July 13, 2019
Hallo from Marataba Elephant Camp and the end of our adventure! We’ve had days packed with safaris, high tea, and even a night slept out under the stars in the game reserve. Our group of girls left an indelible mark on our guides and on each other, and they announced we’re their favorite group so far! More bonded than ever, we’re heading to the airport and already making plans to visit one another in Florida, New York, and Charlotte.
We arrived in paint and cement covered clothes after service, quickly changed, and hopped on our first safari car ride. Before sunset, we stumbled upon cheetahs with bellies protruding from a big meal. Mary Grace was most worried about the giraffes who were on alert, and she captured some of the most stunning photos of the scene.
As we heard a rumble in the jungle, our guides left the cheetahs to find two male lions on a night stroll who walked in between our cars and didn’t mind our presence one bit. Franki was in awe and kept standing up to get a better look, only to be told she needed to sit to keep the lions calm.
Arriving back at the lodge, we gathered around the fire and started drooling over the smell of Chef Tzaziki chicken kabobs, vegetables, and buffalo, one of the game meats he specializes in cooking! Kalen led the group in sharing her rose, thorn, and bud of her day. Most every night we’ve gone around the table sharing the best part of our day, worst part of our day, and what we’re looking forward to for tomorrow.
We got some well-needed rest after days of service in two-person tents in heated beds, which had the special touch of rose petals when we arrived. We had an early morning safari since the animals are most often on the move at dawn and dusk. Anabelle began “question time” with Arie, our guide, and we didn’t stop asking questions until leaving four days later. He was so patient and fun, and he nicknamed our group “the giggle bees.”
After stuffing ourselves with a brunch of pancakes, fruit, and eggs, Saya and Lulu hosted a mini-party in their room for the midday. We read, sunbathed and pulled pranks on our nappers. We were the ultimate girl group playing music and performing dances as we embraced our nickname, “the giggle bees.”
We had the unbelievable opportunity to participate in a rhino darting, which is run by conservation efforts to protect rhino populations from poaching. A helicopter swooped in close to camp, flew above and darted a rhino nearby, and we zoomed in the safaris cars to its location. The team from the conservation efforts, including the veterinarian, hopped out and began measuring the horn, taking samples, and marking the rhinos ear with an identification number. We stood nearby in suspense of the heavily-breathing rhino. Charlotte was first to reach out and touch the white rhino once we were approved. She said it felt rough and thick but soft behind the ears. Margaret was so pleased to get to touch one of the Big Five, and even gave it a smooch on its horn.
To add the surviving in the African bush, we packed up all our layers for a night sleeping out in the game reserve. We’d seen four of the big five, and we were nervous to be out in the open with lions, black buffaloes, rhinos, and elephants. We set up camp, ate impala burgers, and began our shifts watching for animals with “tusks or teeth.” In the second shift, Kendall sensed something was watching us, and, before it was time, she flashed the torch and spotted a white rhino in the distance! She yelled for the guides and woke up Daniel to scare it away.
During our wild day, Ava and Maggie stepped up to the plate as LODs at every assignment and ran the group like a tight ship. They led us in one of our most intimate Moonups and created a safe space for everyone to share part of their lives and lean on one another. This was a crucial moment for the group and cemented this group more than we ever could have hoped for.
In our “finale” of safaris, we experienced jaw-dropping moments we can’t tell all the stories of in this update: elephants trumpeting at the cars, a lion kill, lions chasing cheetahs, an elephant family with babies, and our favorite – a cheetah with fluffy cheetah cubs that we got to see. Thanks to Audrey, we stayed near the cheetahs and convinced him to let us have this unforgettable experience.
Thank you so much for sharing your girls with us! We had some of the best moments of our lives giggling with them, and we know this experience of easing into a new group and grabbing adventure by the horns will stay with them forever!
See you so soon!
July 9, 2019
We have just finished our service portion of the trip and are leaving with sore bodies but full hearts. We arrived at our lodging in the foothills of a beautiful red colored mountain range in the small town of Thabazimbi, South Africa, eager to meet the community we would soon work with. The next morning we drove to our service site, Thabang Children and Youth Center. We were given a tour by two delightful young girls that reside there and were introduced to our project- building a braai (a South African fire/barbecue pit). We spent the rest of the day mixing mortar for the bricks and moving piles and piles of bricks to the worksite. Kalen might be the smallest member of the group but she was working like crazy and barely took a break! In the afternoon we took a little break to play with some children who had arrived. Audrey amazed them all by doing backflips in the field! The kids were stunned. That afternoon we got back to our lodge sweaty, dirty, and tired, and decided to dip our toes in the pool. However, Charlotte crept behind Margaret and pushed her all the way in! Socks and all! We were roaring with laughter and Saya soon got revenge on Charlotte by throwing her in. Eventually we were all fully clothed in a freezing swimming pool. Needless to say, the shower felt great that evening.
The following day we split into 2 groups for our service work. One group remained working on the braai while the other drove to a nearby school to help clean out classrooms and paint windows and doorways. To no ones surprise, Ava was the most precise and exact when painting and her attention to detail resulted in beautiful classrooms. Back at the youth center more children began to arrive, and we ended the day with a huge soccer game. Anabel showed off her skills and was a top scorer. Maggie made sure every kid was involved and even took a little mid game break to hula hoop on the sidelines with younger girls.
We were again exhausted after a long day of work but decided a talent show was in order.. because why not! Lulu sang a tune from the greatest showman and had everyone singing and dancing along. Margaret and Charlotte did what is best described as a comedy act and again had us rolling in laughter. Saya and Mary Grace led a beautiful and thoughtful Moonup, and we ended the night around the campfire with Franki’s beautiful voice singing to us.
On the last morning of service we split again and the group that was working in the braai had the opportunity to go to the school. We worked on cleaning up the school grounds and painting furniture. We were slightly distracted while working because the children had finally returned from their winter holiday and wanted to do no schoolwork and just play with us! When our work was eventually done we had ample time to play soccer, dance, run around, talk, and play many games with the kids. I don’t think Kendall ever got a break, she had a kid attached to her hip at all times.
We had a very fulfilling past few days, and are very grateful to Thabang for welcoming us and allowing us to quickly become a part of their community. We have arrived at our last safari spot and are sad that the trip only has a few days left. Thank you again for allowing your daughter to come on this trip! We can’t imagine it without each and every one of them.
All the best,
Cecilia and Caroline
Here are some shoutouts from the girls:
Charlotte: Shoutout to my momma and dad and lady and Rosie: I luv u guys and I miss u!!!
Ava: Hi mom hi dad hi spot hi petunia hi sparkles wassup soapy
Marg P: Hey fam bam. Be seein’ y’@ll in a few. Miss MF the most.
MG: I SAW MORE THAN 12 GIRAFFES!!!! All my love… also I miss u guys I guess xox
Maggie: Helloooooo family! Miss you guys! Also tell bailey I miss him the most
Saya: Hello family!! Having a super fun time, miss you guys!
Kenny: Hi! My card is being declined…and I miss all of you guys so much! Tell Gracie and Ryan I said hey and I love you guys!
Kalen: Whats up guys! I am having so much fun! Love and miss y’all bunches.
Anabelle: Heyy I’m having a great time, couldn’t be happier. Love and miss you guys sm!
Lulu: hello happy breakfast (note to isaac and albert from lulu)
Franki: Hey fam!<333 I miss y’all so so much. I’m having an amazing time here with all the girls. Tell all the animals I will snuggle with them when I get home:)
Audrey: Hey mommy, love and miss you so much. Having a great time with the girls. Give little and Odee kisses
July 6, 2019
Hallo from Dinokeng, South Africa!! We’re getting back from our morning safari, and about to head off to Thabazimbi for our community service! We arrived at Little Mongena Thursday night and had an amazing meal after a day of travel- a candlelit dinner was a fabulous surprise after adjusting to the colder temperatures. We had a safety briefing before having guides walk us with flashlights to our tents. Our tents are within the Dinokeng Game Reserve, and we were awoken by hippos snorting as they get out of the water in the night right in front of our tents!
Tuesday, we had a 5:00 AM sunrise safari and bundled up in the blankets in the open-top land cruisers and began the hunt! Margaret sat up front with our guide, Matt, and kept all of us, including the guide, giggling as she would yell, “Baby Rhino!” to what was a warthog. We all fought to get in Safari Marge’s car to hear the hilarious commentary.
Achieving her goal for the trip, Mary Grace saw her first wild giraffe! Her joy was contagious, and she sparked the beginning of our good luck spotting animals. Maggie was next to spot two “big gray rocks,” which were two baby white rhinos! With their relaxed demeanor, we had the chance to get within 10 feet of them.
Our best guide school prospective, Anabelle sat up front with Ryan and inquired all about tracking and the details of how to hunt down a “Big Five” game animal. On the smaller front, Franki loved that impalas are called “the McDonald’s of the bush” because there is a golden arch-like patterns on their bottoms and they’re known as a fast meal.
After the morning safari drive, we settled in for an afternoon high tea. While everyone was enjoying their beverages, Charlotte’s keen eyes spotted a herd of wildebeests drinking on the other side of the reservoir. She brought the impressive herd to the attention of the group and everyone was amazed.
With bellies full from tea and snacks, we dove into some fun exercises to learn more about some of Moondance’s key principles. In groups of twos, the kids put on skits to act out the “Leave No Trace,” principles, essential values for touring in the front or back country. Audrey and Saya put on an especially funny and informational skit while acting out the principle “Sleep on Durable Surfaces.”
Feeling proud of our new understanding of “LNT,” we eased into some R&R. We whipped out the deck of cards, and dove into some intense games of “Slapjack.” When Lulu saddled up to the table, she played with a strong poker face and dominated round after round. Our midday break was full of naps, games, and impressive readers in the group swapping books already.
Feeling rested, we were ready to ride out on another safari. During these game rides, Kendall’s heart was racing at the sight of a cheetah and kept saying, “Woah woah woah…” as the guide creeped closer and closer. The cheetah is a rare sighting because of how often they move and the vast area they cover. The entire 44,000 acre concession only has 15. It was an unbelievable moment that none of us will forget.
Following another amazing game ride, we were treated to a fantastic dinner. Between bites of delicious meat, salad, and vegetables, Kalen kept her camera in hand and had the whole group in giggles as she cracked jokes non-stop and displayed all her random photos of half-eaten desserts and photo bombs of our guides.
With full bellies, we moved out to the warm fire to circle up for Moonup. This was a pivotal Moonup, and really cemented the trust we have in each other as a group. This wouldn’t have been possible without Ava’s mature leadership of the meeting. She facilitated the Moonup in such a way that we hadn’t seen before. From the quote she chose, to the nug jug story, to the Moonup question, we were all on the edge of our seats. Everyone supported each other, and we walked away from the fire this night closer than we’d ever been.
Now we’re headed towards Thabazimbi, with full bellies, and fuller hearts. Watching these animals in their natural habitats was absolutely awe-inspiring. We’re so thankful to Dinokeng and Little Mongena, and we are so ready to give back during the service portion of our trip.
Cecilia and Caroline
July 2, 2019
Hoy from Tofo Beach, Mozambique!
We have had a phenomenal start to this trip, and I am so excited to fill you all in on our adventures thus far, so let’s take it from the top. All the students plus Cecilia met in the good ole Atlanta airport, eager for what was ahead. The ~15-hour plane ride flew by and before we knew it we had touched down in Johannesburg. There we united with Caroline and our group was complete! We headed to our lodge and chowed down on pizza before quickly falling asleep.
The next day we woke early to travel to our second African country, Mozambique! Our first leaders of the day, Charlotte and Saya, kept the group together and on time. Once we arrived in Mozambique, we all were so happy to feel the warm sun and ocean breeze. We arrived at our beach bungalow and threw our bags down. The first stop HAD to be a dip in the refreshing Indian Ocean! This moment was so special and truly felt like our trip had begun as we watched the sun color the sky pink, orange, and purple as it slowly danced below the ocean horizon line.
The next morning, we walked down the beach to the local dive shop to embark on our ocean safari. We were given instructions on what to look for- dolphins, manta rays, and the elusive whale shark. We took to the sea both excited and anxious. It wasn’t long before our guide, Tony, excitedly yelled “WHALE SHAAAARRRKKK” we threw on our fins and masks and slipped into the water, right on top of the whale shark! We were all amazed at its beauty and swam alongside it before it glided down to the ocean floor. We were lucky enough to swim with not one but TWO more whale sharks. Our day was made, and as we headed back to land with enormous smiles on our faces, Margaret yelled and pointed, she had found dolphins! We drove with them as they led us back to shore.
We had a quick snack then headed with Tony, the same guide as before, into the local village. The village is remote and beautiful. The streets are sandy paths and the kind residents waved at us on our walk. We arrived at Tony’s house where he introduced us to his mother and sisters. Tony surprised us when he scrambled up a tree to fetch us fresh coconuts! At his house, we watched and helped his mother cook a traditional meal. We made coconut milk and smashed peanuts and added this to a base of boiled matapa (a spinach like vegetable) to make a curry of sorts. We then rolled dough into fun shapes before baking bread. Ava demonstrated her artistic mastery by making the most unique and beautiful shapes. Tony came back with grilled fish as the bread baked. Our meal was finally ready. We feasted and everyone remarked how wonderfully delicious it was, and how fulfilling it was to see the effort that goes into making a meal from scratch using all locally grown or caught foods. Maggie went for a second piece of fish then asked what type of fish it was. We got wide eyed when we discovered it was barracuda!!! Maggie is so inquisitive, and I so appreciate her eagerness to learn more. Next we walked across a wooden bridge to the local school. We asked the teachers and principal many questions before having the wonderful opportunity of observing a third-grade class. Lulu came in clutch both here and during our entire time so far- she is the only member of our group that speaks Portuguese and is able to converse with everyone here! For those confused at home, Mozambicans speak Portuguese and a local dialect. We finally headed back to our bungalow where we read, journaled, played cards, and enjoyed yet another spectacular sunset. Charlotte kept us entertained after dinner by narrating games of Mafia, that girl is hysterical! Mary Grace (a leader of the day) orchestrated a beautiful Moonup, and we all discussed how grateful we were to experience the local culture and see a completely different and sustainable way of life.
The next morning Saya braided everyone’s hair before we headed our on another ocean safari. We considered ourselves supremely lucky from the day before, so prepared ourselves for a day with fewer animal sightings. I struggle to find the words as I write this, so let me begin with some facts. There are about 1000 whale sharks in all of the world’s oceans. Yes, all of the world’s oceans. On this ocean safari, we saw…. SEVEN. It was an experience I can’t describe, so please ask your daughter about it. They kept coming and everywhere we turned there was another. We splashed in the ocean with them as if they were members of our group. To make this experience even crazier, we saw two manta rays as well! Tony remarked that this was the most incredible day he has had in all of his years of guiding. He was at a loss for world and simply pointed at the sky saying this must be a sign from the Gods. The owner of the dive shop reiterated this point, saying that once they went a full year, 365 days, without seeing even one whale shark. You couldn’t wipe our smiles off if you tried.
After this, we had lunch then headed back out to the beach to get our surf on. On the walk, Anabelle being the angel that she is picked up tons of plastic and trash to prevent it from washing into the ocean we all love. The instructors taught us on the beach before unleashing us in the waves. Kalen was the first brave soul to go and stood up easily and rode the wave all the way to shore!! Kendall is our own Bethany Hamilton, not even needing instruction and taking on the hardest waves all by herself. Franki was also phenomenal, and confident enough to both surf and go pro at the same time! We can’t wait to see the footage she captured.
We are now back at the bungalow enjoying some down time. Audrey has made friends with the owner of the bungalow’s two children and it is so sweet to watch her play with them.
This group of girls is something special. Watching them interact with each other and everyone we have encountered has been such a gift. They are all so bright, fun, talented, and most importantly, kind. I cannot wait for us to begin our service portion of the trip and to see what we can do, and what we will gain. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for sending your girls on this trip. We can’t believe that it has only just begun.
Ciao for now,
Cecilia and Caroline
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!