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by Amy L. Girst

Two steps out of the canoe and I’m stuck. Thick, milk chocolate mud oozes toward the top of my knee-high rubber boots but all I can do is watch. Rather than fording the Napo River, my left leg seems content to spend its remaining life — my life — here, swaying perilously, fifteen feet from the southern bank of Ecuador’s branch of the Napo, as close as we could get in the canoe.

My walking stick also seems quite content. But then, unlike my leg, it grew up here. Just yesterday, Bolo, a Kychua Indian guide, sacrificed a sapling to make me this stick. Perhaps leaving me here, in the primordial goop that has captured me and threatens to bring me down, is payback for the sacrifice.

I’m resituating my stick, wobbling all the while, when Andrew, a 20-something fellow guest at La Selva Lodge calls from atop the bank: “Just walk ahead with your right foot. The left one will follow.”

So, Andrew thinks I don’t know how to walk? Apparently, Andrew has forgotten yesterday’s stroll from the plane that flew seven of us here from Quito. He’s forgotten yesterday afternoon’s walk through dense rain forest, from Lake Water Hyacinth to the Napo River’s northern shore. Perhaps that’s what a night in a thatched roof bungalow, surrounded by the sounds of nocturnal jungle creatures, does to some people.

I admit yesterday’s walk was different from today’s strenuous hike. Yesterday we strode easily along a plank walkway and on dirt trails, Bolo clearing encroachments with broad swipes of his machete, which also serves as his pointer to monkeys, Bufo frogs, exotic birds, brilliant blossoms, and deadly plants (“Mortal, mucho mortal!”). On that hike I used my stick only occasionally. I stood still only to view a creature through binoculars or to take a swig from my water bottle. Not so, today.

I look up at the Napo’s bank. Other visitors, one celebrating retirement, have scaled the wall and are now hidden among the tangle of greens and browns that shoot up, dangle, and wrap around each other here. I must catch up. I strain forward as hard as I can, straining, straining, until peals of laughter shake me, threatening to cast me into the muck. I can’t help it.  I’ve sold my home and traveled to South America while unemployed to mix things up, to get unstuck.  And here I am, anchored so securely I can’t move an inch, except for this worrisome wobble. This, I think, is the incarnation of wobbling about in work world muck. I laugh even harder.

A hand enters my field of vision. My head bent down, the broad brim of my spiffy, UV-protected, floatable hat blocked the view of Bolo’s approach.  We lock arms. Bolo pulls. I push and try to compose myself. I hope that if I push hard enough and stop laughing, Bolo won’t think me a goofy, inept middle-age turista. 

I don’t have much time for such thoughts because, thanks to Bolo, I am now inches from the Napo’s muddy bank. Looking up, I take a deep breath, then grab a thick vine as far up as I can reach, dig a heel in high, and stain upward until Andrew whoops and grabs my hand to help me over the edge. We stride into the rain forest together.

For your own adventure in Ecuador’s Amazon Jungle, visit www.laselvajunglelodge.com

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