July 14, 2019
Goodbyes are always the most difficult part after a trip of lifetime.
These past 16 days we made lifelong friendships. To say this trip was incredible would be an understatement. Our students arrived at the airport in South Africa not knowing what to expect for the following weeks to come. Many had a nervous look on their face that changed immediately after our first moonup. Serving at the children’s home, adventuring through the African bush and relaxing on the beaches of Mozambique has brought this group extremely close. These places and people have changed our lives. I will miss each and every student that has joined us on this journey.
It’s going to be odd to wake up each morning and not see Joe’s and Drew’s smiling faces. Often I would wake up before the group to enjoy a cup coffee and run into Joe and Drew already awake and ready to start the day. These mornings together have become some of my favorite memories of the trip. These two young men always impressed me by their ability to reflect on important aspects of life at such a young age. They already expressed to me that they cannot wait to join Moondance for another summer. Their is no doubt in my mind that they will do great things in the years to come.
Tomorrow I will go to bed missing the conversations that Zander, Sam and I had each night. Zander is one of the brightest students I have ever known. When Zander is not cracking jokes with the crew, he has his head in a book reading away. Anytime the group answered questions I always looked forward to Zanders’ unique responses. His creativity and wise outlook on life will take him far.
I’ll miss having Josh’s mellow vibe around. You would never know that this is Josh’s first year attending a Moondance trip. Josh has a natural leadership style that is casual but collected. We could always count on Josh to lend a helping hand. He was beyond kind and empathic to each member of our group. I can’t wait to see him attend another Moondance trip next summer and hopefully come back to be leader one day.
It’ll be strange to not hear Will’s speeches before bed. As a leader, it is the greatest feeling in the world to know that the trip had such a positive impact on a student’s life. Will made it known that this trip has been one of the best experiences of his life. Will expressed how dearly he cared about each and every member of our group. Our group knows that people like Will are hard to come by and we will all miss him dearly.
Tomorrow I will wake up and miss hearing Spencer and Brooks crack jokes during breakfast. The group was always smiling when they were around these two. Spencer’s high energy got the group pumped for activities each day. Brooks, although quiet at the beginning of our trip, broke out of his shell. This bright young man has the perfect balance of serious and funny. Brooks always opened up during moonup revealing a more sensitive side. Brooks was also aware of the group’s needs and knew when the group could use a good laugh.
I’ll miss the way that Maggie and Lizzie brighten a room with their smiles. Maggie radiates high energy and excitement for life. Maggie’s stories always made the group and guides crack up. Their is never a dull moment around her. Lizzie is no stranger to Moondance, as this is her fourth summer with us. Her leadership skills are unheard of for someone her age. It is obvious boarding school and Moondance have played a huge role in her life. I was moved by her ability to be vulnerable with the group. Through this she fostered an environment for the group to grow closer. Sam and I would not just consider Lizzie one of our Moondance students, we would consider her a dear friend.
I’ll miss discussing Hayden’s aspirations for the future. She is very goal oriented and already has a plan in place to attain these set goals. I can’t wait to see her follow her dreams and move to California and pursue a career in the music industry. Hayden is dedicated and driven and regardless of the career path she chooses, she will be successful. I will truly miss her warm hugs that brightened my day during our trip.
I was touched throughout the trip by the compassion that Julia has for animals. She would capture our special encounters with animals with her amazing photography skills. I can’t wait to see Julia’s pictures in National Geographic one day. I have no doubt that Julia could also pursue a career path helping animals and the environment. Wherever Julia ends up in the future she will make a notable difference.
I’ll wake up tomorrow longing to hear Cameron and Evelyn’s contagious laughs. These girls were a favorite amongst the group. Cameron has this special energy that everyone gravitates towards. Cameron put her full heart into each activity throughout trip. There is no doubt in my mind that she is the hardest working player on her field hockey team or the hardest working student at her school. I know that Cameron is that one friend that everyone goes to for advice or a comforting hug when needed. Evelyn was the wittiest amongst the group. Her commentary made the whole group crack up daily. Evelyn is one of the most selfless people I have ever met. She is always the one to step up when needed and had a great attitude regardless of the situation. These two young women will absolutely make phenomenal leaders one day. I can’t wait to see the lives they touch in the years to come.
Sam and I are so grateful that we could spend time with these incredible students. They have taught us so much and we are excited to see what they do in their lifetimes.
Kelly and Sam
July 11, 2019
What is it about salt water that revives us? Why does it feel like each breaking wave washes away another layer of stress. Is it the clarity of the water inspiring our minds to take a break from the cloudy haze that forms when our home lives become a little too busy? Or is it the simplicity and consistency of the waves crashing, adding an ever-present cadence to our lives here? A space is created when we allow ourselves to tap into this natural rhythm. This space is filled by deeper thoughts and longer nights spent swapping stories as a group. This space is filled with stronger connections as we enter the final week of our time together. And sometimes this space is left untouched so each of us may fill it personally. This final place holder is not private, but it is personal and holds all of our lessons from this trip.
On our first night in Mozambique we shared how we felt like we’ve grown throughout this journey thus far. Drew and Lizzie led this discussion as our LODs and the rest of the group obliged by supplying insightful answers filled with gratitude for our circumstances back home. Many students discussed a new perspective on what is necessary to be happy – happiness is in no short supply here along the beaches of Mozambique. You can see it in the brilliant white smiles and hear it in the passing conversation. Yes, life is simple and vastly different, but these people are happy. Technology is present here too, but it doesn’t consume so much of peoples’ time like we see in the states.
Kelly and I were moved by many of the answers, as not every group can share so freely at this age. Drew spoke about the impact our service work had on him and how playing with the local children reminded him that he didn’t need so many if the material things we cling to back home. Lizzie too shared this perspective on her lifestyle back home and spoke of how she plans to take these lessons and apply them when she returns.
The Moonup was concluded by another heartfelt speech from Will. The topic of that night’s speech was family and forgiveness. Through his words, Will uncovers areas of our human condition that we may not often ponder aloud. He teaches us how important it is to discuss these things openly and without shame, as we all feel love for our family back home and are now finding a new love forming for this new family we’ve created in southern Africa. Will’s words stick with me as I drift off that night.
Our group sleeps in after our travel day and then begins our cultural lesson for lunch. We visit the home of one of our ocean safari guides, where we learn how to make a staple dish called matapa. We don’t skip a single step as we pick coconuts from a tree in Tony’s yard, cut them open, and scrape the white fleshy part inside – sipping coconut water and sampling along the way of course. The younger coconuts taste buttery and lack the overbearing sweetness of the coconut we eat back home, but the older coconuts hold the hardened flesh required for scraping. Spencer is eager to learn these techniques and jumps right in when Tony asks for volunteers. Quickly, Spencer masters the new tool and has filled the bucket below with coconut shavings.
Our next step is to take the scraped bits and mash them in what I can only describe as an over-sized mortar and pestle (I believe called a “pilar”) with flour and roasted peanuts. Tony explains that every home in Mozambique has a pilar and it is used many times a day for preparing meals. With this new tool comes another new technique, and it is Zander this time who masters the finesse needed to grind our ingredients without smashing too hard or it would send everything flying. Tony is impressed and offers Zander a place in his kitchen any time. After a few minutes we have a coarse powder to sift and then we are ready to move on.
Now Tony’s mother joins us to sift the coarse bits out of the powder we’ve created, thus completing the necessary steps before extracting the prized coconut milk. We all agree that seeing coconut milk in the grocery store back home will take on an entirely new meaning. The fresh coconut milk creates a base for the matapa and to it we add ground leaves from the matapo plant and fragrant spices like garlic – the sauce resembles a green curry now. Once all ingredients come together the matapa needs to heat through for about thirty minutes to allow all the flavors to marry; this frees our group to begin working on another part of our meal: the coconut bread. Again, we utilize the mashed coconut mixture to make the sweet dough we are handling. Hayden forms her dough into many shapes from twists to swirls to shapes resembling a pretzel back home. She looks so happy as she plays with these new dough forms in this African kitchen alongside her peers. It is easy to forget we are halfway around the world in moments like these where a parent or mother in this case shows us her love by teaching us and cooking for us and caring for us. This is something we recognize and we are at peace.
The cooking lesson ends with a feast of the food we’ve helped create. We pour the matapa over rice and dip the sweet bread into the savory sauce, it’s a combination that cannot be beat. Tony grills the catch of the day to accompany our dish and Josh expresses how delicious everything tastes. He has been adventurous and appreciative at every meal on this trip and notice that he shares my love of a hot meal, served family style after working hard. Though his roots are in brisket and steak from beef, I think he’s come to enjoy the many new game meats and vegetable-heavy dishes we’ve eaten on this adventure. With many thanks and a few photos, we depart from Tony and his family. It was an incredible opportunity we won’t soon forget. Our activities for the next day excite us as we will embark on our first ocean safari and have surfing lesson in the afternoon.
We rise early to a breakfast of banana and caramel crepes, which will fuel us for the action-packed day. The crew is eager to start this next activity so we dress quickly and arm ourselves with various GoPro’s and cameras before hiking down the beach to the scuba lodge from which we will depart. After a safety briefing we are ready. We have ideal conditions that morning; the surf won’t be too difficult to break through when launching. Our students line the sides of each boat and charge into the oncoming swells. We are quick and the waves calm almost immediately after the initial break. We were off!
The boats cruise in tandem, weaving in and out with spotters at our helm. The sun rises high in the sky and the wind blows the sea’s salty spray on our group as we press on. Now we are surrounded by the turquoise waters. Brooks is the first to spot something – a group of fins breaching and the sleek gray backs of dolphins, just offshore. He has spotted a pod of feeding dolphins surfacing for air amidst their hunt. His great eye triggered our first snorkel with the creatures who call these waters home.
In a flash we are in the water, chasing a glimpse of these powerful aquatic beings. Looking below we could see how easily the dolphins spin and play in the water, gliding effortlessly or pumping their tails to gain speed and catch an unlucky fish by surprise. They are such beautiful creatures and we are fortunate that they stay with our group throughout the day. We repeat this process until it is time to depart; spotting a fin or churning water, racing to the site, and diving in to swim with the dolphins. A combination of the bright sun, swimming, and an early wake up has our group pretty tired already. We elect to lounge on the beach to re-energize before our surfing lesson.
After a cat nap and a good lunch we are ready to catch some waves. We cover how to pop up and stay safe with other surfers around and then we hit the water. Conditions are ideal. Set after perfect set crash along the shore. Joe is a natural. It was like he couldn’t miss – he rode every wave he attempted accompanied by cheers from our group and surfing guides alike. Cameron and Maggie were also very impressive on their boards. Each girl brought her GoPro and I can’t wait to see the footage. Maggie and Cameron’s specialty became catching the same wave and riding it all the way to shore. It was awesome to see how easily everyone was catching waves and hear all the cheers of encouragement.
We are all ready for a good meal and a full night’s rest. Moonup is quick as eyes are beginning to droop and bodies slowing slumping as they succumb to the need to recharge. Evelyn is one of the few who tends to successfully fend this sleep off. She often stays awake with Kelly and I late into the evening. Our chats are always witty and pleasant and Kelly and I find ourselves wondering whether she is a student or peer. Some nights we play cards, and Evelyn shares with us games that she enjoys and we share our own. She is always a great contender who beats us at our own games. Alas, it gets late and is time to enjoy some well-deserved rest.
Our final full day is filled with a mixture of the same activities but now our group members are experts. We decide it is time to visit the local market as a treat. Colorful fabrics sway in the breeze as we approach. Truly, you can find almost any pattern here printed in the richest colors. We are entranced like the many newcomers who have come before us and we indulge in purchasing the finer goods. Julia barters for a beautiful pair of red, flowy pants. Her purchase inspires the other girls and soon the entire group is draped in the beautifully patterned fabrics. We finish the visit with a stop at a local grocery for ice cream and then we make our way back to the lodge.
For our final evening we set sail into the sunset. Tony again, provided an authentic experience as he chartered two of the local dow boats to take our groups around the shallow waters near the mangrove forests. He has timed our journey perfectly so the warmth of the day lingers for most of the excursion while we watch the ever dropping sun dip down below the horizon. We make one quick stop on our voyage at an exposed sand bank. Along this temporary shoreline sand dollars are plentiful and come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone uncovers more than they can carry and eventually elect to leave some of the smaller sun-bleached shells behind. It is the perfect end to an incredible section of this trip.
We all discuss how we hope to return to this beautiful place by the sea one day. But for now we look forward to a more safari opportunities on this final leg of our adventure.
You’ll hear from us again soon but until then, take care!
Sam and Kelly
July 6, 2019
The bush has welcomed us with open arms and breathtaking views. We were able to see and learn about the incredible animals that call this place home. Before our first game drive we were greeted by an elephant. The group was amazed by this majestic creature as he drank from a watering hole right in front of us. His ears swayed back and forth as though he was waving to us, but in reality the elephant was just cooling himself off. His long, twisted trunk sucked in water like a vacuum. Our guide explained that elephants can drink up to thirty liters of water in just one sip. Although large and intimidating, these creatures are extremely intelligent and quite gentle. Julia and Will, with an eye for photography, captured every angle of the elephant drinking from the watering hole.
Our first game drive was nothing less than impressive. We were amazed by our guides ability to track wildlife in the area. Immediately after beginning our safari ride, the guides pointed out lion tracks. They navigated us through the bush allowing the surrounding environment to the tell the story of the animals that have recently gone through the area. Within minutes the guides brought us to a mother loin and her son. The mother lion was relaxing in the shade, while her son was a little timid and hid behind a tree.
That evening we watched giraffes eat from the tree tops while the sun set behind them. Zebras and wildebeests ran in the distance, while families of warthogs chased each other. During Moonup, two elephants came back to the watering hole. Our special guests watched us from a distance as we reflected on our day around the campfire. The stars here are spectacular, since there is very little light pollution. We could see the Southern Cross and Milky Way perfectly. Zander, with an interest in astronomy, sparked conversation with Sam and I about life beyond Earth. The three of us gazed up at the stars and shared our theories about extraterrestrial life.
The next morning we rose with the sun and were off on our second game drive. Today was exhilarating. We saw four out of the Big Five. Buffaloes, elephants and rhinos roamed the dirt roads, while lions relaxed in the shade. Every game drive the group becomes closer. Many students find themselves pausing mid-sentence astonished by the creatures that we get the privilege to see. We started off our evening game drive by seeing three adult cheetahs and two cubs. There are only seven cheetahs in the park, so this was quite a treat. We stopped for a coffee and tea break and encountered eight adult white rhinos and two babies. In the distance the sun set behind the mountains casting red and orange layers in the sky. To put into words how beautiful the African bush looks at this very moment is just not possible.
Our LODs that night were Cameron and Will. Cameron lead Moonup with confidence and poise, living up to all expectations of what it means to be the Leader of the Day. Will gave a thoughtful speech at the end of Moonup. He explained that this trip has been a trip of lifetime, elaborating on the fact that the people that make up this group have made this trip beyond special for him. Everyone cheered at the end of his speech and ended Moonup with a group hug around him.
The next morning we woke before the sun to catch animals at their prime time. Within seconds of the lodge’s gate closing behind us we were greeted into the bush by giraffes, zebras, kudu and buffaloes. Josh explained that his favorite part of the morning was seeing the hippos walking alongside the riverbank. Maggie is always aware of the group needs and finds a way to spice up the conversation during game drives. After each game drive the group grows closer due to our in depth conversations and many laughs together.
Following our game drive and brunch, we had a 4th of July party! Lizzie, Evelyn and Cameron decorated everyone in glitter and temporary tattoos. Spencer was the most excited for the 4th of July and made sure everyone in the group was as hype as he was for our party. We danced to Party in USA and ate cake. Elephants must love Miley Cyrus, considering our friends came to join our party. We watched the elephants with excitement for our sleep out tonight.
That afternoon we headed towards the mountains to camp in the bush. We set up our cots and got camp ready for the evening. Brooks was always the first to lend a helping hand, dug out the fire pit with Drew for the group to enjoy. Our first activity was to sit in silence and reflect on our adventure. The guides placed us away from the campsite in a star formation. We sat far enough away from each other to feel secluded. We listened to the many animal sounds around us and looked into the distance at the beautiful surrounding mountains. This evening Joe was able to show his love for the outdoors and passion for wildlife. Joe is the first to identify the various species of animals in the area and is always interested to learn more. Hayden and Zander concluded the evening by leading a powerful Moonup, reflecting on our own struggles that we have been to able to overcome.
The next morning we sat around the campfire and watched the sun rise above the mountains. We buzzed with excitement for our rhino darting this afternoon. To start our adventure, the group follows a helicopter carrying one of the best veterinarians in Africa. He is also the general manager of the national park where we are camping. The vet uses an air-powered rifle to shoot a sedative into the rhino’s thick hide. When the scene is safe our group approaches the rhino to watch the volunteers and vet take measurements and document the rhino’s vitals. The vet and his crew work fast, but take time to explain why they are performing each test and taking each sample. In brief, the poaching of these creatures for their horn has reached a critical level and this game reserve is building a DNA database that records as many rhinos from its population as possible. If a horn is seized from the black market it can now be traced back to its origin here.
On our way back from the rhino darting we came across five lions feasting on our their new kill. This is very rare sighting for a group to experience. Our guide explained that a sighting like this hasn’t happened for a Moondance group in over three years!
We had an adventure of a lifetime being able to experience the bush and the animals that call this place home. We are extremely heartbroken to say goodbye, but we are pumped to head to Mozambique for our next adventure!
Kelly and Sam
Spencer- Hey Mom and Dad, it’s Spencer. We are about half way through the trip. We are about to leave our safari section and make our way to Mozambique. Love and miss you.
Cameron- I am having so much fun and love my group! Thank you for sending me on this trip! Love y’all sooo much! Tell Milly, Boots and Coco that I miss them! Can’t wait to see y’all soon! Xoxo
Joe- hey mom and dad. Thanks for so much for sending me on this trip. This has been a very fun trip and the group is funny. Thank you so much!
Maggie- I am having such a fun and amazing time! Last night we got see 5 lions feasting. This trip has been so amazing, thank you so much! Tell Stella I miss her! Much love, Maggie
Brooks- Hey mom and dad, South Africa is incredible. I am assuming Maxy has been pampered and properly taken care of. Love and miss y’all.
Zander- Having a great time in South Africa. We’ve finished up our service and had some amazing safari experiences, we saw a pride of 5 lions sharing a warthog they had just killed! The guides also liked Lavraida’s book Wild Wisdom and they ordered one for the lodge bookcase. See you soon!
Julia- I’m having the most amazing experiences here in South Africa like completely service work for the children’s home and seeing majestic animals. I miss you so much! Thank you so much for sending me here! We are leaving for Mozambique to learn how to surf.
Lizzie- Hi fam, South Africa is so cool, y’all would love it! I’m having so much fun and seeing so many cool things. I miss y’all but I’m having so much fun! I love y’all!
Evelyn- Africa is amazing. We finished the service portion and the first Safaris. We saw super cool animals and now we’re going to Mozambique and the beach. See you soon!
Drew- Hey guys! South Africa has been great! We have just finished up service portion and we are headed to Mozambique at the moment. I love all of y’all and I’ll be home soon!
Josh- Hey guys! I ended up in a great group and I am loving South Africa! The have seen so many cool animals and have been on several great safaris. I miss all of y’all and can’t wait to tell you guys about my trip.
Hayden- Hey Mom and Dad, I am having a great time here and I feel so lucky to be here. Thank you so much. I can’t wait to see you guys and tell you all about it. See you soon!
Will- Hey Dad, Mom, Makayla, and Thomas. Love you guys and miss you guys. I am having a blast right now and saw a lion, wildebeest, zebra, and elephants. I have been seeing so much that is cool and I can’t wait to show you guys all of my videos and pictures. P.S. show Makayla this and send her the link. Love you guys and can’t wait to tell you everything.
July 2, 2019
We just concluded an incredible few days of service working with a children’s home and local school here in South Africa. Our group rose to the occasion and helped complete a large portion of the braai project (a fire pit used by the children’s home to cook traditional South African foods, like a barbecue back home), painted classrooms at an underserved school in the community, and met many of the smiling children who call this area home.
The sharing of a braai is not so foreign to our students, as we have all been to cook outs or shared a barbecue with family and friends. However, a traditional braai is much less complicated than the gas grills typically seen in America, it takes cooking back to its roots and begins with a simple twig fire. Logs are added and burned down to coals before the marinated meats and vegetables may be spread over the heated grate. I am no expert when it comes to grilling with charcoal, but I appreciate the art of controlling the temperature of an open flame much more now that I’ve seen this similar process.
Although the braai project at the children’s home began earlier in the summer and won’t be completed until the last Moondance group stops here, we know that our contribution was meaningful. We know that the final product would not be complete without our contribution. We worked hard, mixing and pouring the base layer of cement. Our group came together as we each learned this arduous process and labored alongside each other. This hard work was abbreviated only by a visit from kids who live in the area and will use this braai once complete.
The kids visiting allowed our group to interact with so many incredible kids of all ages. Drew made instant connections with every kid he met. Whether he was playing soccer or lifting a little boy up to dunk his ball in the net ball hoop, every kid loved him. Josh too, was loved by the kids. He had a student riding his shoulders almost the entire time who was always wearing a grin from ear to ear. Brooks connected with the kids through sharing his love for basketball. Here the game is called “net ball” and there are some distinct differences between the American, but the essentials are the same and Brooks was a natural when helping the kids with their form or lifting them to the hoop.
The young girls loved playing with Maggie and Cameron. At one point at least ten of this giggly young girls were following every new dance move our girls could show them. With each new move, all the little girls would attempt to mimic and erupt with laughter afterwards. Hayden and Evelyn formed special bonds with the only girl still staying at the home over this winter holiday. They were inseparable and the sweet little girl gave them the biggest hugs before we drove away in our final service day.
Julia captured so many of these beautiful moments on her camera, taking many pictures of the kids who were so fascinated. She was more than kind enough to allow these students to take selfies, their favorite thing, and to laugh with them as they reviewed the silly photo they had just taken. Will was also keen on sharing his GoPro with the kids. I looked over many times and saw him explaining features and allowing them to shoot their own footage of themselves and one another.
Briefly, while all the kids and our Moondance crew were running all about, I spoke to the two kind women who look after all these kids. They shed light on the circumstances that many if these kids live with everyday. Most lost their parents at a young age and some were removed from homes where adequate care wasn’t being provided, but all of them just wanted a chance to play. They weren’t brooding over these negative aspects of their lives, they are kids and life can still be simple for them if good people create spaces for them to get away and be silly. Our students may not really understand just how impactful it was for them to play with these visiting kids and give them a few hours of attention. The two ladies said they were very grateful for sharing this time. After many hard goodbyes, it was time to return to the project at hand. We were rejuvenated by the kids and used this high energy to carry us for the next day.
We found out that Spencer and Lizzie are no strangers when it comes to hard work. They volunteered to carry wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow overflowing with the heavy rock mixture. Zander also stepped up in a big way when it came to shoveling load after load of loose rock into a wheelbarrow where Joe could then combine all the elements before sending it off again. This was no easy task, but this crew never complained and I heard them encouraging the other students on multiple occasions. Their efforts were crucial in getting this tough step in the braai project complete. I’m not sure we would have finished as quickly as we did without the well oiled system this group formed.
Kelly and I are looking forward to getting to know this crew even better at Safari. I know we will have a great trip, and can’t wait to share more stories.
June 29, 2019
Hello South Africa Families!
We heard from our Trip Leaders that all students have arrived safely in Johannesburg, and the group is off to their hotel for the night. We cannot wait to hear more stories from their adventures. Stay tuned!