July 30, 2019
It is with a heavy heat that I am writing to you on our drive to the Johannesburg Airport to begin our long journey home. We have had the best few days in Marakele National Park and I am thrilled to fill you in!
We arrived to “elephant camp” on Marataba Game Reserve and quickly moved into our rooms and enjoyed some tea and cookies before going on our sunset safari. We were amazed by the beauty and vastness of this reserve. Sara began to ask which animals belong in the dangerous big 5 category when we stumbled right on a group of cape buffalo! We watched them graze for a but before moving on. Just as the sun was beginning to set we came across a mother cheetah and her two very young cubs. We watched them play for a bit and eventually our guides let us get out of the vehicle to move closer. We ended the drive with some sunset sodas and plenty of golden hour pics. We feasted on chicken and kudu kebabs for dinner and settled down for Moonup by the fire. We barely began our discussion when Sarah Helen heard a sound and turned on her headlamp. No more than 20 feet from us was a giant elephant stopping by our camp to drink from the watering hole! We were only just beginning to understand the rationale behind naming this magical place “elephant camp”…
The next morning we woke with the sun for our morning safari. After the drive filled with giraffes, hippos, zebras, wildebeest, and warthogs, we returned to camp and feasted on a huge brunch. With our full bellies we lounged, read, and played cards. Maddi introduced the group to “fairy hair” and shared with everyone. I am sure you’ll love it! Our guides brought their young kids to the camp in the afternoon and Landry kept them entertained with soccer games and tag. We went out for our evening drive with the little ones and they kept the car laughing the whole time by waving at every animal we saw. Including two massive male lions! After another fantastic dinner we settled down for Moonup, anxious to hopefully see another solo elephant coming to drink. We were awestruck when three showed up! Ella began to point out a fourth when an entire herd of a DOZEN elephants of all sizes and ages stormed through and stopped at the watering hole. Our jaws dropped and the staff and guides all ran out to take pictures and comment on how rare and unique this was. It was all we could talk about and is a moment I am sure no one will forget.
The next morning we went on our usual sunrise drive and were lucky enough to spot the most elusive of the big five- a leopard! It was a quick siting but amazing nonetheless. We eventually made our way back to camp and another magnificent brunch. We stuffed ourselves in preparation for the evening activity… sleeping out in the African bush! We packed backpacks and grabbed sleeping bags and headed our towards the mountains. After setting up camp we had a reflection hour for everyone to think about their experiences thus far. We chowed down on burgers and settled in for the night around the fire. Before darkness fell Lexi pointed out a massive rhino right by where we had walked a few moments earlier! MC as leader of the day led a thought provoking Moonup under a clear starry sky and Simone saw her first (and second and third) shooting star! Since we were sleeping in the bush with no fence we set up shifts for girls to monitor camp and ensure no dangerous animals stumbled on us. Ella and Lauren had quite an exciting shift! They spotted a hippo and small cat (sadly it was a sivet and not a baby leopard). Colbie was incredibly alert during her shift and saw a group of baboons!
After an unforgettable but somewhat long night we were all happy to return “home” to elephant camp and our cozy beds for a nap! After resting we headed out in the safari vehicles to meet a veterinarian in the park to help him with a conservation project. This park, along with most in South Africa, has had trouble with illegal poachers killing rhinos for their horns. The vet and his team is working to collect data on and microchip each rhino in the park to be able to account for the livelihood of each one. We were able to help collect data on a sedated rhino. Seeing this enormous creature up close was truly a once in a lifetime experience. After the first, the vet was so impressed by the maturity of our group that he allowed us to help with one more! We hugged two rhinos! Simone was especially interested and asked the vet many questions. We see something like this in her future! We ended the evening with our last red African sunset and Nell snapped pics for the group. We cannot wait to see the TEN THOUSAND photos on her camera!
We sadly just concluded our very last Safari, and it may have been the best one yet. We came across a pride of five lions just minutes after leaving camp and watched them play and interact for almost an hour. We are now headed to the airport and are happy to be able to hug our loved ones soon but also heavy hearted and already missing this amazing and wild continent. Thank you all for sharing your daughters with us these past few weeks. They are all so fun, smart, and kind. I miss them already and am excited to see where their bright futures take them.
Cecilia and Caroline
Here is one last shout out before we arrive stateside!!
Hi mama and dada! I miss u so much. I saw a cheetah by the way! Love u!!! -Colbie
Hi mom and dad! I miss and love y’all so much and can’t wait to see y’all! Lots of love- mc
Hey parents! Saw a family of lions this morning, be home soon! -maddi
What is up my dudes 😀
Saw so many cool animals over here! Can’t wait to see all you guys, yeehaw -sara
Hey mammaaa and dad! Africa is insane!! Miss and love you lots see y’all soon. Tell Ry and Gigi I say hi!
Hey hey hey! This morning I saw a family of lions… unreal. Y’all would love this 😉 Hugs and Love so soon.
Hi Kaye and Scott,
Pretty cool trip!! Made friends with a few lions and elephants. Heading to the airport so I will see you soon!! Love y’all!!
Hey!! I had such a fun time on the trip!! We’re headed to the airport! Can’t wait to see y’all.
Love, Sarah Helen
Hellooo!! I had the best time ever here but can’t wait to see y’all. I saw lots of lions this morning. Heading to the airport so I’ll see you soon!!
Hey mom! We’re headed to the airport and can’t wait to see you! We saw so many cool animals can’t wait to tell you all about it, I love you!
Hey mom and dad! I’m so excited to see y’all and tell you about everything. I think we need a pet lion now. I love you! Tell Jamerson and May I say what’s up!
July 26, 2019
Hallo from South Africa! Our service section at Thabang Children’s Center was a huge success, and we were the final group, so we got to see the final project! Thabang Children’s Project is a local organization that looks to “empower children, families, and communities to restore their dignity and independence.” This project provides development centers, care, and advocacy facilities to orphans and vulnerable youth in the local community. Our summer-long project was to create a braai, which is similar to a cookout and fire pit area. The kids and program will use it to stay warm and to cook food. We helped lay the final bricks and clean it up for the kids to use it for the first time!
Different teams attacked different projects from painting to brick moving to sanding. Landry moved efficiently and effectively placing bricks, and she earned a “nug” in the nug jug, which we use to give shout-outs to one another, that night. In painting, Madi took her creative mind to decorating a bookshelf with stars and moons for the girls dorm.
We had the chance to visit a local school the next day, and we had so much fun we stayed the whole day. With the teachers’ approval, we played for hours while they had a meeting to plan this semester. Ella started a big game of soccer (or football), and the giddy running of all the kids began! Lauren started a Karate lesson, and she kept us all laughing as the little boys started to karate chop her.
Over at the “salon,” Lexi and Nell were getting their hair done and listening to funny stories from each of the girls. They told us about their favorite animals and what they want to be when they grow up. Lots of doctors and teachers on the way!
Sara and MC were a duo for the little ones to attach themselves to, and they answered every question and asked amazing questions for the kids to share their lives with. This was a theme as the kids of the woman who managed where we stayed attached to them as well. They kept them all engaged and made each of them feel special.
Later that night, we had a dance party on the stage where we stayed, and Sarah Helen busted out some dancing queen moves. We all jumped around until we crashed and laid out on the porch to see the unbelievable night sky in the rural area. Simone is on the hunt for her first shooting star, and we hope to see it on our sleep out night!
We returned to the school the next day for a final playtime and tearful goodbye to these amazing kids that pulled at all of our heartstrings. Colbie was a sweetheart and gave out all her friendship bracelets to the group of girls who adored her. Those kids have a piece of our hearts, and we are leaving with grateful hearts and a new perspective on life.
Now we’re on our way to Elephant Camp and ready for a safari! The animals in this game reserve are much larger than the last, and we can’t wait to see the girls in awe of these amazing, wise creatures! Our group has grown a lot closer since our last update, and I know our goodbye in a few days will be a tearful one!
Can’t wait to tell y’all about all we see at Elephant Camp!
Cece and Caroline
July 23, 2019
Hello from Thabazimbi, South Africa!
We have arrived in this beautiful mountain town excited to begin our service after a fun filled past few days.
We spent the last 2 days on safari at Dinokeng Game Reserve. On our very first game drive Lexi was quick to spot two giraffes right by where we were staying!! We continued the drive and saw EIGHT rhinos, elephants, and countless zebras and wildebeests. Maddie snapped away throughout the drive and we are excited to see the amazing pictures she got. That night we feasted on a traditional South African barbecue or braai meal. The LODs, Ella and Sara, led a thoughtful Moonup that ended with us admiring the beautiful stars of the Southern Hemisphere.
The next morning we woke with the sun for our morning game drive. Colbie was on high alert throughout the drive and spotted an owl even before our guide could. A bountiful brunch was waiting for us when we returned, and we filled our bellies to the brim before relaxing on the deck over the dam. Landry kept us entertained by playing music and telling funny stories. The music eventually turned into a full-fledged dance party and Mary Collier even got the staff of our safari lodge involved! It was a huge hit and Simone impressed us all with her dance moves. The dance party was followed by high tea and snacks before our last evening game drive. Lauren and Nell kept the car laughing their heads off but our giggles may have scared away some animals! We enjoyed one last sit down meal at Dinokeng and evening fire before retiring to our warm and cozy beds.
This morning we again woke with the sun for our last dawn game drive and were so lucky and amazed to see two large male lions!! It was unforgettable and Sarah Helen in particular could have stayed and watched them all day. We have arrived in the beautiful mountain town of Thabazimbi and are so excited to begin our service portion of the trip tomorrow.
Until next time!
Cecilia and Caroline
July 21, 2019
Hoy from Tofo Beach, Mozambique! We landed safely, and we were greeted at Tilak Lodge with coconuts freshly opened by a machete, and soon after, we all ran to the beach for our first dip in the Indian Ocean! We waded around until sunset, and we wrote in the white sand, “HBD NELL!”
We began our first student-led Moonup under twinkly lights, and Ella and Colbie took us away with a fun “nug jug” story and meaningful question for the entire group to answer. We learned more about one another and began to form bonds that will deepen over the course of our trip.
After a good night sleep, we woke up early for our first Ocean Safari! We put on wetsuits, watched our safety video, and were off for the races. After about 10 minutes of searching, our guide Big Tony yelled, “Whale Shark!” Nell was the first to jump in off the boats, and we all got to swim in a semicircle around the back of the baby shark whale until it dove down. We continued on our search until we saw a white shadow. A fantastic manta ray, about 12 ft in wingspan surfaced, and we all jumped in to swim with the most graceful animal in the sea.
After a caprese sandwich and fresh squeezed juice, half the group went out for a surf lesson and the other half went on a local tour to cook matapa. At the surf lesson, Landry was a superstar catching waves early on, and Sarah Helen was focused during the lesson and caught her very first wave! Our guide asked if this was a surf camp from the skill of our girls!
The local tour at Tony’s house was eye-opening to see how different and beautiful the Mozambican way of life is. We get to see the homes with different rooms made from palm leaves and how Tony will remain with his family until he gets married. We got to join in to help cooking with Tony’s mother and sister, and Simone was first to jump up and scrape the coconuts with the tool they used. We helped make a matapa sauce, which doesn’t taste like anything we’ve tried before, and we ate it with snapper and rice. We also helped cooked coconut bread and made hearts, pretzels, and Georgia “G’s” from the dough. Colbie was addicted and even tried the matapa sauce with our sweet bread.
Since it was a Thursday, we got to check out a nearby primary school. We bought pens next door, and Lexi gave out pens to students who answered the teacher correctly and behaved in class. The students learn Portuguese in school, so we learn a few phrases as well. MC pointed out how this is one of the most important things we do to fully immerse ourselves in where we are rather than just staying on the beach.
The next morning it was time for Ocean Safari #2. We loaded up the boats in hope of more mantas and whale sharks. Manta rays were in abundance, and Sara was mesmerized by the manta-gazing and had to tap her to get her to stick her head out. This is a once in a lifetime experience, and we all talked about how tiny we felt next to the giant creatures.
That afternoon, our whole group went surfing together, and it was so sweet to hear the girls cheer one another on and give tips to get up with more control. Lauren was a major component of all the cheerleading and kept us giggling in big waves. We had a 100% success rate of standing up on our boards, and we loved hot showers and burgers after a long day of adventures.
Maddi lifted our spirits during a rainy morning by bringing out friendship bracelets and teaching all of us how to make a chevron. We listened to music and told funny stories as we made rainbows of bracelets.
Now, we’re back in Johannesburg on our way to Little Mongena at Dinokeng, where we’ll be in permanent tents inside the game reserve! Can’t wait to tell you about all the animals we see!
Ciao for now!
Cecilia and Caroline
July 16, 2019
All students have arrived in South Africa and the group is on its way!
More updates to come!