Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Our adventure into the Caroni Swamp started after a short drive from our home into a wooded area south-east of the Port of Spain.  The Island of Trinidad has an average width of 40 miles and its greatest length from North to South is 55 miles - it is only 10 miles from Venezuela.  Yearly rainfall is between 80 and 150 inches and during the wet season as much as 14 inches has been recorded in a single day.  Temperatures range between 70 and 86 degrees.  This is the dry season and we have only seen a couple of storms in our few weeks here.
The Caroni Swamp is a lagoon that covers about 40 square miles of wetland with the Gulf of Pariah and Caribbean Sea to the west.  The swamp was made a forest preserve in 1936 and has recently been declared a protected wetland of international significance.  It is rich in shrubs, grasses, water hyacinth, sedges and ferns. Mangrove trees are the primary vegetation.  The most famous residence of Caroni Swamp is the scarlet ibis - the Trinidad national bird.  
We boarded a shallow skiff and slid away from the dock.   
Quietly we slipped into a narrow pathway cutting through the mangroves with the anticipation of seeing some of the creatures of the swamp.
There was a caiman hiding in the tangled roots of the mangrove.  It was barely visible and impossible to see in the photograph.
 Termite nests were everywhere.  On another outing to the Asa Wright Bird Refuge our guide recommended that we try eating a few termites - said they tasted like carrots and yes I gave it a try.  I'll tell you about it on a future blog.
After gliding through the mangrove for thirty minutes we caught the first glimpse of this beautiful bird - a scarlet ibis barely captured with a telephoto lens.
 I think the scarlet ibis didn't get the message taught by evolutionists that survival of the fittest most often went to those that perfect their camouflage.
We were told that there were thousands of scarlet ibis that lived in and around the  tree islands and so far we had seen only a couple in the dark shadows.
     Our boat captain took us through the maze and we saw blue herons, snowy egrets, and even some tree boas shown in the tangled dark mass in the center of the picture. 
Big snakes overhead - great fun.
 We soon broke out of the jungle into the open Gulf.  After the many turns in the channel and around the islands I thought that if left alone I would never find my way back - the one water path had become invisible in the wall of green.
It was a beautiful waterscape of green and blue. 
As we came around one turn in the middle of the water was a fairly large island with some snowy egrets in the trees.  Our boat captain backed into an adjacent tree line and shut off the motor and told us it was important to stay quiet.
Then suddenly small flocks of scarlet ibis began to fly in and alight on the island trees.  They came in fast from overhead and then from the right and left in ever growing numbers.  Each time a flock would come in everybody on the boat would give a barely audible sigh of delight.
A contrast of scarlet red against the backdrop of blue and green had all holding their breath as they continued to alight in the trees.  Soon the island trees were laden with hundreds upon hundreds of these beautiful birds. 
Night was quickly approaching and the specs of red and distant chatter of roosting ibis was a pleasant end to an afternoon turning dark in the Caroni Swamp  
Thanks to those whose photos I have added.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

We have had some great experiences on our last two p-day outings that I will be posting pictures of and writing about in the next couple of days.
Tonight I have written two "return with honor" testimonies from West Indies missionaries - they are direct quotes.
First testimony:

"We were having a baptism on Saturday and it was a clear day.  We used the ocean at the back of the church for the ordinance.  We all were in the chapel listening to the talks on baptism and the Holy Ghost when it began to pour rain very hard.  I and my companion looked at each other nervous a bit and we both bowed our heads and offered personal prayers for the rain to stop.  The talks were finished and now we had two primary girls that were going to sing 'I Like to Look for Rainbows'.  They got up and started singing; the moment they finished the last word the rain stopped!  We went out and the baptisms were performed for the two people.  Then we all came back inside and as the last person came inside for the closing testimonies, hymn and prayer the rain began again and continued the rest of that day and night.  Heavenly Father provided a miracle for us that day in stopping the rain for just the amount of time for the baptisms to take place." 
I note here that the chapel the missionary talks about sits above the ocean and behind the chapel podium there is a large window with a spectacular view of the Caribbean.  The baptismal font is a very secluded spot accessed by a stairway down to the ocean and the pool of water is ringed by rocks - it is a sacred place.
Second testimony:

"My companion and I were teaching an older woman about how she would be able to know the church is true would be as she reads the Book of Mormon and prays to know that it is true.  She explained that she didn't know how to read and immediately my faith wavered, but the spirit prompted me to promise her that as we come by the Lord will help her to learn how to read if she will exercise faith and trust in Him.  The next visit we returned to find out that she had prayed very sincerely to the Lord for help to read and to know if the church was true.  It was the first time in 25 years that she prayed aloud and sang hymns.  But she felt an irresistible desire to continue to come to church even though she had great troubles with her feet.  She came to church... but the miracle is that she knew how to read the whole time, she just lacked the faith to do so.  Sister Batiste is now baptized and teaches some of the members around her how to read with the "Thou shalt obtain my word book".
Tomorrow we will attend the Chaguanas Branch.  They have no piano and the music is sung a cappella.  The branch members have never heard most of the songs they are trying to sing and they struggle trying to find the right notes to put the words to.  We meet above a garage and the chapel is a small room with loose chairs that seat about thirty.  This is not the type of environment most of us know but it is a place of worship that is respected and loved by the branch members.  I have heard them bear testimony and speak of their conversions and believe they are some of the most spiritual and sincere that I have ever witnessed.  Nettie and I have learned to love and respect them for their simple but powerful faith and meager circumstances.  We are blessed to be among them.

I'm currently serving as the West Indies Mission financial secretary.  I was very touched to recently receive a modest amount of money from two individuals, who then had the balance of their plane ticket provided so they could fly to the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple to receive their endowment.  The money they contributed, determined by their ecclesiastical leader to be an adequate sacrifice, qualified them for this first time opportunity.  I have heard some of them testify to the joy of receiving this wonderful blessing - some which included a sealing to family members on the same occasion.  It is an eternal gift available to new converts who live in poverty yet do so with humble hearts and a mighty testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A day at Las Cuevas Bay

March 16, 2013
The Senior Couple over the Single Young Adults organized an all-day outing at Las Cuevas Bay on the north end of Trinidad.  We began the morning by picking up two young women at the Chaguanas Branch and driving with them through Port of Spain and north for about an hour and a-half through the mountains on a very narrow two-lane road.  The road was very winding and steep.  Nettie said it was the worst road she's ever been on, having previously said that Costa Rica had the worst roads. I must admit that coming around a sharp curve with another car approaching was a tight squeeze.  A few only had a foot or two of room between the canyon wall and the other car.   
Kellie on the left and Jenna on the right were our passengers on the trip to Las Cuevas Bay.  Kellie is a member with a very confident personality and Jenna is a non member who is still in High School.
The view from the top into the Caribbean Sea was spectacular with the lush green foliage, palms and huge ferns.

The beach we went to is behind the second mountain in the distance.  The first bay is Maracus which is the most popular.  Las Cuevas Bay is more isolated and has very little commercial development.
Only a few others on the beach.  Our group had about thirty young adults from the Trinidad Stake.  A surprising number were non members.  There have been four baptisms in the stake since we arrived on Trinidad three weeks ago.

A day with beautiful water and pristine sand.  It was probably 80 degrees with a slight breeze.  A few times we had a misty rain that added to the occasion.  All of the colors were rich and dark from the moisture in the air.

One of the small coves carved out of the basalt by the ever pounding sea.  The beach sand is a light grey and the water is a beautiful sky blue.

The foliage clings to every rock that refuses too give way.

A beautiful Garden created by our Heavenly Father to bless our lives and bring us joy.
When the Elders and a young woman dressed in white came down the beach we realized that in addition to having a social for the Young Adults, they were going to have a baptism.  I was emotionally struck by the humble strength of these young people and their desire to serve the Lord.  There were about thirty in attendance and we opened the baptism singing "I am a child of God" and two of the youth from the stake gave short talks and bore their testimonies.
What a wonderful opportunity to witness the power of our youth and their willingness to set aside the things of the world and to serve with faith among the children of our Father in Heaven.
We left after the baptism with Elder Lindorf so we could go back to the office and spend the afternoon working on some of the questions I have regarding finances.  We stopped at Moracas Bay to get lunch at the Shark and Bake which we had heard so much about from the other missionaries.  We were not disappointed.  They take a hot fry bread bun cut it open and put on it several pieces of breaded deep fried shark.  Next we put on various dressings from hot and spicy to sweet and mild and then coleslaw, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce and wow what a sandwich.  It was everything they kept bragging about.  We had just finished eating when my phone rang and one of the Assistants to the President said the elders who had baptized the sister were in a bad accident between Moracas Bay and Las Cuevas Bay.  We quickly drove back and found them on a sharp curve in the road.

Both cars had been totaled by a head-on collision and the Elder who was driving was shaken and in tears.  He said that when they came around the corner on a wet steep downgrade he braked and slid across the lane into the upcoming Porsche.  Fortunately nobody was seriously injured.  One of the elders was in a lot of pain on his side where he slammed into the inside of the door on impact but appeared to be fine.  Nettie spent the next hour and a half talking to the woman who was a passenger with her husband.  Nettie said the wife was impressed that when her husband got out of their car and chastised the elders the elders only gave a humble apology.  She said I could see that they were different - they had a look about them of kindness and love and she was pleasantly impressed.  She had a lot of questions about the church which Nettie answered as we waited for the police and the tow trucks to take away the vehicles.  The elder driving kept tearing up saying that he could have killed someone.  I took him aside and assured him that everything would be OK and he still couldn't calm down.  I told him to go into the trees where it was private and thank Heavenly Father for the blessing of all being well.  He returned after a few minutes with a sense of comfort and thanksgiving.  

The beautiful ferns and trees - perhaps a sacred moment of peace for the Elder to contemplate the blessings of safety given in a moment that could have been a lifelong tragedy.

A flower inches from the front of the destroyed cars.  Perhaps there was also a  blessing of opportunity to the wife who met four gentle servants of God and received an introduction to the Gospel of Jesus Christ  .

Friday, March 8, 2013

Chaguanas Branch in background.  Upstairs in the white frame building at the end of the road.
Waiting on the sidewalk for the branch to start.  The two little girls and boy in the center of the picture like to sit with grandma (Nettie)
The branch meets upstairs and we are waiting for someone to come and open up the gate.
Cute little Cummings children are excited to see us.  Little Markie is in the front, Mariah is on the left and Maria is the tallest on the right.  Markie and Mariah are all smiles when they see us.

Church is over and their "Grandma" is walking them to our car so we can take them home.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Trinidad driving is a new adventure.  We drive on the left side of the road and of course the steering wheal is on the right side of the car.  The roads are very narrow with deep gutters on both sides with no curb - in other words drop a wheel into one and you will need a wrecker to get you out.  You feel very cautious with cars coming at you from the opposite direction and you're sure you aren't going to make it through the narrow window of oncoming traffic.  Then you have cars parking on the side of the road and you weave in and out trying to miss both parked and moving cars.  There are a lot of skinned cars with mirrors taken off - recently one missionary took off three mirrors of cars coming in the opposite direction.  Now you take that condition and you get a bunch of very aggressive drivers playing "dodgem" on the roads and it gets quite wild.  There are no speed limits and very few traffic signals.  The smart thing is to take your time and stay in the left lane and let the cars fly by.  Honking is considered a polite gesture - just a tap on the horn to say thanks or I'm on right side.  Instead of signaling to move to the right, you put you hand out the window and flap it - which means look out I'm moving right! I've got to get a local license to drive within 90 days of arriving and the other seniors say it is an interesting test with questions like "when driving with a child on your lap is it best to hold them with your right or left hand" - trick question. 

On Sunday last, one of the families in the Chaguanas Branch asked us if we would take them home.  The husband and wife and their three beautiful kids got in the back seat and the husband said it is just down the road.  We drove several miles out into the savanna to a dirt road and small houses with garbage and puddles of fetid water.  When they got out I asked the husband how we could get back on the highway headed to our house and he gave me some directions while waving his arms which I think meant turn right and left.  We had to stop about ten times and ask for directions from people of the street - most of them were impossible to understand and they do speak English.  Once I had to get out to talk to a man and after hearing his directions and nodding my head as though I understood, I got back in the car and Nettie asked me what he said to which I answered "I have no idea".  She thought I was kidding until he walked over and tried to explain it all over again and when he was finished I rolled up the window and we looked at each other mystified.  We drove for an hour on the back roads of the little city of Chaguanas dodging oncoming traffic and barely getting by massive traffic jams.  Nettie was terrified and I was laughing - it was a wild and crazy experience.  As I was writing this, a high powered sports car went back and forth of our little narrow street and as he wound through the gears he easily exceed 100 miles and hour.  Did I say there are no speed limits in Trinidad?

This is the dry season until about January.  It is dry and very warm - probably mid 80's.  When the rainy season starts, the locals said we should get a day every two or three weeks where the sun comes out.   So, as they say here "there are two seasons, dry or wet" and they are always about 85 degrees in the day and 80 degrees at night.  We are close to the equator so the length of daylight is also very consistent - sun goes down at about 8 and comes up at about 6 every day of the year.  Beautiful palm trees and other massive trees I can't begin to identify.  I will try to post some pictures on the weekend.

We are busy in the Lords work.  We are support so the missionaries can teach the gospel.  The following is a direct quote from one of the books in our office where the missionaries put in their parting testimony when they leave for home.  I will put one in every once in a while to give you the spirit of missionary work in the West Indies.

"The most amazing experience ever.  We baptized Sister Marius, the sweetest toughest old 81 year-old lady I've ever met (who claims to be 18).  Toughest thing we've ever done, and it could never have happened without Elder Hunt, Elder Palmer Brother De'Beauville, Elder Bush and Elder Bills.  We arrived at Sister Marius home, which is in a ravine, with a stretcher the Red Cross let us borrow.  Now she is not a light lady.  She herself will tell you "I'm just laying here like a big blob!"  But she was a soldier through it all.  It was so hard carrying her out from her home to the truck, but after 45 minutes, which takes less than 30 seconds to walk normally, we finally made it to the truck, where she was then loaded in.  When we got to the beach we got her out and walked out to the rough sea, out to battle Poseidon.  After four attempts, our arms were dead and poor Sister Marius was a little scared (imagine not seeing the sky for years, let along going in the sea for a dip), so we trudged back to the beach to take a breather.  We made it, after half of us got knocked over by a massive, unexpected wave.  After re-motivating ourselves, we went back out for Round 2.  This time Brother De'Beauville joined us.  finally, a few tries later and making sure she went all the way under, Sister Marius was baptized by water.  We quickly shot for the beach (all the while lifting her to shoulder-height at the sign of any wave) and collapsed on the ground.  Awesome Sister Marius was clapping for joy on her orange stretcher and the whole group of onlookers were awestruck.  the next day, she was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, received the Holy Ghost, and shed tears as she thanked all of her missionaries, her "angels."  That was the baptism of the century."

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Trinidad electrical work

It looks like a magpie nest

On our walk Saturday morning we saw some beautiful flowers.

We were told that the summer flowers are just starting to come out.

Every color and type you can image
The birds in the morning and evening are celebrating the day.

A local lady told us that her mother used to say "the morning birds are up celebrating life and you kids need to be up doing the same".

The creations of our Heavenly Father are something to behold.

Every color and shape you can imagine.

So prolific that some alight on the power lines.

One of the most beautiful trees we have seen.  It is probably twenty feet in diameter.

We met the man that is training this climbing bougainvillea flower - he is from England and said he lives to work in his yard with his flowers.

One of the local birds greeted us when we walked by. 

Nettie said he was easier to understand that some of the people we have met.

The view from our back porch into the swimming pool and the mountain forest behind.  In the morning the parrots big and small fly over our heads from the forest.  The chatter as they fly by is amazing!

Friday, March 1, 2013

February 23, 2013
Thursday the 21st we left the MTC and KristyAnn picked us up at Lexus of Lindon after we turned in the last of our two cars.  We spent Thursday night trying to get our bags to the prescribed weight of 50# for the stow-away bags and 16# for the carry bags.  We got fairly close and it turned out that they didn’t weigh the carry on and the two stow-away bags were 49# and 51#.
Friday morning we went to the temple with KristyAnn and met Laura and Tammy Pinnock there.  Matthew was officiating and while we were in the chapel waiting to go into the endowment room, we were chosen to be witnesses.  I was sure that Matthew had told the person making the choice that we were his parents and he wanted him to place us in that position.  Matthew was as surprised as we were and it was wonderful to have our son in that position and our being so chosen.  It was a wonderful session and on one occasion I turned around and in looking at those in the session, I recognized Richard Winder who I hadn’t seen for many years.  I caught his attention and it was a wonderful reunion.  In the Celestial room, he brought his wife Barbara Winder over and she was as sweet as ever.  Nettie told her that I was always in love with her when I was a young man and she laughed a bit.  I can’t help but think that meeting them was important because I had wanted to write them to let them know we were going on our mission.  When I was 14, Richard was my home teaching companion and he was always 100% faithful.  I’ve used that example many times when I’ve talked about the value of Home Teaching and I told him so at our meeting.  He seemed to enjoy hearing that.  I believe he is about 90 and they seemed very alert and happy to see me.  They have both been very faithful servants in the church with many callings.  I believe his most notable calling was Temple President and hers was the Church General Relief Society President. They are a wonderful couple that we have always loved.
We met Laura for lunch at 12:30 and enjoyed a unique meal of “dirt burgers” and “cleansing drink”.  I enjoyed both – very good for us.  That night we spent with Matthew and his family.  We had pizza together and watched some old Myth Buster movies – funny.
We awoke this morning at 2:30, got ready and arrived at the airport at 4:15.  After worrying about it for several days (I don’t know why), we flew out to Huston at 6:00.  We are now sitting in the Huston airport waiting for our flight to Trinidad – it leaves at 3:00.  We expect to arrive at the Port of Spain airport at 10:30 tonight and Elder Lindorf will pick us up at the airport and take us to our apartment. 
We are now without a car, and are many miles from our home.  The condo in St George is rented out and an attorney is in our office for the next 18 months.  I left Grassy Green in Anthony’s hands and hopefully he, with David’s help will keep it green and the trees watered.  Our cat Golden is living with Kathleen in St George and she says he now owns the house.  He ate their pet fish, beat up their two dogs and lives on top of their living room cabinet.  She said he stares at them with disdain but seems to have somewhat adjusted to a new life.  He and Sharman have bonded – who would have thought that could happen.

Graduating class in iMOS for computer office work

Graduating class for effective proselyting 

The flight from Huston was long and tiring.  It was six hours but sitting in one spot was driving me crazy so I tried walking up and down the aisle a lot.  I sat next to a handsome large black man from Trinidad.  He was returning from a conference in Houston with other oil rig engineers.  After not talking for the first half, we finally hit it off and spent quite a bit of the remaining time talking about his work and my being a missionary.  He said he was familiar with the Mormon Church and had read a bit of the Book of Mormom.  I took down some contact information and anticipate checking back with him.
We arrived in Trinidad at 10:30 pm and it took us about an hour to get through customs.  The other senior couples said they were so worried about our getting through customs that they had several prayers on our behalf.  Their prayers were answered and everything fell in place.  Elder Lindorf met us at the exit and drove us to our apartment.  We arrived exhausted at about midnight.  The apartment was not clean and badly kept up.  We finally got to bed at about 1:00 am and I was so stressed I couldn’t sleep.  AT 3:00 am I was sitting on the edge of the bed wondering if our family would be upset if we were to fly back home in the morning – my frustration was over the quality of the living quarters and we didn’t think there was any way we could live here.  The Mission President said we could fix it up and we hope to do that with carpets, paint and a few curtains.
We are starting to adjust