July 25, 2018
Sawadee Ka one last time!As our time comes to a close in Thailand, we have been trying to spend every last second together as a group before saying goodbye. Our final moonups have been full of meaningful conversations and lots of reflection about what we have learned these past few weeks. Although we are sad to leave each other soon, we can’t wait to keep in touch once we get back to our normal lives.
Back to the present, or near past rather, here are just a few recent highlights. We spent our last two days rock climbing, caving, touring the Grande Palace, and taking a boat tour through the canals of Bangkok.
Our first day of rock climbing was at Railey Beach, one of the most picturesque places you can imagine. The routes we were climbing overlooked the beach with the most turquoise blue water surrounding submerged rocks. Missy impressed us all by doing multiple routes more than once and timing herself as she did them again. Celia particularly shined this day as she conquered her fear of heights by making it to the top of a route AND rappelling later that afternoon. Anne Mallory’s golden heart continued to help us all out as she waited for Celia to collect herself so that they could rappel together. We can all learn a bit from Anne Mallory about what it means to be a good friend.
We saw lots of kids pushing themselves on this day, despite being tired from a long day of travel the previous day and end of trip woes starting to kick in. Anna was an excellent team member and went into a small, dark cave filled with bats and spiders even though it was the last thing she wanted to do. Because of her selflessness, we were all able to go into a scenic overlook and rappel down. Julia could have sat out on the activities this day after injuring her toe, but not this girl! She kept up with us that entire day and participated in all activities. We had a little bit of time in the afternoon to swim, and surely Noah was the first in the water. We could always look to him to be the first to get engaged in any activity.
Our second day of rock climbing was shorter but definitely not less intense than the first. The routes were the hardest yet, and it was an awesome way to close out the athletic activities of our trip. After being among the first to crush some routes, Carter snoozed peacefully under the rocks as her friends climbed on. Fulton climbed to the top of many routes and took pictures that we have all asked for copies of to set as our phone backgrounds. This came as no surprise since Fulton has essentially been our GoPro-ographer of the trip.
Later that night, we all dressed up in our best outfits purchased at the Chiang Mai markets And headed to our final banquet dinner. Shoutout to James and Andrew for trying something new at dinner. Riley initiated a photo shoot in our sweet new clothes and had us all cracking up with her hilarious poses. With full bellies, we headed back to our hotel for the dreaded and sad yet highly anticipated and exciting ~final Moonup~. Sitting around that circle, Graham had us all feeling exceptionally grateful when he said the first thing he was going to do when he got home was call his parents and thank them a million times for letting him go on this trip. And we, the leaders, have to agree with him.
To all the parents, thank you millions times over for letting us share in this experience with your incredible, smart, kind, adventurous, and fun-loving kids. It has been an incredible honor watching over your children these past few weeks. This job gives us great appreciation and awe for the hard work that parents put into looking after and caring for their children. We cannot express our humility or thank you enough for sending them to Thailand for an adventure-filled three weeks with us.
All the best,
Reba and Leaky
July 21, 2018
Greetings from four newly-certified advanced divers and eight newly-certified open water divers! Our time in Koh Tao has surpassed all expectations. The natural beauty of this island is breathtaking with lush green jungles, crystal clear turquoise water, and abundant and diverse aquatic life.
Every single student in our group got above a 90% on the written SCUBA exam, which truly reflects their dedication to learning the material. What is so amazing about our group is that they also embraced the course and skills-based dives with enthusiasm. We couldn’t be prouder of the way they handled our SCUBA section.
Celia particularly bonded with Patricia, our hilarious and enthusiastically girl power dive instructor, and she was able to overcome her nervousness of diving with ease and grace. Anne Mallory, who has officially been dubbed “AM”, has said “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done” after every single dive (and every single activity generally on this trip). We are starting to wonder what the coolest thing she has ever done truly is. Riley prompted many games of Rock Paper Scissors underwater, and I’ll admit that I think she might be able to read my mind because she crushed me every single time. James somehow always found a way to make everyone in his group laugh underwater. Big thanks go to Andrew, who is not new to SCUBA diving and has his open water, advanced, deep water, and nitrox certifications, for modeling his skills to the rest of the group.
The advanced group strengthened their preexisting skills and completed five different adventure dives as a part of their course: deep water dive, boat dive, peak performance buoyancy dive, night dive, and navigation dive. Missy, who I had the pleasure of being buddies with for many of the dives, was such a calming presence in the water. She has always held hands with her buddies when she has gone diving before, and we sparked many underwater laughs as we drifted through the water holding hands. Graham impressed us with his performance in the navigation dive because he was both precise and quick in getting us where we needed to go. Fulton has been our underwater videographer and has gotten some incredible footage (particularly of a sea turtle we saw during the night dive).
In between dives, we hung out on pirate ship boat and snacked on fresh pineapple and watermelon. Noah definitely set the record for most jumps off the boat and had us all laughing as he would pretend to belly flop and then would quickly transition into diving position just before hitting the surface. Diving can be pretty exhausting, but we could always look to Carter, Julia, and Anna to get everyone excited for the next dives.We have had an awesome time here in Koh Tao and are disappointed to leave. However, we are all eagerly looking forward to climbing in Krabi, which is said to have some of the most picturesque rock climbing in the world!
Until next time,
Reba and Leaky
July 19, 2018
Greetings from Chiang Mai!
We can’t believe that we are halfway through the trip already! Continuing with our journey in northern Thailand, we returned to our lodging in Chiang Mai and prepared for our climbing/caving expedition! For the next two days we would be climbing some wild walls and conquering some crazy caves, but after four days in the Karen Village, everyone was excited to explore the night markets of Chiang Mai once again. We traveled into the markets first to get some delicious Thai food from the various vendors surrounding us. After finishing our plates and enjoying the local live music, we headed into the markets to buy gifts for our friends and family. Fulton and James took the lead, bartering with the vendors like they were professionals! We all continued on our way, purchasing clothing, jewelry, and local art before heading back to our lodging for some much needed sleep.
On the morning of our first day of climbing, the students ate a big breakfast of pancakes or eggs and bacon, fueling themselves for what was going to be a physically challenging day. Our guides picked us up early for the long drive to Crazy Horse Buttress, our climbing location for the day. When we arrived, our guides gave a us a safety briefing and split us into two groups, one rock climbing first and the other repelling. we separated and wished the other team luck and headed for the wall. For the rock climbing there were three routes set up from easy to hard, but a fourth for those willing to really push themselves. I was excited to see that despite some nervousness, everyone jumped on the wall and climbed like champions! Celia conquered her first route ever while Andrew belayed, giving her encouragement the whole way. After a matter of minutes, both Riley and Missy were asking if they could do the hardest route and had no problem sprinting to the top! Soon after we all headed down for a lunch of fried rice, preparing for an afternoon of repelling. The guides informed us that we would be hiking to the top of the buttress and repelling down a cave over 50 meters deep! We began our hike to the top, enjoying the amazing panoramic views on northern Thailand on the way. At the top, despite her fears, Anna harnesses in and was first to descend into the cave, jumping off the walls and flying down like she was a pro! After everyones descent, we headed back to the staging area to pack up and travel to the hot springs where we would be staying the night.
With some free-time, the students explored the area, enjoying the natural mineral baths of the hot springs and shopping in some local stores before we gathered for dinner. we feasted on a traditional Thai dinner made for us by our outfitter and enjoyed the evening air. After dinner, our guides surprised Noah with a birthday cake for his 19th birthday! Not only was it his birthday, but he was also the leader of the day, a tough position to be chosen for on your birthday but none the less, Noah crushed it! Our outfitter did not stop with surprises there, we then had a big bonfire and made traditional Thai s’mores, composed of sticky rice and sugar roasting over a fire. After replenishing our bodies, everyone headed to sleep early to prepare for the caving the following day.
We woke up early, got a quick breakfast and packed our lunches before heading back to Crazy Horse Buttress for a morning of caving. After being briefed by our guides, we hiked to the cave and locked into safety ropes, navigating bouldering on top of the mouth of the cave. We reached two belay stations for everyone to belay down into the cave over 30meters! Julia conquered her fears and took the harder route, a free fall belay with no walls to grab, just her rope. the task was scary, descending into a pitch black hole with seemingly no end, but Julia and the rest of the team made it to the bottom! Walking through the dark damp cave, we observed growing stalagmites with their beautiful sparkle. As we continued, Noah and Graham found a small cave in the side of a wall with a tiny little opening and hopped in to find themselves in a beautiful little room. It was amazing to see the sense of adventure pouring from each student. As we continued, the darkness and quirt would not dampen our mood, especially Carter, who kept the group positive with her funny jokes and energetic personality. As we climbed deeper and deeper into the cave, we began to hear some strange noise. It got louder and louder until thousands of bats came pouring over us! Everyone was going crazy but I witnessed Anne Mallory simply staring in awe at the moving image, soaking in the experience. After the bats cleared, we walked carefully out of the cave, having to climb up what we had earlier repelled. The adventure was not over yet! We still had to zip-line across a cavern and free fall repel over 40meters before we could walk out of the cave! Each person went one at a time and absolutely crushed it! We all walked out in high spirits and excited of our accomplishments. It was tough to day goodbye to our awesome guides and travel back to Chiang Mai, but it had to be done!
On to our next adventure: scuba diving in Koh Toa!
Until next time,
Rebecca and Leaky
July 14, 2018
Oh mu choe pae?!?! (“how do you do” in Karen language)
Unfortunately we can’t hear your response to that question because we have been living in the rural mountains of northern Thailand for the duration of our service section! Living in this rural hill tribe community with fewer distractions has brought our group much closer. We wake up every morning to the sounds of roosters crowing and the sun rising from below the mountains that encapsulate a steep succession of lush green and brown rice fields. It is certainly one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen, and I’ve heard many students say the same. These past few days have been a blast, despite some challenging trekking, manual labor, and language barriers. Leaky and I are impressed by all the students for their enthusiasm and willingness to get their hands dirty.
We spent our first few days building and painting a pavilion that will be used as a community center for at least the next 40 years! Noah particularly impressed us all with his stamina when it came to manual labor. He quite literally never took a break and slept soundly in his hammock at night. Anna and Julia led the way in creative painting designs, drawing beautiful sunsets and moons. And let’s not forget Missy, who participated enthusiastically in every task. As leaders, this enthusiasm and excitement to help out takes a huge burden off of us, so we are especially grateful for her.
During the afternoons, we planted rice, which Celia particularly excelled at (all the while making us laugh hysterically with her sass and good humor). Our local guide for our entire stay in the village, Uncle Chai, was impressed with their work and looked forward to harvesting it in 5 months.
One morning we had the pleasure of visiting and teaching lessons (which quickly evolved into playing games) with a nearby school. Riley made fast friends with many of the children and soon had a large circle of people playing with and putting flowers in her hair. Fulton led the way in many of the games and had all of the kids laughing despite the serious language barrier. All of our activities involved a hike as the village is in a jungle and is fairly spread out. Anne Mallory led the way on nearly every hike and continually had a PMA (positive mental attitude), which was essential to maintaining a good group morale.
When we weren’t doing service or hiking, you could find Carter reading from the Moondance quote book and sharing why she thought they mattered. We loved hearing the meaningful conversations she prompted. You could also find Andrew playing and maintaining his winning streak in Egyptian Rat Slap, which Graham hilariously renamed American Squirrel Punch. Or if you looked a little to the left, you might find James belting old rock songs and strumming the guitar while wearing his Thailand cowboy hat.
We surely have a goofy group of kids and can’t thank you enough for sharing them with us for the summer. Onto rock climbing and caving!
Reba and Leaky
July 10, 2018
Sawadee Kah Moondance families and friends!!!
What a joyous (albeit exhausting) whirlwind the past few days were! After nearly 24 hours of travel (special shoutout to Noah and Andrew for being absolute rockstars in the airport), we finally arrived to Bangkok, where Leaky greeted us with Thai snacks and candy. Exhausted from our travel, we had a quick moonup before hitting the hay.
The next morning we took a quick flight to Chiang Mai and spent our afternoon exploring Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple, a beautiful pagoda in the hills of Chiang Mai city. Anna and Missy led the way in asking thoughtful questions, prompting the rest of the group to listen and engage with our local guides. With a deeper understanding of the main religion in Thailand, we took our trucks to our hotel. After playing a few rounds of a “family game” taught by Anna and Fulton, we took a short walk to a nearby night market. Beautiful colored fabrics and souvenirs surrounded our path to the street food vendor section of the market. After crushing our first authentic Thai meal (which included Pad Thai, curry, and even ice cream for some-shoutout to Julia for spotting the best ice cream spot in the whole market), the group requested songs to a band that was playing in the market. Missy had us all laughing as she unabashedly got on stage and sang along to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” next to the lead singer.
We slept well that night knowing we would spend the next day with elephants. We were greeted at Tong Bai Elephant Foundation by elephants and their trainers and had a quick educational briefing. Full with new knowledge about all things Elephant related, we did a “trust exercise” with the elephants where all of us Moondancers sat on the ground and the elephants stood next to us and extended their trunks over us. Hardy had a hard time keeping from laughing during this unique and exiting activity. It was a calming yet humbling experience to feel so vulnerable next to such gentle giants. Leaky and I were thrilled to hear many “this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done”.
We then got to lead the elephants to a nearby large pond and bathe them. Riley teamed up with the largest and only male elephant that walked with us, and fearlessly walked alongside it for our quick hike to the pond. James and Fulton had us all cracking up when they started making the same grunting noises that the elephant trainers make in order to communicate with the elephants. It was particularly spectacular to watch the tiny (relatively) baby elephant play in the water like a puppy. We all kept forgetting that it was actually nearly 500 pounds because it was so playful and goofy. Notably, we were all quite jealous of the bond Graham built with the baby elephant, as it continually wrapped its trunk around his hands. On our way back, Anne Mallory walked up front with her elephant of choice down a unique river path with a huge smile on her face the entire way (pictures to come later). As we cherished our last moments with the elephants, Carter and Celia truly took advantage of the photo opp and took selfies with the elephants from nearly every angle.
We left the elephant foundation feeling more fulfilled than ever and can’t wait to start our service section. Off to the Karen Village!
Reba and Leaky
July 6, 2018
Hello Thailand Families!
We heard from our leaders, and all of your students have arrived safely in Bangkok. We cannot wait to hear more about their adventures!