Mari Bel. The adventurous trip that Luke and I took last year (Luke fell out of the boat into swirling rapids) came back to me as we began our drive southwest out of Altamira. We returned to Mari Bel with a team of six Brasilians and myself and Bud from North America, in our two pickup trucks. Bud has been here twelve years and his ministry has focused in recent years on the remote areas in the “back yard” of Altamira. We drove five hours on a scenic, rolling dirt “highway” and then turned onto the worst “road” I’ve driven on. Indescribable. Worse than those in the Jeep commercials in the states. We drove five hours, the last three in darkness with very poor headlights. We never shifted beyond third gear and rarely left second. I would have said before the trip that no truck could handle this trip. Large rocks, huge ruts, steep climbs and very deliberate descents. I lost my brakes on the way out and we found a mechanic in a small town who stabilized them. They worked well enough the remainder of the trip. We crossed 50+ rickety bridges, many made of only two logs or planks. We crossed all but one successfully. I was following Bud and rounded a bend and saw the left rear of his truck pointing to the sky at 45 degrees. It took an hour to disengage his truck from the bridge and we continued on.
On arrival, at 10pm, we sauntered to the river to bathe and we shined our flashlights on the opposite bank only to see many jacare (crocodile) eyes observing the funny looking white guys. The locals insisted they were no danger so we proceeded with one of the most refreshing baths I’ve had. The 90+ degree, extremely dusty, exhausting drive without AC made the murky water of the Iriri river life-giving. The following morning I sat at the base of the river at sunrise and got to see a large (8-10 ft) jacare lazily swim about 10 meters in front of me. During the week we saw many multi-colored Mackaws playing in the trees and heard the constant song of the Howler monkeys in the surrounding jungle.
I had a humorous encounter with a tough, leathery-skinned, 70 y/o river woman. We had just eaten lunch and went visiting homes. All with thatched roofs and dirt floors. We stopped in and saw a family and they immediately offered coffee and food. I politely refused the food, thanking her politely for the offer, and she gave me a look that had me stuttering and stammering smiling apologies immediately. One of the Brasilian girls told me afterward with a twinkle in her eye that no one EVER refuses an offer from that woman. I tried to tell her in Portuguese that my foot is commonly in my mouth but I don’t think she quite got it. We all laughed about it several times throughout the week.
I slept under the stars one night and spent about an hour in admiration of their Maker and of all that I saw above me. The sky out in these remote jungle areas, with absolutely no earthly interference, is something to behold. It puts me in a state of wonder every time.
We spent a day spear fishing and I gave it a try but I have a lot of practicing to do. We were in a jungle creek that had a fast current and was pretty thick with trees and weeds so negotiating all this was challenging for me. The idea is to lay on the bottom of the creek, hidden in the weeds, until a fish comes and you shoot it. Sounds so simple and these guys make it look easy. I still have to get past the sense that something is hunting me instead of vice versa. The Brasilians are quite comfortable with the process and speared some nice fish. Naldo, a Brasilian pastor on the trip with us, speared a 8 kg (18 lb) Peacock Bass (Tucunare) which was the biggest any of these guys had seen. They get 4 kg fish commonly but this one caused some excitement. I saw no jacare or snakes or fish, for that matter. The road to the fishing spot was two hours of road cut through spectacular, mature jungle. When we arrived, we asked around for an invitation to sleep at someone’s house that night and immediately had several offers. They also offered the school house. We ended up with a family deep in the woods and slept on their porch in our redes and had a delightful night’s sleep.
At the houses where we stayed, we ate wild boar, beef, fish or chicken and a lot of rice and beans. Always enough food, never any left after all had eaten. We brought some food with us so we wouldn’t be a burden to our guests. We collected lemons, oranges, and avocadoes in the jungle, along with a variety of fruits I didn’t recognized but which tasted anywhere from average to good. We had no filtered water for the week and drank river water without ill effect. (!)
We had three evening services to which the people brought sweet, sober spirits and God touched many. Each service was by candlelight, on benches, in or outside thatched-roof houses with dirt floors and attended by twenty to forty adults (and many children). Five gave themselves to Jesus for the first time. Many were encouraged and saw the real Jesus as different than their perception. I was grateful to be a part. Everyone reading this also played as equal a part as I did. By praying, by helping support us financially, by encouraging us in your cards and emails and phone calls. We are a team that Jesus is using to reach the remote, cherished people of the Amazon Basin