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Ecuador + Galapagos 1B • June 11-June 24, 2019

Final Trip Update!!

June 24, 2019

“If I am content with what I have, I can live simply and enjoy both prosperity and free time.

If my goal are clear, I can achieve them without fuss.

If I am at peace with myself, I will not spend my life force in conflicts.

If I have learned to let go, I do not need to fear dying.” – John Heider, The Tao of Leadership


 To conclude our trip, Taylor and I are sitting together at the Quito airport desperately missing our newfound family. We knew that this time would ultimately come, but we didn’t realize how fast our time in Ecuador and the Galapagos would pass. From awkward introductions to tearful goodbyes, we couldn’t have imagined our first trip spent any other way.

Two short days ago we traveled from Tena to Banos seeking adventure. Although our plans were rearranged due to stormy weather, we still had an amazing time in a magnificent place. We had ample time to explore the city of Banos. Wills took this as an opportunity to buy an authentic Ecuadorian poncho with wolves on it, which became a permanent addition to his daily outfit for the rest of the trip. I can confidently say that Lauren bought a llama key chain at every store we passed.

Although the rain prevented us from going on a waterfall hike, we rearranged our plans to visit a tree house with a swing overlooking the beautiful city of Banos. We were able to enjoy or time up in the mountains. Hands down, Mary Holine and I had the best empanada of our lives combined. We all enjoyed looking at the view and sharing laughs on the top of the mountain. Spiro especially loved the tree swing, and I took multiple pictures of him swinging through the trees. Our high spirits followed us to a traditional taffy store on the way back to our hotel. We all partook in trying traditional taffy, and each of us left with some in hand.

For the evening, we ventured back into the town of Banos. We were completely swept away by how colorful the town is and how hospitable the locals are. We stopped at local restaurant with Greek fare. I was shocked to learn that most of our students hadn’t tried falafel. Since this is a trip of trying new things, I highly encouraged my table to try some. No one was more reluctant to try falafel than William; however, he definitely enjoyed it the most as he kept asking for more. We ended the night by continuing to explore the town of Banos with wide eyes trying to take it all in.

We woke up to dinosaur noises in the background, which signaled that the Jurassic themed park on the top of the mountain was officially opened for business. Little did we know that we would later come face to face with the dinosaur park later in the day on a hike. To prepare ourselves for the day, we had a fulfilling breakfast of fruit, croissants, and eggs. Talbot took it upon herself to maintain a positive group attitude on the strenuous hike by taking charge of the front of the group. We had a well deserved meal after the hike. Maggie worked up so much of an appetite that she ordered two entrees at lunch. We all left the restaurant ready for more adventure as we traveled back to the mountains. Our guides took us to a cable car crossing a waterfall along a canyon. Caroline danced her way onto the cable car and captured the entire trip on her Go-Pro. We all laughed at our expressions from her Go-Pro footage. For the rest of the afternoon, we did some last minute souvenir shopping in the town. Jack bought an authentic Ecuadorian jacket for our banquet celebration of pizza and pasta. We ended the night with full bellies and shared laughs under the lamp posts of the city. Luckily, I was able to catch some Polaroid pictures to have lasting memories of our trip. For our last Moonup, the LOD’s William and Lillian closed the day by asking the question: “what is one piece of advice that you would give to a stranger?” We ended the night closer than we have ever been as a group and excited for a full day of horseback riding ahead of us.

Everyone woke up with excitement and willingness to seize the day as we packed into our bus to Cotopaxi. Throughout the windy roads, we jammed out to music in preparation for our awaiting horseback adventure. We were greeted by a warm lunch and immediately delved into horseback riding. Charlotte quickly demonstrated her horseback riding experience as she mounted a large horse with ease. On the other hand, Henry’s horse was a little more difficult. Henry’s horse refused to walk in a straight line despite being the largest horse, but Henry maintained a lighthearted attitude the entire time. After an hour ride to the top of the mountain, we demounted our horses to enjoy the view. High in the clouds, we admired the beautiful scenery around us. At the conclusion of our ride, we boarded the bus to the airport. The entire bus was silent for the first time in the entire trip. We all realized our time together has come to an end and that we will have to part ways. This group will forever hold a special place in our hearts. Thank you all for an amazing adventure!

EGP 1B out,

Mary Ellen and Taylor

Community Service and Chocolate Concoctions!

June 21, 2019

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Gandhi


Our first day of service started shortly after arriving to the Shandia Village where we were immediately greeted by local children approaching us with curiosity and grins. Although many of us wanted to immediately jump into introductions, we had a job at hand. Our role in this community is to build a structure for local artisans, which will in turn further economic development of the area. Spiro, without a moment’s hesitation, took charge of hollowing bamboo for the building. His willingness to take initiative set the tone for days of hard but rewarding work. Everyone else followed in suit by showing a willingness to work by asking for different assignments. At one moment, I looked up and noticed various groups working diligently and deliberately as they moved bamboo and gravel. We worked until sweat dripped off our faces, but we remained curious about the kids around us. After finishing our work for the day, we slowly started to introduce ourselves to the local children; however, it didn’t take long to form friendships! A group of girls crowded around Charlotte’s hair, which ultimately ended in two very nicely braided pigtails. Meanwhile, William served as a human playground and center of attention for all the kids.

After dinner, we were honored to be invited to watch local children perform an indigenous dance. We were also given the privilege to dance together and share music! Maggie took this opportunity to show off her dance moves. Her dances instantly caught on within our group, and the local dancers caught on as well. Our Leaders of the Day, Talbot and Wills closed the night by asking the group: “what moment has had the biggest impact in your life?” After some thoughtful answers and quality time spent together, we were able to sleep to the light sound of rain.

We woke up to the sound of roosters in the distance, and filled up on a nutritious breakfast to prepare ourselves for a fulfilling day of hard work in the community! Without a moment’s notice, we immediately jumped back into where we left off. Everyone was eager to help mix concrete and treat bamboo. Mary Holine, covered from head to toe in dirt and a huge smile on her face, was walking proof of our long day’s work. After warm showers, we were greeted by the smell of cacao beans roasting on the fire. We were able to go through the 8-step process of chocolate making, which resulted in an 80% pure chocolate concoction. Lillian munched on chocolate and crackers, while Wills cracked jokes with our tour guides. Our LOD’s Charlotte and Lauren sparked an interesting conversation through the question: “if you could have a meal with someone dead or alive, who would it be and what would you eat?”

For our last day in Shandia, we embarked on an eventful waterfall hike! Caroline braved the cold waterfall, and she was one of the select few who ventured into a waist deep pool of water. Luckily, she was able to record the entire experience on her Go Pro. Later in the afternoon, we returned to our work in the community. We spent the afternoon making a cobblestone pathway to surround the new artisan building in the making. After finishing our work for the day, we started to say some hard goodbyes. Jack and Henry took this as an opportunity to play basketball with new friends!

Although the project isn’t finished, we greatly believe that we have left a mark on the community!

Despite many hard goodbyes, we looked forward to the rafting adventure ahead of us this morning. Many of us were timid going into our first rafting adventure as a group, but our guides enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on the group! We were able to brave the waves with the help of our skilled and experienced guides. Each run ended in paddle high fives and loud cheers!

We look forward to sharing more belly laughs and memories as a group in Banos.


Mary Ellen and Taylor + Ecuador 1B Group

PS: Happy Birthday to Mr. Hereford!!

Exploring the Galapagos

June 17, 2019

Hola from Quito!

Today has been full of excitement and anticipation as we bid farewell to the Galapagos and continue our journey in Ecuador.

Our time in the Galapagos was spent basking in the sun, snorkeling the Pacific, hiking the highlands, observing wildlife, and eating a fair share of ice cream along the way. Our group was infatuated with the diverse wildlife of the Galapagos. Watch out for marine life throughout this update, and make sure to keep a distance of six feet.

The next day, we woke up well rested and ready to experience all that the island has to offer. Our LOD’s Caroline and Jack started the morning with a quote about taking risks without worrying about failure. We had a five star breakfast consisting of granola, yogurt, eggs, toast, and fruit. After our fulfilling breakfast, we ventured to the highlands of Santa Cruz.

Giant tortoise!!

At the reserve, we were able to see and interact with many giant tortoises ranging from newborns to tortoises over 80 years old. Henry shared childhood stories about his pet turtles. We also learned that tortoises aren’t fully mature until they are in their twenties!

Once the tour concluded, we ventured to hike to a remote beach and catch some waves. Lauren was one of the first students to get up on the surfboard, and we quickly learned that she is a pro surfer in the making as she approached the waves with confidence and ease. Wills and Taylor attempted to and eventually succeeded at surfing tandem, which we were able to capture on the Go Pro. This has been a trip of trying new things, and our most adventurous eater, Maggie, has a newfound love of plantain chips. Talbot also recently discovered her love of plantain chips – so much so she took a bag right out from under Taylor!

Sea lion!!

Later in the afternoon, Lillian was caught off guard by a resting sea lion while she was trying to pose for a picture. We had not seen Lillian run so fast until then. We ended the day watching the sunset on the beach.

Our fifth day commenced as we sang our hearts out to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Khalid, and countless others. The LOD’s Spiro and Lillian kept spirits high with countless funny stories and belly laughs. We can’t remember a time we laughed so hard as a group. Upon arrival to the next island, we were immediately greeted by…

Blue footed boobies!

After walking around the island and observing the wildlife, we took to the water to cool down and snorkel with sea turtles and sea lions. Jack’s sense of adventure showed as he dove underwater to get closer to the marine life. A few playful sea lion pups accompanied us on our snorkel around the coast line. We continued the high energy levels to the boat, and we found opportunities to jump off. While encouraging others to jump off the boat, William was the first one to do so.

Later in the afternoon, we continued snorkeling in a remote cove on the island. Although the water was cold, Mary Holine bravely led us into the water without a sound. She then motivated the rest of the group to get in despite the frigid water. We quickly acclimated to the cold water and resumed daily jokes as normal. The group shared a laugh over Charlotte’s oversized mask. She never complained once and just kept laughing and rolling with the punches. Talbot maintained this positive energy with her uncontrollable laughter!

We continued to share laughs and stories over dinner, which led into a memorable Moonup. Taylor and I honestly cannot describe the feeling of happiness and joy we experienced at Moonup, and we know that the best is yet to come.

Until then, hablaré contigo más tarde.

Taylor and Mary Ellen


Hey mom and dad – I’m having a great time seeing the wildlife and making friends. Love and miss y’all – XOXO Caroline

Hi mom and dad! I’m having a great time; one thing I loved was swimming with the sea lions. Happy Father’s Day dad, you are the best ever! Love and miss you guys so much – see you soon!! – Talbot

Hey momma, daddy, Marcie, Mikey, and Ryan. I love you all so much, and I have had so much fun hiking and swimming with sea lions! Miss y’all – Mary Holine

Hi mom, dad, and Payton, I’m having fun! I love the sea lions and wildlife. I’m excited for the rest of the trip. Love and miss y’all! – XOXO Maggie

Hi mom and dad! I’m having a fun time making new friends and finding amazing animals. Everyone is so nice, and it is a trip of a lifetime! – Love, Henry

I miss you so much mom and dad! I’m having such a great time out here. The wildlife is amazing! I hope that you guys are doing well at home. I love you guys! – Spiro

Hi mom and dad, I’m having a lot of fun! I have met many new friends and seen a lot of sea lions. – Jack

Hey mom and dad, I am having a load of fun. I’ve seen hundreds of sea lions while snorkeling and they act like Lulu. Miss y’all and cannot wait to tell you all about it! – William

Hey mommy, how is everything going? I have met many new people in the Galapagos. Miss you lots and love you! – Wills

Hey mom, the Galapagos is pretty! I cannot wait to share all of my experiences with you. – Love, Lauren

Hey mom, dad, Patrick, and William! I miss y’all so much but I’m having so much fun here. We swam with sea lions yesterday and it was awesome! – Love y’all, Lillian

Hey mom and dad! I love and miss you so much! I’m really glad that I got to see sea lions and turtles in their natural habitats. I also saw some cool blue footed boobies! – Love, Charlotte

Great Times in the Galapagos!

June 14, 2019

We write this update with tired eyes and warm hearts. From the beginning, Taylor and I knew that this group would be special as they faced a long first travel day head on. We landed in the Quito airport fairly late, but this didn’t phase our students’ spirits. To conclude the evening, we shared laughs and memories in our first moon up. The roosters in the distance signaled an early wake up call. We promptly traveled to the airport to board our flight to the Galapagos. Again, this group remained resilient in the face of adversity, including flight delays. Caroline’s calm and happy demeanor was contagious and fueled the group for the rest of the day.

After our short flight, we took a small boat to Santa Cruz while jamming out to many Earth, Wind, and Fire songs. The jam sessions continued via bus to the highlands of Santa Cruz, where we visited Rancho Primicas and ate lunch. The group was shy to approach many of the large tortoises at first; however, Lauren showed no fear when taking photos behind countless tortoises. Spiro and Taylor were very eager to jump inside empty tortoise shells for a photo opportunity. The buildup of anticipation and excitement left us with a large appetite at the end of the day. In fact, Lillian and Talbot both ordered a personal pizza with a sandwich on the side. We ended the day with a great moon up under the stars.

Our leaders of the day, Mary Holine and William, started the morning with a beautiful quote about being adventurous. They showed great leadership skills throughout the day by keeping us on time and maintaining a strong motivation, we continued our search for adventure by hiking 3 kilometers to visit a stunning beach full of marine life. After some convincing, Maggie and Charlotte courageously posed behind a large iguana. Our stay at the beach was followed by a fulfilling traditional meal of burgers and fries. Henry decided to entertain the group with a play dough purchase in preparation for our ferry ride to San Cristobal. Our amazing outfitters walked us to our hotel, where we got some much needed downtime before heading to Calypso for dinner. We passed many groups of gregarious sea lions, of which Wills came quick to impersonate. There were many times that we couldn’t distinguish Wills from the sea lions. Going into moon up, our LOD’s recognized Jack’s willingness to carry luggage without being asked. Caroline was also recognized for her contagious, positive spirit. Both were selected to be leaders of the day, and we cannot wait to see them excel in this position.

Mary Ellen + Taylor

Safe Arrival in Quito!

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, and the trip is off to a great start this morning. We can’t wait to share more stories from their adventures. Stay tuned!


  • Moondance HQ


  • Caroline
  • Charlotte
  • Henry
  • Jack
  • Lauren
  • Lillian
  • Maggie
  • Mary
  • Spiro
  • Talbot
  • William
  • Wills