Well, it has definitely been a while since I last posted thoughts and reflections and now I have some new ones to share. It has been a while because I have been very busy with the due dates of lots of work approaching and with a bunch of traveling and activities. Let me tell you: if I could have one wish from a genie in a bottle, it would be for more hours in the day. With these hours I still couldn’t possibly share and explain everything that has been on my mind from the multitude of experiences that I’ve had since last time. However, I do want to share a couple of things that tie into a greater theme that I’ve been mulling over.
Right after my last post, my classmates and I traveled to the Ecuadorian páramo (highlands) to Parque Nacional Antisana, a national park that is at 4,100 meters of altitude or almost 13,500 feet for those of you US Americans who can’t conceptualize in meters (don’t worry, I still can’t after 3 months in this country). We spent 3 days there studying the highland ecosystem, which is much like winter in the deserts in the west of the United States. It was very windy with low-lying, grassy vegetation, and tall mountains surrounding the snow-covered Antisana Volcano, Ecuador’s 4th tallest.
On our second day in the páramo, our professors gave us a mostly free morning to go exploring on our own in order to have a personally intimate experience with the ecosystem, more or less. Two friends and I decided to take off on a hike up one of the mountains in order to catch a good view of the area. The trek was probably one of the most difficult hikes I have ever done because of the altitude, the grasses that cover this already steep mountain are waist high, super dense and there is no trail that leads people up because it is very little (maybe not at all) traveled. It took the three of us two or three treacherous hours to reach the rock face that lead to the very top. I wanted to catch an even better view so I bouldered up the rock face and climbed the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. The view of the rest of the area was absolutely breath taking and completely worth the climb to the top. When it was time to descend from the mountaintop, we took the easy way…rolling and tumbling all the way down! We were like children screaming and laughing as we toppled from one patch of tall grass to the next. By the time we reached the bottom, we were covered from hair to wool socks in grass and leaves that I still find to this day in my things. I felt like a little girl again, completely occupied and entertained by the simplest of pleasures – such a raw and perfect moment!
I don’t know if you have ever experienced in your life being completely pleasantly overwhelmed by a place and a moment, but this was the first of a series of moments like this that I have had in the last weeks. This is something that I don’t experience often, though I wish I did, and it is unforgettable when I do. I won’t even do the experience justice by trying to explain it, but am going to try because I want you to experience it vicariously. In these moments I feel completely full – full of immense satisfaction, elation, freedom, appreciation and amazement. I believe that in these moments, I am being the most rightly affected that I can be by the creation surrounding me. All I could do in those moments was praise God over and over for His creativity and love for me that He would give me this moment to experience a taste of His Glory, His character. I know for a fact that I experienced a glimpse of my Creator here because the whole thing felt supernatural and unexplainable. I don’t think that you can experience such pure and intense joy like this without the presence of a good and loving God, at least I never did before I knew Him. What a blessed moment, but that wasn’t it…
There passed two weeks time before we were off again on excursion to the world famous Galápagos Islands! This is what I had been waiting for and was SO excited about all semester up to that point. I knew that we would have a great time and learn a lot but I did not realize what an awesome spiritual experience I would have! The day we arrived to the islands my group boarded the boat that we would live on for half the week and set sail for our journey of island hopping. After settling in for a bit, I went exploring the boat and climbed up to the very top of the vessel to the roof where I found a few solitary moments to take in what was going on. I was cruising over the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, passing islands left and right under the strong equatorial sun and through fresh, salty air that clung to my skin and hair. I felt like a maritime explorer, seeing the world for the first time, totally free of all stresses, anticipating an approaching adventure. What?! Was this really happening to me?! I tell you no lie, friend, I was on top of the world. I felt like I could just fly away in my ecstasy, like what I was experiencing was not real, yet I felt the most alive that I have ever felt.
Our captain stopped the boat at Isla Lobos de San Cristóbal, an island full of sea lions and tons of other wildlife. We anchored and hopped in pangas (little boats) to ride to our snorkel spot close to the shore. I was geared up for adventure at this point, adrenaline pumping through my veins about to carry me into the other world under the sea. As soon as we arrived, I hopped right out of the panga and into the icy (yeah, it was really cold) depth swimming with creatures of all shapes and sizes. It amazes me every time I snorkel just how different a world it is in the oceans. All organisms are completely different from anything you see on land and it can be thrillingly terrifying! My heart was racing from a combination of being submerged in the cold water and swimming with creatures I only see in pictures and movies. I was seeing species in real life that only exist in this part of the world, around these islands! I was diving and swimming within arm’s reach of sharks and rays, testing my nerves and my lungs to get the perfect photo and a great look into the eyes of the ocean’s top predators. I swam in and out of tunnels created by lava flow in the crust, imagining that we were the first ones to see this part of the world and we were the first humans that these sea creatures had ever encountered. To think about these days of snorkeling makes my heart race again with excitement. I loved being able to explore this other facet of our planet and once again see the creativity of our Creator in a whole new way!
Ok, one more story and then I’ll stop. I’m telling you though, the frequency with which I have these experiences normally is small compared to these months, so I have to enjoy and recount them. I think my favorite spirit-filled moment occurred after my group arrived to Isla Isabela, the biggest island of the Galápagos archipelago. We stayed for the rest of our visit in this small, eclectic town called Puerto Villamil with Ecuadorian families who live there. We had snorkeling and hikes in the mornings during these days, but the afternoons we generally had free to experience Galápagos Island culture aka hang out on the beach, play volleyball and surf with locals. One of my good friends in the program is from southern California and is a skilled surfer, so she apprenticed me in the way of the waves. We spent long afternoons in the surf, becoming one with the swells and paddling and paddling and did I say paddling (?) to catch those swells in just the right moment as they crested. As I got the hang of the sport and got good enough to ride the waves all the way out, I began to imagine a life as a beach bum on the Galápagos Islands (as if that would ever be my life). Life would consist of watching the surf for hours in a day, coming to an intimate knowledge of the cycle of tides and a good sense of the water’s movement and projected path. I would know every good surf spot on the entire stretch of beach on which the town lies. My imagination ran away so far that I could feel all the way to my soul the satisfaction of being carried away flying with the troop of white water. I think that surfing is really good for the soul because it requires one to have a pretty deep understanding of the motion of the ocean and a good instinct to be successful. I think that this is one example of the way humans were meant to relate to their natural environment – with understanding and instinct on how to react and act with it.
As a whole nowadays we have such little understanding of our natural world and therefore we are detached from it and are apathetic to what happens to it. I am an Environmental Studies major and I will fully admit my detachment from it many times but my experiences this semester in this beautiful country are showing me how much I miss out on. I lose out on such incredible spiritual experiences that grip me to my soul and shake my worldview for the better. While this semester in Ecuador has been really challenging to my whole being, it has been spiritually strengthening for me in ways that I am not used to. God has revealed Himself to me in ways outside of how I normally experience Him, so I have been moved into deeper adoration of Him and appreciation of His creation because of how it reveals to me His character. I think that Ecuador’s national motto, “Ama la Vida,” about sums up these last few months for me and my spiritual being. It means “Love Life” essentially, and I am surely doing that by the grace of a great God.