How a sprained ankle led to an unexpected boat ride on the Amazon with an Apostle

I didn’t get to do a lot of sightseeing while traveling on assignments during my Church News career. Usually, I saw what lay between airports, hotels and stake centers or venues for area conferences, and temples when I covered their dedications. Thanks to a minor accident, I had the opportunity of seeing a major attraction, the Amazon River.

Here’s how that came about: On Sunday, Oct. 16, 1988, I was working as a reporter and photographer covering the creation of the Church’s 1,700th stake. Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided over the creation of the Manaus Brazil Stake, which was the first stake in the Amazon Basin and the 57th formed in Brazil.

In that same meeting, Elder Haight dedicated the just-completed meetinghouse that would be the center for the new stake. The meeting drew the largest number of Latter-day Saints to gather, to that date, in the city of Manaus and its environs — 1,165 of the 5,850 members living there. All rooms in the meetinghouse were filled, and a large overflow crowd listened from outside.

As the meeting ended, I realized I would have a great photo opportunity. I hurried out the main door, rushed down a sidewalk and got into a position to capture photos of a large crowd exiting the building. It would be a photo worthy of Church history records.

The Solimões Rio, top, and the Rio Negro, bottom.
The Solimões Rio, top, and the Rio Negro, bottom. Credit: Shutterstock photo

While focusing one of two cameras, I moved just a few inches, not realizing I was standing on the edge of a curb. As I began falling, my instinct was to grab hold of my cameras and camera bag, which held three lenses. Protecting my gear, I had little choice but to try to regain my footing by trying to keep my balance. The result: I fell and sustained a severely sprained ankle. Some kind-hearted members helped me up. I couldn’t put any weight on my foot. I was helped back into the meetinghouse where Elder Haight asked me what had happened. He and President Paulo R. Grahl of the Brazil Brasília Mission gave me a blessing. Some members gave me a ride to my hotel and, pushing me in a wheelchair, helped get me settled in my room. The hotel manager sent a nurse to wrap my ankle. She brought a pair of crutches.

I spent a rather miserable night. On Monday morning I managed to get up and dressed but I doubted I could make my way along extremely long corridors with several turns to the hotel lobby, where I hoped to do some interviews.

As I was wondering how I would manage, my room’s telephone rang. When I answered, I heard a kind voice saying, “Hello, Gerry. This is David.” I didn’t know anyone named David who would be calling me. After a moment, he said, “David Haight.” He said he was going to come to my room and push me in a wheelchair to the lobby so I could go on a boat ride with him and his wife, Sister Ruby Haight, and a few local members.

My first thought wasn’t, “Oh great! I’m going to get to see the Amazon River!” It was, “I can’t let an 82-year-old man — an apostle — push me all that distance.” I thought quickly on my one good foot and told him I’d make arrangements to get myself to the lobby. He was reluctant to give in, but finally did so.

I had a list of local members staying at the hotel, called one of them, and asked if someone could come to my room with a wheelchair in order to keep Elder Haight from undertaking that task. Within minutes my wheelchair escort was knocking on the door.

I was assisted onto the boat and enjoyed a ride on the Amazon, where I saw one of Brazil’s major tourist attractions — “the meeting of the waters.” This phenomenon happens as the dark waters of the Rio Negro and the pale waters of the Solimões River flow side by side without mixing for nearly four miles.

I went on assignment to several dozen countries. That boat ride on the Amazon was one of only a handful of sightseeing opportunities.