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Ecuador + Galapagos 3A • July 12-July 25, 2018

Final Update!

July 25, 2018

The Galapagos have treated us so well and we have had so many tropical ~vibes~. We began the next day with a boat ride to Isla Lobos (Sea Lion Island) for a walking tour. We saw many critters including Frigate birds, Blue-Footed Boobies, Marine Iguanas, and sea lions of all different shapes and sizes. Everyone enjoyed getting to hear interesting facts about these animals. We concluded our tour and hopped back on the boat. Our guide, Gustavo, gave us a safety briefing and then we donned our masks, fins, and wetsuits. We began our snorkel in the turquoise blue waters along the shoreline. We spotted sea turtles, sea lions, and many varieties of fish. Everyone had a great time exploring the underwater world of San Cristobal. We got back on the boat and headed to our own private beach. Max, Will, and Kate all jumped off the boat and made the swim to the beach to check out more Sea Lions and look at shells. Bralyn and Marianna hung out on the captain’s deck and tried to spot animals as the boat rocked in the waves. We finally headed back to port for lunch with Caitlin and Kaylee on the bow of the boat getting doused by the waves. We enjoyed a delicious lunch of pasta and fish before heading back to another beach, La Lloberia. Shortly after we arrived, David started a sand war. Chris, McCullough, Tripp, and David all took to the sand and kept us entertained as they took the sand war to new heights. Will took advantage of the opportunity to see more sea critters and jumped into the water with his snorkel. In a few short minutes, he returned with tales of numerous sea turtles and colorful fish. When everyone was sandy enough, we brushed ourselves off and enjoyed some large burgers for dinner at a local spot in town. Of course, we stopped for ice cream after dinner before circling up on the pier for Moonup led by Bralyn and McCullough.




The next morning, we woke up to sunshine! We began the day by visiting a tortoise breeding center in the highlands where we got to see baby tortoises! We oooh’d and ahhh’d at the unique characteristics of these specific tortoises before taking to the waves at a nearby beach. Upon arrival, everyone slathered on sunscreen before partaking in a photo shoot. Sailor was the star of the photoshoot while simultaneously acting as the photographer. Meanwhile, James took to the waves with David, Will, Tripp, and McCullough. There were two surfboards on the beach and after a few radical wipeouts, Tripp and David caught their first waves by themselves! Cowabunga! Kate also caught her first wave by herself and impressed us all. She received 10/10 from the beach judges! Marianna and Bralyn tried to catch a wave on the same board. While failing gracefully, this caused all of us to have a lot of laughs. Kaylee, however, had the best wipeout of the day. The wave flipped her off the board and she belly-flopped into the surf. She came up all smiles and full of laughter which kept us all giggling for quite some time.




After our time on the beach, we went to a farm-to-table restaurant overlooking the ocean for a fresh lunch. This energized us for our next snorkeling session. But first, a quick hike up Tijeretas Hill (Frigate bird hill)! Leg day was in full swing as we hiked to the top of the hill for a beautiful view of the ocean and the cove where we snorkeled. Pictures captured the gorgeous view above before we began the descent to get a view of life underwater. Everyone hopped in the water to find more sea turtles and large fish! We enjoyed a beautiful snorkel while the sun painted the sky in shades of orange.




Everyone was in agreement that this had been one of the best days of the trip. We all went back to the hotel to get dressed up for banquet. We had an awesome final dinner setting on the second floor of a restaurant that overlooked the water. Many laughs were shared over inside jokes, and experiences from the last two weeks. Following dinner, Max and Caitlin led our final Moonup of the Galapagos on a nearby dock. We were all sharing heartfelt memories when a large wave crashed into the dock and ended up splashing the group, we all ran for cover and could not stop laughing. Speaking of laughing, before Moonup, we discovered that Lindsay will erupt in laughter when someone so much as pretends to tickle her, “air tickling” we called it. This was all a summation of this group, one that could always find humor in anything and never took a moment for granted. James and I had such a blast with this group, they reminded us that even when situations are stressful, there are always things to laugh about. That life is a wonderful gift that should be not be overthought but taken slowly and savored all of the time.




Parents, thank you for sharing: Lindsay, Caitlin, Marianna, Bralyn, Kaylee, Sailor, Kate, Will, Max, Tripp, David, McCullough, and Chris with us. They reminded us every day why leading for Moondance is such a privilege and great thing. We know they will go on to have a lot of fun in high school and be successful in college. We know they will keep living in the moment.




Students (children), remember that 1+1=2 and kittens are cute. Except when they’re not. Also, Chick-fil-a > McDonalds. Guy friends and gal pals forever. We love you all. See you next summer.




With Love,


Maddie and James (Mom and Dad)

Exploring the Galapagos in Style!

July 22, 2018

We are finally in paradise after an adventurous day of travel. The day after rafting, we boarded the bus and began our journey back to Quito. We stopped at a natural hot spring to enjoy the healing properties of hot mountain water amongst the cool air. Everyone submerged and felt incredibly relaxed as we shared good conversations and big laughs. Kaylee, Lindsay, Will, and James also had the guts to dip into the nearby river water which was far too cold for the rest of us. Think of an ice bath, but somehow colder. After we all had our fair share of the warmth, we dried off, ate a traditional lunch, and finished the drive to Quito! Once we arrived at the hotel, we all basked in the sun, played several rounds of cards including ‘Go Fish’ which we learned takes quite a long time with so many people. Bralyn also insisted we play ERS which she won with incredibly fast reflexes. After a few rounds, everyone had worked up an appetite, so we walked to a local pizza place for dinner. The group devoured the ‘American’ food we had been craving and reminisced on our time on the mainland. The reminiscing continued as Chris and Lindsay led our final Moonup before embarking on our trek to the islands! During the Nug Jug segment (a time when we give others praises for things that happened throughout the day), everyone nugged Lenin, our local tour guide, and spoke about how much they would miss him. The group truly appreciated all he did for the group and was sad to have to say goodbye the next morning at the airport.


Before the sun rose the next morning, the group was up and about getting bags packed and heading to the airport. Though it was the earliest wake-up call of the trip, it was the fastest, everyone woke up all week! The excitement to see the islands was emanating from each and every student.  Tripp kept everyone entertained on the plane with his humorous demeanor and joke telling. We landed on the island of Baltra and took a short bus ride a ferry that would take us to the island of Santa Cruz. We met our new guide, Zambo, and headed to a tortoise ranch. Upon arrival we had the opportunity to get inside a tortoise shell, David, Caitlin, and Sailor jumped at the chance and made their best tortoise imitation. Our guide did a great job of teaching us about tortoises and showing them to us throughout our tour. At its conclusion, we got on a bus and headed for the town of Port Ayora. We took a walk on Charles Darwin Street which meets the water and explored the shops. Everyone took in the sights of the turquoise waters and crabs scurrying to get in it. At one point we took the time to take photos over volcanic rocks as the sun was starting to set. Max had an eye for creative photos and made sure to capture some solid ones. As we made our way back across the volcanic rock, everyone had to watch out for small iguanas as they blended in, everyone got a good laugh out of it. We made our way to an Açai Bowl shop and everyone enjoyed delicious bowls as we danced and lounged on their outdoor seating area. Marianna and Will got up in front of everyone and danced when their song came on. With bellies full of fruits and superfoods, we then danced our way back to the center of town where we enjoyed dinner on a street lined with outdoor restaurants. The nightlife was bustling and we felt as if we were truly being immersed in the culture. Will even held up a live lobster one of the restaurants tried to entice us with. However, no one took the bait and bbq wings ended up being the popular item of choice. The night concluded with Moonup on the hotel’s rooftop patio which was the perfect setting for our first night in paradise.


We woke early the next morning to pancakes, fruit, eggs, and toast! We all felt like queens and kings as we enjoyed the breakfast buffet before trekking to Tortuga Bay! From the hotel, the group walked for about an hour through a cactus forest and alongside the beach in order to get to the most serene swimming beach with white sand a beautiful, calm turquoise water. Along the way, the group passed a tortoise and a whole lot of marine iguanas. Once we arrived, the calm water became a battlefield. McCullough started several wars by throwing sand at others and immediately realized retreating into the water was his only defense. David, on the other hand, chose to outrun everyone on the beach in order to stay safe. For the rest of us, we all fell victim to sand flying through the air and friends tackling one another into the water. At one point, Marianna finally gave in and let everyone bury her in the sand. She truly embraced the sand and continually laughed as the sand engulfed her. When the time came for us to leave, everyone took one last final dip in the ocean before making the trek back for a scrumptious lunch followed by ice cream before hopping on the ferry to the next island: San Cristobal! The ferry is notoriously bumpy so everyone, except McCullough, napped in order to avoid seasickness. McCullough managed to stay awake and read and kept James and Maddie entertained with funny faces every time the boat took on a large wave.


Upon arrival on the island, everyone awoke to sea lions basking on the beach and a quaint island town. We immediately made our way to get fitted for snorkel gear in order to be fully prepared for our activities the following day. With flippers, masks, and wetsuits distributed, we headed back to the hotel to watch the sunset on the roof which Kate did a great job documenting. Shortly after, we headed across the street to Calypso, a delicious local restaurant well-known for its desserts. The group enjoyed tres leches cakes, ice cream brownie cups, and milkshakes. We couldn’t think of a better way to end the day.


The next few days we’ll be on the lookout for colorful sea life as we snorkel the famous Galapagos waters!


Stay tuned for the next episode of Ecuador & Galapagos 3A


-Maddie and James

Splashes in Shandia!

July 19, 2018

We made it through the jungle and conquered the Jatunyaca River!


We arrived in Shandia around lunchtime after leaving Baños and were greeted with a traditional jungle tea. Everyone enjoyed it, especially those from the South who agreed it tasted like an Arnold Palmer. We then settled in for a warm welcome from our two guides, Enrique and Dorian, before eating a delicious meal of Sea Bass and French fries. It was quite tasty and got everyone movin’ and groovin’ and ready for service! Throughout the summer, all Ecuador + Galapagos Moondance groups helped make a dream possible for the Shandia community by assisting in building an open-air structure by the river to be used for tourism and traditional dances. Our first mission after lunch was to collect palm leaves for the roof of the structure. The locals chopped the palms while we split them in half and learned how to fold and carry them using only the resources in the jungle. It was incredible to see how much the jungle provides when you know where to look. After the work was done, everyone jumped in the river to cool off. The locals were also on the beach playing soccer and Tripp, David, Sailor, Will, Kaylee, and Kate soon joined in on the fun.


Following dinner, we watched some traditional Ecuadorian dancing and heard some traditional music from local teens and a famous Quitcha pop star who happened to be staying in Shandia at the same time! At one point, some of the dancers pulled the students onto the floor to dance to some Ecuadorian music. We then took over the music and shared a bit of our culture and dance in return. Sailor taught everyone a Salsa dance that the locals loved, and Will showed off his hip-hop dance moves. We all walked away from the experience laughing and incredibly worn out from all the dancing that took place.


The next morning, we woke up and headed towards the river to move stones. One group gathered the stones to be used as the floor of the structure while the other group expanded a walkway. McCullough led his group and pushed dozens of rocks in a wheelbarrow like a champ. Lindsay made friends with some local young girls while carrying rocks and even gave them her bracelets when we were finished. It was incredible to see the students be so giving of their strength, time, and possessions.


Later that afternoon, we walked to the village to play soccer with the children and teenagers. Kaylee and Will stayed in the whole game and were amazed at how talented the locals were despite their age. On the sidelines, Max entertained the kids by spinning them around in circles by their arms. Kids kept lining up for more leaving Max rather dizzy but full of laughter. Once it was time to go, we all gave our final hugs and a big “adios” before heading back to Shandia for a chocolate making class. We started off by roasting the cacao beans over a fire. Everyone stirred the beans until they were nice and roasted in order to hull them easily. Next step: grinding the beans! Chris led the charge and was really involved in the grinding process. He also ground the beans faster than anyone else! Slowly but surely, with a little help from milk and sugar, we made chocolate to enjoy with spoons, bananas, and cookies! It was a delicious treat to end the night along with Moonup led by Max and Caitlin. They asked, “What is everyone’s happiest moment thus far in life?” which led to a lot of joyful responses.


In the morning, we went chasing waterfalls! We scurried, scampered, and climbed over many of the beautiful waterfalls that make up the Ecuadorian rainforest. Everyone had the chance to stand under the Pimpilala falls and feel its invigorating water wash over them. We also scaled a 15-foot waterfall which everyone did with ease. On the way up and around we were treated with views of canopies and cacao trees. By the end, we were all ready for lunch to refuel us before another afternoon of service.


Fueled and ready, the group worked together to move rocks and sand in order to complete the pathway one of the groups started the day before. In the end, the pathway was successfully completed thanks to everyone’s hard work! We were rewarded with a delicious pasta dinner we all loved. For dessert, tree worms, a jungle delicacy, were brought out for the group to try. But there’s a catch—they were still alive! Tripp was the only one bold enough to eat the worn while it was still wriggling, however, Max and Caitlin ate one once they were cooked. Caitlin exclaimed, “It tastes like steak!” which gave everyone a good laugh but didn’t convince anyone else to give it a try.


Today, we woke up early to raft the Jatunyaca river. Though the water was chilly, spirits were high as everyone jumped from raft to raft trying to push others in. Bralyn channeled her inner pirate as she hopped from raft to raft throwing people off. Marianna played great defense and threw others off when they tried to attack her. Kate, David, McCullough, Lindsay, and Maddie with the help of the raft guide, all tried to pull off a stunt where you get everyone in the water! It was a success, and everyone got a good laugh as we scrambled to get back in the raft. Shortly thereafter, we were on our way to see wild monkeys in a small village! The monkeys were particularly interested in Kate’s Doritos, but she managed to keep hold of them in the end. We then made our way to the hotel for an afternoon of much-needed relaxation. Everyone went to the pool and enjoyed a few more hours in the sun chatting and sharing funny stories.


Tomorrow, we’re heading back to Quito in order to prepare ourselves for the Galapagos!


Stay tuned for the next episode of Ecuador & Galapagos 3A


-Maddie and James


Bralyn: I miss y’all but love it here! See you in a week.

Max: Still alive… and loving it! Having a blast!

Lindsay: I miss y’all and Chick-fil-a! But I love it here!

Tripp: I miss McDonalds, but I really enjoyed rafting today! I’ll tell you more when I get home!

Chris: I am having an amazing time. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Will: Loving life, missing home, but learning to enjoy. Miss you—aka the dogs! 🙂

David: I miss y’all and McDonalds but am having the best time!

Kaylee: I miss and love you all! Having an amazing time!

Caitlin: Hey Mom and Dad! I’m having the most amazing time! Love and miss y’all!

Kate: Hi! I’m having a great time! Miss you Mom and Dad!

Marianna: I miss y’all so much but I’m having a blast! See you soon. I love y’all!

McCullough: Miss y’all. I’m having a great time. It’s really fun. See you in a week.

Sailor: Heyo fambam, having the time of my life! See you in a little even though I wish I didn’t have to leave!

Off to a Great Start!

July 15, 2018

We are full speed ahead here in Ecuador! Our first day we woke up and met our guide, Lenin, and hopped on the bus to Cotopaxi National Park. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted with hot cinnamon tea and cheese empanadas. Shortly thereafter, we were given ponchos and alpaca chaps to complete our outfit as Ecuadorian cowboys. Next came the horses. Kaylee was the first to mount a horse and quickly began to show off her equestrian skills as she trotted around the field. After everyone was on their horse, we began the ride up the mountain towards the volcano (Cotopaxi). We rode over beautiful rolling hills covered in tall grass that swayed in the wind. Once we reached the top, the clouds parted for a clear view of the top of the volcano! We also enjoyed warm tea made from a local root our guides so graciously provided. After some time enjoying the view, we began to make our descent. On one stretch of the hill, our horses began to counter. Sailor laughed hysterically as she began to bounce up and down when her horse picked up speed but she handled it like a pro. On our way down we passed huge fuzzy alpacas! When we got back to the hacienda, we had a delicious hot lunch.


Next, we loaded the bus and headed to Baños. Upon arrival, we went to dinner where we had our final celebration for Chris’ birthday! We all got a laugh out of the Ecuadorian spark candles that appeared to be trick candles as they kept relighting after Chris blew them out. When the smoke finally settled, we walked back to the hotel for Moonup. Chris and Kate, our first LODs (Leaders of the Day), led Moonup and asked, “If you could have one superpower what would it be?” Kaylee and Caitlin said they would both like to be able to speak any language which we all agreed would be awesome.


This morning, we woke up and fueled up before boarding an open-air party bus with colorful lights and speakers. The bus took us on a tour of Baños where saw a lot of waterfalls amongst the cloud forest. We also stopped at a cable car that allowed us to get a better look at the largest waterfall in the area. Max overcame his fear of heights and rode over the canyon with a smile on his face the whole time. He also spotted a beautiful bright yellow and green bird when we all got back on the bus to continue our tour. We then drove to the Green River where we hiked to a waterfall. We were all able to stand under its spray and get soaked by the chilly water. David and Lindsay were some of the first to take the plunge. David enjoyed it so much he went under at least three times before he felt the need to warm up. We then hiked back up the trail where we enjoyed Ecuadorian limes with salt. Marianna and McCullough had the best lime faces as they puckered up immediately. However, the limes were unique in that the rind was edible and provided a sweet relief from the sour fruit. On our ride back to the hotel, we also enjoyed pure sugar cane that was grown on a local farm. The snacks were delicious and served as an appetizer for lunch which was a traditional Ecuadorian meal of soup, rice, pork/chicken, and juice. After, all had a sweet tooth so we made our way to a local shop where we enjoyed milkshakes, brownies, cookies, and cake.


With full bellies, we then walked to the local artisan market to experience the culture and shop for souvenirs. Tripp started the trend of wearing a traditional alpaca sweater and also bought an Ecuadorian guitar (a little larger than a ukulele) to serenade us with. Shopping served as the perfect amount of time for us to digest our food before hiking up the mountain. We made the trek up many flights of stairs and through dirt paths until we reached a beautiful view of the entire city of Baños. Will led the group up the last set of stairs, and helped motivate everyone to the top. We all took in the incredible sights around us and found solace being in the middle of the clouds. We played a game of Big Booty and took many silly pictures. The entire group felt very accomplished, as this was no easy feat. After we savored the views from the top, we made the descent back into Baños. We made our way to dinner shortly after working up an appetite from the hike. As we walked back from dinner, we enjoyed the sights and sounds of Baños as there were street performers and live music. When back at the hotel, Bralyn did a great job of leading Moonup and opened it with a humorous skit. The group discussed service and what it means to us. This served as a great segue way as we begin our service tomorrow in the jungle.


Stay tuned for the next episode of Ecuador & Galapagos 3A


-Maddie and James

All arrived in Quito!

July 13, 2018

Hi Ecuador + Galapagos families,

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

-Moondance HQ


  • McCullough
  • Kate
  • Marianna
  • Tripp
  • David
  • Sailor
  • Will
  • Caitlin
  • Lindsay
  • Christopher
  • Kaylee
  • Bralyn
  • Max