Sunday, September 24, 2017

Finish of the Trip

I gotta finish these South America posts! So here's the last one. Our final 48 hours.

We got back from the falls and went out to eat. We got some meat and ravioli. 

I loved this picture up on the wall of all the different parts of the cow. Oh so Argentine.
 We woke up early on Monday, a little before 6 so that we would have time to get ready, eat, and take a taxi in to town to catch our 7:30 bus to Ciudad de Este, Paraguay (right across the Argentine/Brasil border). I was pretty nervous about how things would go this day. We kept hearing/reading conflicing things about getting from Argentina to Paraguay. You have to cross through Fos de Iguazu, Brazil to get to Paraguay, and we didn't get Brasilian visas, so were a little nervous about being stopped as we passed through. Thankfully, everything went really smoothly (except for the actual bus ride which was the worst 45 minutes of the entire trip--the bus was PACKED and there was barely any seating. We were smashed up against the window holding on to our suitcases and backpacks). The bus went straight from Argentina to Paraguay without stopping (thank goodness). 

Ciudad de Este was crazy! It is known to be a shopping town, rightly so. There was shopping everywhere, and not just buildings where you could shop, but little tent/kiosk/umbrellas lining the street with people selling stuff. These pictures don't do it justice at all as you can barely see any of the street vendors. 

And those street vendors! They would not leave us alone! As soon as we walked into the shopping area people did not stop talking to us and handing us fliers and asking us what we were looking for. So many people asked us if we were looking for electronics, tvs to be precise. We were like, do we look like we want a tv?! Do you think that will fit in this little carry on suitcase? So crazy.


We ended up getting to Ciudad del Este super early (not realizing that Paraguay is an hour behind--I thought it was zoned like in the U.S., not just time by country). We could have taken the later bus to Paraguay but had chosen not to just to be sure we didn't miss our bus to Asuncion, but we were kicking ourselves later for doing that since we were exhausted and had 3 hours to spare in Ciudad de Este. We walked the 45 minutes to the bus terminal (with taxi drivers stopping us or slowing down next to us the whole walk there, ha! We definitely looked like target customers for them with our loaded backpacks, pulling luggage). 

Passed some pretty art and election signs (which Darin found to be very cool) while we walked.

 Hung out at the terminal for what felt like forever.

 This bus ride was easily the best out of the 3 long bus trips we took. The seats were so much nicer than the other buses and they even gave us pillows and blankets. We got settled and watched some Office before trying to sleep.
 We were on the second level, front seats of the bus so we had the panoramic view out the window which was really nice (at least once the sun set :). It was so crazy to watch the bus driver tailgate and zoom past people though. So crazy! Here we are with the oncoming traffic lane empty, zooming past a motorcycle. These bus drivers are legit.

When we got in to the terminal in Asuncion, Alia and David were there to grab us. They were so sweet and took us to their place to freshen up a bit, then we went out for our last meal. We both really wanted one last asado meal, so they took us to this really nice buffet. It was similar to Tucanos in style, as in the employees walked around with different kinds of meats and would give you slivers of them. good. The sweet grilled pineapple with cinnamon was heavenly. 

 After the meal, they dropped us at the airport. It was sad to say goodbye, but I don't doubt this will be the last time we see them. We are just so so so grateful for this friendship.

1 a.m. flight--saying goodbye to Paraguay.
 We had a quick stop in Panama and then off to Miami. I LOVED flying over Miami, it was so cool to see all the beaches and big buildings. So sad to think about the hurricane that hit a few weeks later. It looks like such a beautiful city.

We got in to BWI at around 5 p.m.--absolutely exhausted. My friend Megan's mom picked us up and we grabbed our car and then drove the two hours to my parents hoping to see the kids before they went to bed.

Walking in the house and having the kids run to us full speed and wrap their little arms around us and not let go was really amazing. It felt so good to be back with them again.

And then we crashed.

(And then drove four more hours the next day to get back to Ithaca so that Darin could make it to his evening class that day). 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Iguazu Falls...or, the day we took at least 100 selfies

Seriously though, so many selfies. I have never taken so many selfies in one day before. I will share a portion with you here :)

Starting with Saturday night after we got in to Puerto Iguazu. We found a place to grab some food and then walked to what we thought was our hotel, just 10 minutes from the downtown area. We were glad it was within walking distance. But then quickly learned that we had gone to the wrong Jungle Lodge. They called a taxi for us and we were off to our real hotel, which was a good 10-15 minute drive away from downtown, we definitely would not be walking (One of the downsides of doing the Hotwire Hot Deals--not knowing the location of the hotel beforehand, but the price just couldn't be beat!).

We started to get a little nervous when the taxi driver just kept going and going into the jungle. We both started to look at each other like, "Are we about to die?" We finally hit a point in the trees where hotel signs started popping up and pulled up to our hotel. I somehow didn't take any pictures of the hotel!! (I did take quite a bit of video). 

The set up was really cool. There were long pathways to get to each of the different lodges, so you got to walk through the jungle to get to them. In general, the rooms just had a cool jungle feel to them--and there was a Jacuzzi in the room! That was a pleasant surprise. We crashed, excited for our adventure the next day.

Hot dogs for breakfast! My kids would be in heaven.

Honestly, the day did not start out great. We took a taxi from our hotel into town just to realize that Darin had forgotten his wallet that had our debit card in it. We needed to pull out cash for the falls since we had spent more on transportation than we had planned. So we took a taxi back to the hotel and then back into town. When we got to the ATM, we couldn't pull money out. We tried 3 different machines and nothing worked. The taxi driver had mentioned that sometimes people's cards only work at a certain bank, so we walked a little ways to the other ATM location. There was a super long line because only one out of the three machines had money. The machine seemed super difficult to use as people had to keep asking others for help. 

When it was finally our turn, it didn't work either! We asked for help from some people behind us but couldn't figure it out. It kept asking for our extraction code. We tried our pin and our account number, but nothing worked. We finally just left, super discouraged and unsure what to do. We walked back to the first ATM machines to try one last time. It didn't work again the first few times, but then Darin decided to flip the card, and it worked! We felt so dumb that we had been putting it in the wrong way the entire time and that we hadn't thought to do that sooner, but the machine didn't say which way to put it in, and every time we did it prompted us to put information in, so it didn't seem like there was a problem other than the fact that we didn't know the extraction code (why didn't it just tell us the card was inserted incorrectly from the start!?)

We were both fuming after this hour and a half debockle but decided to put it behind us and enjoy our day. Which we did.

Here we are taking the 30 minute bus ride from Puerto Iguazu to Iguazu Falls. (J/K, I realized later that I'm wearing a different shirt, haha. This was actually taken on the bus to the terminal in Posadas. I loved taking the bus through the city, just as I did as a missionary).

I thought we took a picture on the bus to Iguazu falls, but maybe we were still trying to calm our nerves after how the morning started. Anyway...we got to the falls and had our money (hallelujah) and got in.

 There were coatis all over the place.
 There are three main trails to see the falls. The upper falls, lower falls, and the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's throat). We were able to do all of them, but started with the Devil's Throat because we wanted to make sure we would see that one. Here we are about to start the hike out on the long bridge trail out.

It was insanely busy the day we were there. It was a weekend, and apparently a holiday weekend at that. I kept thinking, why was it not this busy when I came on my mission? Probably because both times I went were Mondays (P-day!). We really had to work to push through to get to the edge so that we could see everything. Not really the peaceful nature experience we were hoping for, but amazing nonetheless (and we got more of a peaceful oneness with nature feel on the upper trail so we didn't miss out).

 Just trying to get all those amazing falls from every single angle. They are stunning!!

  We hiked to the Devil's Throat since the line for the train was SO long. It wasn't as long on the way back so we went ahead and took it. There were coati's everywhere!

 The upper falls was really nice. So much more space, and fewer people. We could really take our time and enjoy the views, and the weather! We picked the most perfect day to go to the falls. The weather could not have been better.

 Our last stop of the day was the lower falls. This was probably my least favorite of the three. It was just so so crowded with people wanting to get super close to the water. I think I enjoy the more distant view of the waterfalls honestly. 

 The view while walking down the lower trail path towards some falls. They literally just keep going and going.
 Definitely didn't need to spend money on that poncho. I got soaked when I went on my mission so I made sure to have one, but didn't get wet at all.

I can't think back to this day without thinking about a young girl we saw laying on the sidewalk as we walked to the exit of the park. She appeared to be with a Guarani group that was selling some crafts. She was rolling around on the ground, clearly unwell. She was dirty and had no shoes on. I wanted to run to her and help her, but I also felt so helpless. As we walked, two women stopped to talk to her to  see if they could help and she didn't respond at all. I haven't been able to get her image out of my mind. Where is she now? Is she okay? Why so much injustice in the world?

While gratitude for my own life and all that I have at home is something I felt continually on this trip, at that moment in the park I felt such a strong witness of God's love--for everyone. I really felt the Savior's love and presence in that moment. I could feel of his love and sacrifice for this young girl whose life seems so SO unfair. I don't know how all the things work out for good, but I really feel like they do and will. It breaks my heart and brings me to tears thinking of that girl, but when I look through these pictures of the wonders of the world that the Savior created for us, I see hope. I see love. I see him reaching out to each one of us in ways that only we, in our own individual life situations, can understand. I see him holding her, carrying her, understanding her, loving her.
People keep asking me how it felt to turn 30. It felt amazing. I feel extremely blessed that I was able to spend my 30th birthday in a country that has impacted my world so much, with someone that has filled my world so much. Seeing friends from my mission was the best birthday present I could have received, and these waterfalls were truly the icing on the cake. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Friday morning we woke up before the sun and took a taxi to the bus terminal where we waited to board our bus to ARGENTINA!!

I spy Darin...
And we were off. Had my eye mask in hopes of sleeping, but the bus was SO bumpy and swirvy that that was just about impossible. 
So instead I "watched" a marathon of Mr. Bean movies.
The bus ride took longer than we anticipated. We didn't get to Encarnacion until about 3 p.m. and then had to get across the bridge to Posadas. We jumped in a taxi, but the line to get across was forever long. After sitting on the bridge for about 45 minutes, barely moving (our taxi driver had turned the car off and was pushing the car along from the outside b/c he was almost out of gas) we decided to hop out and walk the rest of the way. Why didn't we just do that from the start?! It was such a beautiful walk and much cooler than it was inside the taxi.

So crazy to me that even on the bridge there were tons of people walking up and down selling stuff.
We made it! We went through customs and then grabbed a taxi to take us to our hotel.
This hotel was so lovely, after the one we had stayed in in Asuncion. We were both so exhausted by this point and just wanted to enjoy the nice hotel and relax, but it was already 5 p.m. by that point and we only had the one evening in Posadas so we quickly cleaned up a bit and were off to my area, Villa Cabello (our hotel was in downtown Posadas. My area is more on the outskirts of the city).
I was so worried that I wouldn't remember where anything was or that no one would remember me. Even though these people are engraved on my heart, I'm not sure it is the same for them considering they see SO many missionaries. I'm sure it's hard for them to remember all of us. I was in this area for 9 months though, which isn't normal so my hopes were high. 

It was so great to get to Hermana Isabel's door and to see her face when she saw me. She is just the sweetest! She was a recent convert when I got to this area and had us over every single Sunday after church to eat. She would also do our laundry and frequently go to visits with us. She was like a mother away from home for all of us missionaries. I was able to teach her son Fernando and see him get baptized as well as help her other son Marcelo prepare for his mission. It was so surreal to be there talking to her again as though no time had passed at all.

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After visiting Hermana Isabel we walked around in search of Manuel's house. It took me a bit to remember where he lived, but I eventually did. He got baptized while I was there as well, and we taught his brother's family and helped them go through their marriage process. They were some of my favorite people to visit in Villa Cabello. We did eventually find his house, but he was not there :(.

Manuel (the shorter one :) on his baptismal day.
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We stopped in to see the Krul family. Only Hermana Krul was there and she was busy working in the pizza parlor they have created in their dining area so we didn't stay long, but it was so nice to see her. Her kids had no idea who I was and I felt so old telling them, "I remember you when you were just this tall and couldn't even speak yet!" 

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To end the night we went to see the Gonzalez family. I was so anxious to see them as I had spent so much time with them right before I went home. They were baptized just weeks before I left the mission. It was such an amazing experience to teach them about the gospel of Jesus Christ and even more amazing to see how it has affected their lives 7 years later.
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They were beyond excited to see me. Nelida said she had been checking the bus for me all afternoon/evening. I just can't even express what I felt being with them. It was pure heavenly happiness. 

Nelida told us that she asks every missionary she meets from Utah if they know Hermana Kretchman and Hermana Runyan. It is  so cute that she is so surprised when none of them know me, haha, especially since I'm not even from Utah :). It just amazed me that all these years later they still think of me.

They knew it was my birthday so they prepared a little asado for us (I guess it wasn't called an asado, they called it a paleta--a smaller assortment of meat that takes less time to cook. Apparently an asado takes around 4 hours). The meat was amazing. It was so fun to watch Rogelio cook it and to hear their 16 year old son Leandro explain all the different cuts of meat. These Argentines don't fool around when it comes to meat. I couldn't believe that a teenager knew so much about a cow and how to cook it!

At one point Rogelio went upstairs and then came back down with this hymn book that we had given him. He showed me the message and said that he reads it every so often and keeps it safe in his room.
We hung out with them for a few hours. It was just so easy to talk to them. We talked about everything. I loved meeting their little adopted daughter Sol. They adopted her, literally the day that I said goodbye to them. I remember coming to their house and Nelida was holding a little baby. What a sweetheart she is.
At about 11:30 p.m. we told them that we should get out of their hair and Nelida responded, "No! Don't go! It's only 11:30, at least stay till midnight. After all, when will we see you again?" My heart. She is the best. They did eventually take us back to our hotel and we did have to say goodbye, but I know I will see them again someday, somewhere. They are a part of me. 
The next day, Saturday, we had a few hours to kill before catching our bus to Puerto Iguazu. I was so happy that I got to eat some of my favorite Argentine foods at our hotel breakfast. Facturas (delicious danishes--Darin was enjoying one in this photo below, or something like that).
And chipa!! Mmmmm...sooooo good. Darin didn't appreciate it as much as I did. Maybe it was just the nostalgia I was tasting. No, I'm pretty sure it's just delicious.
We walked over to the stake center that is there in the downtown area. We would have our zone conferences there. It was interesting to see the signs for the Posadas mission now that it has changed from the Resistencia mission.

We hung out in the plaza for a bit before leaving for the bus. After being in Asuncion, Posadas felt so nice to me which is a bit of a change from how I felt on my mission.

Even though we were in Posadas for less than 24 hours, I am still SO glad we did it. Being back there was amazing. It definitely made me appreciate the fact that I am not a missionary anymore (that is some hard work), but it also made me appreciate my time as a missionary. Those people and places really are a part of me. They have impacted my world so much. I love them. I am so happy that I got to share something so precious to me with my husband. It was a birthday for the books. 
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