Our Rota de Las Flores Adventure

adventure, Beautiful, El Salvador, Travel

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I’m a big fan of understated beauty. Sure, loud and glossy can be fun, but quiet and natural beauty holds the most magic for me, especially when it has a few pops of colorful surprise. The Rota de Las Flores was the perfect adventure full of such magic. Our guide, a local college student referred to us by our Airbnb host, met my husband and me early in the morning at Casa Bonita in El Tunco where we’d spent the night. She hopped in our car, and we began the long drive toward the Rota de Las Flores. We packed lots of water and snacks, because that’s how we roll, and a road trip it was!

Our first stop was Nahuizalco, where flowers and colorful murals greeted us. Locals were setting up their market stands for the day amidst a background of bright walls and the still rising glow of the sun. Each pueblo along the Rota de Las Flores has a cute little town square park, and Nahuizalco was no exception with its large, open, and clean outdoor venue. Furnished with fountains and benches, locals sat and sold items or just conversed. We could smell the puposas cooking, and I couldn’t wait to try one!

To begin the tour, our guide directed us to a small museum where we learned about the history of the Spanish colonizing El Salvador through violence. Formerly living on the island of Guam where the stories were all too similar, learning such history was sad, and yet it encouraged to us appreciate the beautiful and strong people of El Salvador. After that we shopped the tourist shops, where we bought a few adorable dresses for our daughter and finally tried puposas from an outdoor stand. They were amazing, melt-in-your-mouth amazing. Our guide treated us to a favorite local drink, horchata, which has ground peanuts in it and offers a unique flavor and texture.

It was a bit cloudy that day, and the lighting cast a dramatic hue against the curving roads as we made it toward our next stop, Juayúa (our guide told us to drive through Salcoatitán). This town was full of fun backdrops for photos, so we took some! Admiring the church there, we asked permission and quietly took a few pictures inside and outside of the building. Moseying on over to a fruit stand, we tried a local fruit called jocotes, which sort of taste like mangos and are best when they’re closer to being red, rather than green.

In Apaneca we admired another beautiful Catholic church (there is one in every pueblo), and the cooler weather at the higher altitude was so pleasant. We particularly enjoyed the floral vines hanging over the walls in this quiet pueblo. You can see the coffee plantations in the distance, and they’re beautiful.

In Coceptión de Ataco we walked slowly and enjoyed the many mosaics on the streets. We also shopped at a well-known shop, Axul. I loved this place! It’s full of local arts and crafts, everything from jewelry to clothing, wall art, pottery, and skincare. You can even see the loom where they make the brightly colored fabric. We purchased several gifts for family members.

For lunch we went to El Jardin de Celeste, a childhood favorite of our guide. It was a beautiful open-air restaurant in the midst of gardens. There were so many thoughtful and fun details. The food was delicious, and the servers were very kind. We enjoyed walking in the flower gardens after we ate.

The highly-anticipated coffee “plantation” was actually a coffee bean processing plant, but we got to see the procedure for drying and roasting different types of beans. It’s a long process! We learned about the machinery (which, amazingly, was installed in the 1930s) as well as the quality control, which is eventually done by hand. They made us a pour-over with the coffee from the area.

The day ended with wild traffic on our trek back to our new hotel. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time due to evening traffic, especially if you’re staying in San Salvador like we were. It was crazy!

While the coffee processing plant was very interesting, the best local coffee we had in El Salvador was at the Cinco Hotel restaurant in San Salvador, where we collapsed after our adventure. If you visit, be sure to taste their chocolate as well. It’s natural and so unique. Try the kind they keep in the refrigerator, our favorite by far. Hey, there’s nothing like a little treat after an adventure, right? The Rota de Las Flores was a great excursion, allowing us to experience a slower pace, natural beauty, and some fun surprises in El Salvador.

*We opted out of journeying to see the Mayan ruins and waterfalls, but if you have more time than we did, check them out for us!

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Visiting Our Sponsor Child in El Salvador

adventure, Beautiful, Christian, Christian womanhood, El Salvador, marriage, Travel

 

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For seven years we’ve sponsored a (now) young woman named Briseida in El Salvador through Compassion International. If you’re not familiar with Compassion, it’s an organization that partners with local churches and families in communities all over the world, fighting poverty and equipping children with an education, skills, and savings accounts (to name a few things!), as well as giving them access to doctors and dentists. Most importantly, the mission is to offer the hope of a brighter future in the name of Jesus.

All these years Briseida has been writing us long letters and sending us drawings. A few years ago she asked us to come visit. I was pregnant at the time and the Zika virus was a threat, so we couldn’t go, but a few weeks ago, we did it! We went to see “our” sweet girl. Mountains of paperwork, along with much thought and financial resources went into this trip–from setting up our will to travel release forms for my parents to the U.S. Embassy website advising us to change our plans due to the general violence in the country. Yikes! We belabored, asked advice, prayed, and went.

Leaving Talitha was so hard, but the time Eric and I spent together (even the stressful and chaotic) was so beautiful and growth-filled for our marriage. I’ll save the touristy days for another post, but I’m so excited to share about our final day in the country, the day we met Brieseida, her mom, her brother, and all the lovely people at her “project” (the Compassion center).

For those wondering, the project is not an orphanage, it’s a huge facility where children come to learn the Bible, music, English, and various other skills like using the computer, cosmetology, chocolate-making, shoe-making, etc. From what I understood, there is a public education system in El Salvador, but it’s half-day, and the project allows the children to receive extra coaching, teaching, and preparation to succeed (along with medical aid).

We both had butterflies as we rode the bumpy and wild ride to get to the project. Such anticipation! Upon our arrival, we were met with children holding signs and waving flags, a few little girls dressed in traditional dresses. They cheered and I tried to take in this moment while somehow not wanting so much focus on us. Simultaneously looking for Briseida and trying to enjoy each of the children was a sweet little challenge. The host told us to follow her up a flight of stairs. Then we heard someone call out and turned around to see Briseida standing in front of us.

There she was, a good four inches taller than me, long dark hair and a bit shy. She grabbed my hand as I said, “Mucho gusto” and she repeated the sentiment then began whispering to me in Spanish. In that moment I so regretted how years ago I’d stopped practicing. I had to tell her (irony of ironies) in Spanish that I didn’t speak much Spanish. After a little welcome program and tour of her amazing project (which also employs Briseida’s mom!), we went to her home.

Walking into her home, we saw our framed picture, and my hands flew to my mouth. What a precious sight to see–so humbling and sweet. Sitting with the translator we talked and shared beautiful moments that will stay deep in my heart for as long as I live.

We later went out for pizza and Facetimed with Talitha (Briseida was sad she wasn’t there, since she considers Talitha her little sister). After lunch Briseida’s tutor showed us her file–so impressive the amount of detailed records they keep. Our girl is a star performer! After lunch it was back to the project for prayer and final hugs. Also tears–so many tears.

I think Eric would agree that besides days like our wedding day or Talitha’s birth, this day was one of the best days ever. Praise God for this good gift. We are just one small part of Briseida’s success. So many love her and we are humbled to parter alongside them. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child yourself, go here. Do you already sponsor one or a few? Be sure to write them! According to the tutors, it means a lot. Enjoy a few snapshots from this special day.

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bringing Home the World: AKA Being a Pirate

Beautiful, family, home, Travel, Travel Home

I mentioned our home is small, but did I mention that it’s peppered with treasures? As a little girl, I went through this stage where I loved playing pirates with my brothers. Knowing some of the history along with the romance of pirate stories, I assured my dad that I was a “good pirate.” He informed me in his wonderful, black-and-white way that there was no such thing as a “good pirate,” for by definition, pirates were thieves and scoundrels. (People wonder why I am inclined to, in the end, value fact over feeling every single time.) However, traversing the seas and gathering a bit of plunder still appeals to me, as does cherishing truth, and my home is an expression of that little girl make-believe.

Do not read that to mean that we have piles of clunky junk. Our house is not a tiny museum; it’s our home with just a few little treasures here and there–some permanently line the walls and some we pull out on special occasions. I prefer not to have a particular place to display of them together, but to have them scattered naturally about the house. In my mind, they don’t need a designated area, because they are not a fragmented part marked “our travels.” Instead, they are representative threads of the tapestry of our lives.

I shop at Walmart and Goodwill like it’s my job and squirrel away a good percentage of the paycheck, but there are times we will purchase a special piece that reminds us of a sweet (or difficult) time in our life. There can be a strategic element to whimsy: save a lot, splurge a little. Make your home a reflection of your family and the unique life only you have lived.

Prefer to stay at home rather than travel? That is just fine. What is your area like? What kind of things represent it? I was born and raised in Indiana, and on my front porch here in South Carolina sits a bench made by my sweet dad from trees in the woods behind their house. How special is that?! Does your area lack art galleries or even artisan markets (or maybe that’s not currently in the budget)? Press indigenous flowers, gather rocks, or peruse a local antique shop in search of old photos or small art pieces that show off the place you call home. Even things like old tools and aprons can be transformed into lovely conversation pieces. And how fun is it that only you have such a piece?

Oh, and are a few of my treasures contraband from my favorite beaches? Well, you never can tell. Here I go again, trying to be a “good pirate.” Aaaarrrrgggghhhh. Please let me know what treasures you find and create.

Here are some snapshots of just a few of our pieces. More to come!

Left: Sea glass and sea treasures from the Pacific (mainly Guam and then Hawaii) and a basket I wove from a palm branch (with a lot of help from a Chamorro lady)

Right: Pressed flowers from Africa (given by an old friend)

Left: Magnets on the fridge from all our travels with a piece of drift wood in the windowsill

Right: Coasters from Cambodia and Guam

Left: Rug from downtown Charleston (originally from Istanbul). Ironwork piece from a Charleston antique shop–perhaps made by renowned Philip Simmons

Right: Mosaic–a commission piece from a local artist on Guam. Wooden bowl from Haiti

 

Happy treasure-hunting!

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

Savannah, Georgia

Beautiful, family, Travel

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Savannah. Even its name evokes feelings of warmth, ease, and a southern drawl. One of my dearest friends from college lived near Savannah, and with her being one of the most darling people on earth, I always new I had to see this lovely city. Known for being one of the only Southern cities spared from devastating fire during the Civil War, it oozes with brilliant architecture and manicured parks. It is a carefully laid out city, one of the first of its kind.

How do I know this? Well, we saved $70 by reading the history of the city off of my phone in our car, rather than doing a touristy historical excursion. Lame? Maybe, but when it’s hot and you have a baby, you will do what you can to linger a bit longer in the air conditioning.

During our trip, I had a few coffee joints on our list that we needed to try. Foxy Loxy Cafe was our first stop, and while they do offer fabulous coffee, I opted for an iced coconut milk matcha, and it was divine. Took me back to Guam for a red hot minute. Our second morning we tried out Savannah Coffee Roasters and were not disappointed. The big windows, open seating along with a delicious almond milk dirty chai and my two loves was a sweet way to begin the day. We went to The Coffee Fox that afternoon. It was fun, eclectic, in a good location, but was a bit crowded compared to the other two. Between all the coffee was gorgeous architecture (including St. John’s Cathedral), beautiful parks, and charming boutiques.

It was a serendipity to find Chocolat, a stunning little chocolate shop with an Alice in Wonderland vibe and the best chocolate and customer service.  Oh, and if you ever visit Savannah, you must experience the The Paris Market. It is full of beautiful things and even a little coffee shop (which we did not frequent, believe it or not). Random, but it also houses the most beautiful basement you’ve ever seen. I would live down there.

This being our first trip away from home with the baby, I was both nervous and determined (with echoes of “The earlier you travel with them the better” from military wives in my head). While you do have to bring quite a bit extra with a baby, there are a few items that we have found make the trip more feasible and hopefully comfortable for the little one. Chicco Lullago Travel Bassinet is such a great little bassinet, because it sets up and tears down very easily, while providing a comfy and safe bed. I like the idea that when Talitha sleeps in her bed, it still smells like home.

Our trip to Savannah was a time of traipsing up and down a darling old city with our one-month-old. It was our first “family vacation” with the three of us, and it was grand. Enjoy some iPhone snapshots of our time!

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Now go see Savannah for yourself, and tell me what you think!

Keep the Faith,

Audrey Ann

 

The Beauty of ‘Boring’

Beautiful, Boring, Christianity, marriage, Parents

There is a scene in Shall We Dance that makes me cry. The fact that I like this movie might surprise a few. However, so many movies show a love I do not recognize, a love I do not know…probably because it does not exist, or is not actually love. 
It is a story of a steady, married, middle-aged man who is intrigued by a woman in the window of a ballroom dancing studio window. He starts secretly taking ballroom lessons and even competes–all along not telling his wife that he is cha-cha-chaing with J-Lo once a week.

Now, do I like this part? Goodness, no. There is NO WAY that I would like to see my husband doing the tango with J-Lo (unless they happened to be related, seeing as they are both Puerto Rican). 
Anyway, it gets better. The man comes clean (after his wife hires a detective). He loves his wife–they have a good life, albeit a boring one. Life is sometimes boring.  
Her initial anger gives way to understanding, and she encourages him to go to the farewell dance party of the J-Lo character. She buys him a tux and shiny shoes, and slips off to her job at the mall.
Cue the part that makes me sob: the man comes to the mall wearing the tux and carrying a rose, for she is his true dance partner.
She says she does not know how.
“Yeah you do,” he says. “You’ve been dancing with me for nineteen years.”

Surrounding the scene is Peter Gabriel’s “The Book of Love.”
“The book of love is long and boring…and is full of…instructions for dancing”
We live in a world that is constantly trying to redefine love. We live in a world that says love should always be wild and passionate. We live in a world that (at the same time) says lasting love is impossible, so just go to the nightclub for an experience (and likely an STD).
Forget about the morning, because mornings are boring…and we couldn’t have that. But we get ‘boring’ all wrong. It is what you do with ‘boring’ that matters. It is the effort to spice things up and bring a smile to one another’s face; that is what matters. 
I saw my parents go through boring days. I saw them go through gut-wrenching days. But I also saw them dance. And that is what made the ‘boring’ beautiful. 
If you ask me, a man who is willing to risk ‘boring’ with you is much better than stupid “Hey girl” quotes from Ryan Gosling or fantasizing over Nicholas Sparks flicks.
Romance is important, but remember that it is only worthwhile if experienced with someone who is willing to do ‘boring’ with you. To quote Lady Grantham from Downton Abbey, “Marriage is a long business.” So let there some beautiful boring times. We serve a God who does exciting things, but most profoundly we sense His daily faithfulness. Can daily faithfulness be boring sometimes? Sure, but mostly…it is beautiful.
Keep the Faith,
Audrey Ann

“We need a witness to our lives…in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things…all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.'” ~Shall We Dance