Once Jeff signed off for his two white-girl guests, we were off again, this time in a gondola, riding up to the base of the glacier.
I actually don’t remember much of the ride, except trying to pay more attention to what I was seeing outside the gondola, instead of sneaking peeks at someone inside the gondola.
At some point during the bus ride and the gondola ride, we learned that Jeff was a backpacker. His role on the team consisted of a lot of hiking on long trips, and searching things out. He learned that both us girls had a heart for missions, and that I particularly felt drawn to this town – this people group, whereas Latin America was more B’s style.
Once we were out of the gondola, at the base of the glacier, Jeff cautioned us to take it slowly. The air was thinner up here, and we still had a good way to travel by foot – uphill on wooden steps – to get a close, and breathtaking view.
B took off in a fury, as she is want to do most anything in life. She just tackles it. I took a bit more time. After all, our lungs were used to thick and muggy New Orleans air, below sea level. I’m surprised we didn’t pass out from altitude sickness.
We meandered our way to the top, weaving past Chinese tour groups, all dressed in matching yellow t-shirts, sporting matching yellow umbrellas- until we made it to the top to see the breathtaking view.
Only, there wasn’t one.
It was so foggy that day, the glacier was completely hidden. I’d seen close-up pictures of the glacier before, and here was our handsome tour guide pointing to where it was, right there in front of us, but all we could see was a wall of thick fog… It was a little eery to think that something that huge and beautiful and majestic was just a few yards from our faces and we couldn’t even see it.
Jeff apologized that we had come that far, and maybe he thought we were disappointed, but we weren’t. We all stood to rest for a few minutes on a large, wooden platform. Maybe Jeff thought if we waited a bit the fog would clear. No matter. I was happy to be there.
Once again, he pulled off his backpack and unzipped it, pulling out more treasures. Mini cans of Pringles, and a few snickers bars. (Some of the few ‘Western’ treats you can buy in that Chinese town.)
“I thought you might be hungry when we reached the top, and you’ve used up a lot of energy walking up in this altitude, so you need to replenish,” he said.
He had thought of bringing provisions for us? This time I purposefully took note of the thoughtful gesture… And the hint of leadership in his character…
We happily ate our snacks in peace and began to make our way back down the wooden steps, careful not to slip.
Somehow the ride down was a blurr – the day was going by too quickly. I wondered if Jeff would leave us at the end of the bus-ride back to town and head back to his rugged, back-packer life.
We crowded onto the bus, B and I sharing a bench seat with a few Chinese tourists, and Jeff positioning himself sideways so he could talk with us a bit more. He dug a little deeper into the conversation, asking questions about where we came from, and what we see ourselves doing in the future. I knew well enough that he was partially debriefing us, for we were at the end of our trip to that region. But it seemed he was personally and genuinely interested as well.
We had to be careful in conversation, since it was probable that many folks sitting around us could understand English. And well, if we went off spatting about how we wanted to spread the Gospel and see many converts for Jesus, … Well, things may not end well. So, much of our conversation was sprinkled with ‘code’ words.
Soon, the rowdy back row of Chinese guys and gals pushed forward in their seat and wanted to practice their English with us. It took about 2 seconds for us all to realize one of the guys was flirting, and then he asked if B or I were married or had a boyfriend. I think B said she didn’t need a boyfriend… And I – hating this kind of attention – stated that I had a boyfriend already, hoping they would leave us alone and my face could turn back to it’s normal shade.
As soon as “I have a boyfriend,” left my lips, my immediate string of thoughts went something like, Oh no, now he thinks I have a boyfriend…. Like it matters… What am I crazy? Who cares? No, I can’t leave him thinking I have a boyfriend.
So just in case, I quickly added, loud enough for Jeff to hear, “Yeah, my boyfriend’s initials are JC.”
Lame, I know.
I felt pretty dumb.
But there was no back-paddling at that point. And the message was there, and I was pretty sure Jeff was smart enough to pick it up.
The bus raced on down the bumpy road and the rowdy back seat turned back to themselves. And our conversation picked back up again. Jeff explained that we were headed to the university on the outskirts of town, where he and some of the other team members lived and studied Mandarin – he thought we might like to see the school.
I was very interested to see the school, since I had been asked before by the team supervisor if I wanted to move there and join the team. And I was happy to know that our time with our friendly, inquisitive tour guide wasn’t ending just yet.
“And K & S (team leaders) made spaghetti for lunch for us,” he added.
We hopped off the bus and begin to make our way to the school, walking through a tall gate, and meandering down a walkway, around a few buildings, to the foreign students’ dormitory.
K and his wife S were already dear to my heart. At this time, they had no children (they now have five) and they always have been a shining example of Godliness during every moment I have spent with them.
B and I helped fix plates and we all sat down at the round table that took up most of the space in K & S’s small, semi-outdoor kitchen. (Kitchens were separate from dorm rooms & suites.) The air was perfect, though flies buzzed all around. (I soon learned this was fly season.) A strip of sticky tape hung from the ceiling in the corner of the room, and at least 50 flies were stuck to the tape.
I admired the meal that S had prepared for us. Delicious spaghetti with bread and butter and salad. At that time I knew little of what kind of hard work it took to make an American meal like that, but I still admired it.
The meal was lovely and I was happy that K & S took over most of the conversation, so that I wouldn’t have to fight off blushing and squirming every time Jeff looked my direction. Soon, lunch was finished and Jeff announced that we were off on another adventure. But first, he had to retrieve something from his dorm room, which was a few yards from the kitchen. He invited B and me to follow.
Jeff pushed back the fly-netting, which I then noticed was in front of every room door, and turned the key in the lock. We followed him in, leaving the door open, but letting the fly netting fall back into place. He went over to the laptop on the desk and began telling us about the newsletter that he would regularly write and email back home to friends and family.
“Do you girls want to be on the mailing list?”
Of course we did!
He wrote down each of our email addresses. I tried not to smile too much when I told him my email address: “write_mulan@…”
I tried not to wonder if this were his was him finding a way to stay in contact with us…
Then it was time for the next adventure.
“Okay, I want to take you to play my favorite game here in town,” he said. “We call it Road Rage.”
We both gave him inquisitive looks.
He walked over to a built-in closet and opened the door.
“But first we need these,” he said
B and I peered into the closet and watched as he pulled out…. a gun?
…… to be continued…..