July 8, 2022
Hey Kilimanjaro 2 friends and families, m
It has been a whirlwind of fun here in Africa and we cannot wait to tell you all about it!
We felt pampered waking up showered and in fresh clothes in Arusha! While we ate breakfast, the safari vehicles rolled in. We excitedly loaded into the trucks, ready to start the safari section of our trip. The six boys piled into one truck and literally shook it with all their energy. Lilly and Aggie enjoyed the music on our drive, while Caroline and Kate cracked jokes. Brooke and Colbie used the long drive wisely, catching up on much needed sleep after summit day. We made a lunch stop along the way, where we played “signs.” Colbie and Cooper excelled at the game, and we enjoyed lots of giggles while playing. Davis and Riley took advantage of this time to play catch, and Carter explored the area. Along the way, we stopped to take in the beautiful views from above the Ngorongoro crater. At the gate of the conservation area, baboons ran around our trucks, some with babies hanging onto their backs. Erd spotted the first giraffe, exclaiming “Oh my gosh a real life giraffe! I thought it was a statue.” Wildlife sightings began to rush in, and the students were buzzing by the time we arrived at camp. We played a new card game, in between our classic games of chess and red king, before a delicious dinner. Everyone was quick to fall asleep, despite the zebras wandering right outside our tents!
On our first full Safari Day, we headed down into the Ngorongoro crater. We split into three trucks and began our decent down the mountains. Within minutes, we saw giraffes, zebras, and wildebeests! Our trucks rumbled around the massive crater, searching for wildlife. The tops popped up so we could stand up and peer out the top, getting a spectacular view. In Suzanne’s truck was Erd, Lilly, Caroline and Solomon. As we searched for animals, the girls attempted to educate Solomon about Taylor Swift. Standing up in the truck, we sang along to songs in between stops at wildlife. Colbie used her camera to snap amazing photos of the wildlife, while Aggie and Davis hung out of the back of their truck for the best views. Once through the crater, we drove to Serengeti National Park. Along the way, Lilly taught our truck how to play contact and Caroline kept us laughing throughout the game. In another truck, Carter, Kate and Riley initiated a sing-along that lasted the entire 1-hour bumpy drive down the unpaved road.
Once we made it to the Serengeti gate, we hiked up to some rocks on a hill for a view of the vast plains that we would spend the next few days exploring.
Today we woke up early to have a quick breakfast and start our game drive as the sun rose. Immediately, we saw the countless zebras that we could hear throughout the night. It didn’t take much driving before we were observing baboons climbing rocks and trees while elephants grazed on the greenery below. Within the first two hours of the morning drive, we had seen three of the different types of antelope located in the Serengeti, wildebeests, and cheetahs. Next, we started following a water source and eventually found ourselves in the presence of 7 elephants of various ages. We turned off the engines and all peered our heads out of the tops of the vehicles and silently watched the massive animals feed. Intrigued by our presence and scent, the largest of the pride faced us directly and moved in for a closer look as it got within 10 feet of our vehicles.
As the temperature rose, we headed back to camp for a lunch break and some downtime before a second game drive in the late afternoon. After we got our fill of our standard card games and chess, Kate and Davis suggested that we celebrate the Fourth of July with a patriotic game of baseball. Without a true bat and ball, we decided to use our Nalgene bottles as bats and the hacky sack as our baseball. Aggie’s and Riley’s competitive sides came out and it was determined that the game would be girls vs. boys. Unsurprisingly, Erd was a natural and started off the inning with a strong double and Lily’s base running led to the girls taking an early lead. Naturally, when the boys got the chance to bat, they swung for the fences…unfortunately it was the Nalgene bottles that went flying instead of the ball. Thankfully the guys’ pride was saved by the call to load back up for the sunset drive.
As the sun began to set, we noticed the animals were much more active. We saw giraffes gallop between trees and hippos come alive in their ponds. Colbie and Cooper made the most of the lighting and snapped photos of giraffes wandering into the sunset. One particular scene caught our attention as we watched dozens of wildebeests and zebras mingle with large horned impala. Completing the view was a tree full of around 20 small monkeys. Suddenly all the animals snapped to attention, and we looked over our shoulders to see a lone hyena crossing the road. As the sun turned red and dipped towards the horizon, we started back towards camp. Just as the last bit of light remain, one of our guides spotted something in a tree some one hundred yards away. All three vehicles raced to the tree to find two large lionesses perched high in the branches. They didn’t seem to mind our presence and let us watch them as they rested up for a night of hunting.
Back at camp our chefs surprised us with a massive platter of macaroni and cheese, as well as steak, salad, and homemade bread. We all left the table full and tired. To conclude our nightly Moonup, Solomon and Van insisted that we sing the national anthem, and led us in an unforgettable rendition. As our last night in the Serengeti wound down, we piled in one tent and took turns telling ghost stories.
On our travel day from the Serengeti to Karatu, we refused to let a day go to waste. In our safari trucks, we enjoyed conversation and laughs with each other. We stopped at the border of the Serengeti to shop for souvenirs. Van bought a very spiffy shirt with the big five on it. Kate spotted an African sunset shirt. We indulged on candies and sodas. We are easy to please! At our camp, the boys were ecstatic to discover a foosball table. Davis, Riley, Van and Cooper got into the zone and burned over an hour playing competitive games. Lilly, Brooke, Colbie and Kate lounged in the sun, reading their books and relaxing. Chiti, our incredible cook, treated us to one last delicious dinner. His homemade bread is unforgettable! We piled into a tent for moonup because we love cuddle puddles, and closed out our day. We took turns telling stories, feet piled in the middle of the tent and backs on the ground. Unwilling to go to sleep, we decided to play more games. Solomon taught Aggie, Davis, Reece, Van and Suzanne a new version of mafia. Cooper challenged Carter to chess. Riley taught the rest of the group some boxing techniques. When it came time for bed, we shouted good nights to each other through our canvas tents.
This day was extra special! We woke up buzzing and excited, because we get to celebrate someone we all love! Today was Van’s 18th birthday! Everyone jumped to give him a big hug and celebrate him. On this travel day, we stopped for lunch to shop and send a silent thank you to Chiti for filling our lunchboxes with our favorite foods! We finally pulled into our hotel in Arusha, which now feels like home. Once we all showered and dove into our clean clothes, Reece and Suzanne revealed the surprise for Van’s birthday! Dinner at a local pizza restaurant! Everyone got a pair of happy birthday glasses, and dressed up in the theme “African Sunset.” We all spotted the shirts, jewelry, and accessories we have bought throughout the trip. Kate surprised Van with a birthday present, which was a collared shirt to fit his style. The shirt matched his other birthday surprise from Suzanne: a birthday princess tiara! Our bus to dinner had party lights, so we dubbed it a party bus. We jammed to our favorite songs, chosen by Van, all the way to dinner. Everyone devoured their own pizza and enjoyed the taste of home. On the drive back to the hotel, we danced along to “Big Bootie Mix,” Van’s favorite. He was so excited to share it with the rest of the group and loved seeing everyone enjoy it. At the hotel, we surprised Van with a chocolate cake. The hotel manager made sure it was a special celebration, playing fun music while we ate and chatted. Happy birthday Van!!
Today was our bonus day in Arusha, and it turned out to be so much fun. We started with a visit to the Tanzanian Museum of Arusha. Israel, our tour guide, taught us about the discovery of humans in Africa. We got to learn about the local animals, plants, and history. Once we had the history down, he took us to the museum’s taxidermy room. He explained the process, and the kids thought it was wild. Around the corner, we were surprised by a massive eagle. Can, Davis and Aggie got to feed the eagle raw meat. The next part was very exciting for Kate: live tortoises! We got to pick them up, feed them, and count the grooves of their shells to guess their age. But, it got better! We got to hold 7-month-old tortoises. The best part was when one pooped on Aggie’s hand.
The day had just begun. We went to the cultural heritage museum next and wandered around the beautiful art galleries. We treated ourselves to coffee and pastries at the bakery, yum! Our lunch made the day even better. We had a fancy meal at a long table in a beautiful garden. While we enjoyed our food, we debated what animal each person would be.
Our next stop: a snake park! The snakes at this exhibit were so crazy to see. We got a lesson on each one, before moving on to other animals like Crocodiles. Last, we got to hold snakes! Brooke appeared quickly to hold the big one, and then carried around the little guy happily. Davis was the snake whisperer, helping everyone hold them. The last animal we saw was shocking: camels! Solomon, Van and Cooper absolutely loved seeing the camel wander around. A surprise ice cream stop ensued, where everyone excitedly ordered sundaes. Our last LODs, Kate and Davis, planned an incredible final moonup. They busted into the room with music and glow sticks, starting an impromptu dance party. Once we were tired from dancing, we settled in for final moonup. Davis read a wonderful letter to the group, and Kate explained our “affirmation circle.” Then, every student took turns receiving affirmations and personal words of kindness from everyone else in the group. It was beautiful to hear the students share their friendships, experiences, and bonds with each other. It was a euphoric experience watching every student receive love and praise from their peers. It has been a remarkable trip, and all thanks to each student. The way they have carried themselves, opened up, explored, laughed, challenged themselves, and bonded is beyond words. We are so lucky to have met each student and are heartbroken to say goodbye.
Thank you for sharing your children with us, and we wish we could keep them for longer.
Much love and pride,
Reece and Suzanne
July 2, 2022
The night before we started the climb we were filled with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude from our time at the Mungere School, but we also started to acknowledge some nerves and anticipation surrounding our ascent of Kilimanjaro. We feasted on rice, curry, salad, potatoes, chicken and fish before Erd and Solomon led us in Moonup. During Moonup, Van spontaneously delivered a motivational speech that left each of us with all of the confidence we needed to tackle the mountain.
After a full 9 hours of sleep, we loaded our bags on the bus and set out on a two hour drive to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. To keep the spirits boosted, we spent the drive blasting music and singing along to our favorite songs. We stopped for “mountain fuel”, which is easily and quickly digestible soft foods like candy bars and protein bars. As an added bonus, some of the students decided to take a risk on Tanzanian drinks including nut juice and a chocolatey drink. Although clouds covered Mt. Kilimanjaro, our guides assured us it was in the distance, and the climb didn’t feel like it was truly upon us until we drove through the Machame Gates. Everyone had the opportunity to meet their porter, who kindly carries their duffel and sets up our tents; our new favorite people! We loaded up on lunch, surrounded by other people from all over the world also about to attempt the climb. Our exceptional guides Simba and Goodluck took us through the trail gates and our summit officially began. Monkeys ran beside us as we stepped slowly, or “pole pole”. Covered by the jungle canopy and cooled by the damp air, we trekked for 7 miles one step at a time. We entertained ourselves with word association games, 20 questions, and old fashioned trail talk. Before long, the dense vegetation began to diminish and we realized we were hiking into the clouds. We peered through the mossy trees in hopes of glimpsing the mountain peak, but it still hid from us behind clouds. Thanks to an impressive pace, we arrived to camp in just 4.5 hours. Our individual porters greeted us warmly and showed us to our duffel. We got settled in our tents and filed into the dining tent for hot tea, hot chocolate and popcorn. Tired from the combination of traveling and climbing, the delicious meal went down quickly and easily. Everyone clambered into their tents and soon after fell into a well deserved slumber.
Waking up on Mt. Kilimanjaro felt surreal. Our porters woke us up and served coffee, tea, or hot chocolate right in our tents! Belly’s warm and spirits high, we threw on layers and emerged from our tents. The clouds still hid any hint of a view from us, but we knew we would face her eventually. Full from a breakfast of omelette, porridge, toast and fruit, we started up the day 2 trail. The hike was only 3.5 miles, but a steep and rocky terrain kept our pace slow which was perfect for acclimating! Brooke, Colbie, and Suzanne led the charge while Carter, Solomon, and Riley played 20 questions behind them. We reached the top of a rock wall, the trees replaced by bushes, and marveled at the clouds below us. Davis, Reece, Suzanne, Aggie and Erd munched on cashews and protein bars, enjoying the cloudy view, when gasps erupted behind them. Kate and Riley began pointing up at a break in the clouds: our first peek at Mt. Kilimanjaro’s higher slopes. The peak revealed snow covered and jagged rocks, which with the little bit of sunshine looked beautiful. This got our blood pumping, and we scrambled to camp for lunch. There are few things that can cure the soreness of exhaustion of a high altitude climb. One of those things we discovered, a wonderful surprise, is a BURGER! All chatter ceased as we happily munched on what felt to be a delicacy. The guides whispered their compliments and praise about the group to Reece and Suzanne (call us proud parents). We all settled into the dining tent to play uno and cards, with Lilly and Carter entranced by their chess game in the corner. Spirits soared, energy was high, and confidence had never been higher than on day 2. Just when we thought our day was over, something amazing erupted. Some of the porters were telling Suzanne about a popular song in Tanzania called “Suzanna”, which thanks to the Mungere students she had downloaded! With the speaker cranked all the way up, a dance party to the song (twice in a row) erupted! It didn’t stop there. Carter threw out some of his signature moves. Lilly boogied in her groovy way. Davis pulled out all the classic moves like the jerk. Reece did a dramatic stanky leg. There were grins on every face. The music continued as we played hackey sack, and everything felt right. Suddenly the clouds parted, blue skies shining through the break. We finally got a good look at the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and it felt awesome. Later, in the middle of dinner, Colbie spotted pink skies. Everyone clambered out of the dinner ten, ignoring desert, and marveled at the beautiful sunset. They danced, they sung, and they posed for photos while soaking in the beautiful skies. Then everyone scrambled back to the dinner tent for hot tea and hot chocolate, ready to start Moonup. Each student shared three things they love about themselves, which felt extremely powerful. After an overflowing nug jug, the LODs for day three were named. Day three is an acclimation day, which entails gaining 3,000 feet in altitude over five miles, then losing most of that altitude in order to get to camp. Therefore, the group needs two positive, confident, and consistent people to lead them through altitude sickness and a long day: Brooke and Davis!
Climb day 3
We woke up on day 3 bundled up and had a delicious breakfast. In anticipation for our big day, we fueled up plenty! We had a dance party before tossing on our packs and beginning our 3000 ft ascent for lunch. Davis, Cooper, and Caroline played “star” while hiking to pass the time. Halfway to our lunch spot, our trail merged with another trail which is a 10 day route. It was energizing to encounter other groups, and we chatted with them as they passed. People from all over the world filled the trails to base camp, we quickly discovered! On this challenging day, we hike fast and laughed lots. With this group, it was hardly challenging. Everyone gathered the last dregs of their energy while looking up at Lava Rock, our lunch spot. We were rewarded for our huge altitude gain with PIZZA! We all agreed that pizza at 15,000 feet tastes best. We continued in after lunch, back down to 13,000 feet in altitude. The students exchanged thoughts and ideas during the fast paced down trek. Davis, Aggie and Solomon discussed psychology while Riley, Carter and Cooper quizzed each other on varying facts. The campsite was one to marvel over. Above us, Mt. Kilimanjaro stretched high into the sky while below us a valley disappeared below the blanket of clouds. The bathroom tents looked out over a cliff, and Kate yelled from one that it was the best bathroom view she’s ever had. Brooke played rounds and rounds of “red king”, Carter taught Van and Cooper chess, and Riley played the card game “James Bond” with Suzanne. Solomon, Colbie, Caroline, Carter, Aggie and Riley ventured out to the rocks to star gaze. Back at camp we heard whoops and cheers from them as a massive shooting star whizzed by, being Caroline’s first sighting.
Day 4 started with coffee and tea in bed, followed by brushing our teeth while staring up at the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We listened to our favorite morning tunes while eating eggs, sausage, and porridge for breakfast. With “Lip Gloss” blasting, Lilly, Aggie, Kate, and Caroline danced and hopped around camp. Our task: climb up and over the towering Baranco Wall. This wall is a steep 800ft climb that requires scrambling. We accomplished the feat in just an hour and a half, entertained by the porters passing us with our heavy duffels on their heads. Davis and Suzanne sang all of “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the climb up and received applause from other groups taking breaks. At the top of the plateau, Riley and Carter hopped around and played “the floor is lava”. We made our way down the big wall, as the sun broke over the mountain and warmed us. This was the first day we were consistently above the blanket of clouds. From here until day 7, the clouds became our accepted “ground”. At camp, Van took advantage of our rocky campsite to sunbathe on what he said was “the perfect rock”.
On our fifth day of trekking, we realized we began our summit bid that night, in “one more sleep”. The mountain hid behind a thick blanket of clouds, and we began our gradual assent to base camp in said clouds. The frosty mist had no impact on the group energy, although the visual effect was eerie. No one could see more than 50 feet in any direction, and groups ahead of us appeared from nowhere. The clouds and gradual hill hid our ascent, and during the break the group made a very important decision. This decision, was to open the Golden Nug! This is a surprise wrapped up in lots of golden duct tape. LODs Cooper and Caroline pulled the Nug out of their packs and ripped it open to find sour patch kids! Fueled by the sweet and sour surprise, we arrived at lower Barafu camp. We needed to pass through this camp in order to reach upper Barafu camp, base camp, which was 800 feet of elevation higher at 16,000 feet. This last elevation push was nothing short of thrilling. People bustled around the camp, preparing for climbs or returning from their summit bids. The clouds which had been sitting on us all day slowly parted as we finished our ascent, and the Mountain looked so very close. We made it to camp and the porters greeted us with their unwavering joy and energy. After lunch, we prepared our gear for the climb and received a briefing from our head guide, Simba. A few hours later, we ate a shockingly early dinner at 5:00 in order to get to bed quickly. Our wake up call would be at 2:00AM. Going to bed with the sun still up and all our layers ready, the anticipation made most of us stir in our sleeping bags. We shouted “see you later tonight” and drifted off to sleep.
Day 6: SUMMIT DAY
The day has finally come! We awoke beneath the stars at 2:00AM, and quietly pulled on our layers and thick parkas. Bundled from head to toe, we jammed to pump up music while eating porridge and toast. Headlamps on full blast, we began our slow ascent. We could see nothing above us to indicate the existence of the Mountain, except the 3 trails of headlamps in the distance from other groups. One step at a time, we made our way up at a humbling one mile an hour pace. The tricky thing about moving up in altitude from 16,000 feet is altitude sickness. Altitude sickness (which includes headaches, dizziness, nausea, etc.) hits everyone differently, like an allergy. It does not matter how physically fit you are or what you had for breakfast, it is simply a roll of the dice. Therefore, we split into two groups in order to give some of our group a chance to recover from the effects of altitude. One group went ahead with Suzanne, and another followed close behind with Reece.
Our guides informed us that we could not wait for the other group and risk unnecessary exposure to cold and altitude, so Suzanne, Van, Brooke, Solomon, Riley, Cooper, Carter, Erd, Kate, Caroline, and Aggie trudged ahead. For the first two hours of our 8 hour climb, we talked quietly and slowly through our panting breaths. Every hour, therefore every mile, we took a break to make a rock our restroom, hydrate, and eat a protein bar. Our voices lowered as the oxygen thinned, but the students positive attitudes remained. We followed our guide James slowly and faithfully in the pitch dark. At around 5:30 AM, light began to creep past the broad horizon behind us. It was hard to focus on our mountaineering steps and the path ahead as a deep orange band of light stretched across the sky. The next hour went by relatively fast as the sky transformed and the mountain above us was illuminated. Brooke and Solomon led the way, as Carter’s energy defied the altitude and drove everyone forward. Conversations and jokes flowed, and the students never let the altitude quiet them down. With the sun up, we decided 8AM was a perfect time to break out the music. The only rule was, no dancing or singing in order to save energy. This was a tough rule to enforce! 2000’s throwbacks bumped, and someone joked “is this the town of Footloose?” Cooper, Riley, Van and Kate quite literally couldn’t not dance. Caroline was a consistent and unbreakable machine up the mountain. We marveled at Carter’s vibrant energy and power. As we approached Stella Point, an important landmark in our climb, we began to pass groups who were descending after both successful and unsuccessful bids. Riley quite literally interacted with every group, and confused them with how chipper he was at 18,000 feet. When we finally reached Stella Point, at 18,800 feet, we exhaled a breath we didn’t realize we were holding. Looking around, we knew we were going to make it. The last push became a celebration. Suzanne gave in to the dancing and stopped holding back Van and Kate’s dancing bugs. We exploded with energy. Everyone descending was our friend, every dance move was funny, everyone was a good singer. We saw the sign, indicating the peak and our goal for the past week, and everyone collapsed into a group hug. I am beyond proud of each of these students. They pushed themselves harder than they ever have, and did it with contagious spirit, joy, and positivity. We celebrated at the top with each other, our guides, and strangers. Riley, Carter, and Van played a round of hackey sack at the top. Aggie, Kate, Erd and Caroline marveled at the view. We did it!
The self proclaimed “vibe tribe,” made up by Davis, Lily, and Colbie decided to take a slightly slower pace to combat some minor symptoms of altitude sickness and increase our likelihood of reaching the summit. Three guides—Simba, Duma, and Eric—and two porters joined Reece to complete the vibe tribe and facilitate the climb. Once our team separated from the larger group and established our own pace, there was no stopping us. Lily was the first to find an untapped well of energy just as the sun started to rise and soon became the catalyst the team needed. When Lily started to brainstorm college essay ideas, Colbie was quick to share her own college application experience and advice as she also seemed to rapidly regain her strength. As the sun rose higher and higher, our group leader Davis also grew stronger and stronger and it soon became clear that our entire group would successfully reach the summit. With each break, we found ourselves in full on laugh attacks as we snacked on chocolate bars and sipped water and Gatorade. The weather remained perfect with crystal clear skies as we reached Stella Point and our successful summit bid became inevitable. With about 30 minutes left in our climb, we passed the other team as they started their descent. Their smiles and cheers provided all the energy we needed to make the final steps to the summit. Upon reaching the summit, everyone embraced in pure joy. We had the entire summit to ourselves and took full advantage by taking ample pictures and snacked as we took in the view.
Now that everyone had summitted we could finally embrace the abbreviation and refer to Kilimanjaro as “Kili”—a rule that guides and those who work on the mountain feel strongly about. The descent was a breeze and both groups made it down to our starting point in a little over an hour. One specific trail is set aside for the descent so we were able to take long strides in the soft mountain soil as we “skied” our way down the mountain. When we approached camp, we were greeted by our porters with fresh mango juice followed by a feast of homemade pizza that the chefs prepared for us. We then crawled in our tents for a quick hour nap before we had to pack down and get to a camp at lower elevation to relive any remaining altitude issues and make our final descent down the mountain more manageable. By time we reached our camp for the night, we had spent a total of 16 hours hiking. Needless to say, we were exhausted. After a quick dinner we settled in for a much needed 11 hours of sleep.
Final day of the Kilimanjaro journey. After sleeping at 12,000’ we all felt refreshed and accomplished. Our 5 hour hike down to the gate would take us back through the Moreland and tropical rainforest. After being above the clouds for the previous 5 days, it was strange to descend into the cloud cover and humid air, but our bodies were certainly grateful. With an extreme sense of accomplishment, our entire group absolutely flew down the mountain. Colbie carried a speaker to provide the motivation we needed as Caroline and Katherine kept the groups pace while we navigated the slippery rainforest floor. All 6 boys led the way and reached the gate an hour ahead of schedule. Carter surprised everyone with cold sodas and we all raised a glass in celebration. After a quick change of clothes we loaded up in our bus and headed down the road for lunch. At lunch Solomon and Brooke warmed up with lattes and Davis taught everyone how to make the perfect sandwich with the smoked chicken our chefs had prepared. After lunch we got some souvenir shopping in. Cooper naturally found an awesome Zanzibar soccer jersey to add to his collection. Kate generously surprised Reece with some brand new chapstick to cure his windburned lips from the mountain. When we were finally ready to head back to Arusha, we all said one last goodbye to our personal porters who had done so much for us over the last week and loaded up on the bus. En route back to our hotel, Riley read an English to Swahili phrase book and tested them on Duma with Aggie. Back at the hotel Lily helped Suzanne organize a much needed laundromat run. After warm showers and a change into comfy clothes, we enjoyed a slow dinner and shared stories from the past week. At Moonup, Van followed up on his pre-climb speech with a closing message that had us all laughing, but also acknowledging just how close we had all grown over the last two weeks!
All the Best,
Reece and Suzanne
June 25, 2022
Hujambo (hello) from Tanzania! Suzanne and Reece here to write about our adventures so far.
We are so thrilled to be here, and our long journey was so worth it! It feels like forever ago that we were all meeting each other for the first time in the Chicago airport. After lots of sleep and movies on our flight to Doha, we were fueled and ready to play some ice breaker games. We learned some memorable facts about each other during a classic game of two truths and a lie.
The Doha airport felt like a dream, but the group was snapped back to reality by the smell of fresh food wafting from the food court. Cooper claims the pizza is some of the best he’s ever had. We delved into our food of choice: stir fry, teriyaki, Burger King, pizza, sandwiches, smoothies, or pasta! The group got their steps in during our layover, wandering through the airport and aweing at the huge candy bars at the duty-free store. A corner of terminal A became our home, where we practiced head stands, arm wrestled, played cards and swapped fun facts. The eight hours in Doha whizzed by thanks to the group’s remarkable energy and chattiness. Aggie and Katherine kept the laughs and chatter going as the jet lag set in, and their energy was contagious. A quick five-hour flight brought us to Tanzania, which ended with a stunning view of Mt. Kilimanjaro through the windows of our plane. Deboarding on the tarmac gave us our first view of Tanzania, and the jet lag disappeared as anticipation took over. We finally got to meet Gabriel, our local guide, who greeted us with open arms and a massive smile. He drove us through the city of Arusha, and to our hotel for the night. We were met with a delicious buffet of breakfast for lunch, including scrambled eggs, crepes, and fresh fruit! A group of fast friends, we played games between chatting like ninja, frisbee, and death sack. Davis quickly mastered death sack, everyone’s new favorite game, and had to act like a zesty asparagus in a veggie off against Suzanne as a tie breaker. He put out a fantastic performance! A shower has never felt so good, and we were all a little happier and less smelly after. At dinner, Cooper and Van debated their favorite animated movies, and settled on “How To Train Your Dragon” and “Cars”. We gathered for our first moonup for the trip, where Reece and Suzanne named our first LODs: Riley and Aggie due to their high energy, kindness, and friendliness.
Waking up in Arusha felt natural as a group. We gathered for a mouthwatering breakfast buffet before packing up to head to Mto Wa Mbo. Our bags were strapped onto the top of our van, and we made sure Riley explained the five stars of pooping before the wheels began turning. Cooper’s love for music shone as he led the music charge for our drive and had everyone grinning and singing. Aggie and Kate braided the hair of both the girls and boys, and marveled over Solomon’s luscious long hair. Laughs and chatter come easy for this group, even on day 2, which was an indication to Reece and Suzanne that this group is extraordinary. Immediately upon arrival the hackey sack was kicked into the air and group death sack ensued. We were lucky enough to have a big grassy lawn in front of our tents, which fostered handstand contests between Carter, Solomon, Kate and Van. The group jumped into the pool and had a great time playing pool games and tips. Next, everyone played cards together and had great bonding time. After the second moonup by the fire, Davis, Cooper, Colbie, and Carter stirred up talks about the universe while stargazing. Exhausted from the day full of travel and games, the group headed to bed to get in a long night’s sleep.
Most of us woke up in time to see the sunrise, and to see the camp come to life while sipping on coffee and tea. The group was happily surprised to learn that a hike up a close by mountain was on the agenda for the day. Carter led the pack up the rocky terrain, impressively keeping up with our guide who only wore flip flops. We would later learn that we climbed to the top of a rift, and Mto wa Mbu sits in a Rift Valley caused by two diverging plates. We were greeted at the top by herds of goats, who seamlessly hopped from rock to rock, the babies making daring leaps down the rift wall. The guide took us to a local village where spotted chickens and puppies scurried at our feet. The locals generously invited us to join their Sunday Church service. The pastor greeted us warmly and shook each of our hands. We filed into the rows of benches as singing erupted, enhanced by drumming, stomping, and shouts. Reece and Suzanne grinned from the back as every student dismissed their nerves and danced along to the music. The pastor asked that we sing a song for them, so Suzanne led the group in “Rise and Shine”. Kate’s outstanding enthusiasm resulted in the pastor asking Kate to the front to sing a solo! Before we left, Riley got to use his new Swahili knowledge and asked the Pastor his name. The hike down was much easier than going up, and on the way, Cooper was spotted by some local women and asked to carry down a big pile of sticks on his shoulder. The boys all took turns passing the sticks to each other before reaching the bottom. Back at camp Allison, our project director for the Red Sweater Project, introduced what we would be doing over the next three days. After our meeting about the Mungere School, we walked into town to visit a wood carving shop, a painting shop, and a local mini market. The wood carving shop was full of amazing handmade statues, bowls, necklaces, and so much more. At our next stop, we learned about 2 kinds of art styles made in Tanzania, tinga tinga and kisu. They let us explore the space and look at all the art pieces before heading over to our final destination. Allison then took us to a market and let us look around and showed us all the food shops in the back, explaining where she purchases her groceries. Eventually it was time to walk back to the cam and enjoy the rest of our night. When we got back, we played a few rounds of death sack and some card games before dinner. After dinner, we learned a new game called Ready (Pronounced red-A) from one of the women cooking in the kitchen. We played about one round before heading down to the fire pit for Moonup. Solomon and Kate led a great Moonup and named Colbie and Cooper as LOD’s for tomorrow.
Day 5 means our first day of service, woohoo! We scarfed down a delicious breakfast and rode an open-air truck through town and to the school. The Mungere School was easy to spot while driving down a bumpy and dusty path, as it is a lusciously green patch of land. We pulled into the school around breakfast time, so the Mungere students ran by us as we unloaded the truck. Allison introduced us to 20 Mungere students, and then shouted, “go pick out your moondance buddies!” The faces of our students lit up as they were excitedly approached by one or two Mungere students and met with hugs. We had some time to get to know the students, but shortly after we were put to work! Our task was to build new garden beds to help feed the students, so with hoes in our hand we chopped away at the hard soil. Brooke was quick to learn how to count to 10 in Swahili with help from her buddy, Charlotte. As some students tilled the dirt with their buddies, others chopped up dried banana leaves, which would be used as mulch, with machetes. Our new friends taught us how to design and layout garden plots and rows, and before lunch we had one large plot ready for planting. After lunch we joined the Mungere students for two hours of free time. Cooper, Caroline, Davis and Kate led the group on the soccer pitch while Colbie, Riley, Erd (Katherine), and Van showed off their skills on the basketball court. Before long, the school day came to a close and we headed back to camp to end our day with a dip in the pool followed by a big pasta dinner, with lemon cake for dessert. YUM.
During our next two days of service, we focused on enriching the dusty African Rift Valley soil with a mix of manure, saw dust, and gypsum powder. Some of the group shoveled the ingredients and mixed batches of this “fertilizer” while others carried the mixture to the designated plots and mixed it in with the soil. Lilly and her friend Angel balanced bags of fertilizer on their heads all morning, giggling and smiling despite the heat. While the work was hard, we had endless conversation with our buddies to keep us entertained and motivated as we swapped stories of our families, schools, friends, and future goals. The entire group worked with impressive determination, and we ended up expanding the gardening capacity beyond what was originally planned by the Red Sweater Project. We learned that our efforts would help to nearly triple the number of fruits and vegetables the school would be able to sustainably produce and provide to the students—a feat that is particularly timely as Tanzania faces widespread shortages due to ongoing conflict in countries that typically provide the bulk of its imported grains and produce.
Again, each morning of service ended in time to hang with our buddies. While soccer and basketball were daily activities, our Moondance students also introduced some new pastimes. Davis and Cooper introduced playing catch with a few mits and a baseball that Davis brought along, and Carter, Lily, and Solomon spent two afternoons teaching groups of students how to play chess. Riley’s buddies Ash and Grace might have had a little crush on him, and they spent every second of each day together playing board games and chatting up a storm. Davis, Lilly, Aggie and Colbie got the group together for a dance circle on the basketball court. We jumped and jammed to songs everyone loved, and the Mungere students showed us some new dance moves. Colbie and Aggie got Suzanne so fired up in the dance circle that she tried to do the worm with little success… but it gave everyone good belly laughs and the kids promised her chin shiner looked “dope”. Caroline found a Chameleon in the garden, and everyone took turns passing him around and letting him scurry along our arms and legs. Brooke also was quick to pick up on a new card game called Red King, which the group adopted as its go-to card game.
On our last day of service, we celebrated all that we had accomplished with a hike to a waterfall up on the escarpment. Each Moondance student paired up with their Mungere school buddy and we hit the trail. The hour hike consisted of a journey through rice paddies and banana plantations before we made it to the river, which we followed to reach the waterfall. Van stayed near the front of the pack with his buddies and led us to a pool at the base of the fall. For some of our buddies, it was their first time seeing the waterfall as well, so everyone was eager to take pictures! Reece’s buddy Jim’s taught him all sorts of Swahili during the hike, Carter scrambled up rocks with his buddy, and Davis dressed his buddy in his hat and shades. Back at school, we had to say a sad goodbye to our friends. Colbie and her friend Beatrice squeezed each other and cried, a sign of how much they had bonded over the past few days and Colbie’s special impact on those around her. Aggie and Lilly kept sneaking in hugs goodbye, and we smiled through tears as we left. To distract ourselves from parting ways, we went to a market to buy gifts and souvenirs for home. Brooke and Cooper bought bracelets and Kate bought a wood carving of a giraffe. Riley, Aggie, Brooke, Colbie, Carter and Van bought locally created paintings of the Maasai culture and Kilimanjaro. We were welcomed into the encampment of a Maasai family. The men showed our boys the ceremony the Maasai use to assert their manhood and choose wives. It is jumping which requires a special technique and talent. Solomon jumped the highest, but Carter had the best form! As the boys jumped, the little children ran between our legs and joined in with their own silly hops. The girls got to wear traditional Maasai necklaces for singing and dancing during this ceremony. The group was blown away by the experience, and how welcoming the Maasai people were. They welcomed us into their homes to show us how they lived and taught us how to start a friction fire. Our day ended back at camp with a special surprise… PIZZA! After a delicious meal of handmade meat, veggie, and sweet corn pizza, the group jumped to join clean crew. Contrary to what one might think, this was SUCH a fun job. Three students got to clean dishes with the hilarious, energetic, and friendly kitchen crew. We closed out our day with moonup, where each student shared what they can do to help the group during our summit bid, and what they need help with from the group.
We said goodbye to Mto wa Mbu and headed back to Arusha to prepare for our Kilimanjaro climb. Reece and Suzanne feel confident, excited, and honored to climb with these students. Everyone has bought in and are prepared to support each other. We let ourselves goof off at moonup, telling silly moments we call “buffalos”. Van shared a heartfelt speech about climbing with this group, and everyone whooped and cheered.
We will be back with an update after our Kilimanjaro climb soon (I just got chills -Suz). In the meantime, know that every student here is so loved by the whole group and has set themselves up for success on this climb.
June 17, 2022
Hello Kilimanjaro Families!
We heard from our leaders late last night that the group has landed safely in Tanzania. The trip is off to a great start, 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!