Last Monday at 10:15 AM I stepped back in time. I had travelled to Ecuador with six other men from the US on a mission trip to the Ecuadorian jungle. We had left Houston the previous Friday, arriving in metropolitan Quito at 9:30 PM for an overnight stay at Howard Johnsons. We arose early the next morning and headed out of the Andes Mountains to our jungle destination of Tena, located on the banks of the Napo River.
Early Monday we climbed in the back of a produce truck for a 2 ½ hour ride deep into the jungle. Along the way we were joined by a number of Quichiwa Indians who would hike into the village with us. By the time we loaded all who would participate, we had 37 people stuffed in the back of the truck with the tarp pulled over because we wanted to remain dry and it was trying to sprinkle. Man, were we in for an awakening.
At the end of the road – literally – we hoisted our backpacks, met some of the Huaorani Indians who had walked from their camp to greet us and headed into the jungle for the hike of a lifetime.
The trail had been chopped by machete through the dense forest and was fairly easy to follow. For the first 15 minutes we laughed, talking and were thinking this to be no big deal. Steve Thompson, the local missionary, had advised that if we grew tired along the trail to hand our backpacks off to one of the Indians and they would be glad to assist us. He had described a previous trip into the jungle where a man was soon physically wiped out so he handed his pack off only to find that a pregnant Indian woman carried it the rest of the way. Now, if you know me, you know that just would not cut it. How could I stand before my church after having let a pregnant woman lug my backpack into the jungle because I bummed out from exhaustion? Time would tell.
We came to our first log bridge and scurried across like jungle pros. We walked five more minutes and came to the bottom of the first of MANY steep hills and the fun (yes, I jest) began. I affectionately named the hill “Stairway to Heaven” without realizing just how true the moniker proved to be. The climb seemed to have no end. Higher and higher, steeper and steeper, with slippery mud from the rain that was now falling profusely, our journey went. I began praying. First for my men whom I traveled with and then for myself. Up and down, hill after hill we trudged. The mud was so slippery that it was just as perilous going downhill as it was strenuous going up. We walked and walked, each person going at his own pace. Because of this, I found myself walking through the Amazon jungle alone much of the hike. I loved it! The rain, mud and hills made the going so incredibly tough but I was totally in tune with the fact that I was where billions would only read about and never experience. I crossed so many swollen streams and rivers that I lost count. The water was often up to my waste and yet I would see the trail leading up the slippery opposite bank and ahead I walked. At one point I walked by a huge animal den and paused at the entrance wondering what was inside. At that moment I saw two eyes looking back at me. I couldn’t tell what it was so I thought I would take my flashlight out. At that moment I pinched myself and moved out. I thought, “You dummy. You don’t have any weapon other than a pocket knife and there are things that will eat you in the jungle.” I continued my walk, backpack and all.
I walked and walked for what seemed like forever. Finally at 4:01 PM I topped the final hill and there before me was Kakatarro. I had made it, backpack and all, and was physically exhausted. I thought for sure I must have walked for 10 or more miles but found later that the distance was only 4.7. Putting this in perspective, I have run two full marathons in my life, both faster than the 5:15 minutes it took for me to cover 4.7 miles in the Amazon. What a trip!
I arrived at the camp and headed to the river to clean off the mud accumulated since the last crossing. Upon entering the cold water I began having intense muscle spasms and cramps in both legs that would continue for much of the evening. But I had made the journey and was the first one of our group to arrive. The cramping and pain was real but the elation from having achieved a grueling physical accomplishment overshadowed the negative effects. I was at my home where I would live with the Huaoroni’s and share Jesus with them for the next three days. Life was good; God had blessed; I was back in time.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more of the adventure.