Florencia, Colombia

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     Before I left to Colombia, I was not informed that we were going to one of the cities in Colombia with the worst reputation. I knew that we were going to Florencia, but I had never heard about its reputation. Well, it turns out that Florencia used to be the headquarters of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The FARC are a Marxist–Leninist revolutionary guerrilla organization based in Colombia. They are very dangerous and are responsible for a lot of the violence, kidnappings and drug trafficking that goes on there. They mostly hide in the country or in the forest away from big cities. Fortunately, we were very safe and never had a problem with any of them during our trip. We did hear about things that happened while we were there.

This is the little plane that we flew in to Florencia

 

This is a pig truck. It just seemed very South American to me. 🙂

 

There were a lot of horse drawn buggies in the city.

 

The view of Florencia from our hotel

 

The fruit and vegetable market

     The day before we arrived in Florencia, there was a horrible incident with the FARC. A woman was in labor 20 minutes from the city and her midwife called for a police escort to the local hospital in Florencia. On the way to the hospital, the FARC intercepted the ambulance, shot and killed almost everyone in the ambulance including 2 police officers, the midwife, the Dad, the 9-year-old son, and the baby. The mom survived but is paralyzed. It’s just so tragic that these things happen all of the time there.

     The FARC will kidnap children and train them to kill their families or they will make them kill the other children who refuse to kill others. They train them to be members of the FARC. Some children do it voluntarily because their families are just so poor or they don’t have any family.

     The 1st Counselor of the District Presidency of the LDS church in Florencia told me that he has to pay $5,000,000 Colombian pesos ($3,000 US dollars)/year to the FARC so that the FARC won’t kill his family. If he doesn’t pay, then his family isn’t protected. It’s sad.

     Now, the military has taken over Florencia for the most part. But many of them are no better than the FARC. One of the new converts members of my church was ex-military and he told us horrible stories. He said that they used to get bonuses for each member of the FARC that they killed, but some soldiers would kill innocent civilians and dress them up in the clothes of the FARC to get their bonus of 10 days vacation. It’s so horrible.

     That is the horrible side of Colombia, but the Colombia that I was exposed to was amazing and the people are honestly the most loving, kind and warm people who I’ve ever met in all of my travels. They are much warmer and kinder than Americans.

Brother and Sister Ostos from Bogota. They are LDS humanitarian missionaries for Colombia. Brother Ostos was so funny. He wouldn’t let me lift a finger because of the pregnancy. So sweet.

 

This is Xiomara. She is one of the awesome young women in the Florencia Branch. I love her!

 

This is Xiomara’s Grandpa “mowing the lawn”. He just does it for service. He was working so hard. Bless his heart.

     I had a great time doing the training. We did the training at the LDS chapel. We trained 65 doctors and nurses in NRP and then we trained them to become instructors so that they can perpetuate the program in their hospitals and communities. Florencia is the capital of Caqueta. I learned that in the whole department of Caqueta (which is huge) there are only four NICU beds. Not four NICU’s . . . four NICU beds. I was shocked by that.

This is what the tables looked like for the practices.

 

 Some of our graduates after donations were given. The church gave tons of donations so that the program can be perpetuated in their communites but not all of the donations are shown here.

 

Our group with the First Lady of Caqueta

     My favorite part of the trip was being around the cute kids and young women of my church that came to help us. They were so sweet and helpful! They just loved me and I love them so much. They love my accent and some of the cute little kids would just come up and follow me around and stand there and watch me. It was so sweet. The young women were the cutest. There were four young women who were there everyday helping us. They were great girls. We became very good friends.

     On Friday night after the training, we were able to go to the Quinceanera Party. It’s a huge birthday party for the girls when they turn 15-year-old. It’s very extravagant like a wedding. Everyone was there. Lots of families and friends. It started at 9 but the 15-year-old girl (la quinceanera) didn’t get there until 10 PM or so. When she arrived, she did a special dance with her father, then she did a choreographed dance with 5 boys. Usually they have 15 boys in the dance, but because it takes so long, she only had 5 boys. It was cute. They then served food and we all danced the salsa, merengue, la cumbia and other dances. It was a blast and an amazing cultural experience. 

 

    
  
 

    
My sweet Colombian friends at the Quinceanera. Lots of them are young women from the branch.    
 
      The landscape in Colombia is breathtaking and diverse. Florencia is called the golden gateway to the Amazon. It’s very humid there with tons of vegetation. In fact, it’s so humid that we were stuck in Florencia for 2 extra days because we got rained in and the airport closed. The airport is very small and used to only be a shack a couple of months before. Now, it’s a nicer building but they only get one flight in and one flight out per day. We couldn’t go by land because there were two large mudslides that covered up the highways. Our only option was to wait for an airplane or drive for 12 hours on a small road to Bogotá. I, being pregnant, was not going to drive for 12 hours in Colombia. First of all, they don’t wear any seatbelts there. Secondly, there are no enforced traffic laws and there is no speed limit. Thirdly, I am pregnant and therefore prone to blood clots when sitting for a long time and I have to get up and walk around every hour. Fourthly, it’s dangerous driving through the countryside with the FARC. So, I asked to just wait for an airplane, but luckily, one came the very next morning.

     It actually turned out to be great because we got to go to church on Sunday and Gloria and a friend from the hotel came with us. Everything works out for a reason right?

Smoked ribs with pork rinds and corn meal at our lunch on Saturday with the First Lady.

 

Giant Steak for Sister Welling. 🙂

 

 

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2 responses »

  1. hi! I know it’s a longshot leaving a comment on here because you haven’t posted since 2014 but I read your blog after searching for Florencia, Caqueta. The reason I searched is because I am in the process of adopting a child from there and wanted to know more about it. I noticed you mentioned some missionaries that live there and though it isn’t my time to travel for a few more months, I was wondering if you could help me get in contact with those missionaries. I’d like to attend church while I am there. Noticing that it could possibly be a dangerous place (I was told this once already…and now read it in your blog), I’d like to get more info about it and also learn about the church you mentioned in this blog. I’ll be there anywhere from 4-8 weeks so it would be great to have a place to be connected while I am there, if possible!

    my blog page is iknowthereishope (i’m not sure how comments work)

    if that doesn’t work, you can email me at mandymcormier@aol.com

    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Mandy,

      You recently commented on my blog about how you are adopting a baby from Florencia, Colombia. Congratulations!! That is so exciting. Florencia is a great place with the most amazing people. As you read on my blog, it’s also a very dangerous place and is home to many of the FARC. It’s important to be very careful especially because you will stand out so much. I would recommend not going out at night and always to travel in pairs or with locals if possible. Only use marked taxis from the hotel, etc. It will be great. Just be smart and very careful.

      I felt very comfortable traveling with my church group which consisted of several Americans, 3 LDS missionaries from Bogota and we usually had a local friend from our church who would drive us around. I would love to get you in contact with the missionaries there! I feel that our church would be a great resource for you down there and you could make some good friends to watch out for you through the local branch. Also, I just love my church and would love to invite you to attend and learn more. It has really changed my life and given me so much hope. To learn more about it (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) you can visit http://www.lds.org or http://www.mormon.org. I’m sure that there is a local congregation where you live now as well. You can also email me and ask any questions. 🙂

      Here is the contact information that I was able to find on mormon.org under the ‘worship with us’ tab. There are three different congregations who meet on Sundays in the same building at different times. Here are the phone numbers of the Branch Presidents and also the assigned missionaries in that area. I know that they would love to hear from you and help you in any way. Do you speak Spanish? I assume so if you will be there for so long. Depending on where the missionaries are from, they may or may not speak English but most missionaries study English every day. But if not, I’m sure that there are some people in the branch who will be able to speak English.

      Here is the address to our church there.
      Cl 8 N 9 – 11 LAS AVENIDAS
      FLORENCIA Colombia

      Berlin Branch
      Worship Service: Sunday 10:00 am
      Congregation Leadership: Branch President Diego Fernando Sanchez Toledo 313-251-0733
      Assigned Missionaries: 3182821922, 3182821724

      Primavera Branch
      Worship Service: Sunday 2:00 pm
      Congregation Leadership: Branch President Ivan D. Herrera Valderrama 312-582-4672
      Assigned Missionaries: 318-282-1926

      Avenidas Branch
      Worship Service: Sunday 8:00 am
      Congregation Leadership: Branch President Henry Franco Aguirre 314-200-0302
      Assigned Missionaries: 3182821924

      Again, congratulations on your new baby!!! I know that international adoption is extremely difficult but what an amazing blessing for that beautiful baby to have a mom like you. I hope that you have an excellent experience in Florencia. I’ve traveled to a lot of places throughout Central and South America and the people of Colombia are my absolute favorite. They are so warm, loving, generous and accepting. Feel free to email me with any additional questions. I’ll keep you in my prayers!

      Sincerely,
      Erin Hart

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