June 25, 2018
With full bellies from our farm-to-table lunch, we headed back to the water for one last snorkel. This was the best snorkel we had the entire trip. The water was a beautiful aquamarine and there was a sea cave for exploring. Chris and Isaac got up close and personal with a sea lion and sea turtle at the same time. Meanwhile, a sea lion took it upon himself to playfully chase Caroline and Fincher in the water. Everyone saw many different species of fish, but the greatest laughs came from a lady trying to pass a sea lion pup that kept trying to nip her feet. We were all rolling with laughter. Don’t worry, the lady got away unscathed! Shortly after, we made it back to our hotel for some much-needed rest before banquet. During this time, Layton, Claire, Hannah, and Ava got the energy going by having a jam session in one of the rooms. When the time was right, we walked to a sushi restaurant on the water for our last meal together. Gray taught the group a catchy jingle that had everyone in stitches for quite some time. A local band also came to serenade us with the groups favorite, Despacito. Everyone sang at the top of their lungs when the chorus came on.
After dinner, Ava and Fincher led a very meaningful Moonup on the dock where we reminisced on our experiences together. Per usual, the laughs were endless. Switching gears, Konrad shared his favorite memory was finding gold in the river in Shandia and hopes to return to the village next year.
Following Moonup, we found an authentic concert in the middle of the city. A six-man band was playing Spanish pop. Bradley led the charge to the front of the audience and everyone put on their boogie shoes and broke it down. James and Maddie were really proud of the way the students immersed themselves in the culture.
In the morning, the roles reversed—silly Sunday. The students decided to wake James and Maddie up instead of the reverse. James and Maddie were shocked and elated to see their smiling faces at their door. We then had breakfast, packed, and headed to the airport. We arrived in Quito with plenty of time for dinner and ice cream before one last Moonup. Carter and Konrad, the LODs, asked meaningful questions that required deep thought from everyone. It was a sweet moment to share together before saying our last goodbyes. But before everyone gave their last hugs, Emma led the group with one last rendition of “I’ve Got Sunshine” including choreography. All the bystanders looked on in awe.
Parents, thank you so much for sharing these 13 incredible young adults with us. We could not have asked for a more well-rounded group to start off this summer. We are confident that each of these individuals will go on to make positive impacts in their communities and on other lives. Thank you for allowing them to be a part of The Moondance Family.
Students – There are many ways to say we love you, there are many ways to say we care about you. Many ways, many ways, many ways, to say, we love you!
Keep in touch! – Love Jim and Janet. AKA James & Maddie.
June 24, 2018
Rise and shine, it’s turtle time! Thursday morning we woke up to a tasty breakfast at the hotel before walking over to Tortuga Bay. The walk took us down a long trail amongst large cacti, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. At the end, we were greeted by big crashing waves only swimmable by expert swimmers. So we decided to take a walk along the beach until we stumbled across what appeared to be a family gathering of iguanas. We stopped for pictures and admired the creatures in their natural habitat. Just around the corner, we found a calm beach where we all took to the water like fish. Claire and Chris, Emma and Gray, and Fincher and Caroline, all took on James and Maddie in a 4-way game of chicken fight. But alas, the leaders stood victorious. Then when we were leaving the beach, Ava spotted a baby shark in the water which startled some nearby swimmers. We all got a good laugh as we knew it was harmless.
With our bags packed, we ate lunch, hopped on a ferry, and made our way over to San Cristobal Island. Hannah kept everyone laughing with her dramatic storytelling and enthusiasm on our wet and wild ferry ride. It was not your typical ferry ride, to say the least. When we arrived, we settled into our new home for the next three days before enjoying a delicious dinner out on the town.
The next day, we grabbed our snorkel gear and headed out to a remote island to explore the frigate birds and blue-footed boobies. After we wandered the island, we swam along the shore with friendly sea lions. Layton and Carter were playful with the sea lion as he came up to check them both out. We then headed back to shore for an incredible lunch. The students were just about falling asleep at the lunch table because they were so worn out. However, it wasn’t long until we were back in the water looking for sea turtles.
This morning, we began our day by exploring a tortoise breeding ranch in the highlands where we saw dozens of baby tortoises. We then made our way to a secluded beach where Bradley showed off his body surfing skills while Emma, Konrad, and Layton showed off their real surfing skills by all catching waves to the beach. It was a challenge to real Isaac and Christopher in as all they wanted was to grow gills and frolic in the waves all day long. But lunch was calling, so we piled in the bus and drove to a farm to table restaurant on a hillside overlooking the ocean.
Stay tuned for the final update as we continue our adventures this afternoon….
LOOK! A pelican. It is a miracle. (a common phrase from our local guide, Harry)
James and Maddie
June 21, 2018
Early Tuesday morning, we set out for Quito. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful mountainous landscape as we made our way up to the hot springs. Upon arrival, at almost 13,000 feet, we quickly hopped into the hot water to beat the chill characteristic of this high elevation and sat back to relax and enjoy the beautiful view. After feeling refreshed, we re-fueled with a good meal and then continued the trek towards Quito. Upon arriving at the hotel, Christopher, Fincher, and Caroline got creative and helped James update his style. Shortly after, Issac, Christopher, Konrad, Carter, Bradley, and Layton all participated in a game of ultimate frisbee. And what a game it was! Everyone playing agreed it was a great way to build their appetites before dinner. When we arrived, Ava and Emma took note of the beautiful sunset and gathered everyone together to take group photos.
The next day we woke up before the sunrise to catch an early flight to the Galapagos Islands. Hannah and Bradley kept everyone in high spirits on the early morning as we boarded the plane. Our first stop after taking a ferry to Santa Cruz was a tortoise ranch where we met our local guide Harry. Harry took us on a walking tour of the ranch which included underground lava tunnels and dozens of large tortoises. Gray also educated the group on the history of Darwin’s finches – we’re all much better informed thanks to Gray!
It was then time to see what else Santa Cruz had to offer, so we took ourselves on a walking tour of the city. But of course, we had to stop for ice cream before it all began. Ice cream cones in hand, we saw a black tipped shark, a sea turtle, some iguanas, bright orange crabs, and several sea lions within minutes. Everyone was amazed and couldn’t stop snapping pictures. We even found ourselves on top of a volcanic rock pile on the edge of the sea for more incredible photos. The group can’t wait to share these with you! The small shops and boutiques also caught everyone’s eyes as we took in the Galapagos culture. As dinner time rolled around, Claire had everyone laughing over her hilarious stories. Especially one about confusing “por favor” as “thank you.”
We’re so excited for the rest of our adventure!
James Kelley and Maddie
June 20, 2018
Happy belated Father’s Day to all you fathers out there! We have had three glorious days in the Shandia village serving the local community. Throughout the summer, Moondance Ecuador + Galapagos groups will be constructing a facility along the river where the Shandia community can gather for dances, meetings, and tourism events. Our very first day, we were given the task of moving river rocks and sand to help form the foundation of the structure. Konrad did a great job socializing with the facilitators from the village in Spanish. His translations were very beneficial to everyone in the group!
After a delicious dinner of soup, carrots, chicken, mashed potatoes, and fruit juice, we enjoyed some traditional dancing from a group of local teenagers. Ava and Emma taught the teenagers some American hip hop dance moves. Fincher and Gray had a great time swing dancing with them as well. The band played Despacito which got everyone up and groovin’.
The next day, we woke up and had a hearty breakfast before heading out to the construction site where we started mixing cement and clearing the brush in the area. Layton kept the energy high by giving everyone songs to sing while they work, work, work, work, worked. After the work was finished, we all went to the riverside to play in the sand at the beach. Many laughs were shared as everyone playfully tackled each other into the mud. We then enjoyed a scrumptious lunch before heading to the community to meet the locals.
We arrived during a Father’s day celebration that we experienced briefly before gathering the local kids to play a muddy game of soccer. Carter, Isaac, and Fincher proved to be healthy competition to the local soccer players. After that, the whole group headed back to Shandia for a chocolate cooking class with fresh cocoa beans! Everyone had the chance to stir the beans over the fire. We then peeled the roasted beans and ground them up. When the time came to turn our grounds into a tasty treat, Hannah turned into a chocolate connoisseur as she perfected the recipe. Our dessert was a hit and great appetizer for our delicious dinner of pot roast and soup with popcorn. Layton and Isaac, our LODs, rounded out the night with a thoughtful question at Moonup: What are everyone’s life goals?
The following morning, we embarked on a waterfall hike where Christopher took the lead and was always the first to hop in the cool water. At one point, we scaled to the top of a waterfall and Bradley made the climb look easy. After the hike, we had lunch and finished the foundation for the structure by moving more dirt to make concrete. Claire and Caroline spent a lot of quality time with the local children playing and singing with them.
After dinner, Emma and Carter gathered up the courage to try a squirmy worm—a jungle delicacy. We then went to a shaman demonstration where we learned about different plants and their healing properties. Bradley had the opportunity to experience a shamans healing ritual.
We woke up early the next morning, packed our bags, and began our rafting section of the Jatunyaca River. Caroline, Bradley, Hannah, and Emma all rode the bull for the first time (sitting on the edge of the raft at the front while it goes over rapids). Everyone had a great time jumping between rafts and pushing each other in the refreshing water.
We will be heading to the Galapagos Islands soon, stay tuned for the next chapter of our adventure!
Signing off – Maddie and James Kelley
Hannah: Happy birthday, Dad! I’m having an amazing time here. Love and miss you!
Caroline + Claire: Dear Mom and Dad, we are having a great time here! Happy late fathers day, Dad! Also, we love and miss you!
Layton: Love and miss y’all bunches! I am having a blast. Hope all is well. Tell Cecil and Lila hello! Happy late Father’s day, father fluff. Can’t wait to see y’all!
Bradley: Happy late Father’s Day! It is getting pretty WILD here in Ecuador. See y’all soon.
Emma: Happy Father’s day, Dad! I miss y’all and have fun in Turks without me!
Gray: Hey Mom and Dad, I’m having a really good time. I miss you guys.
Fincher: Hey guys, I’m having a great time here in Ecuador. Tell Wells hey and I’ll see you soon. PS. Happy late Father’s Day!
Isaac: Waddup family and friends. This country is beautiful and the fruit is beyond belief. Miss everyone. The service section has been amazing!
Carter: Hey Mom, Dad, and William! I miss and love y’all but am having so much fun! Happy Father’s day, Dad!
Chris: Happy Father’s day! I miss y’all but hope you are having a fun time. I am having fun here. Love you.
Konrad: I really like Ecuador and it’s really beautiful here. I really bonded well with everyone. Also, Happy Father’s day, ask Mom for my gift. Also got my first Ecuador gold today.
Ava: Hey Mom, Dad, and Meals. I am having sooo much fun and can’t wait to tell you all about it. Happy Father’s day! Love u!
June 15, 2018
We’ve only been together for three nights, but each night we’ve looked around the Moonup circle in amazement as we talk about how it feels like we’ve been together for weeks. From the moment we met in the Atlanta airport, the group hasn’t stopped conversing and laughing with one another. It is incredible how quickly they have bonded are continuing to do so.
Our first morning, we hopped on the bus with our trusty guide, Diego, and gained some serious elevation as we drove towards the Ecuadorian highlands for a horseback ride through Cotopaxi National Park. When we first arrived at the ranch, they served us cheese empanadas and cinnamon tea. Carter’s face lit up with sheer joy when she took the first bite of the empanada and insisted everyone eat one—or two, or three. After we enjoyed the traditional tea we donned some traditional garb for the horseback ride. Jeans and hiking pants were soon covered in fluffy llama hair chaps and sweatshirts were topped by colorful ponchos. Now that we looked the part, it was time to play the part. We headed to the field, hopped on the horses, and hit the trail up the mountain. Layton and Emma were natural cowgirls/horse whisperers as they led the group and even had their horses gallivanting across the beautiful countryside. At the top of the mountain, the group enjoyed sweetened Chamomile tea, Gray enjoyed it and was such a fan that he would have finished off everyone’s if he could have.
As we entered Baños, Layton and Claire kept the group lively and engaged as they sang and danced to every song that came across the bus’s speakers. After dinner, Hannah and Fincher led a meaningful Moonup, starting off with a quote about service “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” The question of the evening was: what has been your most embarrassing moment in life thus far? Bradley had the group in stitches after recounting a time when his shoelace got stuck in an escalator.
Our second full day started with a wonderful breakfast of eggs, fruit, croissants, and pineapple juice. After breakfast, we set off on a Baños bus tour, our bus had flashing lights, Spanish pop music, and was open air. We drove within of view of beautiful waterfalls that cascaded over cliffs. We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls and took a cable car over the gorge for a better view. We then went to another waterfall and took a suspension bridge on the way. At one point, Ava and Isaac were brave enough and ended up going under the cold waterfall runoff. Konrad was an excellent photographer as he captured many of the laughs and scenery throughout the hike.
When we returned to Baños, we had a wonderful lunch of Ecuadorian cuisine and then went to a hot spring. Caroline flew down the slide and definitely had the best technique. After the hot spring, we went to a mercado (market) where Konrad, Emma, Ava, Claire, tried some of the local fruit. As we were walking back to our hotel, Emma and Bradley showed off some of their hip-hop dance moves, everyone got a kick out of it.
Christopher and Claire led a great Moonup where the question was “What has been your greatest experience in life?” It is refreshing to hear such meaningful experiences from every single student. It’s very evident how much they value life and how grateful they are.
Tomorrow we’re headed to the jungle for three days of community service! Bug spray is packed, and spirits are high.
Signing off until next time,
James and Maddie
June 13, 2018
Hello Moondance Families!
The flight arrived last night and all is well – the trip is officially underway and the group is so excited!
Looking forward to hearing from this group soon.