July 9, 2019
Mary Grace and David here sending a sad goodbye from the Quito airport as we say farewell to a group that has become our family in the last two weeks.
The last couple days have been bursting with joy. A short boat ride to the island of Isla Boba for a nature walk brought with it an abundance of Blue Footed Boobies, sea lions, and frigate birds. The kids were in awe of all the wildlife surrounding us. When the hike was finished, we all hung out on the front of the boat listening to music while Molly and Anna Grace were jumping off the boat from the top deck. After swimming to shore from the boat to a secluded beach, Caroline and Mattox gave it their all in an intense chicken fight but ultimately lost to us every time. We all enjoyed the relaxing tunes and fresh fruit juice on the morning boat excursion.
After the soothing boat ride back to the island, we decided that more beach time was needed to fully soak in all the islands have to offer. A short walk from our hotel led us to a beach covered in sea lions. While Annabelle was documenting the trip in her journal, sea lions inched closer and closer until they decided to plop down right next to her. Additionally, the group enjoyed the excitement of swimming with the playful animals in the beautiful water. Everyone couldn’t get enough of the fresh fruit smoothies on the beach to conclude the afternoon.
Before heading to dinner, we all ran up to the roof of our hotel and enjoyed the colorful sunset over the harbor. In front of our restaurant a local DJ was blasting tunes, leading to an inevitable dance party. Scott and Judson even performed a song for the audience we inevitability drew. Our last night in San Cristobal was full of laughter as we played guitar and charades into the night.
The next morning, we woke up early to catch the ferry to Santa Cruz, where Meg could not contain her excitement about sitting on the top of the ferry alongside the captain as she caught the wind in her hair. After arriving at the island, we drove to our activity, visiting a tortoise farm and discovering lava caves. Everyone was fascinated as we had the chance to watch tortoises eat guava. Later that afternoon, we cruised to another nearby beach via water taxi. We all got in some much-needed belly laughs as we got creative making art in the sand. Mary Kate was one of the first to dive into the calm water, spotting a sting ray on her dip in the ocean!
In the evening, we all explored the town of Santa Cruz, doing some shopping before hitting dinner. Banquet was a blast as everyone enjoyed a delicious last dinner together. Cece began our final moonup by playing the Ukulele and singing Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks. We all capped off the night by telling stories huddled in one room together.
This morning, we all woke up early for the long travel day ahead. Everyone was extremely helpful and respectful as we traveled by plane, bus, and automobile. Andrew was especially beneficial as he transported multiple bags in the airport for the entire group. Charlie made the time fly by with his enthusiasm when playing multiple rounds of cards. We spent hours in the airport all singing together and reminiscing about the trip before heading into different directions. Group hugs and tears were plentiful before waving goodbye to our best buds.
These past few weeks have been nothing but adventurous. We have laughed our hardest, worked our longest, and smiled our biggest. Each day has taught us what it feels like to truly live, and for that, we are forever grateful. We thank our families, our friends, and our loved ones for giving us the opportunity of a lifetime spent with people who have forever changed our lives.
Thank you and we love you.
MGK and DK
July 6, 2019
Since concluding white-water rafting, the fun has only continued. Leaving Tena, we drove a few hours through the captivating mountains of Ecuador, stopping at hot springs along the way. The entire group enjoyed decompressing in the natural spring heated by the nearby volcanoes. After having some down time in the numerous pools, we finished up our bus ride to Quito where we hit the pillow early for the days ahead. The group was bright eyed and bushy tailed for the journey to the Galapagos after getting woken up by the National Anthem blasting in the background for it was the Fourth of July! Anna Grace spent some extra time braiding all of the girls’ hair, showing off another one of her many talents. Everyone had the upmost excitement through the airport, making the travel day super easy. Scott especially helped us out by carrying extra gear bags, along with everything he already had to carry. Once touching down in San Cristobal, we immediately threw the bags down in the hotel, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and hit the beach for our first snorkeling adventure. The water was a bit nippy but sea lions and turtles were plentiful, ensuring our first time snorkeling was the perfect experience. Later that night, we enjoyed an amazing Italian dinner in town to conclude the packed day. The next morning began with a short bus ride to a nearby cove, where the entire group decided to dive straight in without any wetsuits. The adrenaline only increased when schools of fish surrounded us, along with baby turtles and sea lions. Mary Kate and Cece even captured sea lions swimming around the group on their GoPros. Caroline helped everyone out by grabbing all of the snorkeling gear that was left behind, ending up with bountiful snorkels and fins by the time we reached the bus. After snorkeling, we hit a beach where we all enjoyed refreshing smoothies before driving up to the highlands for a delicious lunch. When we finished stuffing our bellies, we learned all about the tortoises native to the islands at a sanctuary. The group was in awe at all of the baby tortoises. We concluded the jam packed day with an afternoon at a beautiful beach just past the highlands. The group couldn’t hide their excitement for the rumbling waves as we all dropped our things and ran full speed into the vibrant turquoise water. Annabelle, Mattox, and Andrew all showed the group how it was done on a surfboard, getting up multiple times in the cool water. Charlie even contributed to the show by body surfing all the way into shore. Meg jumped in as well when she used her language skills to borrow a nice surfboard on the beach, surprising all of us as she caught some gnarly waves. Once everyone was completely water logged, we all helped burry Judson in the sand. All that was visible was his head when we finished our masterpiece. After all day activities, we walked around the town to shop, making a pitstop on the pier to watch as the sun turned the clouds vibrant shades of pink and orange. We concluded the day with an amazing Moonup, where Molly courageously played “Free Fallin” on the guitar, which she learned during this trip. Smiles and laughter still fill the air as we prepare for the last few days under the Ecuadorian sun with each other.
MGK + DK
July 3, 2019
David and Mary Grace back with another trip update!
Since we left Baños, the group has had nothing but fun. We traveled through the beautiful countryside of Ecuador to the quaint Shandia Village for our community service aspect of the trip. As soon as we arrived, we had an amazing lunch before heading straight to work. We transported sand from the river up to the construction site, where we are helping build a house for the local artisans to sell their handicrafts. The weather was hot and humid, but that didn’t stop Scott from hauling his wheelbarrow, filled with either sand or the local kids, up and down the hill. Later that evening, the village showed us their native songs and dances which turned into a dance party for everyone.
The next day, we went back to work moving more sand. Judson continued practicing his Spanish speaking skills to both the children as well as the adults in the village, even communicating with the president of Shandia. After a morning of hard work, we visited the Shandia Village historical museum where we learned all about how Shandia came to be. Cece made strong connections with the local kids, becoming somewhat of a human jungle gym. That afternoon, we played a big game of soccer with the locals. Caroline was getting some serious practice in for next season and was able to show off her skills. After a hot sweaty game of soccer, our group went to the river alongside locals for a well-deserved swim. Molly and Mattox had no fear during the splashing contest with the kids, completely submerging themselves in the freezing river. That evening we were taught how the Shandia people make chocolate by a professional chocolate maker! Not only did the chocolate taste amazing, but it soon became an Amazonian face mask as well when Enrique, our local guide in the village, smeared it on our faces.
The next morning, we hit the ground running with a trek through the Amazon rain forest. Meg served as our very own Tarzan as she navigated the rocky floor and rushing water, leading the group with ease and confidence the entire way. In the afternoon, we learned the importance of palm leaves and how to make them into some very stylish crowns. After dinner, Anna Grace surprised us all when she was the first to volunteer to eat beetle larva, a common source of protein for locals. Later in the evening, we were introduced to the village shaman who taught us about his healing techniques and the reasoning behind the elements. Andrew was eager to learn more about the local culture and customs.
Today, we packed our bags and headed out for the Jatunyacu river where the whitewater rafting began. The rapids were as high as the group’s energy. Annabelle and Mary Kate rode the bull at the front of the raft like pros. When the river was calm, Charlie enjoyed floating over the smooth current gently guiding him downstream. When the rafting came to an end, we went to our hotel in Tena where pools and water slides greeted us for more splishing and splashing. Tomorrow we’re traveling back to Quito to get ready for the Galapagos, but not before making a pit stop at hot springs for some much needed relaxation. The excitement only seems to be growing!
MGK and DK
June 29, 2019
These last few days since all 12 of our students hopped off the plane in Quito, Ecuador have been nothing but spectacular. Our group hit the ground running and everyone has already started forming such strong connections. We could not be more excited for the days to come!
Our first full day in Ecuador began with a drive to Cotopaxi National Park where we went on a horseback ride through the hills of Ecuador. The weather was absolutely incredible, allowing for crystal clear views of Cotopaxi on horse. Charlie surprised us all for his first time riding a horse. His calm demeanor made everyone relax in their saddles a bit more. Cece also captivated the group when she gracefully trotted around the fields of Cotopaxi. Everyone watched her in awe as she is a natural on horseback! The next day, the group hopped on board an open-windowed bus to ride around Baños, where Mattox held nothing back singing every song, even some she didn’t know. We toured the city and took a hike of the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall, which was rushing due to the amount of rain Baños has been getting. At the waterfall, the group was able to crawl their way through a tunnel that led us behind the rushing water, where Anna Grace was able to get some awesome footage on her GoPro.
In the shops at the top of the falls, Meg and Molly purchased some of the colorful pants made by Ecuadorian artisans, creating a ripple effect across the group. All 14 of us even wore our newly purchased pants to dinner later in the evening. After the waterfall, we went to the Baños Central Market to try some local food for lunch. Scott impressed the group being the first to try Guinea Pig. Caroline kept her cool as a whole Tilapia was placed in front of her, ending up being delicious. The group continued to stroll around Banos after lunch, trying local cheese hot chocolate and exploring the nooks and crannies of Baños. Annabelle bought a recorder while Judson purchased a Ukulele to accompany the two guitars that David and I now have. Stay tuned for the release of our album coming soon!
We finished off the night with a magical Moonup led by Mary Kate and Andrew. The dynamic duo crushed it as our first LODs. The group is so anxious to arrive at Shandia Village. The excitement is contagious. We are so excited to see the group grow these next few days! We’ll be back soon to share more stories from Ecuador, and cannot wait to spend more time with your amazing kiddos!
Much Love & Gratitude,
David and Mary Grace
June 27, 2019
Hola Ecuador + Galapagos Families!
We heard from our Trip Leaders late last night that the group arrived safely in Quito, and enjoyed a night of well-deserved rest at their hotel. They are headed out for horseback riding at Cotopaxi National Park this morning, and the trip is off to a great start. We can’t wait to hear more from their adventures soon.