On Thursday, after waiting most of the week to get permission from the Amphur so that we could travel, Travis, Marybeth, Hannah, and I headed down to Sangkhlaburi to work on getting their birth certificates. We were unable to get permission for the other girls to travel, so Roy stayed home with them. We came late in the week because Travis had some business to take care of down here before the weekend. But, his work was done rather rapidly on Friday, so then he came up with an idea…maybe we could go to his school for the weekend???? During a moment of insanity, I actually agreed with the plan. I have not been up to his school for nearly 8 years…which was when the truck we were in rolled over on me on the way out. He looked at me with shock in his eyes….REALLY? There are not many people who are willing to travel on that road!
We all climbed into his truck, which is the first challenge of the trip. It is a very tall truck with no steps to get up into. Fortunately, I had experience with such things, so I knew just how to navigate it….almost gracefully. The girls were perched in the back of the truck with all the luggage, since there is no extra room in the cab.
As we traveled down the highway, I was wondering if his truck could handle those bad roads…if we went too fast, the whole thing would shake terribly, and give the distinct impression that it was ready to explode at any moment. If Travis pushed too hard on the gas peddle, black smoke would billow out behind. These were not the most encouraging of signs, and I mentally berated myself for bringing my town shoes, since I was convinced that I would be hiking for miles and miles, trying to get out of the jungle when this beast of a truck broke down.
At length, we came to the end of the pavement, and slowly made our way across a muddy field that had no signs of being a road, at least to my inexperienced eye. We then pulled to a stop at the bottom of a hill. Travis casually remarked that if we could make it up this hill, we would probably make it the whole way. He quickly put the truck into four wheel drive low, and asked me to hold the stick forward as “insurance”, since if it popped out of gear on the way up this hill it could be disastrous. (It does pop out of gear often)
We slowly started up the incline, and then, rounding a corner, I saw a terrifying sight. The road seemed to go straight up the steep mountain, it was of slick clay mud, with very deep ruts in very inconvenient places. It looked completely impassible. But his truck suddenly turned into a mean, jungle road subduing machine! He plowed right up that mountain while I hung onto that stick for dear life, making sure that all my sins were forgiven! As we crested the top of the hill, Travis grinned in delight, “Looks like we can make it!” He said.
The next five hours were incredible. On more than one occasion we actually pulled into a creek, and then drove up it a ways until we found a bank low enough to get out of the creek and head on up the mountains. There were huge holes in the road, around 5 or more feet deep, that we had to drive right next to. The entire road is a single lane affair…if you even want to label it as a road! There is one place that Travis calls “Ascending the waterfall”, and another place is called “The rock mountain”. Both are totally fitting names.
As we were grinding our way up one mountain, a motorbike was headed down towards us. For some reason the guy on the motorbike didn’t want to get off of the road into the jungle to let us pass, so he tried to stay on the road as we were resolutely headed for the top. Travis was yelling directions out the window to the guy to prevent his imminent death, and somehow we managed to get past him with only hitting him a couple of times. He survived, his bike survived, and after a few minutes, my heart did settle back into my throat again, where it had jumped to at the beginning of this trip.
After several hours of heart stopping adventure through deep mud holes and steep mountains, we arrived at a little town deep in the jungle. I was thoroughly impressed that anyone is able to live back there so far from civilization. Travis then informed me that the “New road” that had just been built would start at the other side of the village. Now…when I hear the phrase, “new road” I think of a road. That should be normal, right? Well…it started out to look more like a footpath through overgrown rice fields. LITERALLY!
From there on, our trip became more like threading a truck through a jungle needle. Yes, it did fit, but sometimes Travis had to use a tree or bamboo clump as a pivot to swing the truck around to get between the trees. Large holes, 5-6 feet deep were in the road, and he had to very carefully maneuver around them, avoiding the trees by a hairs breadth. We came to one spot where there was a creek under the dirt. On both sides of the road, the dirt had caved in, so we could see the water running through. Travis decided that he would have to build a bridge of sorts in order to keep the truck from breaking through and falling into the creek. So, he jumped out and chopped down a tree using his machete, and cut it into pieces to drive over. It didn’t end up looking like something that I could trust, but he did make it while I stood on solid ground taking pictures of the amazing sight. All the while we were on this “new road” he kept crowing about how wonderful a road it is now. I wonder what it was like before?????
When we finally got off the “new road” that in nearly every place is as narrow as a hiking trail in America, we hit lots of mud bogs. Up until that point, we had managed to stay relatively clean, under the circumstances. But as soon as we started through the mud bogs, we were all coated with mud, even though we were inside the cab. Good thing we had to stop and build a bridge over a creek so we could clean up a little before getting to the school.
I found out later that even the grown men of the villages in his area were afraid to try to travel on that road. He had fun telling them when we finally arrived at the school that even his mother could do it!
Nobody at the school had been expecting us, so when we pulled in, people came running from all directions, and much excitement ensued. I fell in love with the people and the place right away. Peace reigns there, and the quiet of the jungle, with children’s laughter mixed in. All the time we were there, delegations of people kept coming to see Travis to have him solve their problems. They had a lovely church service, and in the afternoon we went from house to house to visit. At each place, they set food before us, and expected us to eat. If I had to go up there very often I would be really fat!
On Sabbath evening, Travis was called to a meeting with the man who has been threatening to kill him all these years. He was a little reluctant to go, but it turned out to be very good. The man told him that he has not been a Christian for many years now, but that he wants to come back to God. He asked forgiveness for all the things he has done, and worked out a plan of restitution, even putting it in writing in front of witnesses. What a blessing!
On Sunday morning, we woke up to high winds and storm clouds. I was pretty certain that it would be IMPOSSIBLE to go on that road if it rained, so we had to hurriedly pack up and get going. The students and two of the teachers insisted on going with us to the nearest village, so we had plenty of help to cut the fallen trees and bamboo out of the way, as we reversed the process of getting in. I was amazed that the students wanted to go so badly since it meant a very long walk back to the school for them.
We managed to get all the way out of the jungle before any rain fell…which goes to show how good God is at taking care of us. We decided that it takes faith, hope, and courage to go on that road. Faith that God will help us, hope that we can make it the whole way without dying first, and courage to try it in the first place!