July 27, 2022
Checking in for the last time from Africa!
We woke up, packing our bags frantically before breakfast. We ate our prepared breakfast of eggs, crepes, toast, and beans then packed into the car that the leaders of the day, Grisham and Maya, assigned. Jack savored his last taste of his multiple scoops of Nescafé instant coffee, and strutted to the car. As we headed on our way, the kids passed the leaders’ phones around to excitedly queue their own music. With music thumping and the safari cruisers bumping on the uneven dirt roads, we caught the last views of the towering Mount Kenya, as the Tholan brothers marveled at the prospect of climbing it.
After a long car ride, we arrived at our next destination for a lunch where the kids were not served family style, but could order what they wanted. No one was more elated than Caroline; although she couldn’t find an intensely self-coveted serving of Mac and cheese, she settled with a cheese pizza. After Harris’ chicken burger, he made it seem as if his belly was growing from being so full. Where we were sitting was a cabana area with squishy couches and multiple throw pillows; all of the kids let their bellies protrude into the air after a satisfying meal.
Eventually, the group was roused to set out on a boat ride around Lake Naivasha. Meredith prepped her boat about her fear of hippos. Owen couldn’t help but laugh when she told them that she may order the boat driver to drive away from the hippos if she became scared. In fact, it was Libby and Sienna on the boat that got a bit freaked out when we approached the hippos. Libby screeched and told the driver to “go go go! It just went under the water.” The whole boat laughed when the hippo serenely surfaced from the water in the same place that it had gone under, twirling it’s ogre-like ears. On the other boat, Meredith and Caroline were in deep conversation, bonding over the early awkward stages of the trip that had now dissolved into the group being super comfortable with each other now. The group saw hippos, giraffes, giant storks, colobus monkeys, and more. Harris mistook a group of donkeys for hippos, hollering for the group to look at the hippos on land. They were very obviously donkeys… Dylan continued to take funny selfies with group members and animals on his flip camera; we don’t think that Dylan has taken any other photos than selfies on the entire trip.
Once the kids got their land legs back, they encountered a wise old tree in their courtyard, who whispered a challenge to climb it. The kids flocked like mad monkeys, all clambering up the 5 feet that took to get to a good base camp in the tree. Some stayed at the base camp while others tested their limits and pushed on a little further. Jack got so high in the tree that it made Meredith and Bee queasy and they asked him to come down. But he was quite a nimble climber and gracefully swung from branch to branch. After climbing the communal tree, Harris and Owen found a tree that was much older and wiser. The downside was that some of its rotting branches bred all types of creepy crawlers. After sitting at the top of the tree canopy for a while, recapping the trip and telling jokes, Harris realized that he had been sitting on a colony of ants. With a muffled shriek, Harris descended the tree with Owen following behind him.
While a lot of the other group members were sitting in their courtyard reading and hanging out, Lara, Caroline and Carly ventured to the comfy restaurant area to read their own books and bond over Colleen Hoover (Meredith and Owen have found Colleen to be the most prolific teen fiction author across all of their groups).
The kids kickstarted dinner with a series of hilarious photos taken on Sienna’s new camera. Although not the most qualified photographer, Owen was enlisted. They took photos, holding Dylan out in front of them with dead looking faces; Bee looked a twin straight out of a horror movie, Carly looked like a vampire, and Maya was breathtakingly out of character looking as if she was a crazed killer. They topped off the series of pictures with an awkward smiles. After a large dinner, the kids were surprised by chocolate cakes with ice cream. One second, Libby and Chase’s cake was there and the next second it was gone, and they were craning their necks to find a victim who would perhaps not finish his/her cake. They locked eyes with Grisham and, as he would later regret, kindly offered them bites of his cake. They took impressively huge bites and betrayed the trust of such a benevolent young man.
After dinner, the kids gathered for Grisham and Maya’s Moonup. They had a plan to hide the speaker in the bushes and play monkey sounds, urging the group to find the prophesied ‘monkey nug jug’. As Owen primed the group members by playing snippets of the chimpanzee sounds, Bee was super shook and looked over her shoulder with a semblance of anguish. Libby audible screamed at one sound, but then figured out the trick by looking at a Owen hands tapping his phone. Maya asked the group the question of the night: “if you could live anywhere, where and why?” Then the group flocked from the Moonup fire and found deep rest in their twin bedrooms.
We woke up to another self-ordered breakfast at our Lake Naivasha location. Some kids had pancakes with fried bananas, and others went the more savory route with a breakfast wrap. But, regardless all were satisfied and we hit the road! The kids’ enthusiasm for being able to queue music never died. The music motivated the students in their final drive to Maasai Mara! In fact, the leaders were also in quite high spirits because after a long summer of carrides and other travel, they were sharing their final car ride of the summer with the students.
Once the group arrived at our camp at Maasai, we fueled up to sustain us throughout our long bush walk with the warriors. The Maasai Warriors took us uphill from camp to put the students through a warrior training introduction. The students learned about natural plants and herbal medicines that could keep flies off of lions and fleas off of cattle; they also showed us the bark of a black acacia tree, which the students chewed like gum, that quenches the thirst. It tastes a bit like a mix between an onion and a coconut, but some students tasted the onion taste more than others and were not as fond of the bark chewing as the students who tasted coconuts. Caroline did not care much for the tree bark. As we were walking around, the students were sharing riddles with each other to pass the intermediary time. Harris was crowned a king of solving riddles, but he did tell some bad ones. Maya solved his riddle about two sisters that had a most unsatisfactory answer.
While on the bush walk, we stopped in order to practice some traditional Maasai warrior skills. The skills that the kids competed in were apparently part of a tradition to woo women. Our warrior guides were joking that the student who performed the best would get up to ten women as a reward. But these Maasai warriors also promoted equal opportunity for the girls in our group to showcase their warriorhood. When it was up to archery, Harris’ years of practice were subverted by an unassuming and effortless shot from Libby; she ended up shooting the furthest and being awarded a hypothetical ten Maasai men if she wanted them. As per the rules of Moondance, she wasn’t allowed to pursue that romantic endeavor. But, perhaps she will return! Harris did redeem himself by jumping the highest out of the entire group, and Dylan was the most rambunctious jumper; he almost jumped into a thorn tree, and fell twice as he made impassionate leaps for the stars. Grisham ended up throwing the spear the best, but it was in abysmal comparison to how far the actual warriors could throw the spears.
At the marked last destination of our walk, we stopped at a sausage tree. Elephants eat the giant sausage-shaped fruits from this tree, and the base was surrounded by giant elephant turds. While avoiding the elephant turds, Chase and Caroline both threw seamless backflips as the rest of the group looked at them in awe. Then Libby did a graceful back handspring while simultaneously laughing—a silly grace that is very characteristic of Libby’s presence. A bunch of the kids wre eager to climb the sausage tree. While Jack got very high in the tree once again, we suddenly spotted Bee at the tippy tippy top of the tree, way higher than anyone else went. She looked majestic and seemed to find her natural habitat in the tree—we hoped an elephant wouldn’t mistake her from the sausage-shaped fruits. On the walk back, Lara wore a hat made form the Colobus monkey, that the real Maasai warriors had made, Sienna tried to flick elephant poop at Owen, and Harris twirled a wooden spear like a light saber.
Before dinner at the camp, the kids became aquainted with Piggy the Pig, the resident pig who acts like a dog. A perfect pre-dinner activity made the leaders force the kids to diligently scrub their hands before eating. After dinner, Carly and Chase used a member of the Maasai Warriorhood to help make noises to open the nug jug. Then they both did an impassioned reading of Harry Potter as their quote for the night. It took a while to get through the dense passage because both the leaders of the day and the other group members could not stop from bursting into laughter.
The kids would have been a lot more excited for the early wake-up if they knew how spectacular their luck would be on their safari in the Maasai Mara Reserve. Instead, their bodies lumbered lugubriously down the hill to grab some coffee and tea for the long safari. Bee grabbed some tea, of which she is the resident tea queen, to further fuel her love of animals that stems from her obsession with NatGeo and Animal Planet–of which she consistently pulls out neat animal facts from.
Although the safari cars were segregated into the boys and the girls car, for the first time ever, we all met out in the bush for a picnic. We ended up setting up our picnic a few hundred yards away from a group of three cheetahs that we spotted earlier in the day. Although we could imagine how quickly a cheetah could cover that distance, we trusted the knowledge and guidance from our Maasai keepers. The children munched on crepes with peanut butter and honey, as well as sausages and toast. The boys ventured off to mark their territory, but Harris took one of the Maasai member’s machetes because he was scared of a story he heard about a man on a safari who was suffocated by a python. Then the boys took an “ice cold” photo, while the girls took pictures with the leaders.
Once the group piled back into their safari vehicles the golden gallery commenced and the kids were part of a real-life animal plant. The kids saw two separate lion attacks on wildabeests, even seeing one carrying its catch through the bush. Then they saw the final member of the big five—a leopard—hanging in full view in a tree, with an antelope that it had killed hanging in the tree above. Harris and Meredith added to their selfie collection, taking one with the leopard right over their shoulders. Jack got some insane pictures of the male lions that we saw numerous times. Overall, our guides said that this was the best safari day that they had ever had. The kids were unbelievable lucky.
A lunch when we got back the group recuperated and tried to solve riddles. Harris sat with Sienna as she tried to figure out a riddle that stumped her for hours until she finally got the answer. Owen started a unique type of riddle train where one had to guess patterns to figure out the answer. One of these riddles that Harris told, involved saying “um” before one of the phrases to indicate that it was correct. When carly was one of the first ones to solve the riddle, she immediately gave it away by letting out the biggest “um” of all time.
In the afternoon after lunch, we helped to make a wall to protect a black bark acacia tree in front of the camp. The kids built the wall out of cement and old glass bottles. Lara and Caroline washed the bottles while Carly was on music duty. Grisham mixed cement with speed and precision. Libby, Chase, and Maya went to fetch sand with our Maasai friend Jackson. He tried to learn their names but spelled them out ‘Chest’ and ‘Mayor’—missing the mark by just a bit. At the end of the project the kids signed the names and wrote “Moondance” in the cement.
After a calming sunset, showers, and a warm meal, the kids gathered for Moonup. Dylan and Sienna opened the nug jug by raising the jug like it was ‘Simba’ with the Lion King song blaring from the speaker. Dylan accidentally threw the speaker into the fire, but Sienna saved it from any real flame damage. And the LODs recovered with a thought-provoking question. They asked the group where they saw themselves in 10 years. We had some guest appearance from others who were staying at the camp, who shared wisdom from their later years.
We woke up knowing that the day would be jam-packed with the final activities of our trip together. The kids fueled up for their active day with mandazi, eggs and crepes. Even Lara ate the eggs even though she doesn’t like eggs. In fact, Lara and Carolline were convinced that all of the eggs in Kenya were from the Guinea Fowl. The group members let them down easy, and told them that there was absolutely positiviely no way that the eggs were from Guinea fowl.
With sunscreen on and water bottles in hand, we walked and talked all the way to a nearby Maasai village. They welcomed us with songs and dances, of which we all joined in. the boys jumped and chanted with the Maasai men, and the girls swung arms and sung with the Maasai women. Our first lesson was how to start a fire using the friction of wood. As a team effort, Bee was the one who finally got the wood to smoke with enough heat and strength. Afterwards, we got our hands dirty, by helping the local women repair their huts; they use a mixture of cow dung and mud. Carly was absolutely unafraid to stick her hands in the cow dung and get to work. When we entered one of the hand-made huts, Libby and Caroline stationed themselves in front of the woman who was cooking ugali, and their jaws dropped when they saw the women fling the kitten out of the window, since it was too close to the fire. Our last activity was jewelry-making. Everyone got to bead with the ladies of the village and then keep their handiwork. They all shopped around in the village shop. Maya got a collection of bracelets as a momento for herself and her family; Harris bought a carved club which he was initially convinced was a back-scratcher.; Grisham and Dylan got some bowls they said were perfect for eating sushi.
At lunch back at the camp, everyone was super exhausted from the oppressive heat and the miles of walking. During our lunch break, the kids napped, read and rested to prepare for our afternoon of activity. Once we were all recooperated, the group walked to a nearby school to meet students. We were greeted with a dance and song, and then performed our own song and dance for them. We sang “Take Me Home Country Roads” and “Old Macdonald Had a Farm” and received a grand applause from the young locals. We also got an applause from our very own Meredith, who accidentally clapped for herself.
Then we headed to the soccer field to play the local girls’ team. The kids had an added challenge of the field being positioned on a 45 degree incline, with holes and rocks splayed all around the field. Nevertheless, the whole team ran their hearts out. Harris was a strong goalie and made many saves; Sienna showed off her soccer skills; Dylan was a powerful striker; Jack was a lock-down defender, although he almost allowed a goal to be scored as he was fixing his hair; and Bee screamed every time someone passed her the ball.
Some of the other group members stayed on the sidelines to spend intimate time with the children. Carly got her hair braided by kids and made connections with two teachers of the school, with whom she exchanged information so that they can keep up in the future! Libby let kids take some prime footage on her GoPro, and hang on her neck like a jungle gym, Maya was taken by the kids to watch a political rally drive by from our hilltop as the kids danced and swung from the real jungle gym. Once she finished playing soccer, Bee was given a necklace by one of her new friends, and like many of our other group members, gave the kids jewelry off of her own wrist. We said goodbye to the kids and Dylan gave away his shoes for the kids to hopefully grow into.
With spirits high and body energy low, the kids showered, and watched the glowing red sunset while listening to background music. We ate our last dinner at camp and girls had LOTS of fruit for dessert. For our last Moonup our LOD’s, Lara and Caroline, had a fake marriage officiated by Sienna. Owen objected with the Nug Jug and everyone ended up getting their own personal nug jug for the trip. Everyone shared their final trip takeaways, and then sang around the fire until they swaggered off to their final sleep under the Kenyan stars.
This morning we woke with unbelievable difficulty in fully realizing that this was our last day in Kenya. After munching on a warm breakfast and getting our bags all packed, we headed for the Keekorok airstrip inside of the Mara game reserve. We got our last glimpses of wildlife during our drive and waved goodbye to the wide open horizon that we had called home for the last week. We arrived in Nairobi and are now getting ready to board our flights back home. It has been an total joy to lead these students, and we cannot thank parents enough for sending their kids on this trip with us. It was an absolute journey of a lifetime. Asante sana.
Owen and Meredith
July 24, 2022
Hello everyone! Over the last couple days we have had an absolute blast with this group. Check out our day by day journeys!
We woke up early for our day of travel and before the kids were allowed to make their peanut butter and jelly covered toast, they needed to show that their bags were packed. The breakfast spread of beans, Canadian bacon (shoutout Jack), and eggs were just enough to entice full cooperation from the cadets. Once we were sufficiently caffeined-up, it was time to giddy-up and slip out of camp. Some took a few more coffees than others, like Jack who is used to his daily energy drinks. After a musical car ride through a gloomy and smoggy Nairobi cityscape. We were open road while the kids ogled the new landscape of beautiful people amidst decrepit infrastructure. It both inspired admiration and bit of ambivalent somberness.
We stopped at a Curio Art Shop, all filled with local artwork made by the surrounding communities. The kids bought many gifts for their loved ones at home. Harris was admiring a cane that concealed the blade of a hidden sword inside. The high price tag quickly dissuaded him from purchasing the deadly cane, and instead he bought a safari hat to join the two leaders in their safari hat squad (boy did they look good). The car ride was filled with Pringle munchers and biscuit crunchers until we finally arrived at the conservancy. At the gates, we stopped for a bathroom break and all took ‘blue steel’ pictures (a pose inspired by the movie, “Zoolander”). Caroline seemed born to make the modeling face, with sharply poised lips and the Tholan brothers seemed to be grinning ear to ear while looking at the camera.
Once at camp the kids found their sleeping arrangements. Since the camp was quite filled the girls had to sleep in tents outside while the boys ended up in their personal huts. Once settled in and fed with lunch, the group headed out on a late afternoon game drive in cold and ominous weather. While the animals seemed to be hiding from the cold and open plains, the guides instead took us to see Baraka, the blind black rhino. The kids all got to feed the black rhino, and took pictures. Dylan interrupted many of the girls attempted photo shots, by stepping in between to take his goofy selfies. Meanwhile, their was a young bush buck that was lurking around the rhino enclosure. Carly somehow got the antelope to eat leaves out of her hand. When Harris tried to channel his own inner Dr. Doolittle, he was simply curved and cursed the animal in lighthearted frustration.
On the drive back to camp, the kids bonded over reality television shows and American restaurant stops. I guess the children were really missing home and I guess the home base that they could find in Africa was over these two topics. Weirdly it made the leaders a bit homesick as well—a weird ethos from an even stranger topic.
When the group all returned to camp they gathered in a circle to play a game of taps with the soccer ball, to get out some energy before sitting down for dinner. While the group was eating while surrounded by the other visitors at the camp, Libby and Chase put their social energy to use. They successfully convinced other people that they only spoke Spanish and in fact, made friends in the process of it. Later this friendship would involve further conversations and learning that the members of this group were part of an elite Cheetah conservation group. The kids learned a lot from these conservationists and Bee was left considering joining their forces in one of the following summers. Sitting at the dinner table, stuffed with meat veggies, and mashed potatoes, Harris was telling murder mysteries ad other various conspiracies, while Maya, Carly, and others chimed in.
The night ended in quite a strange moon-up, where Chase and Sienna birthed the ‘nug jug’ (the soccer ball) in front of the entire group. After this the kids went to bed a little confused and eventually scared when they heard the not-so-distant cackling of the hyenas right outside of the electric fence barriers. The boys were cozy in their huts and did not hear a sound, but the girls were face to face with the elements, with only the thin barrier of their tents to barely muffle the wild sounds from the bush.
After a relaxed breakfast, the kids got a taste of being back in a classroom. They flocked to the conference room to get a presentation on all of the projects that the conservancy is working on. They not only work with animals, but integrate the surrounding communities, providing them with education about agriculture, energy, technology and how to mitigate human and wildlife interaction. Maya and Jack asked eager questions about the conservancy’s impressive rhino conservancy. They have the last two northern white rhinos and are trying to us IVF to keep their species alive.
A lot more knowledgeable about the ground that they were covering at the conservancy, the kids were put into action as we headed to help out a nearby community with farm work. While some kids had some small tummy problems and were using the bathroom, the other kids played a game that goes all the way back to the Neanderthals: “Don’t touch my rock.” The object of the game is to keep a rock on the back of one hand while knocking it off of other peoples’ hands. Harris got a bit cocky after his first win, but then Meredith performed a coup d’etat of Harris the rock king. Maya ended on top, as she startled the runner up into dropping the rock off the back of her hand.
After the rest of the group returned from the bathroom, our guide introduced the task of the day: we were assigned to mix manure and soil and then fill three hundred small bags, with seeds planted in them. Thus these bags could be distributed out in the community so that the members could subsist on their own fruits. Sienna and Chase were oddly ecstatic about a chance to handle manure; they harkened back to their days on the speed boat, as inspiration to move with audacity and speed. The energy was electric and the team was in surprisingly high spirits like a well- oiled machine. Lara was the first one to volunteer to mix the manure and then the kids for in the dirt and poop, to get their hands dirty. Jack was the designated bag transporter, Sienna was the fastest batter, and Harris was the most excited to get the job done! They sang Tyler Childers songs to pass the time and they ended with 300 seed bags completed.
We packed in the safari cruisers to head to our next community project. We arrived at a new community member named Gilbert’s house nearby, who had become fast friends with the two leaders from their last visits. The group at a lunch of packed sandies among Gilbert’s pet dogs ( one with the name “Happy Dog” and the other name unknown) and his pet sheep named Pope, that was nearly indistinguishable from a dog.
After our lunch under Gilbert’s shaded benches, Gilbert showed us his process of building efficient clay stoves for the community members so that they can burn less firewood and also reduce smoke inhalation in the process. The children helped shovel and sift the clay, and then got ready to dance. Taking off their shoes they danced to Gilbert’s shwanky music in order to mix the clay with water. Carly was a bit hesitant, at first hanging out with Pope and regretting her decision to wear her white pants. But, with a jubilant smile, she slipped her shoes off and jumped in the middle of the muddy dance circle. While group members were walking around Gilbert’a property, Pope the goat got a wee bit feisty and started to playfully head butt a few of the kids. Luckily Pope is a young and small sheep so he couldn’t do any damage, but he did dead leg Lara from behind, and trap Harris in a corner, as the adorable fluffy sheep instilled fear in the much bigger moppy-headed Harris. Meredith had to save Harris from the sheep. She had a lot of compassion for Harris as Pope seemed to really have a vendetta for Meredith for reasons we will never know. I guess Meredith just looked the most head-buttable. We watched Gilbert make the stoves from clay and give an impressive demonstration of the stoves’ heat capacities, before saying goodbye and heading back to our campsite.
At camp we had some mid- afternoon down time where Bee and Harris spent time together— Bee was fervently journaling and Harris was delicately sketching in his sketchbook. A lot of the girls were taking much- needed naps. Sienna, Jack, Owen and the Tholan brothers were in a patch of grass juggling a soccer ball. Sienna carried the team with her impressive juggling skills that she was disproportionately modest about. However, Owen shamefully sent the ball sailing towards a cactus tree to meet it’s great demise. Using Bee’s duct tape to (kinda) fix the problem, the group made the best of the heavily deflated ball and kept playing until dinner.
After a scrumptious dinner, Lara and Jack led a Moonup around a giant fire pit. Jack mistook a famous quote of Micheal Jordan, saying “you miss 99% of the shots that you take”, instead of “you miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.” They finished off the toasty and smoky Moonup by nominating Bee for her hard work in the manure, and Harris for his good spirits throughout the day. After playing with rocks, handling poop, and dancing barefoot in mud, our Neanderthals retired to their bush tents and stable rooms.
The group woke up at sunrise to accompany an armed ranger on a walk in the bush with animals! Before heading off for the trek, Caroline, Lara, and Carly had a hilarious photo shoot, capturing action shots of jumping, dodging and sliding, while constantly holding binoculars up to their eyes. A few of the sleepier kids enjoyed coffee and tea. In order to be sufficiently jacked up, Jack put three scoops of instant coffee in a peculiarly small amount of hot water. He shuddered with the bitterness and we shoved off for the walk.
We caught quick glimpses of the tallest mountain in Kenya, Mt. Kenya, before it hid behind consuming cloud cover. It was a bit chilly and windy, so many of the animals were in hiding, but we still managed to see bush bucks, warthogs, and buffalo while enjoying the morning movement. It was freeing to be able to walk out in the open bush and learn how the rangers can easily read the landscape by animal prints and droppings.
Once stepping back onto our campgrounds, the kids gathered for breakfast. Maya sat across from Ravi, the head of the Cheetah foundation, and picked his brain about how his previous occupation as an FBI agent brought him to conservation. Later Ravi would compliment how friendly and inquisitive the whole group has been to him. He said they were the friendliest visitors he has encountered in his trips to Kenya! At the end of breakfast after all the folk music eased the students finally awake, the Tholan brothers danced with Owen to some hip hop. Grisham and Dylan both broke out some groovy footwork, and Owen wondered where they had been hiding these moves all along.
After shaking our bodies and minds out, we headed out for a short game drive where we came face to face with a tower ( this is what a group of giraffes is called) of giraffes and a bunch of zebras. After the animal sightings, we sped off to see the famed rhino sanctuary. Our guide, Zach, led us to their enclosure to clean it out and prepare a mud bath. chase , Lara and Libby hauled the hose to fill the mud bath, and Maya Dylan and the rest grabbed pitchforks to move mounds of hay for the rhinos. After preparing the rhinos’ homes for their return, the group walked to where they were resting in the dusty plains. The kids got to pet and take pictures with the final two northern white rhinos in the world. They weee both humbled, sad, and excited to spend time with the animals. The boys were a bit to eager and went to the wrong side of the animals against advisory and almost rouses the animal from its laxity. They ran away and we heard a high- pitched shriek come from Dylan. The kids waved goodbye to the peaceful chunky rhinos and walked back to their cruisers.
Back at lunch the leaders can honestly not tell you what the kids were up to because they were lucky enough to hide away for a little while and take some restorative naps. The kids hung around and let the leaders take their rest before beginning the afternoon lion tracking activity.
The group was briefed by a member of the predator unit at the conservancy, named Dennis. They learned about how the tracking of lions is conducted and how they keep proper track of the animals to avoid conflict with other endangered animals and also learn more about their habits. Then they set in hot pursuit of the coveted king of the jungle. While hauling after the predator. The kids played cat games and talked about their pets at home. Eventually we pulled into a covered bush to see two lion mamas and seven cubs! The kids gasped and took pictures! After the kids eyes were numb from looking so hard, we made the drive back to camp— once again. Harris somehow kept the group’s attention sharing his knowledge about universal healthcare, taxes, and more! The lack of overstimulation from their phones and the captivating speech and tone of Harris commanded eager curiosity from the kids (again we are very surprised as well).
Back at camp, Jack helped Owen teach the group to play a card game named presidents while the kids staved off the hunger that they felt from a long of activities. Harris revealed that his top played album on SoundCloud was the Muppets album, which had Meredith choking on laughter.
The kids devoured a much needed spread of delicious curry, with perfectly ripe mangoes for dessert. They sat in different groups with different conversations. Carly and Libby were in their tent, reflecting on the bubbles they live in at home, and how seeing the ways of life in Kenya has caused them to see it all in a different way.
Harris and Bee gathered a group for our last Moonup at the conservancy. Harris did an impassioned reading of a Batman quote about vengeance. We are not really sure of the application of this quote on our trip. We hope Harris doesn’t enact vengeance on any of the group members but everyone was keeled over in laughter at his Batman impression, that contained suspicious notes of his Kermit the frog imitation. Bee closed up the Moonup with a question about who your hunger games partner would be. After the meeting was closed, Maya, Sienna, Harris, and Chase watched the stars in a sky that was unencumbered by any light pollution. They could see the Milky Way and much more as their eyes glazed upwards, before deciding to close them for a good nights rest!
This morning, we woke the crew up early to hit the road for Lake Naivasha! Wish us safe travels and an amazing lake day ahead.
Asante sana for reading!
-Owen and Meredith
July 20, 2022
Hello our dear Kenya + Zanzibar friends and families! We have spent the past days adventuring and getting to know one another better and cannot wait to share it all with you! Here’s our daily play-by-play!
JAMBO!! Thank you for tuning in! Today was the day that we met our group at the Nairobi airport. From the first moment that they walked out of baggage claim, the leaders knew that they would be bunches of fun! Our dear Jack was the first to emerge from the doors and waited with the leaders until the rest of the group joined. We tried to scheme ways to convince everyone that he was our third leader — unfortunately to no avail, the kids were cleverer than we thought. One by one, everyone joined our pack while we blasted Post Malone and Dua Lipa (not keeping a super low American profile). Once everyone got off of the plane in Nairobi, we boarded our sick rides (7-seater safari land cruisers) and headed to our lodging for the night! Owen stayed behind to wait for our last straggler, Lara, before she could meet up with the rest of the group. We drove outside of the city center to our Eco Camp, where everyone got settled in their sweet canvas tents. Lara arrived just in time for the group to enjoy a late night dinner. After containers of airplane food, this group was refreshingly treated to a three-course meal, filling their bellies with soup, salad, meat, potatoes, and fruit for dessert. We had a small Moonup (a crescent Moonup…if you will) with our whole group before sending everyone to their tents to try to catch some sleep and shake off some jet lag!
Everyone had KONKED out for their first sleep under the African sky. They slept so hard that it took multiple wake-up shakes for the leaders to roust the girls’ huge dorm tent. Still with half-open eyes, the group met together on the camp’s dining porch for their first daylight experiences of Nairobi’s sights and sounds! Birds rustled in the trees above and some students made acquaintance with a feline friend at our dining table (who Harris later named Terry). We munched on a yummy breakfast of toast, sausage, eggs, and beans while everyone continued to get to know each other apart from the planes, trains, and layovers that it took to get to Nairobi. We played some ice-breaker games around the table and passed out some Moondance gear. Caroline, Bee, Harris, and Lara scored some top-notch gifts for their revered alumnus status.
Once everyone had chowed down, we packed up our cars and headed to the airport once again to head to Zanzibar! Our drivers, James and Wilson, gave everyone lessons on Kenyan culture and useful Swahili phrases on the drive. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we had some croissants and snacks for a light lunch in the airport. Carly, Libby, and others even treated themselves to some kombucha in an effort to support their digestive systems. We boarded the plane and flew over the bush land and across the Tanzanian coast! Dylan and Grisham pointed out to the group a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro peeking above the clouds during the flight. Once we landed on the beautiful island of Zanzibar after a 1.5 hour flight, the group disembarked with cheers. We grabbed our bags and boarded a bus to head to our hotel for our travel to our final destination. The bus ride was unlike any other that the group had ever experienced. Bustling streets, full fruit stands, and sprawling farmlands all swarmed with people. Sienna paired the drive nicely with killer song requests.
We got to our hotel with just enough time to spend the last flicks of daylight both on the beach and exploring the hotel grounds. We had an early dinner at our big dining room table, which felt like a warm welcome to our new home on the island. After everyone got their fill of rice, chicken, pasta, and salad, we stationed ourselves on a small area off of the beach and organized some beach chairs in a circle to fit the whole group. We had a our first full Moonup while looking at stars, and everyone shared what they look forward to most on the trip and reasons why they love to travel. Caroline and Harris were appointed first Leaders of the Day (LODs) before everyone headed to bed to rest up for our first day of scuba!!!
Today began our first activity in Zanzibar: SCUBA!!! We were broken up into three groups to accommodate everyone’s level of certification. Grisham, Lara, Jack, Dylan, and Chase were placed with instructor Asheri to go for their advanced open water certification. Extra-advanced diver Sienna would join them on their boat to go with Meredith and dive master Mcha on a free dive in the Indian Ocean. This group had an early morning to make it to their dive boats during low tide. After getting a briefing at the dive shop and getting fitted for all of their gear, we bussed over to our sendoff port to meet our boat captains. Once on the water, we breathed in the ocean air as clouds started to roll over our dive site—the reefs surrounding Mnemba island. The currents were not our friends during our first two dives, and all of us ended up getting a workout in trying to swim across them. Though we were being carried by the ocean more than swimming in it, we saw our first glimpses of tropical subsurface wildlife. Grisham and Jack worked on their fish identification skills while Lara and Chase practiced their hand on the dive shop’s underwater camera. Dylan got to enjoy a free dive, while Jack tried to capture the sea life on his own underwater camera. Sienna and Meredith had an extra spectacular dive, where they spotted two octopus, eels, and fish galore! During our break, we were treated with fruit, chapati, and mandazi, paired with some spice tea that warmed our bones from the crisp overcast weather. We headed back to the dive shop blowing in showers, and everyone was happy to see rays of sun emerge just as we arrived back! We spent a short second basking before heading back to the hotel.
During all of these happenings, other group of divers had a late wake up this morning because their first course did not start until the afternoon. Libby, Bee, Harris, Caroline, Maya, and Carly all got to catch some extra sleep before Owen woke them up for a lazy brunch. Harris actually ended up sauntering out of his room quite early, talked with Owen for while, and even tried his first crepe — a great morning companion. They talked about art while Owen tried to stave off the bees that seemed to cling to his scent. Harris laughed, but little did he know that he would be their next victim (more on this later). Bee and Libby were the next to make it to the dining porch, where Bee stayed awake and read with Harris. Libby spent some time learning to make friendship bracelets with Owen. The rest of the late crowd might have set a Moondance slumber record sleeping both up to brunch and afterward. Eventually everyone met to munch on breakfast yummies before heading on a walk to the dive center on the beach. Though well intentioned, blinding sunlight reflecting from the white powdery sand made the walk tough on the eyeballs, but it certainly woke everyone up! While waiting for their instructors to come back from their first dives, the group snacked at the dive center and played rounds of cards (Caroline ended up smoking everyone). Once dive masters Asheri and Bacari made it back to the dive shop, they guided the open water group to two pools. Caroline, Libby, and Harris started in the first pool, but overcast weather made it colder than usual. They ended up having to move pools after warming from shivers and having a pep talk, going to join Maya, Bee, and Carly on the sunnier side. They all persevered through the hardest of the diving days and finished all of their pool skill requirements in one afternoon! Woop woop!
Back at the hotel, the first diving crew was greeted with a huge lunch spread to rejuvenate for the rest of the day. We stared at the ocean while reflecting on our dives, all chowing down on homemade pizza, salad, potatoes, and chicken. The group ended up scattering around camp after lunch, with many ending up back in their rooms to snag some more Z’s that they missed out on in the morning. Grisham, Dylan, and Jack spent some time swinging in hammocks, all while Sienna, Chase, And Lara snuggled down in their beds after showering off their salt-caked skin. They woke up a little disoriented when the pool divers arrived back at camp a little bit before dinner. With everyone back together for the first time all day (WOOHOO!), we cheered to a day well spent while Swahili pop jammed in the background. A full red moon rose over the ocean just as we sat down for dinner, reflecting on the water and sending rays our way. Caroline and Harris then led the group to Moonup, where Harris posed interesting and controversial hypothetical questions allowing us to learn a whole lot more about each other!
Our second day of diving started out absolutely ~swimmingly~. Jack woke up at sunrise and went for a long beach run and an ocean swim. Once the rest of the group was woken up by Owen and Meredith (which took quite a few knocks), everyone jumped into their swimsuits and headed to breakfast. While everyone ate in peace, Harris spent the morning mysteriously swarmed by bees. We still don’t know why they loved him so much. With full bellies, we headed to the dive shop for a day in the ocean! The advanced divers and open water divers got to join boats today, and hopped aboard the ‘Caroline’ towards Mnemba island! Meanwhile, Sienna and Meredith climbed aboard a speedboat called the ‘Alice’ and headed off for a free dive with dive master Eva. They were joined in a group with a British man named Jack who just LOVED to scuba. This dive was the best one yet! They got the chance to swim with dolphins off of the speedboat and floated alongside a sea turtle along the reef. The dive shop told us afterward that it was the only turtle they had seen all summer! WOW. They basked in the sunshine while onboard lil speedy and chomped on boat snacks while learning more about Zanzibar culture.
Tired after a long day of dives, we all joined back together and headed home for a scrumptious lunch at the hotel. At breakfast we met our tour guide Brian who would accompany us to our next activity: a visit to Zanzibar’s largest city, Stone Town! During the drive, Owen blasted folk jams from the speaker and opened the que to song requests from the crowd. We made friendship bracelets and looked at all of the sights along the road.
Once we arrived, we were brought to the old stone fort built by Portuguese colonizers that gave the city its name and shopped around stands that lined the city center. Dylan scored a nice hat that says ‘Hakuna Matata’ in big letters. Harris worked on his bartering skills and bargained for a dope shirt that he changed into immediately. Dylan and Grish wandered to find a sick spot that ended up being an art studio. Bee found a cute store that had awesome patchwork pants. After everyone got a souvenir or two, we moved on to an ice cream store where everyone was treated with scoops of gelato. We then spent time walking down alleyways and seeing old doors made by the Arabian We passed by Freddy Mercury’s childhood home, and Libby and chase shocked everyone when they didn’t know who he was— Bee let out an audible gasp. A crazy stampede of mopeds and bikes were dodged on the small streets. Caroline, Lara, and others were startled by a man who pretended to have a cat inside of a bag, but he ended up being somewhat of a ventriloquist performer who mimed meows.
We ended the night on a beautiful rooftop of a nearby hotel, where we were treated with pizza, samosas and calamari— per Harris’s request. Some of the girls met a nice woman on the rooftop who offered to give them henna tattoos. Well she seemed nice at first. Carly ended up getting slightly ripped off for her elephant print, which made the other girls a little more wary. Chase spent this time taking to the dance floor, and brought Owen along to teach him some swing dancing moves. The live music played some classic American tunes — which may or may not have been targeted at our boisterous crowd. Meredith took to the dance floor with the girls as they started a spinning dance circle while the rest of the restaurant looked on. Harris pointed out a cat that was parkouring all over the rooftops, and Jack explained to the group the sport of foiling and his many aquatic escapades.
As the sky got darker and darker, we decided to rally the crowd towards the bus home. We had an extra sleepy drive back to hotel, where everyone napped as we listened to calming music (a la Owen). We had a light dinner upon arrival and energy quickly faded among the crowd. Given our extra late night and our upcoming early morning, LOD’s Maya and Dylan decided to postpone their Moonup until the following night so that everyone could get as much sleep as possible before our next day of diving!!!
On this second day of scuba diving in the ocean water, the group had to awake early at sunrise because of the timing of the tides and currents. The sleepy heads staggered to breakfast. Sienna, Libby, and Chase told Owen that his gentle wake ups simply would not work with them in the future. To his shock they wanted him to be stern and yell at them to wake up. That certainly wouldn’t be the way either of the leaders would want to wake up, but to each their own. Bee made sure to clarify that she wanted as gentle a wake up as possible. At breakfast some kids just made some toast and jam, while others, like Bee, made the infamous crepe filled with sliced bananas, peanut butter, and honey. After the peanut butter connoisseurs scooped up the majority of our pb jar, slathering it on their plates like barbarians, we headed to the dive center with tired eyes .
Since it was the last day for the advanced divers to get their certification, Sienna joined Owen (already having his advanced certification) to do a deep dive on a boat separate from the others. They accompanied a Belgium family whom they became very close to and only lightly made fun of Owen and Sienna’s stereotypical American tendencies. Before the dive Sienna taught Owen the turtle handshake from Finding Nemo: fins, noggin, duuuuude. They would repeat this handshake numerous times underwater, trying to avoid a concussion on the noggin part. They also created their own turtle handshake that took a bit more coordination, skill and creativity. Underwater their dive instructor, Imana, took off Sienna’s ring and used it to propose to Sienna while Owen officiated the proceedings. During the intermission period between dives, the newly engaged Sienna shared boat snacks and spice tea with the other members on the boat. Luckily enough, a few dolphins passed by the boat and Sienna and Owen laid back bathing in the sun and watching them undulate in and out of the clear water.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew boarded the ‘Caroline’ again for another day on the ocean blue!!! The sun shone bright in the sky today Lara and Chase were tasked with fish identification during their dive and Grisham and Dylan were put on photography duty. Under the water Bacari’s group saw a spotted eagle ray, and Maya excitedly told the group when she reached the surface! During our break to rest in between dives, Harris, Dylan, and Grisham took some pictures hanging off of the bow’s sign. Chase and Libby started a group photo shoot, all while Lara and Caroline practiced their backflips off of the front of the boat. Caroline was knighted the master of the snorkel. We were treated with spiced tea and a platter full of boat snacks from the boat crew. Bee worked on her photography skills above the waterline, while Jack tried to master his hand at capturing wildlife below it. The open water crew jumped back in the water to finish their last sets of skills before they were officially certified divers! They practiced on the ocean floor, while Bacari and Asheri guided them to refilling their masks, taking out regulators, and helping out friends underwater. Libby even had real world diving practice when she had to hook on the Asheri’s extra regulator and took around with him for the rest of the dive. We then got to explore around the reef which was full of all kinds of fish: frog fish, scorpion fish, trigger fish, parrot fish, lionfish, and many, many more. During the boat ride home, we spotted a dolphin that swam just in front of our bow! Most everyone in our boat wanted to jump in to swim with it, but Asheri scared the group back when he mistook it for a lone shark. We boated back to the hotel while soaking up some rays and headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved lunch break.
The kids were pooped after a long and sunny day. Many chose to use the time we had in the afternoon to take a nap. Carly, Libby, and some others crashed in Meredith’s room, sharing her queen bed to catch some z’s. They used her shower and shower products to pamper themselves before hopping in her bed. Meanwhile, Harris worked through his preparation for his upcoming AP studio class, sketching and thinking through ideas for his concentration (ask him about his current idea for his concentration— it’s quite brilliant).
After some rest, the kids fueled up on an early dinner and got dressed up to attend a music festival on the other side of island that Jack had been a strong advocate for. The leaders decided it was a fun idea to use the “extra mile” funds to surprise the children with some live music. On the way to the beach festival, the speaker died in Meredith’s car, and the kids took the opportunity to warm up their vocal chords and sing acapella at an impressive volume. If the beach venue had let them, I’m sure they would have hopped up on stage
On the way into the beach concert, the kids grabbed the complimentary glow sticks and were swinging them around pretending they were light sabers. Some epic battles were had, but eventually the turmoil of battle had to subside so the kids could listen to the music and dance— a wonderful post-battle celebration. The kids danced to the first singer from East Africa, who was playing a mixture of Coldplay covers, a cover of Stolen Dance and some of his original songs. Chase continued to coach Owen how to swing dance, and their dance has vastly improved. Grisham and Dylan were so engrossed in the music that they flocked to the front of the crowd for the next set. A group of local dancers were doing all types of acrobatics and impressive dance moves, that continued to inspire the kids to bust it down on the dance floor.
Filled up on popcorn, waters, and tired from dancing in the sand, we returned home at a reasonable hour, careful not to stay for the late-night music sets. At home Dylan and Maya led a wonderful Moonup for some sleepy participants. Dylan shared a hilarious “nug jug” story that incorporated Hayes Hitchens speaking and guiding him from the full moon above.
The sun rose at a dark red, peaking just below the cloud cover over the ocean horizon. The kids woke up after a night on the town, ready to attack the last day of scuba diving. Well that’s not entirely true. The reality was that they slowly moseyed on over to breakfast, after a few wake-up reminders from Owen and Meredith. At breakfast Harris appeared to be quite on edge. Wincing with the slightest presence of any bug; we concluded that Harris had a slightly humorous case of anxiety from the bees the other morning. After Harris thankfully avoided another bee attack, we hopped in the official scuba van and trundled over to our instructor’s beckon call.
We boarded our beloved boat for our last day on the water, and everyone slid into their wetsuits excited for the dives ahead. Once under the water, the water proved tougher than expected. We spent a majority of the dive fighting a strong current with low visibility — which was a great lesson for newly certified divers on dealing with various ocean conditions. Everyone ascended from the water out of breath and slightly marred from teeny jellyfish floating in the waves. After a good and well-deserved break full of boat snacks and laughs, a majority of our group decided to sit out for the next dive and trade it for some time in the sunshine. Maya, Jack, Dylan, and Meredith all rallied to complete their last dive in the Indian Ocean. Along the reef, they saw an octopus hiding in a little hole and a spotted ray that glided under rocks. They ended the dive finding a rare honeycomb eel, and Meredith almost had to pull Jack away when he came close to accidentally floating into it. The rest of the group spent time chilling on the boat with the other dive instructor Bacari whom they nicknamed “Grandpa.” He was weirdly flattered when they guessed his age to be twenty years older than it actually was, and the nickname stuck with him. A full-on photo shoot ensued on Caroline’s camera and Libby captured some gold on her go pro.
Apart from the first boat, a few members of the group had to split up onto a separate speed boat since the group could not all fit on one boat. They were all given special nicknames: Sienna (Lil Stinger), Chase (ChiChi), Grisham (Grishahhhhhh), and Owen headed off on the inflatable speed boat. While they were at first a little bummed to be separate from the group, it quickly morphed into ecstatic joy as we buzzed along in the speed boat, holding up Ls to the other boat as we passed them by. The day turned into a cacophony of speed boat mantras! “Who needs friends when you got speed!“ “Who needs a nice spacious and comfortable boat, when you have the need for speed!” “The speed boat has really changed me!” Once diving, Chase was jokingly screeching underwater, Sienna was blowing O’s from the bottom to the surface, and Grisham was an incredibly graceful diver navigating the waters like an expert.
During the dive break all four members ate snacks and then Chase and Sienna made Owen take a photo shoot of them in the water. They said they were training him to impress his girlfriend. Our dive instructor was laughing at them flopping around in the ocean for a good picture. The second dive was quite bittersweet since it was the last one. The group was in awe at the views of the open sea and huge vast corral bodies. However peaceful, our blissful dive, unfortunately, ended in a frantic jellyfish appearance. Who knew we would see that many jellies?” It sure was a view to remember. Before heading back to lunch at the hotel, all of the kids said a sad goodbye to their dive masters. One dive master gave Bee photos that he took as a going away present. Chase and Meredith also snagged some loving pictures with our dive masters before waving goodbye and boarding our vans home.
After lunchtime Owen found Dylan reading on his beachside porch, with Harris by his side still working on his art portfolio. The kids all piled into a shuttle to visit a local Zanzibarian spice farm. They got the opportunity to see spice plants, smell them and taste them. Dylan was guessing which spices were which with incredible accuracy. He guessed both the cardamom plant and cloves while the other members were completely stumped. Afterwards, the kids were crowned with coconut leaf hats, and given the titles ‘spice king’ and ‘spice queen’. They showed us a local fruit that could be applied as lipstick. It was the same fruit that Rafiki used to bless Simba in the “Lion King”. Our guide blessed Carly with the mark, and the rest of the kids joined in! After a performance by “Butterfly”— the coconut tree climber— the students all tried coconuts and then headed to the spice shop. They went home with fresh spices, but not before Libby started an impromptu dance circle, singing with the locals that were hanging around those parts. The kids were cheery and sang along to Meredith’s music the whole way home.
At Moonup Bee asked the group about one thing they were proud of themselves for during the day and Grisham shared a poetic story about the nug jug, continuing the nug jug story legacy of the Tholan brothers.
The kids woke up for sunrise on our final morning in Zanzibar. Even though we had a late breakfast, they wanted to wake up to savor the last moments in our island paradise. After the group hung out by the beach for a little while, Jack took off for a run down the beach and Maya went with Meredith on a peaceful walk. The rest of the group went back to sleep! While waking up the rest of the kids for a second time, Owen decided to use a new tactic to wake up Sienna, Chase, and Libby. As requested, Owen burst into the room and yelled at them to be at breakfast. They were surprisingly very cheerful and responsive when woke up in this way and the leaders will probably continue to use this method. The whole group sat down for an extended breakfast, since they had the whole morning to kill before their flight and talked for over an hour. Then the kids returned to their rooms to pack and rest before our day of travel.
The squad ate lunch and said goodbye to their cat friend, that Bee justly named Craig. After a beautiful car ride through Zanzibar’s capital city, Stonetown, the kids got through security to fly on back to Nairobi for the next leg of their journey. However, the stop at the connecting airport in Mombasa was not a smooth experience. After passing through three security checkpoints, Libby’s bag was searched for about 15 minutes as they suspected she had a ‘pen-knife.’ They didn’t find a ‘pen-knife’ nor did we ever find out what a ‘pen-knife’ is, but they certainly proved Libby’s patience.
Our last flight landed us safely at our eco lodging in Nairobi! We had a delicious dinner featuring the ‘Best Soup Meredith and Owen Have Ever Had.’ Chase and Sienna were imitating cartoon characters like the grinch, and shared their infectious goofiness with the rest of the group— only weirding out a few of them. Afterward, Carly and Libby led our funniest moon-up yet. We found the nug-jug floating in the pool. Chase reached down to retrieve the cup that was supposed to symbolize the nug jug, horribly frightened that the LODs would push her into the pool. After the nug jug reveal, everyone gathered around a roaring bonfire. The kids broke into an impromptu ‘stanky leg contest’— which is a silly dance move for those of you that don’t know— and the whole group hooted and hollered. Once we were told to quiet down by the staff on duty, the Moonup divulged into a more serious conversation about some of their greatest regrets in life. Many members of the group stayed afterward to cuddle up by the warmth of the fire, discussing recurring dreams and dancing under the moon;)
We are already having such a blast and cannot wait to see what’s to come!
Until next time,
Meredith and Owen
July 13, 2022
Hello Kenya + Zanzibar Families!
We heard from our leaders late last night that the group has landed safely in Kenya. The trip is off to a great start as they begin their travel to Zanzibar and we cannot wait to hear more stories from their adventure.
Please remember our leaders and students will be unplugged during their trips but we will be posting up to three trip updates throughout the next couple of weeks! This will allow you to follow along with the trip and the students will also give a special shout out mid-way through! You can also follow us on Instagram, @moondanceadventures, to see more of what we are up to this summer!