Now that I'm in Boston, I'm posting up the last summaries of my time there...
(Almost) To the Amazon
On January 18, I met up with Jason Healy from Family Missions Company at the airport in Quito, at about midnight. The goal was to make it to a mission location in Ahuano that he was preparing for some other missionaries to come to, in a month or so. A combination of him needing more time in his cultural transition and my getting sick changed the plans, and we made it to some central tourist locations in the Amazon (the Oriente), but we never made it to Ahuano. It all worked out, as we had a lot of time to discuss and share our paths, and that was very fruitful for both of us. It's not easy to find people who can relate to the path of a lay missionary, and the time together was well worth it. I'll share a few of our experiences in the locations we made it to. This was how our itinerary ended up:
Papallacta is a tourist destination for one reason: thermal baths. Located at about 10,000 ft above sea level, there are natural thermal baths that draw tourists from all over the country and the world to this tiny village. (I am not a "tourist", but tourism always has a place with any visitor to a country. There are good ways of better ways of doing it and worse ways - that's a good topic for another discussion.)
Papallacta is in the Sierra, the mountains, and it is relatively cold - the high is about 50 to 55 every day, with the low getting to 40 at night. There is not heating system in homes, and so "room temperature" is au natural. :) But, that is part of the attraction of the thermal baths! Anyway, although it was raining and cold for the day and a half we were there, the landscape was beautiful, as it is throughout rural Ecuador.
We arrived at our hostel at 2am, and the owner was gracious to let us in. It was a very simple place, about $8 per night. Jorge and Hilda receive people from around the world, though the volume of customers is very low. Life here for local people is very hard. Families have to rise early every morning and tend the livestock, usually meaning milking the cows whatever the weather is. Laundry would be by hand, and when it rains like it was, that means it's almost impossible to dry your cloths. Life goes on in dampness ... You can understand the clash of feelings and ideas that arise in locals when tourists come reflecting comfortable lifestyles with more resources. That tension is right at the heart of my mission ....
We did make it to the thermal baths. They are actually very nice: they're hot and clean, the whole setup is nice by US standards. There are very expensive hotels attached to some of them with private access, that charge a lot of money. Admission is $8.50 for an adult, which is a lot for a local Ecuadorian. I asked Jorge, and they and the other locals go to some other springs that aren't commercialized. That's typical - and the most frequent product of tourism - namely, that the affluent visitors enjoy the best of the natural resources, while the locals get the lower quality. Money runs the show. The desire to get out of poverty causes locals to compete against each other for tourists' money, and the tourism has a divisive effect on the sense of community - which is the greatest wealth that poor communities have. Seeing such a difference in wealth dangled in front of them, the urge to leave the hardness of life causes them to "sell out", to forget the treasures and dignity that they have, to go after the possible personal profit at the expense of those treasures. And so, the poor get poorer. That is why my sense of mission has always been to point out what people already have and how they might grow it for themselves and others. The poor country people often don't value themselves and their own lives... That is why I typically don't get into the commercial tourism dimensions here, but Jason was showing me around and it was good to get a sense of some of the "landscape", as it were.
I did have the opportunity to listen to and share with Maria, a woman who owned a local restaurant. She is receiving chemotherapy for her cancer treatment and was very depressed and despondent. Her family is reacting badly to the situation and is unsupportive. We spent over an hour talking, and after our conversation, she seemed to be very happy and had come back alive. You could say it was a spiritual thermal bath ...
Trout is a main food here. You can see two magnificent trout here in this picture: :)
The next stop as we aimed to reach Ahuano was Tena, a city that many pass through as a gateway to the Amazon. We stayed in a hostal in the tourist center of the city, on the Napo River, one of the principal feeder rivers of the Amazon River coming out of Ecuador. You can see some views of the riverfront from our hostal here, including a friendly parrot.
Having arrived in late afternoon, we ate dinner and took a walk, and then went to bed. Then began 24 hours of misery for me, as I began to get a fever in bed. The next day, My digestive tract was fully stalled, and I was overcome by malaise. I spent the day in bed. But after a sudden vomit date with the bathroom at about 10pm, I completely and suddenly returned to normal. It was the strangest medical experience I had ever had in my life.
Just one story about that. Around 8:30 or so, I decided I needed to go to the health clinic. Jason walked with me ever so slowly over the bridge to the other side where the clinic was located, and when we walked through the door, it was obvious that it wasn't going to happen anytime soon: about 20 patients were waiting for attention from a tiny staff. I then had a great idea: knowing that I would probably get diagnosed with traveler's sickness, why not just go to the pharmacy and ask to buy the antibiotic, which is what I really wanted anyway. That's what we did, and after explaining my symptoms and what I was looking for, he agreed. Within 10 minutes after discovering that full health clinic and no hope of being seen, I had a package of antiobiotics in my hand. I was so happy! That's how it is in Ecuador: pharmacists have (or just take) more liberty in using their judgment in dispensing (effectively prescribing) drugs. It this culture, it's not uncommon for people to go to the pharmacist in the same way that we go to the primary care physician.
Anyway, I don't think I needed the drugs after the "vomit of exorcism", as I call it, but I took them anyways for their full course. In the meantime, we were now delayed a few days, and I wasn't sure how well I was going to recover. It didn't make sense to try to get to Ahuano for a day or two. With Jason's desire to take care of important personal business in Baños, we decided to go there rather than Ahuano, and after a day or two I could return to Quito, spacing out my traveling to reduce the risk of it affecting any lingering sickness I might have. I had to be out on the plane on the 27th, as my visa expired the next day.
Baños is a growing tourist city in Ecuador, probably the most visited tourist location in the country outside of the Galapagos Islands. We spent almost two days there. The city sits in a páramo, or moor, as you can see in these beautiful photos I was able to take.
Inside the church in the center is the story of the identity of the city and its history as related to the religious experience of the people. The church is called The Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Holy Water (Santuario Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Agua Santa). The picture here, which I took of a painting inside the church, tells the story of its origin.
The 16,500-ft-high active volcano Tungurahua is nearby, and helps produces the thermal springs that give Baños its name. There is a principle waterfall at the edge of the city, and there are thermal baths that spring up at its base. This was really the center of the settlement from the town's origins. After the miracle, more tourists began to come, and people have sought healing from both the thermal springs that arise from the ground and from the "Holy Water" that falls down through the waterfall into pools.
Here is the waterfall:
Here is the pool at the bottom. (I didn't get photos of the thermal baths, but they are on the other side of the waterfall.)
More imagery inside the church reveals the people's devotion and understanding of the identity of the city, as well as the devotion to Enrique Mideros, the Dominican friar who facilitated the procession described in the story above from the inside of the church:
Here is an example of the promise from Jesus that Christians - Mary and all of us - become partakers in the life of Jesus, sources of healing springs in the lives of others. We share in Jesus's life - that is his pride.
The city has largely lost this foundational aspect of its identity. I imagine that tourism arose and people began more and more to chase the income, and tourists were more and more interested in the thermal baths and the surrounding natural tourist activities than in finding spiritual inspiration in the history and experience of the visit. It is still growing fast, with many North Americans walking the streets and being involved in businesses (many of the shops have a modern feel, though not commercialized so much as in the States.) In any case, I got to explore and spend time and prayer and rest, and so it was a good experience before returning to Quito. In the meantime, Jason is going to continue with the process of his own visa renewal, which has changed very much over the last year, and I'll get filled in on my own steps I'll need to take, both in Boston and whenever I get back to Ecuador.
Quito to Boston
I came back to Quito on the 25th, a long 6 hour journey to get back to the Sisters' place in the north part of Quito. I spent a night there, and then the next evening I made my way to the airport for a 1:15am flight to Dallas. And here I am in Boston!