Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hiking Out of the Jungle...

Our last day in the jungles of Ecuador centered upon the hike out of the Huaorani village back to civilization… now that’s a relative term. Our civilization was a bunk at UMPES, the jungle camp where we had begun. It was also a hot shower – thank the Lord for modern conveniences. Every one of us at this point was ready for a hot shower, a bar of soap and a mattress. (Missions pastor Jason Johnson, with a tasty treat!)

We left Kakatarro in shifts Thursday morning. The first shift left at 6:45, second at 7:00 and third at 7:15. We gathered early for our final breakfast with the Huaorani’s and to drop off our packs for transport out. The mode of transportation was the Indians who had volunteered to guide us out of the jungle. I will never forget Gallo, the young Huaorani Indian who was so interested in the English language, packed and loaded for the journey. He had one pack on his back and was wearing another one in reverse on his chest. He looked like a sandwich board advertising that these Americans are too wimpy to carry their packs out of the jungle. I’m not sure if he thought that or not, but I confess that’s how I was feeling when I saw him lugging two packs.

I walked in the third group with Missionary Steve Thompson and two other men from our team. Behind me was Chief Gabriel’s wife. No, she was not carrying my pack. A young Quichua man carried my pack (no pregnant woman or child, thankfully). The day before, I had acquired a short walking stick to be used on my journey. I was ready, bring on the jungle.

At 7:15 we hit the trail by first crossing the river by the camp that had been so swollen upon our entrance that a canoe had been required. Today it was only to our knees; so much for having dry boots and socks for the trail. We hiked up the first hill – why is it that first hills always seem the hardest? Soon we were on the trail deep within the jungle, surrounded by singing jungle birds and overgrown trees so tall and wide. It had not rained the entire time we were at Kakatarro, but when we awoke at 5:00 on departure day, we could hear the rumbling of thunder and the rain hitting the roof of the school house where we slept. It had not rained much so we still were hoping for a minimum of slipping and sliding when we started. That hope soon vanished when the mud began to cling to our soggy boots once again, making the steep hills and sharp descents very difficult.

We had walked about 30 minutes when we caught up with the group that had left at 6:45. They were taking the steep hills slowly and we had been walking briskly. We passed them and moved on through the jungle. I was hot on the heels of Steve, determined he would not leave me behind like he did on the trial coming in. (No, I didn't take this picture of the Ocelot on the trail. I took it in the jungle zoo I talked about on day 1. Same for the Toucan below.)

Soon I adopted my familiar modus operandi of slipping and falling in the mud. The short walking stick I was utilizing kept getting shorter because I was breaking it off in 6” pieces along the trail. Every time I would fall I would hear the Chief’s wife snicker and giggle behind me. She never fell. Perhaps it was because she was strong enough to whip most men on the trip and could definitely outrun us all. Maybe it was because I hiked in hunting boots with big soles designed for traction, while she walked barefooted and could feel every root under her feet for a good grip. Whatever the reason, she never fell and she chuckled every time I did. I am glad I could brighten her day with some comic relief. She must have grew tired of laughing at this big American walking with this ever-shortening stick in his hands because after I fell at one point she tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a 6 foot walking stick that had substance. No way was I breaking that bad boy. It was a blessing and she laughed less. Just fun in the jungle!

After we had walked for about 2 hours, caught and passed the second group from our team, it started to rain. Not a West Texas drizzle, a true rainforest rain of huge drops. Back home we call this a flood. In the jungle it was probably a shower. The rain felt so wonderful and it actually made hiking easier. In just minutes the hard rain was running in torrents down our trail washing all of the loose sediment/mud away and providing a firmer footing. What we had dreaded had turned out to be a blessing. It cooled us off and made walking easier. I loved every minute of it!

What I soon realized was that the rivers we crossed coming in that were knee deep would quickly swell much deeper if we didn’t get out of the jungle soon. Again and again we crossed water above our knees until we came to our final crossing of the day. What was a small creek when there was no rain had become a raging river. The Indians had us wait so they could escort us across one at a time. The water at this crossing was easily at my waist. For the group that was 35 minutes behind us the water had risen to chest high. Thankfully, the last group made it out while they could still keep their head above water... barely.

My hike out of the jungle took 3:45; substantially faster than the 5:15 hike into Kakatarro. All the hikers were out of the woods by 12:30 PM and we headed back to the produce truck to say good-bye to our Huaorani friends.

We thought we’d be back to UMPES by 3:00 but our final challenge still lay ahead. When we reached the final river we needed to drive across, what had been a large stream was now no less than 50’ across and flowing at full force. There was no way we were crossing at that moment so we hunkered down to wait. And we waited… And we waited… And we waited some more. All total, we waited for 5-6 hours to cross the river and it was still 3 feet deep. But God provided and got us across. We were headed home. (James with an 8' python.)

Ecuador was truly fantastic and a life-changing mission trip for sure! I met some brothers and sisters in Christ that I will possibly not see again until we are around God’s throne in Heaven. I also learned the necessity of speaking the language in a foreign country. Before I return to Ecuador I will spend some time with the Spanish language in an effort to communicate more effectively. Finally, I will forever treasure the joy of teaching in a church without walls while sitting in the middle of the Amazon jungle. God is good! He protected and provided for every need we had. It was a great mission trip and I cannot wait to do it again.

If you have never been on a mission trip and want your life to change – pray about where God can use you and jump in with both feet. It will be one of the most spiritually rewarding experiences of your life and you will never be the same.

God bless and thanks for reading!