Alligator Canoe Ride

Joy- Welcome to Ron’s Adventures,” the podcast that highlights the good, the bad, and the, well, let’s just say interesting adventures Ron Pearce has experienced during his 30-plus years following God around the world. With me in the studio are Ron and Charis Pearce. Welcome back guys, I can’t wait to hear what you have for us today.

Ron- Well today, Joy, we are going to be going to the Amazon River in the middle of Brazil.

Joy- Sounds exciting!

Ron- Well, it was back in probably the 1990s I think, and we were down there, it was revolving around an organization called Project Amazon, better known as PAZ, and they were fostering and sponsoring church planting operations up and down the Amazon River. We went with the leader, his name was Luke Huber. Now eventually, two years after this he died in an ultralight crash right on the Amazon River. But before this, we went for a ride up the Amazon River in this riverboat. This was a metal boat that was about 40 feet long. So we went for this ride to go see some of the operations, some of the churches, and the villages along the Amazon. This one night we went upriver and we docked. This was on an island that actually moved down the Amazon River and the current there eroded the island and took, I think they said, about a quarter of a mile off each year, off one end of the island and deposited it on the back end of the island. So this was an island eroding, building itself, and moving at the same time.

Joy- It’s moving down the river, this island?

Ron- Yes, a little bit of the front end is eaten away by the current and somehow it’s added on to the back end and it just moves.

Joy- So it doesn’t get bigger or smaller it just stays the same.

Ron- Apparently, from what they told us, it just moves. And in the middle of this, obviously this wouldn’t be long term, but there was a lagoon. This was a little lake or a lagoon right in the middle of it and we stopped there right at sunset, and we were going across to this church meeting, on the island just past the lagoon. It was a church building that was up on stilts because every year when the Amazon flooded, the water would come up and flood the island as a whole. They would have to move their cattle and everything to higher ground and this church was only accessible by boat for a few months. This was where we were going that night. This wasn’t the wet season or flood season, it was just dry ground with this lagoon in the middle. This lagoon, I tell you, it was dark and eerie. So we go and dock on this island and we get into this canoe. This canoe was made out of a big tree where they hollowed out the middle and changed it into a boat. We sat very low in the water, so much so that when we got all our supplies, all the people on board, and the two rowers, one at the front and one at the back, we only had an inch or two between the top of the boat and the water level. So I was sitting in the bottom of the canoe, there were no seats, and looking out, and when the sun goes down on the Amazon, it’s right on the equator. When it goes down, it goes down! I mean it went from light and within a few minutes it was absolutely pitch black. So here we are going in this darkness, this blackness, across the lagoon to the other side and I said to the fellows who were paddling for us, Are there any alligators or crocodiles in here?” They call them caiman down there. And they said, Oh yeah, there are a few.” And then he took his flashlight and shone it out over the water in the darkness. All of a sudden all these eyes were all around us, we were totally surrounded! And some of them were no more than ten feet away from us! All these eyes started to shine back at us and I thought, oh this is dangerous! So very carefully they paddled to shore, the alligators didn’t do anything to us, we got out and we had this church service. It was fantastic! People were singing, they brought their Bibles, they all came in by boat or walking on the island and it was the whole island almost that had accepted the Lord. They had the whole family there. This was a midweek service, they were doing Bible study, I still remember the chalkboard up there and they were doing Campus Crusade material on this. And then the excitement really began. After the church service which was about two to three hours long, some little boys thought it would be great to go and capture some baby caiman, baby alligators, and let them loose inside the church so all the little girls would scream. So I was screaming more than they were. So we must have had about 20 of these little alligators.

Joy- When you say little alligators…

Ron- Oh, they were about a foot or foot and a half long.

Joy- So adorable.

Ron- I guess. They had little mouths on them, an inch, inch and a half long with little razor teeth. When those things clamped on, they didn’t let go. So these little boys threw these into the church and everyone was screaming and running around and up on chairs. The boys were laughing and laughing. So we left that, but then some of the teenage guys, they took me outside and said, Hey, come with us! We’ll show you what we’re going to do now.” So we walk down this pathway to basically the lagoon but in another part where it turned into a swamp. We went down there and the guy said, We’re going to go caiman wrestling tonight.” I said, You’re what?” He said, Watch!” So they had all these big, full-size alligators down in the swamp area, the teenage boys would take these spears and they had them mounted sort of like on a stick with a big elastic band on the end and they would throw the spear back and then propel it really fast with the elastic band and it would go whistling through the air. So they went down on the edge of this swamp where all these alligators were and they shot this thing into the water. They had flashlights highlighting where the alligators were and all of a sudden, one of these spears would hit an alligator and it would start thrashing around. Then one of the boys would rush in and wrestle one of the alligators that had just been hit, he’d take his knife with him, kill it and all the guys would drag it back onshore. I was watching this and I’m thinking, these guys are crazy!

Joy- Well, I’m feeling sorry for the alligator at this point in the story.

<p>Alligator in the water.</p>
And then he took his flashlight and shone it out over the water in the darkness. All of a sudden all these eyes were all around us, we were totally surrounded!

Ron- I couldn’t care less about the alligator. I’m standing in the darkness with a flashlight, probably 30 feet away from an alligator that’s thrashing around with a teenager on the back end of it just holding on for dear life trying to kill it. And then they would drag it to shore, because this was food too, and they would cook it up. So all these guys come walking up to me and say, How was that?” I said, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life!” These are all Christian kids and this was their sport! Then one of the young guys says, Would you like to try it now?” I said, Are you kidding?? There is no way!”

So that was my adventure that night, going across the lagoon with alligators, or caiman, as they call them, going to an incredible church service and after watching teenage boys on the Amazon River do what they do.

Joy- Do you think they did it for your benefit, like a special occasion?

Ron- No, no. Well, maybe this was a party in their thinking but it seems like they have done this many times before.

Joy- And how many years ago was this?

Ron- I don’t know, 25 years ago?

Joy- And now you’re older, you’re wiser, you have regrets. Do you wish you had wrestled with these alligators?

Ron- Not one! The only regret I have is that I went across this lagoon with all those alligators around us in the darkness! That was crazy! But we came out fine. At the moment you don’t get too scared, it’s funny, and you just look at it as an adventure. Afterwards, you sit there and you really shake. Another event, this is an add-on to this story, we left the island and went back to town but the next day they had this rainstorm. In the Amazon River, when it rains, you’ve never seen a rainstorm like this! I was amazed! It’s rivers of water. Santarem was the little town we were in and it is sort of up on a bit of a hill and all the streets feed down to the Amazon on the docks. The guys were talking about this rainstorm that was coming and said we better all get prepared for it. So we were going home and I looked at this guy, he wasn’t one of our folks, but it was a neighbor, and he was taking this big thick rope, probably about an inch in diameter and they have these old type of VW Beetles, that was the major car in that part of the world back in those days, and he took one end of the rope and tied one end to the bottom of a telephone pole and took the other end and tied it to the back bumper of his Volkswagen. I looked at this guy and I was sort of laughing at him sort of like, this is a strange thing. I’ve never seen this before. So I said to one of the young guys we were walking with, what is he doing? He says, Oh, he’s just tying up his car.” Okay, that’s interesting. And so we carried on.

Joy- You didn’t ask further questions as to why? {laughter}

Ron- No, I didn’t want to seem so stupid, like of course, everybody in North America ties up their cars like a horse. So I went home and then the rain started. I mean, this was a Noah’s flood event! There were rivers of water going down the streets, it was torrential! Then we would look into the river afterwards, and we would see things floating around. Well, I know now why the guy tied up his Volkswagen Beetle! Because we saw somebody that forgot to. There was a car floating down the Amazon River and it was a Volkswagen Beetle. And it went for so long and then just sunk. So I thought, that is how they lose their cars here, they don’t tie them up to a telephone pole. Those are the sort of things if you are on the Amazon that you learn fast what’s going on.

Charis- When you were on the Amazon, didn’t you swim in the Amazon and there were piranhas there?

Ron- Oh yeah. Early in the morning, the sun goes down at six and comes up at six, and we were sleeping in our hammocks on the riverboat. We get up in the morning at six o’clock, the sun’s coming up, the water was just as clear as crystal in this one part and so everybody says, Okay, time to go and take a bath.” So everybody took their bar of soap into the water and we’re swimming around there taking a bath. And all of a sudden, something slithered by my leg and I thought, oh, I think that was a snake. And I thought oh boy, I’m in trouble now. You can see everything around and Luke says to me, Oh no, that’s just piranhas.” Oh really, piranhas?” He said, Yeah, they have enough to eat,” and I forget all the details but it was something like this, but they will only eat flesh when there is nothing else to eat and they were full of other things so they didn’t attack us.

Joy- How confident were they that they were full of other things? {laughter}

And all of a sudden, something slithered by my leg and I thought, oh, I think that was a snake.

Ron- I don’t know but apparently they eat berries on the riverbank and that would fill them up when it was partially flooding and there were other things that they would eat so he said it doesn’t seem that there was any problem. So here we are taking a bath in the Amazon, crystal clear warm water, getting on from that, and going out to see all the churches. We went to this one village and I still remember pulling up to the village and it was all new Christians, had to be about 200 of them, all brand new believers. They were farming and they didn’t ever use money, they only bartered so they transferred their goods. So they wanted to buy outreach materials like some Bibles and some tracts and other things like that and I think they needed musical instruments. They needed cash to buy it so they decided to take this plot of land and grow vegetables and take the vegetables into town on the boats and sell them in the markets to be able to get some actual cash to buy the goods that they needed for church. They had never done this before. Nobody had ever operated with cash. So I still remember we had landed there and talking to the villagers when all of a sudden this boat pulls up and all these guys that had gone in town with their vegetables, they were dancing on top of the boat, all waving this cash in their hands over their heads having a party thinking, We’ve got cash! We’ve got cash!” It was the first time they had ever held money in their hands and it was to buy Bibles, musical instruments, and whatever other stuff they were going to buy. But it was sort of exciting to see these new believers that felt purpose and they did whatever it took to get all the materials that were necessary. We talked to them afterwards, and I still remember some of the teenage boys saying there was another little village over there we are going to go for tonight. I said, What are you going to do?” And they said, We’re going to go over there and tell them about Jesus.” And he said, If we pool all of our knowledge about Jesus I’m sure we’ll have the full picture.” In other words, they were all new believers, all working together as a team, it’s a village sort of mentality. Our village is going to go to that village. That’s exciting, even more than wrestling with alligators and swimming with piranhas, is seeing people accept Jesus in an innocent sort of way. That is exciting.

Joy- So Charis, one quick question before we end this broadcast. You heard the possibility of your dad wrestling with an alligator. Had you been there at that time would you have said yes? Let our listeners know, is that something you might have done?

Charis- Not even a thought! If you think Dad is cautious, no. {laughter}

Joy- I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have even gone down the path to the adventure to see.

Charis- No, not on my list.

Joy- Okay, well, you guys have been listening to another episode of Ron’s Adventures,” the podcast that reminds us that if you don’t tie your car up in the Amazon during a rainstorm, you just might lose it! Join us next time! Thanks!

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