Saturday, March 1, 2014

Day 2 - (most of) The Drive


The altitude had been hardly noticeable on our arrival, but the thin mountain air just south of Machachi (which sits somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,500 ft above sea level) can not be totally ignored. I awoke gasping for breath sometime in the depth of the night, but my conscious self quickly adjusted my breathing again and it soon passed. Unfortunately for Jonathan Burkett, his nausea would persist through the day, but more on that later. Our breakfast wasn't until 7, but most everyone was awake by the first hints of dawn. We couldn't believe our eyes when we stepped out of our rooms.

For anyone curious, here's the hotel's website: www.chuquiragualodgeandspa.com It was a nice place, but not nearly as nice as those glossy photos make it out to be. 

We found ourselves in a valley full of verdant green fields and surrounded by massive Andean volcanoes. The twin peaked llinizas were the most stunning as the dawn bathed it in its warm light and Ruminawi was just visible through the low morning clouds, but Cotopaxi, the largest of the peaks, remained obscured that morning. Even the comparatively unremarkable hills still approached 15,000 feet through the valley. There is a reason this part of Ecuador is known as the Avenue of the Volcanoes.

Beyond the predawn bird calls, the first sound I remember that morning was the whir of Nick Serban IV's helicopter. Nick's primary purpose on this trip was to shoot and produce a few video projects. He had a small drone with a GoPro attached that he used for aerial shots and the like. It was a curious site that drew spectators from among the few people out that early in the morning, but its strangeness would only grow as our settings grew more primitive. Our pleasant breakfast of granola, eggs, toast, and coffee soon followed before our departure about 8 that morning.

We made a brief bottled water stop and Joil shared a morning devotion. He shared the reciprocal nature of God's work, preparing us to make a move toward God during the week and to expect His abundant move toward us in return. He left us with two goals for our time in Ecuador. First, expect God to move. Second, find each of our purposes this week. He shared a touching story of returning to a village many years after he'd first visited. He was greeted by a young man whom he didn't recognize, but certainly recognized him. The young man ran back to his home and pulled out an old Polaroid photograph of Joil's first visit several years prior. This young man barely had held on to this as one of his few prized possessions and subsequently been the catalyst for his whole family coming to Christ. Our purpose may not be obvious in our eyes, but God's plans are always at work.

Most of us spent the day as spectators, just watching the fascinating world of the high valley and foreign cities pass us by. We passed through city after city of half finished houses, faded advertisements, and disheveled people. Joil explained that taxes were lighter on unfinished properties, so most families left some form of exposed rebar or glassless windows on their homes and businesses. Laundry was often strung out to dry among the half finished pillars. Most of the shops were small, crowded places, with faded signs. The unmistakable bright spots on most every building, even in to the deep jungle, were the bright blue, green, and rainbow flags claiming political allegiance for the upcoming elections. Even here the socio-economic dichotomy of the politically connected were glaringly obvious.

Jonathan Burkett's day was undoubtedly the most unpleasant. The altitude had taken its toll and he lay hunched over from nausea until at least lunch time. Nick Serban III, our pastor, took it upon himself to massage Jonathan's neck and back with the relative coolness of a water bottle, much to the hilarious delight of the rest of us.

At some point we crossed over the continental divide and began descending through a steep volcanic valley to the town of Banos for lunch (and to use their Banos). Our lunch was a delicious selection of chicken, pork, potatoes, and corn. Joil took the opportunity to share a few tales of a few of the monsters he's seen or heard tales of in his time in the Amazon basin. The list included, but is not limited to, a 22ft anaconda, piranhas, caiman, 500lb catfish, and a not entirely confirmed 10ft long electric eel. Our descent continued in earnest from here.

Apparently about 1 hour after we stopped for lunch, Banos' resident volcano, Tungurahua, began erupting. Footage can be found here (though we didn't actually witness it): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-26013137

The road down the valley was treacherous at best. the spots that had been washed away in landslides and rebuilt with concrete were obvious any time a curve gave witness to the road ahead. The bus would pass within a few short inches every time a car would pass in the oncoming lane, which was about every 10 seconds. The valley's steep walls were joined by canopy zip lines that the locals used to access the road and the tourists used for their amusement. The whitewater that carved this valley ran a few hundred yards below. The skill of our driver, Roberto, can not be expressed enough.

Even the foothills that followed put the "mountains" back home to shame. Eventually these started to shrink too and by the time we reached our destination, Sucua, we were surrounded by (still sizable) forested hills. Our dinner was provided by a local church member whose newly built restaurant consisted of a large, open patio amongst large fields where his cattle and crops could grow. We had an incredible dinner, better than most restaurants back home, of fresh mashed potatoes, sauteed vegetables, and our choice of surf and turf (Steak in an incredible brown sauce and a shrimp skewer) or a Shrimp Arribiata. The owner had an incredible story of finding and trusting God and His provision throughout. After relaxing and meeting Joil and Matt's families, we made our way to the Hotel Romanza, our home in Sucua.

The accommodations left a little to be desired, but nothing beyond what we'd expected. The blotchy plaster and dusty, small, oscillating table fan bolted to the ceiling were easily forgotten with the presence of WiFi. All of us got a chance to speak with our wives. Sarah was especially excited to see her dada. After a few minutes of prepping our bags for the trip into the bush, a few of us walked down to a little supermercado around the corner. The streets of Sucua were just starting to come alive in that evening our. I took my Naranjilla aqua fresca and Kinder Egg (I know its childish, but I love them) and we went and sat in the town square for a few minutes.

Everything in the square was well kept and relatively modern, except for the faded statue of Christ atop the otherwise neon lit fountain. A few woman laid out their trinkets and people of all ages wandered through the comfortable night air. Our peace was interrupted by a raucous political parade on one of the main streets. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles packed with politically active Ecuadorans rode past, honking, dancing, and yelling all the while. This went on for a good 15 or 20 minutes before we gave up on the peaceful evening and returned to the hotel. We had a long day ahead of us and relished the somewhat comfortable beds that night.


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