Saturday, May 10, 2014

Almost home

The gates to YWAM

The blessing of staying with YWAM included our supper and breakfast. We arrived only slightly late, walking from one building to the other with a Colombian government official who preached revivals on the side. After the meal, we decided to join the four or five young YWAMers on the patio attempting to use the internet. I say attempting because the internet was not working well for any of us that night, and it certainly wasn’t working well for ALL of us. Awaiting a page to load, one of the young guys, probably just out of high school, started a conversation. Where were we from, were we family, why were we here, how did we know YWAM?

I answered and the Spirit of the Lord shined in the conversation. The young man had come to work full time for YWAM for awhile after completing his Discipleship Training School. Like other staff, he had to raise his support himself, but, like many Colombians, the churches in his home had little to offer. He was from Manizales, however, and that was coffee country. His brother-in-law processed coffee for the Cooperativa (the farmer’s coop that sells products without going through big coorporations). Would we be interested in buying some?

And so it was that we bought Colombian coffee of the finest quality, grown by family farms and processed only 2 weeks prior. And we had the blessing of supporting a missionary while spending less than the cost of coffee in the U.S.

Our last morning in the Amazon was uneventful. Tyrel bought machetes and we visited our taxi friends again for a ride to the airport. Initially surprised by the long line in the airport for the only outgoing flight of the morning, I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly conversation with the ticket agent, who prepared us for security and arranged for us to be seated together on the plane, apologizing that he had no window seats left. 

The flight to Bogota was restful and we enjoyed another bag of potato chips that  even looked like a sliced potato and wrapped arequipe. I did, however, have a moment of distress at the airport.

When we emerged, I realized that the “airport certified” taxi line as about 100 people long. I KNEW I was not interested in standing in that, but it had been so long since I’d spent time in Bogota, that I was clueless as to what bus to catch and not entirely sure how to get from the airport to the main streets. A businessman nearby noticed my look and offered, “There’s a camioneta (like a van/SUV) service with a much shorter line. Let me arrange a ride there for you.” I agreed to ask, knowing it would be slightly more expensive, and he consulted with a driver to confirm the address. The driver was only too thrilled to take us, but as he started to take our bags I asked, “How much?” “48,000.” 

You might say I overreacted. “No seƱor! Este no queda tan lejos, no vamos a pagar eso!” I motioned to my friends and we set out walking toward town. I tried to call my friend Jessica, as we were headed to her house and I knew she could tell me what bus to ride. No answer.  

But God is good. We were right at the corner of the turn-about for the 26th Street, the thoroughfare for reaching the airport, when I realized other taxis were passing. I waved one down. It was small and we were smooshed, but the driver was fair and even very patiently turned around so that we didn’t get soaked in the downpour when finally arrived and paid our 14,000 pesos.

The man with the llama thought we'd pay him if he pushed his llama into our picture.
As the downpour finally slowed and we set out on our tour of Bogota, I couldn’t believe how much we’d done. We saw the main city square, learned some history, visited the guards at the capital, made a few policemen smile... The Botero museum was a first for me, though I’d often played on the fat Botero horse in the park near my house in Bogota. You’ve never seen so much fat art...

The guards are required to be stoic, but.... they almost laughed.
It was a good trip. It was good to see how blessed I am. Good to know the things of which I read. Good to have friends to share the Colombia I’d come to love and the Colombia which I was meeting. Good to arrive safe and sound.
Because I serve a good God and He delights in our enjoyment of His goodness.

Back upriver

As we sailed upriver, we saw this village,

these children on the way to school,
and these rapids!!!
The boat ride back to Leticia might have been the most traumatic of the trip for me. Our young pilot could not see out his windshield. He wiped it down, asked questions of his “copilot” (the grumpy secretary from the day prior), stuck his head out the window... all the while dodging logs, leaves, and trash that were washing down the river due to the heavy rainfall. Fortunately, I had two lifeguards with me. And they needed a translator. The crowning moment of this trip was near the end. After several bumps and swerves, we noticed the pilot reach for his life jacket and put it on. Of course, everyone on the boat who hadn’t had a life jacket on before reached for his as well (I already had mine!).
We wondered what was coming.

The port was coming, and the police who checked to make sure the boat was in compliance with transportation laws, apparently including life jacket. We arrived safe and sound.

Sights we saw while making a decision.
Our next dilemma was what to do with our “stuff.” I think we all had a vague memory of our hot day of hiking when we arrived in Leticia, a memory we did not want to renew by hauling backpacks with us all day. We remembered the YWAM pastor who’d invited us to his base. Would we be able to leave our stuff at the base? Maybe, but we couldn’t just ask. That’s not the Colombian way. That’s not the YWAM way. We called to set up a visit to the base (fyi, the Fuchs’ T-Mobile phones worked better in the Amazon than in Santa Rosa, NM. Texting was free and calls weren’t outrageous). The next trick: arriving.

We’d learned the first day how to find the taxis in Leticia. There was a parqueadero of just taxis near a city park in the center, and the drivers had some sort of turn-taking system worked out. Our lot fell to a young man who looked confused when I showed him the address and Ethan tried to get him to understand that it was YWAM. Finally, the taxi driver’s friend turned the card over and saw the pastor’s name.  “El pastor!” The friend asked his friend, and suddenly all the drivers were in a circle, asking me questions and giving the young driver directions. It was one of the greatest “sound” moments of the trip. See the video at

Inside the Youth With a Mission International base
We arrived just as the rain began agin, toured the base, visited with the pastor, and were duly impressed with all God was doing in Leticia. After about an hour, just as we were given coffee (I drank Dianne’s as well as mine), we asked the pastor if he knew of a good hostel. “Do you want to stay here?” he asked. “Giselle speaks English. She can tell you the cost and arrange it.” And so we visited with Giselle and as the rain faded into sprinkles, we left our backpacks and set off with umbrellas to visit Brazil.

Yes, Brazil. Tabatinga, Brazil shares a “frontera” with Leticia, Colombia and the border is open. Tabatinga, like Leticia, and perhaps even more like Bogota, is modernized. The signs changed to Portuguese, and while the shopkeepers spoke Spanish, my attempt to question the guard at a nature park of sorts to find out what exactly the park was left me saying, “Well, either it’s an open market part of the day, or it’s a nature regrowth and no one is allowed during that part of the day.” Apparently, I don’t understand much Portuguese. We were impressed with three things on our walk through Tabatinga: 
1. The flowers. The Brazilians seemed to spend a lot more time than Colombians cultivating and pruning their native plants in order to make gardens and yards more attractive.
 2. The number of churches. Perhaps we were on “church street,” but it seemed every block had at least one evangelical church, and many of the store fronts were painted with Bible verses.

Even the Purina feed store had verses.

3. The chocolate. The Brazilian chocolate shop had chocolate of every shape and sort, including American brands for those only wanting the familiar.... but there is a post about this in the “Eating” blog. My favorite part of the chocolate shop was again encountering our friends from Cali. They greeted us with hugs and Colombian “kisses.” The daughter seemed to draw back a bit (perhaps she’s not used to the American LACK of emphasis on appearance, in contrast with the Colombian idea that looks are everything), but I think the old gentleman would’ve gladly just traveled along with us.

We’d seen about all we could think to see in Brazil, so we turned back to Colombia and headed for the boat docks. It was time to go to Peru.

On YWAM's wall, we found a map of our location.
The Amazon River is the “frontera” with Peru, and as we walked toward the docks, we were approached by a boatman and offered a ride. This was easier than we thought! He asked if we planned to eat there, and we said no, so he told us he would wait for us, that it would take us about 30 minutes to walk through the tiny pueblo of Santa Rosa. We couldn’t believe him and told him we might be 2 or 3 hours, but he continued to promise to wait.

Even the government buildings in Peru had little to offer.
Santa Rosa, Peru, is the poorest place I have ever been. I have been to the slums in Bogota. I have been in the part of Juarez built on a landfill. I have visited the gypsy homes in Antalya, Turkey, and we had all just traveled down the river past indigenous communities. And none were so poor as this. The homes were board shacks with thatch rooves, built on stilts of course, with open windows. But they were far more run down than those of Leticia. Even the government buildings looked as if they needed torn down and rebuilt. The ground was mud, mostly flooded apart from the main road. The people’s clothing was worn, not the name brands we’d seen elsewhere, and their electronics sparse. They stood on their porches to try to sell their few wares, hoping for tourists like us, wanting to visit “3 nations,” though Santa Rosa, Peru had nothing to offer tourists. Nothing that is, except -

A "sidewalk" in Santa Rosa
I was reading signs and translating them for Dianne and Tyrel when I read a hostel/restaurant sign that proclaimed “24 hour attention.” Huh? It took a minute of looking at the advertisement and establishment, then it clicked. This was a brothel. We saw at least 3 more within just a few steps. They didn’t look full of tourists, but perhaps these establishments were supported by people from across the river.

We concluded that we wanted to give our business to the families in this pueblito. After walking the town (and being asked not to take pictures of the “military base,” which had children playing soccer in the mud in front of it), we walked back to make our purchases. Tea towels for our hostess in Bogota from a lady who looked like a nun but turned out to be Jewish. Hammocks (we’re planning to sleep in them this summer) from a young girl who might’ve been making her first sale; she was ecstatic when her mother returned just as we paid her. Platano and juice. And 200 pesos to the lady selling banda paisa so Tyrel could have an excuse to pet her cat. When we’d done all we could do we headed out to find our boat driver. He was giving someone else a ride, so Ethan and Dianne decided to take a “romantic walk” onto the slow boat, which sailed like a cruise ship for 3 days, winding up in a place called Iquitos where one could have exciting adventures like parasailing. I didn’t want to even walk onto the slow boat. The thought of being on a boat for 3 days is terrifying.

As we began our departure from Santa Rosa, we talked for a moment about what to do with the few hours left before we were due back at the YWAM base. Our boat driver had mentioned some other tour to see jungle animals. We asked him more. Yes, he said, he could take us to see jungle animals, monkeys and caiman and loros, in an indigenous community down the river. How much? 100,000 for all. The problem? We were almost out of pesos - but it was OK, he’d take American cash. He had to stop and buy fuel, so we asked to use the restroom at the floating “gas station,” proving our suspicions that there was a reason we didn’t want to swim in the Amazon. Our “toilet” emptied directly into the river, along with the other trash we’d seen floating down. No surprise when I saw a special in the airport on the way home about how sick the indigenous people were getting from drinking out of the Amazon.

Inside the floating outhouse.
This little side trip turned out to be our favorite of all, though we wished we had spent less time in Santa Rosa and had more time left. For a while we thought we were going to Monkey Island after all - and we still suspect we may have passed it - but the boat finally stopped well down one side of an island at a tiny village known as Puerto Alegria - for us it was, as the name stated, the port of happiness. This tiny indigenous Peruvian community was definitely a step back in town. We’d grown used to stilt houses, open air windows and thatch rooves, but there were no direct TV lines and I’m not sure I even noticed any electricity here. There were chickens running about, but no cats. Our guide introduced to a solemn matriarchal woman. She was the mayor, he said, and she would take a donation after we looked at the animals the villagers would bring us.

The villagers brought us their pets. Ranch kids have been known to have pet lizards, frogs, spiders... and these pets were different only in the source. First a caiman, a baby one that we held, then another. A monkey tied to the gazebo in which we stood. Another tiny monkey frisking around us, and a parrot sitting, though silent. “He only talks when he chooses,” we were told. There were a couple of sea turtles, glossy and of varying sizes.
A caiman

Next they brought my favorite: the sloth. They called it a lazy monkey. I thought it was like having a cross between a teddy bear and a baby, to have and to hold and to love. I think I want a pet sloth.

An adorable sloth.
There was another small, strange creature we couldn’t identify. It looked like a porcupine, though the hair on its back did not feel dangerously spiny, and after we got home and saw a hedgehog on a National Geographic, we thought we had the answer! Until we realized that hedgehogs don’t live in the Amazon.

Finally, the king of all - the anaconda. Green, black, maybe 6 feet long and oh, so muscular, this creature liked Dianne. He did not like me and I suddenly understood how the larger anacondas could easily kill whatever prey they chose. I enjoyed him, but was relieved when he was unwrapped and lifted off of my shoulders.

We were not ready to leave when our guide said we must. We left what to us was pittance, but a donation which thrilled our guests. As we returned, we saw cows (cows!) and water lilies... Our last day of jungle exploration - was over.