July 25, 2017
We have enjoyed an incredible safari over the past several days and although our trip is coming to a close, we have thoroughly enjoyed our final week together.
On the first day of the safari, we loaded up in three safari cars complete with pop up roofs for great viewing. Before we knew it, we were on our way to the Ngorongoro crater. After stopping for an awesome picnic lunch, we headed to a viewpoint over the top of the crater and immediately saw two black rhinos through our binoculars – Amazing! Aidan was the first to spot the two tiny black dots, and we were all very grateful as we began our pursuit to view the big 5.
After we entered the crater, we were immediately met by herds and herds of cape buffalo, gazelle, and topi, among other animals. Lily really enjoyed the hyenas, and we were lucky enough to watch a pair of lions fighting with some hyenas over a dead gazelle. In the afternoon, we headed to a hippo pool where we ate another awesome lunch prepared by our cooks, Dotto and Alfa. These lunches typically consisted of chicken, a sandwich, bananas, and a lollipop with juice. Mary Harbin loved the muffins that were occasionally packed as a surprise! Everyone enjoyed watching the hippos as they fought for positioning, but Salley was not a fan of the smell……water is not the only substance they throw on themselves to stay cool!
After enjoying the afternoon in the crater, we climbed out and began the trek to Serengeti National Park. On our way, we stopped by a Massai village and received a tour of how these native tribes thrive in such a harsh environment. These natives live in small, round huts, constructed with sticks, dirt, and animal dung. We all had the chance to split into pairs and enter a home of one of the many villagers who so graciously welcomed us in. Hannah and Will really enjoyed getting to know the boy that gave them a tour of his home.
We then made our way over to the kindergarten, where the little kids greeted us in song. Cardy joined in on the singing and played patty-cake games with the precious toddlers. We continued on our way to the Serengeti, and within the first five minutes of entering the national park, Salley spotted elephants in the trees below us – about 30 meters from the road. On our way into the park, we saw elephants, giraffes (Millie’s favorite), and buffalos. As we continued, we saw lots of gazelle (also known as cheetah chips), and even our first lion sightings! We saw a female and male lion sleeping in the grass, just 10 ft. from our cars. Bo and Frannie started making funny noises at them so that the lions might look up for a photo opportunity. Alas, the lions didn’t budge. On our way to the campsite that night, we were fortunate enough to come across two cheetahs walking through the tall grass. We got very close, and all sat there quietly and in awe. That night ended with another yummy meal, and a fun moonup under the Serengeti stars lead by Moana and Lauren.
The next day, we woke up for an early morning drive before the sun became too hot midday. Colby and Gracie were sitting in the back of the 8-passenger car, which allowed for a lot of great photo opportunities. First thing sighted on this day, besides the gazelles of course, was a giraffe and her baby very close to the road. Cate found the way the giraffes run to be very funny because of how ‘slow motion’ it looks.
We then went back to the campsite to eat lunch and avoid the hot midday heat. We played cards and ate snacks, until we went out again around 4pm. In the afternoon, we saw more female lions hanging in packs on the lookout for their prey. We even got the chance to see a few lion cubs this day! We could barely see their heads popping up above the grass – they were so adorable! The ostriches and their unbelievably long necks were very entertaining to watch, as well as the pumbas (warthogs) that ran around with their tails straight up. We ended the night with another great moon up under the stars, and quickly fell asleep after such a long day.
The last day we packed up our things and headed off for our last morning Safari in the Serengeti. Again, we were incredibly lucky. We were able to see a leopard in a tree, and an elephant with enormous tusks walk straight towards our cars! We saw many hippos, lions, and a countless amount of the brightest colored birds we have ever seen. We enjoyed a wonderful last lunch on our cars, under beautiful acacia tree overlooking the endless plains of Tanzania. We were sad to head out, but we thoroughly enjoyed our last 30-minute ride as we stood up through the roof, blasted some tunes, and let the wind run through our hair as we soaked up our last minutes of sunshine in the Serengeti.
We had an incredible week with our Active Kili Top guides, Amani, Hassan, and Solomon. We became great friends with them and we will miss them dearly. It is still so surreal that this trip has come to a close. Tonight at moonup, we could not help but reminisce on our entire three weeks together and all of the fun, meaningful, challenging, and hilarious times we have had as a group. We will miss everything about this place, but we will never forget the relationships we made, the challenges we overcame, and the many things we learned during our time in Tanzania. Thank you for sending your wonderful children on our trip this summer. They were such a pleasure to have and we are sad to see them go. It truly was a trip of a lifetime. We hope to see you back again next summer!
All the best,
Alexis and Jake
July 20, 2017
We are back at the SG hotel in Arusha, all clean and showered after an absolutely incredible week on Mt. Kilimanjaro. We are pleased to announce the entire group’s tremendous success in reaching the top, and know that these students cannot wait to share all of their stories with you from our time on the mountain. Until then, we’ll try to give you a brief summary of our past 7 days.
On day one of the Kilimanjaro expedition, we loaded up in our bus and headed for the Machame gate after an excellent breakfast
at the hotel. Upon arrival, we quickly got out of the way, as more than 30 porters began handling and distributing our baggage to be packed and hauled up to the first camp. While waiting for the logistics team to sort everything out, we signed in at the entrance hut and ate a nice lunch near the trailhead.
The start of our hike meandered through the rainforest that surrounds Mt. Kilimanjaro. With the help of Cate’s keen eye, we were lucky enough to see some indigenous monkeys along the way, despite the beautiful loud singing that took place among our team! We were constantly encouraged to keep the “pole pole” pace, meaning “slowly, slowly” in Swahili. Our group was excited to hit the trail and we certainly came firing out of the gate. After arriving at the first camp, our porters were eager to take our day packs from us and show us to our tents. We enjoyed a nice meal in the mess tent and headed to bed for another big day.
The following morning, we woke up at 6:30 am to two porters, Sylvester and Raba, offering us coffee and tea in the tent. This was a luxury that amazed us, and it certainly helped us get out of bed. After packing up and enjoying a great breakfast, we made a three mile ascent to barranco camp, which took roughly 5/6 hours. Although a short distance, the second day can be very challenging due to the steep trail that one can expect.
On day three, we were woken up by Aidan and Will’s beautiful singing of Firework by Katy Perry. We then hiked from Shira Cave camp all the way to Barranco. This day was a day meant for acclimatization. We started around 12,000 ft, went up to Lava Tower at 15,000 ft for lunch, and then down to Barranco camp at about 12,500 ft. Seems silly to go up just to go down, but it was to see how our bodies and brains reacted to the 15,000 ft altitude. A couple had tiny headaches, but overall everybody felt amazing! This was a great sign that our group was acclimatizing well. The day started off a little chilly, so we bundled up, and headed up! Our LODs, Hannah and Gracie, lead the crew up a 4 hour uphill trek. Everybody loved this morning hike because we were finally out of the trees, on a wide open ridge, looking straight up at the snow capped summit. We were also able to see several other trails in the distance, which would eventually meet up with our trail just before we hit Lava Tower. Once at the tower, our incredible Active Kili Top team had our mess tent set up for us, the table set, and warm soupu waiting for us. We enjoyed a delicious rice and veggie lunch, then began to make our way down to Barranco. Upon arriving to Barranco, the clouds were moving in and out of the campsite, and it was difficult to see exactly where we were. After changing and washing up in our tents, Lily yelled for everybody to come out of their tents! We were greeted by the most breathtaking view of Kili on one side, the tall 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 the sudden we emerge into a surreal setting as if out of a movie. The moon shone on the snowy caps of Kili this night, the stars and Milkyway were vibrant, and the tiny little lights of a town below twinkled in the distance. Overall, this was an outstanding day and we looked forward to climbing Barranco wall the next morning.
Day four began with Barranco wall, also known as Breakfast wall. They call it this because it is infamous for people “leaving their breakfast” on the wall (luckily none of us did). After a beautiful sunrise and scrumptious breakfast, we put our trekking poles in our packs to prepare ourselves to climb the wall. Salley and Lauren mentioned that though the wall looked daunting from far below, the climbing of breakfast wall ended up being their favorite part of our hike thus far. You climb slowly, along side the porters who were passing us quickly, climbing while balancing enormous bags on their heads. We conquered that wall rather quickly, looking down behind us at Barranco camp and into the valley as the sun rose. At the top of the wall, we came across a beautiful spot for picture taking in front of the snowy capped Kili top. We had a long afternoon ahead of us, going in and out of gorgeous valleys. At lunch time at Karranga camp, our lead guide John, decided that our group was so strong that we would skip staying at Karranga and continue on to Barafu base camp and summit the next morning! We were so excited and could not wait! Although it turned out to be a long day for everybody, it was well worth getting all the way to base camp in order to then do a 4am start for summit day! We ate a very carb-loaded dinner this night, bundled up in our Moondance parkas, and quickly went to bed to try to get a good 8 hrs of sleep before the summit attempt.
Summit day was upon us! We each got a 3am wake up call from our porters. You can hear everybody rustling around in their tents in the chilly weather, gathering their things, headlamps turning on one by one. As we slowly trickled into the mess tent, everybody had their game faces on and was ready to take on the highest mountain in Africa. With headlamps on, water bottles and tummies filled, and Cardy and Moana as our LODs, we began up the steep trek from base camp to Uhuru peak. A grueling 6 hour straight uphill hike to Stella Point had us all huffing and puffing our way up. Despite the difficulty of the climb, this crew was absolutely relentless. Bo was telling jokes, Colby was sharing stories, and everybody attempted to sing some tunes between deep breaths. Jake and I cannot say enough great things about the positivity of this group. These students are consistently enthusiastic and incredibly encouraging to one another. They all pushed each other to get to the summit, and we are extremely proud that everybody made it to the top!
Once at the top, we took lots of pictures, exchanged hugs, a few shed some tears of joy, and together we sang the Kilimanjaro Song while smiling, dancing, and reveling in our success! We then made our way down the mountain at a fast pace back to base camp where we were greeted by our porters and cooks with mango juice and congratulatory hugs. We enjoyed another great lunch before we headed down to another camp called Millenium Camp. This was in order to get to a lower altitude to help us all feel better and get a good night’s rest.
The following day, we got to sleep in! Woohoo! We had a short two hour hike down to Mweka camp from Millenium. Once there, we took naps, played cards, wrote in our journals, told stories, shared photos, and just relaxed after a tough five days hiking up Kili. This night, Frannie and Mary Harbin lead an incredible moonup discussion. The first question was a deeper one that everybody answered openly and honestly in which even a few tears were shed. It was beautiful to see these students come together over a tough personal question. The second question also had us in tears, this time laughing, as we all went around and talked about what food we wished would fall from the sky in that moment. The next day, we had a farewell singing and dancing ceremony with all of the guides and porters before we hiked out. They sang the traditional Kilimanjaro songs and we all danced and sang together and thanked one another for an incredible time on the mountain. After hiking down about 3 hours to the gate, we enjoyed lunch, and said one last goodbye to our Active Kili Top friends.
After a delectable buffet from the SG Hotel, our Lead Guide, John Maeda, and Junior Guide, Good Luck, both came to present our crew with certificates. We went around the room while every student presented a certificate to a friend, adding a few nice words about them as well. We cannot express how happy we are for the immense success of our team this past week. The constant energy, then endless laughs, the optimistic encouragement, and the ability of these kids to turn any type of adversity into a positive or funny experience; all of this contributed to an unforgettable week on Mount Kilimanjaro, including their success to the top! Though we will miss the mountain and our new Kili Top friends, we will never forget the friends and the memories we made. We look forward to the Safari tomorrow, and hope to see some, if not all, of the big five! Check back soon.
All the best,
Alexis and Jake
July 13, 2017
As we sit in our hotel in Arusha, we cannot help but reminisce on the incredible week this group had working with The Red Sweater Project. Every single Moondance student became close friends with the students there. We learned a lot from them, including some Swahili, a little bit about their culture and traditions, and even a little bit about ourselves along the way.
From day one when we picked up our group at the JRO airport, we could tell they were going to be a lively bunch. Despite the exhaustion from their long travels, Gracie, Lily, and Bo were leading the pack as they emerged from the airport with enormous smiles and enthusiastic attitudes right off the bat! We gave them all hugs, welcomed them to Tanzania, and headed off to Arusha with our new big fam of 15 students.
After a day of traveling to Mto wa Mbo, the town where The Red Sweater Project resides, we began our first day of work with the school. Our first Leaders of the Day, Bo and Lily, made sure everybody was safely in a Tuk Tuk before anybody took off down the bumpy dirt road to the school. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by about 20 students who took their Saturday free time to be with us, work in the garden, and get to know a new group of Moondancers. This day, we weeded the garden, chopped up some mulch, and helped make more walkable paths. After a hard day’s work, we got to have some fun! Lauren, Colby, Aidan, Moana, Will, and their new friend Stephano, started up a game of 3 v 3 basketball. Meanwhile, Millie, Jake, Gracie, Lily, Bo, and Hannah played some full field soccer. We mixed the teams up, combining Red Sweater and Moondance kids. We had a blast running around, joking and laughing with each other and bonding over a universal sport. Salley, Frannie, Mary Harbin, and Cardy bonded with some toddler Massai kids, playing with a bouncy ball, playing tag, and belly laughing at their language barrier.
On day two at Red Sweater, the weeding crew became the path crew. They did a stellar job making clear paths that allowed anybody gardening to reach the center of each bed. The mulch crew this day stayed hard at work, singing as they worked, and using machetes to chop up old leaves and trees that would then be used to mulch the current banana trees in the garden. Mary Harbin and Kate were assigned planting crew. They had to plant seeds and water the soil, in hopes of seeing new vegetables in a couple of weeks! In the afternoon, we played more basketball and soccer, as well as a hilarious pterodactyl game. In the pterodactyl game, everybody stands in a circle, and you pass the pterodactyl noise to your right, trying to make somebody laugh so that they might show their teeth and be out of the game. Everybody was in hysterics playing this game. This same day, as we were all hanging out near the basketball court, we saw a group of Massai boys coming down the path with tall trees they had cut down. It was very cool to witness the march of those men into the village, and learn a little more about their culture and traditions.
On our third day at RSP, we finished up the pathways in the garden and continued to make as much mulch as we could. Today was a special day because after our work, we got to sit in on a classroom in which the students were learning English. Several RSP kids escorted our Moondancers to sit with them at their desks, and together we completed a conversational English lesson that everybody enjoyed. Colby and Gracie even got to go in front of the classroom with their partners and perform what they had practiced. The classroom was full of energy, and the enthusiasm of these students was unparalleled to any other classroom I have seen. Their strong desire to learn English put smiles on all of our faces. We had a large game of soccer this afternoon, as well as a visit to our friend Mr. Macho! Mr. Macho owns a craft shop where several artists, including himself, paint, draw, carve, and make beautiful trinkets. As a friend of Moondance, Mr. Macho allowed every single student on our trip to pick out a free painting from his shop to take home. This is the kind of incredibly genuine kindness that Moondance encounters in Tanzania, and we are so thankful for our ongoing relationships with all of our Tanzanian friends.
On our fourth day at RSP, we took the morning to go on a hike to the waterfall! It was a beautiful, cool morning, and about an hour to the waterfall behind the school. We walked through dusty paths, navigated through a banana tree forest, jumped a few rocks and crossed a couple of streams to get up to the waterfall where we had lunch. Mo, Will, Aidan, and Lily sat on the biggest rock in the middle of the water with some of their new RSP friends, while others mingled on the rocks next to the waterfall, taking pictures, and laughing with their new friends. The hike was a fabulous time for some trail talk with the RSP students. Once we returned to the school, we took the afternoon to sit and hangout under a big tree to protect ourselves from the hot hot sun. Salley got a new hairdo this day from all of the RSP girls who gave her about 25 small braids so that almost her whole head was covered in braids! We sat talking with our friends, taking pictures, sharing stories, and learning each other’s languages. It was a nice relaxing day, perfect for more one on one quality time with the students. This night, Colby handed out tootsie rolls that his mom had generously snuck in his bag (Thanks Mrs. Nolan!), and we played two hilarious rounds of Mafia, led by Bo, Catherine and Aidan.
On our final day at the school, we arrived and received the usual very warm welcome from our dear friends. We finished some final chores in the garden, mulching trees and finalizing some of the paths within the garden. Then, everyone enjoyed another great lunch with fresh fruit and the very yummy cookies that our amazing cooks pack for us. We had a special afternoon planned this day where we took a walk to one of the student’s homes nearby. All of us really enjoyed getting to see what a typical student’s life looks like outside of the school. Johanna and Sara, brother and sister, live in a two bedroom structure made out of a dirt composite, reinforced by timber. It was very humbling to see how welcoming they were, inviting us in and showing us all that they had in their home. We were all very impressed by how immaculate they kept the home. After visiting their house, we then stopped by the neighbor’s place, which happened to be a traditional Maasai home. This traditional home, with a circular layout, was very spacious, although dark. When we returned to the school, every single RSP student was let out of class, and we did a giant relay game on the soccer field. Each group had to run up to a leader or teacher, grab a baton, put it on their forehead while looking at the ground, and complete 10 circles by spinning. Everybody was so dizzy when they stood up from their spinning that they could barely see straight when trying to run back to their relay line. Every single person was in hysterics laughing, people were falling trying to run back, and we had so much fun that we’re not even sure who actually won the relay! The day ended with us saying goodbye to our new close friends, exchanging emails, taking last minute pictures, and hugging each other so tight we simply did not want to let go. A few tears were shed, from both groups, which was a true testament that the week we spent was meaningful for both us and them. We formed friendships that we will never forget, and hopefully we’ll be able to stay in touch as pen pals in the years to come. We will miss our friends dearly and can’t say enough for how much joy and love they brought our group in the last week.
Though we will miss our friends, we cannot wait for our next adventure on Kilimanjaro! This crew is pumped up and ready to go! All is well in Tanzania and we’ll talk to you again soon!
All the best,
Alexis and Jake