flying to Leticia and the beginning of the long road home. Amazon here we come!

Shown are: 1) hauling the bags to the Marriott, 2) saying goodbye to our security guard, 3) birthday lunch, and 4) Marriott room service.

Saturday May 3

Woke up at 6:00 a.m. in order to get all packed up for our 11:30 a.m. flight. The buffet breakfast included with the room served up the best omelet chucked full of yummy vegetables. We offered our last prayer in our beloved Bogotá before hauling our suitcases down the elevator. The taxi we arranged for sat ready at the door, to accept our two big suitcases and our four carry-ones. Pilar and Andres gave Mike a beautiful, leather computer bag, which actually came in very handy to carry the "overflow." As we drove to the airport, dodging in and out of traffic and bumping over potholes, I got a little teary. It's always hard to say goodbye to a place you have grown to love, even when that place has been a source of irritation at times for its difficult, everyday challenges.

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