June 27, 2017
Hello friends, family, and Moondancers! I hope everyone arrived home safely. Jewlz and I woke up this morning confused as to where everyone went. We’re so used to having 14 friends waking up with us and starting off our day with a morning huddle!
The last two days that we spent on the Island were absolutely unreal. We went snorkeling at Sea Lion Island, where Pierce and Thomas made a sea lion friend who showed off his swimming skills for them for a full hour! Browning tested her snorkeling skills when she held her breath and dived deep down to the ocean floor and explored the underwater world. We boated over to a remote beach where Caroline C., Caroline A., Shannon, Patrick, Mary Elaine, and Catherine basked in the sun singing 90s music. At our banquet dinner, Jewlz and I surprised the group with superlatives. Each person received a superlative followed with a short speech. The silliest one was Ben’s, who received “World’s Best Dad.” He’s so genuine and caring, we all got a kick out of it. Jake received “Most likely to have an official fan club” because Browning started the “Jake P fan club” back in Shandia and it stuck throughout the trip. Later that night we also got a kick out of Mary Palmer and MK passing over the LOD responsibility to Jewlz and me—they even let us write in the group journal!
The next morning, we woke up to a late breakfast and then traveled to the airport to fly back to Quito. We all sat around in the Quito airport and held a special last Moonup together before going through security. Instead of a nug jug, we did a “memory jug” where we all went around and shared memories from the trip. There were definitely some tears shed, especially from Mary Margaret who was really sad to leave. She jokingly debated hiding behind security, but we assured her we would see her again soon (:
Of course we can say that the past weeks have been fun, but they have been so much more than that. They have been challenging, rewarding, and worthwhile. Jewlz and I could not have asked for a better first group, and we already miss each person dearly. We wish to stay in touch with each person in the group and will always be here for each one of them. Each personality contributed to the group dynamic in some way, and the trip would not have been the same if one person were not there. We are so thankful that we had the chance to work with them and we hope to see everyone again in the near future!
Lizzie and Jewlz
June 23, 2017
Gather round family and friends for another rousing installment of the reports from the BEST SUMMER EVER! When you last heard from us we were winding down our time in the Shandia community and gearing up for our time whitewater rafting on the Jatunyacu River. With hearts full of gratitude we waved goodbye to the Shandia community and headed to the river. MK spoke constantly of how his experience in the Shandia community was the most rewarding part of the trip and how he would use what he learned within the community when he returned home.
Immediately upon our arrival to the river it began to rain. At first it was only a sprinkle but then the clouds began to hurl a flurry of rain droplets at us the size of quarters, soaking us before we even entered the river. The rain showers quickened the river’s pace, swelled the river’s size, and ratcheted up the amount of fun that we would have that day. Mary Palmer, Jake and Browning proved to be strong paddlers, even in the strongest of waves, leading the guide to comment that despite their small stature, they are fierce.
The morning’s showers gave way to afternoon sunshine and the warmth brought forth the group’s smiles and a newfound boldness. The river calmed during the latter half of our paddle, giving opportunity for the courageous ones among us to “ride the bull” (sit or stand on the front of the raft while the others paddled). We saw our fair share of wobbly knees and shaky footing but Pierce stood firm on the front of the raft with ease and grace. Many people in Caroline C.’s raft celebrated her for her heretofore-unseen boldness in successfully navigating her team through the river water. When we reached our take out point for the rafts we all wished that we could raft longer. There must have been something in the water that gave us life, something in the cool air that made us appreciate the breathe we had inside of us, something in the sun that made our hearts smile.
Soon after we left rafting we arrived at the hotel. Lizzie and I deemed that the kiddos had earned a bit of rest after such a strenuous day. Following the down time we gathered again for a lesson on leadership. First, our group thought through the seven leadership principles delineated by NOLS. Ben was celebrated by his peers for being an exemplar of expedition behavior, one of the leadership skills, which essentially means putting others first and bringing the group together. We then transitioned into talking about four leadership styles presented by NOLS and each person identified with one of the leadership styles. Patrick identified himself to be a Driver when in a leadership role. This type of leader is not usually shaken by critical feedback and often makes decisions easily. He also had the self-awareness to posit that he would like to work on slowing down his decision making so that he makes less mistakes.
The next day we traveled to la mitad del mundo or The Center of the World. Here the entire group had the opportunity to enter into a historical museum and stand on the equator. Mary Elaine and Catherine enthralled us with their back-hand springs and their backflips and we collectively took hundreds of pictures. We were thankful that we were in this place, especially when we realized that we were standing in a place that only a small percentage of the world will ever stand.
The following day we headed out to the Galapagos Islands. However, we couldn’t leave the mainland without surprising and singing Happy Birthday to our very own Thomas R.! We packed the entire group into his room at 3:50 a.m. to sing to him before we left for the airport at 4:20 a.m. The birthday festivities would continue throughout the day and would crescendo in the evening with the entire group wearing party hats, shooting party streamers, and singing happy birthday to him at dinner. Lizzie worked really hard to get all of the supplies ready to pull off the best birthday surprises that we could have hoped to have ready for Thomas on his special day.
On our second day in the Galapagos Islands we moseyed to Tortuga bay where we spend a morning laying on the beach and playing in the beautiful turquoise water. Shannon spent the morning watching the waves roll in, throwing the Frisbee, and kicking the soccer ball with our guide, Zambo. As I watched them play I overheard the guide and others praise her for her soccer expertise, undoubtedly a product of hours of practice. Everyone was sad to leave as one can never spend enough time at the beach but we had to continue our journey from Tortuga Bay to the island of San Cristobal.
We traveled by ferry to San Cristobal Island. Little did we know that this would be one of the most magical parts of the trip. About an hour and a half into the ride our boat slowed and with furrowed brows we peaked out of the boat’s open back to see hundreds of dolphins traveling together only feet from our boat. Mary Margaret and Caroline A. shrieked with excitement as they saw the dolphins leap out of the air 8 and 10 feet high. Our guide was as blown away by the sight as we were and told us that this spectacle was an omen that we would have a dreamy time on the island. We are so excited about our time here but also saddened that it will soon come to an end. However, we are holding onto each moment as if it was the best moment of our lives because, in this moment, it is. This is the philosophy that we are living into in these last few days and we will be so happy to share our experiences with you in person soon! Chao!
June 21, 2017
Hi family and friends!! Hang tight, we have a lot to tell….
The bus ride from Baños to Tena was about three hours long but it felt like 30 minutes with how close this group has become. I am incredibly impressed with the mature and kind teenagers that make this group feel like a family. Each one of them has such a unique personality that shines bright within the rest. So far we’ve seen a lot of leadership within the group, with Browning and Thomas representing our first leaders of the day (LODs), who then passed on the duty to Patrick and Caroline A.
We arrived at the Shandia Community to a welcome drink and a wave a smiling faces. The lodge is in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon and is sprinkled with green and red plants. A long gravel path connects each cabin (cabaña) and each cabaña sits under a roof of leaves. After we set our things down in our respective cabins, we hiked across a small river to reach the Jatanyacu River, which is the river we will raft on when we leave here tomorrow. On the hike to the river we tiptoed through the wet woods, where Shannon emerged as our groups official tour guide. She is so knowledgeable about the outdoors! Once we reached the riverbank we all splashed into the water to cool off. The guides initiated a game of telephone in Spanish, and I think you all know how that played out in the end. What started as “Estamos aquí en Shandia en la Isla del Gallo” ended up as “El Shandia Hotel es bonita.” We all got a good laugh out of that!
The next morning our new LODs, Jake and Mary Elaine, woke everyone up bright and early and gave a quick pep talk at our morning huddle about attitude during community service. They reminded us that community service would be fun for everyone and to get excited for cleaning the trail to the beach. Out on the trail, Jake and Mary Elaine initiated a trash pile and next thing you know each person in the group was tiptoeing around in search for micro trash. Meanwhile, Caroline C, Shannon, and Caroline A initiated the trail cleanup using the rakes. They led the group down the trial raking off the leaves while Mary Margaret, Mary Palmer, Catherine, MK, Pierce, and Ben followed behind and planted trees along either side of the path. After he walked up and down the beach picking up trash, Jake dedicated the rest of his morning to weed whacking and even the locals noticed his hard work and said something to the leaders!
After a long morning of community service, we sat down for lunch and boy were we in for a surprise! All of the meals so far here in the Shandia Community have come straight from the surrounding jungles. Everything is local: the herbs, the spices, the leaves, the fruit, and even the fish. Our tilapia came out a full fish: face, scales, tales and all. The entire groups faces lit up in excitement to try something new. Patrick and Thomas were the first two to try the most exotic parts of the fish – we definitely have some adventurous individuals in our group!
The next morning our new LODs Pierce and Mary Margaret woke everyone up for breakfast and then rallied everyone to the school where we would spend the morning cleaning the community and playing games with the school children. We distributed the soccer balls that we brought with us and played on the soccer field for hours. Those who brought donations handed them over to the school principal, who was very thankful that we came and spent time with the school kids.
After community service we all geared up and headed deeper into the jungle for a waterfall hike, where we crawled across the river rocks up a series of waterfalls to the top of the Amazon Forest. None of us expected such an awesome experience, but we sure got it!
In reflection of the last three days of community service, I couldn’t think of a better group to work with Moondance for its first trip to the Shandia Community. Everyone was so eager to help out and because of that the group has grown so close together. We are truly thankful to be on this journey together and we’re excited to see how rafting goes tomorrow morning!
-Lizzie & Jewlz
June 17, 2017
Buenos Dias de Ecuador! We arrived on June 14th, welcomed by the cool Quito night air. Each studentwalked through the doors of the airport with bags in hand (or on shoulders) and smiles on faces. And my, were they excited! We traveled 45 minutes by charter bus to our hotel in Quito and each person was wide-eyed and ready to start our incredible adventure. Some decided to go to sleep immediately when we arrived at the hotel. Browning, Mary Elaine, and Mary Margaret stayed up far past the rest of us talking to each other as if they had been friends forever even though they had just met!
We woke up the next morning still trying to wrap our minds around the fact that we were actually in Ecuador! However, we only had a little time over breakfast to properly ponder our new surroundings because we were shortly thereafter whisked away to the beautiful mountainous region of Cotopaxi. Here we became caballeros or horsemen/horsewoman for the day. On our horses we climbed from an altitude of over 13,000 feet to an altitude of over 15,000 feet! Some of our horses were really gentle while others were much more wild. Caroline Allen really showed her riding prowess as she conquered her fears of horses and was able to control her horse even in tough situations. We rode the horses for about two hours up winding roads and onto meandering paths to the top of the mountain to see some of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen. On the way down the horses could feel that they were going home and began to act more lively than they had on our ascent of the mountain. Catherine showed true dexterity on the descent as she wrangled her horse into shape even when it had other ideas. A huge thank you is in order for all of the parents who told their students to drink water before they came on the trip because we had zero incidents of altitude sickness among the kids!
We were sad to leave our new four legged friends but were looking forward to our time we would spend in Banos. The three-hour bus ride between Cotopaxi and Banos flew by and seemed like only an hour long. I think this was mainly because the bus rides are places where our group really comes together. Mary Palmer has used this space masterfully to branch out and get to know the other people on the trip. The tight quarters bring out the conversation and laughter in all of us. Of course, this is also a place where we can catch up on sleep.
We arrived in Banos in the evening, giving us the perfect ambient lighting for our tour of the city. The colorful stretches of sidewalk, vivacious lights, and beautiful cathedral were some of the hallmarks of the city that we found to be attractive. Shannon enjoyed our stops at the sugar cane shops and may have found her new favorite drink: sugar cane juice. After our brief tour of the town we sat down for some of the best pizza any of us had ever had. Caroline C showed us the way to enjoy a cheese pizza in that after a few bites of the cheesy goodness she gave us the thumbs up to show that our early anticipations of an incredible meal would in every way be validated. We saw this pizza dinner as a wonderful way to start our time in Banos.
Our first full day in Banos was absolutely incredible! We went on an open bus tour of Banos to view its fantastic natural offerings. First, the entire group went zip lining over a vast canyon situated in between steep mountainsides covered in bright green trees. Pierce, Thomas, and Ben decided to go down the zip line in the “superman” pose with their arms outstretched and their legs behind them. This was a sight to see and, because they went first, the entire group gained the courage necessary to do the zip line. Next we went on a cable car ride that passed over a large waterfall. Patrick was fascinated by the size and power of the waterfall and took pictures that are so dazzling we hope that we all get to have them when we get home. Finally, we travel to the final waterfall, the biggest of them all and saw tons of gallons of water careening over the mountainside. We were able to get so close to this waterfall that MK could feel the mist as it bounced off rocks on the way down the mountain. Upon leaving the jungle we returned to Banes where we had time to shop for different items. Jake spotted and bought a poncho that very well may be his favorite article of clothing that he has ever purchased.
We are traveling to Tena to start our community service project and could not be happier to get started. We think that this will be an engaging, humbling, and rewarding experience for each of us! We’ll check back in in a couple of days!
Here are a few shout outs from the group!!
Patrick – Hey mom and dad. I am having a lot of fun in Ecuador. I am having the best time and I am meeting tons of awesome people and doing tons of cool things. I have awesome leaders too. I will see yall later. Love you.
Ben – Hey mom and dad. Charlie too. I am having a lot of fun in Ecuador. It is very cool here and I bought a sweet pancho. This reminds me a lot of Costa Rica. Happy fathers day, Dad, I love you. Miss y’all, see you soon.
Mary Margaret –Hey fam… having a super awesome time don’t be offended if I’m not excited to be home because right now I really don’t think I ever want to leave. We just found out that there’s gonna be lik tarantulas etc at our next destination so ya girl is FREAKING OUT making lots of friends though!! HAPPY FATHERS DAY DAD LOVE U SOO MUCH! Love and miss you all <3
Pierce – Hey mother and father. Mary Winston and Katie to. I am having a lot of fun in Ecudor. It is very cool here and I bout a sweet pancho. Happy fathers day, father. Miss you and love you.
Shannon – Sup pals. Don’t worry I am still alive and doing well. Ecuador is so pretty and the people here are super chill. Miss y’all and see u soon!
Jake – Dear parents, I am fine. I went to the rainforest and to a waterfall. Also, I bought myself a pancho; its pretty sick. The leaders also forced me to say that they are pretty trill.
Thomas – Hey mom and dad, Im having fun here, so much fun that I don’t wanna be on this computer… haha. Hope you are having fun at home. Happy fathers day dad, love you. love you momma. tell the dogs I say hey. Lace, Ash and James, love yall. Peace n blessins, love yall.
Mary Elaine – Hey kids. How is Atlanta? I am having the most fun weekend in Ecuador! I’ve met so many amazing people and have learned so much. My trip leaders rock they’re so sweet! Happy Fathers Day Dad! I love you so much; stay normal! I love you both sooo much! I’m having the best time, but miss you all as well! <3
Browning – Hi Mommy and Daddy!!! I miss you! Just kidding. That’s probably not too surprising though J. I hope you had the best birthday Mommy and that you all maybe went to the beach! Happy early Fathers Day, Daddy! I am having the best time in the world exploring Ecuador and we start our service portion tomorrow. Hope I don’t have a tarantula encounter. Love you both to the moon and back. Xoxo Bebe
MK – Hey y’all have fun this weekend with the family. I’m having fun in Ecuador and we are going to the Galapagos in the next few days, but happy father’s day dad! Staying curious over here. Xoxo bye
Caroline A. – Hey guys I made it to Ecuador all good. I am having so much fun fune and ive met amazing people. The cities I have been too are soooo cool. This trip has already been one of the most amazing expireinces ever. Text mallie and tell her im having an amazing time. Also happy father’s day!!
Catherine – hey family!!! Im having the time of my life here!! Don’t worry I made friends so im not a loner. Everyone on my trip is really cool and the leaders are so awesome. We’ve been having so much fun in Ecuador and we are about to go do service. Ok bye love you and my braces broke I need to go to the ortho asap. P.s- hey Aubry
Mary Palmer – Hey!!! Having so much fun in Ecuador with amazing people! Already the first three days have been amazing! My leaders are sooooo cool! The places here are s different, but it has been so different to learn about the different cultures. Tomorrow we are starting are service portion of the trip! Happy early father’s day! Love you so much!
Caroline C. – hey! Having do much fun with awesome people!! Happy fathers day dad miss and love you!! Tell everyone at the river I miss them(including charlsey) have a rockin weekend love yall!
Lizzie – Hey mom and dad and Catherine! Happy fathers day dad! Miss y’all!
Jewlz – Mom, Dad, Avery, Camaren, Skyler, and Sydnei I love you all! Happy Father’s Day Padre!!
June 15, 2017
Hey Ecuador + Galapagos 1A families,
We heard from Lizzie & Jewlz early this morning that the group made it safely to Quito, and are resting at their hotel. Please stay tuned for trip updates as their adventure begins!
-Moondance Administrative Team