Traveling to and Arrival in Santa Rosa del Sur

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Santa Rosa del Sur, Bolívar, Colombia
Our night of rest at the Hotel Palmera Real was interrupted often by the sound of busses coming or going throughout the night. We were originally going to have to travel from Santa Rosa to Bucaramanga by bus, taxi, boat, and taxi, so we stayed at this hotel because it is conveniently located right next to the bus terminal. About a month ago, the plane flights resumed to Santa Rosa, so we were able to buy plane tickets. We decided to not change our hotel as we did not know of another one that was closer to the airport. We asked our taxi driver, Oscar, to point one out. He showed us another hotel which is closer to the airport, which we will plan on using next time.

We were up early and went downstairs to the "Break Fast" restaurant . The waitress from last night was the cook for this morning.   She was prepared to make Scott's breakfast of beef steak and vegetables. That was nice not to have to explain all that again. I had one of the normal breakfast options—scrambled eggs with onion, tomatoes and cheese, with arepa, and coffee with milk. The restaurant is open to the outside air and we ate on the terrace. It was somewhat noisy as on the other side of the wall was the exit for the buses from the station. The eggs were delicious and I was thankful that Colombia is known for its arepas (corn disks) because they are unleavened.

We finished packing and checked out at 9:15 AM. We proceeded to the taxi area and Oscar was waiting for us. This was nice! There was virtually no traffic at this hour and the trip took less than 15 minutes to get to the airport.

I was told that the office for our small plane—ASES—was located across from Pan Pa’ Ya!—a restaurant in the food court . When we arrived at the food court, the only thing opposite Pan Pa’ Ya! was the seating area for the food court. I asked a group of airport workers where the office for ASES was. They said that the representative would come find us here sitting in front of Pan Pa’ Ya! We have taken this plane before 3 and 4 years ago, so I knew that this sounded reasonable. We were at the airport plenty early, but that is better than being stuck alongside the road with a flat tire or some other inconvenience hoping you can make it to the airport on time.

Since I have no computer, no books, no playing cards, etc. to occupy myself, I just people watched. Scott tried to connect to the free airport wi-fi and it would not connect at all. We had a cappuccino while we waited.

At 11:30, Juan met us and asked for our passports. There were also two others making the flight with us, so we would be on a slightly bigger plane than before . This time it was a Piper 34. It had two seats up front for the pilots, and five seats in the back. Normally, each passenger is limited to one small bag of 15 Kilograms. Since we knew we would have more luggage than this, we purchased an extra seat to make sure that all our luggage came with us.

The other two passengers were Danilo and Marvin. Marvin was born in Santa Rosa 30 years ago. He had Claudio (a church member) as his professor in high school. He also knew Leo and Oscar, the brothers of Claudio.

The Piper 34 was bigger, newer, nicer and smoother than our last flight. It had air vents that kept us cool with air from the outside. We were both able to take several pictures to give you a feel of the country we were flying over. Some things that I noticed were that the roads were all dirt except for one major four lane highway that I saw. I also saw palm trees grown for their oil. There were large fields, but I could not tell what was planted there . I also saw expansive wooded areas which are a type of natural forest reserve. The Rio Magdalena is very wide, almost swamp like, and that is the reason there is no bridge here and one has to take a boat to cross it.

When we arrived at the airport in Santa Rosa, we saw that they have resurfaced the airstrip; this is the reason the flights had been cancelled for a time. The old one was filled with potholes and no pilots would land on it. Oscar met us at the airport. We loaded our suitcases in the car; one in the back and the other one on the roof. The airport is also a military base and we saw a few soldiers on our way driving from the airport to the town.

We arrived at the hotel and checked in. The reception is on the second floor and our room is on the fourth floor. There is no elevator so we hoof the luggage up the stairs. The fourth floor has recently been added. I can tell this because on the outside it isn’t painted . The room has air conditioning and faces the street. There is a nice view in that we can see quite a distance; there are a few mountains in the distance. Oscar points out three possible restaurants that we might want to try for lunch. Oscar says good bye as he needs to return to work.

We unpack a few things. There is no place to hang any clothes, so Scott hangs them on the bar holding the TV. There is an alcove that I suspect will be used to make a closet of some sort in the near future.

We are hungry so we head downstairs and stop at the reception to ask a question about the wi-fi. While we are there, six men plus two military men come into the hotel looking for rooms to rent. One of these men appears to be a person of some official standing and the others are body guards. We decide to make a quiet exit.

We cross the street to the closest restaurant. We don’t think we will be able to order what we want here, so we check out another restaurant around the corner . This one is bigger, and looks promising. We sit down and the owner/chef comes and talks with us. He is willing to help us out with our special dietary needs. We ask him about breakfast, but he says he is not open for breakfast. Then he says, what time do you want to eat breakfast. I say, about eight o’clock. He says, “If you come here at 8 AM, I will cook whatever you want for breakfast.”  We thank him as this is very helpful to us.

Shortly after we order, the “men of note” from our hotel show up at the restaurant. Eight of them sit at a table, and one stands guard at the front entrance during the meal. We decided that we are either “very safe” or if someone comes in that does not like the man of note, “we are dead.” 

We have a very nice meal of cooked vegetables, patacon, and baby beef. We have cappuccino and then we leave. I have a headache which I think is from not drinking enough. It has been quite hot today. I lay down to rest, and after an hour, it has mostly disappeared . Scott works on sending out e-mails, sending them whenever he has connection which is slow and intermittent.

We need to buy water as it is very warm here. I asked at the receptionist where the closest supermarket is located. She points out that there is one at the next corner. We walk there and look through the store. They only have water in 8 oz. bags. We ask if there is another supermarket close by. They point out one down the street on the next corner. We walk in and several people ask if they can help us. We stick out so much that everyone knows that we are not local. They help us find the water. It comes in a 5 liter bag with a spout on it. It cost us $.50.

We return to the hotel. This is no easy process. Each store front has its own side walk with different tile or cement on the floor, each at a different level. Sometimes the step between is small sometimes large. Sometime the sidewalk if full of people sitting and talking, or merchandise, and we have to walk in the street . Some places are doing construction, so you have to watch out for things sticking out that you could run into. Sometimes there is a low overhanging beam, tree branch or merchandise hanging. We breathe a sigh of relief when we enter the hotel.

Oscar has arrived while we are gone to pick us up and walk us to the Bible Study tonight. He is here a half hour earlier than we expected, but no worries, we were more or less ready anyway. Oscar shows us the way to Mama Sierra’s house where Bible Study will be held. We walk mostly single file on the street as it is easier than the sidewalk.

We arrive and see that some improvements have been made to the house since we were last here three years ago. A new fence has been added to the front patio, and they are in the process of painting the inside. We greet some that are already there, and the remaining brethren arrive gradually. By 6:30 PM, most everyone is there . We gather in an informal circle in the living room.

At each place that we visit the brethren, we have been discussing plans for the Feast, ideas and activities they like or don’t like, observations regarding the Feast they each have, etc. We talk about this for a half hour as it is important that they all have a chance to voice their concerns. The opinions vary from I like a city location to I like a country location. We let them know that it is impossible to please everyone, but that each opinion is important and there are many factors to consider in planning for the Feast. They understand that it is not easy to solve each challenge.

Claudio has prepared a Bible Study about what are we to learn from observing the Days of Unleavened Bread? There are a few questions and some discussion afterward. We talk a little more, and then everyone is anxious to get going as they are hungry and they have not had dinner yet . Claudio invites us to take us to a place to get something to eat, so we say good night, and walk the streets with him to the restaurant.

There are many motorcycles here, more than I remember. On our way to the restaurant, we see a place that rents motorcycles; the cost is $2 per hour. I notice that the motorcycles seem to go by in groups, not really doing anything. I am right! Claudio says they just drive around in circles for entertainment and to be seen. The Colombian version of “riding the circuit.”

We pass another Billiards Hall. This is the third one I have seen today. It is a very popular pass time. There are probably 10 to 16 tables in each hall.

We arrive at the restaurant. Scott and I aren’t real hungry, so we split a dinner. We have beef steak, patacon, French fries and salad. Claudio walks us back to our hotel. We see the “men of note” from earlier today on the third floor socializing . We chat a few minutes with Claudio and say good night.

We shower, which is an experience, too. There is a shower head but the center is broken out, so it is just a garden hose like stream coming out. The temperature is cool, but considering the temperature outside is warm and humid, it is refreshing. We crawl into bed at 10:30 knowing that we will have to listen to the “motos” going by until 11 PM when it is the law that they have to stop.

It is nice to be back in Santa Rosa to see the brethren. It has been three years since we have been here. Even though life is so different here than where we are from, the spirit of the brethren is the same throughout the world. We learn from them, what they have to face each day, and appreciate the differences. 
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