Thursday, 15 September 2016


It's visa time again. I opt for the border crossing = 3 free months in Ecuador. Two countries to choose from, Colombia, which I loved, but charges $100 extra for Canadians (what did we do to them??) and Peru.
Nervously I start planning the trip to Peru. I'm engrossed in my guidebook, getting it all mapped out. Which is the tiniest, least troublesome border crossing, and a small town where I can ride out the 24 hours. Maybe in the jungle. Definitely playing it safe.

I finish my appointment in Cuenca, and head to the terminal to find out my options. Turns out my safe little route is going to add days and cost to the whole ordeal. There's a night bus heading down the coast to Piura, cost $15. Ok, I decide, not so bad, I can explore a new city... So I buy the ticket, and hang around the terminal. Walking around I see a poster of a long white beach, palm trees, blue ocean. Mancora. On route to Piura. I rush back to the booth and ask if they can drop me off there instead. I can almost hear the seagulls calling.
No problem.

So, with my one stuffed MEC bag (successful experiment in packing light), a few scribbled hostel names and not a single Peruvian sol, I get on the bus. We'll be going through the Huaquillas crossing, the one with the most complaints and bad experiences on travel websites. Here goes.

We speed through the darkness, around the curves of the mountains, and finally to the flats. Fields of banana trees silhouetted. City lights somewhere in the distance. I drift asleep.
We have to change buses just before the crossing, they shove us into a hot room in the station with one fan. People are lying all over the benches, the floor. I ignore them and watch insects zigzagging across the tile floor.
Finally our turn comes, and our bus arrives at the border. Sleepy eyed, trying to fill out slips of paper, waiting in the long line of those who arrived before us. It's completely uneventful, nobody trying to kidnap me or steal my passport... so much for the reviews. At 3 am we are finally stamped in. Turns out I miscalculated the date of my visa expiry, so I will be staying a few extra days in Peru. Back on the bus. No sleep now, too excited as I catch glimpses of open water, ghosts of breakers on the shore.
5 am I am unceremoniously dropped off in Mancora. It's still dark. Thankfully a moto-taxi is waiting. I tell him to go to the first hostel I can think of. It's not far, and I see "24 hour service" written outside. Everything sorted out, I crawl into an upper bunk in my private room and fall asleep blissfully. Safe and sound.

Later that morning i wake up to shafts of sun through the woven thatch roof. I'm loving this start, the first real holiday I've had in a couple years. I slowly get ready, change some money in the hotel, and find a little breakfast place. Eggs and cheese on the best bread I've tasted in South America. Then I start walking.
I get out of the main street and walk up the hill, through the back of the town, away from the tourists and the surfers. The houses are painfully rickety, made out of cane, or crumbling brick. It's pure desert here. The sun beats down. The sandy road takes me up to a lighthouse. More bare hills in the distance, and a cluster of fishing boats in the port. A beautiful wind whips around it all.

I spend my days walking down the beach, looking for shells, sometimes dodging the waves at my feet, sometimes rushing headlong into them. My first taste of salt water. One morning I find the beach full of fish, dead, washed up in the night. A small yellow seahorse lies twitching on the sand, so I find a good spot and throw him back in the sea. I think he makes it. This turns into a morning mission to find anything that might still be alive. The fish are limp and blank, half eaten by crabs and vultures. But I find two more seahorses, alive, that twist and turn in my hands.

Another morning I take out one of the kayaks. The waves are higher today, crashing onto the beach. The boat owner asks, "are you sure you want to go out?" "Yes!!" I reply. "It's my last chance." He tells me the pattern of the waves. Seven large ones roll in, and then you paddle as fast as possible before the next set comes. I make it out, happy, and spend a blissful hour and a half on smoother waters, chasing pelicans, spotting a sea-lion ducking between the fishing boats. It's tempting to go further and further and never stop, but my time runs out and I head back to shore. I see the large waves rolling in ahead of me. Looks good, so I start paddling quickly towards the beach. The owner signals something with his hands, I can't tell what. It's too late, a wave creeps up behind me and tosses me unceremoniously into the water. I thrash and spin, wave after wave catching me from behind. The boat glides serenely to the shore. I drag myself out slowly, clothes heavy, hair smeared across my face. Two men stand watching on the beach, "You scared us!" they say. I grin.
This was probably the best way to get over my fear of falling out of kayaks...

So I spend the rest of my time drying out, walking in the evening. I find a music booth and spend a delicious half hour chatting jazz with the vendor, listening to samples of Dizzy and Coltraine, walking away with two Miles Davis cd's. I miss this.

In the nights club music blares from the hostel next door. I get used to not sleeping until 2 am. But tonight I hear a live band starting their set across the street in a small venue. Covers of rock tunes in english and spanish. I lie awake, listening, then on impulse I throw on my clothes and cross the street. Virgin mojito in my hands, happily dancing along to familiar songs. I slip a request for Soda Stereo into the hands of the guitarist, and they nail it. Soon they wrap up for the night. I dash back to my room. Finally quiet.

There are so many more moments I would love to write about. But the biggest joy was all the  moments of connection. I thrive on travelling solo. I love the challenge, the freedom, the aloneness. But there had been a shift somewhere. I found myself seeking interaction. Craving it instead of avoiding it.
Maybe that's what being away from home soil for so long does to you. Makes you realize you're not invincible, nor an island.

So, I made it home to Macas with my visa, exhausted from the travelling, but happy to sleep in my own bed with one cat, no crickets. The sunsoaked feeling has lingered, and I have to say, unexpected destinations are the best. Unless of course it's in the trunk of a car in the Peruvian desert.
Signing off, from rainy Macas...

Thursday, 3 March 2016

First-time Freelancing

So you know Tintin, Reporter? Skinny kid with orange hair travelling around the world, getting the inside scoop, solving mysteries and making random friends, all with trusty companion Snowy at his side?
I always wanted to do that.

I don't have a Snowy, I have a cat who goes on his own private expeditions while I'm away. I haven't been around too many criminal organizations (unless you count the ex-neighbours who grew pot) and I definitely don't have orange hair. But last month, I got a tiny taste of what it was like to be.... da da da... a journalist!

It all started on instagram, following a family member in the UK who was starting a magazine about tea. Something went 'bing' in my head and I mentioned in a comment: "we grow guayusa in Ecuador! Do you want an article?" to which he replied "Yes! Get it to me by the end of Feb."

The ball was rolling. Rather quickly. I wrote an email to Runa, one of the big organizations that supports guayusa farming, explaining that I was a contributor to a new magazine etc. looking to write a story about the lives of the farmers in Ecuador. No reply. I tried a local organization, which basically referred me (begrudgingly) back to Runa. So I tried again, this time getting in touch with a program manager who said, "Yes, absolutely, come on up and we'll give you a tour!" (with a contribution of course to support the cause.)

That ended up being easy. The hard part was finding time in my packed schedule to actually go and do it. Which days could I sacrifice? Question was answered when a friend invited me to travel up with her to Quito for a couple days. Perfect. I could take the route through Tena to come home, stopping at the facilities and farm on the way. Story on the run. A little bit Tintin-esque. I already my had my introduction written out, just had to fill in the rest!

So, I enjoyed visiting with friends, getting a little acupuncture done, and had a lovely day in service. Then it was time. I tracked down a shared taxi that could get me to the site near Archidona by 9:30 the next morning. Which involved painfully waking up at 4:30am, packing, then waiting on the street corner in the cold with a friend until a cop drove by and suggested maybe we should wait inside. Oh right, it's Quito. A mugging could be right around the corner. So we went back inside the gate and peeked out, for a good hour. Turns out I was the last one to be picked up, not the first as I had been told on the phone. However, I stuffed myself gratefully into the taxi, full of professional Ecuadorians and American tourists. Nobody said a word, just grunted and went back to sleep. Exactly what I wanted to do. However I had a billion things running through my head.... which questions to ask... which direction to take the article in. I decided to write down a few ideas and snap some pictures as we whipped by. I even managed to write a little bit of nice prose about the landscape as we descended back into the Orient, in case I could use it later.

Finally we arrived, I crawled out of the taxi with my things, and rung the intercom at the front gate. "I'm here to do an interview?" I said, trying to sound more professional and alert than I felt. They buzzed me in, my contact Lindsay came out and walked me to the office. It was just her and a Quichua guy named Carlos. We sorted out plans for the day (I was time-slotted in between a bunch of meetings) then dashed through the rain to the truck, debating whether to bring extra boots or not. We decided in favor of, and took off. I tried to snag a few notes on the road as I asked Lindsay about the inner workings of the company. That wasn't so bad, being in english. Carlos was
quiet in the back, turned out it was his parents farm we were going to see. Thankfully it stopped raining by the time we got there.

It looked like a lot of other communities I'd passed through already. Wooden houses, a few concrete buildings, centering out from the river. Green hills all around.

We walked up and met Carlos's parents, Carlos Sr (that made one less name to remember!) and Rosita. I pulled out my camera automatically, and Lindsay quickly asked "Is it OK to take a few pictures?" Oops, I forgot
that's not something you can take for granted. They said yes, to my relief (I was imagining half my story down the tubes already). I got a quick family portrait, then we went to sit beside the house and chat. I'd forgotten half the questions I'd wanted to ask by this time, but that worked itself out. Carlos Sr was only too happy to talk, so for the most part I just sat back and tried to keep up. My tiny notebook quickly became filled with unreadable scribbles. And as I juggled note-taking with trying to capture a few moments on camera, I realized why most reporters go around with an assistant. They only have two hands.

We kept talking for a while, finding out more about their lives, and how they are just scraping by, even with the help of a stable industry. Their land is losing value and the market prices of the products they sell are ridiculously low. Rosita started to cry at one point, and I wanted to hug her and tell her that all of their stresses and problems would be gone soon, but it wasn't a good time. She didn't speak spanish, and I hadn't brought quichua literature with me. (Fair enough, I wouldn't have know which kind to bring, there's at least 9 varieties of quichua spoken in Ecuador, and they rarely understand each other!)

Things calmed down, and we decided to pull on our boots and head into the forest.
This part felt like home, talking about trees and plants. Spotting almost invisible animal traps and learning which plants were medicinal and which were hallucinogenic. (Sound familiar anyone?)
I stopped to take lots of pictures. Despite not having used the camera for a while, and coming near to swearing at it a few times, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

We somehow managed to come back out into the village (apparently the path looped back without us town-folk noticing) and investigated a small artisan shop. It was full of lovely handmade things, including some simple traditional outfits brought out for special occasions.

It was time to leave, so we said our goodbye's and drove back into town, picked up a few staff members and had lunch at the local market. It was strange to be surrounded by Americans again, speaking english, making references to western movies and food. Carlos Jr sat across from me still quiet, and I asked if he understood. He said no. I felt bad, having been in his shoes many times. Everyone happily chattering away, unaware. We rushed through lunch (as quickly as you can with fried tilapia) and jumped back in the truck for the last leg of the tour.

The rain started bucketing down again so we spent most of our time in the office talking about the for-profit and non-profit sides of the business. It was fascinating to learn about all the different things they were involved in, reforestation, education of the farmers. It was a rush of information. Then Lindsay took me out to quickly see the property.

And then it was over. I was dropped off at a bus stop to head to Macas. I looked at my notes and hoped they would make some kind of sense when I got home. So many details, what to include!
And I felt that there was so much left untold. It was like peeling back one layer to see thousands more underneath.

So, that was my whirlwind journalistic experience. It felt great to finally do something that I'd wanted to since I was a child. Travel, make random friends, get the inside scoop AND get to report on it. And gain ever more perspective on the country I'm learning to call home.

Signing off (cross-eyed from editing, and hoping it makes
it through the presses)...


Sunday, 7 June 2015

A day in Colombia

A few months ago I had to do a visa run (cross border, stay night, come back next day and hope they let you back in) and I decided Colombia would be a good choice, close for one thing, and a little more intriguing for me than Peru.

I headed out after an assembly and mini food vacation in Cuenca (loooots of crepes, indian and italian food and fancy hot chocolates... not all at the same time of course.) Night bus, 13 hours to Tulcan, the last town on the Ecuadorian border. I was nervous of course, any new territory here is a little terrifying, helped along by the grave warnings of the brother who was giving me the lowdown. "Find people! Don't go anywhere alone! Be super careful!'.

So with that soundtrack in my head, I tucked myself into my seat and tried to sleep and avoid glancing at the horror movie that was playing (which totally wasn't helping).
After an interminably long butt-numbing journey, we reached Tulcan as the light rose on the green grassy hills.

I crawled off the bus, and after circling a bit, finally chose a taxi, ignored the brothers advice, and headed for the border, alone.
They immediately sent me back to Tulcan to get money, due to a 'special' payment only Canadians have to make to enter Colombia ($100! and of course no ATM at the crossing...).

So I go to the bank, get out the money, thinking of course they can change it there. Nope.
They give me vague directions to some market with money changers. Already not feeling great about carrying a large amount with me in an unfamiliar place.... but I find the area, and ask in a little shop where to find the exchange. A woman says 'just follow me I'm going there now'. I cautiously walk a ways behind her to see what's going to happen. We reach this market, and true enough, tucked behind in an alley, there's a row of little old men selling Colombian peso's. The guy gives me an good rate, and I walk away feeling pretty awesome, another notch on the belt of world travel. :D

Finally I reach the border (2 very safe taxi rides by the way), and I'm in Colombia!
I don't know what it is, but the air feels totally different on that side of the border. I was asking the taxi driver how things were in Colombia politically, and he said it's much calmer and safer now, but then he pointed over to the distant hills on the right, and said 'that's the red zone'.

                                                                                                                         I got to my hotel in Ipiales to settle in and wash the Cuenca mud off my shoes, and then I walked into the center to explore a little and find food. It was a really busy town, full of all the modern styles and furniture, cars, interspersed with bicycles and a couple horse drawn carts. So much contrast. Everything looks like it's older and falling apart. And once again, even though it's only 15 minutes away from the border, it feels totally different. Ecuador is like a sleepy farm town in comparison.  For one thing, they didn't seem to care that I was a woman and a foreigner, people were just chatty and fun and normal. There was just a feeling that everyone had more important things to think about.
With hints of turmoil here and there. I gave a wide berth to a scruffy looking couple full-on screaming at each other on the sidewalk outside my hotel...

But aside from the rough-around the edges feel and the whole Farc thing, los Colombianos are really kind and open and easy to talk to. I loved every second I was there, it felt alive and real. And the normal everyday food, pretty great. (corn tortillas with eggs.... and whatever they cook their meat in! so good!)
I even loved my cheap hotel room, it felt like something from another era. creaky floors, low wood ceiling, old 40's style print of a woman with a hat. A little glimpse into another world.

I was inspired.
Unfortunately due to budget and time restraints I returned to Ecuador the next day, after just the briefest of taste's.  But it was enough to get me hooked.
So get ready for a Colombia pt 2. (can't wait!)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

jungle trip vs. 2

So, last week it was jungle time again. Making sure the Shuar people living in these remote areas received an invitation to the most important event of the year, the Memorial.

This journey took us much much farther than the one of last year. We traveled by foot about 30 hours (if not more) over 4 days. I really lost track. We had rain, torrential downpour, muddy trails even more difficult to traverse than the previous time, thick forest with overhanging vines, open spaces with tall grass and fruit trees.

It was kind of an accident prone trip, nothing too serious but I kept grabbing all the wrong plants to keep my balance and had to stop several times to pull thorns out of my hands and bandage a slashed finger. Another night I was getting all cozy by the fire and a piece of charcoal exploded INTO my mouth, a bit of a surprise... on the rest of the trek I was concentrating so hard on where to put my feet that I walked into numerous large branches and leaning trees... on the last day receiving quite a blow to the head. (next time a helmet might be a good idea?) And soooooooooo many bug bites! (still scratching desperately... augh!)
Although I still think the best one goes to one of the sisters who entertained us with her spectacular falls. One over a large tree trunk, head first, feet in the air... thankfully came up laughing and not injured. Tons to laugh about over a plate of chinese food when we got back to Macas.

We were greeted once again with the beautiful hospitality of the people in each village, who warned us of the dangers (to avoid visiting a neighbouring town where everyone was still pretty drunk from a fiesta) and made sure that we had a place to stay for the night. They gave us pots to cook with, access to water (sometimes from a river, sometimes from a tap), and happily accepted the memorial invitation. There were times where we could really see Jehovah's love for these people. A family with a sick daughter who was waiting for a doctor, receiving some comfort from the Bible about sickness and our wonderful hope for the future, and a beautiful reading of the daily text one morning with a family on how to have a happy marriage. They have so much respect for their creator. A really great lesson for those of us who are used to a culture where God is an almost shameful concept.

Another highlight was catching a glimpse of life in the village. About three times we arrived just in time for a community meeting, organizing their activities for the day - medical care, the local school, making a trail, maintaining the open patch of earth in the centre with machetes. We greeted everyone and handed out invitations. They gave us chicha as a sign of welcome, and invited us to rest and talk a little while. I loved the relaxed atmosphere, people enjoying being together in this open space. The life there is so.... different. Very surreal when you've lived anywhere else really. Women walking down the long dirt centre of the town, baby's strapped to their backs, getting water for the day... or with a machete going to their patch of land to collect yuca, plantain, fruit. Houses with thatched roofs and wood walls, hard dirt floors, a piece of wood set on stones for furniture, wood bench for preparing food. Small hand grinders to make chicken feed. And then a solar panel and satellite dish for internet or some kind of communication. Not a car or crowd or store in sight.
It truly is another world, filled with highly intelligent, thoughtful, educated people. Very worth getting to know.

Aside from that, it was amazing to sit out a couple nights and see stars completely fill the sky, or to watch the sun rise over the mist and the trees.

It was the most physically gruelling experience I have had, pushing feet and legs and will to their last strength. Up steep hills, wobbling on logs thrown down into the swamp, tripping on tree roots, rocks, splashing through rivers. For hours at a stretch. And then arriving just in time to a village where we would spend the night. The basic food we cooked never tasted so good. After the first night, even a hard wood floor made for a pretty great bed. And riding home to Macas after in a taxi? Pure luxury.

I'm happy to be back in my little comfortable apartment again, with clothes that don't smell like smoke and sweat and dirt, but wow. Completely worth the effort ('vale la pena' as they say here) and I'm so happy I got to share it with a few members of my spiritual family. Another unforgettable experience.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

1 year

it's monsoon season again, and i'm sitting in my new little apartment on the third floor, listening to the rain as it hits the streets below. perfect writing weather :)

so it's been a year.
...and a bit.

can't believe how quickly the time passed, how much has changed.
moving to a new country, language and culture shakes you up in ways that you couldn't dream of. it challenges your perceptions on the deepest levels.

and it's a good thing. it opens your mind, it teaches you to relate, to enjoy, to stop putting people in a box. it opens your heart.

but before you get there, sometimes it's not pretty. about 6 months in i was reading an article about culture shock which basically summed it up as "walking out the door, being greeted by a neighbour, and wanting nothing more than to shout obscenities at them". it's totally true.

thankfully that passes ;)

after a year i can safely say that i feel like i'm getting my feet on the ground. there's a point when you just accept that you will always be a little strange to the people around you, and them to you, and you just learn to love all the weirdness, not let it get to you, and carry on with whatever it is you're doing. we've all got something good to share, and things we need to learn.

here's a list of some of the things i've learned since arriving.

cooking good food from scratch
not worrying too much about the future
scaring off mean dogs
washing clothes by hand
be more flexible (yes, it's possible)
how to live with less
how to forgive
how to be a ruthless bargainer (mwahaha)
to be more patient (sort of, haha)

there's so much more i could write, in greater detail, but maybe later. or maybe it's just to personal to share here. but all that to say... it feels nice to be in the place where you like where you're at, and what you're doing in life.
i hope i can hold onto this moment a little longer. and let it all sink in a bit more.

so here's to another year in ecuador. :)

to finish up, a few things i love about living in ecuador:

salsa urbana
people laugh easily
market day
garbage trucks with music
that all the girls here love 'orgullo y perjuicio' (pride and prejudice)
the creative approach to life and work
being greeted with equal enthusiasm on a bad day as on a good one

so there it is. life is not too shabby...

cheers for now.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

jungle trek (or- i left my heart in tumpaim)

two weeks ago, i had the experience that i've been long-awaiting. a three day trek to the jungle to preach in shuar communities. i'd been told emphatically of all the things i would need - 'boots! you can't go in anything less than tall rainboots!' water purifier, food, mosquito net, change of clothes, bug repellant, sleeping bag, flashlight.

'simple enough' i thought, as i packed up my big backpack 'just like camping'. one improvement... hammock :)

so the morning arrived, and our groups met and piled into the back of a brothers transport van. we bumped down the road to makuma. some of us caught up on sleep, the rest of us watched the view unfolding in the dust behind the truck. hills, thickening trees, mist floating above. a waterfall tucked into the rocks.

we stopped at a town before makuma to fuel up with a big breakfast, and talk plans, invite the woman who ran the restaurant to the memorial. then we were off again.
when you get to makuma (almost 1 1/2 hours from macas by car) you have hit the end of the track. no more driving, it's all walking from here.  
in town i went with a brother to find some last minute internet and we approached a porchful of men. (a little intimidating, no?) they were all relaxed and friendly, took a few tracts and invitation in shuar, and listened to the scripture about the memorial. arrangements had been made to hold one in shuar in the town next to makuma, for the convenience of the people living in the surrounding villages. Jehovah looks after everyone!

after that we pulled on our backpacks and started our journey, sun beating down, already feeling the weight. at this point i was still optimistic about what i had decided to bring, but half an hour later i was cursing every single item as i struggled up a steep hill full of mud. eventually i had to stop because of a splitting headache and a sort of fuzzy/weak feeling. another brother kindly helped me with my load for a while and we made it to the first town, about an hour later, where we all sat on the front porch of a lovely shuar family to eat lunch. they gave us chicha, and thankfully i was too thirsty to realize what it was right away, basically chicha is fermented spit, with a few other things. yummy! but it was actually super refreshing. this was my first glimpse of the the beautiful welcoming spirit of the shuar, their quiet hospitality. 
and i'm sure they were thrilled to have people from all parts of ecuador sitting on their porch trying to speak their language. they all had big smiles on their faces, and freely let us fill up our bottles with water.

at this point our group divided and set off for different towns. ours was a few hours of walking away. we 'hired' a little shuar boy to guide us on the road. 

i need to take a moment to describe these trails. i've hiked a lot of places, and never seen anything like this. every square inch is full of deep mud, usually felled trees or branches placed in the middle to keep you from sinking. even on the hills, the mud can be over a foot deep. we had to stop and rescue one of the sisters boots at some point. i was understanding the necessity of rainboots.... you couldn't function with anything less. a good walking stick to keep you from toppling off the logs into the mud is also quite useful.

but the value of our efforts quickly became apparent as we met with shuar jogging (literally, i don't know how they do it) down the trail in the opposite direction. we took advantage to converse with each one and leave them an invitation. all conversations basically took this form, you greet each other 'penkerak pujam' (equivelent to how are you) and they ask where you've been, what you were doing, where you are headed. then you part with warm smiles and handshakes. (shiir weeta - have a beautiful journey.)
thanks to the groundwork laid by the previous witnessing treks here, a lot of people know who we are, and are thrilled that we have returned. 

a few hours down the trail we met with a shuar couple who lived in the village we were going to, and who had travelled all the way to macas for a special assembly day a few months ago!!! they helped us with our loads, and took off ahead of us. when we met up for break, we shared our snacks with them. we talked about the trail, trying to find out how much more we could expect to walk. we learned the hard way that shuar evaluation of travel time is about triple what we could expect for our jungle-newby legs ;)

eventually we arrived at our town, a small plateau above the trees. i collapsed on the porch of the school we would be sleeping in (a one-room wooden building with corrugated iron roof) and thanked Jehovah for getting us there in one piece.

and then the beauty started to sink in. as we sat there waiting for the sisters (who still miraculously had energy to finish leaving invitations at a few of the homes.) we sang a couple kingdom songs, watching the sun set over the forest we'd just emerged from. 

the next day we woke with the sun, and quickly washed in the river below the village. it was just cool and fast enough to revive us for the day. winding, green, overhung with trees and huge ferns, orchids peeking through the foliage. perfection.

we spent some time in the kitchen (see picture) making breakfast, and decided that since we were all tired, we would preach in the next village, 40 minutes walking distance, and return here for the night. at that moment we had to rush back to the schoolhouse, because we'd forgotten that there were classes that morning. we met a group of wide-eyed uniformed children standing in front of the door, staring at us as we ran around in a slight panic, putting the classroom back together.
then we were ready.
it was raining buckets, so we made our next little shuar guide get his rainboots, and wrapped him up in a rain-poncho. 

this time the going was much easier. we'd grown accustomed to navigating the mud and logs, and even managed to not be too far behind our guide! the path finally opened onto a large dirt air-strip, that the village is built around. we started preaching right away, and left the brother to conduct a study with a boy who had met us before. 
when you approach a shuar house you yell out well before 'winiajai! (i'm here) and 'pujamek!' (are you there?) and then wait for someone to come out. i was taught to say 'ipiajme' which is 'i invite you' or 'ipiajrume' (if there's more than one person) and then sort of read a bit out of the invitation... of course a lot of shuar speak spanish as well, so there's something to fall back on.

while i was sitting on a bank waiting for the sisters to finish a call, i found myself surrounded by a group of shy little girls. we had a fun chat, they taught me some shuar words, and i got to show them pictures of paradise and teach them Jehovah's name. in the meantime lots of people from the village passed by on their way home, and came to say hi. everyone was so welcoming and happy to see us.

at lunchtime we went back to a kitchen with an even larger group of kids and one of the men, pablo, and before eating gave him a really good witness, and showed everyone one of the video's from the website. we shared our instant soups and tuna, and ate out of huge leaves with our fingers :) happiest point of the day. after we played a little soccer with the boys (they are good!!) and finished the territory. 

we walked back (almost shuar-speed!) to our base-town, using a rather shaky hand-operated cable-car to cross one of the rivers :D when we arrived we discovered as well that another group had just finished blitzing some of the farther out villages, and would be spending the night with us.

that night the moon was strong and bright as we went to the river. everything glowed. fireflies blinked on and off. i remember thinking... is there anything better than this.

we gathered around the fire in the kitchen and talked. 'how many times have you done this trip?' for a few of the brothers it was their 6, 7th time. i can understand why they come back.

the next day we breakfasted with the shuar family, said our goodbye's and thank-you's (thank you in shuar is 'yuminsajme').

we were a little more on the ball this time with getting our things out of the school, and got out on the trail in good time. backpacks much lighter by now ;)

the other group headed out first, and i found myself a good half hour distance between the two groups, enjoying having a few hours alone to soak in the silent beauty of the jungle. broken only by the occasional birdsong and rustling of leaves, and greeting a few people heading back to their villages. one guy caught up with me, asked where i was going, and on discovering we were headed to the same town, said 'vamos!' (lets go). i laughed, because clearly there was no way i would be able to keep up with him, and said 'ciao' as he sprinted off through the mud. 

i think how you feel about a place when you leave is a good indicator of how much of an impression it leaves on you. if there's a pull at your heart. a good twinge as you move away from it.
i felt that. 
it was like finding paradise. the simplest life imaginable, in one of the most beautiful places i have been.
where life grows so thickly... where the vapid busyness of city life fades away... and it's just you. in the setting we were created to live in. with all that visible evidence of Jehovah's love, not only in the nature around, but in the people that we meet and reach with the kingdom message, way out in the middle of nowhere. 

we made it back in a few hours to makuma, left more invitations and had a couple nice conversations, and then caught a bus back to macas.
as we pulled away all the scenes from the past few days flashed in my mind. the lushness of the trees, the muddy trails, the rivers carving their way to hidden places, the tiny villages, the quiet and pensive shuar, greeting us with such warmth, and all the people back there who still needed to get to know Jehovah.

all i could think was 'i have to go back'.

and i will. 

(and no, we didn't see any dangerous animals. apparently there is 'uunt yawa' shuar for tiger, in the jungle, and a good amount of 'napi' -snake. but aside from a possible snake sighting waaaaayyyy up in one of the trees... nada. ah well, next time :D  )

Friday, 14 March 2014

homage and parallels

i've been stuck inside the house this week with yet another bad cold (rainy season, will you just give it UP already?), with little energy but to do endless youtube digging for some new additions to my already oversized music collection. of course i found my way back to one of my favorite songwriters, neil finn, and was rewarded with discovering a few tracks from an album he put together with his brother tim. they have a musical chemistry that is so well-honed over the years... happiness for the ears.

this song especially stood out for me, i immediately tabbed it and added it to my list of cover songs. it's got such a lovely hopeful vibe, the joy of embracing uncertainty.

anyways, i've been on a neil finn/crowded house kick again lately. some music speaks to you more at certain times of your life than others. oddly enough it was reminding me of a time a few years ago (6ish already, eek) before i moved to scotland. i was imagining what my future would look like, and it came out in a drawing of me being driven away in a black car waving a handkerchief out the window, with a pile of tiny hearts blowing away behind. the next picture was of me standing happily beside my home, which was a mud hut with a thatched roof.
maybe something like this? this is shuar by the way.

at the time i was visualizing africa, but at the core there are enough similarities in environment and culture to say that now i'm very close to living out that visualization here in ecuador. who knows, in a couple years if i learn shuar and move into the jungle even the hut thing might become reality... how cool would that be!

anyways, i digress. so i was listening a lot to crowded house that year. the expansive imagery of the lyrics, music, and the intimacy of it as well was something that more and more was hitting me. and when i found the album 'together alone'... heaven.

so the other day i pulled it out again. it had been lost somewhere in the shuffle and mostly forgotten. but with the first notes of 'kare kare' (the name of the beach in new zealand where they based the recording of this album) i was back there. the feeling of space, possibilities, reflection. a profound connection with your surroundings.

all the things i was looking for then, and in fact did find when i went to scotland (which made it incredibly hard to leave) and now, years later, am beginning to find here.

there is music that offers a certain atmosphere for a passing mood. but there is also music that goes deeper, that calls to the very essence of who you are, to all the differing elements that weave you together.
crowded house is one of the bands that does that for me.

and when you're in the middle of life-rethinking, adapting, energy-healing and brain-rewiring, that is a beautiful thing to have. a little reassurance that you are still you. and some things don't change at all.

here is one of my favorite tracks off that album, played live.