July 15, 2018
Hello friends and family!
We cannot believe this trip has come to a close. In the blink of an eye, our group explored South Africa and all of her beauty, sharing laughs, stories, and chocolate bars, and creating memories that will last a lifetime. It is incredible to think just how quickly deep and lasting bonds can form within a group from different places and spaces, but our group was nothing shy of the perfect bunch. We saw different personalities and preferences come together beautifully as we traveled together, and we as leaders could not be more proud of each and every one of your girls.
In our final few hours together, we had the opportunity to explore Ukutula Lion Park, a center that focuses on the conservation of lions through research and education. Our kids participated in two main activities: the first being an interaction and the second being a walk. We got to tour the research center at Ukutula, see many of the animals they have at the park, including hyenas, tigers, and a variety of cats, and then interact with both cheetahs and lion cubs. The kids got to actually touch these animals, hearing the cheetahs purr and having the baby lions crawl in their laps. The following day, we took a short walk in the bush with three male lions. We saw them climb into trees, dive into watering holes, and interact with one another. Both of these unique experiences were certainly things these kids thought they would never be able to do, and they left the kids with a lot of thoughts about the importance of conservation for these magnificent species.
We had a lovely final banquet put on by Ukutula on our last official night together. The sky displayed its mesmerizing shades of reds and oranges at dusk, and the stars illuminated the night for us as we reminisced on all of our trip fun. After a delicious meal, we all gathered in one chatelet for our final Moonup. LODs asked the group, “What is something you will take away from this experience?”, prompting riveting and meaningful discussion about our time together. Tears were shed as we closed the ceremony with our last “hand hug”, which echoes just how close our group became in our two weeks together. Each individual was such a valuable asset to our group as a whole, adding her own unique fire that made our group light up. We would love to share just one of the many memories we have from each girl in efforts to encompass for you all how special these girls are…
From day one Sibley was our burst of energy, our spontaneous motivator, our fire. In Cape Town she gave everyone a good laugh by jumping in the pool with all of her clothes on, and she also decided to relive the moment in the pool at Ukutula. El was our natural leader, always receiving nugs for “just being El.” She was always our go to girl for her portable charger to charge our speaker on long van drives. Emilie’s ability to form relationships with the kids at Bushveld Mission Children’s Home was truly remarkable. She formed a very special connection with a girl named Maise, who refused to let Emilie out of her sight the entire time! Kathryn was our constant conversation, always filling silence with stories and laughs. Her quest to find her Martian Figurine that she earned from a bar of chocolate kept us all entertained. Emily really broke out of her shell on this trip, which impressed both herself and us as leaders. Her baby goat impression gave us all many laughs, creating a space where she felt comfortable being her true self. Sloan was our photographer, capturing the most beautiful moments with the click of a button. We see a future for her in photography! Abby was our jokester, always getting laughs out of us from her stories or actions. She loved to keep group morale high and care-free, refusing to let hiccups in life get in the way of fun. Kate was our caring voice, always showing love and compassion to every person she interacted with. She treated everyone as equals, investing time in each and every person in our group and truly caring for those around her. Landry’s decisiveness was valued and appreciated by our group: the other girls respected her opinion and appreciated her well thought out input in making decisions. She perfectly balances going with the flow and coming to a decision when each is appropriate. Katie’s patience was invaluable to us as leaders. She would always just go along with what we told the group, readily hopping into the van not knowing how long the drive would be or what the next activity was. She showed immense kindness and sincerity to everyone she interacted with. Last but not least, Anna’s dedication to spending time with others was inspiring. She was hardly ever without a buddy, showing how committed she was to making connections with the people around her and giving her time to others.
We could write pages and pages about each girl, but from these few sentences, it is clear just how special these girls are. We as leaders could not be more proud of our group. They were committed to having fun one hundred percent of the time, the kept group morale high and positive, and they loved each other so wholeheartedly. We cannot wait to see where these girls go in the future and were so incredibly lucky to have gotten to know them over the past two weeks. We wish them as well as you all all the best in the upcoming year!
Anna and Blake
July 13, 2018
After an amazingly rewarding community service section, we have settled into the Ukutula Lion Park to spend our last night together on the South African ground. The group is incredibly close, and we are sad to be inching towards the end, but we have had a great time here.
Traveling from Monkey Camp three short days ago, we headed towards the Bushveld Mission in Vaalwater for our community service portion of the trip. The group eagerly awaited our arrival, and as the gate slid open, the children greeted us with smiling faces and open arms. We hit the ground running on day one, grabbing paint brushes and shovels. As our group started to settle in, we found our place with all of the children and older students. Katie and Sloan began on day one with manual labor, working hard in the sun moving rocks and sand across the yard, but not without inviting a few of the students to ride along in the wheelbarrow. Sibley was eager on the other side of the building, coordinating a painting crew to begin remodeling the boy’s sleeping area. We finished up day one with a solid feeling of accomplishment, and were eager to reach our new accommodations at the Waterberg Cottages.
These historic cottages are nestled into the Waterberg bush, surrounded by rustling impala and an incredible amount of bird life. Philip and his wife Juliet, the owners of the land, welcomed us with tea and coffee and a short presentation on the history of the cottages. The students patiently awaited a hot meal after a long day of hard work. We enjoyed fried chicken and roasted potatoes with a fresh salad on a large porch alongside a roaring fire. A pink sun set in the backdrop and concluded our first night in this quiet place.
Waking up the next morning, we set out for another day of community service. We arrived ready to tackle the rest of the work. The group truly began to bond with the students, and we had endless games of hide and seek going. Emilie made a great connection with a young girl named Maci, and she was never without Maci on her shoulders. Kate bonded with a young boy named Timby, and the two ran around the soccer field for hours laughing to the sun. In between painting, Landry was always seen engaging the children in games and truly getting to know each and every individual at the mission. Anna found a place alongside the young girl’s tea party, and laughed with them as they served ‘tea’ and small chips around the table. I was so very proud of the group’s behavior, as they had a deep dedication the the work they were doing and wanted to truly better themselves in the process. We headed back to Waterberg after another rewarding day of work.
Arriving back to the cottages, we cleaned up and hopped in a safari vehicle to head out into the bush for a barbecue and night of stargazing, narrated by Philip. As we sat around a fire with hot tea, we were enticed with a quick game of trivia from Philip. Kathryn took the lead answering the questions, recalling all of her geographical knowledge and surprising Philip in the process. After a hearty meal, we moved deeper into the bush for an astronomy lesson. Bundled up in blankets, we enjoyed a detailed presentation and then headed back to our warm beds.
We arose for the final day of community service, already sad to have to say goodbye to the amazing children. We headed in for our final day of work. We finished up the painting, and packed up. We made the most of the few hours we had in the morning, and then hugged and kissed the kids goodbye. It was a sad goodbye, but we hopped back in the vans to head towards Ant’s Nest for a rhino conservation and snake presentation.
As we sat in front of Owen, our snake handler, the students were nervous and excited. He brought out the first benign snake, easing the students into his eventual reveal of the most deadly snake in the world. After a few moments, the big black trash bin that had been shaking behind us during the presentation, was pushed open by Owen and the black mamba emerged! It was an incredibly display! After a while we sat back down for the final snake, the rock python. This large snake was domesticated so that the few willing students could hold it. Emily and El were the first to conquer their fear, and they took the snake in their hands with nervous smiles on their faces. After the snakes, we sat down for a conservation presentation about the Waterberg rhino. Abby was all questions, and exhibited her deep concern for the declining population of rhino. Her love for the animals was appreciated by our presenter, and she concluded that our group was ready to be rhino conservation ambassadors back in the states.
We have found our way to the lion park, and as the sun sets now on our final night, we are ready to reminisce on all of our shared experiences this summer. Our group is safe and sound.
Sending love to all of the families,
Blake and Anna
July 10, 2018
Our group has spent the past three days at this lovely camp located in the Marataba Game Reserve. We have been spoiled with cozy abodes, delicious meals, and beautiful game out in the African bush. We are up before sunrise with the calls of the birds and fall asleep at night to leopards and lions wrestling in the distance. Let us catch you all up on what we’ve been up to!
Upon arrival in Johannesburg, we headed out to the Elephant Sanctuary where the kids could see the first of the Big 5! We were overflowing with excitement as we pulled into the sanctuary and were greeting by five majestic adult elephants and two babies. The staff gave us a quick safety briefing and talked about how these elephants are used for conservation and education efforts before introducing us to each elephant individually. Sibley and Anna played the first memory game with a female elephant. She impressed us with her ability to learn the girls names and recognize them by scent! We all got to interact with each of the five elephants, touching their skin, feeding them, and even riding them! The kids were blown away by the elephants’ beauty and power, and it was a great way to kick off our time on a game reserve.
We were greeted that night at Monkey Camp with a delicious home-cooked meal and an introduction to our two guides Hein and Ryan. After Moonup by the campfire, we hit the hay early in preparation for our first morning game drive the next day. We set off just after sunrise and were immediately greeting by three cheetah who were on the hunt! Sloan captured some amazing photos for the group. We continued to explore the reserve on our open air vehicles, seeing hippos, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, elephants, and more. During each drive, we stop for coffee, tea, and African rusks, which are essentially biscotti, in the bush. On this drive we were greeted by some zebra at our high tea spot, and Hein challenged Abby to see how close she could get to the animals by crawling on the ground, which gave us all a good laugh and some great photos.
That night, we had the amazing opportunity to sleep out under the stars in the bush. Our guides provided us with cots and sleeping bags, and we set up our campsite by a warm fire. After a delicious cookout at sundown, we split the kids up into groups of two to keep watch over our campsite in shifts throughout the night. Although some of the girls were timid at first about seeing animals throughout the night, they loved their campout in the bush and all agreed it was a once in a lifetime experience. There were reports of wildebeests, impala, and zebras throughout the night!
The next day, we set off on another safari drive just before sundown. After our break for high tea, we were finally greeted by the “king of the jungle”, the lion! There were two teenage males walking right toward us in the road, and they came right up to our vehicle, giving us an amazing sighting. These beautiful creatures were absolutely breathtaking. We spent almost an hour admiring them as they interacted and trekked through the bush.
Today, we had another very special interaction in the bush that we will all remember forever. We had the opportunity to work with local veterinarian, Andres, on a rhino conservation project. Due to poaching, rhinos are an extremely endangered species that are said to be extinct in the next 10-15 years. Because of this, conservation teams are working to locate rhinos in the bush and mark them so that they can be tracked in the future. The veterinarian team therefore darted a white rhino in the bush with a highly sedative drug so that they could run tests on the animal and mark it appropriately. We got to approach the sedated rhino and watch the veterinarian take DNA samples, give the animal oxygen, place the microchip in its horn, mark the ears, and take its temperature. We were allowed to touch the rhino as well, feeling how surprisingly soft their skin is on the inside of their legs and behind their ears. We all learned a lot about rhino conservation and the importance of anti-poaching efforts in the bush, and the experience certainly left an impact on all of our hearts.
We are sad to leave Monkey Camp tomorrow, but we finally get to start our community service work at the Bushveld Missions Children Home tomorrow. Before signing off, a few of the girls wanted to say hi to folks back home!
Katie- Hi mom dad and Sam! South Africa is so cool. You all would love it here. There are so many amazing animals and I’m so excited to tell you all about them. By the way, happy anniversary!! Say hi to Charlie and Lady for me! Give them lots of snuggles. Love you and see y’all soon!! :)))
Kathryn- Hey guys! I love and miss y’all so much. South Africa is absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Thank you for sending me and I hope Europe is great! See you soon 🙂
Emilie- Hey everyone!! I have having so much fun here and seeing so many amazing animals sooo close up. Everywhere we have gone to has been so beautiful. I can’t wait to tell you all about this amazing trip. Love and miss you all
Kate- Hi everyone!!! I am having SO much fun in South Africa. It’s beautiful here! I can’t wait to tell y’all all about the amazing things that we’re doing here. See you so soon! Love & miss you xoxo
Landry- Hey guys!!! I’m having a blast and can’t wait to tell y’all about everything I’ve experienced. Happy early birthday dad, sorry I’m not there to celebrate. Love and miss you guys! Xoxo, Landry <33
Emily- hey y’all! I am having a blast in South Africa and I cannot wait to tell you all about it! Everything has been absolutely breathtaking and amazing here and I’m so happy to be here! Say hello to Star, Scout, and Bonnet for me! Love y’all so so much!!!
El- Hi family! I am having the best time here and cannot wait to share all of stories and pictures! Dad, you are going to love to see all these animals. I hope the baby is doing well… I am so excited to get to come home to my new nephew! I love you all and I cannot wait to see y’all!
Sloan – hey guys! I hope everything is great at home! Say hi to milo and tally for me. I am having an AMAZING time and I can’t wait to come back here sometime. Y’all would love it! I have taken some great photos and can’t wait to show you! Tell Steven and Ella I miss them too. I’ll see y’all soon!!! Love y’all
Sibley-HAVING THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE! I’ve never laughed this much omg <3333333 ;))))))) (<—— Gibbs) give mollie a hug for me!!!
Abby… Hey fam! I’m having a BLAST… all the girls are so nice and I’m making the bestest friends. Yesterday I army crawled towards some zebra to see how close I could get to them. So fun. We saw 2 male lions also! Can’t wait to show you the pictures. I’ve never laughed harder in my life and I can’t wait to see you soon! 🦓🦒
Anna- what’s upppp:)
Until next time,
Anna and Blake
July 6, 2018
As we wrap up our final night in Cape Town, it is amazing how close we have come together in just a few short days. Through sand boarding in the beautiful Atlantis dunes, surfing in the icy blue water on the southern coast, and zip lining across the now snow covered mountains we have found solace in this coastal city. The group is all smiles and laughs each and every day, and each individual has found their place within this kind-hearted group. It has been an amazing few days, and we have only just begun.
We awoke on Tuesday to bright blue skies and a cool breeze blowing into the kitchen from the balcony. We headed out for a morning of sand boarding and afternoon of surfing. We rolled into the dunes, excited to take on this new sport. As the group hiked a short way through the sand, we were given a demonstration on how to strap into the board and ride down the hill. Sibley wasted no time in getting started, waxed her board, and headed quickly down the dune. The rest followed. The group slid, tumbled, and sped down the dunes laughing and taking many GoPro videos along the way. Sloan kicked off a new method of sliding down the hill, by sitting on the board and catching some serious speed down the steepest hill in area. We enjoyed this new extreme activity, but we were extremely eager to hit the waves.
We trucked down the coast to “Big Bay” and slid on our wetsuits and grabbed a few boards. The water was chilly, and the waves were big but we had no fear. Our California native, Emilie, paddled out quickly to test the water. As we all started to head out, the waves began to calm down and the group was paddling smoothly. Landry was our first to stand up for a wave, creating a positive vibe on the beach. After a couple of hours, the group was exhausted and for good reason. We hopped back in the van and worked our way back to our lodge to enjoy the evening together. After a hearty meal of pasta and fresh veggies, we lit a fire and gathered around for Moonup. We broke down the day, and reminisced on our laughs and triumphs. It was certainly a day to remember.
Early the next morning we enjoyed avocado toast and fruit before heading out for our peninsula tour. As we weaved through the grassy mountains alongside the crashing waves of the Atlantic, we came to Hout Bay, a safe haven for wild seals and fisherman. With a few stalls filled with local goods, we allowed the group to shop for a little before heading on to the Cape of Good Hope. Anna was the first to spot the swimming seals alongside the docked boats, and the group gathered to take in our first aquatic wildlife sighting in Cape Town. We continued on.
Arriving to the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point of Africa, we set out for short hike. El led the way, trucking through the coastal wind and leaving ample time for sight-seeing and pictures. The hike was short but incredibly rewarding, as El led us over to a rock section the included a open 360 degree view of the Atlantic Ocean, riddled with bright green algae and white caps. As hunger settled in for the group, we hit Simon’s Town for the local’s favorite fish and chips. We reserved a big table outside, overlooking the harbor, and enjoyed some live music by a few local fisherman. We stopped by Boulders Beach on our way home to watch the penguins waddle in from their days of fishing. The group watched from a private dock, and we laughed hysterically as Emily gave her best animal calls to the penguins. Our day came to a close with a beautiful pink sunset, and hearty dinner. The group slept soundly.
Rolling out of bed this morning, everybody was eager to zip line. We listened to music along the way, and stopped at an amazing bakery for pastries before we arrived to the canopy tour. With bellies full of cinnamon rolls, croissants, and fresh strudel we stepped into our harnesses and climbed in the open vehicles for a fun ride into the mountains to find our first zip line for the morning. The weather was incredible, with clear blue skies and a great breeze that left the group eager to experience all the day had to offer. As we zipped over waterfalls and bright white flowers, Kathryn made time to make friends with all of our zip lining guides, cracking jokes and passing messages along the walkie talkies. We ended our tour with homemade chicken pot pies, and climbed back in the van to head back towards home.
Before reaching home, we stopped at Muzeinburg Beach to see the vibrant colored shacks along the coast and take a stroll in the shallow surf. Kate led the charge for exploration on the beach, as the girls took photos and chased each other in the sand under her lead. Wearing her new red elephant pants, Abby carried members of the group on her back into the surf and laughing loudly. We enjoyed our walk, watching the evening surfers catch waves under the setting sun. We settled down for Moonup, and Katie brought us a very meaningful question: “what is something from this Cape Town portion of the trip that will stick with you forever?”. The group remembered all of our activities and the people from them all. The question helped to bring us all closer together, as we found common ground in the deep appreciation we have for this place. We have enjoyed our time here, and are sad to leave it behind; however, we know that more incredible adventure lies ahead. Marataba… here we come!
All the best,
Blake and Anna
July 2, 2018
Our lovely girls group has finally arrived in this beautiful country and is starting to settle in. Despite the long journey across the pond, the girls arrived with smiles on their faces and excitement in their voices. Blake and I could tell from the very first moments in the airport that this was going to be an amazing group, and sure enough deep bonds have already formed in just two days together. We could not be more excited for the journey ahead!
We are currently in a lovely lodge in Cape Town that is surrounded by both majestic mountains and the rumbling sea. Each night we are spoiled with a beautiful array of reds and oranges across the sky as the sun sets. The lodge has quickly become our home as we have shared many laughs and delicious meals together here. The first night we arrived, we enjoyed a comfort meal (tacos!) and had our first official Moonup by a roaring fire. Leaders of the day (LODs) Landry and Kate prompted the group with the questions “Why did you pick this trip?” and “What are you most excited for?,” which sparked great conversations within the group. We learned that Katie picked this trip because she thought experiencing a culture different from her own and doing community service would be life changing for her, opening her eyes to different ways of life. Emily, Sloan and Kathryn also shared that they are most excited to see the animals that are in danger of becoming extinct and learn more about conservation efforts. It was a lovely way to end the evening.
Today, we set off early to tackle Table Mountain! Our guides prepped us for our trek, and before long, we were on our way up. Luckily, we had some beautiful sunshine on our hike, which helped keep us warm as we traversed higher. These girls were absolute rockstars climbing this mountain! They fearlessly climbed their way up slippery rocks, gaining significant elevation in an impressive amount of time. Blake and I were blown away by their positivity and courageous spirits throughout the trek. El, Anna and Sibley had smiles on their faces the entire time, and LODs Emilie and Abby kept group morale high even in more difficult spots. Conversations flowed all the way up the mountain as well as on the way back down ranging from favorite TV shows to funny memories, which brought our group even closer together. The girls finished their day feeling accomplished and proud, as they should have been!
This group of girls has been truly been remarkable from the very start. Their laughter is contagious and the joy that radiates from their hearts is beautiful. Blake and I have seen such genuine kindness from each of them and could not be more excited to get to know these magnificent girls more throughout our trip.
Until next time,
Anna and Blake
June 30, 2018
Hello South Africa Families!
Your students landed safely in Johannesburg this afternoon. We have been in touch with the group leaders, and the trip is off to a great start! We can’t wait to hear more about their adventures.