‘Introduction by Chris Clarke’.

This is a traveler’s tale from Colombia, before the ruination of guerilla wars, narcos and despoliation of habitat.

Karin Knappstein Doglioni’s parents emigrated from Eastern Europe to Canada with her in the early 1950s. She met her first husband there and they had many adventures in Latin America.

She currently lives in Escazu (Costa Rica) and has business interests in Colombia. This piece was originally written as a family memoire, but is too good not to share.

The Missionary

With a huge thump and hiss the Catalina amphibian smashed on the tarmac- all the tires blown out flat. This so-called tarmac happened to be in the middle of the Amazon jungle, close to a village called Leticia in the southern most corner that touches Colombia. It seems that the plane had not landed on any hard surface lately, as it mostly does belly landings right on the river. I found this contraption rather fascinating, I mean it can land on the water and also on a hard surface (so they say), just like a duck. It certainly looks like it too, a metal duck with propellers stuck on its wings. But now that duck thing was stuck without tires to take off!

Actually, we were supposed to get right on that same plane and fly off to Iquitos, the a half floating port along the River in Peru, but was not to be, not to today or anytime soon as there are no tires for thousands of miles.

We had arrived from Bogota several days before, with the idea of flying out as soon as possible to visit the “Indians’ in Peru. That was our dream and intention because in the early days of the 1960 ties- Indians, especially in the Amazon jungles, where my imagined mystical forest spirits still lived in a fairly uncivilized and uncontaminated world. Oh yes, we very mesmerized by the tales of remote and dangerous Indian tribes, who would engage in open hostilities towards invaders, with ambushes, poisonous blow guns, head hunters, terrible insects, snakes and other unimaginable critters. Just all that wildness, which we couldn’t get to fast enough!

Even the flight from Bogota on a little DC3- was awe inspiring, hours and hours droning over an emerald sea, with monstrous brown and black snakes below us, meandering thousands of Kilometers to the Atlantic Ocean. That is exactly the fascination the absolute solitude, this feeling of a primeval world remote from human touch, stuffed and bursting with billions of life forms beyond imagination. The uncountable shades of green, the wispy white vapors streaming upwards to form the daily thunderclouds. The sanctity of it all, this such pristine purity of nature, the immensity of innumerable creatures in every size shape and form, the architecture of each and every leaf, as many as stars in the universe. It is all indelibly engraved in my brain and I refuse to destroy those images, by dwelling on the reality of today and what this “modern” world has done to that true Garden of Eden.

Then, the snakes had not yet discovered the apples. Eve and Adam for that matter were still running around as the Good Lord made them with all their grass skirts, the war paints on their bodies and respect for every living thing around them.

But of course, “Sin” was on the way! And it tumbled out of those little airplanes which cruise up and down along that thousands of miles long river, bringing missionaries.
But that was after we had spent a week In Leticia, with nothing to do but explore the surroundings by amongst other means taking a dugout across the river ( the width of a lake) to Brazil , together with an assortment of other locals trying to get to their abodes, all wrapped in colorful tablecloths against the rain and spray.

The obligatory motor breakdown caused some excitement, as we swept down the river for miles and miles and miles, finally getting stuck on one of those millions of floating islands, picked up by the Brazilian border police, going back up the river in their very fast motorboat under lightning bolts of ferocious intensity and almost drowning in the deluge just be breathing, plus getting hypothermia. We did eventually get to a so-called hotel, a wooden contraption on 5 meter high stilts and into dry bunk beds. These were built high up off the floor, so you would not drown in your own bed when the brown murky waters would suddenly come gurgling up through the floor planks. All very well designed for the frequent rising and lowering of the river’s water levels during storms. Anyway – a bed is a bed and highly appreciated.

So, it was with excitement that we awaited the plane, just to get out of there. So we, amongst the rest of the villagers, joined the great weekly thrill and climbed up on the one and only truck, to hobble through mud holes and dripping vegetation to meet the plane.
Now, a little step ladder was attached to an opening on that very flat looking airplane. An astounding number of people for such a small aircraft stumbled to the ground. Many of them were very Nordic looking children, equipped with guitars.

Everyone now huddled together with rather puzzled looks on their faces- as no one really knew what to expect, realizing that for the day the journey had come to an end. We joined the throng and very quickly learned that we were surrounded by a couple of missionary families. After a considerable palaver with the crew, which also joined the crowd, we learned that the real problem was that there were not enough beds in town for everyone , since it would take a couple of days for another plane to come all the way from Manaus to bring new tires.

With that the whole crowd climbed up onto the back of the truck and off we chugged along the several kilometers to the village. While we all hung on the metal rain tarp bars, I started to chat with the gentleman crushed next to me, joining in in the most perfect English conversation.

Oh yes, they came from some village, hours down river where they were busy doing a wonderful job converting all those sinful savages into proper Christians. Ah, and they were on their way to a big Baptist Missionary meeting somewhere up river!

Really, I did not realize that the whole place was infested with more of that ilk! Seeing that their first job focus once they arrive in the “wilderness” is putting a pair of pants on those shamefully naked humans, I am not very fond of these “civilizing” efforts of the church. Ah, yes the church. It also turned out, that this same Mr. Missionary happens to come from Toronto, my home town and not only that but the very same church on Bathurst street that I had my Lutheran confirmation years ago. No wonder they all spoke such excellent “Canadian” English.

So, we trundled along through all that wet foliage slapping our faces while wondering how it is that one meets up in the jungle with people from Bathurst street. When we arrived at the village, we jumped off the back of the truck and as I landed in the mud, he turned to me and warned “ AND DON’T FORGET THE LORD IS YOUR SAVIOUR!”.

Just WHO needed the saving here?????

File was edited, added ‘Introduction by Chris Clarke’.