June 29, 2018
The trip has come to a close, but the memories made over these seventeen days will surely last forever. Our group bonded incredibly, and tears were shed as we broke apart on that final airport day. As we sat down for our final meal together in the airport, it was if we had known each other for years. We laughed, cried, and hugged as we cherished the little time we had left. It is truly amazing how Moondance can bring individuals so close in such a short period of time. Each student was entirely dedicated to making the most of every moment, and that created an undeniably positive experience for all.
We trucked from Ant’s Nest over to the Ukutulu Lion Conservation Park, where the students interacted with grown lions, cheetahs, and of course the baby lions. We began the first afternoon by walking through the bush behind two fully grown male lions and experienced an empowering interaction with the king of the bush. After, the sun set slowly and sank behind the grassy hilltops, and we entered the dining hall at the Park for our final dinner together. We sat down with big grins, and probably too much energy. Our group hooted and laughed during dinner, recalling all the jokes and funny experiences from the trip. Looking around, it was easy to see that this had become a real Moondance family. It didn’t matter where people sat during the meal, or who was there to talk. Everybody engaged everybody, and we laughed the night away.
As we headed to the leader hut for our final Moonup, it began to sink in that the trip was truly coming to close. Our final question was “What was a realization you made over the course of the trip that you will carry over when you get home?” This question was truly illuminated for us as leaders. Each student gave a very intentional answer, further proving that they are all truly kind souls. From the water crisis in Cape Town to the orphaned children who never ceased to smile, the students had so much to be grateful for. They knew that and wanted nothing more than to help others understand that as well. This Moondance trip was both enlightening and humbling for each of us. Looking back on the trip, it is easy to see the highlights in each student. There are so many to draw from, and without each and every one, the trip would not have been the same…
Ethan’s absolutely hilarious Russian accent that would bellow through the Cape Town house in the evening would spark roars of laughter throughout all of us. Clara’s amazing relationship with the Bushveld children helped to send a message to the rest of the group how important it was to sometimes stop painting and to pay attention to those around us for a while-to stop and listen to their story. Wyatt’s love for music helped to spark a constant singing and dance party during some long van rides, and without the positivity radiating from him during these times, the bumpy rides might have seemed much longer. Kate G’s silly and joyous attitude always sparked a laugh, and her particular skill for spotting every giraffe during our safaris was greatly appreciated. Gracie’s kind nature and hard work during our service work was both necessary and incredibly honorable. Lila’s laugh with Spongebob quotes was undeniably a plus, but her love for the lions truly shined through all. Kate J was a positive force during all of our activities, always finding her way into the pictures with a big smile on her face. McKinnon, everybody’s favorite southern belle, was our spontaneous motivator during the trip, always wanted to stay just a little bit longer to help or to see more wildlife. Andrew’s big trivia night under the stars was as memorable as any event, as he rattled off history answers to some difficult questions from Phillip. Hunter never stopped running at Bushveld Mission, playing with the children but also heavily engaging with the older members, trying to find more out about each and every individual. Greer was always there to lend a helping hand and be the first to tackle a long hike or more challenging aspect of the trip.
Anna and I are incredibly proud of each student this summer. We had an absolutely amazing time and could not be happier to have made amazing relationships with every member of the group. We wish you the best rest of the summer!
Anna and Blake
June 26, 2018
We have had a wonderful three days of community service and are soaking up our last moments together in this beautiful place. How time has flown by! Let’s dive right in to what we’ve been up to since we last wrote.
We left camp en route for the next portion of our trip: community service at a local children’s home. This organization is a non-profit home created to raise up, educate, and encourage orphaned, abandoned, and abused children with the mission of “loving them back to life.”Our kids were so excited to meet these children and help out at the home. When we arrived on the first day, we were greeted by “Mamma T” who informed us that we were the paint crew! We were assigned to paint the little boy’s room a beautiful light blue, so we got right to work! McKinnon and Gracie were the star painters for constantly having brushes in their hands and smiles on their faces, and we called on Wyatt to reach the higher parts of the wall thanks to his height. After three days of painting, we had finished all of the walls and had added a lovely white trim around the doors and windows. When we needed a break from painting, we got to interact and play with some of the kids at the home. Clara became quite close to a youngster named Timbe, and two little boys loved to chase Ethan all around the playground. Hunter and Andrew were the soccer stars, always joining in games with the kids, and Kate G always had a child on her shoulders when they wanted to help her paint. Overall, we had a blast. Our kids loved spending time with these children, and it was great for us as a group to be able to help them with a project! We will miss their adorable smiles!
After our final morning of service, we headed over to Ant’s Nest, a private game reserve known for their conservation efforts. Here, we learned about their main initiative, “Save the Waterberg Rhino,” and watched all of their rhinos come into the area for their nightly feeding. There was even a baby rhino, which we had not seen yet! It was absolutely incredible to watch the African sunset with seven rhinos. The kids also got to see a variety of snakes, including cobras, that a snake handler brought in. Kate J was brave enough to let the snake slither over and around her neck! The kids got to interact with some of the snakes, which they absolutely loved! It was a great way to end our community service work.
Every night, we have returned to our cottages for the evening. We have been quite spoiled here with excellent food, comfortable accommodations, and generous hosts. On the first night, the owner’s wife Juliet gave us a brief history lesson on the cottages we are staying in. They have been in her family since the mid-1800s! Her husband, Phillip, is also a very passionate astronomer. On our second night, he took all of us out into the bush for a cookout and a star presentation. After a delicious dinner around the campfire, Phillip showed us different planets and stars through his telescope and taught us all about early astronomy. Lila was absolutely fascinated! As if that wasn’t enough, Phillip also let the kids meet his pet bush baby one night. The bush baby loved Greer, climbing all over her arms and shoulders.
We have truly had such an incredible time these past few days working at Bushveld and staying in these historic cottages. The kids have shared many laughs along the way and are making lifelong memories in these last few moments. We cannot wait for the last portion of our adventure!
Until next time,
Blake and Anna
June 23, 2018
We landed in Johannesburg, and made the short drive out to the Elephant Sanctuary, where we were greeted by the warm staff and a very cute domesticated meerkat named Trouble. As the group waited for the elephants to return from their stroll, Trouble followed Ethan around the park for the rest of the afternoon. It was hilarious! A few thuds signaled the elephants’ arrival, and we headed down to their canopy to get a closer look. The amazing staff taught all of the students about elephant intelligence, mating, conservation, and much more. The staff moved down a long line of massive elephants, demonstrating different skills in each. A staff member set a large drum of water in front of a male elephant, telling us, “the elephant will be able to drink the entire drum in just a few seconds”. The elephant sucked a large amount of water into his trunk and pointed it directly at Hunter, who was standing in the front row, and sprayed him! The elephant fun continued, as the students were allowed to ride the elephants for a short while in the bush. The students loved getting to interact with these massive animals, and get a first look at what was soon to come.
We have since found our new home at Monkey Camp, a beautiful game lodge nestled in the South African bush. Rich with wildlife, the reserve is home to all of the “Big Five”. Our tents are plush, with woolen covered twin beds and open screen windows to hear the never ending animal calls throughout the night. We have loved Monkey Camp, and have truly found our place in the bush… relaxing and enjoying all that this wild country has to offer.
We were greeted the first night with a wonderful home cooked meal, and introduced to our two amazing guides – Hein and Ryan. We had a wonderful Moonup, led by Clara, engaging all of us regarding what we were most excited to see over the next few days on safari. The question invited eager answers, and everybody went to sleep patiently awaiting our next day’s activities. We arose early, and set out for our first game drive before the sun came up. The students bundled up in the cold weather, and the two open air trucks set out into the South African bush. The light orange sun peeped over a dusty mountain range, and shed light onto the landscape. The land started to come to life. Grunting impala and galloping zebra emerged from the trees, and the students were in shock. The land was teeming with life, and it never stopped presenting amazing sights. As the two trucks came together in an open field for tea and cookies, Kate G shed a few happy tears. As we ate, the field filled with eight towering giraffes, her very favorite animal. But.. it didn’t stop there, as Wyatt called out to the group to take a peek beyond the tree line. A large group of baboons and neighboring warthogs had begun to take on the field. The group watched the bush come to life, under the rising sun. Our safari time had begun.
The next day we set out for another morning game drive, watching the sunrise from the edge of a large lake. Not appreciated enough is the South African bird life. The trees surrounding the water were filled with bright colored swallows, dark falcons, and chirping canaries. After taking in the view, and experiencing another amazing drive in which we encountered a group of thumping wild elephant, we headed back to camp to pack for our sleep out. Packed and ready to go, we headed out into the bush. After two hours of driving in the cool wind, we came to our campsite. As we crossed a path and slid between a large tree break, I heard Greer call out “rhinos!”. She had spotted four rhino in the open field next to our prospective campsite. We watched as they explored for a bit, and then retreated into the thick bush. We quickly set up camp, and then made plans for the evening. Our guides set up an obstacle course using sticks and animal dung. In partners, one student was blindfolded and had to navigate himself through the obstacles under instruction from the non blindfolded partner. The group laughed hysterically as many blindfolded contestants fell victim to the animal dung, as they tripped as tumbled into the sand. Kate J and Andrew managed to make the best time as they navigated through the course perfectly without fault. After the game, the group settled in for dinner. Our guys fixed a hearty meal, all barbecued on the open flame. Full bellies signaled our time to sleep was fast approaching. As the group settled in for the night, we were broken into groups to keep watch during the night for possible encroaching wildlife. Each group would keep watch for an hour and a half and then wake up the next. The night was underway.
We would awake the next morning safe and sound, but with plenty of stories about the students’ time on watch. Gracie and McKinnon had shone their light in the night to spot animals and loved being out in the bush. It was an amazing experience, and the kids have raved about the “sleep out” ever since. We headed back to Monkey Camp for showers and to prepare for the evening game drive. We would set out later into the sunset, and find two massive lions (male and female) lounging in the thick bush. Lila sat in the back row of the safari vehicle, eyes glued to the two magnificent animals. She later shared amazing photographs of the encounter. It had made an impact on us all. The group watched closely-the king of the bush had been found.
We awoke this morning very early and eager to hit the road! We trucked into an open field and were greeted by a bright-eyed park ranger, who briefed us on the upcoming rhino darting activity. He explained the process, and we were interrupted by the clacking of the helicopter overhead. Soon after, the radio static cut out and the veterinarian’s voice filled the speakers, “first dart down”. The rhino has been sedated, and we moved through the wilderness to find the medical team, and assist them in their conservation efforts. We slowly approached the rhino, lying motionless on the ground while medical professionals worked quickly and intentionally, not wasting a breath. The students were, expectedly, nervous at first, but were greeted warmly by Dr. Andres, and he assured the students that the animal was in no way being harmed. In fact, this powerful process was a way to help and conserve these beautiful creatures! It was a powerful experience for all of the students, placing a hand on this massive animal’s grey armor and feeling it breathe as the entire rhino population grows increasingly threatened. The students walked away with a newfound appreciation for wildlife conservation efforts, and for South African specific rules and expectations.
We ended today with our last evening game drive, and home cooked meal at Monkey Camp. We closed with a fun Moonup around a roaring fire next to the bush. We have loved our time here deeply, and we as leaders are very proud of the entire group. They have lived every moment to the fullest at this place and haven’t missed a moment… eager eyes scanning the landscape for the next wildlife encounter. We move onto our community service section tomorrow, and I truly believe the group is in perfect harmony with this culture. We are eager and ready to truck on.
Talk to you all soon,
Blake and Anna
June 18, 2018
Hello again South Africa Families!
We have had amazing time here in Cape Town! Our days have been filled with activities, views, laughter, and smiles. Let us recap the last few days for you all!
On Saturday, our group set off for a day of sand boarding and surfing, two activities very new to most of the kids. Our guides Axel, Shaun, Willie, and Marissa drove us first to the African sand dunes where they explained the ins and outs of sand boarding. After a quick lesson, the kids fearlessly hopped right on and gave it a try! They were naturals, advancing to the steeper slopes within minutes. Ethan and Kate J. got some amazing go pro videos of their skills, and Wyatt gave us all a laugh by sledding down the steepest hill on his board with Willie. It was quite the morning, but our day was far from over. From there, we wet-suited up to brace the big South African waves for surfing! The kids once again bravely tackled the waves, diving into the water and paddling their hearts out. Hunter and Andrew were paddling pros and were able to make it very far out. Once the day’s activities were done, our LODs Gracie and Wyatt lead the group in an awesome moon up as we discussed our happy places.
The following day, we had the opportunity to explore the Cape of Good Hope, the southeastern most tip of Africa, and Boulder’s Beach. The beach was home to hundreds of penguins, which we later learned is Lila’s favorite animal, and Clara got to buy a beautiful new necklace. We also stopped at an ostrich farm on the way, and McKinnon and Greer really enjoyed feeding them out of their bare hands! It was an awesome day of exploration!
Up next was zip lining! We kept this activity a surprise for the kids, and we had an absolute blast. Soaring from hut to hut, the kids smiled and laughed their way through the entire course, especially when our guides surprised us with hot chocolate and cookies half way through! Kate G. even sang for us on the platforms in between! It was quite the adventure.
Tomorrow, we travel back to Johannesburg for some time at a game reserve. The kids could not be more excited to see more animals!
Until next time,
Blake and Anna
June 15, 2018
Our mighty travelers have touched down in Cape Town and found their home in a beautiful lodge surrounded by South African rock faces and bustling wildlife. After plenty of shut-eye and introductions on the flight from the States to Johannesburg, we have begun to find our groove in our daily activities.
Our home in Cape Town is gorgeous! The group has come together so amazingly in these short three days, and laughter filled the home as we sat down for our first home cooked meal last night (tacos) at the massive dinner table overlooking the small Cape Town fishing harbor known as Fish Hooke. Each student has begun to push away the inevitable jet lag and look forward towards our amazing activities that lie ahead.
Today, we rose very early and started the day with a wonderful poem entitled “The Way to Start a Day” by Byrd Baylor. The poem urged the group greet the sun each morning with open eyes and hearts and to appreciate each moment as we move forward. After a hearty breakfast of, a meal heavily requested by the group, avocado toast, we hopped in the van and set out to tackle the great Table Mountain! We arrived and eagerly stormed the base of the famous Table Mountain overlooking the amazing Atlantic Coastline and what locals call the “City Bowl” (a bustling metropolis hugged against seal covered coastline). We headed up an unconventional route, as stormy clouds loomed above Table Mountain, and we aimed to take the safest and most rewarding route possible. We hiked alongside the base of the mountain for a while, but the rain clouds covering the peak refused to recede. So we finished our base hike, and headed towards the Lion’s Head Summit.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away, the group set out to tackle this peak. The group began the hike and reached the peak quickly and efficiently, climbing ladders and pulling on chains their way through the rocky route. Reaching the top in just a few short hours, we were greeted by a small family of Dussies (a small and cute rodent). After we took in the view, spun around for plenty of pictures, and laughed about the slight drizzle, we headed back towards the van. It was a great feat for the group… nearly five hours of amazing hiking, reaching the peak of one mountain and traversing another. We had completed our first day of activities!
Our driver scooped us up from the outfitter location and trucked us back to the lodge for showers, hot beverages and a quick rest. We are sitting down for a big pasta dinner shortly and are headed back into town bright and early for a day of sand boarding and surfing! Before we go, everyone wants to send a quick message home, so here are some shoutouts from all of the group!
“This is a really cool country, and I really like it! Miss you mom and dad!” – Andrew
“This country is colder than I thought, but climbing the mountain was pretty cool.” – Hunter
“Happy Father’s Day, and I’m in Cape Town. And… hey Graham, I met your friends from north Atlanta ️.” – Ethan
“Hi Mom and Dad! I’m having a great time, and I climbed a mountain and it was cool! Happy Father’s Day, John” – Gracie
“Hi Mom, Dad, Wyatt, and Sebastian. I am in Africa. I love you all. Follow me on insta @clarati. Happy Father’s Day Pat.”- Clara
“Hi MeeMaw, Dad, Beck, Sam, Audrey, Lauren, and Julia I guess… Happy Father’s Day, and pet Tilley for me.” – Wyatt
“Hey mom, I’m fine! I’ve made lots of friends and I’m having the time of my life. Tell Caroline I said hey. Happy Father’s Day Harlou!” – Kate G.
“Hey Mom and Dad, what’s good? Miss y’all and the puppies! I’m having a great time. Give Margo a treat for me, and Happy Father’s Day!” – McKinnon
“Hey Mom and Dad! I miss you all so much and can’t wait to see you all when I get home. I’m having so much fun I love you! Happy Father’s Day, Dave!” – Greer
“Hola! Hiked a biggggggg ⛰ mountain today, and miss you. Also happy Father’s Day Big Rob! Bye.” – Kate J.
“Hey Grandma! Miss you. Having so much fun, spoke to lots of trees today.” – Lila
We are wishing you all the best this weekend, and are so grateful to have all of your kids for an amazing trip this summer. It has already been an absolute pleasure!
Blake and Anna
June 13, 2018
Hello South Africa Families,
All students have arrived safely in Johannesburg and the trip is on it’s way. More to come later on!