June 24, 2019
Mary Grace and David ringing in the first session with full hearts and happy tears.
We had another great day on San Christobal, where we woke up early and hopped on a boat to cruise around the islands. Along the way, we stopped on the Island of Isla Lobos to explore more of the wildlife. We all lit up when seeing the blue footed boobies protecting their babies just off the walking trails.
The next stop was a plunge in the ocean for another impeccable snorkel. Faith and Bess dove in without their wetsuits, leaving only their excitement to warm them. The group witnessed two stingrays hidden under the sand that our guide pointed out to the group. After the snorkel, the group enjoyed a relaxing boat ride to a beautiful beach where we all hung out on the boat, sunbathed, and sang along to “Knee Deep in the water somewhere”. On the way back to the pier, Lauren shouted out her dad’s all-time favorite song by Jerry Jeff Walker as David continued cranking the tunes. In the afternoon we visited an amazing beach where Mack, Harrison, and Payne all dozed off next to a sea lion who was snoring louder than them.
The following day we took a ferry to Santa Cruz where we took a bus up to the highlands to check out the amazing El Chato Tortoise reserve. Liam, Griffin, and Kaitlyn were able to channel their inner tortoise by getting into an old tortoise shell and attempted to walk around in it. In the afternoon we took a quick walk to Tortuga Bay where the tranquil water soothed the group. In our exploration of the beach, we got to see a shark! Bea was showing off her handstand skills for everyone on the beach. That night we had our banquet dinner where we had an amazing meal in the streets of Santa Cruz. We surprised the group with a cake and ice cream to conclude a trip of a lifetime.
The next day we all woke up slowly and started packing to prepare for our long travel day. In the free moments before beginning the journey home, we sang songs together, reminiscing on the last two weeks. David was also able to teach James a few licks on the guitar. While waiting to board the flight to Quito, Olivia braided Griffin’s entire head. It was quite the look.
Our last moments together were huddled around a table in the Quito airport. The kids were dressed in their newly purchased Ecuadorian ponchos, as we sang “Wagon Wheel”, finishing just as we had started out on our second night in Baños. Everyone signed the back of David’s beloved guitar, signifying the last hoorah as one big, happy family. Ella’s eyes quickly filled with tears, creating a ripple effect across the group. David and I bear hugged all of our kids, hoping to have a few more moments with each one of them. Miss you already muffins.
All our love,
MGK and DK
June 21, 2019
Sending a big Hola from David and Mary Grace here in the Galapagos.
The past few days have been nothing less than interesting and entertaining. We’ve been traveling from Tena, Ecuador up to Quito then flying from Quito to San Cristobal island in the Galapagos to see all of the wonder it holds.
Since our last update we traveled from the Shandia Village up to Quito to prepare for our flight to the Galapagos. Along our four hour drive we made a pit stop at the Papallacta hot springs for a little relaxation. Everyone enjoyed decompressing their minds and bodies in the hot tubs while looking at the gorgeous mountain range that surrounded us. Afterwards we finished the rest of our drive to Quito, everyone got a well deserved power nap during the second half of the drive before arriving to the hotel in Quito. When we got to the hotel we dropped our bags in our rooms and went to the scenic field where Bea and Ella helped organize an amazing photo shoot with the whole group.
The next day we had our mid-trip flight, which can be rather chaotic, but thanks to the students it was nothing but smooth sailing. Whether it was Griffin helping out with everyone’s bags, carrying four at a time, Kaitlyn checking up on everyone in the group making sure everyone was doing well and where they needed to be, or Mack keeping such a positive attitude even after overtime in the airport. Our flight “flew” by due to the excitement of getting to the islands. James was kind enough to give Mary Grace his seat to join the rest of the ladies of the trip. It didn’t take long after wheels hit the ground for us to get in the water with sea lions and sea turtles on our first snorkeling adventure. Harrison especially made close friendships with the curious sea lions swimming around the group.
The next day we went to the Galapaguerra tortoise reservation in the morning where Lauren couldn’t contain her excitement. We saw the different stages of the tortoise’s life and how the reservation does such an amazing job ensuring safety for them. Later we drove to a nearby beach where the activities were endless. Olivia was brave enough to try surfing and was able to catch a gnarly wave all the way to the coastline. Faith couldn’t have been more relaxed floating as the waved gently lifted her up and down in the water. Liam helped spot the group’s first Blue Footed Boobie! And Bess capturing every memory with artsy shots on her GoPro. Next, we made it back to our hotel but still had a thirst for the beach, so we walked five minutes from our hotel and laid in the sun with the sea lions at another beach. After we finally fulfilled our need for the beach, we hit the town for dinner where Payne kept the energy high showing the group the perfect squatting form.
The next couple days will be filled with more snorkeling adventures in different places around the islands which will be some more amazing picture opportunities. Stay tuned for another trip update in the next couple days!
David and Mary Grace
June 18, 2019
David and Mary Grace writing to you with full hearts as we reflect on the past few days of our trip!
Shortly after arriving in the village of Shandia, we dove into meeting the local community that we would grow to love in just a few short days. From the moment we met the kids, to the waves goodbye, Griffin served as a constant jungle gym for multiple kids, specifically three little girls who ran into his arms first thing everyday.
The first night in the village, we watched a performance by the locals in the pavilion that Moondance built last year. Following their dances, we had the opportunity to teach them some of our dance moves. The whole group showed off their skills. Ella and Faith proceeded to teach multiple dance moves to the locals. It brought quite a laugh to everyone participating.
The next day, we worked on leveling out sand and gravel for the base to a traditional quechuan shop that will serve as a space for the community to sell artisan goods to promote tourism in the village. Mack and Payne worked incredibly hard with the shovels and hoes, staying after the rest of the group stopped for a break.
We also spent a few hours taking on beautification projects around the village. Local kids began following us as we cleaned up. Liam did an excellent job engaging and teaching every kid how to pick up “basura” or “trash” as we went along, turning a temporary solution into a lasting impact.
Harrison and Olivia were able to break through language barriers and make strong connections with the local kids through emotions. Seeing these connections form and prosper over the three days was so beautiful to watch.
The group participated in more soccer games alongside locals. James put his heart and soul into the game. Kaitlyn also showed off her soccer skills from back home as she got down and dirty with the local kids.
Additionally, we went on a hike through the jungle where we climbed waterfalls and scaled rocks. The group had an absolute blast. Lauren’s laugh and facial expressions when submerging under the running water of the falls was contagious.
We finished off our stay in the village by whitewater rafting out of it. The class three rapids provided quite the laughs for the group. We all had an absolute blast pushing each other in and playing group balance games during the still parts of the river. Bea even stood on our guides shoulders in the middle of the river! At lunch, our guides tricked some of the group to put mayonnaise on their faces because they were told it was sunscreen. We all got a definite hoot out of that!
Tonight, a stop at a local ice cream store and a new song Bess learned on the guitar left us all with big smiles for the days to come. The group is doing absolutely amazing. When asked if they had any shoutouts to their families tonight, they told us to “Tell our moms that we are never coming home!”. David and I are constantly energized by all 13 of our amazing kids. Each day brings us closer together and we are jumping with excitement at each new day.
Mary Grace and David
June 14, 2019
Mary Grace and David here!
These past couple of days since meeting in the Atlanta airport have been absolutely incredible. From the breathtaking views that Ecuador continuously provides, to the adventure within activities, and to the instant connections formed within the group, we are having a blast!
Having been a long travel day on our first day as a group, we expected everyone to be low on energy. However, we experienced quite the opposite. All 13 of our kids were bright eyed and smiling when we hopped off the plane in Quito, Ecuador. It shall be noted that James was practically jumping in his seat on the plane. At 12 am, he was continuously telling both David and me how excited he was for the trip. It was contagious.
The excitement flooded through to the next day. So much so that Griffin and Liam were knocking on our doors before 8 am wanting to get the day started. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the trip!
After moving and grooving, we hopped on a bus to Cotopaxi National Park. Here we were greeted by locals who offered us a delicious tea in front of a fire. After warming up, we threw on local Ecuadorian ponchos and chaps before hopping on the horses. Harrison and Mack were incredible on their first ever horseback ride. What a place to be for your first ride! On the ride we also saw three Condors, one of the most endangered species, as well as largest bird in the world.
We finished the day’s journey in Banos. After arriving at the hotel in the evening, we dropped our bags off and headed straight to the hot springs. It was a sight to see for sure. The 15 of us embraced our swim caps and hopped into the pools alongside local Ecuadorians.
The next day began with a drive to the outskirts of Banos. The open-window bus provided extraordinary views of the ample waterfalls we passed. Along the drive we stopped at a local candy shop. We continued to El Manto de la Novia where we went on a cable car ride over the valley. Next was a short walk to the waterfall of El Pailon del Diablo. Here we experienced the immense roar of the water jetting down hundreds of feet below. Throughout the drive, Faith was continuously singing and dancing to get the entire group excited. Her energy was contagious for the entire group. We finished the drive with a trip up to the Swing at the End of the World. Ella absolutely crushed it on the swing and pushed through her fear of heights with a big smile and a heartwarming laugh.
After grabbing lunch at the local Banos food market, we wandered into some stores to search for souvenirs. Bess has never looked better with her bright blue Ecuadorian pants and knit sweater combination. Later in the afternoon, we walked over to a soccer field across from the hotel and played a game with the locals. I watched in envy as Kaitlyn successfully communicated to the Ecuadorians with her impressive Spanish. Payne and Lauren blew me away when I spontaneously challenged everyone to 20 push-ups on the soccer field. Their form was impeccable.
Earlier in the day, David was feeling a bit adventurous and bought a guitar that has already brought so much joy to the group. Not only have we discovered Olivia’s angelic voice, but Bea has already started teaching people how to play some songs. It has been magical to watch.
We finished off the day with a delicious dinner. Everyone is getting along so well. David and I could not be more excited to see where this trip takes each one of us. We are headed to Shandia in the morning where we will spend three days interacting with the local village and taking part in community service. The excitement continues as each day brings us new perspectives and experiences.
Mary Grace and David
June 12, 2019
Hola Ecuador + Galapagos Families!
We heard from our Leaders late last night that the group landed safely in Quito! They enjoyed some well deserved rest at their hotel last night, and the trip is off to a great start this morning. We can’t wait to share more stories from their adventures. Stay tuned!