Our second to last day in Ecuador was spent at some natural hot springs, high in the Andes, called Papallacta. Eleven thousand feet high to be exact. The bus ride up was the most harrowing yet, as we wound our way up narrow mountain roads, dodging livestock and observing smaller, more agile looking vehicles that had lost their footing and tumbled into the ravines below. I tried to sleep as much as possible. We finally reached our destination in the fog and drizzle. This was the perfect weather for the hot springs. If it had been warm and sunny we would have boiled alive in the springs. The pools were of varying temperatures ranging from warm to skin-bubbling hot. There was one pool that was full of straight snow run-off that must have been about 50 degrees at the warmest. But the real fun was the river that ran through the spa. The fun was to jump in the river, again, temps between 40 and 50 degrees, see how long you can stay in, and then jump back into one of the warm pools. Good fun. Good, blinding, heart shocking, teeth-chattering, air gasping fun. The only bummer was that speedos are apparently all the rage for male Ecuadorian bathers. Speedos and hot pants. This I could’ve done without. That and the women of generous proportions who decided to flaunt what they may have had, only now they have a lot more of it. Two words ladies, one piece. Moving on… Those hot springs were the best possible end to a week of intense physical labor. My muscles rejoiced upon being scalded.
That night we attended a sister church of Buen Pastor called Chaumpimolino on the other side of Pifo. This was a very poor church with dirt floors, brickwalls, and a tin roof with a string of lightbulbs running down the center of it. All 45 of us gringos crammed inside with the regular attenders and enjoyed a communion service and a message from J Crew. The pastor and the worship leaders in this church were all very young and you could tell they really loved the Lord and were excited about serving Him. It was a pretty special evening.
We were able to sleep in on Sunday morning, as church did not begin until 10. After a great message from Ramiro and more awesome music, the church took our group out to a very nice restaurant for lunch. Very nice as in six bucks a plate, which in Ecuador is pretty stinking nice. But this place would have been nice anywhere. We ate outside in a park-like setting while a guitar player wandered the grounds seranading us. The food was, once again, outstanding. I had pork. I’m not sure what cut of the pig it was, maybe a hip or the kneecap. There were a lot of bones, but the meat was tender and fell right off of them. I noticed this while I was there. You won’t recognize the cuts of the meat you eat in Ecuador, but it tastes so good, you really don’t care.
The balance of the afternoon was spent with our host families. Those of us at the Hotel Salazar had a very good time hanging out with our family and then getting together for a time to share and say thanks. Though I know Rhett, Josh and I were ready to get home to see our wives, we were definitely going to miss our host family. It was a great last evening as we sang together, exchanged email addresses, and took pictures. The way these folks opened our homes to us was unbelievable. I know I’ve said that about eight million times in previous posts, but I can’t express enough how appreciative I am to them.
That night at church, they had a special send off service and gave us all gifts of a t-shirt with a picture of our group on it, an Ecuadorian handbag, and a key chain. Our flight the next morning was leaving Quito at 6AM, meaning we had to be to the airport by 4AM, so the plan that night was to stay up at the church, or catch a few winks on a pew, until we loaded up the buses at 2AM. There was a bonfire in the courtyard and an amazing BBQ for dinner, not to mention the world record for longest running duck, duck, goose game of all time. We talked with our new friends, sang worship songs, took more pictures, and took in our last few looks of Iglesia Buen Pastor in Pifo, Ecuador, knowing we’d miss it.
When we finally touched down in San Francisco and I made my way to the baggage claim, I was greeted by the best possible sight I could’ve hoped for: Jen waiting for me. She had come down with J Crew and RJ-77’s wives to surprise us. And what a pleasent surprise. Special thanks to Jeremy and Stephanie for driving the van down to pick us up. That was awesome. The only thing that could’ve made this trip 100% perfect is if Jen could’ve been with me. There were so many things I saw and experienced that I wish she could’ve been with me for. I know she would’ve loved working with the kids and I know my host family would’ve loved her.
Since I’ve been home, I don’t think a day has gone by that I havn’t thought about Ecuador. Whether it’s a person I met, a beautiful landscape I saw, or a strange and exotic food I ate. I know that I will always carry it with me. Literally, I mean. I bought a replacement for my lost wedding ring from a street vendor for a dollar. The generosity of the people blew us away and it was encouraging and eye-opening to meet Christians in another part of the world. Though we didn’t speak the same language, we shared the language of love in Christ and, really, that was all we needed. Hopefully, this will make all of us who went sit and up and listen a little more carefully when a missionary comes to visit. Now we know what God is doing outside our borders and it’s exciting. I could go on and on about the lessons that can be and were learned from a trip like this, but all the blog posts in the world won’t have 1/1000 of the impact of going and experiencing it for yourself. If you ever have an opportunity to go on a short term mission trip to anywhere, do everything humanly possible to go. Mission trips aren’t just for college students or youth groups, they’re for everybody. Our ages on this trip ran from 10 to over 60. No matter your fears of flying, food, language barriers, corrupt police, disease or anything else, pray for God to assuage them and get out of your Lay-Z-Boy. God has a way of granting grace to overcome such things when you’re working for His purpose. You won’t regret it, I promise.
To all my fellow travelers, I am so glad I got to spend time with all of you and finally get to put a name and personality to the face I’ve seen at church for years. A special shout-out to my Hotel Salazar crew. I’ll never forget our days together on the short bus. And a very special thanks to all of those who may be reading this who helped fund my trip. I couldn’t have done it without you and am so very thankful that God put it on your heart to help out. I almost feel guilty for taking your money. Almost. Seriously, the trip was so amazing it almost didn’t feel like we were “sacrificing” for the Lord. Except that time I had trouble picking up my fork. I truly appreciate your donations. To all those who prayed for us while we were gone, I just want to tell you that your prayers were answered. I don’t think anyone envisioned a trip of this magnitude going over as worry free as it did. That can only be the work of God. Last but certainly not least (queue the music) thanks to Jen who let me leave her alone for 10 days to deal with the rigors of day to day life and our 2nd dog-eats-rat-poison episode. But that’s a story for another day…………………….(Oh, the dog is fine.)
I warned you Rhett. Plus, I actually thought this was pretty cool.