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Kilimanjaro : 1 • June 14-July 6, 2016

The Cherry on Top

July 6, 2016

A recommendation to future travelers – always end an African adventure with a safari. Our weary muscles rejoiced at the chance to lounge about in comfy jeeps as we watched the full cast of The Lion King materialize through our binoculars. No member of the ‘Big 5’ (lion, cape buffalo, leopard, elephant, rhino) evaded our brilliant guides, and each sighting was enhanced by their expansive knowledge of their nation’s wild beasts. In fact, we even rounded out the ‘Big 7’ (a lesser known classification about which Kirke and James T. were certain to educate us all) by seeing cheetahs and LOTS of giraffes. Our guides were perhaps even more excited than we were, going on and on about our remarkable luck in just 4 days. Ellie, Zeke, and Peter impressed us all with their eagle eyes, even catching a glimpse of the elusive Thompson’s Gazelle!!!
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the safari section was our complete and authentic immersion. We ate, played, and dreamt amidst the local flora and fauna. When arriving in camp the first afternoon, we encountered a stunningly accurate elephant statue situated next to the dining enclosure. It was only upon hearing Annabel and Emily’s shouts of “it’s moving!” that we realized it was not, in fact, a statue at all. We flung open the roofs on the safari rigs and gawked as the gentle giant trod across our camp site. The next morning, we poked our heads from our tents to find a heard of zebra grazing mere feet from our doors. They appeared to have taken Jack in as one of their own, and it moved us all to see him chowing down on grass with his new friends. There were even several babies traipsing about, much to Grace’s delight!
After another filling smorgasbord of an African breakfast, we loaded up the adventure wagons and set off for a Massai village within the Ngorongoro conservation area. Having experienced the Massai musical tradition once before, no one hesitated to join in on the joyous stomping and guttural noise-making. James E. and Hayden drew respectful glances and grunts from village elders with their mighty leaping skills (must be an Idaho thang.) Although home to those of the same tribe, this visit with Africa’s archetypal tribal warrior culture differed from our first exchange. We were invited into their bomas, received some counting exercises in their micro school, and yes, enjoyed another round of our favorite African delicacy: mbuzi choma. (Translation: burnt goat). Sarah and Sarah Chandler simply can’t get enough and would like all mom/dad chefs to note the rib is a bit more tender than the neck.
Following the village visit we loaded up and zipped off into the “endless plains”, a translation of the Maasai word “siringeti” from which we derive the more conventional “Serengeti”. Our time there was a dusty, bumpy, beautiful whirlwind. Each fruitful day of animal spotting wound down against a backdrop of blazing skies and an accompaniment of wild sounds. Having checked off 4/5 (or 6/7 depending on who you ask) we decided to head to Ngorogoro crater, in hopes of spotting the seldom seen black rhino. After a few hours of many wildebeest and zero rhinos we assumed our quest was futile. Just as we were ready to throw in the towel Payton emitted a bellowing “Mzungu Ya’ll,” and from the tall grasses emerged what else but a Black Rhino! Forevermore she shall be known as Peylisi, mother of rhinos.
I find myself thinking the same thing at the end of every trip – Moondance time surely cannot be “normal” time. How else is it possible that we’re sitting here attempting to summarize a period of 3 weeks when the first day feels as though it was both yesterday and 10 years ago. This paradox will make sense to those of you who’ve been with us through it all. The days have soared and crawled by, each a hodgepodge of foreign sights, crippling laughter and delirious joy. Here we sit at the end of the tracks, about to “Hop of the Moondance train” (credit to big James for the metaphor) and step onto the platform of familiarity. Yet no doubt exists that the souvenirs we’ve collected throughout the journey are far more than just colorful bracelets and cotton T-shirts. Each of us will be stepping onto the platform with newfound gratitude and joie de vivre only obtainable through 3 weeks of living fully and completely in the moment.
Davis and I would like to thank each of you for all that you brought to the table. To say it’s been fun would be a criminal understatement. We wish all of you the best and demand you keep in touch. Mzungu ya’ll!
Have a blessed day.

Kilimanjaro conquered!

June 29, 2016

WE DID IT! Every single Moondancer stood triumphant upon Uhuru (Freedom) Point, the summit of Kilimanjaro, ‘The Roof of Africa:’ 19,341 ft of pure glory and accomplishment. Though we have much to say about the experience we think you’d rather hear it straight from the source. So, without further ado, here is how it went down according to your own fearless mountaineers.

Day #1 (LODs: Grace and Zeke)
Kilimanjaro here we come!!! We started our day off at the SG Resort and had an excellent breakfast before our big trek up the largest free standing mountain in the world. We met with our head guide and Kilimanjaro guru, Samia. We loaded the busses and we were off. We made a quick stop at a grocery store to buy some snacks and simple sugars, things we would need to help with our energy on the mountain. We finally arrived at the Kilimanjaro park, at the Machame gate to be exact, and officially signed into the park. We learned that 45 porters would be making the trek with us as well! (Wow!) We ate lunch, which included some much needed avocados, which gave Peyton and Sarah much happiness. Once our bellies were full, we headed to our first campsite for the night led by the amazing and smiley Kevin!! We spent the first day of hiking in Kilimanjaro’s rainforest amongst many, many clouds. We quickly learned a useful Swahili phrase much needed for Kilimanjaro, “pole pole,” meaning slowly. After hiking for several hours, and having a fun-filled first day on the mountain, we reached our campsite and we signed in. Upon arrival, we noticed all of our tents were set up and our duffel bags were in front of our tents. We relaxed in our tents but not long after arriving at our campsite, dinner was ready. We ate in a huge tent with a table and chairs. Dinner was excellent thanks to head chef Dotto. We noticed our first glimpse of the mountain that night and then we all went off for a goodnights sleep and we all got ready for the great days of hiking ahead of us and ultimately the day we would be on the roof of Africa!
-Grace and Zeke.

Day #2  (LODs: Peyton and Hayden)
Today was our second day of hiking up the amazing mountain of Kilimanjaro. We got our first glimpse of life above the clouds as we gained more elevation – ultimately reaching 12,000 feet at the end of the day. As we trekked on, we got an even better view of Kilimanjaro than the day before, making everyone even more excited for our future climb to the top! After a shorter day of hiking, compared to the day before, we arrived at our second campsite and were once again so grateful for the porters who set up all of our tents and put our duffels in the tents prior to our arrival. After lunch we went on a short day hike led by a guide in training, giving the junior guide an opportunity to see what his or her future may hold. Dinner was delicious as usual, consisting of soup, chicken, and rice. During dinner, Samia gave us a talk about altitude sickness which made us all feel a little more prepared. After leaving the dinner tent, everyone stopped in their tracks to look at the stars which were brighter than any stars we were used to back home. When it began to get a little too cold for our comfort, everyone returned to their tent to prepare for the next day which consisted of more incline and a higher elevation than we were used to.
-Peyton and Hayden.

Day #3  (LODs: Sara Chandler and Jack)
Day 3, and we’re all smelling great after two days on the mountain! Today started off like the others on Kili, as we were woken up by cheery porters with trays of hot tea (parents take note) and a breakfast of lots of things, plus everyone’s favorite, chocolate sauce porridge. We knew that it was going to be a long day, especially since we would be hitting our highest elevation yet, so we loaded up on PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) and hit the trail towards Lava Tower Camp. The trek was full of new sights, and the group took advantage of the awesome climb to make up and share stories about the mysterious Richard Tripper, whose name is on James’s backpack. Some ran a little long (Davis has a saga in a fourth intermission, yet to be finished as we head into the safari section), but all made for some much needed laughter and distraction during the long climb. To pass more time in between stories, the group sang classics led by Jack (Stacy’s Mom and Devil Went Down to Georgia, to name a couple) and had a great time. We finally reached Lava Tower (about 15,400 ft) and at this point, most of us were definitely feeling the effects of the altitude. We rested, ate a filling lunch, and began our descent into the valley to Baranco Camp where we would spend the night. Even though some of us were still feeling a little iffy, we were met at Baranco with delicious spaghetti, an amazing sunset, and later, the most beautiful night sky we have ever seen. Facing the “breakfast scramble” wall from camp, we went to bed feeling a little nervous about the next day, but still knowing that it would be getting us one step closer to Uhuru!
-Sara Chandler and Jack

Day #4  (LODs: Sarah and Peter)
Today was the last day on the trial before summit day!! Although a lot of us started to feel the altitude, we kept pushing. We started off our day with the usual breakfast and tea, and we left our camp and climbed straight up a large rock to ascend about 800 ft. We kept hiking and reached our lunch spot at about 13,500 ft. After we enjoyed lunch, we kept hiking and reached our high camp at about 15,000 ft. As we went to sign into the camp, some of us stopped for a bathroom break and Jack ended up kicking a hole in the door in attempt to save Peyton from being trapped in the small stall!! The altitude was definitely getting to all of us at this point… Annabel was sprawled on a rock, Emily couldn’t stop laughing, and it’s safe to say Holly was losing it. We ended our night with a pasta dinner and a short moon up to prepare for the long trek ahead!
-Sarah and Peter

Day #5  (LODs: Ellie and James T)
SUMMIT DAY!!!! Our journey to the roof of Africa started at 3 am. Breakfast was silent as we all mentally prepared ourselves for what lay ahead. An hour or so later we embarked on our journey to Uhuru peak, 19,341ft above sea level. The trek was long and hard, and although we all summited, the peak was not reached with ease. As we approached the top of Kili, several began to feel the effects of the altitude. With the decrease in oxygen, headaches ensue, and nausea can weaken even the strongest of climbers, not to mention the tightness in your chest due to nearly half the amount of oxygen you’re used to. After 7 grueling hours, we all stumbled onto Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro’s highest point. A mixture of euphoria and exhaustion enveloped the crew as we celebrated our victory on Africa’s highest point. The grit and perseverance shown by this group was impeccable, and we couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of them. Climbing mountains, especially one of the seven summits is no easy feat.  If it was, everyone would do it.
-Ellie and James T

Day #6  (LODs: Annabel and Zeke)
Although we were a little sad to leave behind the memories and excitement of high camp, today we began our official trek down the mountain. We descended all the way from 15,000 feet to about 10,000.  I think we were all relieved to finally be able to breathe again. On our hike down, we passed through three different ecosystems and finally reached our campsite nestled in a mysterious, misty forest. We had another great lunch full of lots of laughs. Then we spent the afternoon relaxing in our tents and learning how to make cool African bracelets from colorful string. We finished the day with a delicious last dinner prepared by the amazing cooks. It was definitely a strange day filled with lots of jokes and giggles (not sure if we can blame these crazy moods on the altitude anymore). Soon we will be off the mountain and on to safari!
-Annabel and Zeke

Day #7  (LODs: Peyton and Kirke)
Today was our final push down the mountain, and although we were all excited for the showers awaiting us at the SG hotel, we were sad to say goodbye to the amazing people that helped us along our journey on Kilimanjaro. Right before we started down the mountain, the group of porters and guides invited us to sing and dance with them! After descending from 10,000 feet to 5,700 feet, we sadly said goodbye to the guides and porters and got into the van that would bring us back to the SG hotel. Once there, Amani (one of our safari guides) briefed us on our safari schedule and what we would need to pack for the following three days of adventure. Later, after a much needed shower, we all enjoyed another delicious dinner at the SG followed by Moonup and many conversations about what the safari would be like!
-Peyton and Kirke

Grace: hey fam!!! Made it to the top!! Whoo!! I’m having a good ole time and meeting lots of cool people!! Can’t wait to tell you about everything and tell may may I say hey!!

Peyton: Jambo fam!!! I made it to the top of Kili! Everything is mzuri sana (very good) here except I’m missing some sushi… Tryna feast on some of dat when I get home. Miss y’all!!!

Sara Chandler: Hiya familia!! Hoping the house isn’t too quiet without me… I’m having the most amazing time (I summitted Kili whoop whoop!) and can’t wait to tell y’all about it in a few days. P.S. there are a bunch of lizards and frogs here, but I’m getting by. Love yall!

Jack- Hey mom and dad everything’s great, summited Kili and while I have to say it was super hard it was definitely worth it. Love y’all and See you soon!

Ellie- One of seven summits completed!!! Thank y’all so much for supporting my dreams and I hope y’all are having fun at home! I love and miss y’all (I also miss chik fil a ice cream so we will have to do an ice cream run when I get home). Hope the Herron squad is doing well and I’ll see everybody soon enough!

Jamesy T:  Greetings all! Jambo! Hope all is well back on the home front. Here in Tanzania, spirits are high as the clouded peak of Kilimanjaro fades in our rear view mirror. We now move on to the next chapter of our African adventure. I only hope that my dwindling deodorant supply lasts through the final week. Miss you guys, and will see you soon!

Sarah: Jambo!! I summited kili!!! The altitude was a little tricky, but never the less we all made it. I can’t wait to tell you all about my adventures and the cool people I have met. I hope everything is good at home and that the beach was fun!!! Ps. When I get home our first stop is satco!! Love and miss y’all 🙂

Peter: hey everyone, I made it to the roof of Africa! Miss you and I’ll See y’all when I get home!

Emily: Jambo fam!!! I made it to the top of Kili (barely)! Happy late Father’s Day dad and I hope y’all have a good 4th of July! I miss you guys and will see you soon! P.s. please have chicken salad chick waiting for me at home:)

Annabel: hi family! Africa is so amazing and I am having an amazing time. I cannot believe I made it to the top of Kili! I’ve met so many amazing people here and I can’t wait to tell you all about the trip. I miss you guys so much but will see you very very soon! Give a big hug to the pups for me

Kirke: Hey fam, just completed the journey to the rooftop of Africa – and could not be more happy that I finished strong. Miss you guys a lot and look forward to seeing you all soon.

Hey everyone,
We all just finished summiting MT. Kilimanjaro it was pretty hard but it was a great feeling when we got to the top. Everything in Africa has been good and I’m having a great time. I hope everything at home has been good. See you soon.

James E.
Hi all,
I had so much fun summiting Kili and was glad I was able to make it to the top. I can’t wait for the rest of the trip. See you soon.

Zeke T.
Hey having a good time and it was amazing summiting Kilimanjaro. I’ll see you soon!

Well...We Made it!

June 22, 2016

Well…we made it! After a few hours/days (not really sure, to be honest) and a few kurfluffels, we found ourselves in the welcoming arms of our hosts at the SG Resort in Arusha where we were greeted with delicious mango juice and warm towels. We enjoyed a full night’s rest in comfortable beds before departing the next morning for Mtu wa Mbu. Mtu wa Mbu (pronounced Mm-too-wam-bow) is the village nearest to the Mungere School, the site of our service project.

The very afternoon of our arrival we were whisked away in Tuk-Tuks (open air scooter taxis! yahoo!) deep into the bush of Mungere; destination, a Massai village! As though plopped down into the latest issue of National Geographic, we found ourselves surrounded with warriors clad in their traditional red robes and women with ornate beaded jewelry (which Emily, Ellie, and Sarah were lucky enough to try on). The tribe was celebrating the induction of 4 boys into the warrior class, or Morani. They seemed to take a liking to Jack, perhaps a future Morani himself? Despite how infrequently westerners participate in such a ceremony, we felt far from intrusive. They invited us into their homes (or Bomas), simple structures comprised from earthen materials. We danced and dined alongside them – enjoying the local delicacy, spit-roasted goat neck, which James T. and Peter claimed tasted like good ole down home BBQ. Surely, we all anticipated the cross cultural experiences traveling in Africa would entail, but I think it’s safe to say that not one of us could have imagined such complete and authentic immersion.  We all feel so fortunate to have been part of such a sacred tradition.

We arose fresh from our tents the next morning to a feast of a meal and were once again greeted by an army of Tuk-Tuks. After a scenic, albeit bumpy, ride across the dusty grasslands, we arrived at the Mungere School. The students of Mungere waited in anticipation and clustered around to greet us with smiles and cheery “Mambo’s,” thus forging the initial bonds that would crystallize over the three days to come. Within minutes, Grace had mastered many new names and Peyton was learning to count to ten in Swahili! The weather was too hot to work that day, so instead we broke the ice with a small hike. We passed under lush banana trees and trod through rice patches, arriving at a thundering waterfall. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing soccer and basketball. Hayden, the self-proclaimed “baller,” contributed 3 points to his team’s efforts.

Certainly the service section had to entail some service! Over the following three days we were tasked with an overhaul of the school’s struggling garden. Mungere provides it’s students with two meals a day, with much of the food sourced from garden. Therefore, a successful harvest is imperative. We labored alongside the students of Mungere under the careful guidance of Timber Jim, a boisterous and highly knowledgeable celebrity gardener from Oregon (look up his TED talk). The amount of work accomplished in our time spent at Mungere was astounding. We regenerated the soil, prepared new plots, pulled countless weeds (no invasive grass tufts could brave the wrath of Sarah Chandler and Annabel!) and planted a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Kirke and Zeke were unrivaled in their ability to find a glorious rhythm using mortar and pestle to mash coconut rinds into dust for soil enrichment. From time to time we would break for games, learning new ones and passing on some of our own favorites, James E. taught everyone his favorite pick-up soccer game, World Cup! The time flew and before we could blink the dreaded goodbye was upon us. But we looked on the bright side, how fortunate we were to have grown so close as to have made saying goodbye so hard. After having learned more over those four days than many a semester combined, we departed with dirty hands, sore muscles and full hearts.

Tomorrow we begin our trek up Kilimanjaro! Be sure to check in next week; the beasts of the alpine wild will certainly have a few things to say after sanding on the roof of Africa!