by Randy Anderson
For two decades Tyler Gibbons has been keeping a secret from his family. At the tender age of sixteen, Tyler embarks on a student exchange program. Sent to the Andean city of Ambato, Ecuador, he finds daily adventure as he tries to fit in at school, connect with his host family, and navigate through a world of beaches, volcanoes, and jungles. But tucked deep inside this year are events so profound, so unexpected, they forever shape the man he will become.
Now, 25 years later, his mother pulls these soaring tales from her son, exposing, for the first time, the source of a deep unhappiness. While these memories contain the wounds of an unresolved past, they also possess the power to heal his painful present.
Thoughtfully crafted and boldly told, Tyler’s journey takes the reader on a wild South American adventure, while illuminating a mother’s unyielding power to heal her child.
Read an excerpt:
The boat came to a stop at a shallow riverbank. We were greeted by an olive-skinned man in his forties with shoulder-length hair and an unruly beard. He resembled a castaway, but with more muscle.
“Welcome to the Amazon,” he said, helping the ladies off the boat. “My name is Xavier. I will be your guide for the next two days. Please take only what you need for one night and leave the rest with the boatsman. He will take your things to camp by boat.”
“From here we will hike two hours to camp. There you can relax in the hammock, go swimming, and enjoy a nice dinner in the evening.” Xavier was very welcoming with his choppy English. We’d learn later that he was born in Bolivia and educated in Germany. His love for the study of biology would take him to exotic places all around the world. He was a charismatic free spirit.
“First thing first,” Xavier said. “Everyone needs to put on these boots.” He pointed to a line of knee-high rubber boots. “They are not the most ideal for hiking, but it’s been very wet, so the ground is soft. Do not be surprised if you sink one half . . . maybe one meter into the earth.” We were looking around in disbelief. “If this happens, do not panic. Just relax. Don’t wiggle. Signal for my attention. I will come and help you free.”
“Help us free?” I whispered to Peter.
“Yes, help you free.” Xavier’s ears were keen. “It is sometimes very difficult to free yourself from this earth, so use caution. Now we go.” He began walking up the bank and suddenly stopped.
“Also, you will see me eat things. Do not eat things unless I give them. If you do, you may die. I’m very sorry for this but it is your own fault. Don’t eat anything unless I give you,” he repeated. “I won’t give you everything I eat. Why? Because not all are good. Eating plant is not about good plant and bad plant. It is about good plant at good time. Not good plant at bad time. And there is never good time to eat bad plant. So no eating unless I give it. Okay? Now we go.” We all nodded and started following him up the hill. Once again he suddenly stopped.
“Also, do not touch things. Sometimes, plants have defenses that will make you very sick, or will make you die. Sometimes plants have insects on them that will sting or bite you. This can also make you very sick or die. Sometimes plant isn’t plant but insect. These are very cool and most won’t sting or bite you. If you see this, do not touch but alert me so that I can show you. Okay?” I was relieved that at least one thing wasn’t going to kill me.
“It’s like we’re marching into certain death,” Peter said as we laughed.
“Also,” Xavier said, “one last thing, and then we go. Sometimes, plants or bug touch you. This happens. Plants grow over trail, bugs fly through air and hit you. This will happen. Mostly you’ll be okay. Maybe, once in a while, this makes you sick or kills you. It’s very sad and I’m sorry. This is not your fault.” He paused for a second. “Oh, the animals. I almost forgot the animals! The jungle is full of many animals. Do not touch the animals. Some are very dangerous. Not as dangerous as the plants and bugs, but there is still danger. Watch where you step. The snakes and rodents will sometimes use our trail. The snakes are dangerous. The rodents are unpleasant. Either way, try not to step on them. Sometimes a snake will drop from the tree. This is bad. But not very often. If you feel pee, don’t look up. Monkey pee stings the eyes. Very bad. Okay, now we go.”
Finally Xavier’s disclaimer was over and we were off on our certain-death march. Whatever fear of the forest he’d put into our hearts vanished under the beauty of the canopy. The sounds of life we’d been hearing beneath the rumble of the bus amplified tenfold. The jungle was electrifying. Sunlight filtered down to the ground in ever-changing locations, spotlighting endless shades of green.
Randy Anderson is a novelist and playwright. His first book was published in 2011. On Making Off recounted his adventures running The Beggars Group, a downtown theater company that produced over two dozen productions at the turn of the millennium. He is also the author of several plays including; Kill the President, The Dwelling, and Yippie! Randy currently lives in Brooklyn where he writes, reasons, and reacts. You can contact him at www.onmakingoff.com, or on twitter @onmakingoff.
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