July 27, 2022
Hello Hello, Megan and Joe here! Oh my goodness, we have so much to report back on after an incredible safari in the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park!
Early Monday morning we departed Arusha in style, in two safari land cruisers! Joe and the boys had the speaker first, blasting rap music in the early hours of the day, with Gaby and David singing every single lyric. Meanwhile, the girls rested their vocals for the afternoon car ride concert. Erica graciously braided everyone’s hair before safari. Around noon we stopped for lunch and played a game of tag, which was lead by Winn, whom is always turning any given moment into pure fun and adventure. While it took a little time for Winn to recruit everyone, the intensity soared quickly and Ashley F became our champion! We all had forgotten how much we love tag. Running around the field really worked up our appetite for lunch! The homemade Naan bread and cold sodas were the highlight. After lunch we loaded back into the cars and the girls were ready for their turn to have the speaker.
Around early golden hour, we approached the Ngorongoro Crater gate. We stretched our legs, David purchased more African pants, and others got coffee and ice cream. (Quick update: David eats, sleeps, and adventures in his new African wardrobe, and plans to wear it for days, months and years to come.) Our extremely knowledgeable guide, Sam, gave us a short map lesson which showed an overview of where we would be exploring in the upcoming days. Without a moment to waste, we shuffled back to the cars and headed to the crater. As we pulled up to our campsite we were welcomed by an elephant cruising around the tents. We were all wide-eyed and couldn’t believe the serendipity. Afterwards we bundled up and settled in before dinner. We enjoyed another splendid tea time, delish food, and a cozy moon-up piled in one tent together. Ready for a good night sleep, we all got ready for bed before an early morning safari drive. When Anna, Caroline, Tanner, and Erica were walking to brush their teeth, a ‘dazzle’ of Zebras passed by them! (Fun fact: a group of Zebras is called a dazzle) This was the very moment they realized that “they were not in a Zoo”!
Day 2 of Safari: The roofs were raised—literally. Today we made our way from the crisp crater rim and into the warm and wide open Serengeti. We popped the roof of the car up and we were all able to get a birds eye view of our surroundings. Caroline was a huge fan of this. From this moment on she could always be seen with the biggest smile standing up through the roof, soaking up every minute of the day. Within the first hour or so we had seen 4/5 of the “Big Five”: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, and the African Buffalo! Our guide told us that our group brought a lot of good luck on the Safari! As the day continued we encountered many more lions and their cubs, gazelles, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, hyaenas, secretary birds, and more. Henry and Anna even got to see a donkey with horns (if you know, you know)! Before the clock struck 10am, you could hear the crinkling from the bags of Doritos being opened up by Anna and Erica. Never too early for cheesy Doritos and Pringles!? We quickly realized Pringles are a hot commodity in Tanzania. We tried new flavors, including BBQ (George’s favorite) and ketchup Pringles (Meg and Joe’s favorite). It almost felt like we were in a movie theater, eating snacks while sitting front row at an Animal Planet premier…but it was real life and we could breath in the fresh Serengeti air and see what life was like out there with our own two eyes.
Both of our Ashley’s were our Safari experts. Ashley F would always be the first to spot a new animal and identify it right away. Ashley C would share facts about each animal and fully immersed herself in the Safari life and became a sponge for knowledge.
Wednesday brought the most memorable and unparalleled sunset, which our group will never forget. Truthfully, no picture could capture this scene. We all watched the neon ball of sun fall down into the Serengeti’s flat and vast floor. Henry came to an epiphany that our Safari car rides, were actually just boat rides: wind blowing through our hair, bumpy paths, and teary eyes. We all couldn’t agree more. The safari rides are also referred to as an “African Massage” by many of the local guides—and they are not wrong.
Thursday was another full day of safari living. We packed up our things, loaded the cars and set sail. In the morning we experienced even more safari magic. We stumbled upon a two mamma lions and their tweenage cubs. We also found ourselves surrounded by a tremendous group of elephants. Tanner shot a photo of a baby elephant looking her directly in the eyes, with pure happiness radiating from both the elephant and Tanner. Later that evening we camped in Karatu. This ended up being a wonderful surprise to us all, not knowing what to expect. This night we laughed harder than we knew possible, all sharing stories, jokes, and memories. It was one of those nights where you can’t help but be fully and 100% present and in the moment…going to bed with sore bellies from the deep laughter—sounding like a bunch of Hyaenas. George fueled much of our laughter with funny impersonations and amazing stories—always bringing the group together.
Friday morning we woke up and completed our journey back to Arusha. Everyone rushed to the showers after another week of embracing the dirt, except for Henry—he decided to last just one more day to cherish the remaining Serengeti dust. Friday night turned out to be a successful surprise and arguably the most spontaneous and hilarious day of the trip. Joe made everyone’s Tuk Tuk dreams come true. The group was shocked to see four Tuk Tuks pull up, ready to take everyone to dinner. Without hesitation, everyone piled in. We were finally doing it…after talking about Tuk Tuk rides since day one. Caroline immediately became friends with the Tuk Tuk driver, being the social butterfly that she is. We pulled up to tucked away pizza place, with an unexpected WIDE OPEN dance floor…waiting for us?! So after we placed our pizza order, we rushed to the dance floor. Caroline doing the worm, Gaby teaching Megan fort night moves, Ash and Ash showing off matching dance moves, Joe always vibing, David waving to his imaginary friends in the crowd, Anna and George dream team dancing, Tanner, Erica, and Henry beep bopping around the entire dance floor, and Winn head-nodding and smiling. The dance party merged into limbo and then more dancing. Tired, sweaty, and happy, we headed back to the dinner table just in time for pizza. David, George, and Gaby together demolished 40+ slices of pizza. Impressive and well deserved. Long story short, it was a 10/10 night.
It’s hard to believe that it is our last full day in Tanzania. Saturday was filled with heaps of fun exploring Arusha. We started the day off with a tour of the Arusha Museum. Ashley F was extremely interactive and without hesitation held the white mice and baby turtles. After the Museum, we headed to the markets. Anna and Caroline graciously bought gifts for their family and friends, while Gaby and David practiced strong bargaining skills. Henry purchased some clean new shirts. Needless to say, the group left the market with fresh new “drips”, as Gaby would say. Everyone was decked out in color and African jewelry, pants, shirts, jerseys, shoes, and hats.
We headed back to the hotel for lunch and our first goodbye. We were all so sad to have to say goodbye to Ashley F, but we know she is going to have a blast on her next adventure rowing in Vermont. After lots of hugs, Megan and Ashley F headed to the airport, while Joe and co went back to town for the moment Anna has been waiting for…THE Meserani snake park. Of course, fearless Winn was the first to hold a snake. Eventually we headed back to our home base and prepared for Banquet night!
WOW, is all we can say. Each and every person in the group strutted out in a new Tanzanian fit and quickly loaded the bus for the feast. We had a diverse array of food. Everything from pancakes, espresso milkshakes, pizza, curry, caprese sandwhich, Greek salad, and avocado toast. You name it, we had it on the table. A highlight of dinner was for sure the chocolate cake that Megan, Tanner, Caroline, Erica, and Anna were caught red handed eating in secret. Soon to be finished in one massive bite by David.
We ended an amazing day with a legendary moon-up time that lasted a few hours. Joe and Megan spontaneously jumped into the pool, soon followed by Winn, Tanner, and Caroline.
Joe and I count our stars for being so lucky to have spent a month with this amazing group. Each and everyone bringing their own spirit and kindness and coming together to build the most genuine team that reached a feeling of family. The laughs and memories are unparalleled. These past 24 days haven’t always been easy and they overcame physical and mental mountains with an utmost ability to make each other smile, and that is a skill for a life time. Than you again for making this possible.
Megan and Joe
Ps. We had an absolute blast on our travel days. Highlight: swimming in the Doha airport pool and then jumping in the hot tub. What an adventure.
Group’s Spirit Safari Animals
George: Lion cubs
Ashley F: Hippo
Ashley C: Dik Dik/ Secretary Bird
Anna: Donkey with horns
Tanner: Baby Elephant/ Tween Lion
July 19, 2022
Reporting back after a week that we will never ever forget! Our seven day adventure on Kilimanjaro was filled with lots of belly laughter, spontaneous dancing, endless hugs, and magical sunrises/sunsets!
We woke up early Monday morning and had a delicious breakfast in Arusha before loading up the bus and heading to Kilimanjaro. The bus ride was filled with singing on the top of our lungs, especially Henry, our human AirPods for the trip. Upon arrival at the base we were welcomed with open arms by our guides, Simba and Sam, and all of the amazing porters that helped make our climb possible. Feeling excited, slightly nervous, and eager to start our journey on the Machame route, we strapped our gaters on and headed up into the rain forest at a speedy pace-lead by THE fierce and strong Ashley Frances!! We arrived at camp where we got to experience living in the midst of clouds.
Day 2 was our first full day and we were ready to explore Kilimanjaro above cloud level so we headed out of camp with eager ambitions to tackle a day of higher elevation gain. As we climbed from 10,000ft to 12,500ft we were able to see a clear view of THE Kilimanjaro summit, giving us butterflies inside. When we arrived at camp we soaked in the views, but before taking off our hiking boots we pushed on to a short acclimatization excursion. We hiked to a cave, and Montana-Mountain-Man Winn fearlessly entered the cave first, always setting an adventurous tone for the group. We climbed a little higher to a spot with 360 views, where we had a very silly Moondance photoshoot-we are all hoping to be featured in the catalog! We eventually walked back to camp where we were welcomed back with tea, hot chocolate, and popcorn…feeling beyond lucky. Teatime rolled into dinner time, as we all stayed in the kitchen tent, sharing stories and reminiscing about the day. After scarfing down a delicious chicken curry dinner we devoured the warm banana fritters and went to bed with happy bellies and full hearts.
Day 3 was a very very special day, (drum roll please), 50 bags of candy were delivered to us, Anna was especially happy for the candy arrival because she has been ever so generous with sharing her snacks and gummies to the rest of the group. The candy supplied us with the sugar burst we needed to get to Lava tour, around 15,000ft high. We took a pit stop at Lava tour and fueled up on a scrumptious pizza lunch, and then headed down to our next campsite nestled down in a valley.
Day 4 was quite the adventure, starting with “The Breakfast Wall”, a rock face that we all bravely conquered first thing in the morning. Ashley Cooper was a true inspiration, facing her fear of heights and spreading positivity and genuine support throughout the group, being the amazing leader of the day (LOD) that she is. Everyone managed to hold their breakfast down, despite the reputation of the wall’s nickname. Caroline bravely lead Anna, George, and Gaby “Gibby” up an off roading route to the top, embracing their zest for challenge and adventure. The group took a moment to celebrate this feat before resuming the trek to our next campsite at Katanga Camp, located at 13,100ft . On our descent down from breakfast wall, we contemplated our spirit animals, Erica being a golden retriever–for her heart of gold, constant happiness, and loyal friendship.
As we approached Katanga Camp we were graciously welcomed with yet another warm lunch that would recharge us for our afternoon acclimatization hike. At the top of the hike we spent a lot of time building rock piles, David was especially good at this. We also had another spontaneous dance party as the clouds rolled by us. We truly were on cloud 9 in this moment. Back at camp, some people water colored and others enjoyed some well deserved down time. Tonight was the first night we pulled out the parkas and bundled up for a warm dinner and cozy moonup to end a spectacular day. Today the groups positivity and creativity shined through, despite the cloudy/misty weather conditions.
Day 5: TGIF! Friday morning was a chilly morning, warmed up by coffee and tea in our tents. There is nothing quite better than taking a sip out of a warm mug, nestled in your sleeping bag, in a tent with your new best friends. Before heading out for the day we had to say goodbye to Ashley C and Joe as Ashley’s health dictated we needed to get her off the mountain and to medical care. This left us with heavy hearts but we brought her Giraffe, Gavin, everywhere we went and wanted her to be healthy for the Safari, especially being the biggest animal lover of the group!
We then kicked off the day with a steady climb through the high alpine desert towards Barafu camp, reaching an elevation of 16,000 feet. Today was filled with lots of trail chatter and rounds of “hot seat” where you ask one person at a time various questions ranging from their happy place, personal theme song, dream job, etc. George told us about his dream to be a sports lawyer and about the delicious chocolate pie that his mom makes—which we couldn’t stop thinking about the rest of the hike! Before we knew it, we had reached Barafu camp-our home for a short sleep before submitting Kilimanjaro. We quickly bundled up and prepared for an early tea time, which soon turned in to being one of the most memorable sunsets yet, casting pink and purple rays down on the blanket of clouds. Caroline, Anna, Henry, and David all drank their tea on a rock pile, watching the sun fall below the clouds. Shortly after we all rejoined in the kitchen tent for an early dinner. Excitement and nerves infiltrated the dinner table as summit time grew closer. We played some happy tunes in the tent to ease the nerves; Tanner especially lit up when Taylor Swift came on. Our final moonup before the climb solidified the bond we needed to get the team up. A highlight from moonup was George’s opening motivational speech and reading the poem “Direct Orders” by Anis Mojgani. We closed moonup with a 10 second freestyle dance lead by Caroline, our personal group cheerleader of the trip! We then headed back to our tents for a few hours of shut eye. Around 1:45 am we woke up to a sky full of stars and a trail of head lamps climbing up towards the summit. Many of us were covered in chills, knowing that we would be next. We ate a quick warm breakfast and geared up. Gaby being an absolute fashion icon in his head-to-camo outfit. Step by step, “pole pole” (slowly slowly), we made our way up the trail and closer to the summit. Along the way our porters surrounded us with support, encouragement and upbeat chants/songs. Our new favorite song to sing along to is “Jambo Bwana”. As the air got thinner, it did not get easier but the group remained strong with lots of sugar stops, check-ins, hugs, and moments to look up and around. Around hour 5 of the climb we reached Stella Point, where we could see the summit sign ahead…only about 800ft higher from where we stood. At this point, there was a new pep in our step, and we stayed close together to the finish.
We did it.
Reaching the top was a feeling of the deepest happiness that we are still trying to find words to describe. We were extremely lucky with the warm weather and clear skies at the top. We got heaps of photos and made several new friends up top from different countries! We even saw a couple get engaged in front of the summit sign. And we cannot forget to mention that David carried Gavin the Giraffe all the way to the summit, in spirit of Ashley! After scrambling back down to camp, we cheered with cold mango juice and took a short nap after lunch to rest our tired bodies. We finished this long but amazing day with one last stroll downhill to our final campsite. We could finally retire our hiking boots for the day, after 13.5 hours of hiking!
Our final day on Kilimanjaro was one of many ups and downs but the group finished up by quite literally running down the very end of the trail and finally reuniting with Ashley Cooper and Joe! Tears rolling down my cheeks, from seeing the group embrace eachother in a ginormous hug, and reaching the utmost feeling of family in our group. Joe and I could not be any more proud of each and every student for their unconditional support and genuine care for one another and their surroundings. The hugs lasted all the way down to the gate, where we had lunch and bottled soda, followed by a dance party with our porters and guides that we will remember for a lifetime. The bus ride back to Arusha with filled with more singing, and everyone raced out of the bus for their first shower in days!! Joe and Megan surprised the group with pizza and cookie cake, which disappeared in minutes. Everyone fell fast asleep as soon as their head hit the pillow.
Megan & Joe
George: Mom and Dad, what up! I summited! Tanzania is dope. Love y’all.
Ashley C: Mom, Dad, Lexi, Nina, and Sam, I miss and love you all! Lungs are doing just fine! Hope y’all are doing well <3
Erica: Hiii I’m having THE BEST time ever and just summited! Can’t wait to tell you all about it, love you so much!
Tanner: Hey Mom and Dad!! I summited Kili and am having the best time of my life!! I love and miss y’all so much, can’t wait to see y’all and tell you all about it 🙂
Gaby: hey mom and dad I hope Julia is having a great trip because I am too btw I summited Kilimanjaro !! Which is pretty cool I miss y’all so much Tanzania is so cool I hope ML is having a great time!! Love y’all
Caroline: Hey Mom and Dad! I’m having the best time of my life and have met amazing people! I love you guys so much! BTW the hiking pants were a must and I summited Kili!
Anna: Hi Mom and Dad!! I’m having the best time and hope J&C are too! Love you!!
Winn: Wow! I can’t believe they named a whole continent after a song. Even Weezer did a cover of it. I also decided I am not going to go to college in the United States. Unicorns & rainbows, Winn
Ashley F: Hey y’all, made it up kili and excited to see y’all after Vermont. Miss y’all tons and give Sidney my love!
David: waddup family made it up kili and having a great time. See y’all soon
Henry: Hey mom and dad, I summited Kili and I’m having a great time in Tanzania. Love you so much and I can’t wait to tell you all about the trip
July 11, 2022
Mambo from Africa!
After a thirteen-hour flight from Chicago, the group enjoyed eight hours in Doha at the nicest airport in the world. Before meeting the group, Henry was on a mission to satisfy his craving of an ice slushie, while Gaby and David sought relaxation in the form of showers and massages from the Doha Airport’s spa. Some incredibly funny and intelligent decisions which served as great conversation starters for the layover together. After one final five-and-a-half-hour flight, the group touched down at Kilimanjaro International Airport! Until this point, all students had been traveling with only one of their leaders, Megan, as Joe was already in Africa awaiting the group’s arrival. After collecting all the students and bags, sharing hugs and excitement, we collected the students’ phones and were ready to hit the road! From the airport, we took an hour-long bus ride to Arusha, our home base between each section. On the bus ride, we realized that we have 3 course members who have a twin: Anna, Megan, and Ashley Francis! They spent much time with the group discussing growing up with a twin, answering questions about twin telepathy… and sharing fun stories of having such special relationships with their siblings. We also have two separate Ashley’s, Ashley Cooper, and Ashley Francis! Some fun name and sibling realizations to begin our trip on.
We arrived at the hotel where we had a delicious lunch before allowing the students some time to unpack, shower, and take a nap. During our first Moonup, we all shared our excitement for the course and what we hoped to gain during our travels together.
Monday’s objective was transferring from Arusha to Mto Wa Mbu, where we would be camping during our week of service. Winn and Erica were chosen as our first leaders of the day (LODs), so they went into the grocery store to pick out snacks for our week at camp! The grocery store was arguably the most organized store either of them had ever seen. Everyone was amazed upon arrival at camp; between the views, the pool, and the people, it was truly incredible.
Tuesday morning gave us time to hike up the ridge behind our camp and soak in the views. We saw herds of cattle, goats, and cows, walking right past camp! This was a much needed moving of the legs and we relished the time to take photos and share conversation. In the afternoon, the school director, Allison, gave us an incredibly informative and helpful orientation, telling us about life in Tanzania and particularly life in the tribes. She is an amazing human, and our students were hanging onto every word she said. After her orientation, she walked us into the Mto Wa Mbu village for us to explore the markets and truly experience Tanzania for the first time not in a bus, hotel, or camp. Everyone’s eyes were wide the whole time, and we were so impressed with the skill of the crafts displayed as well as the friendliness of the local people. It is hard to imagine a more friendly group of strangers than the people of Tanzania.
On Wednesday we got to spend our first day touring and then working at the school. Our project was digging 5 new water lines around campus so that students can have access to water in 7 places at school, rather than just two taps. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were our workdays with some time built in for games in the afternoon! We all met our buddies for the week and immediately kicked off friendships. Our group worked particularly hard and impressed Allison and the other school leaders, as we got straight to it and wasted no time digging ground.
Because this hard work put us ahead of schedule, after lunch we got to devote all our time to playing games with our buddies and having fun. Soccer is far and away the most popular sport and the students at the school wasted no time in showing us their impressive skills. Our Moondance students were not too shabby either, however, and Caroline and Tanner showed off their speed and agility on the pitch, impressing our buddies and the rest of the group! Athletics were not the only means of showing skills, however, as Jenga, Uno, Chess, and Checkers were of equal interest to both our students and the school students. Very quickly, Ethan was able to show off his chess prowess while also teaching many of our Moondance students how to play! This was particularly nice, as it allowed us to sit in the shade and take a needed break from the sun! On our second day of service, George, who was LOD for the day, introduced George’s story time, where each night he tells a funny, serious, or random story to captivate the group. His story telling ability is top notch, so it has become a favorite part of the day for our group.
Our students’ hard work at school this week will have a large and lasting impact on our buddies during their school year and will allow them to access water more easily around campus. It was incredible to see how quickly they connected with a group of kids so different from themselves, yet through these interactions, we all learned that as humans we have a lot more in common with each other than not in common. The meshing of this group has been incredible to see, and we know they are going to do so well as we had into the next section: the Kilimanjaro climb!! We are beginning the trek on Monday afternoon with hopes of making a summit push in the late hours of Friday/early morning hours of Saturday. We know these incredible students have what it takes to get up to 19,341 feet and we could not be more excited to see what the future holds for this group!!!
Joe and Megan
July 3, 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!