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Friday, May 29, 2009

Jungle Trek Day 3

The third day we started really getting into "deep" forest. After splitting from the river, we took off on a barely visible trail, up the first of several mountains. We took this picture pretty early, maybe 9:00am, and check out my shirt and pants--they're totally soaked from sweat. Couldn't have been any wetter if I'd have jumped in a pool!

By now we were getting eaten alive by leaches, but the jungle was beautiful and we were enjoying it.

Sometime mid-morning, we heard the faint and distant sound of a little airplane. We had brought along a small, handheld VHF radio for this very purpose. It was difficult to get a good signal through the jungle canopy, but we made contact with the "outside world" today (Saturday), by communicating with Alan, high above in the comfort of a Cessna Caravan. It would be our last communication with anyone, other than ourselves, until Tuesday. If anything went wrong, we were absolutely on our own!

Around 1:00 we stopped for some cold rice and fish at the base of this pretty waterfall. The perspective was hard to capture with a point and shoot, but I'm standing at the base of it, and it's probably 40 feet tall, give or take. I had brought along a water filter, which was extremely useful. In addition to filling all of our water containers at night and before leaving in the morning, I also had to occasionally pump in the middle of the day at a place like this. None of us got sick on our stomachs, so it must have worked.
There were many strange and beautiful flowers, orchids, and blossoms of various kinds. However, they were usually to high or inaccessible to photograph with my little camera. Plus, the camera was already starting to succumb to the humidity, sweat, and general wetness of the jungle, despite the fact that I had it in a little air-tight Pelican. So I had to be careful when I took it out.

Around mid-afternoon we descended the mountain to this stream at the base of a gorge. For the next few hours we climbed deeper up into the headwaters of the gorge. It was very beautiful. Eventually we were basically bouldering over massive, slime-covered, dripping, slicker-than-snot rocks, occasionally cris-crossing the creak, but generally slithering along the 60 - 80 degree slopes on either side.

At some point in there, my cramp-on style, half-inch spikes that were strapped to my shoes busted, resulting in a nice shin gash. And thus began my dependence on Ibuprofen for the remainder of the trip. Between the thumping shin (which became swollen and really infected), a very bad knee, and all the other scrapes and bruises, I was thankful for the pain-dulling relief from my little bottle of pills. By the way, I fixed the cramp-ons with parachute chord and they worked awesome the rest of the trip!
At one point we came to an open, flatter area in the creak. On the side was a huge stone cliff towering above us. At it's base was a wide, cave-like entrance with water drizzling off and out of all the cracks. It was a natural salt-water place, and the animals absolutely loved it! We were hoping to shoot something for dinner, but alas no such luck. There were however, thousands of animal tracks and droppings all over the place. Of course, I had to climb up into it to get a proper feel for the place, and of course to taste the salt water. It was definitely salty, but I couldn't be sure that it wasn't my own sweat that I was tasting. So here I was on the inside looking out.

We stopped to set up camp near the head of the gorge. The jungle was very dense and primordial-looking. We nick-named this place, "hornbill gorge" b/c we saw dozens of huge, beautiful hornbills (they're big unique birds--look them up online if you want to see a picture) coming and going just before sunset and just after sunrise.

Our guides worked together to quickly construct their "pondok" (hut), under which they slept, and we all cooked and hung out together. It was good times as we hung out for hours each night, telling stories and talking about families, friends, other adventures, and spiritual things.

Paul and I had brought along Hennessy hammocks, so we always set them up right next to the pondok. I was able to stay dry and get a good night sleep hanging in a hammock above the leaches.

Just before bed a little tree frog of some sort jumped into the pondok and befriended Paul. There were so many weird bugs and frogs and other stuff that I obviously couldn't list them all. But this fellow was really cute.

Well, that was day three. After changing into my one pair of dry clothes that I saved for night time, I got into my hammock and tried not to think about the fact that the guides said "tomorrow we go up, up, up and then up some more." Oh good. Now where did we leave the airplane again?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jungle Trek Day 2

Day 2 we started the hiking portion of our journey. We snapped a picture just before departing Long Jelet. This was pretty much the last time we'd be dry, and smelling "normal" in the next week.

We kept a pretty good pace. But if you kept your eyes open, there was interesting stuff to see all over the place--like this mushroom, the size of a large grapefruit.

Much of the first hiking day was spent crisscrossing the Jelet river, as it wound it's way up into the mountains. There's no such thing as dry footwear when hiking in jungle!

Actually, every time we came back down into the river, it was rather nice. B/c it was impossible to see the sky when we were under the canopy. We usually took a quick break on the river before crossing it and heading back into the jungle. Just after taking this picture of Paul, we saw our first Hornbills fly overhead. They were awesome!

The first day was pretty light. We stopped a bit early b/c our guides had a pre-determined camp sight in mind--one which they've used before. The other reason was that from this point the trail would leave the river and we'd have to hike over the first mountain. They said that we wouldn't be able to make it to the next river in time to set up camp and since there were no good water sources on the mountain, this was our camp sight the first night.

One of our guides, Pak (Mr.) Lajau, took us with him to go "fishing." He threw a small stone into a deep hole in the river. He said that this would attract the fish, since they would think that it was food. A few seconds later he threw a net over the area. He caught 12 nice fish in that one throw--more than enough to feed us all for supper, breakfast the next day, and lunch too.

They love to eat their meat chopped up and boiled. But we're a bit more partial to the "grilled" flavor. So we boiled some, and stuck a few more on sticks over the fire. In the background is another one of our guides, Pak Musa.

It was an absolutely beautiful location, complete with a dark, deep, pool in the little river. There's no telling what lives in there, but Paul and I jumped in for a refreshing swim. Of course, that's also where we washed clothes and took baths as well. From this point on we wore the same clothes every day for next week (except for one dry set for sleeping.) There was no point changing, as everything got dirty and wet as soon as it left the dry-bag. So we just washed the stuff as best we could in the river, and that was that.

In the evenings, we really enjoyed sitting around the fire (in this picture we're sitting around the candle, with the fire just out of the picture) talking with our guides. Later I'll share some better pictures of them. They were really great men, and we had hours and hours to talk, both on the trails, as well as during meals. But especially at night we had fun, building friendships, recounting the days events, telling stories of other adventures, talking about our families, and eventually working into spiritual conversations. This is one of the opportunities that I most appreciate about a trip like this--getting to spend so much time with guys like this. Normally our flight schedules don't afford much extra time to build relationships on this level.

As we went to sleep, moths would come out by the dozens to sip the yummy juices from our wet clothes hanging on a rope (actually not sure why we hung them, since they always wound up being even wetter in the morning than they were when we hung them up at night). Britton would have loved it!!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

We're Alive! Jungle Trek Day 1.

We made it...and we're still alive!! Thanks for your prayers. It was quite an adventure! I'll break it up into several different posts each covering a day or so of the trek.

Just before boarding the MAF airplane (as a passenger rather than pilot for a change), we snapped a family photo. We first flew to Malinau, and then on to the village of Pujungan (below) were we said goodbye to the plane and started the tougher parts of the journey.

From Pujungan we headed upriver by motorized wooden boats to the tiny and picturesque village of Long Jelet. The river has numerous rapids that are to swift and dangerous to drive the boat through. So everyone gets out and pulls and pushes until clear. As exciting as this river was, it would prove to be nothing compared to the adventure of the Kat river that awaited us on the other side of the long trek.

Along the way we stopped to see a little waterfall a few minutes hike from the river. This area is absolutely beautiful, with many waterfalls, huge rock formations and virgin forest. But again, this was just a small taste of much more remote and rugged things to come.

As the boat guys drove the final minutes into Jelet we hopped out and opted to walk the trail into the village, walking across the suspension bridge, hanging like the giant ribcage of a prehistoric animal 15 feet or so above the shallow water.

We arrived in Jelet in the late afternoon and had time to walk around a bit enjoying the beauty of the last "civilized" place we'd see in some time.

That evening there was a church service (even though it was a Thursday night) and Paul and I were obviously given the privilege of sharing. Folks were quite interested in why the crazy pilots who could take an airplane 30 minutes from Pujungan to Data Dian, would instead opt to boat and hike nine grueling days through rugged jungle.

Many times as we met people in Pujungan and Jelet, they simply couldn't contain their feelings. "Are you crazy?" "Why not take the plane?" But we had our reasons. 1. We love adventure and experiencing God's creation up close and personal. 2. We appreciate the opportunity to fully experience, as few have, just how legitimate the need for MAF is out here in the vast expanses of rugged jungle. 3. There's nothing like experiencing pain and suffering together and then recounting stories around a campfire for hours, to "menjalin hubungan" (weave relationships) with other men. Trips like this give Paul and I a wonderful inroad to build friendships and relationships that will last. We often just don't get chances like this during busy flight days.

As we stayed up late that night sitting around in a smoky room talking with both our guides and the village leaders, the awesomeness of the task we were about to undertake really struck us. We had known that some German tourists had tried this trip a year or so ago, but had never been picked up on the other end by boat. They had to hike back to Jelet unable to complete the journey. What we didn't know was that this had actually happened several other times as well. In fact, nobody had successfully completed the entire trip from Jelet to Data Dian since apparently the very first missionaries came through here back in the WWII era. We were following a historic route, one which we hoped to only walk once. But the challenges and variable to pull it off were quite astounding.

As our trip began, our admiration and respect for the courage and resolve of the early pioneer missionaries in their quest to reach the unreached, grew tremendously. But more on that later.:)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Great Expedition!

Tomorrow morning Paul and I leave on our nine day expedition from Pujungan to Data Dian. It's been in the planning stages for nearly a year, and we've been prepping for months. But even with all the "homework" done, there are always many surprises and challenges on a trip like this.

While were gone, please especially pray for our wives, Joy and Beth, and all of our kids. They've got their work cut out for them, as they hold down the forts here in Tarakan without us. Of course, we've got a great team here that can pitch in if there's an emergency. But I'm sure they'd love it if the whole time passed without an "incident."

Pray also for Paul and I. Pray for safety over the many, many miles of hiking and canoe-riding. Pray for physical endurance and no broken bones, sprained ankles, bad backs, snake bites, etc. We are literally going to be out in the middle of nowhere. There's no help if something goes wrong. We're going to carry a hand-held VHF radio and try to contact an MAF plane if it flies over, but there's no guarantee of a signal getting out through the jungle canopy. And even then, there's nothing they can do from the plane, except to pass along a message.

Finally, please pray for our time with the guys. We'll be spending nine days with several groups of guys. There's going to be lots and lots of time to build relationships with these men. It should be quality time!

Stay tuned...obviously I'll give you an update upon my return.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Recent Odds and Ends

Wow! Again it's been a while and I haven't found time to update this blog. Things are really hopping here right now! I just figured I'd show you a few of the odds and ends going on in the last few days.

At left, a shot of my plane parked at the little strip in Long Nawang. I brought some village pastors in there from one of the other villages where they had been having a church conference.

Below, everyone is hanging out in the little "gudang," at Long Metun, waiting for the passengers and stuff to finish being weighed. Every time I go in here they load me up with gifts of fruit, wild honey, pig meat, and other tasties!

A few days ago I had the privilege of taking these pastors (below) into a remote village. Actually, they are already ministering in one of the villages that we regularly fly to. However, they and their village church have taken it on as their ministry and mission field to reach out to an even more distant village that is still steeped in animistic beliefs mixed with various aspects of Islam and Catholicism. They say that this village is their little "10-40" window.

I've flown them there a number of times and it's really exciting to see them in action. These are national pastors/missionaries reaching out to people in their "Judea" and they're really pumped about it. I'm thrilled to have a small but significant part in this stuff! Without MAF this might not be happening. The 30 minute flight with us would take weeks or months by land, as there's no trails or rivers connecting these areas--just desolate, rugged jungle.

And speaking of rugged jungle, this was a particularly good view of an old volcanic crater that I often fly over, but can't see well b/c of clouds, or because I'm to low. On a chart it's clearly visible, but it's hard to get the perspective unless you're waaaaay up above it, like here, where I'm about 2 1/2 miles above.

Much of the stuff here that used to strike us as funny, odd, crazy, etc., now just seems normal. Today I saw a dump truck full (when I say full, I mean overloaded) of screaming, waving high-school aged kids. The truck was barrelling down the road at break-neck speed. It didn't strike me as odd at all. Then I saw a guy drive past on a motorcycle, barely visible underneath the mound of balloons he's selling. Again, not unusual. But I thought you might disagree, so I snapped a picture.

The kids are growing up fast! Britton and Hannah are a really big help with the younger ones. It's hard to keep a shirt on Britton, not to mention shoes. He literally doesn't even own a pair of real shoes--and hasn't for several years. Probably can't even tie shoe laces. They're going to experience some real culture shock when we go on furlough in June!

Hudson is my big helper. He loves mechanical things, projects, building etc. He's the one that gets the most excited about planes. When he grows up, he proudly says that he wants to be a pilot like daddy. Of course, he can be whatever the Lord and he decide for him to be, but it's pretty cute seeing his enthusiasm at this age.

If all goes well, Paul and I will leave this Thursday for a 9-day trek across 70 + miles of some of the most remote and rugged jungles in all of Borneo. I've been training for months to be in shape for this ordeal. Yesterday we did a little practice run with full-loaded packs (about 45 lbs). We left at 6:00 am and hikes across the island of Tarakan to the beach on the far side. There's a lot of hills along the way, and the pavement is hard and hurts the shins, but the 9 mile hike gave us a good chance to test ourselves and the gear. Please remember to pray for both us, and for the wives and kids while we're gone.

After we got to the beach, the wives brought the kids in the cars to the public pool that's over on that side of the island. It was a perfect, HOT day for a swim. I just had to take a picture of this. Only in Indonesia do you find big wires sticking right out of the wall of the kiddy pool, just begging to be pulled. Hey, at least they're somewhat taped...for now.

It's that time again--time to make a new prayer card. Seriously, it is NOT easy trying to get seven people to all look at the camera at the same time, with eyes open, heads in the right place, and in focus. Thank goodness for a remote, and fast-shooting camera. Look for our new prayer card, hopefully coming soon to a mailbox near you.