In the Jungle

The last week of December, we surprised my mom with a very personal trip to the tiny jungle town –where I was born– that she hadn’t been back to in 17 years. The trip had been planned for months, and we relished keeping the secret from her.

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One of my sister’s friends even spilled the beans right in front of her, but we managed to mostly ignore what she said and my mom didn’t put the pieces together.

My dad and a friend had planned a gathering of many of the people they’d worked with all those years ago, and we arranged to stay in house you might recognize if you’ve seen End of the Spear.

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I had a lot of childhood memories of playing in that house, especially when it was raining. The screened in porch is just as amazing, but the traffic outside is not. The sleepy jungle town of my youth now has a paved portion of the Panamerican Highway running right through town.

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Pro travel tip: earplugs. I almost always sleep with them when I’m traveling. They’re helpful for traffic, barking dogs (looking at you, Turkey), roosters (Indonesia), the 5 a.m. call to prayer (Egypt), and snoring roommates (Cuba!) They’re also useful when jet-lagged husband starts snoring.

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Some of my fondest childhood memories are of running around on the base property, making various forts and clubs with my two buddies, Jonathan and David. So it was cute to see the kids run off to do the same.

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There’s the house I grew up in.

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We headed straight for the hanger.

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I took my first steps out on that tarmac, learned to roller skate and fished for guppies in that drainage ditch.

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We had to recreate a photo from 1983 taken with my dad’s sister’s kids and us. The 2017 version has my sister’s and my kids in it. They look just as sweaty and flushed as we did in 1983. Some things never change.

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My dad was jazzed to show his grandkids around.

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And they were just as jazzed about the airplanes.

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Then while he and my husband hung around the hangar, we took the kids on a trip down memory lane.

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We passed my elementary school.

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And crossed the bridge that led to my best friend, Bekah’s house.

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Where I also dropped my super-expensive custom earplugs, and where my friend, Norma climbed down and rescued them.

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There used to be just two ways across the river; today there are four.

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Uphill both ways, snow, etc.

[Shell in a synopsis: 5,000 feet of altitude. 25 feet of rain per year. 100% humidity, all the time.]

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Then we hoofed it back to the hangar for our flight.

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There’s the Pastaza River basin as it passes by Shell.

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There’s downtown Shell.

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There’s the old swimming hole, which got washed away by rains just a few days after we were there.

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There’s the soccer field, the hospital, my friend Bekah’s old house and our friends the Williams’s house.

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My kids loved it when pilot Dan did some “fun flying:” turning the nose up until we went weightless, coasting, sharp turns, etc. He kept it light for the sake of the kids, but I’ve heard stories of the barrel rolls my dad used to do.

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We enjoyed dinner with some old friends before heading down to put the kids to bed.

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Meanwhile, about 20 people my parents worked with gathered in the living room to share memories. It was fun to see their faces, most with a few more wrinkles and gray hairs, some a little wider around the middle.

And with those few connections made, it was time to head back up the road to Quito.

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