Author Archive for darren

The Search for Catholic Churches in the Ancient Kingdoms of Southeast Asia

November 22, Bangkok, Thailand.  I was able to go to 5:00 pm Mass at the Church of the Redeemer.  The Mass was in English. To get to the church, I rode a motorcycle taxi!  The driver dropped me off then came back for me at the end of Mass.  I gave 10 rosaries to the priest who celebrated Mass.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer

On the way to the Church of the Redeemer

On the way to the Church of the Redeemer

November 24, Luang Prabang, Laos. Today was the Feast of the Vietnamese Martyrs.  I was wishing I was in Vietnam to celebrate it!  Our guide took me to a “Catholic” Church but when he introduced me to the priest’s wife, I figured out it was Christian, not Catholic.  There was a cross but no crucifix and no altar.  The wife said they had had a large celebration on Sunday with many westerners.

November 27, Vientiane, Laos.  I visited the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. I had to look quite a while to find an open door.  No one was in the church.  I said a few prayers and then found a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a plastic rosary in her hands (similar to the ones I brought.)  I left 20 rosaries on the shelf at her feet.

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Mary with rosaries

Mary with rosaries

November 29, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I took a remok (similar to a tuk tuk) to St. Joseph Church for the 4:00 pm Mass.  Going to Mass here was special as my father’s name was Joseph and today was his birthday.  Mass was in a large chapel on the second floor. The floor was covered with woven mats; we removed our shoes before entering, then sat on the floor.  The priest, a young man, sat on a chair all during Mass except for the Consecration.  The choir was very nice with an electronic keyboard accompaniment.  This Mass was in Khmer (the official language of Cambodia).  When I first entered the chapel, there were few people there. I gave 10 rosaries to a little lady who was saying the rosary and tried to indicate that she was to give them away. Later three Missionary of Charity sisters (Mother Teresa’s community) came in and another sister whose habit I did not recognize.  Many people came to the Mass.

St. Joseph Church

St. Joseph Church

December 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  I walked to the Cathedral of Notre Dame for the 9:30 am Mass.  I arrived early and witnessed the baptism of about 10 babies and small children.  Mass was concelebrated in English by three priests, one of whom was from Orange County, California.  The other two were Vietnamese. I gave 10 rosaries to the celebrant, a Vietnamese priest. In our drives through the city and out into the country side, we saw many large churches.

Cathedral of Notre Dame

Cathedral of Notre Dame

Priest with rosaries

Priest with rosaries



What was interesting to me was that these were countries where 80% or more of the population are Buddhist, and maybe 1-2% are Christian.  And Cambodia and Vietnam are Communist countries!  In all the Masses I attended, the churches were full, and the people ranged from babies and young people to middle-aged and elderly.  Another thing I found interesting was that the churches contained statues of St. Joan of Arc and St. Therése, the Little Flower, probably reflecting the French influence in those countries.  Catholicism seems to be alive and well.

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Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, has 10 national parks, 17% of the world’s biodiversity, 54% of the world’s Mountain Gorillas, and 11% of the world’s mammal species.  More than 50% of Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world, is in Uganda.  Bird watching in Uganda is an African destination with over 1,200 species recorded which is 33% of the world’s birds.

My sister, Joan, from Boca Raton, FL, and I were lucky enough to visit Uganda from February 5 – 21, 2014.  The primary purpose of our trip was to go gorilla trekking, an opportunity missed when we traveled to Uganda 4 years ago.  But before we went to see the gorillas, we had many other adventures while visiting five of the national parks including Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, Bwindi, and Lake Mburo.

On our first day, a Ugandan priest we had met on a previous visit picked us up and took us to St. Augustine College to meet a young woman that I am sponsoring.  She has three more years of secondary school. We brought a large suitcase of school supplies, clothing, and sundries for her and the school.  We met the vice head master and had a brief tour of the school.  It was lovely to meet “my” student.

The next day we had a wonderful visit to a Wildlife Education Center and saw most of the animals we were going to see in the wild on our safaris over the next several days.  This made it easier to identify the animals and birds from a distance.

On Sunday we attended Mass at a local Catholic Church.  Our taxi driver came with us.  The whole congregation participated in the singing which was lovely.  Later we went to a Uganda Museum with interesting displays of the history of Uganda.  A woman played several traditional musical instruments.  We also visited the Kasubi tombs where four kings are buried.  The wives and descendants of the kings still live there and take care of the grounds.

We were joined by a couple from Germany and a woman from the U.S. who is working in Swaziland so our safari group was five which was a nice size.  We traveled in a Land Cruiser that rattled along over the very bad and dusty roads.  Even the roads that were paved had large potholes.  During the 10 days of our safari, we had two flat tires.

Our first encounter with animals was to walk around in a rhino sanctuary where there are 14 white rhinos.  Because of poaching, there are no longer any rhinos in the wild in Uganda.  Two of the rhinos came from Disney World.  One mated with a rhino from Kenya; the offspring is named Obama.  We were able to walk close to a group of seven; they are huge and we were careful to allow them their space.

By the second day, we had seen the big 5.  We saw two leopards resting in a tree and another on the ground; four lions playing around after eating; many African elephants wandering around; Cape buffalo on the ground and in the water; and the rhinos in the sanctuary.  In addition we saw eland, impala, Uganda kob, topi, bushbuck, hippopotamus, Jackson’s hartebeest, six species of monkeys, baboons, oribi, Rothchild’s giraffe, jackal, hyena, warthogs, and Akole cattle which have very large horns.  Over the ten days, we identified about 150 species of birds including bee eaters, kingfishers, storks, eagles, geese, herons, wagtails, weavers, vultures, buzzards, hornbills, flycatchers, pelicans, and egrets.

We drove through small towns and villages where clothing and some beautiful vegetables and fruits and other items were displayed.  Outside the villages small vegetable stands were along the road.  Charcoal is used for cooking in the villages; many large bags of charcoal were for sale along the roads.  Major forms of transportation are bicycles and motorcycles.  Often 3 or 4 people were squeezed onto motorcycles.  Great burdens are transported this way by men.  Women usually walk with bundles of sticks or containers of fruit or vegetables or clothing on their heads.   Many people have to go great distances for water.  They use large yellow plastic containers and walk or ride bicycles or motorcycles to a central spigot.  It was common to see 20 or more containers at a pump waiting to be filled.

I was pleased to see so many schools throughout the areas we visited; in many parts of the world, girls have limited opportunity for education.  The children were dressed in school uniforms as they walked to school.  A number of them were barefoot and our guide said it is because they have no shoes.

We took a boat ride on the Nile to Murchison Falls.  We were dropped off at a trail and then hiked about an hour to reach the top of the Falls where we had beautiful views of the area.  We then took a ferry (which didn’t look seaworthy) across the river near hippos and then went on a game drive.

One morning we had a forest walk to see chimpanzees.  We saw about 20 of them: moms with babies and large males.  They were high in the trees eating fruit.  They were happy to see us as indicated by dropping seeds and urinating on us!  Another day we went on a 3 hour swamp walk and saw some beautiful birds and women working in fields breaking up the soil with hoes prior to planting beans and tobacco.

On our way to the next lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a big, old, bull elephant with one tusk was in the road and did not want us to pass.  He spread his ears and came toward us so we backed up.  He kept coming and we backed up some more.  Finally we were far enough away that he turned around and challenged a car that was behind him.  That car also backed off.  Finally the elephant went into the bush.  Our driver told us to hang on tight, he was going fast—and he did.  We didn’t see that elephant again but the driver was very familiar with him.

The gorillas we visited live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, one of the five national parks we visited.  More than half the world’s population of mountain gorillas, over 340, live in this forest.  There are nine habituated groups; we visited the Habiyanja group which has 18 members of which we were able to see 14.  The two mothers and their babies hid from us.  It took us three hours to reach the group.  Trackers were ahead of us locating the family; they communicated with our guide by walkie-talkie.  The gorillas were moving around eating.  Some youngsters were playing in the bushes.  As the gorillas moved, we followed them.  We were able to spend a little over an hour watching and taking photos.  For the most part, they just ignored us.

We also has a Batwa (pygmy) cultural experience.  We were greeted by the head man and were welcomed with two dances.  We then went to look in several of their homes—small tentlike structures made of sticks and leaves. We tried out a bow and arrow; Joan hit our target (a small wooden antelope).  My first arrow went over and the second one went under the target so I would have been hungry that night!

We visited a 112 bed hospital which has a large community outreach.  We met the medical director whose specialty is public health.  The hospital was founded in 2003 by an American doctor.  Maternal and infant mortality are high in this part of the world with births at home attended by traditional birth assistants.  Increasing numbers of pregnant moms are coming to the hospital for birth.  Since most live at a distance, they are encouraged to come two to three weeks before their due dates to ensure that the baby will be born in the hospital.  There are 105 babies born in the hospital each month and they insert 1000 IUDs per month. The hospital recently started a nursing school and admitted 14 students of which only six are women.  Interestingly, the students all have I-pads and will be taking online classes taught by American teachers.

It was a wonderful safari and exceeded my expectations.  We saw many species of animals and birds, had lovely accommodations, interesting boat rides among the hippos, and good food.  Menus included Ugandan, Indian, British, and Chinese dishes.  This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

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We just returned from our first mother-daughter trip since the kids were born!  It was wonderful to have some time away and have a fun adventure!

Iceland was Julie’s idea as it is a land of natural wonders.  We went with a tour group of 20 and had a great time.  Our group was fun to travel with.  I think one woman was younger than Julie and the oldest was 87 years old!  One couple in our group was from Loveland!  They live only a ½ mile from us!  It is a small world.  They gave us a ride home from the airport which was great.

We flew into the capitol of Reykjavik and stayed there two nights.  Iceland is 6 hours ahead of Colorado so we were quite tired when we flew through the night and got there in the morning to tour!  We were greeted by a cold driving rain.  Yuck!  It was cold enough that most of the pictures of us are wearing our stocking hats and rain gear!

Our first day we went on a rainy walking tour of the city.  The architecture is very interesting.  There is anything from 200 year old homes to very modern buildings.  They even had and IKEA!  Ha.  I was surprised since the whole country only has 315K people there.  Our meal that night was a fish buffet.  Wonderful for most, but not my favorite!  They even served whale! :(

The next day we got out of the city and got to experience the wide open country side.  Sixty percent of the people live around Reykjavik, so the rest of the country is very open.  There are many mountains which I didn’t expect.  Lots of the landscape is covered with lava and moss.  It is a very dramatic looking place.

Unfortunately it kept raining the next day while we visited Thingvellir.  That is where the Vikings used to meet to have a type of Parliament.  It was amazing looking with a large wall of black lava that served as an amphitheater for the thousands that gathered.  It also is where tectonic plates meet that form Europe and America.  So we stood in two continents at once!

Next we drove to Geysir.  Thank goodness it stopped raining finally!  We were grateful to have only cold and wind!  Geysir was the first one named that and all other geysers are named after it!  (Liam had told me this before we left!)  Of course due to an earthquake a few years ago it no longer erupts.  But another one does and is neat as it erupts every 6 minutes!  (In the video it erupts at about 1:10)

Next we stopped at Gulfoss.  It is an enormous waterfall that rivals Niagara (without all the casinos and hotels!)  It was spectacular.

The following day we traveled north out of town to the Snaefellsnes  Peninsula.  Our bus broke down and we were stuck at a bus stop for 2 ½ hours!  But everyone stayed in good spirits and we pressed on to a cute little fishing village named Grundarfjordur.  From there we took a boat out to see a tiny island that is a bird preserve.

We searched awhile and finally saw about 5 puffins in the water and air.  They were really cute.  I was disappointed though as I thought we would get to be closer to them and on land!  Oh well.  It was quite hard to take photos of them from the boat!

After the island the boat took us further out to go fishing.  I didn’t fish, but mom did.  She caught a huge one!  It was about 11 lbs. they estimate!  It was quite heavy for her to pull up into the boat.  It was amazing as the fish were really biting and our group caught about a dozen in a short time.

The next day we stopped and tried the national dish- cured shark.  And yes, I tried it!  A very tiny bit.  It tasted like fat off of meat.  Apparently if you eat it without curing it, it is poisonous, but if you cure it is fine!  Curing is a six month process of drying it outside mostly.

We then went to the home of Eric the Red (who discovered Greenland) and his son, Leif the Lucky or as we know him, Leif Erickson (who landed in America in 1,000 A.D.).  I enjoyed the presentation of a guy pretending to be Eric the Red.  He was hilarious.  Icelanders are an interesting group and have a fun, dry sense of humor.  I liked them and enjoyed our experiences with the locals.

This was our longest day as we drove to the top of the Island to Akureyri where we stayed for two nights.  It is a city of 20K people.  There aren’t many straight roads, so it is not fast traveling through the country.  The city was quite pretty.  It was surrounded by mountains and on a fjord.

The next day Julie went for what might be her final horseback ride!  We went on Icelandic horses.  They are purebreds from the same horses the Vikings brought here over 1,000 years ago.  They are small and friendly horses and are beautiful.

Julie got a horse called Biting.  I’m not kidding.  They told me it meant something else, but I don’t believe them!  She was a feisty horse with a mind of her own.  She wandered and ate and was not very fun to ride.  My hips also were in a lot of pain riding.  I have thought that I have not been sitting correctly when riding on previous trips, but I think the arthritis in my hips will just make any riding too painful in the future.  It is too bad- I like horses.

So when were about halfway done with the ride Julie was in a lot of pain so I asked one of the guides if I could get off my horse and walk the rest of the way.  They discouraged me from that so I kept trying.  Then my horse decided to start jogging down two hills, and I got flustered when she about threw me off!  I stopped her and got off!  So I walked a mile or two while the rest rode on.  I was much happier walking and got much better photos!  Ha.  I’m sure Biting was happier as well. :)

That afternoon we had free so mom explored the town while I went looking for a bird sanctuary.  I ended up walking about 10 kilometers or so!  I was quite tired after that!  It was a lovely estuary and tons of birds, so I had a great time.  It was very peaceful.  I did not like when the Arctic Turns starting dive bombing me!  It was like a scene from “The Birds” and had me worried for a bit!

The next morning we had a nice flight back to Reykjavik and went straight to the Blue Lagoon.  It is an amazing geothermal pool that is beautiful.  Ironically it is water that is runoff from the geothermal power plant!  It is all safe and good for the skin.  It was a truly unique place with lava rocks surrounding the pools.

The final day for our group mom and I split up.  She went deep sea fishing and caught another fish.  They also saw more puffins.  Sigh.  I went hiking in a lava cave!  It was quite an adventure.  The cave was a hole in the ground.  They gave us a flashlight and helmet and we climbed down into the cave!  It was stark and cold.

In many places we had to stoop over- we were rarely standing up.  In a couple we had to crawl and one was only 51cm tall!  We had to either army crawl or roll to get through!  I did ok considering I am a little claustrophobic.  The 87 year old in our group did this hike as well!

Our final day, mom and I took a city bus (an adventure!) to a peninsula with a lighthouse where I hoped to see more birds.  We did see a few although the lighthouse was closed for the nesting birds.  We walked on the black sand beach and saw a golf course.  I had wanted to see what golf was like there, so we checked it out.  It was a pretty nine hole course next to the water.  I was surprised at how many women and kids were playing!  The course is known for their Arctic Turns and they chased us again!

We had a great time.  I was able to talk on the phone often to Darren which made me feel better to know how the kids were doing.  It sounded like they were doing pretty well, so that was reassuring.  It was also fun to Skype once with the kids.  Zoe was so excited to see us that she waved and waved!

I was most grateful that Darren was willing to watch the kids for the nine days we were gone.  That is the most I have been away from the kids ever!  It was very relaxing and nice to do stuff without worrying about them.  I didn’t miss them as much as I thought I would have, but maybe that was because they have been kind of difficult lately!  Ha.

We also got to see Greenland from the airplane!  We enjoyed the trip enough that we hope to return someday! – Julie

We got home safely, but were met by two sick kids!  Sigh, back to reality.