We have been climbing for three hours now. The mountainside here in the Amazon rainforest is covered with a green blanket of trees, and below this massive cover, the ground is quilted with a continuous tangle of roots. These roots act as a kind of stairway up. The path we are following is not steep in most places because it winds up the mountain, but at times, the roots offer us the only way up. My family and I decided to climb up this path of roots and occasional bare ground to see the cascades from the summit.
The air is thick with mist and slow rain. We are wet with sweat, but the sweet, moist air keeps us cool as we struggle from one root to another. Eventually, we reach the next stretch of bare pathway that will ease our way for a short distance before the roots once again take over.
The whole jungle is quiet during this long ascent. Every once in a while, a toucan squawks and the shrill cry of a parrot occasionally breaks this silence. Mostly, all we hear is the sound of our own breathing as we climb.
I climb just ahead of Beatriz, my wife, so I can lean down during the more difficult spots to offer her my hand and help her up. You see, she is six months pregnant. Kirk, our 13-year-old son, stays ahead of us, and Lori, our athletic 12-year-old daughter, keeps ahead of him. Occasionally, I call them back to keep our family together, but it isn’t long before they are both blazing up ahead.
In front of me is my brother-in-law, Jose, a native of this area, and on his shoulders is our treasure. Jose reaches forward with one hand to grab the next branch or tree and pull himself up. With his other hand, however, he reaches up behind his head and holds Emilia, our 20-month-old baby, firmly upon his shoulders. She has a good grip on his head even though her cheek rocks and bounces as it rests upon his hair. She is fast asleep.
Now, after this arduous climb, I hear, “Oh, my gosh!” from Lori, who is still a good way ahead, and then, “Waaoow!” from Kirk as they reach a clearing right before the summit. Jose reaches this spot next, but only sits down on a fallen tree to rest. He is accustomed to such scenery.
I have been basically climbing up the mountain backward in order to reach back and help Beatriz along. She is one strong woman. Her face is covered with perspiration, but her eyes are filled with determination. As she makes her final steps up and then past me, I hear the whispered words: “Mi Dios!” (My God!) Finally, I take that last step up and turn to see what they have already found.
Three long hours, and many moments when we thought we’d never make it, are rewarded with the sight of a mist-enshrouded jungle that seems endless. The forest stretches out in green swells over mountains and hills as if the jungle is a quiet sea. From three distant mountains, one in front and two to the right, flow the crystal waters of cascades that fall from the green walls of the jungle and disappear far below into the green depths of the jungle floor.
The pastel blue sky above us is darkening into a soft purple as the sun lies down behind the mountains. Looking out along the horizon, we witness an explosion of bright colors and watch as it slowly deepens into the darkness. We know it’s time for us to head back to our cars, not far from the summit on which we stand, but first we have to breathe in this extraordinary sight: proof of the majesty of God.
Walker Guerard lives in Mount Pleasant with his wife, Beatriz, and three daughters: Lori, Emilia and Sophia. His only son, Kirk, died at 17 from leukemia. He has taught English for 20 years, the last eight at the Military Magnet Academy, where he is the language arts department head. He has written a novel, “The Stream,” published through Deep River Books.