July 1, 2017
June 26, 2017
Hello again! We are reporting live from Ukutula Lion Park Sanctuary and cannot wait to tell you guys about everything we’ve learned, seen, and experienced since our last update!
Our morning at Monkey Camp at Marataba was spent cleaning up our homey tents and eating big bowls of cereal before hitting the road to Save the Waterberg Rhino in Vaalwater. The focus of today was wildlife conservation work and exposing ourselves to the harsh realities of poaching and extinction of these beautiful creatures. The afternoon started with an interactive presentation with some of South Africa’s most aggressive snakes where some of the girls overcame their fear of these reptiles. Olivia and Abigail seemed most relaxed as the intimidating Python wrapped around their arms and hands, while the rest of the group nervously watched. The interaction ended with the most intense snake we had encountered yet, the Black Mamba. The group was not permitted to handle this reptile, but our instructor informed us just how special getting to see this creature up close and personal really was. We left these slithering snakes behind, and went inside to learn about the terrible poaching problem in the world, and more specifically the endangerment of the Rhino’s in the Waterberg area. Jessica, our wonderfully informed and impassioned specialist, gave the group a moving presentation on just how serious this issue is, and what measures their organization is taking toward finding a solution to this travesty. Her only hope from our talk was to inform the group of the severity of this issue and take back our newfound knowledge to the states to help make a difference, if only in our local communities. Following our discussion, the group had the opportunity to be face to face with these spectacular animals, watching them feed and interact together. We then met a few of the armed guards who have dedicated their lives to protecting these particular Rhinos, who are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was exhilarating to be within a few inches of these animals on the verge of extinction, especially after learning about them and seeing them only through the lense of our binoculars on our Safaris. After thanking Jessica, we packed up and headed back to Monkey Camp for our last night in the Marataba section of the Marakale National Park.
The next morning marked the beginning of our highly anticipated service component: a trip to the Bushveld Mission Children’s Home. The Bushveld Home is a non-profit organization that was created to teach and encourage orphaned, abandoned, abused, and starving children by “loving them back to life”. We arrived in the morning, eager to help as the Mission director, Mrs. Terry (Mama T), welcomed us with a big smile and huge hugs before instructing us on how we could make an impact on their home. We split up into two groups; one focused on painting the kitchen windows and walls while the other painted the ABC’s and number murals in the younger children’s rooms. After a morning of hard work, laughs, and lots of paint we were all excited to get to play with the kids! The group did everything from playing soccer to braiding each other’s hair to singing and dancing together. It was a special treat to watch all our students give all their hearts to every child they interacted with. Later that day, we returned to Monkey Camp for a traditional South African dinner known as Pap and Wors prepared by the students with the help of the kitchen staff, Nicholas and Rachel. On the grill, Hallie and Arrington cooked the Wors to perfection while Clara and McKinley inside, stirred the sticky Pap on the stove until it was just right. The group’s collaborative efforts paid off with full bellies and was easily as one of the yummiest meals of trip! However, what truly made the group come back together and reflect about the day was when Grace beautifully said, “I wish we could give up one of our beach days to work at the Bushveld Mission Children’s Home more,” setting the perfect tone for another glorious Moonup by the fire and underneath the amazing stars.
Everyone woke up with extra energy this morning knowing we were going back to the Mission to play and love with the kids again. Our second day of service work was extremely special. Pastor Hammish, Mrs. Terry’s husband, gave us some of his time before church and took us through the Vaalwater township where the Bushveld children are originally from. During our visit, we were blessed to meet a young eighteen year girl named Hellen who takes care of her siblings, home, and is enrolled in high school while her mother works in a different town to financially provide for all of them. Walking through the town was an incredibly sobering experience that left the entire group speechless and eager to always make a difference in everyday life, wherever and whenever we can. We returned to the Misson and spent the afternoon painting the kitchen walls, fixing lunch for the entire mission, and completing the murals before the kids got back from church. Julia helped stir the meat, getting out of her comfort zone, as Arun (one of our guides) helped her accomplish something she did not think she could stomach.
When the kids finally returned, they jumped out of their vans and gave us enormous hugs and we picked up right where we left off. Caroline immediately gravitated towards the youngsters, and they reciprocated that love and attention. Her connection was contagious as all the girls followed suit, goofing around with all of the children on the playground or soccer field. After a few hours of playing at the mission, it was unfortunately time to say the hardest goodbyes of the trip. These kids truly shook our worlds, and their impact was blatantly apparent on each and every one of our girls faces. Their hearts were so full, and their eyes heartbroken that we had to leave these new friendships we had just forged. It was a humbling experience to say the least, but one of the most personally enriching and powerful moments that each and every one of us has ever had. We loaded up on the bus and headed to our accommodation for the evening, the Waterberg Cottages. After a full spread of chicken, steak, veggies, and pudding, we gathered in the field behind the cottages for a breathtaking Night Sky Safari. Our guide, Phillip, blew the group away with his knowledge of our galaxy and the infinite frontier beyond. He began his presentation with the moon, and ended with another galaxy some 20 million light years away. Needless to say, our minds were blown by his unbelievable understanding of our universe and space.
It astonishes us to think we only have a couple days left of this trip but we’re ready to make the most of our time together! Thank you all for sending your precious kids on this amazing adventure. We are so thankful to share this experience with each one of them. All the best – Sam and Kienne
June 23, 2017
Greetings family and friends,
We hope everyone is doing well back in the States and enjoying their summer as much as we are! Since our return to Johannesburg we have witnessed and interacted with a medley of South Africa’s finest wildlife. Our first stop was at Bela Bela Elephant sanctuary where all eleven of us learned about the history of generational land, interesting facts about elephants in general, and unique qualities about the seven elephants currently living on the sanctuary. We learned that elephants have an incredible memory and are wildly intelligent mammals when one of the elephants took, memorized, and returned Grace and Olivia’s hats back to them during a game. Before we ventured off onto our group elephant ride we received juicy elephant licks and slobbery kisses that made us all feel truly blessed to be so up close and personal with one of the biggest animals in the world. On the elephant ride we paired up into small groups of two or three with a guide and elephant. Although our time at Bela Bela came to an end we all agreed that it would remain to be an experience that would live forever in our memories.
Our next stop was NJ More Monkey Camp inside the Marakele National Park. Excited to reach the reserves untouched wilderness, we munched on pizza, snacks, and dozed off to reenergize ourselves. Our two wonderful safari guides, Stephanie Kulak and Ryan Clark, graciously greeted us as we entered camp with freshly squeezed juice, afternoon snacks, and welcome gift bags. It didn’t take long for us to move in and jump into our two safari trucks for our first breathtaking sunset safari drive. And sure enough, within the first ten minutes exploring the reserve both vehicles spotted an elephant enjoying dinner by the water as the South African sunset in the distance. As the drive went on, the number of animals we saw increased too: we saw everything from giraffes, zebras, warthogs to impala, hyenas, various birds, and termites. It was hard to believe that only on our first excursion outside of camp we had seen so many animals! As it got darker we turned in for the night and filled our bellies with delicious burgers and South African tea before Moonup. Leaders of the day, McKinley and Caroline set the tone for another emotional and empowering end of the day with their question that dealt with personal struggle and triumph. Julia really opened up to the group, and it brought everyone closer together. It was a truly special Moonup. Behind the set fence of camp was the biggest elephant we had seen thus far drinking from the natural watering hole beneath the beautiful bright night stars. This moment was nothing short of absolute wild magic.
For the next two mornings we awoke before the sun and warmed our cold sleepy selves with hot tea, coffee, and biscuits before heading out for sunrise safaris. Buried in blankets and every layer we packed imaginable, we saw the wilderness on the reserve open its eyes to the new light of day with us. In two safari cars we were once again lucky to see more zebras, giraffe, birds, cheetahs, and lions before turning in for a hot breakfast and afternoon tracking lesson. Ryan and Stephenie safety guided us on various animal tracks through the open and unprotected land of the reserve. Ryan demonstrated bird calls that flocked to us and together we stalked a heard of wildebeest until we were eye to eye with these (un)flattering creatures. Being able to walk on foot in the reserve was a vulnerable experience and sparked our desire to go out on yet another sunset safari drive that could engulf us even more with this amazing wildlife that surrounded us. After a more lighthearted Moonup, we headed off to bed to get ready for our biggest challenge yet – the sleep out.
After another early wake up and morning Safari, the girls packed their things for a camp out right in the middle of the Marataba Reserve. We set out with our day packs full of layers, and arrived just before the base of the serene Waterberg Mountain Range. Our two guides for the evening, Ryan and Arun had a number of activities planned for the group upon our arrival, as the girls unpacked their things and set up camp in the golden hour. First up, our guides tasked our girls with an obstacle course in which they paired up and were blind folded, only relying on the communication of their partner to help them reach the finish line. After many laughs, all of us completed the challenge, some quicker than others. Then, the guides suggested a 30 minute reflection period for each and everyone one of us. So, we dispersed around the camp ground and used those 30 minutes to think, reflect and decompress. The group then rounded back up to watch the sunset together and to prepare for an unforgettable night under the South African stars, a true spectacle to behold. As our steaks cooked, Kienne read the group a short story, while Arun and Ryan kept the group entertained with interesting facts and stories relevant to the Bush. Our guides then briefed us on the most exhilarating part of the evening, our night watch shifts. The group was broken into pairs, and informed that every hour and a half a pair would keep watch of camp, given a spotlight and very necessary cups of coffee or tea. Sam and Kienne kicked off the night watch, followed by our brave first volunteers: Arrington, Clara, Grace and Abigail. After a long, chilly (to say the least) sleep out, Hallie energetically woke the group up… we watched sunrise and made our way back to base camp to enjoy a much deserved breakfast. Next up is the reason we are all here – Service! We all miss you guys so much and cannot wait to see you!
June 21, 2017
Dearest Family and Friends!
We touched down in South Africa ready for an unforgettable seventeen days together! We (Sam & Kienne) met eight of our extremely excited girls in the ATL airport and immediately started bonding over stories, jokes, and laughs while double checking to make sure everyone had their necessary paperwork to board the plane. Close to boarding time we realized that one of our group members, McKinley, would not be able to make the group flight in time due to a previous flight delay. The group instantly began asking questions, wondering how we could make her feel welcome upon her eventual arrival. We were both awe struck by how compassionate and thoughtful our girls were to do anything to make sure she felt like part of our group just as they had.
During our long and restless flight, we enjoyed some pasta, chicken and rice, or shrimp salad. Although the food was not as good as a home cooked meal, the endless movie choices proved to be enough to hold us over until our first meal in South Africa – some good ole cheese pizza. Angela, our wonderful South African extraordinaire, met us outside of baggage claim greeting us with a warm and friendly “Welcome Home”, setting the tone for the entire trip. With lots of luggage and only a limited number of hands, our students began helping each other and us leaders as if it was second nature. We took the shuttle back to our hotel, and Angela hit the ground running, briefing both South Africa groups on all the long, hard work she had put in to making sure our trip was absolutely amazing.
After our group discussion and well-deserved pizza dinner, it was time for our first Moonup. Despite our long flight and weary eyes, we gathered together to conclude our strenuous day of travel. As leaders, we had been preparing and waiting for this very moment for months and decided that our first Moonup question would be “Why did you want to do this particular trip?”. Right away the group wowed us with their honest and open answers, ranging from their passion for animals to their desire to step outside of their comfort zones and experience something completely different and new. The trip finally felt like it was getting started, but we were still anxiously awaiting the arrival of the last piece to this dynamic group.
After a night of light sleep, we headed back to the Johannesburg airport to make our way to the coast of Mozambique at Tofo Beach. Kienne accompanied the group to the airport and saw them through security, before heading back to the hotel to wait for McKinley’s flight to land. Meanwhile, Sam and the girls boarded two connecting flights before finally touching down in beautiful Inhambane, Mozambique. After a 30-minute bus ride from our entertaining driver Victor, we pulled up to our stunning beach front home. Here we headed down to our first outfitter to meet Jenny, who organized our activities and accommodations for our stay. Shortly after heading back to our accommodations, Jenny and company brought over groceries for the week, as well as Spaghetti Bolognese and a local dish to Mozambique for us to enjoy for dinner. After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to our first full day on the beach! We spent the day splashing around in the Indian Ocean, kicking the soccer ball in the sand, and enjoying the delicious meals provided to us by the Tofo Scuba team. Later in the afternoon, our group was finally complete. After much anticipation, Kienne and McKinley arrived to happy hugs and friendly smiles. The group was finally united and we could not possibly be more excited. We gave the girls some time to get to know each other before starting to cook our first group meal – pasta, pasta, and more pasta.
The next morning, we were awoken by the beaming sunshine and crashing of waves of the breathtaking Indian Ocean. We walked down the beach to enjoy breakfast, before splitting into two groups for scuba and surfing. The first scuba group met for an introduction and proceeded to gear up for their pool training, while the other group soaked in the sun and spent some quality time getting to know one another. Abigail, our very own expert certified diver, helped ease everyone’s nerves by giving words of encouragement and helping everyone get the hang of diving for the first time. Now ready for their afternoon dive, the group reunited for our first group activity: an Ocean Safari.
On our two combined Ocean Safaris, we saw three Whale Sharks, six manta rays, a family of dolphins, and various species of fish! Our eyes were full and hearts so grateful for these rare and absolutely majestic sightings of marine wildlife. Later that afternoon the groups split back into our two groups for the open ocean dive and a surfing lesson. Under the sea, we experienced what life would be like with gills and swam in between corral, eels, reefs, and clownfish before rising to surface for much deserved fruit smoothies.
The surfing crew hit the water ready to conquer some waves and learn some new skills. Arrington and Hallie, our seasoned vets, jumped right in as they did not need the beginners lesson, but that did not exclude them from a multitude of inevitable wipeouts. As the sun set, we made our way back for another delicious home cooked meal consisting of rice, pasta, ground beef and mixed vegetables wonderfully prepared by our very own cook crew. As we gathered for our family style dinner, Olivia and Caroline stole the show entertaining everyone. Their energy and laughter was contagious making the entire group roar as we enjoyed our meal. Moonup was next on the agenda, and it was a truly groundbreaking moment for our trip, as the entire group shared with each other their thoughts and emotions regarding the most challenging moments they never thought they were capable of. It was so special to see the girls open up and completely trust one another with some of their most intimate feelings on only the fourth night of our trip.
The next morning after another filling breakfast at Tofo Scuba, we were ready for another adventurous day on the beach. Before the activities got started, Julia led some of the girls in a workout on the back porch overlooking the Indian Ocean. After working up a sweat, the groups once again split into our two groups to scuba dive and surf. The open ocean dive and surfing lesson were exhilarating but exhausting, and had us ready for a good night’s sleep at the end of the day.
Knowing today was our last day, Grace and Clara were eager to make the most of it and led us on a long scenic walk down the absolutely beautiful coast of Mozambique. We explored tidal pools, shared stories, and exchanged more than a few laughs before making our way back to thank our gracious hosts and pack up for our journey back to Johannesburg to begin the Safari section of our trip.
Everyone is having the time of their lives and its crazy to think that the trip has just begun! Until next time! – Sam and Kienne
Caroline: Hey! South Africa is amazing! We have seen so many Whale Sharks and Manta Rays! Scuba diving was awesome as always! Miss y’all and Happy Father’s Day Dad!
Arrington: Hey guys, I miss you all a ton! South Africa is incredible and I couldn’t be happier! Everyone is the sweetest and the beach activities have been insane! Can’t wait to tell you all about it. Happy Father’s Day Dad, love you!
Hallie: HAPPY FATHERS DAY!! Miss you (and mom, Will, and Chris) so much, I wish you could be here to watch me fail at surfing but also enjoy how pretty it is here together. Love and miss you xoxoxo
Julia: Happy Father’s Day dad! I wish I could be with you and the family to celebrate but, I’m having an amazing time here. Scuba diving today a was sooooo cool. See y’all soon. Miss you all so much….I love y’all
McKinley: Happy Father’s Day Daddy!! I love and miss everyone. Africa is so cool! I love it so much. The beach is so great. Text Colton and tell him I miss him! Anyways, love y’all so much!! Have fun on your trip! Love y’all!!
Grace: Happy Father’s Day dad! I miss you guys so much! Thank you for sending me on this trip. I came face to face with a mighty Whaleshark! It’s incredible! I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Love y’all!
Clara: Hey guys! Happy Father’s Day dad, I hope you enjoyed my card! It’s been so fun, especially the scuba diving and snorkeling! Seriously, I’m having a great time! I miss you all!
Olivia: Happy Father’s Day dad! miss you guys so much. we’re having so much. We’re having so much fun in Mozambique. We went scuba diving, snorkeling, and surfing. We saw whale sharks and manta rays while snorkeling. I caught at least five waves surfing and getting super cool GoPro footage. Love you guys and Happy almost 9th Birthday Nick! Love you so much!!
Abigail: Happy Fathers Day and Birthday Dad! I love you soooo much! I hope you and mom are living it up in Europe! Words cannot express how much I miss you guys. I’m having a great time and I’ve made amazing friends. Remember to take lots of pictures in Europe so you can tell me all about them. Much love from Mozambique!
June 14, 2017
Hi South Africa Families,
We’ve spoken with the leaders and (almost) everyone’s arrived safely in Johannesburg. They are eagerly awaiting the arrival of one last group member, but know she will be welcomed with open arms tomorrow. We are excited for this adventure to begin! Stay tuned!
-The Moondance Administrative Team