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Ecuador + Galapagos 2A • June 27-July 10, 2018

Final Update!

July 10, 2018

Our last days spent on San Cristobal were a wonderful cap to our adventure. On Saturday, we got up and headed to a tortoise ranch in the highlands. This ranch is a breeding center and we were lucky enough to see tortoises as young as one year, they were the size of a teacup. At one point two tortoises were competing for food, they were both hissing and extending their necks to see who was taller. After the ranch, we drove down to a public beach to play in the waves. Alex, Walker, Chase, and Joseph got their surf on and managed to stay atop the inflatable surfboards. Meanwhile, after the girls had their fill of the water, they created a fleet of sand balls and waited until Walker exited the water. After that, it was game on and sand was flying everywhere. Some local kids even got in on the fun. When the sand settled, we drove to a farm-to-table restaurant where we dined on fresh fish, shrimp, and chicken. We all agreed that this was one of the best meals we had eaten on the trip, super fresh.

That afternoon, we headed to a lagoon to do some snorkeling. The underwater life was incredible to experience. The group saw everything from an octopus camouflaging itself on a rock, to a large Parrotfish. Everyone agreed that this was definitely one of the coolest experiences of the trip. When we finished, we headed back to our hotel for some relaxation and rejuvenation. That night, we ate at a restaurant called “Calypso” and many of us took advantage of their scrumptious milkshakes and treats. While we were dining, two musicians, one playing guitar and one playing the Cajon, came to serenade us with some Spanish pop hits. Liza even got up and started dancing on the restaurant’s patio. We left dinner and skipped our way to a local playground where see-saws and swings were the activities of choice. Close by, we could hear sea lions barking so we decided to walk along the pier until we found a quiet place for Moonup led by Alex and Halle. However, it wasn’t quiet for long because the LODs decided to close the nightly ritual with everyone making sea lion noises. We even got some sea lions to bark back! On the walk home, Liza and Celia led everyone in a round of “The Ants Go Marching…”. Twas a funny way to end a great first full day on the island.

Our next morning, we were fueled by eggs and baked bread before we started our day of snorkeling! Our first mission was to board a boat and ride to Isla Lobos (Sea Lion Island) for a tour. While there, we encountered the Frigate bird, Blue-Footed Booby, and Sea Lions of all shapes and sizes. We even saw baby sea lions that were only one week old! After our guide, Danny, imitated the Sea Lions, we all gave it our best shot. Then it was time to swim the creatures. We jumped back on the boat, grabbed our wetsuits and snorkel gear, and made the jump into the clear Atlantic water. Once under the surface, we saw many colorful fish, and we even got caught up in a couple of schools of fish. Ryan found a huge sand dollar – we’re talking the biggest sand dollar we’ve ever seen. He felt really wealthy after. Lily channeled her inner mermaid and followed a lot of sea turtles and was rewarded with great photos. It took a lot to get her out of the water when the activity was over. We were then taken to a private beach where Tess buried Chase in the sand as we watched sea lions play with each other in the water. Meanwhile, Gwynn showed us all what it looks like to be a true beach bum. She perfected the art of relaxation and had us all jealous.

Lunch was the perfect fuel for another beach session. The next beach was beside a big surf break where the waves were firing. The tide was too high for snorkeling so we took to the sand. The boys pretended to throw all the girls in. There were a lot of squeals and Celia ended up getting a wee bit wet when an unexpected wave hit at the wrong time. When we were all beached out, we headed back to the hotel for pre-banquet naps. The naps were perfect before one last rowdy dinner together out on the town. Oreo milkshakes were devoured by a majority of the group and they were delicious. Walker and Tess gathered everyone on the pier after for a very transparent and meaningful Moonup. Everyone shared personal stories that drew us closer as a family. To close, we hugged and had James lead the group in a call-and-response song called “Ronald McDonald.” We had plenty of spectators laughing and admiring from afar. Back at our hotel, Halle gave everyone a good jolt of energy when she made her chicken squawk sound.

At breakfast this morning, Halle talked about how she wasn’t excited to get her phone back and she wanted to focus on having more adventures and more face-to-face interactions. This made James and Maddie very proud and excited for her future endeavors. The rest of the afternoon was spent airport hopping from San Cristobal to Guayaquil to Quito.

Following three hack whack, dinner and ice cream, Liza and Evelyn led our final Moonup in the airport. We all shared our favorite memories with each other and shed a few tears as we realized we had to say our final goodbyes. Before the students went through security, James and Maddie read aloud superlatives they had written for everyone. Everyone agreed Gwynn’s was the most accurate as it was, “most likely to appear on the cover of Vogue magazine.”

Parents, thank you for sharing these bright and humorous children with us. They have incredibly high morals and hold themselves to a high standard. We are confident they will all be leaders in their schools and communities.

Students, you think you’re all big, yeah? You’ll never be too big for us. So keep in touch and let’s do it again next year. Thailand? Love, James and Maddie (Jim and Janet).

Greetings from the Galapagos!

July 7, 2018

It’s a long way from Tena where we last checked in. The day after we got on the river, we set off towards Quito. On our way, we stopped at a natural hot springs outside of Quito. All the students enjoyed the hot water amongst the cold mountain air as we were at least 12,000 feet in elevation! After, we continued the drive to our hotel in Quito. Upon arrival, everyone took the opportunity to get outside and soak up the sun.  Walker, Joseph, Celia, Liza, Ryan, and Alex all got together to throw the Frisbee across the pool. Everyone managed to stay dry, but the Frisbee took quite a few swims. Meanwhile, Lily, Tess, Halle, and Evelyn climbed atop the waterslide to get a better view of the sunset and capture some beautiful photos. Seeing as it was 4th of July, we then made our way to the most American restaurant on the block: Chester’s Pizza! Everyone was practically running down the sidewalk in anticipation of the delicious meal. And boy was it delicious. We ended the night with Moonup on the rooftop patio and reminisced on our favorite memories made in Ecuador.

In the morning, we packed our bags and headed to the airport. After a short plane ride, we landed in paradise. Upon arrival, we took a short ferry from Baltra across to Santa Cruz. After our meeting our trusty local guide, Danny, we hopped on a bus and made our way to a tortoise ranch. Alex decided to get inside a tortoise shell and everyone got a good laugh out of it as he tried to escape. After a delicious lunch, we explored the ranch and learned all about Galapagos tortoises. The groups favorite fact was that tortoises can go a whole year without eating or drinking! The property also has some lava tunnels we were able to explore. The boys spotted an owl in one of the tunnels which Walker was able to snap a great photo of. When we were all tortoised out, we jumped back on the bus and headed to our new hotel.

Our first stop around town was the local ice cream shop! We all enjoyed a milkshake or ice cream scoops before walking over to the pier to find sea critters. We spotted three sharks, a couple of sea lions and a sting ray! After a photo session on the dock, we walked around the waterfront shops. We made our way to a platform right on the water where Liza and Celia were so keen on the water temperature they were about to jump in. Everyone agreed the water was crystal clear and couldn’t wait to swim in it the next day. Gwynn and Alex ended up purchasing the same shirt and were twinning the rest of the night as they wore them around town. We then went back to our hotel to get enough sleep for an action packed day.

In the morning, we put on our walking shoes and made haste to Tortuga Bay. We passed many iguanas basking in the sand in route to our swimming spot. Upon arrival, everyone jumped in the refreshing water. Chase channeled his inner aquaman and launched people off his shoulders into the water. Shortly after, a game of chicken fight broke out in which James and Maddie stood undefeated. Alex introduced everyone to an act fondly known as “sugar cookie” where one runs out of the water, rubs themselves in sand, and emerges looking like a sugar cookie. Joseph, Gwynn, and Walker followed suit. It was quite the site to many spectators. Lily captured every moment while in the water and will have incredible memories to look back on.

Next came lunch before boarding a ferry to San Cristobal Island. Everyone got good laughs out of the big waves the boat took on. It made for an unforgettable boat ride. Evelyn was smiles the entire time and would have stayed on for several more hours if she could.

Upon arrival, we went and tried on our wetsuits and were assigned our snorkels and fins. We took some time to rest and play on the neighboring playground before heading to dinner. After dinner, we returned to the playground for Moonup led by Ryan and Lily. We all answered the questions, “Which celebrity would you want to have dinner with?” and “What is your biggest insecurity?” We heard a lot of incredible answers and we couldn’t be more excited for our last two days of activity.

Tomorrow, we continue our island adventures on San Cristobal as we explore beaches and continue our search for critters.


Catch ya on the flip side,

James and Maddie

Service Success!

July 4, 2018

Shandia has been a blast! On our first day, we arrived around lunchtime and were greeted with “Jungle Tea” which we all decided tasted just like an Arnold Palmer (sweet tea + lemonade). After lunch, we went down to the construction site to begin our afternoon work. Throughout the summer, all Ecuador + Galapagos groups are working together to construct an open-air tourism center along the river. It will also be used to house community gatherings and dances. Our first assignment was to help haul sand from the river bank to the construction site in order to make cement. Chase and Halle did a great job digging out good sand and loading everyone’s bags to the perfect weight. As time went on, things got a little silly as Alex started giving Joseph rides in the wheelbarrow and Walker let a child from the local area ride in his. Good times were had by all as the sand piled up and the sweat began to build. For refreshment, we all dropped our tools, took off our rubber boots, and ran into the river. It was surprisingly chilly but that didn’t stop Alex from growing gills and acting like a fish.

That night, some young teenagers (11-14 year olds) from the village performed traditional dances and songs for the group. When they were done performing, one of the Shandia guides asked us to show them some American dances. And boy, did we get our boogie on! Tess and Halle made sure everyone was included and taught the locals all the dances despite the language barriers. Meanwhile, Walker was a highlight to everyone as he knew the words to every song and all the dance moves. Some great connections were made between the students and the village. They were sad the night had to end.

The next morning, we headed out to the jungle to split palms that will be used for the roof of the structure. These are the same palms used to make Panama hats. The students split into two groups for maximum efficiency. When we were finished, everyone made/received a headband made of the palm leaves. They looked like true men/women of the jungle!

After a hearty meal, we walked to the village to visit the children and deliver donations. Immediately, a soccer game was started. Celia wowed everyone with her incredible soccer moves and kept up with the locals. Tess and Chase kept the game going as they stayed in for the whole two hours. Off the field, Evelyn and Lily befriended many of the young girls in the village. They constantly had girls in their arms and running around their legs. After everyone got their fair share of playing in, we distributed everyone’s donations to the village. Ryan found this moment to be incredibly meaningful and said he would never forget that moment for the rest of his life. Maddie and James could not be more proud of the way the group bonded and cared for the locals.

Next on the agenda: chocolate! We started by stirring raw cacao beans over a fire to get them real nice and toasted. Then, we peeled the beans before grinding the cacao up into a paste. Next, we added sugar and milk to create a delicious treat for everyone to enjoy. We were even given Ecuadorian graham crackers and bananas to dip into the chocolate. It was a great appetizer before a tasty pasta dinner everyone devoured.

We started off the next day with a waterfall hike that led us over the river and through the woods. Everyone had the opportunity to climb three waterfalls and jump in natural pools. That afternoon, we headed into the jungle once again to create bundles of palm leaves to carry back to Shandia. Gwynn and Liza headed up one team as they took charge of counting and folding leaves so they would be ready to be tied. Before we left the jungle, Joseph, Walker, and Chase got a free massage by sticking their hands in a termite nest. Never fear, they are harmless critters and the boys loved it. Continuing with our traditional experiences, we ended the night with a healing ritual performed by the village Shaman. Every student had healing leaves shaken on them and Alex volunteered to receive a more in-depth healing. It was neat insight into the Shandia culture.

This morning, we said our goodbyes and set off in search of raging rapids on the Jatunyaca River. We took on several class III rapids. Everyone managed to stay in the raft during the big waves, however as soon as we hit a flat spot everyone was acting like pirates and took over the other rafts. In other words, a big game of ‘push everyone in the water’ broke out. Towards the end of our adventure near the take-out, Liza and Celia made it their mission to dunk one of the guides. However, that plan backfired and the girls ended up in the water every time.

Tomorrow we head back to Quito to prep for the Galapagos Islands – Paradise.

Catch ya on the flipside,

James and Maddie



Gwynn: Hey Family. I am having so much fun on this trip and today we went rafting! I hope all is well at home and I will see y’all soon!

Halle: Hey Mom and Dad. Today we went rafting and it was the best thing ever! I miss y’all sooo much. See you soon!

Ryan: Hey Family. I’m having a great time. I’ve seen so much and I hope life is going well for you.

Joseph: Hey Mom and Dad, I’m having so much fun. This trip is honestly the best thing ever. So much more fun than my last one. Tell Jane and Lucy hey, see you soon!

Walker: Hello Family. Today we went rafting and it was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I miss you guys and I’ll see you soon.

Celia: Hey Mom, Dad, Lulabelle, and Joel (I guess). Having so much fun without y’all. JK, miss y’all and love you! See you real soon.

Liza: Hey Mom and Dad! I’m having so much fun. This trip has been amazing. See you soon!

Tess: Hello my family (and Darcy). Having a blast on this trip! Every day is a new adventure and I’m loving every second of it! Can’t wait to see y’all, especially Willow!

Lily: Hi Mom, Dad, Hunt, Gunner, and Lucky. I love and kind of miss you all. This trip has been BEYOND fun and our group is so fun and amazing. Love you all!

Evelyn: Hola familia [I’ve been working on my Español]! I hope life is great back in Boringham. I am having the best time and am going to be honest and say I have not read at all. (: See you soon!

Alex: Hi fam, I miss you guys a lot and I can’t wait to see you. This trip is really cool though. Love you!

Chase: Hey family, I’m having a fantastic time in here and making tons of friends with kids in the group and during service. I’ve had so much fun and so many laughs, but the stories I have to tell won’t compare to the real thing. Can’t wait to see you guys soon! Love you!

Welcome to Ecuador!!

June 30, 2018

Late Wednesday, our group arrived in style ready to hit the ground running. We could sense a lot of excitement in the group and so far they have been a blast and a half.

Before we hit the hay, James and Maddie led the first Moonup and posed the question, “What are you most excited for on this trip?” Evelyn expressed her excitement for the community service section of the trip and after two short days in her presence, we believe she’ll do an outstanding job as she has a very calm and caring personality.

Our first morning we woke up, boarded el autobus, and made haste for the horses. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with cheese empanadas and sweetened cinnamon tea. Everyone had to hide theirs because Walker enjoyed them so much he was on the hunt for more. With happy bellies, we transformed into Ecuadorian shagras (cowboys). Everyone looked ready to wrangle some bulls in their traditional ponchos and chaps. Next came the horses. We jumped on and giddy-upped Cotopaxi. At the summit, the group shared a warm thermos of herbal tea. Tess climbed atop a wooden llama statue to get a better view and an even better photo opportunity. After our short break, we saddled up and rode down the mountain to a warm lunch. Joseph, Walker, and Chase engaged in a very deep conversation about life and how we spend our time which left the whole table deep in thought.

We then boarded the bus to Baños. Dinner was served on a balcony and was a great way for everybody to debrief the day. We were serenaded by two musicians who played Despacito and Bailando, two Spanish pop hits we could all sing along to. After dinner, Joseph and Celia led Moonup and asked, “If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?” There were a wide variety of answers from Frank Sinatra to Train to The Grateful Dead.

Today, we boarded an open-air bus equipped with multicolor lights and a boomin sound system. We rode down the streets of Baños having a rip-roarin’ time listening to Spanish EDM (electronic dance music). Liza and Celia got the party started by showing us all some wild dance moves. At one point, we hopped on a cable car that took us across a river and gave us an awesome up-close view of Bridal Veil Falls. Shortly after, we took a hike to get an even closer view of another waterfall. Aka we got soaked. Most of the group went under the first time, but Joseph, Chase, and Alex kept going back for more. The other visitors looked on in shock and awe as we danced under the cold water. The whole hike up was spent laughing at the humorous reactions we received. We then boarded our bus once more for the ride back to our hotel.

With a little downtime before lunch, Joseph pulled out his hacky-sack and Walker taught a few of us a game called Three Sack Hack which quickly became a group favorite. We were able to squeeze in a few practice rounds before walking to lunch where we enjoyed a traditional Ecuadorian almuerzo (lunch) of soup, meat, rice, and fruit juice. After lunch, our LODs (Leaders of the Day) Tess and Chase, came to the consensus that we should all explore downtown Baños. We headed to the outdoor market where llama sweaters and bracelets were popular items of interest. Next came hot drinks, outrageous milkshakes, and sweet treats before walking back to have a Three Sack Hack marathon. Lily impressed us all and played hardcore which earned her a spot in the finals almost every game. Halle also wowed us with her Rockette-like high kick which sent the hacky sack soaring through the air every time. After Three Hack Sack, we transitioned into a mini workout where Ryan showed us an awesome ab workout where he lifted his body off the ground in a seated position. Impressed would be an understatement as no one else was able to do it. Time flew by and before we knew it was time for dinner. We walked to a rock and roll burger joint down the road and enjoyed hard rock and hardcore burgers which would hardly have fit in a gallon size Ziploc bag. Tess shocked everyone and ate the entire thing.

A thought-provoking Moonup concluded the night as everyone answered the question, “What is your biggest accomplishment/What are you proudest of?” The group took the question to heart and produced some very vulnerable answers which drew us all closer together. Gwynn was chosen as one of tomorrow’s LODs because of her eagerness to jump into anything, ability to maintain a positive attitude, and her engaging story-telling at lunch and dinner.

Tomorrow, we’re looking forward to our first day serving the Shandia community.

Catch ya on the flipside,

James and Maddie

All arrived in Quito!

June 28, 2018

Hi Ecuador + Galapagos families,

All students have safely arrived in Quito. We can’t wait to hear more from them!

-Moondance HQ


  • Tess
  • Lily
  • Evelyn
  • Joseph
  • Celia
  • Liza
  • Chase
  • Ryan
  • Halle
  • Gwynn
  • Walker
  • Alex