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Kilimanjaro 1 • June 13-July 5, 2017

Fond Farewell

July 5, 2017


Bittersweet announcement-

All of our amazing session 1 team has boarded the plane. Alexis and I truly enjoyed getting to know everyone on the trip, and we are so proud of what they were able to accomplish, together. From digging pits for new toilets at the red sweater project, to climbing “breakfast wall” on Kili, and finally scouting the big 5 on the safari, we know that we will all have memories for decades to come.

Best wishes and thanks for reading! We hope you all have a wonderful remainder of your summer, and hope to see you again next year!!!

Until next time,
Jake and Alexis

Final Farewell from the Serengeti

July 3, 2017

Hello family and friends! 
We have just returned from 4 action packed days in the Serengeti as well as the Ngorongo Crater. Everyone had the chance to witness “The Big 5” and more.
After returning from the mountain and freshening up at the SG resort, we began unpacking and repacking for our next adventure into the African wilderness. As LODs, Kirby and May May did a great job preparing us on what we needed to pack for the safari. We then celebrated our achievements on Kilimanjaro, complete with official summit certificates presented by our master guide from the mountain, John Simon. The buffet at the SG resort never disappoints, so we enjoyed some amazing food before heading to bed in anticipation for a big day commuting to the Serengeti. 

On day 2, Campbell and Harry jumped into one of the safari cars before we could even blink. After loading up the remaining bags and passengers, we took off from Arusha in two lifted Land Cruisers, complete with big windows and captain’s chairs. The roof of these vehicles also popped up, allowing us to stand up under a canopy, perfect for viewing animals while staying protected from this intense African sun. We arrived at “Simba Camp” and had a blast setting up our tents. Today was Sarah’s birthday! So we naturally had to embarrass her in front of all camper residents and sing happy birthday to her multiple times. Emma and Abby helped us secretly pick out a cake at the store. It was in the shape of a hot pink punch buggy car. That night after dinner, our cooks, and many other cooks from other companies, threw a hilarious birthday celebration for Sarah. They turned out the lights as they brought in the cake with no candles. They were all singing a Swahili birthday song very loudly in the dark. One cook had a metal pan that he kept slamming onto the ground, another cook had the propane tank in his hands in place of candles, while another was cooking his chicken skewer on the propane flame, and everyone was going crazy with their noise makers that we had secretly passed out before dinner. It was the wildest, funniest, most unforgettable of birthday celebrations I think we will ever see. To top it all off, the cake tasted a little bland to say the least but was enjoyed nonetheless! What a night! 

On our way to the Serengeti, we stopped at a Massai village where we were kindly welcomed with song and dance. This time, our crew got to be part of a very special ceremony. We were able to witness a sacrificial goat ceremony. We had the choice to opt out, but we took a vote and every student voted yes to witness this ceremony. Although it was very difficult to watch, the whole group was glad they had partaken in the ceremony and witnessed what it’s like to truly live as a Massai villager.

The Serengeti wasted no time in showing us its bountiful beauty. Within the first 30 minutes, we saw four elephants and four lions interact! As we slowly drove up to the mama elephant and her little baby elephant, Amani, our guide, told us to be very quiet and very still. We didn’t want her to feel threatened because they were just 10 feet away from us! Soon after, we realized that there were four lions hanging out under the rocks on the other side of our car. We slowly watched as the elephants approached the rocks, forcing the lions to give up their shady rock spot. As we drove on, we quickly came across lots of antelope and some scary looking hyenas! Little did we know that we would be seeing all of these animals quite frequently within the next few days. One incredible thing that we were so happy to see were two adorable baby lion cubs! They were hiding in the brush with their mama, but every now and then you’d see a head pop up and see the two cubs playing with each other. 

The next day, we woke up early, downed some porridge, cereal, pancakes, toast, eggs, bacon, and fruit, (our typical morning buffet from Doto), then piled in the Land Cruisers! Within the first 10 minutes of our drive, we ran into a mama giraffe and her little baby. They stood very still as we approached in our car, perhaps feeling a little bit threatened. They were so beautiful in the sunrise’s glow as they ran away, almost in slow motion, into the distance. As we drove along gazing intently out from the roof of the car, we heard over the radio that there was a leopard siting! We quickly whipped the car around and sped to see the leopard. It was lounging in a tree close to the road. This was number four on the list of the big five! Unfortunately, his head was blocked by a branch but we were still fortunate enough to see this beautiful creature. Our guides reminded us how lucky we were to see a leopard as we continued to cruise through the Serengeti. We saw many “cheetah chips,” aka antelope, all day long, as well as hyenas scavenging the land. We took an afternoon break during the hottest hours of the day, ate some lunch, played some cards, and rested. Jake and Emma once again dominated the card game called Kemps, beating several other duos in a tournament. We then went out for a lovely evening drive, spotting some female lions hanging under a tree, and three hippos just across the way in a muddy pond. At one point, we saw some antelopes approaching, and one of the female lions got into hunting mode, crouching down, ready to chase them down. Unfortunately, they ran away and we did not get to see a lion chase down it’s dinner, but it was still so exhilarating! The evening ended with a gorgeous sunset cruise back to the campsite. We cruised along to some Raggae music as we spotted elephants and giraffes in the distance, gorgeous colorful birds flying every which way, and a cool summer breeze running through our hair. The perfect ending to our last night in the Serengeti. We ended the night with yet another fabulous Moonup, this time under the stars in our tent “village” we had created.
The next morning, although we thought our Serengeti time was over,  we saw a herd of elephants with a baby elephant that was only about 3 months old! It was running all over the place interacting with its herd. We sat for about 15 minutes just watching it play with its mother and other elephant friends. Alas, we had to leave the Serengeti, but guess where we headed next!? The one and only Ngorongoro Crater! The crater is a place where so many walks of life co-exist. Within one square mile, you could find zebras, wildebeests, hyenas, secretary birds, and hippos alike. We even saw a pack of hyenas carrying a wildebeest head! Our favorite sighting, however, and the one that Gracie and Liza were most looking forward to, would have to be the fifth and final animal of the big five: the rhino! Sadly, we were informed that there are only about 40 rhinos left in the area, so we were lucky to have the chance to see such a beaut!n amazing animal. 
As we’ve wrapped up our last hours here at the SG, we have not stopped reminiscing on all of our times together in Tanzania. From the new close friends we made at the Red Sweater Project, to that “Little Hill” we conquered together as a team, we cannot help but consider ourselves some of the luckiest adventurers in the world. This has truly been a trip of a lifetime. One that has brought people together and created lifelong friendships and memories. We will miss our first group so much that it hurts, and can’t thank you enough for allowing them to join us on this adventure this summer. We hope to see you back at Moondance again next year! Until next time!
Tutaonana Baadaye,
Alexis and Jake

The Roof of Africa!

June 29, 2017

We have arrived back at our hotel in Arusha, and although we are exhausted, we are happy to announce everyone’s massive success over the past seven days! It has not come without it’s trials, but we are certain that everyone left the mountain having learned something they did not know about themselves before.

On day one, we left our hotel in Arusha and drove to Machame trailhead, where we met our porters who began to weigh and divide our gear amongst themselves. While waiting for the porters to handle logistics, Abby, Emma and Jake bought camouflage bucket hats. Our Tanzanian team, provided a carb-loaded, delicious lunch for our first big day of trekking ahead. After some photos at the gate, Campbell took the lead as many porters began yelling what became very common to us, “Pole pole!” meaning “slowly slowly” in Swahili. We entered the first of many climates that Kili has to offer: the rainforest! Thanks to Liza, we were even lucky enough to see some monkeys in the trees. That first night, we were greeted at our first campsite, Machame Camp, by our porters. They graciously snagged our backpacks from us the second we arrived, escorted us to our tents, and told us to meet in the mess tent in an hour for tea and popcorn. Our cooks, Doto and Alpha, and our kitchen crew, Po and Alfonse, presented us with a delectable meal: Soup to warm our bellies, along with rice topped with a veggie and chicken sauce. Yum! We finished the night with Moonup, led by our lovely LODs, May May and Harry.

On day two, our first morning waking up in a tent on Kilimanjaro, we were awoken by a tap on the tent followed by Po and Alfonse’s sweet voices saying, “Good morning! How did you sleep? Like a baby? Would you like coffee, tea, or mocha?” They handed us warm beverages in our tent to start the morning off! If that’s not high-quality service right there, I don’t know what is. Thirty minutes later, they came around again offering us “warm water for washing,” and thirty minutes after that took place, breakfast was presented with yummy eggs, bacon, porridge, toast, and pancakes. This crew cannot say enough great things about the food provided and our wonderful friends who provided it. We were loaded with carbs every morning to ensure great success on the mountain! This day, we woke up to our first clear view of the mountain and were all in awe. We headed from Machame Camp to Shira Cave Camp, a shorter, yet steeper day. The clouds descended upon us this day, as we walked “pole pole” to Shira. Upon getting to Shira camp, we ate lunch, played some card games, and went on an afternoon “acclimatization” stroll to get our legs loose and keep us awake until bedtime. Again, Shira had a gorgeous view of the snowy summit, which we gazed upon with excitement before we all headed off to bed.

Day three was meant for acclimatizing. We hiked from Shira camp (12,000 ft), up to Lava Tower (15,000 ft) where we had lunch, then back down to Barranco campsite (12,600 ft). The first half of the day was sunny and hot. The crew cruised up the mountain with ease reaching the lunch spot just before the weather hit. We scurried down from Lava tower through thick fog and sprinkles of rain. When we arrived to Barranco camp, we could barely see 10 feet in front of us – the fog was so thick! Our porters greeted us with Kili songs and dancing. Harry, Emma, and Sarah quickly jumped in to join the dancing, and the others soon followed. We couldn’t be happier with our group of porters and guides, bringing smiles to our faces even in the rainy weather. About thirty minutes later, as we’re all huddled in our tents getting warm, we hear Gracie yell for everybody to come outside quickly!! We all emerge from our tents, greeted by the most breathtaking view of Kili on one side, the Barranco rock wall on another, and the gorgeous valley below. Just minutes before, we had no idea where we were in the fog, then all of a sudden, we emerge from our tents into paradise! Incredible! The moon shone on the snowy caps of Kili this night, the stars and Milky way were vibrant, and the tiny little lights of a town below twinkled in the distance. Overall, this day was outstanding and we looked forward to Barranco wall the next morning.

Day four started off with a tough climb up Barranco wall. We had to put away our trekking poles and scale up a steep (but safe) rock wall. Those who were scared of heights absolutely crushed it and got up no problem. After lunch at Karranga camp, our guides decided we had such a strong group that we would continue on to Barafu base camp, where we would spend the night and wake up the next morning around 4am to summit Kilimanjaro! Once at base camp, we bundled up, ate a very carb-loaded dinner, were briefed on the early wake up call for the next day, and promptly went to bed around 8pm. (Similar to all other nights. We got great sleep this week). 

Summit Day was upon us! Day five, 4am wakeup call! You can hear everybody rustling around in their tents in the chilly weather, gathering their things, headlamps turning on one by one. We’re slowly trickling into the mess tent, game faces on, ready to take on the highest mountain in Africa! Headlamps on, water bottles and tummies filled, we begin up the steep trek from base camp to Uhuru peak. Kirby starts off in front with our guide John, helping keep a nice, slow, steady pace that the group can follow. As the hours passed, the stars slowly disappeared and the sun began to rise as we saw one of the most gorgeous sunrises we have ever seen. The clouds were thousands of feet below us, stretching over thousands of miles of African land, as far as the eye could see, and the sky was painted in an array of warm oranges, pinks, and yellows. We went “pole pole”, encouraging each other with song, jokes, and laughter, as well as encouraging words and positive attitudes.

Although the altitude started to affect many in the group with mild headaches, we did not hear one complaint the entire way up the mountain. This is definitely a group of rockstars. After about 6 hours, we made it to Stella Point! (18,885 ft). We took a long break, gathering ourselves for the final push to the top of Uhuru peak (19,341 ft). The entire day, Jake had been logging video diary entries, interviewing different students each time, and updating the video journal with live feed of hilarious and noteworthy moments. As we made that final tough push to Uhuru Peak, Jake was filming the crew approaching the sign, and you could see nothing but joy and awe in the eyes of all the students. Overwhelmed with happiness and pride as we stood on top of the roof of Africa, we all hugged, some cried tears of joy, and we took in the immense sense of accomplishment we all felt in that moment.  Although Gracie was unable to make it all the way to the top due to the difficulty of the hike, we were so proud of her efforts after a long day on the mountain.

Upon our return to base camp, we were greeted by cheers and whistles from our porters, with mango juice in hand. Though exhausted from the long day, we decided to go ahead and descend to a lower camp, to get a warmer night’s rest and sleep in a little longer than usual. The following day consisted of a short 2-hour hike and then endless amounts of card games in the mess tent. I’m pretty positive we stayed in the tent from 11:30am through lunch and up to dinner, just goofing around, playing games, telling stories, and honestly having an absolute blast just kickin’ it and reminiscing on the amazing week we had just experienced. 

Although we are sad to leave our new and beloved Kilimanjaro family, we will cherish the times we had and the lessons we learned from the week we spent on Kilimanjaro. We look forward to our Safari in the Serengeti in hopes of spotting the big five at least 3 times, and perhaps even witnessing a traditional Massai Village ceremony! Will write again soon. Best wishes, and “Tutaonana Baadaye!” (See you later!)

-Alexis and Jake


Service with the Red Sweater Project!

June 21, 2017


Our experience in Tanzania has been absolutely incredible so far. Everyone is safe, healthy, and happy as we prepare for bed on our final night at the campsite near our service project. 

On day 1 in Atlanta, some students met Alexis at the front door of the airport, while Jake collected each team member connecting in Atlanta at their individual gates. After we assembled for the first time as a team, Harry showed us to an excellent sushi restaurant within the international terminal. We bonded over a variety of airplane meals and movies during the 19+ hour adventure from Atlanta to Arusha, enjoying some coffee and card games in Amsterdam as well. Sarah had no trouble finding the Starbucks, but there were long debates over whether Dunkin Donuts coffee tastes better. 

After arriving in Arusha, we headed to a very charming hotel in the city and enjoyed a buffet style dinner. The meal was excellent, but our excitement really peaked when finally arriving to a comfortable bed. We slept as much as possible in preparation for another action-packed day. 

Campbell and Emma did an excellent job as first leaders of the day, waking everyone up and ensuring they have the correct things packed for a 6-day camping trip. We are very fortunate to have all Moondance alumni on this trip- a luxury that we as leaders will dearly miss. We headed out of Arusha to Mto wa Mbu, a small town near the school we partnered with known as “The Red Sweater Project”.

After settling into some very roomy tents near a pool on a well-kept lawn, we enjoyed a nice lunch consisting of chicken, muffins, pancakes, fruit, and lollipops. No one is going hungry here! Our hosts from the Red Sweater Project, Sheban and Msafiri came to the campsite and gave a presentation on what to expect for the 5 days working at the school. They explained the mission and we headed to bed early in preparation for a long day of improving the facilities. 

The first day at the service project was a blast- we met all the students and began digging a massive pit for the compost toilet that we installed. This pit was roughly 10×10 and nearly 8 feet deep, no small undertaking. We had fun working in teams of three taking turns digging and cheering. Working alongside the local students at the school was very fun, and we all enjoyed getting to know basic Swahili phrases. 

On day two, the Tuk Tuks picked us up at 9am sharp and we headed off to see our new friends again. We continued working in our three groups, each with a mix of Red Sweater and Moondance students. The crew building the new bathroom, including Harry, Kirby, Liza, Abby, and May May, made lots of progress on the 6-foot-deep hole. It was very sunny and hot, yet the crew was relentless and dug on! The Red Sweater and Moondance kids came together, laughing and joking their way through the tough labor. Later that afternoon, Emma taught everyone a hysterical game called Pterodactyl; a silly game where you stand in a circle, can’t show your teeth, and have to make a pterodactyl noise to the person next to you. Everyone was rolling over laughing, it was a blast!

On the third day, everyone came together to finish the hole for the bathroom. We sang songs, both American and Swahili, danced, and learned a little bit of Swahili from the students who were so eager to help us learn their language. We all started giving each other nick names, including Alexis and Jake, who the RSP kids named BiBi and Babu (grandma and grandpa). We all cheered when the hole was finished, took a nice lunch break, then ventured off on a lovely afternoon hike to a gorgeous waterfall. We all decided at Moonup that this was one of our favorite days. We had a lot of one on one time with the Red Sweater students and had some long and meaningful trail conversations. In the late afternoon/evening, we got into some intense card games. I believe this was the day that we started playing the game “Kemps”, and the day that Liza taught some of us how to play Gin. We capped the day off with yet another delicious meal from our cooks Doto and Alfa. We enjoyed steak kabobs, an avocado, tomato, and pepper salad, and some tasty potato fries. The night ended with a tough yet meaningful moonup question that brought the group even closer together within the night. 

On day four in the Mungere village with the Red Sweater Project, we got into some gardening. We raked, hoed, pulled up bushes and trees, and cleared a very large section of the garden for planting. In the afternoon, when everyone was relaxing, Campbell started a long Conga line that everybody jumped into without hesitation! Right afterwards, Gracie and Harry started a game of Limbo. Sarah made it to the final round, but was beat by Edward, a student from RSP. The girls braided each other’s hair, and we all sang songs that all the students knew, such as Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift. We bid adieu to the RSP students for the day, then headed to Mr. Macho’s in the Tuk Tuks! Mr. Macho, the owner of a lovely arts and crafts store, welcomed us nicely, remembering Moondance from years and years of our visits, and gave the students some great deals on some lovely artwork! 

On our fifth and final day, the gang savored their time with their new close friends. We did some light gardening in the morning, making rows and plots for the garden, and mixing together some manure and sawdust to create optimal soil for growing plants. In the afternoon, we took a long walk to a Massai Village. We were generously greeted by a large group of Massai Villagers, who sang and danced and welcomed us into their homes saying “Karibu Sana” (“Welcome!”) They went straight into a dance in which the men jumped in place with poles as high as they could. They quickly grabbed Harry and Campbell to join in and jump with them. The women of the village took Abbey, Gracie, and Kirby by the hand up to the dance circle, placed decorative beaded collars around their necks and involved the girls in their dances. Everyone was all smiles, and so overjoyed to be welcomed so generously into the Massai villagers’ homes. It was an unforgettable experience for us, and a memory that will stick with us forever. The time had come for the students to say goodbye to one another. It took us a while to leave because the students simply did not want to have to say goodbye to each other. Our students gave their RSP friends printed photos of them together from the week, which put smiles on everyone’s faces. They exchanged emails and last-minute hugs as we said goodbye to a group who opened our eyes to a whole new world. Although we are very excited for Kilimanjaro, this section of our trip has left us with an experience that none of us will forget.

Tomorrow we begin the 7-day excursion on Kilimanjaro! We look forward to updating you all upon our return.

P.S.- Campbell says happy birthday mom! & Emma wishes her parents a wonderful anniversary. 

Until next time, 

Jake & Alexis

Touched Down, Tanzania!

June 14, 2017

Hi Kilimanjaro Families,

We’ve spoken with the leaders, and the group has arrived safely in Tanzania. We’re excited for the adventure to begin! Stay tuned! 

-The Moondance Administrative Team


In the Air!

June 13, 2017

Hi Kilimanjaro Families!

We’ve heard from the leaders and everyone’s en route! The summer has officially started! Once everyone arrives in Tanzania, the Moondance Office will call all families to check in.

-The Moondance Administrative Team


  • Liza
  • Harry
  • Kirby
  • Sarah
  • May
  • Abby
  • Emma
  • Campbell
  • Gracie