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Kilimanjaro : 2 • June 23-July 15, 2016

"Big Five" Oh my!

July 14, 2016

To think that just a few days ago, we were hiking down Kilimanjaro. With tired legs and slightly heavy eyes, our safari began. I suppose we could have called it quits after our first day because before we even arrived to our first campsite, the “Big Five” had already been spotted. Elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. Lamek, one of our guides, told us that groups can safari for up to ten days and still fail to see all five species of animal. But not us!

Our guides, Emanuel, Lamek and Amani (Samson’s brother!) quickly took us under their wing and into their Land Cruisers as we made the bumpy drive from Arusha to Ngorongoro. We stopped midway through our drive in Mto wa Mbu for lunch, where we reunited with Vincent for lunch along with the third session of Kili Moondancers. After yet another filling meal, we enjoyed the “African Massage” on the remainder of our ride. Arriving to our campsite and seeing zebras grazing was both exciting and shocking, but it wasn’t until an elephant came to drink out of the well that we realized just how IN the African landscape we really were.

In the days that followed, more animal sightings were made — Planet Earth right in front of our eyes. Check out these favorite moments from yours truly!

“Hello all,

These past few days we have been in the heart of Tanzania in the Serengeti plains and in the Ngorongoro Crater. We have seen leopards, lions, elephants and so many more cool animals in their natural habitat. We experienced Africa and its beauty while really getting to know one another in these final days. We’ve seen things that Nat Geo can’t even compare to while having super fun safari rides with the guides. We danced with the local Maasai tribes as we took in the last days of Africa. So sad to part from such fun times and friends but To think that just a few days ago, we were hiking down Kilimanjaro. With tired legs and slightly heavy eyes, our safari began. Can’t wait to see all you Americans.”

-XOXO All the Girls

“I will see y’all in Charleston. It has been an awesome trip!” – Webster

“The safaris was spectacular and I have pictures of the Big 5! See y’all soon!” – Tyson

“The safaris was quite a memorable experience. On the first day we saw the Big 5 and much more in the days following. We had a great few days with our safaris guides and they made the experience even more memorable. See you soon!” – Reid

“The safaris was a very enlightening and unbelievable journey. But it was also sad knowing it was the last leg of this incredible adventure.” – Conn

“After an extremely tough previous week, the safaris was very fun and relaxing. We saw all kinds of animals and we even watched a leopard stalk its prey. The safaris guides were good people and they offered us knowledge about every animal we saw. As this trip is coming to an end, we all saw and did amazing things and I am very thankful to have had this opportunity. The group of people could have not been any better!” – Lamar

“The first day of the safari, we had a little incident where a baboon charged and tried to take some Pringles which were thrown to Chap who then wisely surrendered them. Later that day, we saw the big 5 (African elephant, black rhino, lion, buffalo, and leopard). Seeing the leopard was definitely my favorite part because we were lucky enough to catch it when it was hunting gazelles. This was definitely one of the most fun parts of the trip because all you had to do was sit down and watch animals instead of killing your legs trying to ascend another thousand feet.” – Max


Our last day held a different schedule, and yet equally thrilling. More Maasai! It’s safe to say this experience was a bit more…tame. We visited a Maasai tribe on the outskirts of the Serengeti, where sharing culture is much more common to the tribe than our previous visit. Adorned in traditional Maasai garb, we danced, shook hands, and sat inside huts with various members of the tribe. The visit concluded with a little barbecue, but unlike any we’ve ever known. Goat liver. Mmm!

Having been shown such hospitality, we said our “asantes” and loaded back into cars in order to reach our final campsite. Once again, tents were miraculously already set up and we enjoyed one last evening together amid neighboring tents. Last night, we regrouped in Arusha, celebrated what has been an exceptional 22 days, and reminisced on the many fits of laughter, shock, challenge, and joy we have shared together. LODs began our day with a quote yesterday that says, “I seem to enjoy things with more intensity with the certainly that they will not last.” No, this will not last, but the memory of these days most certainly will and for this we are grateful.


We are the lucky ones.

"And there we stood on top of Africa"

July 8, 2016

After five days of trekking through the dense African rain forest and the lush moorland we emerged above a seemingly never ending sea of clouds. We entered the high altitude desert, characterized by scree and talus slopes. We scrambled to the desolate lunar landscape and continued gaining elevation until our feet could go no higher — and there we stood, on the top of Africa. 19,341 feet. The highest point on the second largest continent in the world.

As leaders, we were not expecting to be overcome with such powerful emotion as we summited. We experienced tears, smiles, laughter and found ourselves lacking the words to even contemplate where we stood. Words were hardly necessary, in part due to lack of oxygen, but more so because of the determination and perseverance that each individual put forth along the way. This marks yet another climactic moment within our trip — one never to be forgotten along this journey that seems almost unrealistic.

Before we go into more detail about our journey to the top of Africa, it is only appropriate for us to acknowledge the unbelievable support, encouragement, resources and genuine kindness of our guides and never to be forgotten friends. Without these amazing individuals who summited with us arm in arm, this accomplishment would not have been possible. We are forever grateful to Samia, Philemon, Pino, Samson, Kevin and Livingston. We love you and you will forever be in our hearts. They are not just leading trips up a silly mountain on one’s bucket list. They are revealing perhaps the greatest lesson of all — how to live simply and appreciate the land and people around us. While this may sound like a Walt Whitman poem, these guys are truly living out this lesson and sharing it with reckless abandonment.

Each day of our trek differed — in scenery, in mileage, in stamina and in emotion. But each brought forth a great sense of accomplishment. We began at the Machame Gate, full of energy and excitement for our near seven mile hike to the first campsite, Machame Hut. Soggy trails and an African rain forest led us higher and higher as we gained nearly 5,000 feet of elevation. Fog settled around us until we passed the tree line and this crew kept guides busy with questions until we arrived to an already set up camp. Little did we know, the big green tent and table covered by a Maasai cloth would become a table of fellowship and thanksgiving for the next six days.

On day two, we awoke to the words, “Good morning! Hello, coffee? Tea?” Hand delivered to our tents before breakfast was even served. We grew used to this all too quickly! Our second day of hiking was shorter, but steep and through the moorland and a rocky terrain that eventually revealed an epic view of Kilimanjaro. We reached Shira Hut, signed our names to mark the group’s progress, and then were able to enjoy an afternoon above the clouds at 12,500 feet. With Kilimanjaro in the backdrop, we spent a few hours resting our legs before exploring Shira Cave with Philemon and Pino.

It only made sense that on the 4th of July we would cover our largest span of ground yet in route to Uhuru Peak, meaning “freedom” in Swahili. Whispers of the Star Spangled Banner could be heard throughout Shira Hut before we took off for Barranco Camp. Another seven mile day and certainly our toughest yet. We broke for lunch at Lava Tower, a campsite sitting at about 15,000 feet in order to acclimatize before continuing on our journey. This fluctuation in altitude played a key factor in our preparation for summit day. Remember…climb high, sleep low.

The next morning we fueled up on eggs, porridge, coffee and tea. Our destination was Barafu Camp where we would stay for 2 nights — the night before our summit push and the night after conquering the peak. We covered close to 6 miles navigating through the Barranco Valley. It was a long day hiking to Barafu Camp but the soup and sandwiches at lunch gave us the energy needed to reach the 15,300 foot campsite. That’s right, we slept at 15,000 feet before our final ascent to the summit. An energetic and nervous buzz filled the dining tent as Samia briefed us on the schedule for summit day — a 2AM wake up call for a light breakfast, on the trails by 3:00. We were told to sleep in our base layer and to be ready to bundle up before setting out with headlamps and a “pole pole” pace.

13 students and 2 leaders makes for 15 different summit stories, as we all experienced something different than one another. While the common goal of summiting wove us together, no single story could capture the totality of the day. That said, we would all like to share a piece of this journey with you.

“I got about three hours of sleep before embarking in the hardest day my life. I was sick all morning but pushed through thanks to Samson. The only thing that kept me going was the sight of Stella Point. After getting there I could see the Uhuru sign. I almost quit in the final stretch but finally made it.” – Tyson

“I made it to the top, but I’ll tell you more when I get there. Love, Web”

“Summit Day was insane! The climb up was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. The challenge of the hike and the effects of the altitude made reaching the summit sin incredibly rewarding. Though we only lasted a few minutes by the sign, I will never forget looking out and feeling in top of the world. Conquering Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done and I will always remember the days I spent on the mountain.” – Liza

“We awoke at 2AM to a ‘Hel-lo’ from the guides, ready to take on Kili! Liza and I were really feeling the altitude to say the least, so Philemon, Pino, MK and Samia took it pole-pole with us (very slow). After many breaks, lots of encouragement and assistance from the guides and MK, and way too much sugar (thanks to Samia), we made it to the top! It was physically and mentally very challenging but when we submitted it was the best feeling. It is hard to capture the day in a short paragraph but I will remember that July 6th forever.” – Grace

“The Summit Day was one of the hardest and most rewarding days of my life. We started the day at 2AM, dressed in our down parkas with stomachs full of porridge. Throughout the climb, my steps got heavier, my pace slower, breathing heavier, and the encouragement from my friends and the porters louder and louder. Stepping foot on the summit (with a lot of help from Dennis, my porter) was the most rewarding moment. I felt like I was in top of the world, or at least on top of Africa. I can’t wait to tell everyone about the day in more detail because if I wrote everything down this would be eight pages long. Excited for our next adventure! Love, Anne Grace”

“Summit Day was the worst and best day in my life. Finally reaching the summit was an amazing feeling that gave me a rush of energy after the most I’ve ever suffered in my life. I would not have made it without the support of the squad.” – Lamar

“Two days ago, our group stood in top of the 4th tallest mountain in the world. Our journey began at 2AM and then began the most challenging 8.5 hours of our lives. The task of hiking roughly 4,000 vertical feet brought out our innermost primal character that we never knew we had. This hike was the most intense test of perseverance possible. Every parent reading this should be beyond words proud of their child and the task they completed.” – Conn

“To describe summiting in a few words is truly impossible. I will forever remember that day as memorable in the many accomplishments made by the whole group. I am excited to share my experiences in detail with my family and friends in the coming by days.” – Caroline

“I will never forget Summit Day. It was one of the hardest yet best days of my life. The trek began at 2AM and would last for the next 12 hours. Everyone was excited and nervous as we began the ascent. ‘Pole pole’ is how we conquered each step and soon enough we reached Stella’s Point. With Uhuru Peak in sight we began the last hour of our climb. Though we stayed there only a few minutes I will always remember standing above the clouds on the roof of Africa.” – Sterling

“Summit Day was quite an adventure. It started out with a wake up at about 2:30 and a quick breakfast following. The day started off well with cool temperatures and altitude. As the day progressed nearly everyone began to feel the altitude and less oxygen. As we progressed up the mountain the trek got harder and harder up until Stella Point at about 18,800 feet. We were told the hike from there to Uhuru was going to be easy and flat. The walk took about 45 minutes at a crawling pace and we finally made it to the top.” – Reid

“Well, I made it to the top of Africa in one piece. We began climbing at 2AM. I had my bouts of altitude sickness on the way up, but the breathtaking view of the sunrise as we were nearing the summit (Uhuru) made it all worth it. It was really captivating being that high above the clouds. This was definitely one of the most challenging physical activities I have ever undertaken. I could not have made it without the encouraging words of support from the porters and guides, not including the literal support I received when one of the guides actually carried me from Stella Point to Uhuru because I was tired and weak. Overall, I’m very proud of myself for completing the climb, and I had a good time. Thanks again for giving me this opportunity, Mom and Dad.” – Maxwell

“Summit Day was nothing like I expected. It was the most rewarding yet challenging day of my life. Waking up at 2AM to hike for the next 13 hours challenging me in so many ways. We all came together to push ourselves and encourage to accomplish our goal. I learned so many lessons on the mountain that I will keep with me forever. The last four hours of the hike my body felt like collapsing, but my porter Kevin helped to pull me to Uhuru Peak. The way the porters care for their friends should be a life lesson because as soon as one of us felt sick of weak they rushed over to us to make sure we were going to be able to push through. Seeing the sign in the distance made me cry because of how hard we all pushed ourselves. July 6th was a day I will remember for the rest of my life. Thanks for sending me on an unforgettable trip, Mom and Dad! Miss you guys so much! Can’t wait to see you all soon!” – Sarah

“‘Pride lasts longer than pain.’ This is what our guide, Philemon, told is the night preceding our final trek up Kilimanjaro. Little did I know that these words would give me the motivation and strength that I needed to make it to the top of the mountain. It’s hard to describe the thoughts running though my head and the emotions that I felt when we finally reached the summit. What I can say is that I experienced pain on this hike as I had never experienced before that day. At almost every break I kept asking myself, ‘How am I ever going to make it up this mountain?’ My head was pounding, and my stomach felt as if it were turning inside out. However, I was constantly shorted by guides and porters who genuinely wanted each and every one of us to summit Kilimanjaro. I could not let them, and myself, down so easily. Taking it one step at a time I continued up the mountain until we finally made it to the top. This is a moment I will never forget for it has taught me what it means to test and push yourself behind your limit.” – Margot

Our trek down along the Mweka route, the only exit route, led us back through familiar terrain but with a new sense of strength, accomplishment, pride, and exhaustion. Summit Day stories have continued to unfold around the dinner table, coupled with laughter, and we are sure that more stories await. On our last night on the mountain, Philemon shared with us that “low altitude sickness” may have taken ahold of us — the desire for a bed, shower, and perhaps a clean shirt. We all laughed and nodded in agreement and have enjoyed freshening up before the last leg of our trip together. While low altitude sickness may have set in on the final hours of our trek, the hours beforehand are ones never to be forgotten.

The Serengeti awaits! And hopefully a few lions, elephants, giraffes and rhinos. We can’t think of a better ending.

True Happiness with the Red Sweater Project

July 1, 2016

Words are not coming easy as we try to reflect upon the past week in Mto Wa Mbu. We certainly did not dip our toes in the waters of cultural immersion, we jumped head first and haven’t looked back.

Ashley, the director of The Red Sweater Project, energetically greeted us at the Njake Lodge last week to brief us on the work we’d be doing at the Mungere School — a school that sits amid a sea of dusty sand and coconut trees, is towered over by a plateau of mountains in the distance, and is surrounded by a scattering of African huts. Building upon the work done by Moondance’s first session, we picked up on the school gardening project with eagerness and excitement. Led by our friends Jim, Sheb and M’Safiri, we planted sunflowers, cleared and hoed land, mixed manure with sawdust to create the perfect compost, and carefully planted seeds in hopes of creating a fruitful garden that will be used for student meals throughout the year.

Every morning, we awoke to a full breakfast spread prepared by the one and only Vincent (who is climbing Kili with us) and then were sent off to school in a couple of Tuk Tuks — open scooter cars that somehow or another zip across the sandy terrain with ease. The hours before lunch were designated for work and the afternoons allowed time for soccer and basketball games, a waterfall hike beside Mungere students, and a stroll through Maasai land to participate in a Maasai Ceremony which we don’t quite know how to articulate. Our senses were overflowing and no picture or video will ever be able to capture the nervous pitter patter in our hearts as we saw the Maasai jumping, chanting, and celebrating the induction of a boy into manhood. To think this all takes place when we are simply sitting in our homes.

Awareness and gratitude for this unusual experience is high among the group and because words are so difficult to find, we’ve decided to share a piece of our experience with you — collective words are better than the words of one, and we hope you’ll enjoy hearing these reflections from your very own. Who are taking Africa by storm!

“This past week has been crazy but in a good way. Working at the school with the kids was eye-opening. The friendships that were created the past week allowed us to experience a different culture unlike anything in America. We are excited to start out trek up Kili tomorrow!! Best wishes from Kili!”
– Sterling

“To describe the first leg of our trip is difficult to do in a few words. From forming new friendships, our week of community service is one that will be remembered both for our newly developed ‘green thumbs’ and the important impressions we made on the students. As we go on to climb Kili, I am excited to continue our journey and share my experiences with my family and friends in the near future.”
– Caroline

“This past week has been very exciting and busy! We have experienced so much African culture from a Maasai ceremony to local markets. The community service has been so fun! We have gotten to really know the kids and each other, which made it hard to say goodbye! We are about to start our climb up Kili and everyone is super excited!
P.S. Happy Birthday Mom!”

“This past week is hard to put into words, but I’m going to try my best to explain just how amazing these new experiences have been and just how much I have learned. Although I didn’t really know what to expect from this trip and was nervous about what was to come, the moment I met the children, my nerves faded away. Each one of these kids was welcoming, gracious and truly inspiring. Many of them shared their dreams of becoming doctors and someday moving to America and I have no doubt in my mind that their dreams will one day become reality. I have made new friends and very excited to keep in touch with them in the future because they have taught me so much about myself and what it means to appreciate the life we have been given. Tomorrow we will begin the second part of our journey…wish us luck!
P.S. Vegan food has been amazing!”
– Margot

“If I had to describe this week in one word, my word would be chance. From the start, our trip itinerary was unknown to us. Maybe we were trying new foods or hiking to a waterfall. The chances we took were never regretted. Whether it was crossing the tiny rocks over the water, or being thrown into a Maasai ceremony, we absorbed the crazy awesome experiences and used them to grow our relationships this week. Taking chances is a hard thing to do for most people our age. Everyone in this group took a chance by coming in this trip. By eating lentil soup. By dancing with the Maasai tribe. And the next chance we take together will be climbing Kilimanjaro. We have had an incredible week and I know I speak for everyone, we will remember this trip forever.”
– Sarah

“This trip has been great so far and I have learned so much about myself and others along the way. It is safe to say that each student is having a blast and the relationships built will last a long time. Things will only get better.”
– Lamar

I assure all of you that your child is having the time of their life. I can definitely say I am. We’ve been here for eight days and it feels like we got off the plane yesterday. This trip so far has done more for me than I could have ever imagined. Chances are I’ll be home way before I’m ready. Just know I love lots, Mommy and Papa.”
– Conn

“Dear Mom and Dad,
I hope you are enjoying the peace and quiet in Richmond and wherever you have traveled. So far we have been having the time of our lives. We formed great relationships with the kids at Mungere. Kili should be a great experience and hopefully we’ll be able to summit. Thank you for this great experience and I’ll be back sooner than I would like. Thanks for everything.
Love, Reid”

“Going into this week I did not know what to expect. I knew we were working in a school but that was it. I realize that I did not know much about the week of service because there is no way to put it into words. The kids we met, the food we tried, the culture we experienced, was truly amazing. This week we grew closer as a group and grew closer to students at the school. This was a week that I will never forget.”
– AG

“The past week has been fantastic. Working at the Mungere School was very rewarding because of the school kids’ willingness to help. With the community service came the chance to attend a traditional Maasai ceremony. Though I was a little bit unnerved, I will never forget that afternoon. I am sad to leave the school and the kids but I can’t wait to start our climb. Wish us luck!”
– Liza (Tray-boo)

“Everything is going fine. Tell Selby ‘Happy Birthday.’ Having an awesome time.”
– Webster

“Everything is going swimmingly. Thanks for letting me do this. It’s been a blast the whole time.”
– Tyson

“I’ve had fun with everything so far (minus the heat). The ‘lamppu’ has actually come in handy. I’ve met a lot of nice and interesting people here and I’ve learned a good amount of Swahili. Thanks for giving me this opportunity.”
– Maxwell

So, there you have it. Your children are grateful for this experience, and we are grateful to be sharing it with them. Tomorrow, we head to Moshi, the town of Kilimanjaro, where we will begin our seven day trek. Tonight’s Moonup question was, “What are you hoping to gain from Kilimanjaro?” Of course, we are all hoping for a summit. But confidence, perseverance, and stronger friendships aren’t far behind.

During her orientation of The Red Sweater Project, Ashley explained that you will receive more than you give. I believe all of us would agree that the Mungere students, and really everyone who we have met in Tanzania, have brought so much light into our lives and a better understanding of what happiness truly is. We do what we can to help, but it’s absolutely amazing how the people of Tanzania have affected us. Everyone here is genuinely kind and real. I have never seen so many smiles! Bring it on Kili!

MK & Chap

Goooood morning from Arusha!

June 25, 2016

Goooood morning from Arusha! Our entire team has made it safely to Africa along with all our bags. Yes! This crew is full of well-experienced travelers and Mary Kate and myself could not be anymore excited and pleased! We all knew this was going to be an epic trip when our Tanzanian friends picked us up at the Kilimanjaro airport with Shaggy’s song “Angel” on the radio! Poa! Our Swahili shall improve throughout the trip but for now, just slowly slowly (pole pole). We are off to Mtu Wa Mbu to begin our service project with the Mungere school! We will have a more detailed update in a few days but just wanted to let everyone know that we are all safe, healthy, and super stoked! Africa!!!

Wehweh Ni Rafikiango!

Chap and Mary Kate