June 25, 2018
It’s hard to believe that our two weeks together has already come to an end. Renn and I had so much fun getting to know each of your inspiring, energetic kids. We spent our last day traveling up Cotopaxi for horseback riding. We had about a 3-hour bus ride from Banos this morning, and we spent all afternoon relaxing at a lodge nestled in the mountain and riding horses. It was a perfect last day filled with sweet reminiscing and breathtaking views. Edward and Drew raced each other down the mountain on their horses: Edward won the first-place prize. As soon as we approached the top of the mountain, the clouds moved from the front of Cotopaxi, and the volcano glistened in its mighty glory. We enjoyed aromatic tea at the top as we gazed at Cotopaxi and its neighboring volcanos. James ripped his pants on his way off the horse, but the tear didn’t affect his positive attitude. Carley and Max were the last LODs of the trip. They carried the group morale to an amazing finish with their constant encouragement and smiling faces. Lillian was an angel and donated Febreeze to Renn and I so that our bags would make it through the summer smelling fresh. We had a long ride from Cotopaxi to the airport tonight, but everyone made it through security safely. Pierson and Melissa collected everyone’s contact information so that we can all stay in touch with each other throughout the school year. Thomas initiated our final group hug, and Sarah, Maddie, and Elle cried sweet tears because they didn’t want to leave everyone. As Renn and I are waiting at the airport for the kids’ flight to depart, we are reminiscing on all of our unforgettable memories that we have made these last 2 weeks. All of your kids contributed love, service, positivity, and inspiration to our group. We are going to miss spending our days with them.
June 24, 2018
White water rafting was so much fun! We rafted down the river 11 miles, so we had a full day on Thursday. Our river guides made our experience unforgettable: they taught Drew, Max, and Edward how to do a human pyramid, they allowed all of us to take turns riding the front of the rafts like cowboys/girls, and they showed us how to manipulate our rafts over rocks. Carley and Pierson led their boats with expert paddling skills. When we reached our final destination on the river, we loaded up and headed to Tena for the night. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the hotel pool, shopping at the nearest market, and resting. After eating dinner in Tena, we walked around town square and went up the city tower. Thomas and Renn enjoyed a banana split after a long day!
On Friday, we departed Tena and began making our way to Banos. On the way, we stopped at a local shop where all of us bought matching pants in bright colors. We arrived in Banos on Friday around 1:30pm. Banos is a beautiful town located in the center of a large mountain range. We spent Friday walking around Banos. While walking around town, Elle and Sarah tasted guinea pig, and James bought an Ecuadorian jacket. Friday night we ate dinner on an outdoor patio in the heart of downtown Banos. We had so much fun spending one of our last meals together at a traditional South American restaurant. This morning, we took a party bus through Banos to all the major waterfalls. The bus played Latino music, so we had an obligatory dance party all morning long. Maddie filmed us dancing to Pitbull as we rode through town. At one of our bus stops, we took a cable car across a waterfall. We also stopped at the largest waterfall in Banos. It was about a 2 hour excursion to the bottom of the waterfall. While there, Lillian and Melissa crawled through a tiny cave and stood behind the waterfall. This afternoon, we hiked up one of the many mountains in Banos. The hike was pretty tough, but the view at the top was beautiful. We could see the whole town from a birds eye view! Tonight we had our banquet dinner: we dressed up in our matching pants and had dinner at a nice restaurant. After dinner, we had an ice cream party downtown before heading back to the hotel for the kids’ final night in Ecuador. Tomorrow we are traveling to Cotopaxi for horse back riding before the kids depart for Atlanta. Everyone is happy, healthy, and excited to see their families in just a couple of days!
June 21, 2018
On Sunday, we returned to Quito after finishing our adventure on the Galápagos Islands. We arrived back in Ecuador around 3pm and spent the rest of the afternoon playing outdoor games at our hotel. Edward showed us up with his expert frisbee skills! On Monday, we made our way to Shandia, a village about an hour away from Tena. We had a 4 hour bus ride from Quito, but we made a pit stop on the way at a natural hot spring. Our crew relaxed beneath the hot waterfall for a few hours before returning to the bus. We arrived in Shandia around 2pm on Monday afternoon. We quickly kicked off the community service portion of our trip once we arrived.
On Monday, we began building an open air lodge for the community to use as a gathering spot. Max entertained the local children with wheelbarrow rides, while Lillian helped the kids pick out stones for the pathway we were making. After dinner on Monday night, the local teenagers from Shandia dance and sang for us. At the end of their performance, all of us gathered in a circle, and James and Drew showed off their hip dance moves. On Tuesday morning, we continued to work on our project. We spent a lot of time gathering sand from the beach to make a base for the lodge. Elle and Sarah remained positive despite their duty to move sand bags uphill for nearly 4 hours. After our lunch break on Tuesday, we spent the afternoon playing with the kids in the community.
All of us formed deep connections with the children through playing soccer, giving piggyback rides, donating our belongings, and listening to them as they spoke about their culture. Throughout the day, Carley received a new hairstyle from a group of girls, and Maddie donated her bracelets to a small child who wouldn’t let go of her hand. Melissa even had a child fall asleep in her arms! At Moonup on Tuesday night, we reflected on the memories we created with the children and how those memories will impact us forever. We took many pictures so that we won’t forget their precious faces :). This morning (Wednesday) we embarked on a waterfall adventure! We spent all morning hiking up waterfalls and jumping in large bodies of water. We had so much fun exploring the jungle and taking in the breathtaking views of the Amazon. We wrapped up our service project this afternoon by providing finishing touches on a stone pathway and by bringing several more sand bags to the base of the lodge. Thomas and Pierson led the group this afternoon when everyone was suffering from post lunch slump. They constantly encouraged everyone and reminded us how much our help was needed. We said our farewells to the kids and the staff at Shandia Lodge tonight after dinner, and now we are preparing for the last segment of our trip. Tomorrow morning we are rafting out of Shandia Village on the Jatunyacu River.
June 17, 2018
Our last two days in the Galapagos have been full of adventure and excitement.
James and Melissa kept the group energized and positive throughout the day as our LODs. On Friday morning, we went to a tortoise breeding center where we saw the birthing grounds of the infamous Galapagos giant tortoises. We walked through the breeding grounds and observed the female tortoises and their babies. When we left, we headed for the beach. Edward led the group in a game to see who could body surf the waves all the way to the shore the fastest. The waves were massive, so we had a lot of fun chasing them into shore. Yesterday we had lunch at a farm to table lodge in the highlands of San Cristobal. The lodge was located in hundreds of acres of rolling hills with a natural spring in the middle and an ocean view. After lunch, we went to another beach for our first experience snorkeling in the Galapagos. After donning our wet suits and flippers, we dove into the frigid water for some sightseeing.
We snorkeled with sea lions, green sea turtles, parrot fish, and other exotic species of fish. Drew held eye contact with a sea lion underwater for about 10 seconds, and Maddie caught the sea lion on camera doing somersaults. After trying a local spot for dinner, we attended the city’s annual arts and culture celebration in the town square. Lillian got on stage to show the community how to do the worm: it was awesome. We all enjoyed watching the locals from San Cristobal dance and sing.
We began our day today with a boat ride to Isla Lobos. Max and Sarah were our LODs today, so they made sure everyone started and ended the day feeling well and hydrated. We first trekked through a remote island looking for Blue Footed Boobies, Frigate birds, and sea lions. We ended our trek at a beach front where we continued our snorkeling tour of the Galapagos. This afternoon we went to another beach for some much needed down time. We relaxed on the beach for a few hours, watching a pod of baby sea lions splash in the waves. Tonight we celebrated our last night on the Galapagos. We watched another performance from the locals in the town square. Carley and Elle bought souvenirs after dinner as lasting mementos from our wonderful time on the islands. Tomorrow morning we are heading back to Quito. Pierson and Thomas are our LODs: we are excited to have their dynamic, fun personalities lead the group. We will begin our journey to Tena on Monday for the community service portion of our trip. We are all safe, healthy, and having a wonderful time. Happy Father’s Day Dads!
June 15, 2018
Our team has arrived safely in South America, and our trip is off to an incredible start. After arriving in Quito late Tuesday night, we checked into our hotel not far from the airport. Lillian and Drew took on the role of our first pair of LODs (Leaders of the Day) the next morning. We headed back to the airport to catch our flight to the Galapagos Wednesday morning. We took a 2-hour flight to the Galapagos and landed on the island of Santa Cruz.
On Wednesday afternoon, we traveled to a private tortoise ranch and ate a late lunch in an open-air lodge. We saw our first Darwin Finches and giant tortoises. The scenery around us looked like Jurassic Park! Edward climbed under an old tortoise shell and did push-ups with a 50-pound shell on his back. After lunch, we hiked through an old lava tunnel and the tortoise ranch. We learned that these giant tortoises can live to be 150 years old, that they can go a whole year without food or water, and that they regulate their body temperature via the environment.
Before dinner we walked around Puerto Ayora, and Carley and Maddie tried some local ice cream on the pier, and Max picked out a new hat. While we were on the pier, Thomas ran into a sea lion resting on a park bench! We then headed for dinner at a local restaurant, and everyone enjoyed fresh Santa Cruz cuisine. Once we got back to our hotel after dinner, the kids hung out by the rooftop pool.
Thursday morning, we had another early wake up call for a day full of adventure. We started our morning off by walking 3 miles to Tortuga Bay where we swam and walked on the beach. Elle, Pierson, and Sarah explored a cactus park right off the shore line. Once we hiked out of Tortuga Bay, we ventured to our lunch spot by the water to fill up before our boat ride to the island of San Cristobal.
Upon arriving, we walked through the beachfront town where hundreds of sea lions were bathing along the shore. We ate dinner only a few feet away from the sea lions. We have another exhilarating day planned for tomorrow! James and Melissa are our LODs (Leaders of the Day) tomorrow. We are excited to see them lead the group with their dynamic, energetic personalities.
June 13, 2018
Hello Moondance Families,
The group has arrived and all is well! The trip is officially underway!
Excited to hear more about their adventure soon.