Riding a boat upriver is mesmerizing. The steady gliding motion with its gentle up and down swell, the rackety hum of the outboard motor, and the breeze that fans your hair out behind you are soothing. You can watch the brown water slap the side of the boat or foam and splash in a V behind you. You can watch the silent jungle gliding by, and look for anacondas or parrots in the trees. The sun is hot, but the breeze created by your motion keeps you cool. If mom’s not watching you can slip one hand into the cool water and feel the tug of the river on your arm.
At last we came to the aguano muyuna, as it is called in Quechua, the spinning water. This was a place in the river where the current went both ways at once—on one side, it flowed in the normal direction, but on the other, it curiously reversed for no apparent reason. We slipped into the current that was going our direction, careful to stay away from the churning center of the opposing currents. Just beyond that, we pulled over to the shore and climbed out, at our destination.
A small crowd had gathered to meet us, black haired and barefoot. A couple men picked up our bags and we climbed the bank to the cluster of little houses just beyond, just far enough from the bank to be out of danger of being flooded in rainy season.
My little sister and I were taken to a room in one house to rest while my parents went with our hosts somewhere else. The room was perfect—quiet, private. The thatch roof and cane walls let in strips of sunlight that fell across a wooden bed built into one wall. No mattress, just a blanket over bare boards and a burlap bag stuffed with straw for a hard and lumpy pillow. But I was perfectly happy. I found a little hand mirror on one wall and admired my swollen eye. My sister went to find my parents, and I lay down on the bed and fell asleep.
I must have slept a long time (ah, Benadryl!), while my parents met with the people of Aguano Muyuna. What I remember next is getting up in the chilly dawn with my mother and sister and crossing a grassy open space—wet and cold with dew—to find a place in the trees to relieve ourselves in the morning. I saw an empty bird’s nest lying on the ground.
Later we were fed a breakfast of coffee, boiled manioc, and dried salt fish. The fish was so salty we could not choke it down. While our hosts ate their own breakfast squatting around the fire in the separate kitchen hut, my family sat alone at a table in the main room and shame-facedly slipped the precious protein to the skeletal dogs that lurked under the table. We prayed our hosts could not hear the dogs crunching down the dried fish that we could not eat.
During the day my sister and I amused ourselves while our parents visited with folks. That night we slept on the beach to wait for the boat that would pass at 4:00 in the morning. It was exciting to snuggle into our sleeping bags in the sand under the stars, with the river rushing quietly nearby and a bonfire flickering near us to keep the mosquitoes away.
As I drifted into the inert stages just before sleep, I could hear my mother talking with a small crowd of children who had come down to watch us settle down for the night. She talked with them about Jesus, then led them in a unison prayer of repentance for sin and acceptance of Jesus as savior. “Wow,” I thought, drifting off into sleep. “My mom doesn’t miss a chance.”