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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Last week I committed the most evil mortal eco-sin of all time

I left this...
The reason we're not to fall into rash judgment is that things are not always what they seem, therefore if you see a plastic bottle in a stream just beneath a footbridge in the Amazon, don't automatically cast someone into eco-hell for leaving it there.

Last week my family and I were in Ecuador for 8 days visiting Quito and a small town in the jungle two hours away. When I was a child there were only the terms woods, forest, and jungle. Today jungle is separated into cloud forest, rain forest, mossy forest, jungle, etc., according to their various eco-systems, but whatever their entangled makeup, I call it what it is - a jungle. So here is the reason we left an evil plastic bottle in an Ecuadorian jungle just last week which normally would send me to eco-hell, except for the fact that the following experience was punishment enough for a long time.

Never buy a ticket to any attraction from a beautiful blonde girl with huge brown eyes. She will be able to sell you a ticket to hell, which is what we naively purchased. After visiting many beautiful old Catholic churches and historic sites in Quito I was prepared to relax for three days while the rest of the family indulged in various touristy attractions, many of which I had already done there three years ago. My granddaughter managed to coerce my daughter - who is afraid of heights - to go zip lining on 10 different lines so my son-in-law and I decided to go to a cafe for coffee and relax.

But we passed the beautiful blonde girl. Who blinked her big brown eyes at my son-in-law and asked if we might like to ride the chair lift over the jungle. It was only $8 round trip. Or $5 one way and we could walk back down the mountain through the jungle on a nice wide path that has been cleared for ease of walking and you can see the flora and fauna...the exotic birds and flowers. That sounded good to us. While waiting for the others we could take a slow ride over the jungle and leisurely walk back down seeing birds, butterflies and flowers. It was a warm day, the sun was shining. What could be nicer than that?

My son-in-law translated the conversation for me, we discussed our options, then bought two one way tickets, two plastic bottles of water, got a taxi to the chair lift and were off. The first thing the lift operator did was look at our feet to see what shoes we were wearing. My son-in-law had on sandals with straps while I had tennis shoes. So we passed that test. We got on the chairs, fastened the seat belts and the guy locked us in with the metal bar. Slowly we went up, up and up over three sections of a high mountain with a breathtaking view of everything in sight - the jungle below, vast mountains as far as one could see, gorgeous flowering vines of various brilliant colors, exotic birds flying here and there. It was a truly spectacular 15 minutes. All that the blonde girl had said it would be. 

The operator at the top let us out and led us to the walking path which was several hundred feet down a nearby road. He stopped and parted the bushes (first sign that we should have been alarmed). He pointed down a slimy muddy path to another slimy muddy path below that one and said that that was the beginning of the trail. Once we got down to the path and started walking we thought it wasn't too bad. It was not the wide path cleared for ease of walking that the blonde girl had described, but it was OK. I asked my son-in-law if he wanted me to carry his water bottle in my travel bag - which had my money and passport, 2 credit cards, camera, sunglasses and other travel necessities that I normally carry when traveling, but he declined. 

For 15 minutes we enjoyed ourselves walking down the mountain path looking at exotic plants and flowers. Hundreds of giant bromeliads with bright red spikes grew on tree branches. Orchids growing high in the trees had roots dangling 20-30 feet down into the rich earth. It was spectacular. Then it started to rain. Gently at first. It wasn't too bad because we were under huge canopies of trees and vines, but then the path, strewn with years of rotted leaves, became slippery and places with no leaves, but only dirt and rocks, began to get muddy and slimy. Soon we were slipping and sliding, holding onto trunks of small trees for balance on the ever increasingly steep pathway down.

Suddenly my son-in-law slipped and fell on his back in the mud. I was too far behind to help, but he laughed and leaped up with no effort, telling me to be careful when I got there. With my eyes fixed on the exact spot and determined not to fall, I fell in the same place on my backside and couldn't get up. He tried to pull me up but couldn't until I repositioned my legs under me. With me finally on my feet, we continued down the path commenting that we must be at least halfway ...weren't we? We assured each other that we were and again I asked if he wanted me to carry his now empty water bottle in my bag, but he said no, he was fine.

Then it started to pour down rain. Meanwhile the steep downward path got more steep and any railing placed there years ago had long since rotted so if using a railing for balance it would crumble at our touch. After several tries, I found a fairly sturdy tree branch to use as a walking stick.

Suddenly I remembered in my travel bag that I had an umbrella! One of those that fold up to purse size. I got it out and asked my son-in-law if he wanted to walk under it too. He laughed and said that he was already soaked so it wouldn't do much good at that point. Looking silly with an umbrella in the jungle but at least semi-dry I happily trudged along with my walking stick. Walking, walking, walking. 

After two hours we came to a fork in the trail. Delirious with joy we took what was obviously the correct path - the wide one, cleared for ease of walking - just as the blonde girl had described. After 5 minutes we came to a narrow wooden footbridge over a rushing stream. My son-in-law, empty plastic bottle still in hand, crossed the bridge almost to the other side but it was slippery and he started to fall. He grabbed the railing which snapped because it was rotten, then fell hard, hitting his back on the edge of the bridge. He then fell headfirst into the water.

I screamed his name over and over asking if he was all right and thoughts of dragging him out of the water and finding civilization by myself to get people to carry him out of the jungle on a stretcher flashed through my mind. But he was OK. (Later he had a large bruise on his back.) He reached the steep bank, managed to climb up, then told me to be careful crossing the bridge.

As I reached the other side of the bridge I looked down and saw his plastic water bottle lodged between two rocks at the edge of the water. I said, "Oh no! There's your water bottle! We have to get it up!" He very emphatically said, "No! Leave it there. It's what caused me to fall." Leaning over the bridge in the rain, umbrella in one hand, walking stick in the other, I looked at the evil plastic bottle and sorrowfully left it there.

But...! Two minutes later, just around the bend, with wide raging rapids on our right and the rainy dark jungle on our left we came to...a dead end. We were flabbergasted. Just stood there looking around saying things like "Seriously?" and "You've got to be kidding me!" and wailing (me), "It's...a...a circle! There's nowhere to go. What will we do?"

Since backtracking to the fork in the trail was the only option, we had to cross the deadly footbridge again. This time I went first and once more stated my concern that we had left the plastic bottle in the jungle. I was determined to get it. Stopping above it, I stooped over the side of the bridge, reached out for the bottle with my walking stick then realized that it was a very long way down there, and if I fell I would hurt myself. Maybe seriously ...and was it worth potential bodily harm? My son-in law had been nearly killed. I marveled that he had lived. So, thoroughly disgusted at the entire situation, I left the stupid plastic bottle where it was.

After breaking a spoke on the umbrella when trying to pull it out of vines, the spoke and cloth were now dangling down on one side (I threw the umbrella away once back at the cabins). Suddenly I looked at my upper right arm and saw a leech crawling up it. Any rescue squad looking for us would have known exactly where we were from my screaming - "Ew ew ew!! Get it off, get it off, getitoffmeee!!!" 

That done (sigh), we ran into another dead end, then when backtracking saw that there were signs nailed to trees (isn't that ecologically incorrect?) but they had been behind us and up so high that we hadn't seen them since we'd been looking down at our every step. 

After two and a half hours we reached the end of the trail and were finally back at the lower chair lift station. I was never so happy to see concrete in my life. The operator called a cab to take us back to our place and as we waited standing on the concrete I leaned on the walking stick and it snapped in half. It had served me well in the muck, but the concrete was too solid for it.

Our taxi was a small truck so, being soaked and filthy with mud and not wanting to get the inside dirty, we volunteered to sit in the back of the truck. With palm branches lashing at our faces we endured the short bumpy ride back to the cabins. I told my son-in-law that we needed to tell the blonde girl - who had obviously never been on the trail - that she needed to be more careful when selling tickets. He replied, "Yes. What was she thinking with me in my sandals and you at your age?" [Excuse me?] Then he said that she was trained to sell tickets and was just doing her job, so we left it at that.

We were worried that my daughter and granddaughter would be upset that we had been gone so long but, warm and dry, they were both lounging around on the beds reading. Hadn't missed us at all. Not worried one bit. 

Other than 20-25 bug bites on each lower leg and having to buy new tennis shoes and an umbrella, I came through the ordeal just fine, only to return home, polish the wood floor, slip, and fall, pulling an upper thigh muscle.


Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

What an adventure. I'm glad you survived!

Chriss Rainey said...

I am glad you are home. As one who lacks a "spirit of adventure," your whole story leaves me terrified at what may have happened to you.

In my opinion, this is why man invented zoos, parks, and botanical gardens with proper cafeterias, gift shops, and potties. Nature is not meant to be monkeyed with.

Judith said...

But what a wonderful story!

Father Edwin Palka said...

A story to be told and re-told for generations!

Anonymous said...

Anyone who's pushed their luck with Mother Nature can appreciate this story. That it is hilarious in the telling, gives us some idea of how sober it would have been had it not worked out in your favor. How crazy is it that you clung to the hope of saving the jungle from a water bottle?

Reminds me of what an outdoorsman friend who "pushed his luck" in the wilds of NY State warned me. You don't realize it but Mother Nature can flip on you in a split second. I learned that the hard way once myself.