Some people who read our blogs and look at our pictures see and hear about the things that we have seen and done, and it is so different from their lives that it is easy to think that we are just having fun every day of our year of mission. Though we do have lots of fun, we work a lot too, and little of the work is glamorous or exotic. And, like any other hard worker, sometimes we just need a vacation!! Thankfully, from May 4-13th, we had our second and final vacation, and Shane and I spent the entire 10 days visiting Venezuela.
For those who don’t know, Shane studied in Maracay, Venezuela for a year right after his graduation from high school. While he lived there, he lived with a family and made lots of friends at church and at school. So, 10 years later, the main purpose of our visit was to visit those family and friends and to introduce me to the beauties of the country.
We had a 5-hour layover in Bogota, Colombia, and instead of sitting in the airport, we decided to go explore. We had a speedy tour of downtown, a walk through an emerald store (which Colombia is famous for) and we took a cable car up a mountain to the Monserat monastery, which had a beautiful view of the city. With traffic, however, we cut our trip back to the airport quite close, and ended up doing the classic movie-style dash through the airport. God must have been watching out for us, though, because we got through emigration and security and to our gate in under 15 minutes! Then it was “adios, Colombia” and we were on our way to Venezuela.
I am pretty sure that Venezuela is the most beautiful country that I have ever been to. The country is so verdant and luscious; it seems to be dipped in green. Just driving down the highway reminds me of being in an American National Park; I can’t imagine what the jungle is like! There is an amazing amount of wildlife in Venezuela, and we saw several iguanas and the most colorful birds and fish. The people are warm and friendly, the food is INCREDIBLE, and the cities are modern as anywhere in the U.S. To sum it up: it was paradise.
After we arrived in Caracas, we were picked up by our driver and traveled about 2½ hours to Maracay, where we reunited with the Martinez family, Shane’s previous host family. They were waiting with joyous hugs and homemade pizza to welcome us. Shane’s host sister, Annette, who was 2-years-old when Shane lived in Venezuela, is now a little lady, but there was no doubt that they were brother and sister, as they picked on and tickled each other anytime they were together. The family really spoiled us, and I couldn’t have felt more at home.
A big part of the spoiling was with food. Shane’s host mom, Yaneth, is an amazing cook, and the dishes she made were to die for: pizza, Arabic bread, risotto, spaghetti, and a roast. We also experienced all of the typical foods of Venezuela: arepas, empanadas, cachapas, and the very typical meal of rice, black beans, carne mezchada meat, and cooked plantains. One of my favorite things is that they make amazing fresh juices out of almost any fruit you can think of. And Shane loved finally drinking some good beer! Joining alpaca and guinea pig, Shane and I got to eat another unusual creature on this trip: the capybara. This giant rodent, native to South America, looks a little like a guinea pig or a beaver, and tastes like pork. Delicious!! Needless to say, we might have put on a few pounds, but it’s not really vacation without a feast, right?
Sunday morning we met up with one of Shane’s best friends from his time in Venezuela, Ruben. We met his beautiful family and then rode together to church. The Maracay Community Church is bilingual and diverse, a beautiful melding of cultures, traditions, and languages. Shane and I have visited many churches this YAV year, and we are always treated kindly and deferentially, as a visiting pastor and his wife. At the Maracay Community church, we were embraced as a prodigal son and daughter. Instead of being the visiting gringo missionaries to be put on display, we were much-missed friends to be included and celebrated. Indeed, God was in this place, and my soul reveled in the spiritual feast that was spread at the table. Not since my teenaged years in youth group have I witnessed such vitality and devotion in a church service. Whether the songs were in English or Spanish, hands were raised to the heavens and voices sang directly to God’s ears with messages of supplication, praise, and thanksgiving. Though the congregation was small, many of the members had leadership roles in the service, even the many children. I am hard-pressed to define exactly what it was that made this service so special and meaningful to me, but I can say with all my heart that, with tears in my eyes, I bowed my head and talked with my Lord, for the first time in far too long. It is possible to fall into a rut, and sometimes you need a jump start to recharge and revive your faith. Thank you, Maracay Community Church, for inviting me to your feast… I feel satisfied, yet hungry, for Jesus again!!
The next few days were spent relaxing and spending time with the family and Shane’s friends. Although most of them hadn’t seen each other in years, Shane’s visit was the catalyst for a reunion, and six of his former classmates were able to hang out with us during our visit. One night we went out for ice cream and drinks, picking up friends along the way. Another night they all treated Shane and I to Brazilian BBQ (think Fogo d’ Chao), which was very special. I loved meeting everyone and hearing about their memories of their time together in school.
Thursday through Saturday we went to the beach! We stayed at the family’s condo in Tucacas, but the real beach was in a close-by national park. We swam in the crystalline ocean, saw a bird nesting ground, snorkeled with some amazing fish, visited a starfish cove, and caught crabs on the white crushed-coral beach (which we had almost to ourselves). We were able to buy fresh ceviche from fishermen and ice cream on our remote island. It was a perfect day of relaxation and fun.
Sunday we needed to head back to Caracas to catch our flight home, but we got into the city early enough for a one-hour mini tour. We saw a lovely park, took pictures of a war memorial, got a view of downtown, and were treated to ice cream at a historic shop. Then we said goodbye to our driver, and flew “home” to Lima. I truly enjoyed the feast that is Venezuela!
Really, this vacation came at the ideal time, as it recharged my batteries and gave me the push I need to make it through to the end. And with about two months left of our YAV year, the end is coming up fast. I anticipate a busy work schedule coming up, so I plan to throw myself into work while still taking a much time as possible to be with the many friends that we have made here.