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Kilimanjaro 2 • June 22-July 14, 2017

A Final Farewell

July 14, 2017

Greetings from Amsterdam! 


We have officially left Africa, and we already miss it dearly. Our final few days in Tanzania could not have been more perfect. Jerald took us to two of his favorite spots for lunch where we feasted on traditional African food, and Matt enjoyed some pineapple Fanta! We made it back to the hostel for one final night, and Ryan finished his summer reading, allowing us all to enjoy (or maybe not enjoy) watching Wild on the flight. “The only purpose was to kill time. It was so not enjoyable.” -Rybae. Chandler and Kate enjoyed our last night in Arusha by taking full advantage of sitting outside under the stars reminiscing on the past three weeks. 


Our last day was spent walking around and exploring Arusha with Jerald. We even stumbled upon a gelato shop where Madison and Sydney feasted on mango, pistachio, and strawberry flavored gelato. Far too soon we found ourselves on a bus headed to the airport. We had a very tearful goodbye as we parted ways with Jerald, and then things got weird in the airport. Jax was overwhelmed by Caroline doing a crazy Hairspray dance around her. Then, Caroline, Maxine, John Michael, and I played a very competitive game of Chubby Bunny that ended with lots of pink and white sugary Tanzanian marshmallows to come tumbling out of our mouths. 


We are boarding the flight back to the U-S-of-A in a few moments, and while we are excited to see you, we are also sad to leave. We have our baggage and passports, but we are leaving a big piece of our heart in Tanzania. Kwaheri! 

Serengeti Safari!

July 12, 2017

Jambo! Holy moly how time flies when you’re having fun. A lot has taken place and even more has been seen since we last checked in. After some rest and relaxation at the fabulous SG, our crew of certified Kili trekkers suited up for another expedition. Instead of boots and parkas, we grabbed our binoculars and best Steve Irwin outfit and headed towards the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater to begin our safari. Outfitted with two extended Land Cruisers that had rising roofs we began our journey. 

Loaded up in our cruisers, day one of the safari began with us dropping down 600 meters into the breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater which lies within the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This crater, more of a caldera, was once the tallest peak/volcano in Africa until it collapsed in on itself forming the caldera we see today. As we began our descent into the crater we could tell it was going to be a day filed of beautiful vistas and an abundance of wild animals we have only seen on tv. Right away the fascinating wildlife began to appear. With an abundance of wildebeests, hyenas, gazelles and Cape buffalo, each cruiser ooohed and aaahhhed at the fascinating sites. With our cruise came to an end we were all able to agree on the highlight of the day, being the center two cruisers of a party of lions. Our wonderful guides spotted two female lions feeding off in the distance and we were lucky enough to be some of the first enthusiasts there. Before we knew it a whole pride of lions, cubs and all, were creeping out of the grass heading our way. For about 30 minutes this lion pride basked in the shade of our cars and put on a show for the multitudes of cruisers that began to show up. It truly was a spectacular sight. With the excitement coming to an end for the day we began our ascent out of the crater but Maxine, Caroline, and Madison didn’t let the excitement end there. Half way up they took center stage and started singing Disney movie songs putting on a show for me, Rachel and everyone around. It was wonderful. 

After a quick snack at camp, we loaded back in the cruisers and headed down the road feeling great to the Serengeti. A nice little cruise down the dusty trail with giraffes on our left and hyenas on our right we arrived at camp for the night deep in the Serengeti. The next day we woke up bright and early, hopped in the cruisers and right away saw the African wilderness at its finest, a pride of lions stalking and chasing some gazelles. The lions were swift but the gazelles were always one step ahead and eluded the snares of death again and again. The cruise continued and so did the animals. After a leopard and cheetah, we came up on a group of giraffes hydrating at the local watering hole. Jax and Ryan put on a show with some witty BBC style commentary of our new giraffe friends who after a long sip of high quality H2O decided to dash off into the endless plain, yes giraffes do run, and it’s really crazy looking. Quick lunch break, and then back in the cruisers for a sunset drive, and boy was it enjoyable. The entertainment started off a little slow, but just like any good Quentin Tarantino, the action came in flying out of nowhere. A herd of elephants popped out of the bush and put on a spectacle. Mommas, poppas and even the cutest of babies slowly made their way right by our cruiser munching on grass and moseying along. It was truly a magical sight.  With the sun slowly disappearing behind the horizon we pulled into camp just at the right time to witness one of the most breathtaking sunsets my eyes have seen. 

Before leaving on our final day of safari, Kate and Chandler made an insanely long playlist that we all jammed out to while playing cards. Sydney added to the playlist and belted out some country tunes during our long, dusty, bumpy, BEAUTIFUL ride out of the Serengeti. When we arrived at our final campsite, Matt helped everyone pitch their tents, and we enjoyed our last night of camping before traveling back to Arusha. The past three weeks have been a dream, and we cannot believe it’s already time to go home. Tanzania will forever hold a special place in our hearts! 

-Rachel & John Michael


July 8, 2017

I SUMMITED!!!!!!!!!!! Hope ur having fun in paradise. Love y’all so much and can’t wait to see u soon!! Love your favorite daughter   😉 -Jax

Hey mom and dad and collier and Steven!!!! Just Summited Kili and I am about to go on the safari. can’t wait to tell y’all about it!!!! Hope you’re having fun love y’all -Chandler 

Hey fam!!! Just summited Kili and now we’re going to the safari! See y’all in a week:) Love y’all!! -Kate 

Hey fam! I’m having a ton of fun!! Love and miss y’all so much, can’t wait to see y’all soon!!  -Madison 

Hey Fam! I am having an amazing time in Tanzania! I also summited Kili a couple days ago which is unbelievable to me. I miss you guys so much especially you Soph! I love you guys so much see you all soon! -Sydney 

Hi everyone at Blackland! Hope you had a good time in Cleveland. I’m having lots of fun. I love y’all and miss y’all a lot. Hopefully I’ll get a few good pics on the safari! -Ryan 

Hey y’all, cant wait to get home! Tanzania has been wonderful but I’m excited to see y’all back in Nashville! Love y’all! -Matt 

Yo yo, having fun here! -Nick 

Heyyyy you guyyyyyssssss I just climbed Kili! -Maxine 

Hi! We just finished climbing kili! Love you and miss you! -Caroline 

Jambo! Gluten free in Tanzania is so much better than GF in America. The people and this country are absolutely incredible. Love and miss y’all and maybe see ya soon?? Might just stay here forever. -Rach 

Jambo mom and dad! Just wanted to pop in and say hello. Tanzania has been absolutely amazing. Looking forward to seeing you and the family upon my arrival back to Nash. Keep smiling and enjoying life you two. Love, JMM

19,341 feet!

July 7, 2017

WE ALL MADE IT TO THE ROOF OF AFRICA! After an incredible week on the mountain, it is truly hard to put down in words all that just happened. We will do our best to recount every moment but are definitely still processing the very emotional trek!
Our journey began last Saturday as we drove from Arusha to the Machame Gate at the base of Kilimanjaro. We took the Machame Route up the mountain, which is one of the six routes available to hike. After roughly 45 minutes of hiking, we saw a table fully set with silverware and a full spread just off the side of the trail! Needless to say, we knew at that moment that the week was going to be full of surprises. The first day of hiking was through the rain forest and brought out many wonderful trail conversations. We camped at 9,350 feet, which was the highest elevation at which almost everyone in the group had slept before! 
On day 2, we climbed up to 12,500 feet to Shira Camp. This was the day we finally hiked up above the clouds! This is at the point we thanked goodness for water aka thank goodness for our porters who filtered water and carried it for us each day! Our team of porters and guides was made up of 41 people to whom we are forever indebted and extremely thankful. The whole trip would not have been possible without them.
Day 3 was one of our harder days. We hiked up to 15,091 feet to the Lava Tower for lunch. We sat down to a beautifully prepared lunch, and although some of us were feeling the effects of the altitude, we knew it was all part of the experience! That’s the beauty of working in a team: we’re all in it together!
The Fourth of July was one of our favorite days because it involved lots of rock scrambling. We climbed up the Barranco Wall and had a nice break from the hiking we had grown accustomed to. Nick was almost brought to tears at lunch when he saw the chipsi kuku (French fries and chicken) come out because he’d been talking about those two things the whole day while hiking! We had limited visibility this day due to cloud coverage, but it was still a gorgeous hike and had us feeling like we were in Middle Earth. 
The fifth day was short and sweet and full of rest. We only hiked three miles and ate an early lunch so that we could nap before our summit bid! After an early dinner, we were all tucked away in our sleeping bags by 7 PM but were quickly awoken at 11 PM to attempt the summit! 
After a wonderful night’s sleep, some might say it was a little too short, we stumbled out of bed and found our way to the mess tent for some porridge and toast. 15,000 to 19,000 feet, our goal was to knock it out in six hours, but only the mountain would be the deciding factor. We started off nice and slowly or “pole pole” as our guides would say. With Chandler, Madison, and Maxine leading the way, we began our trek up. 
Moving pole pole, we continued to head up. When asked about their state of mind Madison, Kate, and Ryan could say they were a little cold, which was music to our ears as leaders.  With the cold setting in, Jax serenaded us all at 17,000 feet singing the classic Annie number “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” and 1,000 feet later it did in fact come out. As the sun came out and warmed our bodies, We finally reached the crater rim at Stella point. With the opportunity to take a warming break, we were mesmerized by the spectacular scene around us: over 18,000 feet above with earth with moon rocks, sun rise, and breath taking views. Knowing how close we were, we continued forward. Sydney, who truly was 18,000 feet above home, found a little pep in her step and got the group going to make the final push to the summit. Matt continued to push on and kept the group on a solid yet slow pace. 1,000 feet left soon became 500 feet left which quickly became 10 feet left, and before we knew it almost the entire group was standing at Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet. Words can’t describe the emotions that were felt at this moment. After five days of hard work and perseverance the majority of our group was standing on the roof of Africa. 
After some quick photos and moments of pure ecstasy, we had to begin our trek back down to high camp. Because of the physical demand of the summit push, we had students arriving at the peak at slightly different times. We were supported by our guides the entire way! One of our favorite moments was watching Maxine and John Michael summit together. After 8 hours of some of the most mentally and physically straining moments of everyone’s lives, we had all reached the summit of Kilimanjaro. This was an amazing feat, and we are so incredibly proud of everyone.
We hiked down the mountain, had a quick bite to eat, and then hiked a few more miles to our final campsite. We woke up this morning to finish the trek and had an emotional hike down. Once we reached the Mweka Gate, our porters and guides sang us the traditional Kilimanjaro song, and we did our best to thank them for all of their hard work. The past week was one for the books, and we are so so so so proud of all ten kids for pushing themselves farther than most of the kids their age. We are also in awe of the culture of Kilimanjaro and the amazing people on the mountain. This is a special place, and we are sad to be leaving. However, it’s time to see some animals! Ta ta for now! 

Gaining a lot more than just a green thumb!

June 30, 2017


We have just made it back to the SG Resort and Hotel in Arusha after an incredible five days of service. We had the privilege to work alongside 30-40 students at the Mungere School in Mto wa Mbu through the Red Sweater Project.  Each day we traveled in tuk-tuks to the school from the Njake Lodge, which is where we were staying. The Mungere School used to spend $500 per week feeding the students, but through the work of Moondance students, a garden has been built that now has the capability to feed all of the students bananas and greens every day. We continued to expand and enhance the garden through tilling the soil, digging holes for banana trees, harvesting egg plant, and clearing and landscaping more land. 

Matt was always the leader of the group, getting after it in the garden; he could always be found with a shovel in his hand. Similarly, Jax was constantly on the move working in the garden, teaching her peers how to do work that many had never been exposed to before. Jax was also frequently sporting a new hair style that her RSP friends created for her! While it was comfortable for us to work with each other and the RSP students, we would often look up and see just Maxine and a large group of RSP students gardening. She conversed with them in English, learned some Swahili, but was also comfortable just working in silence, which we believe is equally as powerful in terms of building a relationship. 

After working in the garden, we would have a picnic lunch then play games with the students. Sydney was a pro at getting a large group of students to play volleyball with her. We looked up one day and saw her playing with one other student, and less than five minutes later there were at least 15 other students playing with her! Although futbol is the most popular sport, Nick could always be found on the basketball court playing with several students. He has also captured many stunning images of this beautiful country with his camera. 

Monday, June 26, was a holiday known as Idi, marking the end of Ramadan. It is Muslim holiday but is culturally celebrated by all. Thus, we were unable to work at the school. However, several students joined us as we hiked from the school to a waterfall through the Rift Valley, which stretches from Egypt all the way to Mozambique. Our guide and close friend, Jerald, taught us a local Tanzanian song while we hiked, which Caroline quickly picked up and has been singing ever since! Instead of riding the tuk-tuks back to the lodge, we were able to walk the path that many of the RSP students walk each day while recognizing that many students walk even further. Caroline walked alongside one of the students, Gideon, during the bulk of this walk, forming a rich friendship with him as he taught her about the culture of Mto wa Mbu and life as a teenager there. 

Tuesday afternoon we visited Mr. Macho, a local artist who creates beautiful paintings, of which you will see many when your kiddos get home! We then went into the town of Mto wa Mbu, where Chandler’s sweet smile was met by many locals trying to sell her jewelry. Rather than shutting them down immediately, she always got to know the person and kindly conversed with them. Ryan, affectionately known as Ry-bae by the group, also had many people approaching him, and after conversing for a while, he taught them the fabulous Econ lesson of time is money! On Wednesday, we walked to a Maasai boma and learned all about the culture of the Maasai tribe. Ryan, Madison, and Kate led the group in dancing with the Maasai men and women. During the walk, Madison was accompanied by one of the RSP students, and she asked her questions the entire time to gain a fuller understanding of life in Mto wa Mbu. 

Thursday was our last day at the school, and it was very hard to say goodbye to all of the students. Five days doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but we were able to form deep relationships with the students, staff, and each other. Kate is already planning several reunions and is living by the motto that Jerald told us which is, “Your happiness is a gift.” We are thankful for our time spent with the Red Sweater Project, the town of Mto wa Mbu, and the Maasai village for all three represent unique pieces of the overall culture of Tanzania. Life is simple here, and we look forward to learning more from Jerald and each other as we head to Kili tomorrow

More to come, 

Rachel and John Michael 

Touched down in Tanzania

June 23, 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


  • Maxine
  • Matt
  • Caroline
  • Jax
  • Chandler
  • Sydney
  • Madison
  • Ryan
  • Nick
  • Kate