July 1, 2018
Greetings family and friends!
The group is back home at our small slice of heaven (our Arusha hotel), fresh off our incredible safari adventure through the beautiful Ngorongoro Crater and the endless plains of Serengeti National Park. We cannot believe how quickly this once in a lifetime trip has flown by, but before we have to say goodbye we want to elaborate on what has been an absolutely surreal few days of watching some of the world’s most magnificent wildlife. Let us pick up right where we left off…
After a much deserved, lengthy night of rest at our Arusha hotel, we began our travels to the famous Ngorongro Crater, a world heritage site renowned for its concentration of wildlife and natural beauty. It also happens to be the inspiration behind the scenery of the Lion King! As we all could not contain our excitement and anticipation, our LODs, Jack and Mary Brice, quickly had us loaded into our new, stylish rides (Safari Land Cruisers, seating 6 people with an openable roof and wide-latched windows), and headed out of town towards our safari destination. Lucky enough for us we had another birthday on our trip, as Jonny was celebrating the start of his 17th year on this incredible planet! This obviously meant we had to stop and pick up a birthday cake. After loading up on cake, snacks and treats at the Arusha grocery store, we headed back on the road. To our pleasant delight, we had the chance to stop and eat lunch at our comfortable old campsite in Mto Wa Mbu! Hails and Johnny were unbelievably excited to see our cook from our previous time there, and it was a reunion for the ages. After filling up, rehydrating and playing a few games of three-touch dodgeball (in which Simran played super well for her first time playing!), we were back on the road again. We made another stop at a local Maasai village, in which we were able to watch the ceremonial preparation of a goat. It was fascinating, and Beau’s appreciation for this ritual made everyone realize how special of an opportunity this really was. We then proceeded to participate in another dancing ritual with the women and men of the village, and had we not been paying attention we would have mistaken Caroline and John for true Maasai people with how they sang and danced! After our time in the village had come to an end, we headed back to our land-cruisers with the Ngorongoro Crater set in our sights. Before we knew it, the golden arid landscape of Mtu Wa Mbu had dramatically turned into lush green forest and after driving by the spectacular Lake Manyara, we were at the gate of Ngorongoro Crater. As we pulled up to the gate though, we had special greeters: Baboons! This family of primates was a clear-cut sign that we were in the right place for a safari. As we drove through the increasingly dense forest on the crater rim, we became more and more excited. About 15 minutes from our first safari campsite we saw our first two members of the big 5, and we saw them up close and personal. Four elephants and eight Cape buffalo! Standing up in our cars and staring at these magnificent animals, we could not believe this was our experience ON THE DRIVE IN! We thought Olivia was going to jump out at the elephants she was so excited! We were super lucky. After finally making it to camp, celebrating our birthday boy’s big day and enjoying Moonup amongst the buffalo grazing around our campsite, we hit the hay to rest up for safari!
The next day we headed down into the Ngorongoro Crater for our first true game drive. It was a beautiful morning and as we were descending into the crater we drove past our first giraffe! We were very excited for Charlie, who had said he was most excited about seeing these long necked delights during the previous evening’s Moonup. What an incredible morning, though. We saw a bunch of lions, fields of zebras, pools of hippos, and more elephants. Not to mention the landscape in which all this wildlife was found. We couldn’t stop smiling as Maddie named all of the wildlife in which we encountered. It felt as though we were truly in the garden of Eden. With the bluest sky overhead and the greenest world around us, it was impossible not to appreciate the wonder of nature and the sanctity of this incredible continent. We continued with our safari that morning, seeing more zebras and lions, wildebeest, and even a few hyenas (trust us, they seem as nasty as they were in the Lion King!). After a delicious lunch next to a pool of hippos, we said goodbye to this naturally beautiful enclosure, and headed to one of the most renowned sites in the world: Serengeti National Park! As we left the crater and entered the plains preceding the Serengeti, we saw many more giraffes and zebras. Wildlife is everywhere here! Serengeti, named for the Maasai word for endless plains, is just that: endless plains! But before we knew it we had reached out terrific little campsite situated right, smack in the middle of this vast park. Anne enlightened us with a fabulous quote about appreciation during Moonup, and we headed to bed with dreams of the Serengeti in mind!
Our following two days in the Serengeti were absolutely unbelievable. From seeing lions interacting with one another, to the beginnings of the Great Migration, in which 2 million animals (wildebeests, zebras, and gazelle) move across the park, we were constantly entertained. Who needs a zoo when you can drive up close and personal to a LEOPARD moving around on a beautiful rock formation in the middle of the golden plains, while sharing popcorn with 6 other members of this newly formed family? The ever-changing landscape was enough to keep us enthralled by itself, constantly changing from green hills and forest to vast, tawny grasslands. We saw the most spectacular sunrise any of us had ever seen, and soon after came feet away from three beautiful cheetahs. Betsy was able to snap a photo that should be in National Geographic, so keep an eye out everybody! We drove through giant families of playful elephants, saw the sun set next to a beautiful river filled with hippos, and even saw a crocodile trying to catch the last bit of sunlight as we drove back to camp after our evening game drive one night. It is hard to imagine a better safari than what we experienced. Our guides kept reminding us that the only guarantee on safari is there are no guarantees, which made our adventure that much better! Before we knew it, though, we were back in Arusha for our last night, but thankfully we have an entire last day with this incredible group before they take that long flight home.
We cannot believe how quickly this life-changing trip has gone by. Time flies when one is having fun, we all know that, but one does not even consider time when it is spent with a group as loving, energetic and invested into life as this group has been. We have truly been living in each other’s company, experiencing the beauty of this country’s nature, culture and adventure. From our initial days together bonding over garden work with new friends from both the US and the Mungere School, to our tiring yet accomplished days on the roof of Africa, to snacking on popcorn and laughing while watching lions stalk gazelle, this experience has been too special, too memorable, and too intimate to articulate properly. We cannot thank you enough for giving each and every single one of these magnificent, compelling and insightful young adults the opportunity to participate in this trip. It always baffles us how in only 23 days a group of 16 strangers can become not only friends, but family. We wish every single one of these fantastic individuals the best of luck in their future ventures, but could not be more confident and excited for what the future has in store for them. We know they will take all of the lessons and memories formed in Tanzania home with them, and words cannot paint our pride in these young adults appropriately.
With the deepest sincerity and appreciation,
Thomas and Mary
June 26, 2018
Hakuna matata, family and friends,
We’re back at our home-away-from-home (the hotel where we’ve stayed in between trip sections) and are happy to report back to you all after an amazing seven days on the mountain of Kilimanjaro.
As we prepare for safari and the last leg of our trip, both Thomas and I are encouraged as we reflect on the valuable lessons we all learned on the mountain. Our time on Kili was an incredible source of group bonding and growth. And with each passing day came a new lesson.
Day 1 was a lesson in PMA (“positive mental attitude”). We arrived at Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park and entered through the Machame Gate around lunchtime. We ate a quick meal, laced up our boots, and hit the trail. We were entertained by Simran’s 20 Questions game, and adapted to mountain life pretty seamlessly. We all recognized that 7 days on the mountain would be a trying experience and Betsy challenged our group to maintain a positive perspective throughout the trek. As we finished hiking that day, and made camp at Machame Camp, we felt prepared for the days to come (especially with Maddie’s impressions to keep our spirits bright).
Day 2 was a lesson in rhythm. We woke up to our porters smiling, saying “Good Morning!”, and offering us coffee/tea to get us up out of our tents and moving. As we started our walk from Machame to Shira Camp, we recognized the importance of finding a rhythm of walking each day and enjoying our time amongst the changing scenery. As we arrived at camp, John and a couple porters led the way to an overlook that offered us our first view of Kilimanjaro. Needless to say, we were awestruck by its majesty and grandeur, and were excited to wake up the next morning, continue walking, and get a bit closer to the peak.
Day 3 was a lesson in wonder. We woke up to our first morning view of Kilimanjaro. The two previous days were ridden with fog and we hadn’t seen much of the snow-covered peaks. Day 3, however, provided us with all-day exposure to the breathtaking mountain, and we started to get more and more fired up about the ensuing summit bid day. We walked to Barranco Camp and Hails, Jack, Charlie, and Johnny L. led us in the “banana song” the whole way. Caroline and Olivia added a bit of Taylor Swift to the sing-along medley, and the students had smiles on their faces while hiking. We arrived at Barranco tired from the day’s hike, but happy to be together in such a special place.
Day 4 was a lesson in perseverance. The Machame route starts to get significantly more difficult around Day 4. On this day we made our way from Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp in preparation for our summit bid day. During this part of the trek the students were starting to feel the effects of higher elevation and some symptoms of altitude sickness were setting in. Thomas and I were both blown away by the perseverance demonstrated by each student. Everyone made it to the 15,500 ft. elevation of Barafu — even with the snow/sleet that we encountered in our last couple of hours hiking. Each one of your Moondancers are amazing human beings! And such incredible sources of strength.
Day 5 was a lesson in the “growth zone.” We started Day 5 at 4am for an early morning summit bid. Each student who attempted the summit bid made it to Uhuru Peak. While some students were prevented from attempting a summit bid due to altitude sickness, every single person grew from this experience. We came together at the end of the day at Millenium Camp and shared the ways in which the challenge of the summit and the inability to summit both grew us in unexpected ways.
Day 6 was a lesson in patience. By the time Day 6 rolled around we were all feeling exhausted. We made our way from Millenium Camp to Mweka Camp and were deeply grateful for a day of light hiking and rest. We still had a full 24 hours left on the mountain, though, and were reminded that while we may want to shower and eat a giant cheeseburger (or a pimento cheeseburger in Beau’s case), we were also afforded the opportunity to reflect on our time conquering one of the Seven Summits! Each student demonstrated patience and trust in the process of ascending, descending, and acclimation.
Day 7 was a lesson in celebration! We walked off the mountain and into a crowd of well-wishers and people singing “congratulations!” Each student was able to feel the weight of their accomplishment as we drove away from Kili, and Mary Brice and Anne were especially happy with our surprise ice cream celebration tonight. Each student has accomplished something incredible and we’re so thrilled for the stories they’ll share with you.
We are sad to leave Kilimanjaro behind, but now we’re off to safari and will be waking up birthday boy Jonny K. tomorrow with all the Tanzanian joy we can muster!
Much love to all of you,
Thomas and Mary
June 19, 2018
Jamboooo from Tanzania, family and friends!
We are so thrilled to be writing to you all after an incredible week at the Red Sweater Project. Our time in Tanzania is already flying by, but we want to give you an update about all that we’ve experienced here thus far.
Day 1 and 2 were dominated by travel, and Betsy had us laughing the whole time. When we arrived at our home-away-from-home in Arusha, we had our first Moonup, and we selected Maddie and Beau as LODs (Leaders of the Day) for our first full day in country. After a very thorough (and deserved!) night sleep in Arusha, we packed our bags for service, loaded our bus, and drove through an unbelievably beautiful landscape, highlighted by lush mountains outlining the horizon, seemingly endless golden plains and the bluest skies crowning this unforgettable landscape. After this dream of a drive, we arrived at our new home for the next for days, Mto Wa Mbu. We met our hosts at the Red Sweater Project, Sheb and Msafiri, and immediately gained a sense of the impactful work we’d be engaging in. We went to bed full of joyful anticipation for what was ahead.
Our first day at the Red Sweater Project (RSP) started with a delicious breakfast cooked by our fantastic chef, and after a magnificently awe-inspiring quote to start the day from Hails, we boarded our new transportation for this section, the fleet of tuk-tuks, and headed for The Mungere School. When we arrived at the school, we were greeted by the smiling, happy and eager-to-learn faces of the students with who we would be working with the next few days. It was within minutes at our project site, the school’s garden, that we realized how motivated Charlie and Caroline were going to be during our project, both getting to know the students from the Mungere School and the work at hand. It was absolutely incredible to watch! In the afternoon, after a morning hard at work in the school’s organic garden, we transitioned into fun and games down at the school soccer field, where Jack and Jonny K showed off their skills. It was an example of how our students began to form relationships despite cultural barriers and differences.
Our second day at the RSP happened to fall on Eid, the culminating celebration of Ramadan, so instead of work, we hiked with the Mungere School students to a beautiful waterfall, and the hike was amazing. We walked through giant banana tree groves and into a forest where we saw monkeys swinging from branch to branch! Talk about getting excited for safari! We were led by the consistent positive demeanor of Olivia, never failing to smile or laugh, even when finding herself covered in a little mud! It is that kind of mindset that will be essential as we push on towards Kilimanjaro. After spending time at the waterfall taking pictures, laughing and having fun with the RSP students, we headed back to the school for lunch. After lunch, we made our way back to our lodge, but instead of our typical tuk-tuk ride back, we had the great experience of walking through the surrounding villages in which many students live. As Simran pointed out, this was a fantastic opportunity to show us a new perspective of how eager the RSP students are to learn, walking miles to and from school every day.
We woke up for our third day at the RSP to the bright and shining smiles of our friends at the school. This day allowed us a lot of time to forge friendships and focus on the relationships between the Moondance students and the Mungere School students. Our birthday boy Boog (Johnny L.) led the charge in facilitating games like “Simon Says…” and “Sit down, if…” for everyone, and had everyone in good spirits with his “Papa Smurf” impressions. When we made our way back to the lodge, we continued our birthday celebration of Boog with a surprise cake and John singing the birthday song in Swahili!
Our fourth and fifth days at the RSP were far and away the most meaningful. These days were marked by both a lot of hard work in the garden and valuable cultural exchanges. Day 4 included a conversation with RSP students about their daily course schedule and the impressive statistics of their graduating classes. Day 5 saw Mary Brice and Anne dancing with Maasai women and feeling right at home amongst the bright colors and welcoming hugs. We ended Day 5 with a trip to Mr. Macho’s market and believe me, the students have a lot of souvenirs for you!
After sad goodbyes at the RSP, we now find ourselves back in Arusha and gearing up for our Kilimanjaro trek that leaves tomorrow. We cannot wait to share stories from the summit and will update you as soon as we get back from the climb. For now, here are some shout-outs from your favorite Moondancers:
Johnny L- I’m gonna give a BIGG shoutout to Hails’s parents for raising a pristine man. I love you all and Hails and I hope all is well. Say hi to Bella and Melvin for me please and I hope bountiful fortunes come your way.
Love, Johnny L (Boog!)
Simran – Hey Mom and Dad, miss y’all so much! Africa is incredible! Say Hi to the boys for me and make sure Papa isn’t freaking out too much! Love y’all <3
Hails- Huge shoutout to Johnny L’s parents for raising an amazing young man. I hope everything is going great in Tulsa. Africa is amazing, and Johnny and I are having an amazing time. I hope Gracie is doing well and Billy is having a good time also.
Beau- Hey mom, hey dad Africa is fun and amazing I’ve never seen such beautiful landscape I wish y’all were here, I miss y’all so much, Charles keep doing well in Charleston, don’t get fired, and make mom and dad proud! Love you guys so much. Beau
Betsy – Mom and Dad. Having the best time! Do not want to come home.
Swelles: Can’t wait to hear about your Moondance. Have the best time
Jay: Having so much fun!! About to climb Kilimanjaro tomorrow. Can’t wait to tell you about it when I get back. Miss you!
John- Hey mom, Hey dad having a great time! Hope you are having a great time in Hawaii! And Camille hope you’re having a great time in Italy!
Hey coach Matt. (Mom if you are reading this I miss you and tell Matt to read this) I’m having a great time. We’re about to climb kili. Africa is great. Can’t wait to come back to practice
Hey mom and dad miss y’all. Hey sissy hope ur having fun at home without me. I’m sure you’re with Charlie right now so tell him I said hey Chavs. Hey friends. Shout-out to Georgie now I know what you’re talking about hey girl tell melz to read this hi ily
Hi mom, pop, Alden, and my friends. I’m having a great time and I miss and love u guys. Tell Bucky and aubie hi
Hey everybody, I’m having a great time! Africa is amazing the people here are super friendly and I can’t wait to tell y’all all about it! Tell Lon dale and Dennis I miss them lol love and miss y’all 🙂
Shoutout to my dogs: Lila, Molly and Rusty, miss you guys!
Happy birthday sipe. Love everyone. I’m having a great time. We start hiking tomorrow.
What up dawgs!! Having a great time. Miss everyone. I’m thinking about you mema
Anne- Hey mom and dad. I’m having fun. Tell Finn I miss him. We are about to climb the mountain
June 12, 2018
Hello Kilimanjaro Families!
Trip leaders Thomas and Mary just notified us of the entire group’s safe arrival to Arusha – luggage and all! We are so excited for them to get their trip started bright and early tomorrow morning.