Home and Onward

I almost forgot to mention that we finally did make it back to Costa Rica from our venture through South America. I’ve actually been here for over a week now.

It’s been delicious for my soul, being home. Whilst we were away, I found myself missing everybody here in ways that I had never quite missed them before. Since this was the first time I’d ever been on a trip of this sort, I suppose it entailed new emotions and experiences; and overall it made me appreciate my people even more deeply.

Our trip was necessarily great. Even though I wouldn’t know how to start summarising the extent of my experiences, I can still glance back with a grin of success: We were transformed. Really transformed. I feel that I’ve been impacted permanently, in many different ways. There were so many things that are normally only ever talked about that I got to experience directly in real life. I faced some prominent fears and personal limitations — and I overcame them. Essentially, I lived one of my biggest dreams. (That doesn’t mean, of course, that the dream is finished; my love for travel has only been further impassioned.)
Not to mention, of course, we learned a heap of “do’s” and “do not’s” concerning various aspects of traveling, particularly “do not’s” for when it comes to crossing borders.  I’ll say no more about that.

This post, therefore, will conclude and end my narrative for our South America backpacking trip (a narrative which only truly was just a glimpse of our full adventure.) Now this blog will again become a dwelling for my ramblings and musings.

The house I call home. (Photo credit to my sister, Haley.)

However, I can’t go without at least mentioning the topic implied by the second half of this post’s title. As it happened similarly with Chrystel, I was presented with the “Now what?” interrogation upon returning.
You see, I’m at that notorious age and position where I’m facing the daunting question of what I’m going to do with my life.
It’s daunting, but I’m undaunted.
Sure, perhaps I have my mild melodramatic moments (very, very short moments,) but I’m honestly not anxious about it. Reason number one is that I know God has plans for me, and He’ll let me know what they are, in due time, if I’m keen to listen. Reason number two  is that I’m very much a live-in-the-moment type of person. People often ask me what I want to do with my life (as if I hadn’t even started yet — what a notion,) and whether I say it or not, I always think to myself, “This is my life; I am already doing it.” At least on a small scale, I’m doing what I want to do, and I hope to do more of it, more deeply, more effectively, always learning and always open to progress. Then, whether it’s college, or work, or perhaps another backpacking trip, I know I’ll make it there gradually and promptly. I do prepare for the future, because preparing is important, but I don’t want to get entangled in a notion of only ever preparing — getting caught in that mentality of, “When I finish highschool, then I’ll really be where I want to be….when I finish college, then my life will begin….when I get that job, then I’ll really be living….when I get married, then I’ll be fulfilled….when I retire, then I’ll be happy….” because I’d arrive at that point and realise I’d spent my entire life putting myself off, waiting for my circumstances to be convenient before I allowed myself to live freely, and fully.

I always find myself saying, “You don’t have to go to college to be successful in life.” In reality, that simply depends on your definition of success. If I find that my success or my dream lies untouched on the other side of a flowing river of university education, then I’ll cross it. Nevertheless, I’ve come to realise that rather than prioritizing a focus on what I want to do, it’s more important to know what kind of person I want to be.

Live now, not later, I think.

Credit to Bethany Appelhans

Credit to Bethany Appelhans

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Leaving…Failure

It’s one title with multiple meanings.
We’re nearly approaching our day to leave and head home, so that’s a prominently present reality in our minds; simultaneously as prominent, in these past few days, was the notion of certain failure in a couple of areas. To be more specific, I mean that Chrystel and I were recently both faced with a sense of failure in some of things we had wanted to accomplish or live out. It was worse knowing that it came now so close to the end.
It’s  almost a given, though, isn’t it? –failure when trying new things and endeavouring for great goals. It’s not necessarily required; it’s just a part of life.
That’s why I’ve come to feel that I should neither be so surprised nor so hard on myself when it does happen. Too often, we despair or condemn ourselves when we commit a mistake, as if we’ve forgotten that we’re human and that it’s a natural part of our existence. I was taught that it at least demonstrates that you’re extending yourself beyond your limits and stretching your comfort zone (when it’s fueled by something other than stupidity, of course.)

The most important thing to remember, though, is that we are not defined by our mistakes — or even our accomplishments, for that matter. Your identity still remains intact if you remember why it is that you really matter in life. (You matter because God loves you, to state the simple obvious.)
We concluded that our focus should not be on the mistakes, but on how we deal with them and what we do about them. It can be okay as long as we take responsibility and ownership for our errors. At the very least, we know that’s what our parents will care more about when we get back.

I guess that’s another good meaning for this title. Leaving failure. You leave it behind after dealing with it rather than holding onto the memory and letting it affect you. Grace and forgiveness are really what make it possible anyway. With that, and with not giving up, it usually turns out all right in the end. Keeping hope is massively important; and the reality is that God will always be there to help bring things to complete restoration.

In the end, it wasn’t as dramatically disastrous as we had felt it was in the moment (another good thing to keep in mind.)
Incidentally, here’s the other huge thing I learned: When something bad or difficult happens, and a girl goes into a mood of utter despair and everything is gloom and doom, oftentimes all that’s necessary is to let her talk on and on and vent it all out. You keep your mouth shut and simply nod your head and say an occasional “M-hm. I understand.” Then, once she’s done, you can rest in peace and stop fearing for your life. I’m speaking very generally, of course….

Traipsing Around – Part 9: Transformation

Both transformation and revelation, actually.
Those have been the most characterizing realities of this past month in Santa Marta.
Gracious me. Yes, an entire month. A month of living in the mountains with little electricity and no running water. A month of sweating day and night from the inescapable heat. A month of constant warfare against billions of mosquitoes. (In fact, I’m sure by now I’ve been bit by nearly every species of insect in the Colombian jungle.)
There’s so much more to be said for that month though. It was also a month of both peace and adventure. A month of waking up every day to the pure, glorious green of nature. A month of getting to know some very special and very unique people. And of course, it was a month of knowing God deeper — for real, not just in the cliche sense.

I might also say that for a while, it was one of the most difficult stages of our trip so far. Both Chrystel and I each faced our own challenges, and I’m sure we both felt things we’d never felt before. At one point, Chrystel had told me that this year as whole, for her, has been the most difficult year of her life, and that it was culminated in this trip.
No worries, however. We’ve both learned immensely from the things we’ve gone through; and I’ll confidently say we’re overcoming our challenges.
Before embarking on our expedition, Chrystel also told us that if there was one thing she wanted to see, even if nothing else happened, it was that we would all be changed by the time we went back home. She wanted to see us grow and grow closer to God. That, I think, has been accomplished already.

Speaking of which, the notion of returning home is now finally becoming more of a reality than a fantasy. We’re back in Bogota for about a week; and even though we’re not quite yet done here, it is nearly time to head north towards Costa Rica.

Wonderment (TA-Pt: 8)

Humans have that innate nature of complacency or capacity for growing accustomed to things, which can be both beneficial and undesirable, I think. Beneficial, when dealing with difficult circumstances. Undesirable when it comes to appreciating aspects of life. We grow used to things and subconsciously set standards, especially when it comes to how amazing or incredible we think something is. It’s too easy to get caught up in always looking for the next best thing or something greater than what you last saw, not appreciating the things that are already there.
Better, I think, than always looking for something amazing or seeking to show people something amazing (despite the fact that those are worthwhile efforts) would be the endeavour to give them the ability to appreciate and to wonder and to be amazed at the small and seemingly-insignificant things in life. Everybody experiences the world subjectively anyway; so just because you’ve gotten bored of one thing that you used to think was beautiful or magnificent, it doesn’t mean that the thing has actually lost its beauty or magnificence. (As it is, what would be the purpose of something beautiful if people weren’t there to appreciate it?)
Restore to people their ability to wonder and marvel at the world. That’s a gift that cannot be held or touched, and it’s more valuable than almost all others because it allows people to love even more deeply the things that they can hold or touch or see or smell or hear or feel.

In any case, would you like to know something absurd? Ironically, the very instant I was about to get into the bus that would take us to the little town below Machu Picchu, I lost my camera. It literally just disappeared. I have no clue what happened to it. One instant, I was sitting on the sofa in the hostel fiddling with it and wrapping the strap around my toes, and the next instant, as we walked outside, I no longer had it; and as much as I searched and searched and searched, I could not find it.
It was just as well in the end, I guess. I had to settle with the reality that I wouldn’t be getting any photos of one of the most outstanding places we visited; but I think it was probably better that way for me, since I could focus more on being present in the place and moment, without having the distraction of trying to make things look good on camera. Fortunately, though, Sam and Chrystel still had their cameras, and they took a few pictures whilst we were there.

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The seven-hour bus ride back to Cusco was miserable, and the twenty-hours from there to Lima were even worse. We did travel through gorgeous landscape, though. However, at one point as we rode through the mountains, our bus crashed into a truck that also crashed into two other trucks. Thankfully, almost nobody got hurt, and nothing worse came of it except arriving later than we expected.

We’ve spent the last couple of days in Lima, trying to be real tourists for once — basically just relaxing, enjoying ourselves, finding good food, and simply making the best of our last few days together. Sam flies out tomorrow back to Canada to tend to his life at home. Once he leaves, it will be a sad and lonely journey as Chrystel and I make our way back up north without him. He has always been the life our little trio-party. We’re trying not to think about it too much.

Therefore, Chrystel and I have recently just decided that we’ll return first to Santa Marta, back to Pedro Nel’s little farm and stay with him for a while. (It’s a straight three-day bus ride to Cali, and then about another two days or so to Santa Marta. Not really looking forward to that very much.)
After Santa Marta, we’ll probably return to Bogota and quite likely stay until mid-November. After that, we’ll finally be able to return home.

Even though we do still have heaps of traveling to do, we’ve finally been perceiving the end of our journey approaching us. As you could probably imagine, it’s a conglomeration of emotions and thoughts ranging from the eager joy of soon returning to those at home, to the solemn conclusion of one of the most adventurous times of our lives.

Traipsing Around – Part 7: Lima

After nearly four days on a bus, without once taking a shower, changing my clothes, or even brushing my teeth, we finally made it from Bogota to Lima. When you’ve traversed straight through three countries by bus, you really start becoming very familiar with your immediate surroundings — and especially what positions are most comfortable for sleeping. For instance, there’s the Only-Slightly-Painful-Curl-Up-Into-a-Ball-Position, with your feet hanging out into the aisle and your nose all squashed up in the seat. Or even the Not-So-Painful-But-No-So-Comfortable-Sleep-on-Your-Back-Even-Though-the-Seat-Doesn’t-Lean-All-the-Way-Down-Position.

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Anyway, Lima is pleasant; and the scenery along the way was spectacular.
We did have our undesirable circumstances, though. There was a bit of trouble crossing one of the boarders; and when we arrived at our destination yesterday, tired, hungry, and dirty, we discovered that Sam’s bag had been lost along the way at some point.
Therefore, we stayed at a hostel yesternight to rest, and also to wait to see if Sam’s bag could be found by today. We’re resolutely believing that it will be returned to us.
This afternoon, then, we’ll take another bus, for a quick twenty-hour ride to Cusco; and then from Cusco, it’s either bus, train, foot, or maybe all three to Aguas Calientes, where we can begin our ascent to Machu Picchu.

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Traipsing Around – Part 6: More Great Unknown

Just like that bus terminal back in Panama, Bogota seems to be the place we always return to and stay for heaps of time. It’s fine by me, though, because the people we’ve met here and the experiences we’ve had with them have surpassed my expectations — and I’m a person of high expectations.

Nonetheless, we still have time left and places to reach before this trip is over. Tomorrow we head out again into a lot of variables and personally uncharted territory. As far as we know, we’ll take a ten-hour bus from Bogota south to Cali; and from there, another bus for about three days all the way to Lima, Peru. From Lima, it’s just another hop, skip, and who knows how long of a bus ride to Cuzco. We have an unrelenting resolve to reach Cuzco and climb Machu Picchu before Sam has to return to Canada.

It’s going to be a matter of raw backpacking again, sleeping wherever we find a dry, comfortable place, and figuring things out as we go along. The last phase of our journey with the three of us together, heading into a great unknown.

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Traipsing Around – Part 5: The Jungles of Santa Marta

I think I’ve officially reached that point at which I’ve now starting looking like a hobo, or a homeless hippie. You know you’ve been backpacking for a long time when you can chew on your own mustache.
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I guess that hasn’t really mattered as much though, especially since we’d spent the last two weeks in the rainforest mountains of Santa Marta. The degree of beauty and splendour there is immeasurably outstanding. Rosita’s husband, Pedro Nel, has a plot of land there that he’s been working on. It’s where we were staying, and ever since we arrived our days had been filled with productivity and fun and all sorts of adventure.
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For instance:

Pedro Nel has a massive vision for what his property can be used for, part of which includes a self-sustaining farm with a building for hosting visitors or missionaries or even just living in from time to time. We were helping him with cleaning up the area and putting up a chicken coop, among other things:

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This is Hermano Pedro. He was already there helping out with the construction. This guy is seventy-three, and he still hikes all over the mountains, works all day, and climbs up to put onto rooftops:

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This is the little house where we were staying. We collected all our water in tanks from the river, and we had only just recently installed electricity.

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We also hiked all over the mountains and thoroughly got lost more than once:

Getting Lost

Here are a couple pictures of the giant mutant monster centipede thing that we found in the bathroom:

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From the beginning of our trip, the three of us knew that it wasn’t going to be a matter of just reaching a certain point and heading back. Our goal is every day, every place, every person. Nevertheless, with that still in mind, we’ve decided upon a location we want to reach before we turn back and head home. You see, Sam has to be in Canada again at least by the middle of October, so we want a particular spot to arrive at before his time runs out. After having been inspired by some other backpackers we’d met earlier on, we concluded that Machu Picchu would be that place.

Therefore, yesterday was our last day in Santa Marta before head back by bus to Bogota. We’re going to stay here in Bogota again for just a couple of days to spend a little more time with our friends and visit a bit. After that, we’ll continue to take more buses down through Ecuador and into Peru.

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Traipsing Around – Part 4: Roadtrip to Santa Marta

Fleas.
I just discovered an entire colony of them in the apartment where we’ve been staying; and of course their breading grounds happened to be right under the area where I sleep. I now fear I have unwillingly become a symbiotic ecosystem.

I’m pretty sure that’s the only bad news I’m disposed to sharing, though. The past couple of weeks here in Bogota have been mind-blowingly outstanding. At one point, we got to explore a massive cathedral carved deep into an old salt mine under a mountain on the outskirts of the city. Think of the underground Dwarf kingdoms from The Lord of the Rings. That’s pretty much what it looked  like. I was left utterly enthralled. Could have stayed there all day.

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(Sorry for the low quality of the photos. It was difficult to get a good shot in the poor light. I’d like to say I have a fancy-shmancy EOS Rebel T2i; but it’s just a regular camera, and it’s really not even mine.) Here is one of my best, though:

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I personally have driven around almost the entire city by now, braving the insane traffic and everything. We’ve also visited many amazing places, seen countless beautiful sights,  and eaten heaps of exquisite food — all in the company of marvelous friends.
Oh, and I got to hang out with an ostrich.

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Aside from all that awesomeness, we’ve been experiencing huge amounts of supernatural encounters in several different forms. We’ve been praying more and more for people in the streets and also within the family we’re staying with; and Sam and I in particular have seen various people healed on the spot. Both of us have literally watched the Holy Spirit affect people and move in ways that neither of us have ever seen before.

Back just two weeks into the trip, we all three knew without a doubt that even if we had returned at that moment, we would have been changed for life. It’s really difficult to summarise just how life-impacting it has been up til now. Things have been happening to us that we honestly never considered would happen on the trip — massively important things that are marking our lives. In a way, I could also say that this past week has been the most difficult one for me so far, just because of the severity of the decisions I’ve been faced with.

Finally, though, this was our last full day in Bogota. Early tomorrow morning we head out by car to Santa Marta with Rosita (the lady we’ve been staying with) and one of her sons, Pedro. It’s a two-day drive (and I’ve been told we’re even going to be picking up their dog along the way.) This area is supposed to be one of the most beautiful parts of all Colombia. Santa Marta is actually north of Bogota; so I’m guessing that after about three weeks of working there, we’ll head back down south again through the length of the country and further onward to Ecuador, Peru, and still-potentially Bolivia or Chile. There’s been a lot of progress in our plans lately; and even though our trip is really only just starting, we’re beginning to sight our end goals and even setting a return date.

We’ve all grown dearly close to this family, each in our own special way; and despite then how eager I am to continue the journey, I’m bearing the sadness again of having to say goodbye to those we’re leaving behind.

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Ah, one more thing. Here’s a link to Chrystel’s blog too, in case you’re keen on reading about it from her perspective:
http://chrystelsanchez.blogspot.com/2014/08/john-1412-14.html

Ex!to

No, that’s not a typo.
It’s actually the name of the grocery store near to where we’re staying.

I was walking through it yesternight carrying milk and bananas in my arms when I saw a man with crutches standing in line at one of the cash registers.
“Ooh! Jolly good! A sick person. I’ll swallow my nerve-wracking fear and go pray for him.”

I do oftentimes still get nervous and shaky when I pray for strangers to be healed.

Anyway, I walked up to him and asked what was wrong with his leg. He gave me a long, elaborate, medical-field-lingo sort of answer that I basically understood to mean that he’d fractured his knee playing fútbol.
I asked if he wouldn’t mind if I prayed for it to be healed. He said no; so I knelt down and just barely touched his knee with my fingers. My hand was still shaking, and my heart had decided it wanted to see the action and tried to pound its way through my chest.

I said a quick little awkward prayer and asked if he felt anything different. The guy looked at me and in his words said he felt an energy or something in his knee. I was like, “Ooh. That’s good. Really good.”
So I prayed again, thanking God for what was already happening, and requested Him to take the pain away. When I asked him again, the man said that he still felt the energy or something similar to electricity in his leg.
It was encouraging, and I was excited, so I told him I would pray one more time. Again, I just asked the Holy Spirit to touch him and take all the pain. This time, he paused for a moment, stretched his leg, and put some weight on it. He remarked that he had not been able to do that before. I said it was fantastic.

He asked me then why it was that I prayed. I kind of stuttered something about how in the Bible Jesus told us to go out to pray for people and that He’d respond if we did; and I mentioned that there have been heaps of times where I’ve seen God heal various other things when I asked Him to.
(It’s a good things the man was actually able to experience the power for himself, because otherwise he probably wouldn’t have gotten anything out of my blubbering.)

The guy then just said thank you; he shook my hand, said good bye, and I left.