The 8 of us 40/40’s, Tyson (cluster support), Cristobal (director of education), Abietar (superintendant), and 2 pastors from Iquitos took a 12 box of a boat ride, down the Amazon River, to a small village called Fumento. When I say it was a box of a boat, I mean that it looked like a floating, 2 ½ story rectangular box. On one end, there was an area where walls and half hazard door had been constructed to represent a little room. They referred to this as the bathroom. It was a bathroom because there was a toilet bowl shaped hole cut into the floor boards’ level with the river. The river water would splash up on your feet as you attempted to keep your balance, squat and aim over this whole. It took me 3 different 5 minute attempts to relax enough to make good of this bathroom.
We each brought our own rolled up mattress, mosquito nets, sheets, and 2 liter water bottles, in addition to our expected clothes, bug spray, flashlights, and toilet paper.
It really was a beautiful experience. The river was so wide!!! I would say at least as wide as Fern Ridge Reservoir—but this was a river. There were a lot of people, and there were hammocks strung up so thick you could hardly walk through from one end of the boat to another. I never tried because I was afraid of getting claustrophobic stuck in the midst of squawking chickens, upset children, stinky unbathed adults, and lice infested hammocks….Instead, we went to the ½ story—also known as the roof. Because it was a bit overcast (we got burnt so bad!), it felt really great up there—a nice breeze and the views were incredible!! My goodness gracious. This is what I learned about in middle school geography. It’s huge and breathtaking.
We brought our own lunch for the trip—Lomo Saltado, bread, jam and manjar. Mmmm! Cabbage, meat, and French fries mixed together over rice. A lot of times there are tomatoes and onions in it too. We had embarked on our journey at 7:30 am, so by 11:30 we were ready to eat. We ate our lunch, and then at 1:30 realized we didn’t bring any food left besides jam and manjar. So, at one of the stops, we bought empanadas, sweet breads, and I got a frozen aguaje from the local venders. Later we realized that probably wasn’t a good idea sanitation wise, but we were lucky and didn’t get sick at all. It was delicious and worth it.
The sun set was spectacular! After the set, we still had a few more hours on the boat. Let me tell you, that I was a little bit nervous about being out on the Amazon River, in a floating box, at night, in the jungle, in the dark. But the moon was very bright and the stars were quite stunning.
We arrived at our stop at 10:30 pm and were all ready to get off the boat. The whole congregation met us at the river bank. I had two darling 8 year old girls relieve me of my luggage (it’s a cultural thing—if someone offers to help you with something [especially after coming to meet you at the bank] you let them help you. Normally I would never have 8 year old girls carry my things, but I no choice in the matter) and lead me a half hour through the Amazon Jungle at 10:30 pm in the dark, to their village. The village obviously did not have light switch electricity, so we used candles and flashlights to set up our beds in the church. Not before needing to kill a spider the size of my hand however.
The pastor then invited us to his home for dinner. We were so hungry! It was 11:30 pm by this time. The pastor’s lovely wife had prepared fish for us. Fresh fish—with its head, tail, gills, fins, and more bones than I knew fish had. The whole thing was sitting there. 2 of them. I was sitting next to poor Callie who hates fish when it’s prepared without all the details, so when no one from the church was watching I switched some of my bones for one of her fish. The right timing was hard to find because they were all standing around us with flashlights so that we could see our plates. Sweet of them, but very awkward. The fish was delicious, but incredibly difficult for me to eat. While licking my fingers clean after finishing my plate, I remarked that I felt like a cat. Cristobal explained to them that Americans aren’t used to eating fish with bones.
We ate fish again for breakfast, and again the next night for dinner.
The morning of the 28th, we went to the neighboring village of San Jose. We went with the intent of visiting their homes and inviting them to church that night. When we got there though, we learned that a young man from the village had gone fishing the night because and had not returned. They found his boat, but not him. All the men were out searching for him, and the rest of the village was pretty much all gathered along the edge of the lake watching, waiting and hoping. We held a prayer service with them and then left. It was very sad.
Back in Fumento, the extreme heat encouraged the group to take a nap. I declined nap time when I was enticed by the precious children to go play futbal (soccer). We ran around the field, and then I thought I was going to die in the heat, so we sat on someone’s front porch and sang some church songs together. After singing, I shared the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk, mixed with the Chicken who laid the Golden Egg. The kids were either enraptured or focusing very hard to understand my SpanishJ haha, probably the latter.
At lunch, we had rice, potatoes, and chicken. I was sitting and eating, when something above me caught my eye. I glanced up to see, not a sparkling chandelier, but a glistening spider gently swinging in the rafters not 4 feet above me. As my eyes swooped back down, I made eye contact with the pastor’s wife, so I smiled grandly, and took another bite of my chicken.
That afternoon Ana, Carmen, Elisa, Wendy, Callie, and I played more games with the kids. When we were sufficiently sweaty we went down to a small stream and bathed using a small plastic bowl to dump the water over our heads and bodies. Perfect.
That night, we decided to leave bright and early the next morning. Instead of taking the boat that we took in, we elected to walk 4 hours through the Amazon Jungle where we would eventually meet up with a bridge and catch a bus for the final 2 hours to Iquitos. We got up at 5:30 and packed everything up and then waited 1 ½ for breakfast. When we got on our way, it was already warm, so we quickly got our giddy-up going.
We had to pass through San Jose on our jaunt, and learned that the young man had been found that morning. He was floating facing down in the river. We silently passed by his body where it was laid out on a table under a white sheet. So sad.
An hour passed slowly as we walked up and down hills, through sugar cane fields, across muddy bogs, balancing on fallen trees that served as bridges. I have learned that sugar cane reeds are more slippery than banana peels, and that I should purchase a backpack. My cute little bag from Victoria’s Secret works wonderfully when you are traveling by car. It does not carry comfortably when hiking. Also, drink water. And in case you were wondering, it was very hot. My legs were not tired, my body was not tired, but my face and back and neck were literally dripping sweat. I felt like Larry Carter:)
Eventually, God decided to take pity on his poor little missionaries, and we arrived at a village of 4 homes. We must have looked pretty pathetic because one of the women hollered (in Spanish of course) at us after we passed by, “come rest on my front porch. My husband can take you by boat in 20 minutes.” We accepted the blessed offer and sat in the shade of her porch. I tried the sugar cane that day. Delicious! But difficult to eat. My teeth and jaws hurt afterwards. But it was fun.
The precious little family sent us off warmly, and we rode two hours in the river in a glorified canoe (basically the rim sits about 3 inches above the water, and there is a motor) under the scorching sun. The man took us to the same bridge that we had wanted to walk to. There is no way we would have made it in 4 hours walking. We would have died of dehydration WAY before that.
It was an incredible trek. We had a blast and learned a lot about working together, as well as seeing some of God’s immaculate creation. He definitely has the best imagination ever!