New Faces and Old Buildings

At our department meeting on Monday, we learned that Ricardo Gerardo Higuera, the Mexican Consul to Idaho, would be meeting with the Area Presidency the next day. We are not usually involved in those meetings; usually only Gustavo and Michelle attend them from our department. However, on Tuesday, Michelle had us help get the gift and materials ready for the Area President to give to the Consul and his wife. Then she had us take them with her to the conference room where the meeting was going to be held. As we were almost to the Area Presidency’s office suites, Gustavo came out and said, the Consul had already arrived and to hurry. We hurried in, and then were invited to take a seat. I don’t know if we were actually supposed to attend that meeting or not, but we ended up being there. The conversation was mostly between the Area Presidency and the Consul and his wife. They live in Boise and cover the entire state of Idaho and a little of Montana. They spoke about how much they love the state and how nice the people are there. Ron couldn’t resist piping up and telling them how happy we were to hear that, because that is where we are from. He told them I had grown up in the Boise area and that we now live in Shelley. The Area President used that to lead into explaining to them that we were in Mexico as missionaries, and then he spoke about the missionary program of the Church. The Consulate in Boise is key in helping missionaries get their visas to come to Mexico, so that was a pertinent topic. As is typical for these types of meetings, at the end the Area Presidency gave a gift to the special guests, and a photo was taken of the Area Presidency and the guests. After that official photo was taken, the Consul’s wife said, “I want a picture with the people from Idaho,” so we got to have our picture taken with them too! As I shook hands with the Consul, I said, “Disfruta mi estado,” (Enjoy my state.) He smiled at that and made a comment back that I didn’t completely understand, but I think he said he does enjoy Idaho.

The Area Presidency, the Mexican Consul to Idaho, and the Consul's wife.

On Monday we also met a new Service Missionary who will be working with us in the Communications Department on Mondays and Tuesdays. (When I say, “new” I mean it was her first day of her mission.) Her name is Karen Lima. When Gustavo’s family lived in Mexico City, she was in their Ward and he was her bishop. She has studied Creative Writing on a college level and has even written for the Sala de Prensa (the Church’s newsroom in Mexico) before, so she will be a great asset to our team. However, to start with, she didn’t get that exciting of a task. We put her to work helping organize the tickets for the special guests for the Tabernacle Choir’s concerts. She had to count out tickets and put different colored stickers on them. We are in charge of the preferente section for VIPS, but within that section, we have sub-sections. The stickers are to make it easy for the ushers to know where to seat people. Working on the tickets was tedious, and I’m sure hermana Lima felt like it was just busy work. So Ron and I took her to lunch at a local sushi place—her favorite food. We talked to her about Public Relations and about the importance of the relationships the Church builds with other faiths, government leaders, influencers, etc. Putting stickers on the tickets seems like a small thing, but it will help that evening run more smoothly, which will play a part in making it a success. I pointed out that if enough people do little things, big things can happen. She seemed onboard with that. She said she could see already why she had been assigned to work with our department.

Sushi with hermana Lima

A couple of weeks ago we had two different people only one day apart tell us we should go see a place called Ex Convento Desierto de los Leones. In all the time we’ve been here, that was the first time we had heard of that place. We looked it up online and learned that Ex Convento Desierto de los Leones is a convent built in 1611 as a spiritual retreat for friars belonging to the Order of Discalced Carmelites. It sits in the middle of a mountain forest in what is now Desierto de los Leones National Park, the first national park in Mexico. We were surprised to find that it is only about a half hour away from where we live. Again, why hadn’t we heard of it before? So Saturday, we, the Deavers, the Barnetts, and the Frandsens decided to visit it.

Everyone we spoke to about going to Ex Convento Desierto de los Leones told us to get there early before it got crowded. It opened at 10:00, and we arrived about twenty minutes before then. It was lovely to see this old building sitting in the middle of a green forest. It truly did feel like the peaceful retreat it was intended to be. When the doors opened, we walked into the first courtyard, looked around, and realized we had no idea which way to go or what anything was. Tracy Frandsen went back and asked an official looking man if there were any printed materials we could read about the place. The man replied that he was a guide and would be happy to give us a tour. We took him up on that. We were so happy we did, because he was very knowledgeable and interesting.

Pat Frandsen took this beautiful photo of the convent.

     
This was our guide.

The convent was run by four monks who lived there permanently. Twenty-two friars would come there each year and stay for one year as a spiritual retreat. While they were there, they took a vow of silence. The head monk could speak when they were all in the kitchen, and he would only do so to give them their assignments. (They did all the work to run the place.) They also had someone read scriptures and religious texts to them while they ate their two meals a day. For most of them, the only time they could speak was when they were in the secret chapel, but then they were not allowed to see each other. I guess the idea was that it was to be a time of complete solitude, but I don’t know if I could have handled it. Much of the building has been rebuilt, but there were parts which were original. The building included multiple enclosed garden areas, and the entire complex was enclosed inside a wall. One room was set up to show what the private quarters would have been like.

     
This entrance to a chapel was original.
      

     

     
This is one of the private quarters set up like it would have been then. I think it looks bigger in this photo than it actually was.
     

     

     

     
I thought the view out this window looked like a painting.
     
A view of the convent from the grounds inside the wall.
       

      
The bell tower. Our guide said we couldn't go up there because the floor was covered in bat guano, so apparently they have bats in their belfry--I know that's corny, but I couldn't resist.

     
The details carved into the stone were amazing.

I think the most impressive part was how the water supply and plumbing worked. We could tell by looking at the moss on the trees that it is a wet area, and water was not in short supply. Our guide showed us the room that had been the bathroom. A deep trench ran along one wall. It would have had wooden “outhouse” seats on it then. The guide pointed out an opening in the wall where water would have poured continuously into the trench, washing away everything that got deposited there. He pointed out other spots through the building where water would have run into basins, etc. Then he took us outside to a low tunnel which ran under the building. We went into it. To begin with, we all had to bend down to walk in it, but there were parts where those of us who are on the shorter side could stand up straight. It was dark there, and we had to use the flashlights on our phones. It was a series of tunnels that when the convent was in use, would have been the sewer system where all the used water poured into. The guide said the water would have been up to our knees back then.  He took us into one big chamber that was at least a couple of stories tall, and it was here that all the water finally came and then went out through a hole and down to a river. It wasn’t the most environmentally correct systems by today’s standards, but it really was ingenious that they had such a complex system back then.
     
This was the bathroom. The rail on the right is blocking the trench that was the latrine.

     
This was in the large chamber that all the water flowed to.
     
Looking up in the large chamber. Those holes and the window you can see part of on the right gave enough light that we didn't have to use flashlights here.
     

One of the websites I looked on before we went said that Ex Convento Desierto de los Leones is a favorite place for quinceanera and bridal photos, and that proved to be true. We saw multiple girls dressed in their elaborate quinceanera dresses there having photos taken, and one section of the complex was blocked off because a wedding was being held there. It was where the secret chapel was, so we didn’t get to see it. That disappointed us a little, because we would have liked to have seen the one place the friars could talk to each other. We ate in a little garden which was part of a restaurant in the convent. Just as we were finishing, it started raining. The rainy season has officially begun, but it usually doesn’t start raining until later in the afternoon. Fortunately, we had umbrellas with us. We walked through the museum section of the convent while the worst of the rain fell, and then we put the umbrellas to use so we could go outside the walls and explore the forest a little.     

     


Eight hermitages are scattered through the forest outside the walls of the convent. These were used by the friars when they wanted to have even more solitude. They would go live in one of these all by themselves for forty days. They consisted of small stone houses with a garden enclosed inside a wall. We found three of them (some of our group found four) before we had to head back to the spot where we had arranged to have Ubers pick us up to take us back to Teca Once. I’m so glad we had people tell us about that place. It was amazing to see that such a lovely mountain spot exists so close to the chaos of the city.

     

The Barnetts and Frandsens at one of the hermitages.
          

     
Us, the Deavers, and our umbrellas.

     

     
We ran into this Boy Scout troop that was visiting the National Park. Ron noticed that the leader was wearing Wood Badge beads and had to stop and talk to him.
     
Notice the moss growing on the trunks of the trees.

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