Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mexico City and Oaxaca

Mexico City conference was AWESOME, and for the last week we have been traveling in Oaxaca with Janie, and a brother from La Plata, Argentina who also came for the conferences.

We are currently in La Soledad, and hope to be in Pinotepa tonight.

I´ll try to write more later!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Central America

As we started out from Chiapas early Monday morning, the landscape seemed to alternate between hot, muggy, dense vegetation and dry, open spaces, scattered with a few trees here and there.

All along the road were these little fruit stands containing mangos, pineapple

We arrived at the Guatemalan boarder in the late afternoon. The paperwork for us and the van weren’t too complicated (well, I didn’t think it was, considering Dad was the one to do the van stuff, and it went pretty fast…). As we waited in the line-up of cars, many of them were pretty beat up, and had another crashed car in tow. Apparently Guatemala is a cheap to fix broken down cars!

Once over the boarder, it was a ways to where the brother lived. When stopping for dinner, we met some Christians at the restaurant who strongly advised us to stay in the city we were in for the night, because of danger on the roads at night.

We left the town late morning, and were back on the road. It was early afternoon when we arrived where we thought the brother we were going to visit lived. They had given us a town name, and a kilometer number to help us locate the house, in addition we had their number we were to call once we crossed the boarder. When we had crossed, we called, then kept calling as we got closer, but nobody answered. Expecting him to call back, we just kept on driving, but he never did. We went up and down the highway looking for kilometer 87, but couldn’t find it. We asked people along the road; they were eager to help, and give us directions whether they knew what they were talking about or not! We were sent to the north, then to the south, east and west, never getting to where we wanted to!

Lalo had been to the house once before, years ago, but said everything seemed to have changed, and he didn’t recognize anything! It was soon after that we were informed there were two highways running parallel, and this one had just been built, implying the old highway was the one the brother was on!

Finally on the right road, we thought it would be easier to find the place… but it wasn’t. We did the same thing; driving up and down, asking people, some who really did know, others who didn’t, not knowing which ones to believe. From what Lalo remembered they lived out in the country on a sugar cane plantation, so we were looking for an isolated little farm. Later we found out in a hurricane he had lost all he had, and they now lived right in the town in a smaller place.

I’m not sure how it happened, but the Lord helped us to finally find the place, way back in this little alleyway off the road. By the time we pulled in, it was almost dark, and the brother who had come three hours to meet us there had already left. The brother we were coming to visit had dropped his phone in a well, explaining why he hadn’t answered his phone, the only place our number was stored.

Only two daughter-in-laws and their children were at the house when we got there, and we invited them out to dinner. Upon getting back to the house, the majority of the family was back, and we went around greeting everyone. Something Mom has learned the hard way is that the greeting customs here are slightly different than in South America. You shake everyone’s hands, and only sometimes do you kiss the girls on the cheek, never the guys…

We had a reading till late, then while Mom and Dad arranged for their sleeping accommodations in the van, the rest of us sat around and talked. Before going to bed Anna enlightened us all on the conditions of the outhouse in the corner of the property, and we decided to check it out. In the dark, not too much was visible, meaning our ears were a bit more attentive. What we heard as we got close was not to pleasant. It sounded like someone was smacking while eating mushed up bananas with their mouth open. Pulling the curtain aside to the mud-brick wall, and shining the head lamp in, to the left, a roll of toilet paper was perched on a protruding nail, the waist-basket full of used paper was set below, and directly ahead was the toilet seat. The closer we got to the seat, the louder the sound got, and looking into the hole was a sight enough to cause you to throw up. Down below was a sick mass of brown waste churning, and sparkling with shining light. There were animals down there!! I don’t know if they were bugs, or worms, or what (Anna suggested snakes) but whatever it was, was gross. I got in and out of there as quickly as possible.
Lalo slept on a hammock on the porch, Mom, Dad and Anna in the van, while Ben, Nate and I were on the roof. I think the three of us got the better end of the deal. The heat from the three bodies in the van accumulated, along with the necessity of using blankets in defense against the mosquitos. We had a cool breeze encouraging the pests away, in addition to not needing to use any kind of covering. Falling asleep under the palm trees silhouetted against the dark blue starry sky was both comforting, and un-nerving, considering the gentle swooshing of the palmfrons combined with the crickets’ and toads’ melodies lulled us to sleep, but at the same time, all around us we could hear the coconuts falling unprovoked from the tops of those looming trees not giving exception to anything or anyone below. Nathan, the most directly below the hard, round bowling ball sized weapons was a bit paranoid, but soon exhaustion overcame the three, and we slept amazingly (especially me, the “spoiled” one, who got to use the pad off the back bed in the van).

We woke up to the sound of roosters crowing, and water running in preparation for breakfast. At eight o’clock it was already too warm, and muggy.

Ben helped in the kitchen, preparing breakfast, mashing up different chilies, tomatoes and cilantro to make salsa. Some the rest of us played soccer with the kids, and Nate sharpened his shock-put skills by trying to launch one of the fallen coconuts up into the gigantic mango tree, encouraging the large, ripe mangos to release their hold, and fall into his hands. It didn’t work quite that well, and we all had to cover our heads, and dodge the coconut rain during his attempts.

Breakfast was an artistic array of green onions, brown beans, and bright colored salsa over the meat.
After another little reading, we were once again on our way, this time to El Salvador!

The boarder was only a few hours from the house, and the time went quickly. While getting the paperwork for the van (for some reason, after stamping out of Guatemala, we didn’t have to get our passports stamped into, or out of the country there), Mom was walking around when she met a couple of girls in the boarder jail. It was one tiny room with small square bars on the door. When asked what they were in there for, a confusing answer was given, probably the way they say it in El Salvador is different than other countries. Anyways, we came to find out that they were in there for prostitution. They were asking for money, (because there in jail, others have to provide food, and anything else they need) so Mom said she had to go ask her husband for something to give them. She told me about them, and asked if I would go talk to them with Lalo. Honestly, I didn’t really want to go, but after I did, I was glad. It made me so sad though, they seemed like just ordinary women, (minus the excess of make-up they wore). They talked to me like any other girl would! I don’t think they wanted to be in that situation at all! While I was talking to them, a woman in her fifties (pretty obviously their manager, or whatever those people are called in charge of the girls), as well as two even younger girls than those incarcerated, wearing heavy eye makeup, skimpy tops, short skirts, and unnecessarily high heels walked up. They listened, and talked a little too. When we went to leave, the older lady standing with us, not knowing Lalo had given the girls something before she had came, began to reprove him for just preaching, and not helping with their physical needs. He didn’t say what he had done, but was very polite as we left. Because we didn’t have to leave as soon as we’d imagined, Nate and I went and bought a couple mangos and a cold soda for them, for which they were so thankful.

It was dark by the time we arrived in San Salvador. Neither Dad, nor Lalo had been here, so once again it was a little complicated finding the hotel the brethren had suggested we stay at. When we arrived, Juan Ventura, one of the main brothers in the meeting, was standing right outside waiting for us. Juan had lived at our house around seven years ago for a few months, and had helped us with both painting our house, and laying tile in our kitchen. It was neat getting to see him again, especially now that all of us can speak much better Spanish than we used to.

The hotel was very interesting. It had been there for decades, and visiting brethren had stayed it in since Jimmy Smith, years ago.

The next day we went and visited a family, who invited us all to stay at their house! The great-grandmother had just lost her husband a few months ago, but she was eager to have us come.

It was only later, after we’d stayed there a night we realized that she, her daughter, grandson, and granddaughter were all sleeping in one room, while Anna and I shared one room, and Mom and Dad another. Ben and Nathan stayed at her oldest daughter’s house down the road.

When we had talked more with the sister, we found that she had lived for some time in the US. Some years were spent in California, and Oregon, but most were in Maryland, where two daughters, a son, and quite a few other more distant relatives live. The two grandchildren living with her are cousins, who both have their parents working in the US to support them. The grandson hasn’t seen his dad in five years, and his mom in three! Both his parents are re-married to other people after moving there, and his dad has a whole new family! He told me that it is really common there in El Salvador, and five of his friends at the school he is attending are in the exact same situation. But even through all of that, it was really neat to see how encouraged he was in the Lord, and how he was trusting Him to work things out with his family.

On Saturday we had fun with their family, as well as others from the assembly, going out to the beach! We all piled into our van, at least four to a seat, Nathan underneath the bed, in the dark, and Ben lying on the bed.
Lining the shore, are tons of little “fincas” (translated into English, that would be farms, but they weren’t farms… it was more like large houses, with about an eighth of an acre, and a pool) you can rent for the day, along with a meal. It took us a while to find one that had a good price for both the lot and the food, but after driving up and down the road, taking advantage of passing out calendars and tracts, we went back to one of the first ones we’d seen.

The ocean had huge waves that crashed in a magnificent way, the water curling over itself, allowing the sunlight to shine through, giving it a smooth, greenish blue hue. If only it was as safe as it was beautiful. Going up to only our knees in the luke-warm water, the rip-tide was obviously extremely strong, and scary, reminding me of the last time I’d been in a rip-tide in Ecuador, and had almost drowned along with Nate, Dad, and Daniel.
Most didn’t venture out of the yard, and played in the pool they had there. Dad blew up a rubber boat we had brought along, and the younger kids had a blast with it. The older ones played a kind of water polo with a tennis ball, and over-turned chairs for goals.

We had a lunch of chicken, and the extra-thick tortillas they have in El Salvador (the further South you get, the thicker the tortillas). Afterwards, a few of us took a little siesta in the hammocks we’d hung up in the little palm-frawn shaded area.

After playing a little more in the water, we had a Bible reading, and headed back for San Salvador. Before we’d left, the sister we were staying with bought some crabs.
It was amazing the way they had each been tied individually so they could not grab anything with their claws, while they were all tied together, back to back. The next day they were scrubbed with a brush, and put in the pot.
After we’d gotten home, a few of us went out in the street to play with the volleyball, a bunch of other kids were out there too, and when invited, played a little with us. But, it was obvious they weren’t really too accustomed to that, and in turn, invited us to play baseball with them! Most of the kids were under twelve, but they could sure hit that big, hard, plastic ball far! We all had tons of fun, and were sweating buckets. We lost at least four balls from them getting hit so hard over the houses and into other people’s yards.

Sunday was boiling hot. Sitting in even the first meeting, sweat ran down everywhere. The fan was set directly in front of the seats we were sitting in, but faced the other way. After breaking of bread we had a Bible reading, lasting about an hour and a half. When we were finished, the cold coke they served us had never tasted better!
The rest of the day we spent visiting people in a nearby district. At each house we read a little bit, either where they wanted to read, or a place Dad, Lalo, or Juan chose.

After dropping off everyone who had come with us, we had a family night, eating pizza and some traditional food (since Mom is still trying to stay off gluten).

It was our last night with the family. Anna and I stayed up late talking with Yanira, the youngest daughter, before falling in to bed.

The next morning we got up around eight, and after eating pupusas (the thick El Salvadorian tortillas made with beans and cheese) and coffee, we said goodbye to the family.

It was less than three hours back to the Guatemala boarder, then another two getting to Guatemala City, where Martha and Patty live. Their family had also lived in the United States for a while, when I was really little. Their relatives still live there, in California.

Once again it was a little complicated because Dad hadn’t been here for like over 20 years, and Lalo hadn’t been here for some years too, but we finally arrived at the house.

We are leaving Guatemala tomorrow, and are heading for Oaxaca, then Mexico City. Apparently there is a pretty big deal about a pig flu or something, so we're not quite sure what's going to happen with that...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

where are we?

..currently in Guatemala city, we arrived yesterday from El Salvador and plan to stay untill the 26th; sunday

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tijuana to Chiapas

I'm going to go back through a quick review of since we were in Tijuana, to where we are now in Chiapas. Sorry, it's kinda long, since I havent' had enough time while we're at cafes to do it...

So, we'd been told that it was dangerous in the boarder towns, especially on the Mexico side, and from what we'd heard, it was worse in Tijuana than Mexicali, so on our way down we'd avoided Tijuana. But, coming back, that boarder was closer for Lisa's parents to pick her up, and we wanted to visit the assembly there, so we decided to spend a night.When we arrived we were met with big hugs and kisses; it had been over a year since we'd last seen everybody there. And because we usually see them at least two or three times a year it was exciting to see them all again.As we ate dinner, the subject of conditions in Tijuana came up, and what we heard was pretty frightening. Their house, built on a hill, was right above a main avenue of the city. About a month ago, one morning around six, the mother of the family heard what sounded like someone throwing rocks at a tin roof close to where they were living. After looking out over the balcony, the real origin of the noise was discovered. Along the street were dozens of cars lined up on the side, each filled with at least three people, and driving past was a whole stream of other cars shooting at the parked ones. Apparently two rival drug cartels, attempting to take control of an area another drug cartel had left (after being discovered, and incarcerated by the police) had arranged a battle. The supposed plan was one group would come from the North, while the other would come from the South, and they would meet, having their gun war on that boulevard. The only problem was; neither assembly kept their side of the deal. The parked cars below were waiting in an ambush for the others. Somehow the opposing side heard of this, and instead of coming from the appointed side, they came from the other way, taking those waiting by complete surprise, and massacring their unprepared rivals. After about 20 minutes of gunfire, it was over. Or at least it seemed that way until pickup trucks arrived with the comrades of the dead and wounded came along chucking those on the street into the bed of the truck, and drove away. A week later there was still blood all down the road where the pickups had driven leaving a trail behind them. The police had been advised of what was going on, but didn't interfere, appearing only when it was all over, and all had disappeared.Then, soon after this happened she went on to tell us that one day she had gotten a phone call, the man on the other line calling her by her complete name, using even her maiden name threatened to kidnap her son, and hold him for ransom. They sent him to the country where he's going to be staying until it is felt he is out of danger.Other than the alarming news, we had a great evening at the meeting there, as well as spending the night before waking up early the next morning, and heading for Guerrero Negro, Baja California.There, the assembly only consists of one family; an older couple and their four daughters, and one of their daughter's husband.The day after we arrived they took us out whale watching. It was amazing! There was a bay that was full of blue whales. Here many spent the winter months, and even had their babies. We went out in a small motorboat, and skimmed along trying to get close to one. You couldn't go three minutes without seeing them; either swimming quickly, their back rising and falling beneath the surface or one coming up for air, mist projecting from it's blow hole.At first it seemed like they just all would swim away from us, their tails raising out of the water, meaning they had dove down deep to where they could remain for up to twenty minutes.Soon, they came close to the boat, showering us in mist. The mother, as well as the baby. When we saw them, everyone would rush over to the side, the whole vessel tipping to one side, then the other. The babies especially liked to show off and would swim fast then twist upside down, their barnacled bodies visible beneath the clear water. Not only did we see them, we were also able to touch them!! The little part of the tail I was able to reach was wet, and rubbery, pretty much what you would expect a whale to feel like. Our guide told us that he had even gotten a chance to hug the whales when they would swim straight up with their whole head out of the water!It was amazing! To know that these enormous, powerful animals would let us tiny, little humans, in a tiny little boat come out in their bay, and actually swim up to us, give us a little show, and actually let us TOUCH them, when they had that whole lagoon where they could just hide, and keep away from humans! It was impressive.From Guerrero Negro, we continued down the Baja peninsula, admiring the desert beauty of Saguaro cactus, century plants, and all shapes and sizes of huge rocks, and steep, but smooth mountains. To the side was the gorgeous Sea of Cortes. It's white sand spread beneath beautiful blue water that slowly blended from the aqua color to a color as dark as the night sky. The little ripples made the rays of sunlight appear almost like stars as the wind blew gently. We were all excited when there wasn't enough time to make it to La Paz, where we were to take the ferry, that night, and would spend the night on the beach.After searching for a while we found a free beach, where we pulled our van up next to where a trailer was parked, thinking everyone had already gone to bed. But, not five minutes after a pickup pulled up between the trailer and us, and we wondered if they'd be okay with us sharing their beach slot. French Canadians from Ottawa, they turned out to be a very nice older couple. They let us use the firewood they had collected while it was still light, and while Mom and Dad prepared their bed in the back of the van, the rest of us learned all about Alaskan Malamute sledding dogs, it being thirty something below back where they live, the fishing camp they had in Canada, how good fishing was there in Baja, and the places they'd backpacked when they were younger. The husband did most of the talking, because his wife didn't speak much English... her French was beautiful though! They were a very active couple, and very interesting to listen to.The four of us laid out our sleeping bags on the luggage carrier, organizing who would sleep where. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the moon was half full as we layed there, falling asleep to the gentle lapping of the waves on the rocky shore and an occasional "get your feet out of my face"!!We woke up shivering early the next morning, before it was light to find our sleeping bags soaked with dew. Pulling them off, and packing the van. Everyone got their own seat to sleep on while Dad drove.In La Paz we met up with some friends who had been visiting Cabo San Lucas, and were in La Paz for the day. We also found some hitch hikers we'd picked up a week before in Guerrero Negro (who had traveled with us on a Sunday morning, and got to have devotions with us, and well as were asked to answer questions about it! The singing was what cracked me up though; they sang louder than any of us, not really knowing the tune. Maybe they were making fun, or maybe they really enjoyed it! We might have thought they were a little weird, wearing the whole hippie get-up, but I'm sure they thought we were weirder... a family of six, coming from the States into Mexico, where it's supposedly really dangerous, driving a van, with a Mexican family they really don't know that well, then pick up a couple hitch hikers, which we have been obviously warned not to do, as well have a "Sunday service"! We saw them walking down the streets of La Paz and said hi. They told us they wanted more of the tracts we'd given them to "evangelize La Paz". They were an interesting pair) they were surprised to meet us a week after we had last seen them almost a week ago!

We rode the ferry over the channel of amazingly beautiful ocean for about five hours before arriving at the mainland at night, the moon once again sparkling over the water.
We spent two nights in Culiacan, with a couple in the meeting we'd seen at Tijuana conference almost every year. Their next door neighbors had an ocelot they had adopted from one of the places they were working in the forest. It was pretty cool. It could be on one of it's owner's shoulder, and jump clear over to the other side of the room where it's other owner was.
From there, we drove to Durango. The road was pretty curvy, and seemingly dangerous. It was only later we learned a week before an older American couple had been detained by some delinquents, shot and killed, the motor home, and money they had was taken. Apparently events such as these were known to occur on that road. Traveling with a brother from Culiacan, we were able to locate where the brethren were. We hadn't eaten dinner yet, so we went out to pizza with an aunt, and a couple nieces and nephews we'd never met before.
We were told we could stay in the house of the daughter of a brother near the meeting room, but weren't quite prepared for what we found at the house. Two little boys, age eight and five lay on a bed with only a dirty sheet and blanket. Although it was past elven at night, their mother was nowhere to be found. The TV was up in a corner, the blue hue cast over the room. My parents were told they could stay in another back room in the only other bed in the house. In the next room was only a washing machine, and a whole pile of clothes the boys would dig through to find something to wear. The toilet was behind a small cement wall, the shower directly in facing it with another wall. Neither had doors. It all smelled like urine, and to flush the toilet there was a tank of water you would dip your bucket into then pour it down into the bowl.
Mom and Dad slept on the bed, Nate, Anna and I slept in the van on the seats, while Ben froze up on the roof of the van.
In the morning we ate some cheerios we brought from the US, along with milk we bought in the store down the road, which we ate in plastic cups we'd brought. The only other food we found in the house was a couple of Cup 'O Noodles. There was no fridge, and only a small camping burner to cook food on.
That day was a Sunday and we walked down the road to meeting. A family was visiting, so the small kitchen was very crowded. All the benches, chairs and stools were put to use, and still we were all shoulder to shoulder, knee to bum, backs to the walls all around.
Dad noticed one of the main younger brother's wives didn't break bread, and asked if she was saved, to which she replied yes. But when asked if she had been baptized, she said no, but said she would like to be. When my dad heard that he asked "why not today"?
So down to the river we went after going and having breaking of bread for the second time that day, (the second time in two weeks, considering we'd done the same thing last week in Guerrero Negro, only this time only the sick man who couldn't make it partook of the emblems, considering we'd already done it earlier).
The river was quite contaminated as she and my dad descended down the muddy bank. Ironically, after examining a picture Ben took, we saw a man in the background floating in the shape of a cross...

It was a happy time. We played with all the kids in the water afterwards, then all rode on the roof of the van on our way back.
That night we talked late with the family before going back to the house we stayed at the night before. At eleven we arrived to a locked gate. The mother of the boys had brought them home at eight when she'd gotten off work, but was no longer there. Once again they were left alone.
We decided we'd just stay the night in a hotel, partly because the following day was Mom's birthday. It was good we did because a certain individual of our family desperately needed a functioning bathroom that night, considering both digested and undigested food was expelled rapidly both at the same time. It was painful just listening to it!
A close friend from an assembly in California had both friends and family in the state of Zacatecas, and wondered if we could make it to visit them. We arrived in Tobasco, and met up with one of her best friends, Tita, her husband, and three sons. They generously opened up their house to our family, and guided us to the rest of the family's homes.
The first night we arrived, she told us what had been happening to her the last couple of
days. It all started when the phone rang, and upon answering it she heard a young man. He claimed to be a nephew that had visted years ago when he was young. Later she realized he had gotten the information out of her that she had a nephew named Juan who she hadn't seen for a long time, and that had a sister named Susie. He claimed that he was Juan, and was traveling with Susie and wanted to stop in and visit her. At first she was overjoyed, but as he continued to call, getting closer and closer, she began to get nervous. When he claimed his car had broken down, and he had to fly on the plane, and was at the airport needing a relative to sign a paper saying he was a honest upright man who woudn't be using the 30,000 dollars they had found in cash in his suitcase for anything wrong, asking if she would sign, she really got afraid. When she asked for the name of the guy's mother, he promptly hung up, and after that didn't speak to her again, but the phone kept on ringing, and upon answering there would be no answer. It was then she knew that wasn't her nephew, and they were probably involved in some sort of drug trade, and wanted to use her to get them out of trouble. It was kinda scary.
We visited Juana's brother and wife, two sisters at their houses, then another sister who lived up in the boonies with her dad. We also visited Tita's parents house. Although none of the people we visited were professing Christians, Dad had a little Bible reading at each place, and we talked a little bit about it. Some were very happy for our visit, others a little suspicious, especially because not having everyone's number we were not able to communicate that we were coming.
The time we had with Tita, her husband and two boys, 12, and 14 was really fun. And, in the end, Tita especially really wanted to know more about the Lord, and was asking my mom a lot of questions. They need a lot of prayer, because there Catholicism is so strong in those communities, and becoming "Christian" is a real sacrifice to many... even to the point of their own family abandoning them.
From there we were on our way to Queretaro! We arrived in the afternoon, where we met up with Jaime, later Iris and her little son. We spent the evening with Jaime, Allison and their little daughter at Jaime's parents house, where we had a delicious bbq dinner. Iris and her son were also there, and we met up with her sister, brother in law and niece.
It was so wonderful for me to see Iris again! It had been a long time I'd spent time with her, and for the first time I met her son. We stayed in her parents house, (who live in the US) where she is also living. She was so hospitable, and all of us were able to sleep in beds! While there, we visited the city, her sister explaining to us all the arcitecture, and the history of things which was very interesting.
We were only going to stay one night there, but the Lord allowed a rock to be thrown at our van, splintering our largest side window to crack into splinters, meaning we had to stay an extra day, which the majority of us weren't too disappointed about :D

Dad temporarily fixed up the window with duct tape...

Sadly, we left the next morning at 6, picking up Lety four hours away in Mexico City. The drive Iris makes every Sunday to get to meeting. After packing her stuff in the van, we drove to a metro stop where we were to meet a brother of Florentino from meeting in Gresham. We found him, he found us, jumped in our van, and guided us to where he lived. There almost the whole family was hanging around. We had a Bible reading and they called in Domino's pizza. It was amazing!
When asked if Gabriel wanted to go with us to visit his other brothers, as well as Josefina's family he was game. We left around one in the afternoon, and didn't get into the town till about ten. There we showed up unannounced at his brothers house who didn't really seem that comfortable, which is understandable. We had a short Bible reading and sing before saying goodnight, and going out to eat since we hadn't eaten since lunch, and got a hotel for all of the four hours we slept. But it was nice to be able to shower and be in an actual bed.
The next day we got up at 5, and were off to visit his uncle on the farm. Most of us were asleep in the van by 8 when we arrived, so I'm not exactly sure what went on, but apparently my parents got a tour of the town!
Then, we were invited in for breakfast. Imagine eight people just all showing up at 8 in the morning unannounced saying they were friends of your nephew in the US! Florentino's aunt was busy making corn tortillas, all by hand, all perfectly symmetric, and just the right thickness. The scrambled eggs were dark yellow, confirming the fact that they had practically just been taken from underneath the chicken. Dad had bought yogurt and bananas for all of us too.
Here they were eager to hear Dad read the Bible, and explain some things to them. I felt horrible about doing this while Dad was reading, but both mom and I were fast asleep sitting upright in our seats!
From there we climbed the dirt roads to where Josefina's mom, and sister live. They had a huge herd of goats there. Anna had fun feeding them some milk that was just on the point of going bad. We rode on top of the van like usual on those terribly bumpy dirt roads. There was a little boy, a nephew I think it was of Florentino who hitched a ride with us, and rode up there too. It was fun ducking under the branches, and trying not to get bounced off the roof.
We even stopped at a little aqueduct, that had the most clear water I've seen in a stream down here, where Nathan (who is always in his swim shorts) jumped in for a swim.
We dropped Gabriel off there, where he was going to spend more time with his family there, and we continued on.
While i was driving, before turning the corner on a switchback, there suddenly appeared odd signs painted on the road. I was trying to figure out if they were ligit or not when a semi appeared coming straight at me in my lane! I got the picture real quick then...

Switching off between sleeping, driving, talking, or just sitting watching out the windows, we finally arrived in Chiapas, where brother Lalo, his wife, six children lived in a small, two-bedroom house.

We thanked the Lord for having Lety with us. Although she had only been to the house a couple times before, she was able to direct us to where they were. It was around ten or eleven when we pulled up in front of the house. Lalo was laying in his hammock on the front porch, and when we arrived he came to greet us. Upon opening the door, it felt as if a wall had hit us, and we had suddenly stepped into a sauna... the air thick in our lungs. For a second there we all wondered if we were going to last. After spending the last few days in the air-conditioned van, it was a major shock.

The house only had two rooms, as well as a small meeting room filled with long wooden benches. In one room slept Lalo's whole family (he, his wife, and five children) while Mom and Dad slept in the other room. Lety, Anna and I had fun “creating a bed” out of the wooden benches in the meeting room; laying extra hammocks, and sleeping bags on top of them. Ben slept in a hammock on the porch, while Nathan got the top of the van.

It was so hot, but there were so many mosquitoes that you'd rather put the sheet over you than be covered in the small, insignificant, extremely annoying, frustrating, exasperating bites.

In attempting to partially escape the stagnant muggy heat, we got our hair all wet before lying down, which provided at least a bit of alleviation.

The next day was Sunday. We had a couple meetings in the morning, after which we sat down to a delicious dinner of barbecued beef accompanied with the traditional beans and unending supply of tortillas.

Following the meal, we all felt steamed. Sitting in the house, doing absolutely nothing, the sweat just flowed down our legs, backs and arms. When informed that a river ran close to the house, we needed no convincing! The brother drove up his cattle truck, and we all jumped in the back, enjoying the feeling of moving air evaporating our sweat, cooling us down.

Hiking down to the river was a beautiful walk. On both sides of us loomed luscious trees with brightly colored flowers. Butterflies fluttered around our heads, and the frogs croaked in nearby grass.

Upon stepping into the slowly moving water, expecting it to be cool, it was a bit disappointing to feel it warm on our legs. The brook in that particular spot was wide and shallow, so we decided to go upstream to where it was deeper. There it was cooler, and we had fun hitting a volleyball around, trying to keep from slipping on the moss-covered rocks lining the floor.

That night was our last with Lety, so the three of us girls decided to sing; something we hadn't done much of in the three days we had with her. It was so fun! Well, for us at least, Nathan, sleeping on the luggage rack claimed our voices awakened the choir every rooster in every yard in the whole town... he and Ben weren't too thrilled :D

The next morning, we set off once again, leaving Lety there in Chiapas, while continuing on with Lalo to Central America.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


because i´m lazy, and don´t have time to write more, from there we spent a couple weeks in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where Nate and Anna went to school. We ended our time there by going to a rural conference. From there we traveled two days straight for Lima, Peru, where we flew out two days later for the States.

we were in Washington for almost three weeks, where we got to see everyone again!!!! relax, get stuff done for schooling when we get home, and pack up again for the Mexico and Central America trip.

We traveled through Baja California starting in Mexicali, where we stayed one night on a ranch where they have no running water or electricity. My cousin Lisa traveled with us for the week, which was awesome! We then went down through Ensenada, where we went to meeting. Some of the people had gotten the message wrong, and had waited 4 hours for us to come!

The next day we went out for a fishing trip on a pretty cool boat. Half of us caught little fish, while the other half caught nothing. but it was worth the boat ride!

We dropped Lisa off after spending the evening in Tijuana. We spent the night and left the next morning.

We are now in Culican, Sinaloa!

el Tren de Muerte

It sounded a bit scary when Ben, Nate and I were told we were going to be riding by ourselves on the Death Train for twenty hours, but also adventurous. We were told it was given the name because of the high numbers of deaths resulting from that train ride. It was mostly because of individuals transporting their goods from one area to another, storing their belongings below, in the seats they had purchased, they rode on top of the train. Because the train is nowhere NEAR a smooth ride, jerking over the tracks, screeching to a jolting halt every once in a while, many would lose their balance, falling off to their death. Another reason was because of the frequency of the train de-railing... killing several. The last time my uncle wanted to ride the train, that is exactly what had happened to it before he'd gotten on, and he had to take a bus. But, we were assured in the last few years it had really improved, and such things rarely happened any more...

Thinking we were going to be able to store our luggage in some luggage storing place on the train, we had brought all our own things, as well as another humungous, heavy one containing everyone's _ extra things_ with us. The fact Mom, Dad and Anna could only carry 50 pounds a piece on the plane was another reason for us to take as much as we could. Walking down the pathway next to the train, lugging our baggage we looked for our car. After walking half the length of the very long train, we found it. Then, realized all our luggage was going to need to be with us. Between the three of us we loaded up all the bags, putting them in overhead shelves, hoping either the jerkyness of the train wasn't as bad as we'd be warned, or the racks were more sturdy than they appeared. The car we were in appeared very empty. Besides the three of us, there was only a couple, and a lady with her two young daughters.

We spread out, each in a different row of seats. The train was hot, especially when it was sitting at a station, and the seats were made of a fabric that seemed to absorb the heat. Pretty soon, the engines started up, and the train jolted to a start. Soon, we were going at a pretty constant speed, and the wind begun to circulate, cooling everyone down. It was fun to just sit with your feet sticking out the window in front of you (ignoring the signs saying to keep all objects inside :S ), staring out into the jungly/foresty landscape. Every once in a while, there would be an opening in the trees, where a herd of white Brahma cows would be grazing peacefully, or a garden with rows upon rows of hand planted choclo (large, tough, corn) swaying slightly in the wind caused by the passing train.

Soon, the sky began to become more and more overcast. The black thunderheads began to loom above us, then splat! The huge droplets began to pelt us through the windows. The three of us didn't want to close the windows, because it was still way too hot, but one of the train worker people came around shutting them all. Now we were damp, hot, and closed in.

By the time the storm passed, it had cooled down, and the sunset was beautiful. All the brilliant colors lighting up the sky, and the silver-rimmed clouds was awesome.

After a while, Nate got bored of just sitting, and we went together down through the other cars. As we walked, we looked drunk, swerving all over, accidentally bumping into people as we went, because of the bumpy train. Getting to the door of our car, pulling hard on the door, it swung open with a burst of wind, and we walked out onto a small platform. The next car's platform was only about a foot away, and you could see the hook, and loop that held them together. It was a bit scary jumping from one to the other, watching the tracks flash by below. We realized we must have bought a higher that lowest class ticket... the others were crowed, and instead of seats that leaned back (sometimes overly so, all the way down till they hit the seat behind them), they had straight backed benches. There were many more people in these cars, with much more baggage.

As we got further, the train stopped frequently, picking up more and more passengers. At these stops, all along the side of the train, young kids, and older women walked offering food, and drinks. You didn't even to look out to see what they were selling, each person, in their equally raspy, worn out vocal-cord (from calling out day after day) voices made it clear to all what they were selling. It was like (a unique kind of) music in our ears hearing Spanish again. Being able to understand everything (or most everything) being said. I can't imagine what it will be like to be back in the US!

We had a food bag with beef jerky (from Uncle Nathan) dry cereal, crackers and cookies as well as a couple two-liters of soda and water for the trip, but man did those empenadas, and barbecued chicken and beef sticks look appetizing! We ate the stuff we had, and drank the soda and water.

Then, when we finally decided to buy something, we realized Dad had only given us Bolivianos in hundreds and fifties (which are only roughly worth twenty and ten dollars, but the venders usually don't have change for those bills). We told Nate to buy something for all of us to break one of the fifties, so he bought a something to drink. It was a nasty transparent, brown, quinua (a nutritious filled, nutritious tasting, nutritious looking grain), chunky fruity liquid that looked, smelled and tasted like vomit. It was in little plastic bags, having a straw sticking out of the top, made with probably “unsafe” water. Ben bravely gulped it down, while Nathan told me if I drank half of the other he would finish it. After I practically gagged with the first half, Nate decided he really didn't feel like drinking the rest, and we threw it away. After Nathan was congratulated on his superb intuition on what would be best for the three of us, I was elected to buy the food from then on. We ate the cheese, and chicken empanadas, as well as the shishkabobs later that night. By dark, our car had really filled up, but each one of us were still in a pair of seats to ourselves. We slept with our heads on one end, and our feet hanging out the window to give us more room. We had a somewhat comfortable sleep (if you could call it that) until three AM, when we were awakened by the train jarring to a halt, the lights flickering on, a pumped group of young people who chattered endlessly, and the venders on the side of the train all took a second to register to the groggy brain. This is where I realized I wasn't in the right seat. I got kicked out, but in my seat, a little girl was fast asleep next to her mother. Her normal seat was across the aisle, next to a quite large, grumpy looking man. So, that was now my seat. Sometime in the night Nathan and Ben had also lost their pair of seats, and were now sitting in their assigned seats next to each other. I was so thankful to see the gentlemanly side of Nathan come out, and he offered to spend the rest of the night next to the scary man. The rest of the ride wasn't too comfortable& considering you felt bad leaning your seat back into the lap of the person behind you& while the person in front of you didn't feel the least bit apologetic and went right ahead.

The Sunday morning sunrise was beautiful. All sorts of colors bursting out of the sky. When we arrived at the station around 10, dad, a brother and his son were right there to help us unload the luggage, and carry it to the trufi. I kinda hobbled rushing out, because with my luck, I had stepped on a ginormous black bumble bee that was stuck in a plastic bag on the floor of the train, under my feet the night before. As we rode to the house, Dad filled us in on what was going on. First, he told us the day we left had been relaxing, and they were able to see a bit more of the Pantanal (well from the windows of a restaurant that is). But this was no normal restaurant. They ate crocodile, piranha, and I forget what the other strange things were. They had then gotten on a plane, and arrived in Santa Cruz a couple hours later.

As soon as they got in, they were updated on the news. A son of a family there in the Santa Cruz assembly had recently come back from Spain to visit his family, and had committed suicide a few days before, and his step-mother had just found him. So, from the plane they went straight to a funeral. My family had just met brother of the deceased, Samuel, in the conference of Montero a few months before (while I was in Ecuador), and he was really thankful my parents were there for the funeral. My parents had spent the night there in the house of the brother who had picked us up.

Another piece of pivotal information was the fact that there was a Dengue epidemic. Implying that over 65% of the Santa Cruz population had the malaria-like virus. The first time an individual gets sick, it is like a acute type of the flu. It can last up to two weeks or more. The victim gets very dehydrated, and has a high fever. The first time is bad, but after you get it once, the next occurrence is much worse. If not caught in time, the individual can hemorrhage, bleeding from their eyes, gums, nose, and fingertips. Dad decided that it wasn't necessary that we risk getting something like that, and we were informed that he had already purchased bus tickets out of there for the same night after spending the day in Santa Cruz.

We arrived at the two-story house, having a little internet café, and small market downstairs, and unloaded our bags. It was so nice to have a shower, after practically 24 hours on a dusty, dirty train. As soon as we were showered, and had gotten dressed it was time to leave to have lunch at Samuel's parent's house. The family was in a time of grieving, the funeral being the day before, but they thanked us over and over again for coming. The father of the family at a rural conference, and hadn't gotten the news of his son's passing, so that was hard for them too. I felt so bad, I really didn't know what I should, or could do for them. We had just been on a train all night, hadn't really gotten enough sleep, and none of us knew any of the family except for Samuel. You could tell all of them had been crying, and weren't feeling the best obviously. It got a little better by the end though.

From there we went to meeting. They had it in the afternoon there. It was another one of “well, if we re going to have three hours of meeting, why not have it continuous”! . Oh, it was so wonderful singing in Spanish once again. And here, they sang loud. I mean it was thunderous!

We talked for quite a while with those from the assembly before we were pushing it for time as usual. Back at the house we packed up, and headed for the bus station, and loaded a double-decker for Cochabamba, escaping the Dengue epidemic.

Monday, February 9, 2009

brazilian beaches and beyond

The rest of our time in Florionopolis was great.

The island's Fireworks for the New Year were known to be some of the best in Brazil. Cesario and Elvira's relatives were on their way over to see them, and all us YP piled into a few cars with them. When we got out, more than a ten-minute walk from our destination, we needed no one to tell us where we should go. Mobs of people, looking like swarms of ants all headed for the shoreline. EVERYBODY in Brazil (or so it seemed) packed together on the shore overlooking the bay. I've never been in a crowd that big in my life! Everywhere you looked there were groups of families and friends, talking, laughing, or just hanging out waiting for midnight.

Before leaving Cesario's, the Argentinean girls told me they had heard that it was a custom in Brazil to wear all white on New Years Eve, so the five of us girls all put on white shirts, and skirts. Some of the people back at the house kinda smiled when they saw us like that, but didn't say anything. They spoke to each other in Portuguese, and we weren't quite sure what they were saying... but quickly forgot about it upon arriving, and seeing many, if not the majority were also wearing white. It was not until much later, after we'd left Florionopolis, that I asked Mom if she knew what it was all about. We both laughed when she told me, and I felt a little bit embarrassed. Catholics, showing their loyalty to the church had that custom... :S

So, after waiting around for at least half hour, the fireworks started. While lighted from a boat in the water, in they were controlled by someone on shore with a remote. It was pretty impressive, watching the bursts of color in the sky, then their reflection below. All around, everyone was looking up, and with every explosion their faces lighted up. When mid-night finally rolled around, the reason for the champaign bottles in just about everyone's hands was evident. The whole time people had been walking around, shaking them up, and right at twelve, the corks were popped, and everyone anywhere close to them were showered.

A couple days Mateus took us to different beaches. When my parents had come back from Joinville where Danielle lives, they brought back a car Danielle had let us borrow. It really came in handy. And I got to drive for the first time in what, six months?! It was wonderful! Because in Brazil the law is you have to be eighteen to drive, I was the only one with a liscence who could. So Dad drove the other. It's interesting how although January is summer down here, it is also the rainy season. So, while we were at the beach, it rained every time. But, it didn't change the fun we had. I think it was the first time we'd been swimming in the ocean in the rain! One of the beaches was close to where Bernardo and Giseli live, so their daughters came out and swam with us too. Jose and Graciela invited us over for “pastel”, a sort of fried empenada, with shrimp inside, made only in Brazil. They were really good!

A few days later, the conference started. By then, three more sisters and a brother had arrived to the house from Bolivia. They had the option of staying at the luxurious hotel, or in the little three roomed, one bathroom house, already bursting at the seams with five girls, and two guys. Cesario and his wife Elvira, as well as the rest of my family (sleeping at Elvira's parents') coming in to eat every meal. They chose the house. We were all so impressed with Elvira and Cesario's attitudes. The whole time they were positive, cheerful, and serving everyone as best they could. Although it was complicated rationing out the shower, and eating times, it was a really happy time.

The hotel, where the conference was hosted was very different than the majority of the conferences we´ve been to in South America. While many times it was warm outside, they had air conditioning. I'm sure we must have had it in other places on this trip, but that's the first place I remember! During the meetings, if we concentrated really hard, we could understand the majority of what was being said, but were still at that point where once comprehending what was being said, it was kinda hard to connect those parts to complete thought. Finding the books of the Bible were easy for us, which helped us to understand a little more.

As we discovered the whole country of Brazil, the food at the hotel was incredible. Some of what we ate was similar to American food, then everything else was amazing too. I don't think there was ANYTHING I ate that I didn't like!

After conference we went to the beach with Jose and Graciela, along with their nieces, Mariana, and Jiovani and all the YP staying at our house. They took us to the sand dunes, where we were able to sand-board. We rented a couple boards, and all shared them. It was awesome! Compared to snowboarding, you have a little less control of where you're going, but it's easier to get up, and stay up if your board isn't waxed. Another thing is the exhaustion factor. After riding down a dune, you have to hike back up. It seems as if for every foot up, you slide back three. So by the time you get back up to the top, you feel as if you're done for the day after only one run! But, after sitting up top, watching the others for a while, you had to go down again, and again, and again. When finishing for the day, we were all tired, but happy. A few of us, thinking about back home at this time of year there's plenty of snow on the mountains, began to experience snowboarding withdrawals.

From there, we had to say goodbye to Jose and Graciela, as well as Marianna and Jioviani :(. They were all so kind!

The next day we had to say goodbye to Cesario, Elvira, and Mateus, as well as Dina, Eliana, Rus Mery and Josue from Argentina. Even though it was kind of hard to communicate with Elvira, I really enjoyed being with her, and she was really a help spiritually to me too. It was almost as if her daughter Talita and I had switched lives. At the time I was staying at the Simoes, going to their conference, hanging out with Talita's friends, she was at L.A. conference, where she hung out with my friends!

Saying goodbye to the Argentineans was hard. They had traveled with us for almost a month I think it was, and I really bonded with the girls. We shared things we were going through, and they encouraged me in the Lord. I will always have good memories of them, as well as the songs they taught me in my mind. Josue was a real encouragement to my brothers too.

From Florionopolis, our next stop was Joinville, where Hanes, and Danielle (Dad's cousin) live with their daughter Sarah and two sons Johanes and Dominique. It was a beautiful little German settlement. They live on sort of mission grounds where Hanes' grandparents, then parents had been missionaries. We stayed in Hanes' in-laws house while they were away on vacation. Everything was obviously German in the whole house. It was as if they had brought a part of Germany with them when they'd come from their home.

Here we were thrown into yet another language hurricane. Sarah spoke mostly Portuguese, and her cousin who was visiting knew no English. With her we communicated in either our Spanish mix of Portuguese, or some English. The boys talked Portuguese with Sarah and Bruno, English with us, and with Danielle, but only German with Hanes. So at two and four they were fluent in three languages (Dominique understanding, but not quite speaking all quite yet)!

We had a really nice time there. Danielle and Sarah took us to a milk, and cheese farm, where we saw goats that were treated the best I've seen, then to a waterfall where we went swimming. One night we had a bond fire where we had SMORES!!! The first time since we'd left home. They were delicious. We also sang in English and Portuguese while Danielle played the accordion. It was really neat to see Sarah and her younger cousin Bruno singing with all their heart, and almost arguing about what one to sing next :D.

It was so refreshing to be back in a house where English was a first language, something we haven't had since Ecuador and Leticia!

Piracicaba was our next destination. Pretty much our whole trip we were just winging it, not knowing exactly where we were going, or when, until maybe a week, maybe a day before doing it. Piracicaba was a different story. We knew we were going to go there, and had been looking foreword to it the whole trip. Uncle Nathan, Vi, and Larissa were going to be there, staying with Vi's parents. And, we were going to see our cousin Larissa for the first time, who was born after we started the trip!

Uncle Nathan, and Cristiani (Vi's sister) met us at the bus station. It was so good to see them! Seeing my uncle down here in South America was a little disorienting for my mind at the beginning. :D I hadn't seen Cris since Nathan and Vi's wedding, and it had been over eight months since seeing Uncle Nathan or Vi! Seeing them there made me really miss everyone even more back home.

When we got to the house we were warmly taken in, as if we were part of the family. Although the house was small, and they already had company, they just made more room for us. Here we had more opportunity to speak in Portuguese with Tony and Sueli, although Cris and David both speak English well. And Larissa is adorable! She is the happiest baby I've ever seen!

While we were there, they took us out to eat pastel (like the ones some of us had tried in Florionopolis) and asai, both typical to only Brazil. We had never tried asai before. When they served it in a big bowl, I was expecting the dark brown thick sauce to taste something like chocolate pudding, but found it to have a berry flavor. It was partially frozen, and along with the granola mixed with pieces of fruit like papaya, strawberries, mango and pineapple it was really good!

One day Felipe and Carol (Vi's brother and sister-in-law) came over to Toni and Sueli's to make Brazilian Barbecue. It was delicious! I can't say it enough. Brazilian food is amazing!

After being there a few days, we said goodbye to Uncle Nathan, Vi and Larissa. Felipe and Carol invited us to stay with them in Limera. It was really neat getting to know them better too. Both of them are so sweet! Because Felipe sometimes has to work out of town, we spent more time with Carol. She was always cheerful, and making us laugh.

In Limeira, we were staying in the appartment, but we were barely there. People were always inviting us out to their houses, or we had meeting or something! The place we probably went the most was Beto and Neca's dentist office. There Anna got four teeth pulled, Ben and Mom two, and I one. We kept them busy ;D. It seemed like we were always over there! We also went over to their house and swam in their pool frequently. One night we were there, they brought out old video recordings that Flavio, a man from there in Limeira had taken years ago when he was in the States. It was hilarious to see some people we recognized, from over twenty years ago (including people like my dad, aunts, uncles, and others, particularly from Southern California)!

Pizinato took us everywhere in his car! The cross between a mini-van and stationwagon was just perfect fitting the six of us and him, so he was pretty much our chauffeur ;D. He and Nate teased each other endlessly, never leaving a dull moment.

Elaine took us all around too. One day she took us to Inez's (a sister in the meeting) hair salon where she, her daughter Emily, Mom, Anna and I got our hair and nails done. Mom remembers twenty years ago on her honeymoon when Inez invited her to come to that exact same place!

We also went to a brother's house named Mario Persona. Both his children are now living in the US, and he lives alone with an adopted son, who has been mostly blind, crippled, and mentally slow since birth. To see the love he has for Pedro is amazing, and I really think that the boy has flourished with that love, and has reached heights he would have never been able to accomplish without it. Although he can't speak, walk, or even control himself completely, he knows when he's cared about.

Mario is a very gospel oriented person, and has been posting videos on Utube called “Evangelio em tres minutos”. From that ministry many are coming to him with questions, and are even getting saved. It was really encouraging to hear about his work.

One weekend we went out to Roberto's “facienda”, which is a big ranch where he has horses, cows, and probably other animals I didn't see. There all the young people have good memories of getting together, and spending time with each other. The weekend we went it was only our family, Roberto and his son Mateus, Felipe and Carol, another Mateus from Limeira, and Cristiani, Vi's sister.

It was beautiful, and peaceful out there. Driving up the long driveway, we passed acres and acres of sugar cane, then pastures and pastures of cattle. The large, rustic house was built somewhere in the eighteen hundreds. You could tell it had been owned by wealthy plantation owners in the past, but now, it was apparent that there was nobody taking care of it like there once were. Plaster was cracking off the walls, exposing the bricks underneath and all kinds of old trinkets from saddles to license plates to wood burning stoves and a stuffed animals including a cougar and alligator filled the building. The rooms where we stayed were pretty large, and had very high ceilings, and windows. In the kitchen, Roberto had about five ancient refrigerators, most of them didn't work. As one would walk through, it almost felt like a museum in one of the old buildings down by Fort Vancouver, only instead of American relics, these were Brazilian. It was all fascinating. Down below, in the basement, were the living quarters of the slaves. From hearing of how the American slaves were treated, it was easy to imagine how it probably was hundreds of years ago here too (although apparently here they were treated more humanely as a whole, and the Brazilian abolition had been ratified before that of the United State's). From the balcony, you could see looked over the whole valley of small hills, wide, curving rivers, and criss-crossed lines of sugarcane fields. The place was gorgeous. It was obvious why car advertisements were filmed up here.

A few of us went in to town to buy meat for a Barbecue. It was a tiny place, with only one grocery store. We packed everything into the back of Carol's car, then she let Ben drive. It started out a little rough, considering he's not too accustomed to driving a manual, but pretty soon it seemed almost as smooth as an automatic. While we were shopping, the sky had become filled with clouds, and it had begun to rain. We hadn't taken this into account before we got to the dirt road, but once we got there, it was a little scary for me. The light brown powdery dirt had become a dark slimy, slippery mess. While he drove up, down, and around the hills, Ben had absolutely no control of the back of the vehicle. I would hold my breath while he would turn the steering wheel one way, and the back tires would slide the other. Thankfully we got back to the house safely.

There, Roberto, and Dad made some amazing barbecue for us all, including sausage, chicken, beef, and grilled cheese (which is a delicious Brazilian way of eating their cheese!) in a little outdoor kitchen by the house. As always, it was WAY too much food for us to eat in one meal.

Because it was raining, we didn't go outside, but stayed around the house, playing games, sleeping, talking, or using Mateus' laptop.

The next day we went on a hike down to a waterfall, getting an even better view of the valley, tramping through the Roberto's fields, past the ranch hands' houses, and little lake, stocked with fish. It would have been neat if we we would have been able to stay more time, but that night we had meeting, and the next day was Sunday, so we had to get back to Limiera.

The next day, we went to the assembly in Sao Paulo. It took us about two hours in Pizzi's car. Even though it wasn't too far away, the traffic, at all hours is awful. The city planning for the city hadn't done a good job at all. It was so bad that during the week only certain license plate numbers can drive certain days! It was a fellowship Sunday, so even though there was only one brother, two sisters (Cida), then a husband and wife (Luis and Vicca) with their daughter (Paula), and her boyfriend, we had a meal together. Luis cooked up meat and cheese on a little grill he had brought to the small room where we had the meetings.

After the meal, Pizzi agreed to drive us to Grandpa's caretaker's (Silvio and Rose) relatives' house, which was supposedly somewhere in Sao Paulo. Because we had no idea where it was, and only had an address, and a telephone number, Luis and Vicca said we could use their GPS, and brought Cida along too. It was a long, almost frustrating process finding the address. Numbers seemed to jump all over the place, and for a while they were even on one side, then odd on the other, then it would switch up, then the numbers went up, then started back down... but, finally, we saw a man, and woman standing out by the road, looking sort of like they might be watching for someone, and pulled in. Are you looking for us? In fact they were! Upon seeing the man, we realized the similarities in both looks, and behaviors of Silvio, and knew he was his dad. The lady was his wife, Silvio's mom.

When we first walked into the small apartment, it was a little bit awkward. We had never met these people, and really had never communicated with them at all either. Another complication was our lack of Portuguese, and unlike when we had been anywhere else in Brazil where most people spoke English, they didn't know much. We sat down on the couches, and kind of tried to communicate. Then, Dad was like, “I'd like to share some verses with you.” And, he did. From there, things started to loosen up. As it became less awkward, more and more people started showing up. Now not only the immediate family of Silvio was there, but Rose's was came also, and their cousins, and cousins of cousins. Then, we mentioned maybe singing some songs. Because they are Seventh Day Adventists, we thought we might know some songs they also were familiar with. They told us to go first, then they sang. Man, did they sing beautifully. Some of them were in a quartet from their church, and whether it was just them singing, or the whole family, it was amazing.

From then on, we felt almost part of the family! Each one of us were in another little group, trying to communicate with our Espanportlish. By then, there were probably fifty people packed in the room, and more were outside. It was crazy, but way fun.

Even after knowing them for less than a couple hours, we didn't want to say goodbye. It's amazing how God's love can be so strong. Showing up at someone's house, their WHOLE family coming over, and being able to share the Word, and songs together. It was so amazing.

Back at the apartment, one night Tony, Sueli, and Pizinato had come over to have us try Feshuada, that Sueli had prepared. Apparently it was one of the most-known meals pertaining to Brazil specifically. The story behind it was, in the days of slaves, the plantation owners would throw out all their meat scraps, pieces of the animal they didn't want to eat, to their slaves. The servants would take advantage of the situation, and would cook what they received with beans. Now, most have accustomed to eating it with good meat as we did at Carol's (and were thankful ;D), but there are still some people who prefer it the original way.

We were going to make it to Santa Cruz, Bolivia as soon as possible, but had gotten news that they were voting for a new constitution in the country, so there was a good chance of civil unrest, so we decided to spend a week as a family at the beach. Saying goodbye to those in Limiera, (looking forward to hopefully seeing Cris, Felipe, and Carol in March when they come to take an English course in the US) we boarded yet another bus.

Arriving to Sao Paulo, it was necessary to get to another bus station, getting there on the subway. We weren't looking forward to that. We each had at least one big suitcase, and a backpack, as well as two other extra suitcases, and were NOT excited about squishing into one of those. Being our only option, we kinda had to do it. Our fears were confirmed when the train pulled up to the platform. We stared in through the windows, at the mass of people packed in like sardines. There's NO way the four of us said one to another, but we didn't have time to argue, or even second think when Dad said “Get in!”, and slipped into a car further on. Mom disappeared, and so the four of us, and our luggage jammed ourselves into the already pancaked people in the car. We got some dirty looks, and muttered phrases, but thankfully we didn't understand! The ride was hot, stuffy, and jerky. We pretty much didn't even have to hold ourselves up, because whether we held onto something or not, we wouldn't go anywhere, being plastered against people, or their belongings on every side. When the door opened, we practically bursted out. The six of us together once again, we had to catch another one to the other bus station. Thankfully, although it wasn't empty enough for us to sit, we didn't even have to touch anyone as we stood with our bags jostling through the city.

The next bus ride was around five hours to Maranduba, a little beach town where we were planning to spend the week. We had found the hotel on the internet, and really had absolutely no idea where it was as we stepped off the bus, and unloaded our bags all under the little bus stop cover. It was raining, hard. This was one of the first times my dad really didn't know what to do, or where to go. Although things are usually always last moment, we usually get there, and Dad has an uncanny way of just “knowing things” or at least figuring them out quickly. So, when this wasn't the case, and not “everything worked out perfectly” as it usually does, everyone was a little irritated. It's funny how many times this SHOULD have happened to us, but just never did. So, when it does happen, we're not quite prepared. The rain was puring down, and we tried to keep our luggage under the shelter, but even that didn't work too well. The fact that we were making others waiting for the next bus wait out in the rain, because us, and our stuff were filling the place.

Dad left, and somehow got a hold of the hotel, who said they'd send someone. After waiting out there for like 45 minutes, someone showed up... but, he was on a bike! We kinda smiled at that. He put one of the bags on the bike, which he walked, while we followed him, lugging all our baggage, through all kinds of muddy potholes, and a swinging bridge. Thankfully, the rain wasn't cold, but it was obviously wet. Getting us, and our stuff pretty soaked. While walking along the road, Ben asked the guy if it was always like this here in Maranduba. He replied, “no, the sun does come out sometimes... it was sunny two days ago.” We had been warned about the fact that the next town up, Ubatuba, had been nicknamed “Uballuva”, lluva meaning rain, so we should have been a bit more prepared for seeing only the sun peaking out from behind the clouds a couple times :D.

The hotel wasn't luxurious, but it was perfect for what we needed; a queen sized bed, bunk-bed, and a hide-a-bed, with a small little kitchen, containing all the utensils we would need for cooking and eating.

As soon as our stuff was in the room, we all changed into our swim-suits, and went out to the beach. From the hotel, it was only about a seven minute walk. By this time, the rain had stopped, but even so, the beach was pretty much deserted. Mom stayed on the beach, watching us, with her long skirt, long sleeved shirt, wide-brimmed hat, and black umbrella to keep as many UV rays away from her skin as possible. It wasn't easy to loose her! We got in the water, and jumped waves for a couple hours, then went to a little restaurant by the water.

The next day, Nate and I got up before everyone (at nine) and went out swimming. The whole time it was overcast, and rained every couple hours, but that didn't matter, because the water was so warm, even the rain was never too cold. When we came back at noon, everyone was still in bed!

It was a really good time to just be as a family. The first time really on this whole trip we spent time being just us. We cooked our own meals, did our own dishes... it was almost like being home again (only without all our family and friends :( )! We had a lot of cereal and milk, beans and rice. Mom is trying to stay away from wheat as much as possible, which she's heard helps with Lupus. So, for everything we bought we looked for “gluten free”. It's harder than it seems! Practically everything has gluten in it, even the chocolate the rest of us all shared! At meal times she couldn't eat the bread we had with eggs, french toast, and even some ice-cream. But, thankfully, her favorite candy bar has no gluten; snickers. Uncle Nathan brought a bunch down from the US when he came, and, because nobody else in my family reads this, I can tell you that she still has a bunch of them hidden away in her suitcase, and when nobody is looking, she sneaks one every once in a while from her precious stash. I think everybody else thinks they're long finished by now ;D. Other than the diet, (which she really believes has been helping her tremendously with not being so drowsy all the time) which is pretty hard to be on, especially when we're always visiting other people's houses, (and you can't just say “I can't eat anything with gluten”), she has been doing much better than Leticia, improving all the time, and is back to her normal cheerful self. The only difference being she always has to wear the longsleeves, hat, and carry an umbrella as well as the 65spf sunscreen she wears to keep as much as the UV rays from getting to her skin as possible as we travel.

We were there for like two days before we left for Taubate, an assembly about six hours away, to spend the weekend. We left our suitcases at the hotel, and each packed a backpack.

When we arrived at the bus station, we weren't quite sure exactly of who we were looking for. The sister with who Dad had communicated only knew Portuguese, and without hand motions over the phone, it was difficult to know exactly what she was saying. What Dad DID understand, was that he had glasses. So, that was the only hint we had recieved. This was one of the few times we had never seen the person picking us before, but, like always, we found each other. Allesandro, Rosangela, Glauber and Leticia's house was right down the road, so it was easy to walk to from the station. At the house we met Lucilia and Juliano, Marcos, Elaine and their two adorable little kids Gabriel and Giovana. The whole assembly had come to greet us. Once again, we had a little bit of an awkward situation. We didn't know them, or anything about them, and they the same with us. As soon as we arrived, we sat down to an amazing meal they had prepared for us.

From there, we had a reading, where we sang, and read a passage. Afterwards, everyone loosened up a bunch. We took showers, and got our stuff organized. We had another meeting later on (which was there regular weekly meeting). Afterwards we went out to an Arabic restaurant. In Brazil, they have quite a bit of Arabic food. There was where everyone really got comfortable. We all talked there till late.

Because nobody´s house was large enough, our family was split up in twos for the night. Mom and Dad stayed with Juliano and Lucilia, Anna and I with Marcos and Elaine, while Ben and Nate stayed in the house we had arrived at; Allesandro and Roseangela's. Although the house where we were at was very small, only having two rooms, we got Gabriel and Giovana's room, while they slept with their parents. They were the cutest little kids ever. A little bit mischievous at times, but full of fun.

Sunday, because we were visiting, and there were too many to all fit in Allesandro's house, they rented sort of an event center. After meeting we had a meal, and the kids played in the pool, or threw little plastic balls at each other (like the ones at a Mc Donald's play place). Pretty soon, some got a little too comfortable ;D. Ben, Marcos and I all got thrown in the pool with our Sunday clothes on, and Juliano and Nathan got in a pretty serious war with the balls. Nate had little red welts all over his back, and I imagine Juliano did too. We all had a lot of fun.

We spent the evening back at Allesandro's, then stayed one more night before heading back to the houses we'd been in the night before.

The next morning, we said goodbye to everyone, and headed back for Maranduba. Being there, in that assembly was really encouraging. The three families all got along together really well, and had all come into the meeting just within the last couple of years. They were all ready, and happy to learn all they could.

On our way back to Maranduba, we stopped in Ubatuba, where we met a whole group of kids, and young adults from YWAM (Youth With A Mission). There were over two hundred of them all from different churches, who had come together for some sort of a camp. We talked to quite a few of the kids for a while, and it was here where I could hear the ext ream accents. They say those from the north of Brazil, and those from the south can't understand each other. Even though we barely know Portuguese, there was a definite distinction in the way some of them talked. They were all excited,witnessing, singing songs, and performing skits for people on the boardwalk. When we were about to leave, they invited us to stay with all of them at the school they had rented, or if we wanted to have free surfing lessons the next day. Dad decided it was too much, so we went back to the hotel.

Instead of taking surfing lessons with those from YWAM, who were at another beach, pretty far away, Dad rented a surf board, and let me take lessons with an instructor. Nate was the first one to try, and he got up on his first wave. Ben did really good too, and with Nathan's help, Anna was able to catch a couple waves. It was really fun.

It turned out the instructor was a Christian too! While Nate, and Ben were out surfing, I talked with him. He had had a hard life, and everything went wrong before he finally turned to the Lord. After his conversion, by his testimony, his wife, two sons, father-in-law, and various others in his family were saved. He had a really neat, interesting testimony.

That was our our last day at the beach. We hopped on a bus to Sao Paulo, from where we got another bus to the Bolivian boarder.

The boarder town where we arrived was hot, humid, jungle territory. Probably one of the hottest places we've been. Dad had went scouting out for a hotel for us to stay in, and found one way out in the country, that was practically a ranch, with a bunch of rooms, overlooking the beautiful “Pantanal”, kind of a marshland (or something), which people come all over the world to explore. Apparently it has all kinds of snakes, piranhas, panthers, crocodiles, and other wildlife, but we didn't have time to see any of that if we were to arrive in Santa Cruz for Sunday.

Thankfully we had air-conditioning in our room, where we stayed the rest of the evening, except when we went out for dinner. Walking down the road we smelled shishkabobs being barbecued over coals, and stopped in. It was too hot to be very hungry, even though it was probably nine at night. There we celebrated our last night in Brazil...

For breakfast at the hotel, we were served eggs and milk probably from their own chickens and cows, as well as bread and bananas. In the place was a HUGE blue macaw, that chased us around during breakfast. The owner of the place came into the dining room to see us all hiding behind chairs, making sure that at least one object always between us and the extraoridinarily large bird. It must have looked very comical. She shooed the menacing creature out of the room, and apologized for it's behavior, allowing us to finish our breakfast. The train was to leave soon, on which Ben, Nathan and I would be riding to Santa Cruz, so we rushed to pack up all our baggage.

After crossing the boarder into Bolivia, arriving at the train station, the three of us older kids said goodbye to Dad, Mom, and Anna as they headed for the airport. We were planning on meeting up in Santa Cruz after about twenty hours...