Return to Bolivia

Jerry Golding Returns After 32 Years

Saturday, July 7 (SAN-LIMA)
We’ve talked for years about Jerry returning to his mission in Bolivia and now, through a Christmas gift from Doug and I, we’re on our way. Jerry and I are leaving from San Diego and Doug from Salt Lake City. We were to meet up in Atlanta and take the same flight into Lima, Peru. But, as Jerry and my plane sat ready to back out of the gate, the captain came on the loudspeaker and announced that they could not get the left engine to start. He was able to eventually get it to be manually started, but we were now an hour late. Sure enough, Jerry and I did not make out connecting flight.
Delta, our airline, has only one flight a day into Lima, hence, Jerry and I had a little heartburn about how we’d get there. Doug arrived in Atlanta on time and tried with all of his might to hold the flight as long as he could, but was eventually thwarted … we were just too late. He left a note for us at the gate that he was on his way to Peru. He did not have his cell phone, so we had no way of communicating with him. His note suggested that we call Dalene and let her know what our plans were.
Delta successfully put Jerry and I on a LAN Airlines plane to Miami and then onto Lima later that night. We would be OK … as long as Doug didn’t assume we were not getting into Lima until the next day. That would result in his canceling our flight from Lima to Juliaca (a city very close to the Bolivian border). I decided to go online and “check in” with Taca Airlines to Juliaca. Surely, Doug would see we did that and would make the assumption we were on our way on another airline. All of our strategy was a rather moot point, though, as Doug called Dalene from Lima and got our message. He also checked with Delta Airlines in Lima and was told we were coming on the LAN flight from Miami. (The LAN Airlines flight was amazing. It was without question, the most luxurious plane I had ever been on. It was huge, modern and had all of the amenities. The funny part of that was that even though I was happy that Delta put us on a flight that would get us to Lima before its next flight the next night, I was really skeptical of the quality of this unknown LAN airlines. I warned Jerry this could be really bad. We just smiled at each other as we entered this state-of-the-art city in the air. Amazing.) We were on our way. All was good.
Or so we thought.
When Jerry and I arrived in Lima, our luggage did not. That missing luggage, with all of our clothes, medicines, toiletries, etc., etc. would be a thorn in our side for several days.
But, bottom line? We were all together finally in a quiet airport in the middle of the night. After filling out all of the paperwork, etc. for the lost luggage, it was pretty close to 5:00 a.m. when Jerry and I emerged from customs in Lima and spotted Doug. Ahh. Let the trip begin.

Sunday, July 8 (Lima-Juliaca-Copacabana)
We went to the gate to go to Juliaca, but still had several hours before we were to leave. Doug and I decided to go to the McDonald’s outside of the security check area. Not quite like the McDonald’s we were used to, but we had a nice little breakfast. However, when we went back through security, the folks there wouldn’t let us in. I guess you can’t leave and then go back in without paying some sort of airport tax. We did our best to fight…we even went so far as to go to Taca and get our boarding passes reprinted. Didn’t work. We had to pay something like eight bucks apiece to get back in. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to travel to these sorts of destinations.
As we descended into Juliaca, we all were gazing out the windows at something different than at least what Doug and I had ever seen. The entire city looked like adobe-colored Lego blocks. The texture was really cool. And the color was a consistent adobe tan brown. It seemed no building had been painted. Also, every single house appeared to be unfinished. They all had 10 feet or more of rebar sticking up from the walls as though another level was going to be added.
The Juliaca Airport itself was a throw back to earlier times. We landed and disembarked by going out the front and back doors and then stepped down onto the tarmac. The luggage was loaded onto a big wagon and a guy manually pulled it over to the terminal. Our baggage (or should I say, Doug’s baggage) was unloaded amid an Incan band playing flutes, etc.
We got our stuff in this tiny airport and went outside to find transportation to Puno where we would catch a nice bus to Copacobana, a resort-type community located on the shores of massive Lake Titicaca. Getting around throughout this entire trip was done by us negotiating with taxis, mini-buses (vans) and pullman buses (for the longer treks). Same with the lodging. The only reservations we had were the airline tickets and the first night at the Hotel Milton in La Paz.
DSCN2013 Crossing the border from Peru to Bolivia was much more uneventful than we thought it would be (except for poor Doug having to go to the bathroom the last hour and was about to burst by the time we were able to get off of the bus. They just wouldn’t stop for him. “15 minutes,” was the answer over and over again. He doesn’t remember the last hour of that drive to the border! Horrible.) We were on a nice bus on our way to Copacobana when we were all told to get out and walk to the Peruvian officials to give our Salida to and then cross the border and walk over to the Bolivian officials to show them our documents, etc. DSCN2018We spent a ton of money and time on those documents, including Yellow Fever shots and its accompanying certificate, visas, etc. DSCN2019They didn’t look at any of that stuff. 15 second later we were done. The whole experience reminded me of what I’ve seen on TV when POWs are exchanged at borders in the Middle East or Soviet Union back in the day. Just walking down a rather deserted road all by ourselves and then meeting up again with our friends in the bus. Actually, it was really cool.
DSCN2025Copacobana was breathtaking. We had amazing views from our hotel room (that only cost like $14 for all three of us). The room was rather cold, despite so many blankets piled on us that we could hardly roll over. The place we stayed at was called the Hotel Mirador. Doug had made arrangements for us to stay at another place through the internet. Having heard on our bus that there was another place only charging $14, we asked the hotel where we had reservations to give us a better price. When he found out that we had reservations for like $40+ per night, he got mad. He called me malo (bad) and wouldn’t let us stay there. Off to Hotel Mirador. DSCN2042IMG_1110Copacobana is built, like most Bolivian cities we visited, on the steep side of a hill. Walking from one side of town to the other could be exhausting.
Monday, July 9 ((Copacabana-La Paz)
The next morning, before our bus left for La Paz, we did a little shopping with the town’s merchants. My cap was in my luggage, and I wanted to get another hat so I wouldn’t have to put sunscreen all over the top of my head. I was directed to this one place where there were larger hats. I found one I liked and started negotiating. This older lady just wouldn’t move much. She was more expensive than anybody else we had spoken to (but had a hat that fit my big head). She wanted like 90 Bolivianos (about $13). I offered much less and she eventually came down to 80 Bolivianos. Not much of a discount. So I told her I’d keep looking. I couldn’t find anything comparable. I really needed that hat. So, I went back to her shop and told her little boy or grandchild who was there, that I would buy the hat for the 80 Bolivianos. The Cholita was sitting in the back of the shop. When he asked her, she just wagged her finger and blurted out, “No!” I asked her how much, then. “No!” And up went a newspaper in front of her face. She was mad and wasn’t about to sell that hat to me for any price. I was forced to buy a cap bearing the logo of a La Paz professional soccer team. I wasn’t scoring too many points in Copacobana.
I spent two hours on my iPhone in Hotel Mirador the night before trying to locate our lost luggage. I was milking my three electronic devices to the max (iPhone, iPad and MacBook) in an attempt to have some sort of communication. As long as I had WiFi access (even though it was always very slow and sporadic), I could communicate through calls and emails. The luggage was located, but they were so very vague about how they were going to get them to us because we were not staying in one place long enough.
Today is Jordan’s 23rd birthday. I’ve never been this far away from him on his birthday…even during the mission years!
We arrived safely in La Paz. One of the most jaw-dropping and breathtaking moments I’ve ever had occurred as we came into La Paz. We had been driving on a road surrounded by typical Latin America city scape (flat, all attached, lots of dirt roads, exhaust-spewing vehicles and dust, etc.), when all of a sudden, the city of La Paz appears to the right of us in this massive bowl. Houses, much like we saw in Juliaca, but multiplied by thousands, The houses went from the base of the city all the way up the sides of the hills. Quito on steroids. What an amazing site. There was an audible gasp in the bus. Jerry says when he was here 32 years ago, the houses weren’t even half way up to where they are now.
We arrived at our hotel in the early evening. Our plans are kind of made and adjusted on the fly. We decided to stay here tomorrow and start looking up Jerry's people, starting with a visit to the mission office. We kind of need to stay in one place long enough, too, so our luggage can be delivered. Hopefully.
I think, then, we'll leave La Paz and spend a few days outside of the city in some of Jerry's other areas and then come back to La Paz for a couple of days and go to church here.

Tuesday, July 10 (Mission Office-Pura Pura)
We've had a terrific day. Miracles are beginning to occur for Jerry. We found the mission office. It took us a couple of hours and lots of hiking around the city, but we found it. It is now a four-story modern building where a meetinghouse is located, all of the church offices, institute, etc. We walked into the courtyard as we entered the property and two women were sitting on stairs. They appeared to be waiting for a ride or something. A man approached us and we began to ask about where the mission office was and one of the women asked if we were returned missionaries. We explained our situation and she began to help us. She knew many of Jerry's people, etc., etc. and entered the building and started making calls on her phone to try and find one of Jerry's old companions, Elder Ernesto Bustamonte. She also got phone numbers for some people we are looking for. I hand Jerry his little photo book from his mission. At this point, she had been working diligently with this other women to try and find contact information for us. She looks at the first photo and then up at Jerry and then back to the photo. I noticed her eyes starting to well up. She said, "I know you. We called you Elder Gordo. You have been in my house and helped teach my brother, who was eventually baptized." Are you kidding me? Her name is Teresa Hurtado. She is going to do some homework for us as we leave La Paz tomorrow and will report back when we return in a few days. She is having us over for lunch. And then, get this. You know why she was at the building? To buy garments. She doesn't work there or is ever there for anything. She just "happened" to be there when we walked in the gates. AND, it took us half a day to find the place. Miracles indeed. Let's just pray it continues!
Jerry spent eight months of his mission in an area called Pura Pura in La Paz. We took a taxi over to this general area and Jerry started to see if he could recognize anything. So much has changed. We eventually went down an incredibly steep cobblestone street and Jerry starts knocking on doors. He thinks he has found the place where he lived, but everything now is behind big metal doors. We finally get into this one courtyard and Jerry confirms, “Yup, this is the place.” Inside this little complex were many different apartments. A young woman comes out of one of them and asks us what we’re doing (somebody else had let us through the locked metal gate). Jerry explained and she seemed OK with us taking photos, etc. She then reappears and asks us for our names. We could tell she was a little nervous about us being there. When it dawned on her that we were Mormons, she totally relaxed. “Oh, I know Mormon Elders. OK. Chow.”
Now that Jerry had his bearings, we could begin to find others. He wanted to locate the house of one of his early converts. He was fairly confident she was not active, because of some Facebook photos he saw. Her name is Paola Becerra de la Roca. As we were going to her place, we encountered the missionaries at a little tienda buying ice creams. Jerry asked about the building and there it was within sight…sitting right on top of the house that used to belong to Paola. She was long gone and later others confirmed that she had not been active in the church for long and had moved away. The pension at which Jerry ate his meals was still there and was adjacent to the building.
We went inside and the Branch President was there with is wife. They were going to have a baptism. The door to the entrance to the building was being repaired. Somebody had broken in and had stolen computers, etc. Kind of sad.
We had a taxi drive us up to the Ceja, which is on top of the La Paz “bowl.” Quite amazing view up there of the city.
I took a shower, put on clean garments, plugged in all my stuff. There is WiFi at this hotel, but when everything was sufficiently charged, it went out. No internet meant no calls home. There isn’t a whole lot of communication going on between us and home. That was totally unexpected.
We’re checking out of the hotel tomorrow morning and then head off to Llallagua where Jerry had served for a few months. He has a convert there we are hoping to find.

Wednesday, July 11 (Llallagua)
Through the help of Teresa Hurtado, Jerry was getting closer to making contact with Elder Bustamonte. We had heard he might be in Santa Cruz and knew that he was probably not active and that he was not on speaking terms with the son who taught at the Institute in La Paz. Thinking Jerry could really help this guy, we had even contemplated spending a few hundred dollars and flying over to Santa Cruz (too far to drive). Jerry made a few calls and Sister Hurtado said that she made contact with Elder Bustamonte’s wife and that she wanted to speak with Jerry. He was a little puzzled as to what that was all about, but made the call. She tells him that her husband had been excommunicated from the Church many years ago. Sometime after the birth of their third child, he had an affair of some sort and left the family. Nobody know where he is. Really sad. She went on to bear her testimony to Jerry…making sure he knew how much her family has been blessed by the gospel. She told him that all of her children are active in the church and have served missions, etc. It was really touching how she just had to speak with Jerry and share with him her love of the gospel, etc. I took from that conversation that she was wanting him to know how blessed the family was for that mission experience, even though her husband had gone off of the deep end. Our search for Elder Bustamonte, at least for now, is over. Jerry will try to continue to find him after he gets back. Everybody is on “Face” down here. Maybe Ernesto is as well.
We just played with llamas at the summit between La Paz and Llallagua at 14,747 feet elevation -- 200 feet higher than Mt. Whitney. We hiked from the taxi to the llamas. Grueling. About 100 feet. (Much more exhausting and noteworthy than hiking to the top of Mt. Whitney, eh?)

    We are in Llallagua . . . about six hours out of La Paz. Very remote place. We stayed in a very interesting ¨"hotel" last night. I´m at an internet cafe and thought I´d drop you a line to let you know we´re alive and well. Nobody is sick, which is great news. There are no American chains, even in La Paz, other than a Burger King that is rather questionable and a long way from the hotel we were staying at in La Paz. There are no grocery stores, WalMarts, etc. Definitely, the most unmodernized country I´ve visited these past few years.    Jerry served here for three months -- the only place out of La Paz he served. He is not finding anybody here who was around when he was here. We are trying to find one guy and have his address. We´ll see. But we did find quite miraculously the place where he lived. Come to find out that the old lady who runs the little shop at the street in front of his place was there when he was and Jerry bought her food. Cool old gal.    We went to Mutual last night and had a blast. Like El Salvador, the whole world shows up. I spoke to a young couple who had a little baby and they brought up that they wanted to save up money and get sealed in the SL temple. You know what I told them. They said they´d set a goal to go to the Cochabama Temple. I said a goal without a date isn´t really a goal. December, he said. I could tell his sweet little wife was all ears. Who knows what will come of this, but at least his wife heard him say they have a goal of being sealed in Diciembre. Lots of youths. Four awesome missionaries. Great branch president. We had a really good time.
   What is becoming very evident to us is that the church is shrinking here. In La Paz, the two Pura Pura Wards are now one branch. Here, they have a gorgeous 2-story building. The wards have shrunk to two branches. Pretty sad. We are visiting a couple of Jerry´s converts in La Paz (thanks to the gal we met at the mission office). I am trying to instill in Jerry how remarkable this is . . . considering the high inactivity rate. I hope this isn´t lost on him.    Off we go. A little trekking today before we head back to La Paz. I love you and miss you badly. So glad, though, that you are not having to endure hotels like the one last night!

It's late . . . I was going to call, but I think I'll just go to bed. We had another great and exhausting day. We went out to Jerry's first area and although we toured the entire area, we were not able to find the guy we were looking for. HIs house was gone and replaced by a newer building. Today's miracle was that a taxi driver knew the area and could tell us about a super mercado that was there 30 years ago -- a landmark that allowed Jerry to figure out where his apartment was. We found that place and that led to finding the former house of the convert we were looking for, but the house was gone.
We then found a parade going on (there is some sort of holiday going on). It was awesome. A ton of Cholitas marching. Doesn't get any better then that. (I've got a picture attached.)
Tomorrow, we will be having lunch with the person we found at the mission offices. Should be a BIG day. We're pretty excited.