Venice had been on my bucket list ever since I had a bucket list. A city with water ways instead of streets and boats instead of cars? I’m in. I think that Venice was the best way we could have ended our adventure, because we literally had nothing on our agenda but to get lost wandering. Gelato and the most beautiful pastries are for sale at every street corner. String quartets fill Saint Mark’s Square with music. Laundry hangs out of windows. White haired couples stroll hand in hand. Artists find inspiration at every turn. Fog rolls off the water by lunch everyday. Venice is idyllic.
After exploring Cinque Terre, we rented a car and spent a day driving through the rolling hills of Tuscany.
Forget Disney, Cinque Terre might just be the most magical place on earth. Stretching along Italy’s north-western coast, these five towns contained inside a national park, absolutely lived up to their hype. The inclines are steep if you’re hiking, but if you reward yourself with some fresh lemon slush or gelato, it’s so worth it. Colorful houses dot the cliffs and the salty Mediterranean is just a jump away. Hands down, this was my favorite part of our trip.
The water was so clear and blue and warm!
We watched the sun set over Manarola, perhaps the most famous of the five cities. Painters and photographers crowded the path as the sun sank into the sea.
“Italy. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see western civilization. It is such a happy place. Violinists and accordion players fill the streets with there beautiful songs. History practically smacks you in the face. You can barely walk 100 yards without running into something ancient. Laundry hangs from windows, golden light is around every corner, old men with white hair sit on park benches reading the morning news. Oh Rome, you are a dream.”
Our first night in Italy, we watched the sun set from the top of the Spanish steps, and ate pizza and gelato for dinner
We took a guided tour of the Coliseum – so incredible! There were 28 trap doors built under the floor, so the gladiators would never know where something would come from next.
Trevi Fountain and Manertime Prison, where Paul was imprisoned
Where chariots raced at the Circus Maximus
“Africa. It’s pretty crazy to step foot on five continents in five months. Africa is a sensory barrage. Walk through a crowded market street and you’ll encounter burrows pulling carts, motorcycles racing by, pedestrians window shopping, vendors vying for your attention, snake charmers, monkeys on leashes, not to mention the smells of the leather, spices, and food that are being sold there…”
Somewhere along the trip planning line, one of us – neither one of us is owning up to it- decided that Morocco would be a cool place to go. It was cool. For like the first two hours. And then I think we were both ready to be done. The heat, the noise, the smell, the constant pressure to buy things, quickly became overwhelming. Most afternoons we would return to our Riad exhausted, take a nap, cool down in the pool, and then work up the energy to brave the city to find some dinner.
One day, we escaped the hustle of the city and drove out to the desert for a hot air balloon ride.
After the hot air balloon ride, we went to a palm grove and rode camels. Although the whole experience was somewhat overpriced, getting away for awhile was definitely worth it!
Our last day we went on an architectural tour of the city, which was pretty cool too.
After our London layover, we had an overnight in the Venice airport and then on to Barcelona. Our cousins were in Europe at the same time we were, mainly to tour Scotland and Ireland, but we decided to meet up in Barcelona for a day!
We were there during Catalonia’s referendum to succeed from Spain, so there was a pretty heavy police presence, some demonstrations, and lots of people out voting.
Dan and I rented a car and drove from Barcelona to Espot to do some hiking at Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park. The drive there was beautiful.
We stayed at a hostel in the town run by an elderly Spanish couple.
The park was gorgeous. We spent the whole day hiking.
Because of the revolution going on, almost all of the roads going back into Barcelona were closed, so we had to keep taking detours. It wasn’t all bad though…
We spent our last night in Spain in Sitges, a costal town right outside of Barcelona. We could see the ocean from our room, and we ate dinner at a restaurant overlooking the coast.
I *love* London. I think it’s the fact that there’s history at every turn and I can understand the language. Or maybe it’s the bright Union Jack flying everywhere, the double decker busses, and the bright red telephone booths on every corner. Or because I grew up loving Sherlock Holmes and C.S. Lewis. Whatever the reason, I was so excited that when Dan and I booked flights to Europe for last fall, our itineraries had us meeting up in London with a seven hour layover. My flight was delayed (story of my life last year), so it ended up being more like a five hour layover, but we packed some of our favorite London sights in.
Shortly after I returned home from Thailand in 2013, I began partnering with Compassion International to sponsor a little girl there. Through the years I added another girl from India, and then one from Ecuador (who I got to meet in person in 2016). Last winter, the Indian government forced Compassion out of India, so I transferred that sponsorship to another little girl in Ecuador. We’ve exchanged letters and pictures over the months and years of sponsorship. It never fails to brighten my day when I get a letter and a drawing from one of my little girls. Last year, I was blessed to visit all three of them in person.
I’ve sponsored Suwanni for over four years. She has a sister and a brother and she lives with her grandmother. Although she lives a good eight hours outside the city, her mother works in Bangkok. It wasn’t until my most recent trip to Thailand, where I actually spent time walking through the Red Light district there, that I realized how much Compassion International means to girls like Suwanni. Her education is being paid for. Medical expenses are covered. Her parents aren’t forced to sell her for money. We met in Chiang Mai for the afternoon. She had never been to a big city before. She was full of wide-eyed wonder. We took her to the zoo, where she fed sheep and elephants, and walked through an aquarium. She tried her first slice of pizza for lunch. I saw girls Suwanni’s age outside the red light district begging for money. Common sense says that in a few short years, they will be inside working for it. I am so, so grateful for Compassion and the work that they are doing in Asia and across the globe. And I’m so blessed that Suawanni is part of my life.
July found me back on Ecuador’s coast in the little fishing village of Rocafuerte. Seeing these two smiling faces was definitely a bright spot of the trip.Guadalupe lives with her mom and brother. Sometimes her dad comes home, sometimes he doesn’t. Genesis lives with her mom and seven siblings in a one bedroom house. Her dad was murdered two years ago. These girls are growing up in a dark place. But I am so thankful that they are learning about Jesus at the Compassion project.
Being able to see these girls and spend time with them in person was such a gift. You realize that your sponsorship is so much more that just sending money every month. There’s a face behind that money. A person that’s being cared for. A soul that’s being fed.
Sometimes, at the end of a mission trip, you feel like you saw the heavens open and mountains move. Other times, you’re left with more questions than answers and you wonder if you made a difference. Ecuador 2017 was the later for me. So many things just seemed so hard. The trip was marked by transportation troubles – a surprise refueling in Jamaica and return to Fort Lauderdale on the front end, bus confiscations and breakdowns in the middle, and a cancelled flight on the way out. One of those things is enough to make a trip interesting. All of them in one trip is just plain exhausting. The second week of the trip was spent working in a tiny little village on the northern coast of the country. Unemployment is high, abuse is widespread, devil worship is becoming common-place. The war for these kids’ souls was real, and, to be honest, most of the time it felt like we were losing. How any one could have heard the lessons we were trying to shout over the din of 300 noisy, high-energy kids is beyond me. The work we were doing wasn’t moving any mountains. But maybe success on the mission field looks different than my expectations. Maybe it’s not measured by the heavens opening or mountains moving. Maybe success looks like simply being there and encouraging the local church. Maybe it is continuing to give of yourself when you’re hot, tired, and sick. Maybe it looks like hugging a child who isn’t accustomed to receiving love. Maybe it’s planting seeds and having faith that someday those seeds will be strong trees, sheltering others from the storms of life. If that’s what success looks like, the members of the 2017 Ecuador summer team were wildly successful.
After the team left, a few of us stayed extra days and explored Quito and hung out with our dear translator friends
Making quimbolitos with the Utreras Family will always be one of my favorite Ecuador memories