Meditating on the Commands of Christ (76): Amazon Adventures—Can You Hear What I Hear?

What to know how to catch a caiman with your bare hands? Just ask Jefferson!

Jefferson seemed to know just about everything about everything on the Amazon— I guess from his twenty years of serving in the Brazilian military.

So, on our trip down the Amazon River last fall, I loved having Jefferson as our tour guide.

There were passengers from all over the world, who spoke many different languages, and there were about a dozen different guides, so I felt like we really “lucked out” to end up with somebody who was a veritable fountain of wisdom and knowledge.

There were groups who spoke Spanish, Portuguese, Italian . . . I’m not even sure what all, but when it came time for a tour, each guide would call out the names of those assigned to be in his group.

It didn’t take long before I stopped listening to the long litany of names, even though more than one of the groups was English speaking.

Alan and I would sit quietly reading while we waited our turn, but as soon as we heard Jefferson’s voice, we’d both perk up, smile at each other, and listen for our names.

YES! It was out turn to climb into a smaller boat (from our larger cruise ship) and go on an adventure!

Black-collared hawk along the banks of the Amazon River

We saw all sorts of fascinating wild life.

We tried lots of new foods!
And, we passed on a few possibilities
(although on one of the tours people could fish for piranhas)!
(These are NOT piranhas.)
We walked on some rickety old bridges
to reach some unsavory shorelines to start jungle hikes.
But, we were always pleased with what we saw, and we never did get eaten alive by mosquitoes (or anacondas, or scorpions, or . . . or . . . or . . .)

By the end of each day, we felt really excited about all we’d learned. Even if we were hot, tired, and dirty, we would reaffirm that it had been “worth it all!”

I’ve reflected on our adventures many times, and each time I remember Jefferson calling out our names, I think of Jesus, who said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Once you know and trust Someone to be your Guide, you’re really excited to launch out on new adventures, even though you might not know exactly what’s going to happen.

On your journey through this life, wouldn’t you like to have a guide who’s an expert and can teach you what you need to know?

Wouldn’t you like to meet some new people and make some new friends?

Maybe learn some new skills?

Jesus also taught: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

Jesus doesn’t ask us to catch caimans (the way Jefferson did), but he does call us to be fishers of men!

How? Just by sharing what you know about Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus yet, you can find out about him by reading the Bible, which God has given us as a compass and guide for life.

There were times on the Amazon when I was a little insecure about whether or not we’d make it safely back to the mother ship before a storm broke, but Jefferson always got us home in time. That made me think of Jesus, too! In all my 50+ years of following him, he has always gotten me safely home “in the nick of time.”

Life isn’t always a party! (Because of the COVID pandemic, I haven’t been shopping for over a month, so this tray of fresh fruit looks awfully appealing!) The Apostle Paul reminded us, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:12). There will be times of plenty and times of want, but through it all, God is faithful and will take care of us IF we trust and obey him.

Are you willing to listen for his voice and follow him? Can you hear him calling you? Jesus lived and died for you and me (and everyone in this world), and he’s calling your name! He wants you to follow him! Do you have ears to hear? You may get hot and tired and dirty, but at the end of your life, you will know that it was so worth it all!

Texts for this meditation: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11: 15-19). See also Luke 7:24-35.

“It Will Be Worth It All”

(Photo Credits: I took all the photos on our trip last October, except for the three of the caiman, which were very kindly shared with me by Guenther Distler. Thank you, Guenther and Ilse! We loved getting to know you!!)

Iguazú (“Iguaçu”) Falls: The World’s Largest Waterfall System

Although there are higher, deeper, and wider waterfalls around the world, Iguazú is the largest waterfall system in the world.

Magnificent Iguazú Falls!

“Iguaçu” means “big water” in the native language.

Viewing the Argentine side of Iguazú Falls from the Brazilian side

This gorgeous system of falls forms part of the boundary between Brazil and Argentina in South America, and both countries have national parks to protect the pristine beauty “just as it had been created by God” (—André Roboucas, 1876).

Aerial view of the area before we landed at Iguazú Falls

Both national parks are also now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

A rainbow of hope near the bottom of one of Iguazú’s 275 (+) falls

If you’re into native legends, it seems the falls were created when a deity plotted to marry a beautiful human named Naipí. However, Naipí attempted to escape in a canoe with her mortal lover, Tarobá. In a fury of unrequited love, the deity sliced the river in front of them, condemning them to an eternal fall.

Of course, I believe Iguazú Falls were created by the hand of the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, who is eternal Love and creates beauty to be enjoyed, not out of spite! 🙂

View of Iguazú Falls from Viewing Tower, Brazilian Side

However you slice it, it’s one of the most breath-taking wonders of the world!

View of Iguazú Falls from the Trail on the Argentine side

In fact, it’s so majestic that Disney’s imagineers have featured it in Epcot’s simulated flight ride around the world called “Soarin.'”

Watch Tower and Rainbows at Iguazú Falls on the Brazilian side

(“Soarin'” is our family’s personal favorite ride and a “must see” if you ever go to Disney and might not ever go to South America).

Iguazú Falls from walkway on Brazilian side

The entire falls system is 1.7 miles long and fashioned from super hard igneous basalt columns that are part of the 3,300-foot thick Serra Geral Formation, so there’s only minuscule erosion each year.

(Only about 1.5 cm per year, versus 30 cm for Niagara!!)

Our guide, Jose, said there were 275 falls,

but the water level was so low that it looked more like “hundreds” to me!

Walkway to second level of Iguazú Falls on Brazilian side

The weather was perfect, and Jose also mentioned that it was ideal for actually seeing the falls, since when the river is really full, there’s so much mist that it’s hard to see much of anything in the canyon!

Half the river’s flow is through a long, narrow chasm called the “Devil’s Throat,”

Double Rainbow over Devil’s Throat

where the highest and deepest falls disappear into billows of rainbowed spray.

If you want, you can take a boat ride
that challenges the outer edges of the turbulence,

Panoramic View ofIguazú Falls

but I didn’t know that was an option before we signed up for our tour.

Capybara feeding on grasses along bank of Iguazu River

Ultimately, I was completely satisfied with how we spent our time,

Iguana at Iguazú National Park

because our guide was a local Brazilian who spotted all sorts of wildlife

in the distance

Caiman swimming in Iguazú River

that we would never have noticed had he not pointed things out!

Jose spent two days hiking us over twelve miles
along trails on both sides of the falls.

Great white heron fishing at Iguazú Falls. Argentine side

He was an expert in the natural, historical,
and even personal aspects of living with the falls.

“Black Fish” (excellent eating!) and minnows in the Iguazu River

Jose could tell all sorts of stories,
including how his father used to fish the falls fifty years ago!

Jungle Train!

On the Argentine side, a rainforest ecological train
transports you through the jungle to three access points:

The upper and lower falls, and the Devil’s Throat.

We arrived early, but the line for the train was already an hour long, so Jose had us walk through the jungle path to the Devil’s Throat.

Although it was a little early in the season for jaguars and pumas (which I was ambivalent about confronting face-to-face anyway), we enjoyed watching the antics of monkeys

Iguana ambling across the path at Iguazú Falls

and the bumbling progress of iguanas and various lizards of all sizes.

Coati walking past me on one of the trails at Iguazu Falls, Argentina

We also had many opportunities to observe what they called “raccoons,” although we call them “coatis” in America.

The coatis seemed completely nonchalant about interacting with people, although they can bite your fingers off or give you nasty scratches,

so there are signs everywhere warning people to stay out of their way.

In fact, they are so aggressive about looking for food that there are cages—not for the coatis, but for the tourists, if you prefer eating in peace without being challenged!

(We ate inside a lovely “cage” that kept the coatis at bay!)

By comparison to the world’s others greatest waterfall systems, I think overall the Iguaçu Falls are the most beautiful I’ve personally seen! The largest by volume of water is Boyoma Falls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (600,000 cu ft/s versus Niagara in second place at 85,000cu ft/s). However, none of the seven cataracts of Boyoma Falls are more than 16 feet high, so they might not be as dramatic to view (although I’ve never been there, so it may be more the remoteness of the Congo and the civil unrest that keeps it from being a big tourist attraction).

Angel Falls in Venezuela

The highest falls in the world are Angel Falls in Venezuela (3,212 ft), although they’re so far into an isolated jungle that it’s very difficult to actually get to see them, so I’ve not attempted to visit them either.

Victoria Falls as seen from Zambezi National Park

The largest “curtain” of water is at Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe (5,604 ft wide with an over 354-foot drop).

We visited Victoria Falls a couple of years ago, where we went swimming in the Zambezi River and cozied up in the Devil’s Pool for a bit, so we could look over the edge into the misty abyss below the falls.

American and Horseshoe Falls at Niagara Falls

Last but not least (among the world’s great falls), is our very own Niagara Falls between the United States and Canada. Although it isn’t “first” at anything, among the highest waterfalls in the world it does have the greatest mean annual flow rate because the Niagara River is typically so much deeper than the Iguazú River system.

Shallow water, just a few inches deep, coursing over Iguazú Falls

Hope this wasn’t statistical overload, and I hope you enjoy numbers. However, I think you’d love visiting Iguazú Falls if you’ve not gone yet, and meanwhile, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing a little bit of our adventure! It always makes me happy to be able to share!

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

(Photo Credits: *Aerial view of entire falls system by Claudio Elias – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1517981.
** Angel Falls: Used by permission; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SaltoAngel4.jpg)

The rest are mine, taken a few weeks ago while visiting in Brazil and Argentina. 🙂

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (56): Consider the Birds

Having just returned from a cruise along the Amazon, I can’t think of a more appropriate topic than considering birds, since we must have seen many dozens of the more than 1,300 species of birds that make their home in the rain forests of the Amazon. (One in every three species in the world exists in Amazonia!)

There were times as we cruised along in a smaller boat close to the shoreline that the cacophony of bird sounds emanating from the jungle reminded me of the aviary of the John Ball Zoo (our local zoo) when the budgies were almost out-of-control noisy!

(If you don’t believe me, check this link to our visit a few years ago: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/a-few-of-my-favorite-the-birds-32-budgie-mania/

If you know me, you know I love birds, and one of my daily pleasures is watching them come to the bird feeder that’s just three feet in front of my nose as I type!

Female cardinal on our snowy cherry tree

At any rate, I do think about birds pretty much every day. BUT, what is that our Lord wants us to learn from considering the birds?

Brazilian Toco Toucan

Let’s start with the Brazilian toco toucan. His uniquely large schnoz, which can be half the size of his entire body length, is specially designed of light bone struts filled with a spongy keratin tissue that makes it exceedingly light and strong. The toucan’s beak is useful for grabbing fruit, reaching deep into the interior of holes, intimidating the competition, and is a wonderfully efficient thermoregulator—just perfect for the tropical areas where he lives.

Amazon Parrot resting in the snag of a tree

Consider the Amazon parrot, arrayed in gorgeous green and yellow feathers with brown underparts. Talk about perfect camouflage!

Flamingos at the Bird Park near Iguazu Falls in Brazil

Consider the flamingo, with her amazingly long neck and legs, just perfect for wading. Consider her uniquely designed bill, which is used upside down and is especially adapted for filtering the mud and silt from the tasty tiny shrimp and algae that she loves to eat!

Harpy Eagle in Brazil

Consider the harpy eagle—largest and most powerful raptor in the Amazon and top of the food chain, routinely carrying off monkeys and sloths for dinner. Wings, talons, razor-sharp beak and piercing eyes that sent chills through me!

Glittering-throated Emerald Hummingbird

Consider the smallest birds of the tropical rain forests—beautiful hummingbirds! So tiny they’re hard to spot, and so fast they’re almost impossible to capture on camera . . . or probably for dinner, too! Notice how perfectly color-coordinated they are as well!

Male Saffron Finch in Amazon

Consider the humble saffron finch, which is tiny and vulnerable but nevertheless thrives without even having to build a nest! These unassuming little birds nest in holes that other birds have built and abandoned.

Beautiful Scarlet Ibis searching for supper in the soft mud

Consider the scarlet ibis—adorned as brilliantly as a fire siren. Her beauty makes her a perfect target, but the powers that be have made her a protected species the world around! Both God and man watch out for her!

Color-coordinated Macaw in front of a grass hut in Brazil

Well, I could go on and on sharing about the fascinating birds we saw in Brazil!

White-naped Jay in Brazil

The songs and calls, the size and gorgeous colors, the similarities and differences from North American birds. Everywhere we wandered, birds appeared and serenaded (or scolded) us!

Black-collared hawk perched on a post beside an old fishing boat
on the Rio Negro in Brazil

As I “considered the birds,” I realized that what Jesus taught about them is absolutely true! God has created each bird with the unique qualities that it needs to survive and thrive. Survival skills come as standard equipment, and birds never seem to worry about the future!

Black-collared hawk in Amazonia

They aren’t busy planting and sowing and sweating whether or not it’s going to rain so they can reap a harvest.

Kingfisher perched on a snag along the Amazon River

Birds live one day at a time, focused on the present moment. Sure, they work tirelessly to provide a living for themselves and their little ones, but they don’t worry about tomorrow, and God does provide for them: “He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry” (Psalm 147:9).

Alcyon Amazon Kingfisher

No matter if we’re at the top or bottom of the food chain in this world, God loves us and tells us to trust Him with our future. He makes sure the birds of the air have food, and He will help us find the provisions we need too.

Iguazu Falls in Iguazu National Park, Brazil

I’m going to take my inspiration from the swallows at Iguazu National Park, who build their nests behind the torrential waterfalls.

Swallows darting through the waterfalls to their home in the cliffs

Rather than worry about tomorrow, let’s live under the rainbow of God’s protective care. Sure it’s scary having to dart back and forth through the downpours of life to find food every day, but God will provide, and we’ll get through! God loves us even more than He loves the beautiful birds that He’s created, and He will take care of us too! He wants us to relax and trust Him with our future! “Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God” (Psalm 84:3).

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 6:26 “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Luke 12:24 “Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?”

What’s Better Than Life?

So the quandary I’ve been pondering this past week is how to accept Jesus’ challenge to find something even more absorbing than the essentials of physical life on which to focus my thoughts.

Fish Market in Manaus, Brazil

In a way, I knew the answer as soon as I understood how to phrase the question! In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus says, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.” But, my first thought was, “Wait, how can anybody not worry about food and shelter? We can’t survive without these basic essentials! Isn’t that true?

Returning to the Iberostar after exploring in a smaller river boat

Yes, that is true, but recently Alan and I were on a vacation where we were reminded again that there’s something even better than life, and we found it on the Amazon.

Aerial View of the Amazon

Well . . . we weren’t checking out the “Amazon” in Seattle that’s taking over the world of commerce in America, we were exploring a few miles of the world’s largest river system and tropical rain forest on the Iberostar Grand Amazon, a lovely 148-passenger cruise liner. But, let me tell you my tale of how I learned that even on the Amazon people have discovered there’s something better than the pursuit of food and shelter in this life.

Amazonia’s water basin meanders through 2,720,000 square miles in nine South American countries and is the greatest watershed on earth, discharging an average of 55 million gallons per second!!

Massive waterways through the Amazonian River System

This massive runoff accounts for 20% of the entire world’s river discharge into our oceans, and that’s more water than is expelled by the next seven rivers combined!

Blue Macaw giving himself a pedicure 🙂

Beyond being the largest water system in the world, Amazonia is home to the largest collection of living plants and animal species in the world.

Monkey feasting on the berries from a tree in Brazil

One in ten of the known species throughout the world exist in Amazonia!

Grasshopper stealing a sip from my water glass 😦

For a starter, there are 2.5 million insect species, and before we were allowed to enter the country, we had to have Yellow Fever vaccinations. Because malaria and dengue fever are endemic, we also took oral malaria medication.

Coatie munching a stolen apple

Amazonia also boasts predators like jaguars, pumas, black caiman, anacondas, vampire bats, and poison dart frogs, not to mention a host of other critters that are willing to tangle for their supper, so the possibility for contracting rabies or some other unwanted disease is far from nil.

Houseboat on the Rio Negro

It was in this environment of rich natural resources but extremely humble surroundings that I pondered the question of how any of us can possibly not worry about our food and clothing.

Young fisherman displaying some of his fresh catch of the day

First, I think that no matter where we live, we might have to live like the indigenous people along the Amazon, who get up in the middle of the night to start fishing. Most people (including my husband) work extremely hard to earn their (our) daily bread (or fish)!!

Mother and child loading their fishing boat

Still, God doesn’t want us to allow our need for physical sustenance to be the consuming focus of our thoughts. He wants us to recognize that there is something even more important than the physical world, and something even better than life. Do you know what that is?

Floating supermarket near one of the bigger cities along the Amazon

I found the answer among the tools and sacks of food supplies at this little floating market.

You need it? They’ve got it!
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want!”

So I brought home this coarse little towel to remind me of what’s even more important and better than life: The Lord! “Thy lovingkindness is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). With the Lord as our shepherd, we can stop worrying about our physical lives. We don’t have to “want” for anything! As we trust God, He will make a way for us, and when life is over, we will pass through the valley of the shadow of death and dwell with Him forever!

Horses drinking from the Amazon River

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (Psalm 23)

(All photos taken during our trip to Amazonia, Brazil, last week.)

Where’s This Island?

9-falkland-island-sheepAny guesses on where we are now? I’ll give you a hint: they speak English and it’s an island.
A.    Shetland Island
B.    Falkland Island
C.    New Zealand (near Auckland)
D.    One of the Aleutian Islands
E.    England
F.    ??? Your guess
7-gorse-bushIn case you ever wondered, here’s a gorse bush…the kind Eoyore loved to eat!

8-english-bluebellsAnd, here are some beautiful English blue bells that were in bloom. We actually visited a sheep ranch where we got to see sheep shearing and other interesting activities, like chopping peat out of bogs for fuel. Very fun, and we’re learning lots!