28 September 2009…..Monday
This morning Dick ate a granola bar and then left with Bawdens to buy wood. Dean is a woodworker and he wants to buy some wood to take home. They went to a mill and it was exactly the experience Dean wanted it to be. He has made a friend in Quetzaltenango who drives a truck to the states every three months and he will take the wood to the U.S. for him. Meanwhile, I packed and Blackburns and I went to the restaurant for breakfast. When they got back we loaded the car and were on the road at 10 am. We took a slight detour for a mile or two up the road to Tikal and there we shopped at a little shop that sold beautiful wood products. I bought a bowl for my wood fruit. I also bought a hinged shell shaped box. We were hot and sweaty in just the little time we spent in that little building. There was a beautiful view of Lago Petèn Itzá out the opened back of the shop.
The drive to Belize went well. A lot of the road had been newly asphalted. Last December it was full of pot holes and a 20 mile stretch was gravel. There is still patches of potholed roads and a couple of miles of gravel, but so much better. Crossing the border is always interesting. We went into the building to show our passports and we were the first in line. They didn’t ask for any money this time. Amazing! Dean had to get the car registered to take into the country, basically proof that he has permission to drive the car and that it isn’t stolen. Then we drove a hundred feet and we were in Belize. We parked the car and had to take all our stuff into a building……suitcases, computer cases, bags of snacks, clothes on hangers…. The whole time I was carrying my shoulder bag, our tote bag with food, our computer case, the bag of Dick’s suit and shirts, plus pulling my small suitcase, I was holding my umbrella over my head. Two minutes in the Central American sun is hard on my sensitive skin and I wanted to keep it protected. Even though I slather on sunblock (85spf) I still get a red rash. I hurried on ahead across the dirt parking lot and into the building. A young Belizean man behind the counter looked at me and asked which mission I was in. He had served a few years ago in Guatemala City North Mission. Then we showed our passports to the Belize authorities and when we reached the point where they open and inspect our suitcases they ushered us on through without checking. The only question was where we were going, when were we coming back, and where we were going when we came back…plus, he asked if we were missionaries. We were totally melted to the core when we were all loaded back in the car again. We drove a quarter of a mile and then had to stop at a small building to buy car insurance for two days.
We got to San Ignacio about thirty minutes later and I directed Dean to the hotel where Blackburns will stay for two nights. We stayed there in December and it is right alongside the highway….well, it isn’t a highway, it is a road. After dropping them off we got back on the road to Belize City. We stopped along the way where Bawdens knew there was a nice gift store…..not an open air market. I bought some key chains that say Belize that I will hang on our Christmas tree every year. We drove through the vast open countryside and arrived at the Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza at 3:15 pm. It was so good to get into a cool room. The lobby certainly wasn’t cool. We have a king size bed. I have free internet and that always makes me happy.
At 5:30 pm we met Elder and Sister Dunford in the lobby. They are serving a CES/PEF mission. We all got in the van we brought and went out to dinner at an enjoyable restaurant across the street from the ocean. I had fish in a sweet and sour citrus sauce. It is so refreshing to be surrounded by English speaking waiters. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting together around the table for a couple of hours. Since it gets dark here at 6 pm we never really saw the view of the ocean. When we got back to the hotel there was a crab at the door next to our room. That was the second one Dick saw that night.
29 September 2009…..Tuesday
Sure enough I ended up with a red rash on my neck form the minimal exposure to the sun yesterday while crossing the border. Even two minutes of exposure caused a problem and I wear 85 spf sunblock. This morning Bawdens left for various places like the Red Cross, the Scout camp, and other country connections for humanitarian work. We had a more leisurely morning. We ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Elder and Sister Dunford picked us up at 11 am and we went to their home. It is a very nice home. They pay $600 a month for their home with a formal dining room and three bedrooms. We pay $850 for a one bedroom apartment. Living expenses are less here in Belize. Their electric bill is about the same as ours. They have an air conditioner in their bedroom and only fans in their other rooms. It is a hot country most of the year. We spent three and a half hours talking about Perpetual Education Fund. Elder Dunford was an Institute teacher in his previous life (BR…before retirement). They have served several CES missions. Besides doing PEF and CES he is also a counselor in the El Salvador East Mission presidency that encompasses Belize. It was so good to be able to spend the time with them. Our previous PEF instructions for them have been by Skype, phone or email. They are good people from the Salt Lake area. They have family living in Rancho Palos Verdes but not in the Dennings ward. Elder Dunford took us back to the hotel.
When Bawdens got back to the hotel we went to Brodie’s, a grocery store with U.S. brands. Very expensive. I really didn’t find anything that I needed. We drove around looking for a place to eat but not trusting the area we were in or the food available we turned around and went back to the hotel for dinner.
This morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then loaded the car with our luggage and drove over to the chapel. It is so muggy and hot in Belize City. At least the chapel was a little cool with air conditioning. We greeted some great young missionaries. One was from California……Fresno to be exact. People began gathering. Among those present were Belizean government officials: the Minister of Education, the Minister of Human Development and Social Transformation, the wife of the assistant prime minister representing the first lady, who was ill. Also, the head of the scouting association for the country, the Red Cross officials, and CARE Belize, and leaders of those organizations from the four major cities. This was an official presentation of humanitarian supplies already given to the country: 3000 school kits put together by the Relief Society sisters in the U.S., a few hundred wheelchairs, and $36,000 in repairs and additions to the country scout camp. One disabled man who is part of CARE Belize traveled the distance by wheel chair to attend the meeting. It took him three days. That made a powerful statement.
The officials spoke and they expressed great appreciation to the Church and the humanitarian program run on donations from members. When Dean spoke he mentioned that we were part of the welfare program of the Church and serving with an education fund. That gave Dick an opening later to talk to the Minister of Education. It was a great experience for us.
As soon as the meeting was over we were on the road to San Ignacio to pick up the Blackburns. It was almost a two hour drive. While they were there Adele was able to speak to Hanna and Joane, two of our participants. That will prove to be a great help for us in keeping the contacts going. Then we headed for Santa Elena. Getting across the border into Guatemala is much easier than entering Belize. We had to pay $37.50 a couple (American dollars) for the privilege of leaving Belize. Sharing our snacks helped pass the time and alleviate hunger pangs. We had to stop a couple of times for the road construction going on. Dean had an order of mahogany wood to pick up near the lake on the other side of Santa Elena. That area of Guatemala (the Petén) is well known for fine wood. We got there about 4:30 pm. He had 6 boards, 6 feet long (12x2). The three guys used their Boy Scout skills to get them tied on the top of the van. Everything was tight and secure. We headed out of town as we had reservations in Rio Dulce. It was getting dark and we had some traveling to get done. We wanted to get to the hotel before the restaurant closed at 9 pm. We barely made it in time but we called ahead and they told us they would wait for us. We had rain along the way but the major problem was an overturned truck that spilled its load of scrap metal and blocked both lanes. That was before 8 pm and it was dark and raining lightly at that point. The traffic was halted and it was made up entirely of big rigs. Someone was walking on the side of the road and Dean asked what had happened. The guy said there was room to get past. So Dean pulled into the other lane and when we got to the accident scene guys were trying to remove the debris to the other side of the road. (No one had been injured). As he went around the truck he had to go off the side of the road. The van was scraping underneath, so the rest of us got out and walked ahead a ways. All the guys clearing the road were directing him and he was able to get the van through. The backed up traffic on the other side was even longer and there were no cars, just big rig trucks. If Dean hadn’t gotten around the mess, we would have been sitting there for hours.
We got to the hotel, Mansión del Rio. Dean and Marilyn were greeted warmly. Because Marilyn loves their watermelon juice, they had a small glass for each of us when we got there. We went to the restaurant on a deck over the river and ordered our meals. Then the men went and checked in. I was hoping for air conditioning. It was very warm and humid sitting out there for dinner. I ordered tortilla soup but it was so hot that all I did was warm up my insides and increase the perspiration on the outside. There was lightening in the distance that would light up the river and the surrounding area and it was so enjoyable to watch. Bawdens have stayed there a number of times in their travels. In August 2008 they were staying there, waiting for their branch president and his wife, and about 8 others who were working on a church humanitarian project. Everyone was flying to Rio Dulce but Marilyn hates to fly and so they decided to drive. They were at the hotel when they found out the plane had crashed. Two survived. Many thought that Bawdens were also on the plane.
1 October 2009…..Thursday
The view from our hotel room was of the river. In fact the river came right to our little terrace.
We opted for a leisurely breakfast this morning and we had it. Dick and I walked around the hotel and took a few pictures. We all gathered at the restaurant on the deck at 9 am. I ordered “tostado Francais” or French toast. It was exceptional. It was stuffed with strawberry jam and the outside was crisp with cinnamon and sugar. With the gorgeous view of the river and the tropical setting, the wonderful company of good friends, and a delicious breakfast, this made my personal list of “memorable meals.”
Because I raved about it so much, the owner took us to meet the chef. She was a young woman. They printed a copy of the recipe for us.
We left about 10:45 am and arrived home at 3 pm. Until we get near Guatemala City, the road is two lane and winding and full of big trucks. But the countryside is my favorite in Guatemala. Beautiful green hills and trees. There is a feeling of peace and serenity. My feeling is that the poverty is not so extreme in that area. There are Brahmas grazing and it feels like a serene place for the inhabitants there. There are only a few towns along the majority of the road. Our only stop on the way was at a gas station with good restrooms and they sell Magnum ice cream bars.
It was so good to be home. First of all, Rexene said she had dinner cooking. She brought over a large bowl of tortilla soup and half a loaf of hot bread. Suzanne Tomkinson had a baggie of cookies for us. A little later Kim Taylor was at the door. He was handing out banana bread from San Martíns to all of us. Then Kathy Anderson came next. (Andersons are the BYU professor here on a Fulbright scholarship). She had gone back to Utah for dental work. We had asked her to bring back some minced clams for us so I can make Peggy Peterson’s recipe for clam chowder. She also brought us a gift…..a pound of See’s. That was a treat! All in all, we had a wonderful trip with good friends and we each accomplished things we wanted to get done in our specific callings. Ending it with our overnight stay and enjoyable breakfast in Rio Dulce was the perfect conclusion. Dick was a happy camper tonight. When we got home he called the collision repair shop and our car was ready. Jim took him down to get it. That completed five weeks of getting rides with friends.
2 October 2009…..Friday
We had so much to do at the office today and what we didn’t finish will be waiting for us on Monday. Thanks to Blackburns and their stay in the Cayo District of Belize, I had some good information to put on the participant’s report. I worked on the September loan report and need to finish it so I can begin the October loan report. Dean took Reynaldo and his family, and Claudia to the airport today. They flew to Salt Lake for PEF training about changes taking place. They will also get to attend General Conference. Dean’s son picked them up at the airport and took them to the Marriott in SLC. There were a few times we wished they were at the office because we both had some questions about things we were doing. They will be gone 12 days.
We stopped for a few items at Paiz on the way home. I found a treasure. When we visited Dennis’ family in Washington soon after they moved there, Christine served me hot chocolate with a tiny wire whisk to stir it up. Ever since then I have looked everywhere (kitchen stores, specialty stores, grocery stores) for a little whisk. Walking down an aisle at Paiz I saw just what I wanted, taped to the sides of small jars of Chimichurri (a green sauce). They were 14Q so I bought two jars and now I have two whisks to take home with me. We went to GNC and replenished our supply of vitamins and glucosamine. After a little soup and bread we went to Taylors and had a two hour conversation with them, Bawdens and Blackburns about the visit we had from the Salt Lake doctors. It has been a little warmer. Or maybe we were so hot in Belize that our bodies haven’t cooled down yet. We look forward to tomorrow and Sunday and being able to watch General Conference on the internet.
3 October 2009…..Saturday
This morning there was a lot to get done since we have not been at home the last few Saturdays. At ten we went to Tomkinson’s apartment across the hall with Tilleys and Blackburns and watched the morning session of General Conference. They hooked up a projector to the computer and we had a huge picture on the wall. Seeing the Conference Center packed with thousands always brings tears. Today I felt like I had kids there because Reynaldo and Claudia are in Salt Lake. We had notebooks to take notes in that were passed out at the office. There was a picture of each member of the presidency and the twelve apostles and half a page to write our thoughts about each of their talks. President Monson announced five new temples: Brigham City, UT; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Chile, Brazil, and Japan. That makes a total of 151 temples operating, under construction and announced. I always love the gospel truths as taught by Elder Bednar. Elder Uchtdorf brought laughs from all of us as he wondered what people think about our Church where the children sing of talking streams, popcorn growing on trees, and children who want to be sunbeams. When I was a child “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” was my favorite song and I think that holds true for many of our grandchildren. The Tabernacle Choir singing “Come, Come Ye Saints” at the closing moved me to tears. I always think of the great sacrifices of my ancestors as they traveled to Utah because of their love for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I also think of the other pioneers, those here in Guatemala and elsewhere who join the Church and mark the path forward for their descendants.
Wilson, my birthday balloon that Rexene named, finally made an escape today. He was almost a month old so we figured in balloon years he would have been a lot older. With our door open he was tugging horizontally in that direction so I finally cut off the heavy part of the string and soon he was bouncing on the ceiling of the hallway. Next time I looked he was gone, so I walked up a flight of stairs and he was in the stairwell by the third floor. Next time I thought to look for him I went all the way to the fifth floor and out the open door to the roof, and he was gone. He was looking very deflated lately so I think it was his time to fly. Must be a lesson in there somewhere.
At 2 pm we went back to Tomkinson’s for the afternoon session. Afterwards the men left to have dinner at a restaurant and then attend the Priesthood Session broadcast this evening at the Area Office. I heated up chili and the women gathered at Tomkinson’s for a potato bar. We talked about the plans for the upcoming eye clinic that we will all be going to and our plans for Christmas and service for an orphanage.
4 October 2009…..Sunday
We were back over at the Tomkisons for General Conference. Jim had started cinnamon rolls at 4 am so we enjoyed the fruits of his labors. We had three additions to our group. They are American women visiting Guatemala. One, Jane Hamblin, served with her husband a few years ago as humanitarian missionaries here in the Area Office. She and her friends are checking out an orphanage to help. Sister Hamblin brought three boxes of See’s chocolates for us. We ordered three so we could give one to Reynaldo. The music of the choir is beyond sublime. I particularly enjoyed the talk by H. David Burton, Presiding Bishop and Sister Ann Dibb, President Monson’s daughter. Elder Fallabella, the first counselor in our Area Presidency, gave the closing prayer.
We came back home at noon and I began preparing Adele’s recipe for her delicious carrots. Afternoon session began at 2 pm. What a wonderful Conference we have enjoyed the last two days. Elder Holland bore a powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon. His words were truly a prophetic voice. President Monson said that we should leave Conference a better person. It is our ongoing duty to improve and grow. It is our continuing challenge. He said that the song the choir sang, “Oh Divine Redeemer” is his favorite. It is one of mine, too. I first heard that beautiful song when I sang with the Pomona Stake Choir forty years ago. How blessed we are. I can hardly wait for the opportunity to once again be in Salt Lake City and sit in the Conference Center but, I also enjoy watching Conference via the internet with fellow senior missionaries. Afterwards we all went to Tilleys apartment for dinner and conversation.