The mudslides had carved deep furrows in the earth and the trenches remained; reminders of the fragility of life.

Clouds hung low over the green patchwork mountains as we passed the artificial canyons dug by mudslides in 2001.  Daniela Schwartz told us of people whose response to evacuation orders was simply, “We have no place else to go” and who had stayed with what little they had in hopes that they would be spared.

As we traveled along the road on the last leg of our trip to Quito, it was a solemn testimony to how quickly life can change for any of us, and how important it is to use our time and resources wisely now to invest in things that matter.

The morning had started with a final breakfast of fresh-baked bread and scrambled eggs at Hostal el Paisano, where we bid adios to our hosts, Hernan and Eunice, for the last time and began our journey home.  After an hour of driving, we made our first stop of the trip at a little town called Shell, 89km southwest of where we’d been staying in Misahuallí.

There, we got to visit the home of Nate Saint, a missionary pilot who was killed in 1956 while sharing the gospel with a previously unreached people group in the jungles of Ecuador.  “Operation Auca” was the name given to the plan to reach the Waodani tribe, and Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming gave their lives in the attempt.  Seeing the house that served as a home base for the missionaries and hearing the stories of how the tribe eventually did embrace Christ was a glad reminder that when our investment is in God’s Kingdom, it always brings a return.  (More on Nate Saint is available here and in the movie End of the Spear.)

After taking photos and purchasing a few mementos to support the ministry, we continued our return trip, heading northwest another 47km to the tourist destination of Baños.  Before we got there, however, we had two important stops to make.

First, we pulled off the road at a little stand that offered a very special mountain experience: cable car rides across the ravine.  Unlike in the U.S., where we even have redundancies for our redundant safety systems, here there was simply a thick steel cable, a metal basket with a railing, and a drive system at the launch point that consisted of a modified car engine bolted to the concrete floor.

It was epic!

For only $1, we got to sail over the rocks and river below, capture breathtaking mountain photos from midair, and take some pretty cool videos like this one: Cable Car Adventure! (Ecuador 2012).

Having worked up an appetite with a morning of adventures and all the screaming on the cable car, we were quite ready for lunch and were not disappointed.  After a little bit of backtracking, we arrived at a beautiful resort hotel on the river where we enjoyed a rich burrito buffet of all sorts of delicious things, including an unexpected treat that we hadn’t had all week: Doritos!  We walked around the resort a bit as we waited for our food to be ready, then feasted and rested and got back on the bus for our jaunt into Baños.

By the time we arrived, the rain that had been mercifully absent all day finally began to fall.  Though it wasn’t quite a downpour, it gave the team pause as we considered whether or not to step out of the dry bus and explore the people-packed streets in between raindrops.  Thankfully, even as we deliberated, the clouds began to clear, and though there were a few periods where the sprinkles returned, our time in the city was mostly dry.  From the cathedral to the cuy (more on that in a moment), the tourist trap shops to an ally filled with local art, it was an exciting and different afternoon.  We were able to get souvenirs and snacks to get us home and take plenty of interesting photos along the way.

One of the most interesting parts of international travel is undoubtedly the food.  Though Ecuador offers plenty of dishes most Americans are familiar with (thank you Latin American restaurants), there are a few things that most folks from the U.S. have probably never heard of, much less tried to eat.

Enter cuy.

Daniela had talked about it several times throughout the trip.  In fact, as we had pondered the itinerary, cuy was one of the things she said she really wanted us to experience, if we were up for it.  Why would she be uncertain who would be partaking of this traditional delicacy?  Because cuy is the Ecuadorian name for a particularly large species of South American guinea pig.  (If you want to see it, click here.)  I chipped in a couple dollars towards the $17 it cost us to purchase one, and bravely took a few bites of the roasted rodent.  It tasted a little like duck.  I didn’t finish the whole piece, largely because there was a lot of fat in it and the skin was so tough, but I was quite pleased with myself for having tried it… and that I never have to do it again.

We spent about an hour and a half in Baños, then wrapped up our visit and hit the road one last time for our journey up to the mountain city of Quito, the drive which took us past the site of the mudslides.  After a day filled with adventure and exciting sights, sounds and tastes, it was good to take a moment to be reminded of the things that really matter most.  It’s fun to visit interesting new places and try new things, but at the end of the day our trip was about sharing God’s love for people in a tangible way.  So many in this world live with so few resources and so little hope, with no place to go even when tragedy strikes.  For some, what we call tragedy and hardship is an everyday reality, and for most, the little luxuries we take for granted are reserved for kings and queens.

Clean water.  Abundant food.  Education.  Personal transportation.  Air conditioning.

For those of us on the Ecuador 2012 team, it was a trip that gave us powerful memories and hopefully a lasting reminder of not just how blessed we are, but how we also have a calling from Jesus to share the blessing with others as much as we can.

After Pizza Hut for dinner in Quito, a brief goodbye to friends at the airport and a 3 hour and 45 minute red-eye flight that took off at 12:05am, we were back in the U.S.A.

There were paper towels in the bathroom and we could flush the toilet paper down.  Our rental vans took us from Miami to Fort Myers in air-conditioned comfort.  McDonald’s gave us a familiar, if unhealthy, taste of America for breakfast, and after two final hours of driving we arrived home and fell into the embraces of those we love.

 


 

Everyone says that when you get back from a mission trip, two things in particular stand out in your mind.  First, you understand just how good you have it at home.  Second, you realize that though the trip was intended to be a blessing to others, you yourself were just as blessed, perhaps even more.  In the wake of this trip, two things are certain.  This will not be our last project with Jungle Kids for Christ, and definitely not our last trip to Ecuador.

After all, there is still work to be done as we partner for the Kingdom, and there are dozens of smiling children whose lives are being changed, waiting to welcome us back to the heart of the jungle.

 

NOTE: The full collection of photos and captions from Ecuador 2012 is available at facebook.com/gatewaygrace. I’ll also be posting a selection of the best photos on the blog in the days and weeks to come, starting tomorrow. I’d love for you to leave comments below, and if you’d like to get my daily posts in your e-mail, just use the “Subscribe via e-mail” form on the upper-right of the content area. Thanks for joining me on the journey! -Phillip