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Mission Trip to Nicaragua

FullSizeRender1On Friday, May 13th, my husband Skip and I arrived at Cleveland Hopkins Airport at 3:45 AM to catch a flight to Managua, Nicaragua.  It was going to be our first mission trip ever!  Unfortunately, mechanical problems delayed us and 3 others for 13 hours at the airport.   When we finally arrived in Houston, we missed our connection by 5 minutes.   Stuck overnight at the airport, we headed to Pappadeux’s Seafood Restaurant in the terminal for what would be our last real meal before heading to Managua.   We over-nighted at the Holiday Inn, and left the next morning at 5:00 AM to board our flight to Manauga.

Upon arrival, we were met at the airport by a friendly Spanish couple who drove us on our two hour scenic and mountainous drive to the town of Chacraseca, Nicaragua.   The old and very hot rickety van finally made it to our destination.  However before we could settle in, we met with the locals who were preparing their carts for the annual procession.   It  was the Feast of St. Isidro which represents the farmers.  We helped decorate a horse-drawn cart with balloons, flowers, and ribbons and began parading down along the dusty road to the beat of a small band, singers and the omnipresent fireworks.

The procession had its fill of livestock, with decorated horns, and scarfs wrapped around their necks.  Walking in a hot 100 degree temperature along the muddy road to the church, I looked into the faces of the people that I met for the first time.  They were welcoming us with love and hope. The purpose of our trip was a partnership program with the people of this village, to help tear down a concrete block bread oven to make room for a community center,  to interact with students in the schools, learn about their culture, their hopes, and dreams, and to unite our church with theirs.

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I knew this was the beginning of what was always in my heart.  It was a hands on labor of love in a whole new culture that I have never before experienced.   These beautiful people who had nothing welcomed us with no expectations.

Back at the Casa de Paz, or Peace House, after the long two travel days, it was time to set up my sleeping quarters. The small room for the ladies had 3 bunk beds and there were 8 women. I opted to sleep on the porch in a cot outside under a mosquito net.  At least the nightly temperature was in the low 90’s, vs the heat inside.  The thin cot was workable, and although I kept my arms and legs covered to avoid any bites, a few insects manage to make it through. I was so tired, I just fell asleep, but was quickly awoken at 4:00 AM to what sounded like fireworks, and a series of explosions. (I was reassured that the Nicaraguans were still celebrating the feast). However an hour later, the rooster at the foot of my bed started crowing, and nestled by my head was a stray dog trying to get my attention… so needless to say, I had very little sleep that night. Most mornings were like that and although the rooster was very cute, I didn’t want to become too friendly with it, since it would most likely be tomorrow nights dinner. Although I spotted a Scorpion on the wall, and some ugly looking bugs crawling by, there was such feeling of peacefulness.

IMG_1956We were served rice and beans at all three meals, along with fruit or some other peeled vegetable. Our favorite cook, “Estelle” walked 3 miles to work every day and cooked our meals in a wood burning stove. The other women who cooked for us, brought their children to work, and we all fell in love with one little boy in particular who would rest in a hammock while his mom continued to work. Despite the fact that I barely ate anything, I didn’t lose any weight.  (Maybe it was the chips and granola bars I took with me).

IMG_17481The next day, we had a firsthand look at the efforts of Just Hope with its micro loan program which helped women become self-sufficient.   We stopped at a Ferreteria (a hardware store), where our donations helped the business to sell these items for a small profit and also visited the home of a women who has established a business by making about 100 tortillas daily and selling them to the locals.

We visited the schools and brought them supplies, and led them in songs and dances. Meanwhile, back in the center of town, the others donned dust masks, safety goggles and wielded shovels, sledge hammers and a pick axe to remove debris and take apart a concrete  oven.  We all went different ways; some to the clinic, to the families homes, the schools, the upcoming farmland, and to the church.       Many of the homes only had dirt floors, and no plumbing; but one thing in common is the loving family bond that was shared.

IMG_2065We visited the town of Leon, and also a beachfront restaurant where we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.  The dark volcanic sand and numerous shells were glowing. There we met children who with a “pinky-finger” promise, asked us to buy their goods.  They also waited for us to finish our dinner so we could box left overs and they could take them home. Of course, we ordered extra meals, and knowing this, the last of my fruit snacks and goodies were pre-packed for them. I received a parting gift of shells from a young man whom I gave my boxed food to. In Spanish he said to me  “Nunca me olvides”……..translation ……”Never forget me”.  (I never will).

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We traveled to a Coffee Plantation called Selva Negra where we spent one night.  It was a beautiful balance of an organic farm, coffee plantation and wildlife forest area.  It is tourism at its best in Nicaragua. There was also horseback riding, long hikes in the forest, solar cabins with beautiful views, white swans on the lake, and being in the mountains, it had a welcoming cool temperature.

IMG_22611To sum it up, I am so appreciative for what I have, for all that I take for granted, for my family and friends.  Reality check: America… a wonderful place we live in.

One of the best gifts we received, was to bring back to Cleveland Ohio with us Padre Tomas from the church in Nicaragua.  He stayed here for 3 weeks.  It was an awesome journey.  He had never been to the United States before, and our fellow missionaries, our priest Father Sal Ruggeri from St. John of the Cross, and many others showed him respect and love.

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Exploring Morocco

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Even with all the issues that are going on in the world and the recent travel alert issued by Department of State, we headed down to Morocco for a 10 day trip to see the country as well as a little hiking in the Atlas mountains.

We started with a nonstop flight from Gatwick on British Airlines. Josh and I splurged a little and went with business class tickets. It was nice to get to the airport and head over to the lounge to relax and enjoy a small meal before heading on to board. With the inflight meal of saffron chicken and a lovely glass of wine, we disembarked early enough to also beat the lines for the customs portion of the journey.

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We booked an 8 day tour with Luxor Tour company that included transfer. We met the driver in the lobby and that is where the issues started to occur. Apparently the company placed us on the Spanish tour. Now my Spanish is the point where I can ask, how much, where is the bathroom, do you speak english, and my all time favorite: where is the pharmacy. So I had a couple of concerns on how much I would be able to get out of this tour.

We headed over to the hotel in Marrakech at Hotel Atlas. Located outside the city, it’s not easy to get into town with out a taxi, while can be arranged by the hotel, the concern on how to get back is what caused some problems.

With dinner being included, we headed down to enjoy the meal. It didn’t really leave a lasting impression more so to get your energy for the last bit of the day. Upon returning to the room I noticed another issue that didn’t stand out when we checked in. We shared the wall with the elevator. Now I have a couple of questions on who is using the elevator at 2 am on a Thursday but they are and that prevented me from getting a restful sleep before we would be heading out the next day.

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We found out that they added us to the Spanish group since there was not a lot of English speaking tourist due to the low season. Normally I wouldn’t mind and understand however we were not given a heads up on the change of plans. Also I understand enough Spanish to know that they were getting more information than we were on the tour in English.

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After heading out of town we started the journey to Casablanca where we were driven around to see the city and dropped off in front of Hassan II Mosque. With a private guide you are able to go inside with a scheduled time, all we saw was the outside. Which don’t get me wrong was amazing and I can only imagine what was done inside and wish we had the chance to find out. But it was off to lunch in town before heading up to Rabat.

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Next was a stop at the Royal Palace to view the grounds and see the mosque, again not allowed inside just pictures on the outside. Afterwards we headed over to see the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Which was beautiful. Don’t forget to look up when you enter to take in the view of the roof.

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Then we were to the hotel for dinner at the Helnan Chellah Hotel Rabat. Here we sat with the rest of the group to improve our Spanish and get to know them. The room was alright, nothing to truly write home about. The gym only had one working bike, everything else was in shambles. Dinner as well as breakfast was buffet.

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The next morning we started with a tour of the Rabat Fortified City with the blue paint on all the buildings. It was breathtaking. We also made some friends with the local cats that followed me around the rest of the city. Then it was back to the bus to head up to Tangier.

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At this point, the Spanish portion left for the port to go home and we were given a lift to the hotel and advised that there really wasn’t much to do in town but the night club and to not head out at night. So I decided to head out for the main road in town and walk up and down the area.

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We saw a mall and tried that out, however it was more grocery shopping than a clothes shopping area. There is also the beach to visit however I did not have room in my bag to pack the swim suit.

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We met up with the new tour guide that would be taking us up to Fez for a couple of days. This city needs more than 2 days to appreciate it. From the endless streets of Medina, to all the craftsmanship that they have with leather and mosaics, and let’s not forget the Royal Palace you really need 3-4 days here. I purchased a nice bowl for my sister and a jacket for myself. Here you can really appreciate the local cuisine and were even invited to a dinner show. With great food and entertainment from belly dancing, a mock Moroccan wedding, and music through out the evening it was an amazing couple of days spent in town.

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While in Fez we stayed at the Hotel Sofia, which was amazing with a small balcony on the room and a pool outside, to the spa and gym, and even several different restaurants and night clubs on site. This was the best hotel included in the tour.

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We had the option to take the 10 hour scenic route through the High Atlas Mountains or by highway. Since we came by highway the first go around we choose the scenic route and was not disappointed. With rest stops along the way the journey did fly by with the views of the small towns and man made lake.

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Finally it was back to Marrakech where we stayed at the same hotel as before. Here we visited the Meara Gardens, Bahia Palace and then the Medina in town. You will want to get the Moroccan oil and saffron for super cheap and good quality as well. While the tour finished, we decided to spend two days trekking through the Atlas Mountains. With a local guide and a mule we were off. However it was quickly realized that my foot was not 100% since I dropped the dresser drawer on it a week prior. So with the help of the guide we changed the plan and did one high peak and the rest of trekking through the local towns.

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All in all, the trip was an experience in learning the local customs and seeing a lot of the outside sights. I would recommend a private tour so that you can get inside than just being part of the outside looking in.

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Luxury Upgrades in Paris, France

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Mandarin Oriental, Paris, recently awarded “Palace Distinction,” is a fashionable 138-room and -suite hotel set along renowned rue Saint-Honoré, around the corner from Place Vendôme. Accommodations feature sleek decor, Bang & Olufsen flat-screen televisions and iPod docking stations. Enjoy the creative cuisine of renowned French Chef Thierry Marx at Camélia, where you can reserve a table in the garden during the summer months, or at the two-Michelin-star Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx, where the chef presents both a gourmet and a sensory journey that is not to be missed. The signature Spa and pool offer the perfect setting for holistic healing.

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For 2016

    • Guaranteed upgrade at time of booking: Room to Room & Suite to Suite (Royale Suites excluded) Not applicable May 22-Jul 10/Sep 3-Oct 8 (during these periods, upgrades will be upon arrival if available)
    • Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
    • $100 USD equivalent Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
    • Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
    • Complimentary Wi-Fi for duration of stay
    • For stays of 2 nights or more: Complimentary one-way transfer for Suites with meet and greet service at the air bridge

Click here for more information or give us a call at 1-888-700-8747.

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How To Feel Like A VIP On Vacation

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Traveline advisors  can often coordinate one-of-a-kind experiences for you as an actual traveler; look at some of these as examples. Below, from the September issue of Virtuoso Life, are even more examples of what exactly an advisor and their network of relationships can provide for you.

Watch a private opera performance at the Sistine Chapel. Besides the show, the guided, after-hours tour of Rome’s ornate icon can also include dinner in one of the Vatican’s neighboring frescoed rooms.

Shake hands with the Dalai Lama. The memorable meeting with His Holiness can be arranged for travelers interested in Buddhism and spirituality.

Tour Maui’s organic farms. Spend the morning at goat cheese and lavender farms, as well as an organic vodka distillery, along the slopes of Mount Haleakala.

Surf with a national champion. Hang ten in Sri Lanka with Tharanga Daminda, who will pick you up at your hotel and take you to Hikkaduwa Beach for a one-on-one lesson.

Make your own wine in Bordeaux. Create a custom-blended microvintage under the guidance of a specialist from one of the region’s top wineries.

See art come to life in Italy. Venture behind the counters of the botteghe (small workshops) in Florence’s Oltrarno district to watch artisans handcraft their silver, gold, and leather wares. “Not only does Florence have so much to offer, but from there you can take many easy and beautiful day trips to Cinque Terre, Chianti, and the ancient cities of Lucca and Pisa,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Andrea Malis of Tucson, AZ.

Photograph the northern lights with a professional. This guided photography expedition to some of Iceland’s most picturesque spots is suited to everyone, from amateur Instagrammers to aspiring Ansel Adamses.

Eat dinner on top of a volcano. You’ll work for your meal – it’s a 90-minute drive, then a two-hour hike up Bali’s Mount Batur. The payoff: Taking in sunset from the 5,633-foot summit. “This experience is great for couples and honeymooners,” says Paris-based Virtuoso advisor Myriam Guyon. “You’ll be alone with a spectacular view of the volcano and a private meal. That’s luxury! Wear good shoes and a light jacket; it can be chilly after sunset.”

… or on the Great Wall of China. The private feast is held along the wall’s Juyongguan Pass, outside Beijing.

Immerse yourself in Quechua culture in Cuzco, Peru. During a trip to the Andean village of Ccorca, guests learn from schoolchildren how to dye wool and bake traditional Incan bread.

Spot wildlife on private Tasmanian bushland. Keep an eye out for wallabies, wombats, and, if you’re lucky, Tasmanian devils.

Have a world-famous museum to yourself. A guided, pre-opening tour of New York’s American Museum of Natural History grants crowd-free access to its most popular exhibits. “After the museum, head to Sarabeth’s for lemon ricotta pancakes,” says NYC-based Virtuoso advisor Bobby Huebner.

Originally appeared in September 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life

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Enjoy Daily Breakfast Plus More in Cozumel!

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The Hotel Presidente InterContinental Cozumel

Situated on the idyllic island of Cozumel, this luxury hotel and spa offers half a mile of white sandy beach and Caribbean coastline. Swim, snorkel or scuba dive the crystal clear waters of the world’s second-largest coral reef, home to an array of colorful, indigenous fish. If relaxation is your aim, enjoy two outdoor pools, experience Mayan-inspired spa treatments in oceanfront huts or savor the menu and beach views at our open-air restaurant El Caribeño.

PACKAGE IS PER PERSON AND INCLUDES:

  • 5-night hotel accommodations in a Pool View room
  • Roundtrip transfers
  • Daily buffet breakfast for two
  • Early-in/late check-out, subject to availability
  • Complimentary piece of art upon arrival
  • Resort taxes

Click here for more information