ARE YOU SURE THIS PLANE CAN TAKE OFF...
It’s a law of physics that planes can’t take off in the mud. It has to do with gravity or something like that. It rains in Kapawi every day–(hence the name Rain Forrest). Rain on dirt makes... mud. You probably know where I am going with this.
At the end of our stay it was time for the plane to come and retrieve us and return to Quito. We had flown in on a DeHavilland Twin Otter, a slow moving workhorse perfect for the jungle environment, and that was the plane picking us up. The only thing is that we had to wait at our lodge to hear if we would fly out–not because it could not land but because it might not be able to take off depending on the mud. We waited to hear from the director–who was listening to weather reports and talking to the pilots on the short wave radio. Once we got the go ahead late in the day we started our trek to the landing strip which is a boat ride and hike away. We waited at the end of the runway and spotted “the plane, the plane.”
The pilot said that he could not take all in our group because he needed to watch the weight due to the fact that the runway (I use that term loosely) was muddier than he expected. After much discussion he elected to “try it” with all of us in the plane. After boarding the plane, everyone was pretty anxious. Once the plane made it over the tree line, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We landed in Shell which was named after, you guessed it, the oil company. We spent the night there because we could not make it all the way to Quito in the dark. I took the chance to wander around the little town and stumbled onto a street festival. I ate some great local food there, though I am not sure what it was.
SLIM JIMS AND HENDRIX AT THE EQUATOR
One of my friends in Ecuador suggested that I travel to look at a large farm growing a cocoa bean called CCN51 (that’s another story about a bean with a bad rap). Two young men (the sons of the owner) picked me up at my hotel that Saturday morning after breakfast. I thought we were driving a couple of hours out of town, looking at their operation, attending a cookout for the farmers and coming home. The young men spoke perfect English and could not have been nicer to me. We soon reached the middle of nowhere. A man was sitting by the entrance gate to the farm, in the heat of the day, with a short barrel shot gun. He waived us through. We toured their farm and they were obviously proud of the work they had done to create this “show place” as my Grandpa was fond of saying.
We reached the middle of the farm and I could see a beautiful home in the distance. The home had just been completed and was located with cacao trees on all sides. The foreman of the farm was a former surfer from California named Chuck. He greeted us at the door. The driver started carrying things in from the SUV; clothes, a boom box, pillows and other stuff. I stared at the pillows and thought, “I don’t remember anyone saying anything about spending the night or that I should bring my pillow.” It was odd seeing a surfer (great guy by the way) in the middle of a cocoa farm, living in a knocked out home.
We went in the house and they showed me around, no air conditioning, so we settled on the deck. There is no shade–none–and it is now about noon, on the equator. I didn’t want to be rude and ask about food. They did offer something to quench our thirst–beer. I am not sure I have loved beer more than that moment in the heat. I had a few to cool things down. Then one of the sons reached into one of the boxes and pulled out a package of Slim Jims (or their Ecuadorian equivalent). I cant remember when I have more excited to see Slim Jims. Then someone turned on the boom box and the only CD that came with it – Best of Jimi Hendrix. It was now getting hotter, others were starting to show up, not farmers, but really rich 20 something friends of theirs who owned nearby hobby farms. So, there I was in the middle of nowhere with several beers under my belt, more than 15 Slim Jims, Purple Haze, and no sunscreen.
I really wasn’t sure when the whole going back to my hotel would occur or if I was bunking there for the night. Then one of the sons said “you can have our driver take you back whenever you are ready.” “Well, I guess I am ready now.”
The road–if you want to call it that-was bumpy and particularly so with all those Slim Jims and beer. I don’t remember seeing the guy with the short barrel on the way out. We got back to my hotel and I reflected on my surreal experience while lying on my pillow.
PASSPORT TAKEN IN CARACAS AND THAT’S NOT ALL
My good friend is a missionary in Venezuela. He invited me to come down and meet one of his Venezuelan pastor friends and his church member farmers. My friend drove 17 hours met us at the airport in Caracas and took us to a guesthouse for another ministry. It was vacant and available to us because Chavez had recently kicked that mission group out of the country. Caracas is not a safe place and notoriously dangerous.
We then traveled to the famous cocoa region Barlovento. We met the pastor and talked cocoa. The pastor guided us all over the countryside introducing us to farmers, their cocoa and their post harvest practices. After days of this we settled on one very small group. We spent a full day negotiating with them through their leader and finally settled on quantity and price. I had also explained our profit sharing system. We shared dinner together on his small front porch. The next morning we received a frantic message from the pastor that he wanted to meet us before we went back to Caracas. When we met he said that God had told him during prayer that we should not trust or do business with the man and group we had met with the day before. The pastor advised that he knew what I wanted and that I could send the money to him and he would handle the beans for me.
My friend drove me back to the Caracas airport where I waited for my flight to Panama. After a very long wait for the flight a gate agent called my name out and then asked for my passport. I had a bad feeling. I have traveled all over the world and know that it is not a good idea to give up your passport. She took it and walked off while another gate agent stayed with me. My passport–and the person holding it–went out of sight. I looked around and I am not sure why but I was looking for an American that I could tell what was going on. Then the gate agent told me to follow her. I got on a small bus and it took us to a hanger where I was met with soldiers, guns and dogs. Now I knew for sure this was going from bad to worse. This is usually the time when I take a deep breath and think about next steps playing the “what if” game in my head. The soldier put my suitcase on a table, unsheathed his knife and proceeded to cut off the plastic ties that the airline had asked me to use. I really did not want to try to explain everything in my suitcase; things like a bean cutter with a blade that cuts 50 beans in half, soil samples from Mexico, empty glass jars and things like that. The soldier focused on a box of chocolate I had purchased in a tiny airport gift shop in Mexico. I thought “this is great– somebody probably put cocaine in my chocolate!” He unwrapped the box, unwrapped the chocolate pieces, smelled them and let me go. After changing my underwear I was back in line to catch the flight.
When I got back home I contacted the pastor and he said he was putting together my purchase of beans and that he needed the money to pay the farmers. I am lawyer and the following statement will cause many to lose confidence in my brainpower: I wired the pastor the money for the beans in all about $25,000. I also wired the him money for the farmers to build a drying pad. And I wired the pastor money to help him with the house he was building. All of these people are so very poor.
That was in July 2006 and one month of promises turned into 3 months which turned into 10. No beans and no refund. I finally had to re-involve my missionary friend who drove many miles to meet with the pastor and the farmer who had our money (by the way–the pastor had given the money to the farmer who God had told him could not be trusted). The money had all been spent.
I am still waiting, but not holding my breath, for some beans or money. I am not bitter about it but I sure wish it had not happened. I asked my wife the other evening what lesson I was supposed to learn from this (other than the obvious) and she said something quite profound–“maybe the lesson to be learned was for someone else and you were caught in the crossfire.” “Wow–you mean it’s not about me?” I am learning every day. And I trust that God will work out these details.