July 9, 2019
What a whirlwind these past two weeks have been. It’s hard to put into words the belly laughs and memories we shared. From strangers to family, we grew exponentially within a short period of time. Taylor and I cannot imagine spending our second trip with any other group, and we know that we were all destined to meet. We’re sad to say goodbye, but first we must share our final days together.
To start, we approached Banos with wide eyes and excitement for new adventures. It is such a unique experience to immediately delve into a culture upon arrival. We did exactly so via party bus. Winslow didn’t spare a moment to show off his unique dance moves to the song Party Rock. Taylor and I cannot think of a better way to experience a city than a party bus, which will be a must on our future travels. Our first stop was a cable car that goes through a canyon split by a waterfall. The trip was enjoyed by all, but no one enjoyed it more or took more photos than Jonah. After getting our fill for thrill, we went to a local campground for a waterfall hike. The views were stunning, and we were all impressed by the sheer speed of the water. A few of us ventured closer to the waterfall to feel the spray. Sarah quickly made friends with other tourists by jumping into the back of their selfies.
The excitement from the party bus carried us into the colorful streets of Banos to purchase souvenirs. Everyone purchased traditional pants, jackets, and headbands. Chavis and Sally got matching Llama pens, which they named chicken wing and chicken nugget respectively. Unfortunately, chicken nugget didn’t make it through the trip. We ended the day by going to a German burger house for family dinner. The restaurant was full of games. Harrison taught me how to play dominoes while Taylor and Lola played battleship. We ended the day with the question: “who is your greatest role model?”
Day two in Banos: also known as Lola’s 16th birthday! For Lola’s birthday, we went to a world famous tree swing made famous by a National Geographic photo of a man swinging with an erupting volcano in the distance. Molly enjoyed swinging off into the distance despite the fog. On our way down the mountain, we stopped at a local taffy store where we all tried the local candy. Will picked out a giant basket made of candy. After lunch, we surprised everyone with a birthday cake and piñata for Lola’s birthday. It was truly an unforgettable experience.
For the evening, we went into the town to do some last-minute souvenir shopping and try some local cuisine. We all tried roasted guinea pig, but no one enjoyed it more than Reed. For banquet, we decided to wear the local clothing we had accumulated throughout the trip. We also handed out paper plate awards to everyone. Katie was voted most likely to beat you in anything due to her competitive nature and soccer skills. Forrest Ann and Sarah concluded our journey with a commemorative rap about our entire group at Moonup.
We started the next morning with a bus ride to the Cotopaxi Mountain. The bus ride consisted of everyone singing along to songs and telling jokes. After just a few short hours, we finally arrived. Tucked in at the bottom of the mountain range, a ranch filled with beautiful horses awaited us. We all mounted our horses wearing ponchos and chaps. Within just a few minutes of our trip, it was obvious that Ben was very comfortable on his horse. Ben would constantly gallop to the front, passing by everyone. As we traveled by horseback up the mountain, a beautiful double rainbow accompanied us. This was a first for many of us. We arrived at the top of the mountain after a little more than an hour where we were blessed with some much needed warm tea. The wind was strong and the temperatures were cold so we saddled up to head back down the mountain. We then had to board the bus to head to the airport to say our final goodbyes. I cannot imagine spending our last moments together any other way than belting songs in the bus ride to the airport. This was an amazing adventure and we will forever cherish the memories we made together.
Over and out,
Mary Ellen and Taylor
July 6, 2019
Three days. That’s it, and we had to say goodbye to our newfound home in Shandia. We spent our time immersing ourselves into the local culture while making an impact through our community service project. Our ongoing summer project is to build a workshop for local artisans. This will in turn provide another economic source of income for the village. We quickly learned that the small village of 90 families would drastically change our world view.
Our first day of work kickstarted the momentum for the project as we immediately joined together in service. To start, we went down to the river to gather and eventually move sand to our work site to serve as a foundation. We were inspired by the local children’s propensity to help as we saw multiple 9-year-olds carrying their body weight in sand. Chavis followed their lead and wheeled countless barrels of sand up a steep hill. Each time she returned with an empty wheelbarrow and a local kid inside. Meanwhile, Harrison made a competition out of who could carry the most sand to our worksite. He definitely won. We left covered in dirt and smiling cheek to cheek.
For the evening, we had the opportunity to partake in a local dance. A group of young locals performed a traditional Quecha ritual with singing and dancing. We were then able to show off some of our dance moves and music. Taylor and Sarah stole the stage with their swing dancing abilities. Despite the language barrier, we were all able to connect and share many laughs together. We left feeling welcomed by the local community and ready to work in the morning.
We started the morning where we left off yesterday by spreading the gathered sand for the building foundation. Winslow, Ben, and Will were the first ones to transport rocks from the stream to the building foundation, of which is a strenuous task. Their effort was noted by the rest of the group, and we followed in their shadow. The rest of the group worked on leveling the foundation with sand. We were all surprised by how much we accomplished together as a group. Afterwards, we took a well-deserved lunch break.
After a long morning of work, we were able to let loose with the local children in a game of soccer. Katie dominated the field with her speed and impressive footwork as we all cheered her on. Meanwhile, Lola started a game of volleyball with some of the locals. Everyone was thoroughly involved in various activities from sports to playing with kids. Jonah impressed all of the local school children with his Spanish, and he made countless friends although they think his name is Jonathan. We didn’t want to say goodbye to our newfound friends for the night, but we had to continue on to more adventures!
The highlight of the night was by far chocolate making. We learned about the process from fruit to finished product. We walked through each of the 8 steps to make chocolate. Fortunately, we produced and were able to try a very pure form of chocolate at the end with bananas and crackers. At Moonup, the question was: “what is something no one would know about yourself from the surface?” Sally opened up about her love and passion for singing, songwriting, and playing the guitar. She shared a few songs with us over the guitar to close the night. We went to bed feeling relaxed and ready for the next day.
The morning commenced with a waterfall hike that was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. We truly lived in the moment as everyone stood under the strong waterfalls with smiles on our faces. We shared countless laughs, and all tried lemon ants, which was a first for everyone. If you are not familiar with lemon ants, they are small ants that live inside a lemon leaf and taste exactly like a lemon. We headed back to the lodge to learn about the local artisan community that we are supporting.
We learned about the traditional crafts, one being headdresses made out of leaves. Our local guide demonstrated how to make said headdresses, and he adorned Molly with a custom headdress resembling a crown made out of leaves. We were able to support the local artisans by purchasing many handmade bracelets and chocolate. As our time in the Shandia Village was coming to a close, we had to say goodbye to our new friends. A crowd gathered around us as we walked back to the lodge. These people will forever hold a special place in our hearts.
Despite tired faces, we had a long and exciting day of rafting ahead of us this morning. We wasted no time by immediately jumping into the water from our rafts. I cannot think of a better way to wake up. Leading the way, Forrest Ann rode the front of the boat like a cowboy in a rodeo. Reed’s reactions to the waves provided us with numerous laughs as we floated down the water. Once the water was calm, everyone voluntarily jumped in to conclude our amazing rafting trip.
We cannot wait to see what Baños has in store for us next!
Mary Ellen and Taylor
What’s up parents, I wanted to thank you for letting me go on this trip! IM HAVING SO MUCH FUN – Sarah
Hello! Every moment of this trip has been such a joy and I am so grateful that I have been given this amazing opportunity. Loved the whitewater rafting! Please tell Bailey I miss him! Moondance has been so much fun and I think its even better than last year! Excited to see you! —Will
Hi Mom, Dad, Griffin, Trevor and Riley! I am having such an incredible time here in Ecuador. Thank you so much for letting me go on this trip. We have done so many fun activities – this trip is everything I hoped it would be and more! Griffin, have a great time on your trip I miss you so much. Miss and love you all so much! See you soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – Jonah
Hey family, thanks so much for sending me on this trip! Having an amazing time here with all my new friends. Happy 18th birthday William, hope you enjoy being an adult. Love y’all. See you soon!!
Dear Mommy and Daddy, Thank you so much for sending me on the trip. See you soon. Winslow
Dear Mommy and Daddy, Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. I’m enjoying the trip so much. See you soon. – Ben
Hey fam! I’m having the best time and I’ve met the best people here!! Thank y’all so much for letting me come on this trip! I love and miss y’all so much and can’t wait to see y’all!!! – FA
Hey family! I am having so much fun and I can’t wait to see you guys! Love you so much – Katie
Hey Mom and Dad I’m having a great time. The Tortoises were super cool and guinea pig taste delicious. Tell Stanley I said Happy Birthday. See you soon- Reed
Waddup Familia. I’m thriving down here and don’t really want to come back if I’m being honest. I got such good videos of snorkeling that I’m excited to show y’all. Love y’all.- Harrison
Hey mom, dad, Rence, and Daisy. I’m having so much fun. Thanks for sending me on this trip. Can’t wait to share stories. Love y’all. – Chavis
Hey fam! Miss you so much, excited to see you soon! I have so many cool pictures to show you. I’m having a blast! Love you, Molly G
Hey kiddos! I’m having so much fun here. I can’t wait to tell you all about it. – Lola
July 2, 2019
Taylor and I write this second update from our flight back to Ecuador. These past three days in the Galapagos have flown by, and we truly experienced all the islands have to offer to the fullest. From sandy beaches to the highlands, our trip has been an experience that we will never forget. We will cherish the memories we made in such an amazing place, but we look forward to the many more experiences ahead of us.
To start our time in San Cristobal, we did as Charles Darwin would do by visiting a Giant Tortoise Center. The slow moving tortoises captured our attention, and we cheered on each step they took. Lola’s highlight of the trip was seeing the baby tortoises at the breeding center. We were able to see multiple stages of life from birth to over 80 years. After increasing our knowledge about tortoises, we ventured to Puerto Chino to begin… surfing!!!
Taylor and I were very excited to surprise our group with a few surfboards on a remote beach. Without hesitation, Harrison was the first one in the water to attempt surfing. Despite strong waves, everyone gave their all when surfing. Molly was one of the few to get up on the board, and she was greeted by cheers on the beach. Meanwhile, Sally, Winslow, and Chavis hiked to the top of an area overlooking the beach. They were very lucky to spot the first Blue Footed Booby of the trip!
We snacked on plantain chips and fresh fruit while taking in the sound of the waves breaking and seeing mesmerizing views. Once everyone had their fair share of surfing, we went to a local ranch for lunch; however, our day didn’t end there. We went to a beach full of marine life, and we had our first encounter with sea lions. While snorkeling, we had a rare glimpse of sea turtles as they are shy to people. Our group thoroughly enjoyed swimming alongside our new terrapin friends. The sun started to set once we got out of the water, and we were able to reflect on all that we had accomplished in a single day.
A good night’s rest was accompanied by omelets to start the day off right. We didn’t waste a minute as we rushed to the pier to catch a boat with anticipation. Sarah greatly enjoyed sitting up top with the captain and making a new friend. After a short boat ride to a remote island, we were able to walk around and see Frigate birds perform mating rituals. We also saw nesting Blue Footed Boobies and resting sea lions. With great fortune, we were able to capture amazing photos of the surrounding wildlife. Likewise, many members of our group were able to record the playful sea lions that swam with us while we were snorkeling along the coast of the island. Katie and Reed were extremely adventurous by diving to get closer to the sea lions. We also found Razor Surgeonfish, Blue-chin Parrotfish, Bulls-eye Pufferfish, and King Angelfish. It felt like we were in an episode of Planet Earth! Looking back on this experience, it was truly remarkable; however, our adventure-packed day wasn’t over yet as we found ourselves on a nearby private beach. All of the guys joined in a game of frisbee while the girls laid out in the sun. Ben showed off his skills by throwing the frisbee in many unique ways. Our activities left us with a large appetite for lunch.
After another action-packed day, we decided to relax on a beach on the western side of the island. We all tried local fruit juices while sitting on the beach. Will decided to try some local lemonade, which was greeted by many sour faces. We are convinced that it was straight lemon juice. Meanwhile, Jonah entertained the group with a card trick. Everyone was enthralled by his magic, and we all tried to figure out the trick. After countless hours, only a few group members found the solution. Taylor and I cannot think of a better way to end our time in the Galapagos than sharing laughs together on a beautiful beach.
The next day, we did some last minute souvenir shopping before saying goodbye. Forrest Ann proudly showed off her new reversible bucket hat, which we all envied. Everyone was silent on the plane ride back as we all reflected on our incredible journey together in the Galapagos. We look forward to spending the next couple of days working hard in the Shandia Village.
Mary Ellen and Taylor
June 29, 2019
It’s crazy to believe that we were in the airport just two short days ago. Three days is all it took for our family to form, and Taylor and I could not be more proud. Jonah, one of our first arrivals, came off the plane looking fresh in a Moondance t-shirt. To our surprise, he memorized the name of everyone on our trip. There were no shy introductions to spare; our group was already a cohesive unit from the start.
After a long day of travel, we got a well-deserved night’s rest, and woke up eager to venture to the Galapagos. Will and Reed provided a good dose of morning entertainment with riddles at the airport. It was fun to see everyone engaged so early in the morning. There were multiple a-ha moments as we slowly deciphered the answers. This contagious, energetic energy followed us from the airport to Santa Cruz, where we were greeted by our amazing guides. We truly want to experience all that the island has to offer, so we immediately started our adventure with a visit to the Highlands of Santa Cruz.
No one was more excited to visit the private ranch than Lola as she has a pet tortoise. She shared stories about her tortoise, Earl, and she was beaming with excitement as we passed multiple giant tortoises. There were multiple photo opportunities from the lava tunnel to empty tortoise shells. We also had an opportunity to try guava, which was thoroughly enjoyed by the group. On our car ride back to our hotel, Harrison blessed us with his lyrical knowledge and amazing vocals by singing “Super Bass.”
We grew closer as a group by making friendship bracelets and playing card games before dinner. Within a matter of minutes, Ben had already made four friendship bracelets, of which he proudly displayed on his wrist. Our curiosity and empty stomachs carried us to the streets of Santa Cruz, where we discovered fresh seafood and live music. Many students noted that the lobsters were so fresh that they were still moving in the fish stands. Katie’s constant conversation made an hour of waiting on our food seem like five minutes. Winslow, being the most adventurous eater, ordered grilled snail for dinner. We all shared laughs as he winced while attempting to eat said snail. Hey, there’s a first for everything!
Our Leaders of the Day, Reed and Sally, woke everyone up for a delicious breakfast of local fruit and eggs. Our first stop of the day was at the Charles Darwin Research Center, where we were able to see tortoises from the many surrounding islands and across the world. Most notably, Lonesome George and Super Diego stole the show. Lonesome George was the last species of his kind; whereas, Super Diego is credited to have fathered over 1,000 tortoises. On our walk to a remote beach, Forrest Ann and Sarah’s colorful jibbitz captured our attention. They ranged from hamburgers to minions from Despicable Me, and we are all now convinced to buy some after the trip. Our guide showed us a hidden cove between two large rock faces. We took this as an opportunity to jump in the water to get our first glimpse of marine wildlife. The diverse animals, including parrot fish, and cold water truly took our breath away. Molly captured many fun moments on her Go-Pro.
Before we took a speed boat ferry to our second location, San Cristobal, Sally and Chavis insisted on us buying Toni Leche, a local chocolate milk. We all joked that they would become brand ambassadors for the product as they continuously talked about their newfound obsession. Our high spirits continued to the ferry ride where we all practiced doing the wave. Barking sea lions in the distance signaled that we had arrived to San Cristobal our final destination in the Galapagos. We are so excited to see what the island has in store for us!
Mary Ellen and Taylor
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 the Galapagos this morning, and the trip is off to a great start. We can’t wait to hear more from their adventures soon.