Finding Wonder Everyday: Amazon Adventure Part 2

In the last of our 3-part series of Executive Director Shawn Small’s experience with living the wonder of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in his own life, we catch up with Shawn in the Amazon. All three parts are from his pending travel memoir.

The adventures we had on this journey were as numerous as the bug bites that covered every inch of my exposed skin. We landed on Monkey Island, a sanctuary for hundreds of monkeys that had been tamed as pets then abandoned and we cornered an angry 16-foot striking anaconda with a head the size of a football. We shared breakfast with the chieftain of a local tribe who told us the inspiring story of his tribe’s freedom from European slavers. But the astonishing memories we were cataloging were not without a price.

To protect our bodies from any more mosquito abuse than we were already undergoing, we slept in thick canvas tents with no windows, which meant no airflow. As an extra precaution against malaria and dengue fever, we slathered ourselves with an oily bug repellent that could have doubled as Crisco.

As I lay there on that first broiling night, feeling like a roasting chicken while listening to the grunts and groans of my fellow travelers trying to sleep, one of my buddies, who was growing more miserable by the hour, began to grumble from his tent. “I FEEL LIKE I AM LAYING IN A STOMACH.” Our laughter ruined any chance we might have had for a few hours of rest.

Laying in a pool of greasy perspiration, I couldn’t picture anyone I knew that might enjoy this experience. Here I was, abandoning all creature comforts, all assurances of what the next day might unleash, and embracing physical discomfort like it was a gift from the heavens.

The dichotomy of a soft bed, predictable meals and brainless media-blitzing compared to the joy of unpredictable, risky, beyond-my-control curiosity was as dizzying as the chaotic, beautiful jungle I was floating through.

Amazon AdventureA few days downriver we stayed in the small village of Oran. The village mayor greeted us as special guests and allowed us to set up our tents on his tall suspended porch. The deck, like the rest of the houses in Oran, sat on stilts ten feet off the ground, leaving a cool space under the home to rest while the porch above kept the creepy crawlers at bay.

We wandered through the handful of small stores around the village square that provided enough activity to bring out a few dozen villagers who were eager to chat. After a supper of stew, in which floated an inedible fish head, I headed to the only place in the village where one could go to the bathroom in semi-privacy. A raised structure, within eyeshot of a dozen stilted-homes, stood in a swampy clearing that reeked of human waste. The 10 x 10 platform was surrounded by a courtesy curtain, giving the user a blind to do their business in private.

As I walked up to the platform, I saw a few families gather on the surrounding porches. I was undoubtedly the first white man to use this facility and, by far, the biggest human to take advantage of the community commode. I stood in front of the two wide planks that created a ramp up to the curtained platform. As I stepped on the first plank, it splintered like a piece of dried pasta. The old board, encumbered with swamp rot, had rejected my girth with gusto.

I gingerly placed a foot on the next plank and pushed down. Convinced it was solid, I climbed up to the platform. Built out of several pieces of oddly mismatched timber, it sat approximately six feet above the waste field below.

Feeling confident in my curtained concealment, I disrobed of all clothing except my shirt. Straddling barefoot over the square hole, I moved into a squatting position and attempted to put myself into a Zen state to finish the necessaries as quickly as possible.

That’s when I heard the crack of a gunshot.

I looked to the left. The middle board, halfway between the squatters hole and the edge of the platform, began to split.

Another crack screamed.

Turning, I saw the board on the right do the same as the left. A fracture was forming down the center of the rotten boards I was standing on, heading both outward to the edge of the platform and inward toward my feet. And it was happening fast.

With little time to deliberate, I knew I had to move or be waist deep in the nastiness below me. I grabbed my sandals and tossed them through the curtain. Scooping up my clothes, and made one giant leap before the entire platform collapsed in on itself.

Lying face down on the spongy ground, I kept an iron-tight grip onto the long damp grasses outlining my naked body. The pit, barely a body’s length behind me, erupted in a cloud of dung and disease.

More than a dozen men, women, and children stood watching me, awestruck at what they had just witnessed. Silence permeated the air before we all broke in uncontrollable, contagious laughter. As I began to put on my clothes I whispered a thank you to the One beyond all that is for fulfilling the outlandish longings of that thirteen-year-old boy that sat in front of Raiders of the Lost Ark thirty years ago.



After a decade working in parish youth ministry Shawn started Wonder Voyage Missions. Over the last 15 years, WVM has led thousands of pilgrims to over forty countries. Shawn is a storyteller and an award winning filmmaker. He is an author who brings the gift of engaging narrative to our journeys. Shawn is dedicated to creating voyages that give people abundant opportunities to encounter God.

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