In my hammock again. So tired I don’t know how to write about what I’ve done and seen. The amazing richness of the forest and the pride and excitement of a group of young people, mostly English, one Norwegian, stuck in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, miles out in the jungle on an impossible project to protect the rainforest from destruction.
I won’t ever forget them. They were amazing. They were giving it their all – and more – and I came away feeling that in the writing of my book I had to do the same. Nothing less would do. I owed it to them.
The journey back to Gold Mine, where I am now [in my hammock, never wanting to get out again], was horrendously hard-going. Ever since arriving at Rio Blanco I’d been cherishing the possibility of returning over those ghastly hills by mule, but the mule train had left ahead of us and we had to walk back over the Devil’s Backbone the way we’d walked in.
It was an incredible experience. As near, in fact, as I’ve ever come to a spiritual experience. Not that I was expecting, or looking for, a spiritual experience but hauling my weary, asthmatic body over those torrid hills I was overwhelmed with a sense of spiritual odyssey. Phrases from Sunday School days and snippets from the more well-known Bible passages kept coming into my head [‘Those who trust in the Lord shall soar on eagles’ wings’; ‘who is it that overcomes the world? He who trusts in the Lord’ etc.] and seemed to push me on when I felt as if I couldn’t take another step. I didn’t ask for these words, but they were there as if they’d been planted from childhood onwards for just this occasion.
The journey back to Gold Mine took an hour longer than the outward journey had done to Rio Blanco. I think the fact of the hardest hill coming first, before I’d had time to get into the swing of trekking again, made it all the more of a struggle. On the way in, the hardest hill came after having pushed myself for days and being primed for it. This time, though, I’d been sitting around in camp talking to people and bathing in the river, and I wasn’t primed for anything.
There really were moments when I wondered if I’d make it. What I was doing was difficult and dangerous, and my body was being pushed to the limit. I only had to see the pity in Idris’s eyes every time I called a halt, in order to know that. And yet as I pressed on, an incredible sense of purpose came upon me. I wasn’t here for my own entertainment - that wasn’t what I’d come for, and I definitely wasn’t getting that. But I’d come here for a reason, and a reason that mattered, and I could trust that reason to bring me out. I’d been privileged to see things that most people don’t ever see – the beauty of the rainforest; the terrible destruction that’s taking place in it; the hard work and dedication of young people whose lives were being changed by their determination to make a difference – and the need to share what I’d seen drove me on, step after step.
Maybe I was just a dot on the face of the planet, but in that vast, extraordinary jungle - which could so easily have swallowed me up –the strongest feeling came to me that I wasn’t alone. Struggling uphill with my weighed-down, exhausted body felt like a metaphor for life itself. But every step of the way I felt a greater sense of presence. Here’s the spiritual bit. God felt with me in that forest. I could have felt abandoned, but I felt loved instead.
I’m afraid that when I return to England and read this back, it’ll all sound incredibly trite. The words I’m writing, in any other circumstance, could sound like platitudes. But that’s not how it feels lying in my hammock looking back over everything that’s happened today. The things I’ve experienced go beyond platitudes. On those terrible hills, when everything in my life was stripped away – family, status, money, nice clothes, comfort, good food, cheery company, health, dignity etc – it really did feel as if the only thing still there for me was God. Me and God, that’s how it felt – the two of us on that bloody hill, and the man in front and the man behind, Greg and Idris, were in another world. My reality – the only reality, or so it felt – was the next step ahead. I dared not look any further, and I didn’t need to. And, step by step, impossible though it may sometimes have felt, I’ve made it here to Gold Mine and the safety of my hammock.
You see what I mean about a spiritual experience! I still feel bathed in its glory as I write now. But no glory can disguise my total exhaustion. Beyond the mountain-top experiences of our lives are the mundane, day-to-day ones - and how I’m going to get up tomorrow morning and face the mud of the next leg of our journey, I just don’t know…