A Weekend of Fun With Friends and a Visit From the Stork

A couple of weeks ago Vicki Deaver, Pat Frandsen, and Gustavo were in our office visiting with us. Gustavo told us about some cool things in Tula, where he grew up and now lives. He said, “You guys should go there some time.” Gustavo is a planner, so as we talked, he planned what our itinerary would be. He said we could have dinner at his house on Friday evening, Saturday he’d take us to Grutas de Tolantongo, and Sunday after church we could walk around the archeological sites in Tula before we headed home. He mentioned inviting all the senior missionaries to come. We all said we’d love to go, but we didn’t set a definite day to do it. At the beginning of last week, it came up again. He checked his calendar and told us the coming weekend was the only one he had available for the foreseeable future. So we planned a trip to Tula! We invited all the Teca Once missionaries, and eleven of us ended up going. It was probably a bigger group that Gustavo had anticipated, but he and his wife, Audrey, were very gracious and welcoming, even though that because of a delay in getting our van and Friday evening traffic heading out of the city, we arrived at their place at 9:00 pm for dinner. We’d told Gustavo we were going to teach his children how to play “Don’t Eat Pete,” and he’d told them. They were waiting for us to get there and show them what that silly sounding game was. (They said they hoped it didn’t involve cannibalism.) So the very first thing when we arrived, Ron set up a “Don’t Eat Pete” game, and they got started. Gustavo’s three oldest children know us, but his youngest has not been around us as much. All it took was letting her have a turn eating the Skittles and Ron had her won over.

Saturday morning while driving to Grutas de Tolantongo, Gustavo and Audrey probably felt that in addition to their own children, they had a van full of kids following them. We had to stop three times on the way there—once to get something to eat, once to get water shoes, and once to get phone protectors. The first stop was at a plaza in a town not far from Tula. Food vendors were just getting set up around the perimeter of the square, and we enjoyed hot quesadillas and fresh fruit juice. We really liked Tula and the area around it. Tula has a population of over 100,000 and is one of the cities where a temple was announced last conference. The area around it is farmland with a few factories and smaller towns. Tracy Frandsen was driving, and Ron and I were in the front with him. He is a doctor, but he grew up on a farm. He and Ron had a great time analyzing the fields, crops, and watering systems we passed.

This is where we ate breakfast. If you look past us, you can see the other stands around the plaza.


The drive to Grutas de Tolantongo took over three hour, Going back to Tula later that day took significantly less because we did not stop three times. All along the way were these little stands selling everything you'd need for water fun--swimsuits, floaties, water shoes, phone protectors, etc.

The best description I found for Grutas de Tolantongo was on a website which called it a natural thermal water park. It has three features—caves, a river, and pools. The area has been turned into a resort with restaurants and hotels. They even have tents permanently set up along the river, which people rent. The day we went was a weekend and the weather was nice, so the place was packed, but it was still really fun.


The area around the Grustas is arid with lots of cacti growing in it, but the canyon the grutas and river are in has plenty of water and the vegetation is lush. On top of that, the water is warm, almost hot! The mountains around it did not look like volcanoes, but there must be some volcanic activity going on somewhere in that region, because warm water was pouring down the mountains and out of the caves. The first feature we went to was a cave. Water poured into the main chamber of the cave from a hole in the ceiling. A tunnel led off the main chamber into another smaller chamber where an underground river and more openings in the ceiling poured in water. Going into the tunnel was hard for me because at that point, I couldn’t touch the bottom and I was going against the current. So Ron had to hold onto me like I was a little kid and help me get to the rope that was along the wall. Even after I had hold of the rope, it took quite a bit of work to get into the second chamber, but it was so worth it. I had my camera in a plastic protector which had water drops on it and the cave was really dark, so unfortunately, I couldn’t get any good pictures there. However, the flashlight on my phone worked great, and with it I could see the cool, sparkly, formations on the walls and ceiling.

Ron at the mouth of the cave.


In this picture you can see how water was pouring down into the cave from a hole in the ceiling.


The force of the water pouring down created such strong current that it was hard to stand still long enough to take this photo.

The original of this photo had a guy walking up right by Ron, and it looked like he was supposed to be part of our group. A little Photoshop magic, and now it's just us!

After the cave, we went to the river. As you can see from the photo below, levees have been built across the river to slow it down a bit and create better areas for swimming. Gustavo said that wasn’t always the case, and the current used to be really strong. Even with the levees, there was a good current. Again, there were places I couldn’t touch the ground. (Sometimes being short--well, average height in Mexico-- can be a real problem.) Ron held onto me for a while, but then he wanted to play with the kids, so Vicki Deaver had to hold onto me to keep me from being carried off by the current. Again, the water here was warm, so it was pleasant to be in it.


I thought this photo of Gustavo and his little girl was so cute!

After the river, we went to lunch. It was mid-afternoon when we finished eating and headed to the pools. We didn’t want to be really late getting back to Tula and we’d already had so much fun that we figured it would be okay if we had to skip the pools. Then we saw them, and we were glad we didn’t miss them! They were a network of pools which had been built on the side of the mountain right below where a fountain of really warm water came out. The fountain filled the pools with water which spilled from one pool into another and then out and on down the mountain to the river. They were spectacular! We learned quickly that the higher up the pool, the closer it was to the source and the warmer the water would be. Even though the resort was busy that day, we had no problem finding room in pools, in fact, we had some of them to ourselves. The activities of the morning had been a little taxing, so it was nice to just relax in the warm water.


Pat Frandsen took this photo from below the pools, and it was a fun angle to show the stairstepping levels of the pools. (She also took the next two photos. Her photos are always way better than mine!)


I love this photo of Gustavo, Audrey, and their kids.
I also loved this picture of the Deavers.


The hotel we stayed at in Tula was one Gustavo recommended. It had lovely landscaping and a small golf course on the grounds. Sunday morning Ron and I walked around the grounds and found a great spot for photos. We decided to suggest we take a group picture there before we headed to church. The problem was that it was a bit of a walk to get there and Debbie Barnett had a hurt knee. (You may have noticed her crutches in some of the photos.) The day before at Grutas de Tolantongo had left her pretty sore, so we didn’t’ want her to have to walk to the photo spot. Ron asked the woman at the front desk if we could get a golf cart to take here there. The woman said no. After breakfast, a man started talking to Ron. He was the son of the owner of the hotel. He knew about the temple which has been announced for Tula, and I think when he saw all of us there wearing missionary name tags, he figured we must be people with some pull. That is not the case, but he didn’t know that. He told Ron about some land he owned which would be a great spot to build the temple. He said if we needed anything, we just had to ask. So Ron asked him if we could get a golf cart to carry Debbie down for pictures, and within minutes, we had a golf cart and a driver at our service. 

This is our van parked in front of the entrance to our hotel.
Just out walking around the grounds at the hotel.
The Frandsens and the Deavers having breakfast on the terrace.

Our whole group. The golf cart driver took this photo.

We also took photos of each couple (or in the case of the Barnetts, trio.) When Pat Frandsen shared the photos, she didn't include the one of her and Tracy, so here is everyone but them.

The Barnetts

The Davises. Pauline said no one could post any pictures of her in a swimsuit, so I didn't. But she can't object to me posting this gorgeous photo.

The Deavers

It was Stake Conference in Tula, so that’s where we went for church. We were right at the front, so I could hear well, and I was pleased to find that I could understand most of what was said. A choir of young men and women provided most of the music. Hearing them sing and seeing their bright countenances was so touching that it had most of us missionaries in tears. Our bench was a bit crowded, so after the intermediate hymn, Ron slipped over to the side front bench where the woman who directed the choir was sitting. When the meeting ended, Ron told her how impressed we were with the choir. While they were talking, a man came up to them and said, “You must be here with Gustavo. I’m his father and this is his mother.” He pointed at the woman who directed the choir when he said that. We had really hoped we would get to meet Gustavo’s parents, and when Ron realized the woman he’d been talking to was Gustavo’s mother, he was so happy he started crying. He said they probably wondered what that was all about. He told them he’d wanted to meet them and tell them what an awesome son they have and how much we love working with him. Maybe that explained things.


Us with Gustavo's parents.
I think this is my favorite photo of the whole trip! What a beautiful, fun family Gustavo has! Benny had a hard time saying "Searle," so it sounded like he was calling Ron "Elder Zero."

After Stake Conference, we went to walk around the ruins of Tula. They include the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl. The ancient Toltec people lived in the area that is now Tula. Quetzalcoatl was the main god they worshipped. He is symbolized by a feathered serpent but is also described as a fair skinned man with a white beard who came down from the sky and promised to one day return. He is considered to be the creator. There are many other myths surrounding Quetzalcoatl, but because of the ones I have mentioned, many members of the Church believe he was in reality Jesus Christ. Some members of the Church around Tula believe the pyramid there was the temple Bountiful from the Book of Mormon. Whether this is true or not, the ruins were fascinating to see. Four 15 foot tall statues called the Altantes are on top of the pyramid along with other carved pillars. It is believed they once held up a roof. It was a bit of a climb on steep narrow steps to get to the top of the pyramid to see them, but it was well worth it. Not only could we see the statues there, we could also look out over the countryside. It was a lovely way to end our weekend.

The guys at the base of the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl


At the top


Looking from the top over to another pyramid.


Looking at the sports arena and out across the countryside and mountains.


Vicki coming down the steep, narrow steps.
These carvings were in a border all along a wall. The section on the right has been added to show what they originally looked like. In it you can see a giant snake head with a human skull in its mouth.

So far in this post, you’d think we’re just tourists here. To show that we also work, here is a link to an article that appeared on the Church’s Newsroom website this week. It is made up of a compilation of several articles, most of which I wrote.

Elder Gong's Visit to Mexico

Now for some exciting news! On Saturday while we were at the Grutas de Tolantongo, I kept getting text updates from my son Colby whose wife, Sydney, was in labor. At 3:10 our time (2:10 in Utah) Asher King Searle was born! He weighed 8 lbs 12 oz. We are taking a quick trip to Utah to meet him. We leave on Thursday and will be gone for 10 days, so I won’t be writing a blog post for a couple of weeks. Instead, I am going to be busy holding my new grandson!


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