Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Kay and Wes and Debbie White came for a visit last week. Kay is Gaye's twin sister, more of which has been said and will yet be said.  Suffice it to say that most of what you hear about twins is surely true with them.  
Kay, Debbie, Wes
Today they left for home.  It was especially hard for Gaye to let them go, but much easier knowing that we have only two more months left.  Not that anybody is counting.

We first went to see Old San Juan.  It really is a dynamic place, full of historical sites that go back to shortly after Columbus discovered Puerto Rico in 1493.  

We all piled into a rented Corona and drove to Arecibo where we visited the Rio Camuy Caves.  Our guide made the trip worth while, that’s for sure.  The subterranean river that originally hollowed out the hue cavern is now 150 feet deeper into the cave.  
Rio Camuy where it darts back underground at the bottom of a sink hole.
It flows underground for 9 miles to the Atlantic Ocean. I have no idea how far the stream bed runs in the other direction.  The area is riddled with caves, many of which are not completely explored.

We also drove over to see the Arecibo Observatory.  This is a 1000-foot diameter dish-shaped collector of signals from outer space, the largest on earth.  
It is built in a natural bowl that resulted from a sinkhole, which was in turn the product of limestone being dissolved and carried out by a subterranean stream.  
It was interesting to read of what has been learned by interpreting the data gathered by the huge antenna.  It was also interesting to read how some scientists try to explain life on earth and elsewhere without leaving any space for involvement of a Supreme Being.  
Vieques sunset
Some day  believers and non-believers will all shake our heads in amazement when we learn how it was really done.  Anyway, part of the Jodi Foster movie Contact was filmed there.

We attended church at our Spanish-speaking ward, then drove an hour to Fajardo, where we caught the ferry to Vieques.  (Spell check doesn’t like either of those names.)  That small island is a 90-minute ferry ride off the east end of Puerto Rico.  
Casa Lalanchita
We stayed in a wonderful hotel where the owners love to have Mormon missionaries and guests come and visit.  We had two rooms with plenty of beds, and they even provided an old car for us to drive around the island.

We stopped at a huge Ceiba tree.  What a strange tree, too.

Don't know the old guy, but the chick is Sister Patterson
Monday we visited Blue Beach on the edge of the old Navy bombing range.  
That bombing activity has necessitated the closure of more than half the island to human visitors, although there are some wild horses on the island that wander in there.  There are bombs that have not exploded, so it will be closed for a long time.  Snorkeling was fun there, with several different coral varieties out in the rocks.  We saw several species of fish, too, including the dreaded Lionfish.  The first recorded sighting of this invasive species is 1985.  You can see a short video showing the explosive spread of the Lionfish since then. It really is a serious problem.  

Later Monday we went to Mosquito Bay, also known as Bio Bay, for a very interesting evening of exploring.  The bay has the right conditions to support a viable concentration of dino-flagellates.  Lately the little critters have not been putting on much of a show, but it was still impressive to drag a hand through the water and see hundreds of little sparkles light up.

As impressive as the sparkles were, the night sky was absolutely amazing!  Orion was straight overhead, so the brightest constellation with its companions put on a show that I cannot adequately describe.  It is pretty humbling, though, to sit under that starry canopy and realize that for every star or planet visible there are billions more that are not visible to the eye.  Yet, we are children of a loving Heavenly Father who has made this earth specifically for us, and who wants us to succeed in overcoming our challenges here and return to live with God and hosts of faithful brothers and sisters, also children of God.  All these things are God’s handiwork.  We are his children.

This Hubble photo was taken of a spot in the sky about the size of a grain of sand at arm's length.  

Each dot, smudge, or smear is a galaxy with billions of stars.

A couple of 2-month old Chihuahua pups.  $400 each.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Water and Electricity Service

As part of our job description, Gaye (principally) and I (in a support role) are responsible for starting and discontinuing water and electric service to the apartments we have on Puerto Rico.  It has been a bit frustrating.

Last Friday I went with my young elder companion to find the office where we could get accounts turned on or off as we move into new apartments.  The best way for the church is to have the landlord take responsibility for the water and electricity and to include those expenses in the rent.  They don’t like to do that here, though, so we are finding it necessary to set up accounts in the name of the church, using the protocol that the church legal team has set up.  Anyway, we finally found the offices, after hunting around for an hour.  We found some parking, went inside, my companion tried to explain in his best Spanish what we wanted to do, and we were told to go to another office just up the street.  By the time we got there it was 3:35 and the dude at the door told us that they close at 3:30.  Come back another day.  Okay.

Gaye and I tried to make it back to the place, leaving our apartment at about 1030 to drive into town.  The traffic was terrible and slow and heavy, but we made it.  We tried to find parking, stopping in a Walgreen store’s mostly empty lot, but a dude from inside came out speaking Spanish to tell us that we could not park there, no matter how empty the lot is or how short the visit would be.  We should park at the commercial lot very nearby.  They would give us a ticket that we could validate at the water office across the street.  Okay.  But the parking lot was not open that day.  No problem.  Another employee of Walgreens came out and showed us how to park in the roadway leading into the parking lot.  Fine.

We dodged our way across the street to the office, found the elevator to the third floor, absolutely the slowest elevator in the world, and moved down the hall to the office.  It was empty.  Two guys were working on a window and the open door to the office showed that there was some sort of remodeling job going on and there were no employees anywhere.  One of the guys at the window told us in his broken English that we would need to come back on Monday.

We decided to go a little earlier, so after fighting the traffic again we parked at the commercial lot, now open, and dodged our way across the street again, where we met the same non-English speaking receptionist guy we had met before, who gave us a number and told us to sit down.  There were several chairs that faced a big display with numbers.  Our number was 429.  The number on the board was 412.  In two hours the board showed 417.  We decided to leave and come back at the beginning of another day.

Next day we were up early, on the road by 0715 into very heavy traffic with 10 million people going to work.  We went directly to the office, getting there at about 0810.  The same guy gave us a number and pointed to another desk in the room, hollering something to the nice lady sitting there.  She nodded at us to come to her position.  She was actually very helpful, even though her English was not polished.  Not complaining, mind you, because any attempt at English is better than my level of understanding Spanish.  She listened to our purpose and said she would try to help us because we are new to Puerto Rico, we do not speak Spanish, and I was a “man of God” which she deduced from our name tags.  She explained that we were at the wrong office, that the place we should really be is an office not from the mission office.  We smiled, thanked her for her kindness, and drove back to the office, in heavy traffic.

We could not find the address she gave us so we tried Google Earth.  That didn’t work, either.  When we went to our music lesson with Brother Berrios we told him what we wanted to do.  After the lesson he drove to the place we were looking for, with us following closely behind in our own vehicle.  Of course it was late at night by then, so we would attempt to go there the next day.  That was yesterday.

Today we drove over there on our way to the office.  Parking was non-existent for a while, but finally a nice older gentleman indicated to us that he would be leaving and we could take his parking spot.  Great.  We parked and went into the mall where the water and electric offices are located.  We asked a security guard, who did not speak much English, where the water and electricity offices were.  He indicated that we needed to go along the hall in the mall to where we came to the intersection and then turn left, indicating with his arm pointing to our right.  Left, right, whatever.  We found the stairs up to the water office.  In only about an hour we were finished.  The little gentleman who was at the desk where the number told us to go, they like that system down here, did not speak English, but he called another guy over and we got the water problem solved.  Gaye stayed to finish there while I went to the electric office to get in line.

Gaye came over to that office in a few minutes.  I was standing in a line that looked like the other lines we had to get into to get a number that would tell us which line we would eventually be called to.  Gaye said it looked like I was in the wrong line, asked the ubiquitous guard where we should go, and he gave her a number and told her to sit on the chairs to await our turn.  He told her that because we are old people we would be in the priority line.  

An hour later we were called to one of the windows to present our request to have the electricity turned on in the apartment we have just rented for our newly-arrived nurse.  The older gentleman behind the glass window that had a little slit under it through which we were supposed to communicate with the public servant on the other side, that guy didn’t speak English.  We sat there for 10 minutes and an older lady came over to help us.  We showed her the contract, signed by the owner of the condo that we were renting, explained that we wanted to get the electricity turned on (he had already called in to have it shut off because it was in his name and he wanted it put in our name), and that the name we wanted to use was the Presiding Bishop of the church, which is how the legal department wants it done.  She explained that it could not be in the name of a corporation because it is not a commercial building, it is residential.  Okay, whatever.  Since he did not want it in his name, we would put it in the name of the nurse.  However, since her name was not on the contract, which was in the name of the PBO as the legal department told us to do it, we would not be able to put it into her name.  The owner would have to write a statement authorizing her to turn on the electricity to the apartment.  We explained that the church will be paying the bill, so it should not matter whose name it is in.  She said they don’t care who is paying the bill, they only care that they have the name of the person living in the apartment!  A little more discussion, she left and returned 15 minutes later.  We did not get it done.  We will find a local who can go with us to the office to get the mess straightened out.  This has been going on for years. Somebody needs to solve this problem instead of kicking the can on down the road.  These people say they want to be a State in the USA.  Over my dead body!

The nurse took my blood pressure, at my request.  It is 140/90.  ARRRGGGGGHHH!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Vehicles and Apartments

Gaye and Stephanie, Caparra chorister
January has been a month of busy-ness.  Gaye has been working on getting housing squared away.  I have the responsibility for vehicles in the mission.

On January 1, 80% of the vehicles in the mission were parked for good.  That does not include the vehicles in the islands, just in Puerto Rico.  This mission has been one of the most expensive missions in the world, but it is also one of the only places where the membership has been declining.  That is not because of the quality of the missionaries or of the people.  Many members move to the US because Puerto Ricans are US citizens and can go anywhere in the US they choose to go.  Anyway, the cars were parked and missionaries were told they had 6 weeks to dispose of their bicycles.  They could sell them, give them away, or send them home.  They will not be allowed to transport them when they are transferred.  The next transfer is February 11.  I will write more about the bikes in  day or two.

This came about in a rather interesting way.  President Smartt has been focussed on getting the budget under control.  He worked out the plan to get the missionaries out of the cars and on their feet, in part at least to save the church a huge amount of money.  Just insurance and maintenance costs have been staggering.  Contacts and baptisms have been down.  The missionaries need to be out among the people more.  Just as he was ready to suggest the plan to the area presidency there came a call from one of the First Presidency asking if he would consider parking the vehicles.  When he told the area presidency that he had already worked out a plan, everyone took it as a humble witness that God really is in charge of this work.

New apartment for these sisters

With the vehicles being parked the housing of the missionaries had to reevaluated.  I must say that this does not affect the smaller islands and it does not affect the office staff, AP’s, or Sister Trainer Leaders (called STL in this mission).  President wants every missionary working in an area not more than 2 miles from the chapels.  It does not good to teach and baptize people who cannot get to church.  So we have been trying to find and open apartments that meet the criteria and to close apartments that do not qualify.  If has meant a lot of time on the road. Puerto Rico is not a very big island, although is sure seems big after living on the little islands for a year.  I have been around the island three times and there are more trips coming in the next few days.

First we had to go out to every chapel and get the keys of the cars that are parked there.  Some of those vehicles had body work that needed attention, so those have to be driven to the office where we have shuttled them to the body shop a couple of miles from here.  

Some of those problems were the results of bike racks on the trunks.  The newer models fit into the trailer hitches that have been bolted under the rear ends. 

There were also a couple of cars that had serious crashes, so they have also been taken to the body shop.

Now I have to get the reports all put together for the vehicles, get a value established for each vehicle, and send all this stuff to the area fleet manager who will take it to a committee at the area office before we cha plan and hold a car sale.  This could get really complicated, so I won’t try to tell it all at once.  
Roadside stand. Bananas $2 per bunch.
Saturday we went with our friends and associate office workers, Elder and Sister Peterson, to make a deposit on an apartment, sign up another apartment, and deliver some supplies from the office.  It took all day, so we were tired when we got home.  We visited Crash Boat Beach near Aguadilla, 
Crash Boat Beach
Sharon was hit by a sneaky wave
where we bought some yummy goodies at a beach-side stand.  
Chicken, pork, plantain, and fish.  Yumm!

We also took a little side trip to visit Window Cave on the way home. 

Through the window looking at Arecibo River Valley

Cave access. Bring flashlights because that is all there is.

It was full of stalagmites and stalactites 
The Face in the Rock
and the bat guano was several feet deep.  
Eroded bat guano

We also saw a lot of the interior of the island, which is very mountainous and covered with thick vegetation.

I’ll write more soon.  I guess I ought to do this more often before the three people who actually read this blog give up.

Stay tuned.