Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Trip to the Amazon

     Once upon a River I boarded a boat named the Linda Esperanca, which is owned and operated by a group called Amazon Outreach.  Their mission is to go.  Go down the river to all the villages.  Big and small.  Near and far.  I went for a week, this boats heads down as many weeks as people will fill it with a crew leading the way, and taking care of the folks on the inside of those rails. 
     We traveled two days from DFW through Miami, and on to Brazil.  Truly, the most difficult thing about arriving in Brazil was everything that happened before we took off in Dallas.  In addition to the personal hiccups that test us all before heading out on adventures like this.... We went through a long series of shots for Yellow Fever (required), visa applications, Hep A and B shots, malaria pills, fund raising, and prayer teams.  The employees at the airport even seemed a little confused regarding our travel, and many of us had difficulties checking in, though we made it through with all our luggage, and papers in tact.  Upon landing in Manaus, Brazil we boarded a bus.  I found myself, for the first time, below the equator.  2 degrees below the equator, where the sun is at one of it's hottest, even on this 'first day of winter.'  It was 20 minutes, by bus, to the dock where we boarded the boat that is open on all three floors, and much smaller than any cruise ship I've ever found myself on, complete with rows of closely knit hammocks, and tables on the top deck for eating.  There were small showers and bathrooms on the second floor, my favorite place midday when I could not stand the sweat or smells (of myself) any longer those first few days.  We took off a few hours later (after Navy approval), passed under a bridge under works, and into darkness.  In the morning we woke up to jungles, palm trees, wide rivers, cows, and small huts dotting the sides of the river.  The residents of the homes, with their small canoes docked out front came to see what we were doing.  Most of us weren't sure what we were doing yet, but we waved anyway. 
The thing that never seemed the same, and never ceased to amaze me where the clouds.  The Amazon is 75 percent sky, and 25 percent land. 

Another interesting site while leaving Manaus (housed on the Rio Negro) is watching it merge with the actual Amazon River.  Because of acid, or density, or God's painting plan, the rivers never really merge, they just collide:  black and brown meet and then head back up their routes. 
Another common site-pink dolphins.  It's hard to tell, but there is one (of many, this particular morning) diving under and up out of the waters.  Yes, pink-and it's not just another one of my 'unicorn' stories. 
We saw wild parrots, toucans, a monkey, and....alligators.  Most alligators wait until the evening to swim out, and you can see their eyes reflected in your flash light beam along the shore.  This little guy came out for a photo shoot while we stopped at a floating shop and took a board lined jungle walk to his part of the pond on the last day. 
And then there are the sunsets that last forever, and live far beyond the sun. 
Not to be confused with the colors of the sunrise.  They never got old.  Sure, the sun was bringing her heat, but she also brought her coloring book. 
Manaus was the last big city we saw the week + we spent heading up the Amazon.
We saw schools, and these boats, or 'river buses' gathering kids from nearby villages and bringing them to the schools in waves, sorting the students by age.  P.s.  As a teacher, I don't think I'll be taking as many tardy and absence excuses after seeing what these kiddos move through for an education.
Most huts did not have doors or window covering, but even if they did, everyone was friendly..and curious. 
     We planned to visit three villages on this trip.  We took the current to the furthest village, and shot balloons out to a village we were planning on heading back to a few days later.  The balloons were filled with candy, and messages that told the villagers we would be coming back with activities, and a doctor and dentist to see to their needs.
Kids swam...or rowed out to grab the balloons.  Most boats had a basic pattern of movement up and down the river.  Paddle, balance, bale, paddle, and repeat. 
Every town, not matter how big or small had two things, even if two is all they had-a Catholic Church (state run) and a pub. 
The biggest (and first) city we visited was Barreihna.  There was a Catholic festival in full swing which included music playing from speakers so loudly we could here it all day...and all night, even as we pulled away from shore at night to steer a little further from the shore and her mosquitoes. 
     We spent all day in each village helping open up the churches friends and families had donated money to help build.  The locals came and we provided vacation bible school (and candy....or bomboms as I quickly learned), nail and hair styles for the ladies, fishing lures for the men, eye glasses, dental and doctor consultations (there are two that travel with the boat at all times and make it their life mission to serve the people who may have never seen, and may never see another doctor or dentist on this remote river). 
This is my buddy Bill and one of the many sweet kiddos we met.  He's a riot.  He's 81.  He had a heart attack just a few months ago, and despite his doctor's wishes, his heart wouldn't let him stay home this trip-one of over 10 trips he's made to the Amazon.  He raised 125,000+to bring churches and fresh water wells to the villages of the Amazon this year....and he's gone back to raising funds for next year's trip as well...
I didn't meet a person I didn't love....I did not meet a single bug I did love.  Fortunately, I was mostly an observer.  Most of the boat's company had so many bites.  Strange bugs, strange bites.   I'm surprised we weren't kept out of the country upon our return based on suspected measle cases, but this bug was the worst (and all too common) bite I saw.  This is a pee bug, his little body lets off acid that leaves a trail that looks like this...
The bugs are just a small story, and we are all here to share stories today despite those bites!  Most of the day we didn't worry about bugs, we worried about which design we wanted to paint on the kiddos during VBS (a true hit).  This is my cousin who came along and didn't have a single complaint the whole time. 
Everywhere we went we had interpreters (about one per 3 people).  I would take them all home with me if they would let me, but....they opted to stay in Brazil.  I miss them already, and I'm going to send over the adoption papers in hopes they will reconsider. 
Most evenings we spent at the churches in the village in prayer and worship.  The boat has a blog that I was able to post on, and I said this then, but there is a universal language of prayer.  Someday we won't need translators, but in the meantime, prayer and passion, committment and compasion don't need translations. 
...and another thing, these kiddos....they play soccer barefoot in prickly grass.  And they are really....really good at it!
The kids never complained about anything.  They were happy to sit out and listen to stories, create crafts, and just have a little attention.  I think there is something to be learned about the simple things in life in this world of 'more,'  I find myself in....
In the villages, we brought bottles of water to stay dehydrated, and the only thing the kids asked for was water.  They don't have fresh drinking water in most villages  A lot of people don't live to my age because the water they do drink from the river is so unhealthy.  Thanks to the donations of many, we got to watch them drill a well in the second village we visited so the people can enjoy fresh water for the first time!
I have a dentist appointment soon.....I'll be laying back in a chair watching a flat screen tv while the dentist works, I will NOT be taking this for granted this go 'round.  The dentist that travels with us does have the basic numbing shots to work on the teeth, but he does a lot of extractions, and listening to him hammer at the tooth gives me chills.  I know the people are better off for the service, but I also feel extremely spoiled that I was born where I am when I was....this also makes me want to acquire more useful skills to be able to take along with me on trips like this....
 The days were jam-packed with activities and service, but there were a few moments of relaxation.  During a dinner break, a few in our group jumped in the river.  I took pictures, it's the kind of friend I am.  We later found out there was an alligator sunning on the shore nearby.  I assure you my decision NOT to jump in the river began long before that piece of news.  Some of the kids of the family traveling with the ship's crew were fishing one morning off the side of the boat, and when the bait got withen 3 inches of the water the piranahs were literally jumping out of the water to try to be the first to get the bait. 
About halfway through the trip, in the middle of the day, while I was swimming in sweat and reapplying bug spray, I would have told you it was my deepest desire to go home...and stay there.  That's when I knew to dive a little more deeper into my bible and listen a little bit more closely to the folks that were there for the second time....or the sixth time.  Upon my return...I would absolutely go back to the Amazon.  It is an amazing experience.  When you return home the bugs are only a picture you show your friends, the sun is just the reason you have a little more color, and the people are who you miss and want to get back to...soon.  There is a reason the others on the boat have been 5 or more times.  I can also say that I brought the Amazon back with me.  I'm able to look at what I have in a new light.  I'm able to look at others in a new light.  Hopefully I'll do more here.  Hopefully I'll be more here.  These are lessons well worth the time and money.  These are lessons time and money can't actually buy, but God will provided if you throw out the excuses, and go.  Go, until all have heard.  Acts 20:24
Here are two links to the rest of my pictures: 


Lori said...

Good for you, sounds like a great trip.

Kelley said...

*tears* Glad you were able to, uh, change your life forever. Awesome.

Ella said...

loved reading this, Christy!! so glad to hear about the trip! makes me want to go...

Gwen @ Gwenny Penny said...

What an absolutely amazing experience, Christy. I am so glad that you were able to make it work. It's amazing how much we take for granted in this world. I'm in awe of your great big heart, and this is further proof of just how big and beautiful it is.