Today I.

Today, I walked upon Colombian soil for the very first time in my life.

Today, I drove through raging traffic in the city of Bogotá.

Today, I was almost tricked into eating a chicken foot. It was in my mouth, but that’s as far as it got before I had to find a toilet.

Today, I got to ride around in some of the most beautiful South American countryside I’ve ever seen.

Today I was able to spend all of my time with some old friends I hadn’t seen in almost three years and meet many of their family members and spend heaps of time talking and getting to know them and drinking hot chocolate.

Today was my favourite day so far on this trip.

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Traipsing Around – Part 2: The Sky

In a handful of hours, Sam, Chrystel, and I will be in the air flying between Panama and Colombia. Yes, in the end, we finally gave in and decided to take a plane, rather than a boat. It was not without an enormous amount of effort, though. We trekked all over Panama — and I quite literally mean all over — looking for a boat to take us into Colombia. Last you heard, we were headed to Colón, which is over on the east corner of the country. Once we got there we met a friendly guy who took us all over the city, from port to port, searching for a vessel. The only one we could find was a cargo ship, which couldn’t take us legally because there was no immigration there for us to do the paper work. Never mind that the captain offered to do it himself for an extra $1500.
Nope. Sorry sir. I’d like to stay out of jail, thank you.

Therefore, we took the long bus ride all the way back to the terminal in Panama City. We decided to spend the night there, rather than go to a hostel again. It seemed like a splendid idea at first, to save money and all; but we found out that it’s against the rules to lie down, whether to sleep or otherwise. Needless to say, therefore, it was a long, uncomfortable night.
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Finally though, morning did come to the rescue.
Somebody told us to go to a little island off the shore called Amador. It was connected by a land bridge, so we took a taxi. It turned out to just be a harbour full of rich people yachts. Not so much our type.
So we were then redirected to the fishing market on the edge of the city. There were heaps and heaps of boats there; but of course none of them were leaving that day because it was a weekend. Once again, we asked if there was any other place we might be able to find a boat, and we were directed towards Darien, which is on the other corner of Panama — the complete other side from where we’d gone the previous day.

So we readjusted the straps on our backpacks and made our way back to the bus terminal and caught one heading towards Darien, also easily known as the middle of nowhere.
After about seven hours of time on the bus, we finally got there, late in the afternoon. Yes, there was a boat; but no, we couldn’t board it. It turns out that we needed a special permission document to travel into Colombia by sea; and of course, the only place to acquire it was back in Panama city. Makes perfect sense.

Oh yeah, not only that, but at that point we also realised we’d lost one of our bags, which had my only pair of shoes, aside from the flipflops I was wearing. I’d left it on the bus that had dropped us off that afternoon. It was distressing. However, at the hostel where we decided to stay that night, we actually found it again, because that very same bus driver had decided to spend the night there too.

We spent part of the night in Darien, then took a bus at four in the morning all the way back to the terminal in the City. Seven hours, if you remember correctly. The terminal by that time had practically become our home. After eating our daily peanut butter and honey sandwiches; we set ourselves to trying to find YWAM Panama City — or YWAM Good Luck Trying to Find Us, as Sam so accurately termed it. Literally all day, all over the city, we searched and searched to no avail. At the end of the day, we finally went to the airport and bought tickets. (One hundred seventy dollars each ticket. I could not have been more proud.) At that point, though, we finally got in contact with the base. So we grabbed another taxi and again set out to find them. Naturally, of course, we had a taxi driver with no cell phone, and he had no clue where we were going. Let’s just say that we spent quite a few hours roaming the mountains, stopping at a pay phone every chance we got to get directions and reconfirm how far off track we were. We made it in the end, though, and spent a pleasant night at the base, before leaving again the next day and returning to the airport early because I’d accidentally made a mistake on one of our tickets; so we figured we’d come to the ticket counter, but they were closed. Now, we’re sprawled out on the floor making the best of our time til the counter opens at four tomorrow, to fix my error, and then depart at six in the morning.

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I gripe a little about the blunders and difficulties just for fun and humour though. In all honesty, throughout it all, in the past five days we’ve had a spectacular time. Sure, we’re exhausted more often than not; but we’ve gotten to see so many different places; and we’ve met heaps of great people all along the way: We shared stories with other backpackers. We followed a feisty lady around the city for a while, we laughed and joked with taxi drivers and friendly strangers at the bus stops. We prayed for a  few people here and there, and already we’ve seen actual miracles and supernatural healings. I’ll be sharing a few of those as I go along, most likely. All in all, it’s been fantastic; and despite the fact that it’s only barely been a week, all three of us have already recognised the difference this has made in each of us, which will now undeniably change us for the rest of our lives.

In any case, our next step is to arrive in Bogota, where I have an old friend waiting for us, whom I met three years ago in Argentina. We’ll start off there, then see where we wander off to next.

Traipsing Around – Part 1: Panama City

Sam: “Who is this again? Somebody Downtown?”

Chrystel: “You mean Jason Upton?”

That was the quote of the day. It was funny when it happened. I guess you just had to be there for it.

~

It is only the end of the second day, but already I’m finding it very difficult to capture the extent of everything we’re thinking and feeling currently. Honestly, it’s daunting. It’s one of those “Oh my goodness gracious. What have I gotten myself into?” sort of feelings. At this point, we each feel a little overwhelmed with a conglomeration of sentiments — nervousness, uncertainty, a little bit of concern here and there; but we’re determined. We’re hopeful. We’re committed and passionate. Most of all, we’re all sincerely trusting that  God invited us into this and has something significant for us. That’s more than just a nice thought; it’s seriously the strongest thing that’s helping us to keep going.

I’ll try to describe these deeper things in more detail later on. For now, though, because it’s very late, and because it’s difficult to concentrate when the shirtless guy on the phone next to me is obviously competing for Loudest Man in Panama, I’ll give you a quick summary of our travels so far.

The night before we left, we went to sleep after midnight. The next morning, we woke up at five and drove half the day across Costa Rica to the Panamanian boarder. After crossing, we took a taxi to the station and boarded a bus that took us to the city of David, where we arrived around eight. We were supposing we could spend the night there, but we found a bus that left at 11:00 pm and decided to be audacious and take it. I don’t remember much about that ride except that it was too cold and my neck ached the entire way. We arrived the next day in Panama City around six in the morning. After waiting in the terminal for a couple of hours, we went to the mall, then found a little hippie hostel in the city and settled down for the rest of the evening.
Tomorrow, we’re planning to catch another bus to Colón and see if we can find a boat or something that will take us over into Colombia.

One more thing.
On the morning of the day we left from Costa Rica, Vanessa had decided to stay home. It was all right for us though, because we know that she was doing what she needed for herself.
Therefore, that finally left only Chrystel, Sam, and me. I like our small team, though. We’re each good for each other, and we get along splendidly. I’m looking forward to all the time I’ll be spending with them.

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Walter Mitty Moment

Big Sky Country

Those particular moments — sometimes big or small — and sometimes even not so particular, but a little vague and somewhat difficult to grasp….you know, such as when you’re hiking through the mountains and suddenly you break out into a clearing that bathes your view with the spectacular sublimity of nature, or when you’re lying on a hammock on a lazy afternoon listening to a song that’s dear to your heart, or even when you spontaneously decide to do something bold and outrageous like tag along with your friends on a backpacking trip through South America, with only an obscure idea of where you’re going, what you’ll be doing, or when you’ll be coming back. (I know, that was a hideous run-on and fragmented sentence combination, but we’ll just pretend it was poetic.)

Anyway, those types of moments are some of the ones that I oftentimes affectionately refer to as my “Walter Mitty Moments.” It comes from the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which in short is about a guy who lives pretty much a boring life but boldly takes the risk to travel around the world on a wild adventure. I got the term from a good friend of mine who shares my enthusiastic passion for the beauty of life. Here is her blog in case I’ve stirred your curiosity: http://adventuringwithpurpose.wordpress.com/

So that South America trip that I just mentioned? Yes, that was more than just a random example. In fact, it shall be the most recent, and perhaps the biggest, Walter Mitty Moment that I’ve had in my life so far. Here’s the story. Several months ago, when she was in Germany, an old friend of mine, Chrystel, who is deeply passionate for people, unquestionably felt that God inspired her with the idea of taking a team on a trip down through South America. It would be somewhat of a mission’s trip, to establish contacts in some countries and reach out to whomever came across her path; but it would also have to be an audacious expedition of raw adventure. All of that is what drew me in. I had known about her trip for a long time, and at first I had barely even considered the notion of going; but then almost all at once the idea flourished in my mind (Walter Mitty Moment) and I invited myself to go on her trip.

Well, to be honest, even though the idea was spontaneous, my actual decision was drawn-out and tentative. For one, there were things here in Costa Rica that I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave behind; but even then, think about it. None of us who are going have ever traveled down that way before. We do know where we’re headed — kind of; however, we don’t necessarily know exactly what we’ll be doing. We’ll be figuring things out as we go along. I presume that almost each day we’ll get up and see what sort of nudging the Holy Spirit will put on our hearts, or what our enthusiastic sense of adventure will lead us into. We’ll be taking cars, buses, boats, and who knows, maybe a llama or something. Sometimes we’ll sleep in motels, sometimes in churches, sometimes in tents. Everything we own will be in our backpacks. We’ll roam and traverse. Every day we’ll look to see where we can make the most significant impact on the world around us. Yes, it’s true. Most of us on the trip are technically poor by common social standards; but that’s part of the whole adventure. I’m dead serious when I say we’ll literally be trusting in God the entire way….and, in all truth and honesty, that’s the only reason I’m not afraid.

So far, we have four people on our team: Chrystel, her sister Vanessa, Sam from Canada (who in all regards is not very much unlike Sam from The Lord of the Rings,) and me. For Chrystel, this is a pioneering trip. For me, it’s a chance to live out who I am in other parts of the world. For all of us, it’s a faith-walk adventure.

As far as we know, we’ll be trekking through Panama, then down into Colombia for a while; after that, we’ll head over into Ecuador, and Peru as well. Who knows, though, it’s very likely we’ll hop over into some other countries whilst we’re there.

I’ve put myself in charge of documenting the whole trip. Despite a substantial lack of professional training, I plan to video as much as I can, then make a short movie of our journey. Also, I think most of my blog will now consist of what goes on as we travel; therefore, I’ll try to keep it updated as much as possible along the way.

As of this moment, we leave tomorrow. This, for me, is a dream come true. I’m exuberant, a teeny bit nervous, and altogether content within myself. These are the sort of decisions that mark people’s lives forever. I know I already posted this quote once before, but I think it appropriately bears being shared again. I genuinely hope it inspires you.

It had long since come to my notice that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” –Leonardo da Vinci

 

Roaming Wyoming

We have a very large, poofy ball of fluff that wanders around our house all the time. For the most part, though, I’m pretty sure he’s a cat. His name is Rain, and my mom actually brought him from Montana to Costa Rica on a plane when she flew down here; so he’s quite the validated member of the family now. However, it’s happened a few times that he’s gotten the notion into his head to try to steal my handkerchief in the early mornings before I wake up. He pounces up onto my desk and makes absolute certain to knock everything over, then tries to snatch the handkerchief and take it away so he can chew on it. I caught him in the act the first couple of times, but there was once after getting up that I walked out of the room to find my handkerchief on the floor, clearly the victim of Rain’s feline mischievousness.

That really has nothing to do with what I was going to say, though. Instead, I was going to mention an analogy that came to mind several weeks ago as I was driving across the US: I think that saying Wyoming is unappealing and uninteresting is like saying that elderly folk are unappealing and uninteresting. It’s really just a matter of opinion and preference. That’s to no offense to the elderly, of course; I love older people, and I get along with them exorbitantly well. We could have just as easily used new-born babies as a comparison too. Or even abstract painting. The point is that, in many cases, you just need to know how to find the beauty in something to learn how to appreciate it. I think it has to do with what’s inside you. I’ve found that a person’s interpretation of an objective entity — like a colour or a place — usually displays more about the person’s character and mentality than it does the object itself. The notion is similar to a concept used in clear communication. Nobody can make absolute certain that his or her personality, speech patterns, or mannerisms are completely inoffensive to every range of person in the world. Some things, regardless of how we mean them, are often taken a different way entirely, simply based on a mentality or perspective that a person has who hears them. That’s why it’s crucial that we are all clear in our relationships and conversations about how we received things or how we’re affected on the inside. As I’ve been diligently taught, it’s our own responsibility to let others in on how we’re doing inwardly, not simply presume that they’ll know it automatically. As a friend of mine once said, you don’t have to apologise for who you are unless it hurts somebody else. However, sometimes you can’t know you’ve hurt somebody if they don’t tell you. Coincidentally, it’s all very mutual.

In any case, as I had mentioned, last month I drove by myself through the entire United States — and I do mean the entire United States. I traversed from Montana, through Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, part of Texas, and finally into Louisiana; so I had plenty of time to ruminate about all this, and other things. It was heaps of fun, though. My heart has found its bliss by traveling the world. Therefore, for the record, I think Wyoming is beautiful; and here’s a quote to go with it (since we all know that quotes by famous people make things seem that much more consequential, right?) “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it,” by Confucius. Nevertheless, too much of anything, disagreeable or great, can still become exhausting — whether it’s icecream, sunshine, kissing, or otherwise.

In the end, the word of the day is that there’s nothing wrong with liking something most people don’t like, or disliking something most people love….except for when it comes to country music. Clearly people who like country music are messed up.