July 31, 2022
Day 17: Travel to Safari
As we rolled out of bed at an outrageously late time (9 Am), it hit everyone that we were on the mountain just one day ago. We felt like new people after showers and a good night’s rest. Sleek safari trucks replaced our sore feet as our primary mode of transportation, and what a good feeling that is! As the trucks tumbled in we excitedly waved to Ema, our guide. We were introduced to Julius and Phillip, our other two safari guides. Suzanne and Owen randomly assigned groups for the three trucks, and we waved goodbye to the lodge. As a treat, we stopped at the mall and everyone had the opportunity to indulge in snacks and treats. Everyone inherently reached for familiar foods: Chuck bought Oreos, Miles bought Pringles, and Aubrey bought a box of Frosted Flakes. Martin and Owen bought some local accessories at a clothing store, and Hugh discovered a pizza restaurant. Unable to pass up the opportunity, we bought pizzas to munch on as a brunch snack. Content and stocked up on snacks, we began our drive to the Ngorogoro crater. We passed through Mto wa Mbu along the way and waved to our old campsite! It was an odd sensation to sit all day, after moving without pause the past week. We reflected on this stark change of pace, and voiced our appreciation for the time to simply enjoy each other’s company. Once through the gate to the Ngorogoro crater conservation area, we were immediately greeted by Giraffes and Baboons! As we neared camp, Zebras trotted alongside our trucks. Juma, our chef from Mto wa Mbu, greeted us so warmly and we were overjoyed to see him. He served us a delicious meal, which included cake for desert! He treats us so well. Hugh and Emerson, our LOD’s, prepared Moonup. Everyone piled into our biggest canvas tent and leaned against one another happily. The chosen question was one to facilitate reflection on our summit: what person, belief, idea, or thought helped you get to the top of the mountain? James started us off, and we then went around the circle sharing what was on our minds. It was exceptionally eye opening to hear each student’s answers, and what runs through their minds when times are tough. The climb was difficult, uncomfortable and uncertain. Throughout it all, every student took turns shouldering the struggles of another through verbal and physical support. However, we all needed something to support us mentally. Getting to hear the mental support each student subscribed to as we trudged to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro was so special. After the last person shared we all sat in an unplanned moment of silence, soaking in everything shared. Bedtime came quickly, and was so needed as a group. We fell asleep as zebras barked at an unfortunate volume outside our tents. Hakuna matata!
Day 18: Ngorogoro Crater
We woke up enveloped in a cloud, and chattering in all sorts of languages confused our tired ears. As the sun rose we enjoyed coffee and hot cocoa with real milk, happy to say goodbye to the powdered milk from the mountain. Juma served us a feast of hash browns, eggs, toast, crepes, fruit, and coffee. We then randomly chose cars, and spit up for todays safari! In my car (Suzanne) was Miles, James, Aubrey, Lillian, Rose, and Calvin. Phillip drove us down into the crater, and danced along to the music. The clouds began to clear and the sun shone through, making the massive crater appear akin to a movie scene. It was only fitting that we listen to the soundtrack of “The Lion King.” James and Calvin figured out how to pop the top of the truck open, and everyone scrambled to stand on their seats for the best view. Miles was the first to spot a lioness sitting on a construction vehicle, exclaiming “it’s a cat on a cat!” Another then popped its head up, and Rose snapped some beautiful photos on her camera.
Day 19: Travel to Serengeti
We got to sleep in a little extra this morning as we used the first part of the day to move from the Ngorogoro Crater to Serengeti National Park! Everyone woke up well rested and very excited for the next leg of our safari adventure.
The two parks border each other—and are a part of the same ecosystem—but we still had about a 2 hour drive along a bumpy dirt road to get to the main gain of Serengeti. After breakfast we did our new tradition of using the random finger generator to decide how we would break up into our 3 vehicles for the day!
My (Owen’s) car—affectionately dubbed ‘A Team’—featured Aubrey, Lillian, MV, Calvin , and Danny. We vibed to everything from Widespread Panic to High School Musical as we bounced our way towards the Serengeti. Philip, one of our safari guides, was sure to jump in on the sing along fun as he navigated his way towards the park.
Before we reached our lunch spot at the gate, we made two stops:
After a quick picnic while our guides got our permits sorted out, we were ready to explore the Serengeti for the rest of the afternoon.
The safari started out slow underneath the midday sun, but little did we know the incredible late afternoon and early evening that was in store for us. We saw the ‘Big 5’—elephant, rhino, lion, water buffalo, and leopard—all in one day! Which is truly a rare feat (according to our guides). On top of this, we saw a ton of gazelles, antelopes, and even a cheetah (also very rare).
As Suzanne and Emerson were snapping glamour shots of the first pair of lions we saw resting by a riverbank, Aubrey and Lillian took it upon themselves to name every animal we saw throughout the day. My personal favorite, were the two male lion cubs—‘Jax’ and ‘Tex’—who met a few minutes later playing next to a bush down the river. Of course, Danny and Chuck were there to document everything along the way with their cameras and GoPros.
Just as we thought we were headed back to camp, Philip heard something over the radio and whipped us over to the center of the park. This is when we saw a rhino (and its baby) along with a couple of gorgeous leopards just hanging out in two different trees. Our perfect day in the Serengeti was then capped off with a beautiful sunset as we headed for our campsite!
After a great dinner from Jooma, Rose spearheaded another game of ‘Salad Bowl’ which entertained us all before Miles and MV led an awesome Moonup!
We are truly soaking up every last minute together as our days in Tanzania draw to a close…
Day 20: Full day in Serengeti
We woke up before the sunrise and hopped in our trucks, ready for a full day of safari in the Serengeti! Even though we felt like we had already seen everything, there was so much more to see. As the sun rose, the Topi and Thompson Gazelles trotted around our truck and grazed in the grass. Before long, our guides heard of a lion cub sighting on the park radio. We zoomed to the noted location, and we’re happily surprised by the lion cubs and three female lions! We stared, mouths agape, as the lion cubs wrestled in the grass and prodded at their mom. We could watch the lions going about their day for forever, but we started up the trucks to head to the next animal sighting. The lions, however, had different plants. They hopped up and strolled alongside our vehicles as we slowly rolled down the road. Danny captured a video that had him literally jumping up and down with glee. What a breathtaking start to our morning! Hot air balloons drifted above us, and we got to watch one land as a giraffe chased after the descending basket. In my car (Suzanne) was Emerson, Miles, Hugh, Chuck, and Aubrey. We listened to tunes as we rumbled around the Serengeti. Chuck captured beautiful photos of a leopard and Miles made sure to point out all the monkeys we saw, them being my favorite. We happened upon a massive family of elephants, and watched them stomp across the road. Baby elephants scampered between their moms legs, and based on MV’s face I would bet she was barely holding back squeals. We ate lunch back at camp, and made sure to get lots of card games in during our free time. Greer, Rose, Danny and Calvin played Euchre at the end of the table. Chuck, Emerson, Martin and Suzanne played spades. We then trickled out of the dining hall to nap and read. By 4:30, we hopped back into the trucks for a sunset ride. We didn’t mind when one of the trucks broke down, because it meant we got to spend more time with each other. MV, Emerson and Aubrey sang along to Taylor Swift and enjoyed the warm air from sticking their heads out of the open top. Hugh made sure “Waiting on the World to Change” played as the sun dipped below the horizon and we rolled back into camp. Juma surprised us with a beautiful cake, on which he drew Mt. Kilimanjaro and “congratulations Moondance”. We love him! Greer and James led us through a moonup, and chose the question “what is the best advice you have ever received”. The students piled into a tent afterwards and giggled long into the night, refusing to let precious time together go to waste.
Day 21: Travel to Arusha
We enjoyed one last meal from Juma before Julius and Phillip began driving us back to Arusha. Even after we left the Serengeti gates, we spotted giraffes and zebras beside the road. Aubrey worked hard at a scavenger hunt for us, and Rose bonded with James over country music.
After a brief stop in Mto Wa Mbo for lunch, we made our way back to the Masailand Safari Lodge where we spent the afternoon showering, resting, and organizing for our trip home!
We played cards by the pool before a lively dinner and then it was time for Aubrey’s much anticipated scavenger hunt. It was a huge success as we ran around and laughed hysterically before Hugh and Suzanne were declared the eventual winners!
Miles and Juliana led an entertaining and thoughtful Moonup before we all headed off to bed for the night. It’s hard to believe this is our second to last sleep in Tanzania!
Day 22: Snake Park
We woke up to a gray and drizzly morning as we all slowly rolled out of bed and made it to breakfast. Martin and Charlie, not surprisingly, were the first ones in the lobby and got to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee with Suzanne and I before the mad rush of the rest of the group ensued.
With the three big sections of the trip behind us, we nicknamed today our Arusha Tourist and Banquet Day! It was a nice change of pace as we hit a couple of highlights around our host city while we wrapped up and reflected on our time in this incredible country.
Our first stop was the Snake Park where we breezed around the open air museum and looked at all kinds of East African reptiles (highlights included a South African Python and Black Mamba!). After the viewing tour ended, we got the opportunity to hold some smaller (and non-poisonous) snakes. Danny looked like a snake whisperer as the little guy conformed to his hand and then James and Calvin helped some of our less enthusiastic participants overcome there fears and hold the small snake.
We then hopped back on the bus and headed for the Cultural Heritage Center where we enjoyed our first ‘Banquet Meal’. Suzanne had scouted this place during her last session and we all enjoyed great food, the opportunity to actually order for ourselves, and the milkshakes (of course)! After lunch, we roamed around the incredible art museum and grabbed some last minute souvenirs from the shop adjacent to the gallery. Everyone bought their final souvenirs, and we were ready to return “home”. The students decided to plan a skit for final moonup, so they commandeered a conference room and got to work. Danny and Hugh led the charge, and we (the leaders) had to entertain ourselves as they secretly worked. We enjoyed one final dinner of rice, chicken, fries and veggies before the students broke off to set the scene for the skit. Our clean laundry arrived in the meantime, so we all happily changed before final moonup. Owen and Suzanne burst into the room decked out in glow sticks, and surprised everyone with a glow dance party! We danced, laughed, and played with our glow sticks. Finally, it was time for the skit! In the first scene, the roles included: Hugh as Suzanne, Chuck as Owen, Martin as Chuck, Rose as Sheb, and Danny as the narrator and director. Without going into the details, it made us cry laughing. We were treated with two more scenes where Martin played Owen, Aubrey played Suzanne, Miles played Martin, Emerson played James, James played Emerson, and Juliana played Ema. Once we finished our standing ovation for the hilarious skits, it was time for the leaders to have their fun! We passed out superlatives to the group, with Owen as the MC. Some of our favorites include: MV’s “most likely to be a moondance leader”, Juliana’s “most likely to be on dancing with the stars as the star”, James’ “most likely to side hustle as a chiropractor”, Lillian’s “most likely to be voted homecoming queen and cure cancer in the same week”, and Calvin’s “most likely to be the smartest one in the room but never say a word”. To begin our final moonup, Martin volunteered to share the best advice he was ever received as well as some loving words for the group. Owen shared his valuable and thoughtful words with everyone. Suzanne then explained to the group what a “Nug circle” is, where each student takes turns receiving Nugs and affirmations from everyone in the group. We took our time opening up to each other once by one, reflecting on our relationships, expressing our gratitude, and verbalizing the impact each person has had on us. It was beautiful and meaningful, and took two hours but felt like minutes. Each of your students deserve each of the affirmations they received, and I hope they return home with the words close to their hearts and on the top of their heads. Owen and I (Suzanne) could have given a five minute speech about each student, so the hard part was keeping our words relatively brief. Hearing the unique and insightful words from each student brought tears to our eyes. We hope that each student knows how loved, valued, celebrated and unique they are for being themselves. As Danny said, no one is better at being yourself than you! So, we went to bed with full hearts and dread of saying goodbye so soon. While normally two days of travel sounds immensely exhausting, we talk of it like bonus time with one another.
As we begin our travel to Chicago and are about to dish out your students phones, we will leave you with this. Owen and I are so eternally proud of each student. Each one overcame the mental and physical battle of our grueling six day journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Each one helped each other summit. Each one happily immersed themselves into the Tanzanian culture, and sought out education and understanding. Each one lived in the moment. Each one added undeniable value to the group. We are eternally grateful for your students, and for you sharing them with us for three weeks.
Much love and gratitude,
Suz and Owen
July 25, 2022
Travel and Day 1 of Mt. Kilimanjaro:
After traveling back to Arusha and our “home base”—Massailand Safari Lodge—we enjoyed a great lunch and a relaxing afternoon before we spent the evening meeting our Kilimanjaro guides and packing for our trek! We ate dinner, took one last hot shower, and got a great night sleep before our mountain adventure would begin the next morning…
We woke everyone up, grabbed a quick breakfast, and loaded the bus to head towards the Machme Gate of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Suzanne played some great tunes on the ride and we gradually built our mood up as we approached Moshi. Full of energy and anticipation, the group enjoyed a lunch under cover at the gate as Owen and Suz worked with our lead guide Robinson to get everyone registered for the climb. Martin, Lillian, and Aubrey kept the group laughing as we patiently waited for the paperwork to go through.
Finally, we were ready to start the climb! Our enthusiastic LODs, Calvin and Rose, led us into the jungle as we began our 5 hour hike to the Machme Hut Campsite. There were plenty of great trail talks to go around—Hugh and I (Owen) had an awesome one for starters, but there were plenty of great convos that made the time fly by!
Miles and James kept everyone’s spirits high as day turned to night and we entered the final stretch of the hike. Once we arrived at camp; we each met our porters, grabbed our bags, and got settled in our tents before dinner and Moonup.
It was a long and tiring day for everyone that was followed by a chilly night, but we all worked together and made the absolute most of it. This group takes every punch in stride—with big ole smiles on their faces. Their resiliency and appreciation for life make us so incredibly happy. We can’t wait for the next week on the mountain together!
Day 2 of Climb: We woke up before the sun at 6 AM to soft spoken “good mornings” from Peter—our head chef—who brought us coffee and hot cocoa to our tents. We sipped on our warm drinks while gearing up for the day and then clambered out of our tents in time to see the sunrise! Bundled and caffeinated, we hopped around camp and couldn’t pry our eyes away from the summit of the mountain. We were blessed with blue skies and sunshine, so by the time we finished our delicious breakfast our bones had warmed.
LODs MV and James helped the group fill up their waters before we followed our guide Nicko to the trail. The biome was moorland, which had an otherworldly look with the clouds creeping in. The rocky trail was lined with trees blanketed with moss that were just taller than our heads. Calvin and I (Suzanne) had a wonderful trail talk about our studies and he grilled me about nuclear energy. I then had the opportunity to share the trail with Rose & Hugh, who I swapped silly stories with as we trekked up the rocky trail. Today we gained about 3,000 feet of elevation, and broke through the blanket of clouds. Juliana, Aubrey, and Lillian sang songs along the way, which brought applause from nearby groups. Danny made geographic and college connections with people we passed along the way, while collecting GoPro footage in between chats!
We finished our hike with some scrambling underneath the beautiful Tanzanian sky! To our left, we could see the top of Meru—a neighboring mountain—peak through the clouds (which were now settled below us). We were welcomed to Shira Camp by a bustling camp and stunning 360 views. People from all walks of life got settled in their own pockets of camp—and so did we! Everyone took their time peeling off their hiking boots and layers and we were all thrilled to be putting on comfort clothes for the rest of the day.
After taking a second to rest, we all piled into the meal tent where we easily entertained ourselves with cards and chit chat. Chuck took lots of photos, getting the hang of his camera’s manual settings, while MV made use of her disposable camera. Greer and Owen teamed up for Euchre (and dominated!). When the hot water was brought in we guzzled hot chocolate and tea—using extra hydration as an excuse to triple serve ourselves! Bellies warmed by a creamy soup, we welcomed a delicious lunch of veggies and macaroni. Martin, whose incredible spirit has yet to break, made Emerson and Aubrey giggle at the end of the table.
With our hunger sated, some wandered to their tents to read and journal while others played games or simply enjoyed each other’s company. For those who stayed in the meal tent turned living room, John Mayer and Plain White T’s serenaded us—and everyone began singing along to the music! Greer and Rose joined those who know how to play Euchre (taught, as always, by Danny and Owen). Mary Virginia grinned everywhere she walked around camp, Hugh asked thoughtful questions, James gave big hugs, and Calvin always matched Suzanne’s energy. We are excited by and proud of the group so far! Today blazed by and we are excited to tackle tomorrows challenge: Lava Tower. We will climb from 13,000 feet of altitude to 15,000 feet for lunch.
Day 3 of Climb: We woke up early the next morning, packed up our campsite, fueled up with a yummy breakfast (shoutout to Owen, Aubrey, and Martin for sharing their Nutella!), and then hit the trail behind our guide for the day—Mbrappe. It was a cold morning at camp but after an hour or so everyone was shedding their layers and enjoying the crisp mountain air.
The terrain was much more gradual today as we trekked our way towards the Lava Tower at 15,000 feet where we would eat lunch. Lillian, Miles, and Emerson kept everyone busy on the trail for most of the morning with their different iterations of ‘20 Questions’ and ‘Star’.
We made it to our scenic lunch spot around midday where we rested and ate a much needed pasta meal. While we waited for Peter—one of our great (and quite hilarious) chefs to serve us the aforementioned lunch—card games broke out all over the table! Juliana and James led a game of BS on one end while tightly contested Euchre games between Greer, Calvin, Owen, Danny, and Suzanne took place on the other.
After we finished up, we threw our packs back on and headed down to our next stop at the Barranco Wall. This incredible campsite nestled between the wall and the clouds at 13,000 ft took our breath away as we arrived a few hours before sunset. We learned the importance of acclimatizing—“climb high, sleep low”—as we continue to prepare our bodies for summit say (this is why we hiked up to 15k and then back down to 13k)!
After getting settled and taking it all in, we ate dinner and then our LODs Aubrey and Martin led our Moonup where we all shared some laughs and love. However, there was no bigger cheer than when our guides told us we got to sleep in until 8am the next day (woohoo!!!) Of course, before bed Charlie reminded us to drink a little more water and look up at the stars (and the stunning allure of the Milky Way)!
Another great day was in the books as our new family continues on this incredible journey together.
Day 4 of Climb: Since we had the pleasure of sleeping in until 8 AM, the sun was breaking out over the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro by the time our delicious breakfast ended. We then embarked on the daunting climb up Barranco Wall—which was 800 feet of rock stretching far above our heads. Hands and feet upon the rock, we began our scramble up. Porters passed us left and right as they carried our tents, duffels, and food on their heads at twice our speed. Happy with our slow and safe pace, we panted up the wall. Chuck and MV refused to allow their short breaths to stop them from chattering all the way up the mountain. Martin, Aubrey, and James didn’t let our rapidly increasing height distract them from entertaining the group. We reached the top with high spirits—and gazed in awe at the unbelievable view!
For the rest of the day, we had a panoramic view of the mountain as the glaciers glistened in the sun. Calvin, Hugh, and Rose played games along the way as Danny hoisted his GoPro high above our heads capturing beautiful footage. We had fun all day, enjoying easy and entertaining conversation from the start and all the way to the final stretch of our hike—which required us to trek up a very steep hill. We ignored our burning legs and made it up in a blink of an eye, with porters around us cheering us on at the top!
Karanga Camp sits on a plateau at 13,123 ft just above rolling clouds. Our beloved meal tent welcomed us and we happily sat in our seats and treated ourselves to hot drinks. Emerson, Rose, Danny, and Miles played hearts while an inevitable Euchre game ensued down the table between Suzanne, Owen, Greer, and Calvin. James, Emerson, and Hugh used our spare time to find a “sitting rock” to enjoy the views and bask in the sun. Our LODs, Miles and Lillian, led us through a thoughtful and long moonup. Everyone shared deeply and prepared mentally for our summit in just 30 hours. We climbed into our tents just as a misty cloud enveloped camp and we snuggled into our sleeping bags for our last full night of sleep before summit day!
Day 5 of Climb: We woke up in the clouds at Karanga Camp and geared up for another day on the mountain. However, this one felt a little different as we knew it was our last ‘normal’ day. We hiked to our base camp of Barafu Hut at 16,000 ft in preparation for our summit attempt of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the late night of Day 5/early morning hours of Day 6.
While Day 5’s morning hike was relatively short in distance, it was bookended by two challenging inclines. We tackled the first with ease and high spirits as Owen entertained some of the group with his ‘Road Trip’ riddle which James, Calvin, and Miles especially loved. Then Greer, Martin, and Juliana started playing ‘Guess that Song’ by belting random lyrics of popular American music.
About an hour and a half in we reached the top of the first of our two hills. Now firmly in the wind, we all reached into our packs for another layer. During the change, Mary Virginia danced around and entertained us all! It was at this time our guides pointed out two things: to the right was a worn out route that would become our path down the next day—and way up and to the left was where we were headed: Upper Base Camp.
In a moment that could have been daunting, absolutely no one was phased. We trekked through a rocky valley and towards the challenge that awaited us. We stopped only to take a picture at the Barafu Camp sign before making the final 800 ft ascent to our campsite. Between Aubrey’s constant laughter and Suzanne’s enthusiasm, the last hour of the hike flew by for the rest of us.
We spent the afternoon resting in between meals as the summit ‘day’ rapidly approached. Before dinner, 3 of our guides—Robinson, Mbrappe, and Joyce—briefed us about the plan for the next 12 hours. Following a light dinner and a brief logistical and motivational Moonup led by Suz and I, we broke off into our tents and tried to get a few hours of sleep before our midnight wake up call. I think we all struggled a little bit to “live in the moment” as we anxiously tossed and turned thinking about the incredible opportunity we would have in just a few short hours…Summit Day!
Our guides woke us up at midnight—and it truly felt like Christmas morning! Five days of hiking and hard work to get us to this moment, yet the hardest part still remained…We put on layer after layer, which we had meticulously laid out the night before. We gave our hand and toe warmers a good shake before putting them in place; trusting them to keep our extremities warm. We zipped up our parkas and said goodbye to our warm tents as we stepped into the blistering cold of night. Stumbling towards the kitchen tent, the frigid air seemed inconsequential because we were distracted by the stars and the Milky Way shining bright above.
Using powdered milk, coffee, and hot chocolate, we mixed together concoctions to shake away the midnight sleepies. Before long, with popcorn and cookies in our bellies as a literal midnight snack, we began our ascent. Groups of headlamps were already snaked up the mountain above us and groups from lower base camp walked slowly up from behind us—and we fell right into step between them. Nothing but our headlamps and the stars lit the way ahead of us, and we reveled in the warmth of our parkas. Soon, our group fell into a consistent pace which had us passing others and lifting spirits.
Hugh and Danny kept me (Suzanne) company for the first few hours, taking in the small moments and sharing fond memories. We had 3,500 feet to climb, 4.3 miles to walk, and 5 hours until the sunrise. Mary Virginia shouted to everyone, using her extra energy to check in on how they were doing. Miles exuded positivity as he plowed up the mountain and took in everything beautiful and unique about it. Up we went, one step after the other, nothing to indicate our progress up the mountain except the shrinking lights of basecamp.
Altitude is like an allergy—it chooses its victim at random and strikes without reason. Emerson and Chuck’s normally positive and reliable attitudes began to wilt as altitude sickness overtook them. Rose and Calvin stepped up quickly to share their energy and support with their friends. Aubrey and Lillian were strong willed and quick to support the team at every chance they had. They even deigned to shine a headlamp for me as I used the toilet (the biggest rock I could find and somewhat flat ground). Greer matched my energy all the way up, dancing to songs and spreading her joyful spirit, while Juliana’s stoic and athletic nature was a point of consistency for the group throughout the night.
One foot after the other, we pushed up the mountain and pushed our bodies beyond its limits. Martin and Owen held the group together mentally, by filling our cracks with witty comments. Hugh was the first to spot the moon (which we thought we were imagining there for a minute). It was a crest of blazing red light—Owen and Hugh (as they have done every night of the trip so far) shouted “nugs to the moon” to lift spirits and ground the group throughout the hike. We sang, we laughed, we walked, and we kept moving. Porters sang the Kilimanjaro song from different groups and places on the mountain.
Eventually, the horizon became a line of dim orange and we couldn’t help but sing “here comes the sun” despite our short breaths and tight lungs. It was true; we bore witness to the most beautiful sunset which lasted an hour. As dawn broke at 6:30 the path above became clear. We all realized what we had been blindly climbing—and we were truly unaware of the progress we were making. We were very close to Stella Point, which marked the end of the steepest part of our climb. If we could make it to Stella, we could make it to the top. The final hour to Stella point, and our second to last hour, required grit and perseverance from every student. Some fought off altitude sickness, some battled utter lack of sleep, some recovered from losing their stomachs, and some heaved in breaths to offset the thin air. However, the orange sunrise lit up the Stella Point sign which bobbed in and out of our line of sight as we navigated the switchbacks. We made it to Stella Point, and used a precious moment at 18,500 feet to check in with ourselves and each other.
Emerson led the group arm and arm with Suzanne, her determination and fortitude propelling her forward despite altitude sickness. Chuck, James, and MV soaked in the long awaited sunshine like they could photosensitize. Groups descending from the summit cheered us on and promised we were close. Our pace quickened with every declining group we passed. The 360 view was difficult to take in as our eyes adjusted to the light and our feet carried us forward. Juliana and Owen danced and sang with every little breath they had left while Greer and Calvin’s unbreakable consistency helped propel the rest of the group to the finish line.
Finally, there was the peak and the sign which marks it. We cheered, collapsed, cried, and hugged, in no particular order. Danny fell silent as he spun in a circle, taking it all in. Martin hugged everyone he could get his hands on. Lillian, Aubrey, and Rose scampered off to pee with the best view of their lives. Hugh, James, Calvin, and Miles did the same, having an unforgettable bathroom break! We all dog piled in front of the famous summit sign for a photo to capture this incredible moment, all of our hard work to get here, the laughs in the face of the low moments… and everything in between. We befriended strangers at the top, as we all shared similar feelings of relief and pride.
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 team with fresh mango juice as our porters helped us peel off our gaiters and boots. After a quick lunch and a cat nap in the sun, we had to pack up and get down to a camp at a lower elevation in order to relive any remaining altitude issues (this would also make our final descent down the mountain more manageable). By time we reached our camp and settled into our tents, we had been awake for 21 hours (if the naps before our summit day wake up count). With everyone healthy and happy to be resting at High Camp, it’s needless to say that we were all truly exhausted (and boy did we earn that feeling!). Our eyelids quickly closed, and we dreamed of the warm showers and beds awaiting us the next day.
Day 7–Descent and Travel Day: Our last morning on the mountain meant one final wake up and meal from our hilarious chef—Peter. Ever the character, he was always cracking jokes and trying to teach us Swahili (even at 6 o’clock in the morning).After breakfast our team of guides, chefs, and porters gathered us together and sang the “Kilimanjaro Song” as a final goodbye to the mountain that had become our home for the past 6 days. Martin jumped right in the middle and chanted alongside as we all clapped, danced, and savored the moment.
We then took off on our final descent towards the Mekka Gate 13.5km away. Following closely behind our guide Jackson, Danny quickly led us from the rocky terrain we had become accustomed to and back into the jungle. Even though we were all battling our exhausted bodies, we successfully made it out of the park before lunch!
Our guides took us to a local restaurant in and souvenir shop in Moshi to celebrate our successful summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. We all enjoyed ice cold cokes, coffee, French fries, and running water! Hugh even found an incredible pair of pants to match the shirt he bought at the Maasai Market last week. After we said goodbye to our incredible guides, we loaded up the bus and headed for Arusha!
The long descent turned travel day finally came to a close when we once again reached the Massailand Safari Lodge. We ate a quick dinner and all (very) excitedly headed for our rooms where the much anticipated showers and beds awaited us.
It’s still hard to truly wrap our heads around what we accomplished over the last week—and especially the last 48 hours. I know that we will all take time to appropriately reflect on our journey during the next few days as we begin our safari section, but for now, please know how incredibly grateful Suzanne and I are to have shared this unforgettable experience with each one of your kids. They are truly incredible young adults and we would not have all made it to the top without their collective effort, love, intelligence, charisma, and toughness.
We will all remember that magical moment at the summit for the rest of our lives—and with that, I hope they know that truly anything is possible.
Asante Sana, Owen & Suz
Martin: Hi Mom and Dad,
We just summited Kilimanjaro! The trip is so much fun and I can’t wait to see you soon. Love y’all
Charlie: Hi Mother & Father
Glad to say we made it to the top of Kilimanjaro! I had so much fun and made so many great memories. Can’t wait to see you in a week!
Lot of love, Charlie
Miles: Hi mom and dad and whoever reads this.
Tanzania has been an incredible experience and yes we all summited Kili. Excited to share stories and I hope things have been going well back at home.
See you in a week,
Calvin: Hi! I’m having a great time. Climbing the mountain was super fun and I made so many memories.
See you in a week!
Hugh: Hey Mom, We just got back to the hotel in Arusha after summiting Kili! It was really hard but it was amazing and we had the best time getting up there. Can’t wait to see you soon!
Danny: Hey Mom and Dad! I am having the most amazing time here! We have done so many insane, life changing things that I can barely even process it. My group has been epic, and I’ve met so many incredible people throughout the trip. Kili was absolutely crazy, and I can’t believe we all made it to the top. Love you guys and as always, tell the dogs I said hey!
James: Hey mom and dad,
We just got back from Kili! I’m super sore and lost a few lbs. Everyone made it to the top and nobody got hurt. We are abt to start the safari. Everyone in the group is awesome and just all around characters in the best way. Im ready to get back to see friends and family though and get ready for tcu. Miss y’all tons! Can’t wait to see CB and Heathrow!
Mary Virginia: Hey mom and dad!! Just summited Kili yesterday and it was incredible. Miss you a ton and can’t wait to tell you everything. Headed to safari today! Love you so much.
Emerson: Hey mom dad and grant! I miss you so much! Everyone summited KILI yesterday and it was the coolest thing ever!!! I can’t wait to tell you all about it. We leave for safari today and I’m so excited to see all the animals. See you soon, LOVE YOU SO MUCH!! Xoxo
Lillian: Hey Fam Jam,
Just summited Kili! Piece of cake!! Love and miss y’all,
Aubrey: Hi Guys!! I just summited KILI!! You can only say KILI if you have climbed it so it’s kilimanjaro to y’all. I am so tired of the food but we bought Nutella and I have been living off of it (so, sorry mom! 😂). I love and miss y’all so much, can’t wait to show you guys all the pics.
Juliana: Hey mom and dad! We just summited Kili and I’m having the best time! Give Nina and Santi hugs for me, te quiero mucho!!
Greer: Hey mom and dad, I miss u guys lots. I’m having the best time right now and we just got back from summiting Kili! I love u all so so much. Owen and I both say hi Fordo.
Rose: Hey momma, Jojo and Lila buggie!!
I miss you all so much and I can’t wait too see you all soon! I hope mobile was fun! I have had the MOST AMAZING TRIP!! I can not wait to tell you all about it and show you all my pictures. We just got back from SUMMITING Kilimanjaro and now we are off to safari… I am so excited! Tell sambo and cam – LOVE you all! Thank you so much for this opportunity mom 🙂
July 17, 2022
Our first day (and change) was full of planes, trains, automobiles, and lots of layover time! But this group’s responsible and enthusiastic nature made for a smooth “travel day” from Chicago to Doha to Kilimanjaro.
Mary Virginia, Emerson, and Aubrey were the first to arrive and immediately began helping Owen wrangle the rest of the group (while making him and everyone else laugh, of course)!
The flights were very long, but uneventful! Everyone really enjoyed the incredibly nice Doha airport as we spent our 8-hour layover talking, playing games, and exploring!
Finally, we boarded our flight to JRO. This time the air travel felt much much shorter. We landed and successfully navigated health checks and customs before finding all our bags (!!!!) and meeting Suzanne!
The travel marathon was complete! Our group is full of incredible people with bright personalities and welcoming hearts. During the course of travel, our KIL4 fam organically broke the ice and came together very quickly.
When Emanuel, our awesome driver, dropped us off at the Massailand Safari Lodge, everyone was ready for some much-needed R&R. Our adventure was officially underway!
Upon arrival at our hotel, we ate our first Tanzanian meal and loved it!
Suzanne grilled the students for fun facts to play catch-up, and they were quick to talk and share stories! Finally, the students got to take a much-needed shower. After everyone refreshed, Aubrey and Hugh were quick to get a game of cards going. Once they had their fill of the game BS, Suzanne taught them a new game… Red King! Rose, Martin, and Calvin were quick learners and started winning games left and right while Miles, Aubrey, and Owen split off to learn Euchre from Danny! We did some classic bonding and had an early dinner in front of a beautiful sunset. Owen and Suzanne led the group through our first moonup, before sending everyone headed to bed early! We named our first leaders of the day (LODs), Mary Virginia and James! We loved their positive attitudes, outgoing spirit, and responsibility during our travel days.
Day 3: Service Orientation
Woohoo! We woke up with lots of sleep and felt recovered from the jet lag. James woke up early and used that time to read on the balcony, and as LOD helped us wake up the rest of the students. We made hot cups of instant coffee, while Calvin made himself a mocha with the hot chocolate mix. After a yummy breakfast, we loaded up our van and began the drive to Mto Wa Mbu for the service section of our trip. We let everyone have their pick of songs along the way: Aubrey chose “Chicken Fried”, Juliana sang along to Katy Perry (requested by Owen), and Danny rocked out to MGK. The van ride flew by as everyone chatted, laughed, sang, and took in the scenery out the window. We were welcomed at our camp with fresh mango juice—which was delicious!
Ema, our guide, taught the students how to set up their canvas tents and we began to make camp our home. After, we played cards headed by Charlie, Calvin, Greer, and Rose; Suzanne taught the group how to play “death sack”—where James, Hugh, Emerson, and Martin shined.
The students were excited when Allison and Sheb arrived and were eager to hear about our community service project. Allison taught the students about how the Red Sweater Project was founded and about their exceptional relationship with the local community. We were so energized by the history of the Red Sweater Project and ready to get to work! We spent the rest of our afternoon at camp playing cards and games. Rose taught the group how to play a game called “family” and after a long standoff between Charlie and Aubrey, Aubrey took the win.
As the sun set, we gathered around the fire and gazed at the stunning stars to start off moonup. Mary Virginia and James led us through moonup, and elected Hugh and Rose as our next LODSs!
Day 4: Hike and Town Tour
Still adjusting to the time change, many of us woke up to the beautiful Tanzanian sunrise. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast before Hugh and Rose helped everyone prepare for the hike as LODs. We then began our quick ascent of the escarpment, the wall of rock that is one side of the Rift Valley. Mto Wa Mbu sits in the African Rift Valley, which was created when the Ngorogoro volcano erupted and the Ngorogoro crater was formed. The two steep walls on either side of the valley are diverging plates, which is what we climbed up!
Hugh and Greer led the pack with Suzanne, and we quickly made it to the top. We then wandered through villages and encountered people going about their daily lives. Ema explained to us what we saw, so we could proceed with understanding and awareness. Ema and Owen heard someone playing the violin and struck up a conversation with him. He kindly offered to play us some songs, and we loved the show!
We then scrambled back down to camp and had a delicious lunch before meeting up with the Red Sweater Project team. They walked with us into the town of Mto Wa Mbu and gave us a tour. We visited a local wood carving collective where we learned about how they carve wood, the origins of the tradition, and how their business works. Similarly, we visited a painter’s collective and learned about different painting techniques in Tanzania. Upon return to camp, we splashed into the pool to cool off. Hugh and Rose led the group through a thoughtful moonup around a fire before we headed to bed.
Our first day of service! After we spent a couple of days getting settled at camp, exploring Mto Wa Mbo, and learning more about Tanzanian culture—we were ready for our first day at the Mungere School with the Red Sweater Project.
Founded in 2012, Moondance has a longstanding relationship with the nonprofit whose goal is to provide secondary education to students that may not be able to attend government schooling for one reason or another. We had so much fun learning about their mission, touring their expanding campus, and especially spending time with their students!
Allison and Sheb, our two incredible hosts, picked us up from camp and drove us about 30 minutes to the school early in the morning. We spent an hour or so getting oriented on campus and beginning to understand the ‘behind the scenes’ of how the school operates. As always, Martin and Charlie were there to ask our hosts insightful questions that stimulated great conversations!
Next, we met our buddies for the week and started our project! We all worked together to cut small trenches for water runoff along the school’s walkways. Led by our LODs Juliana and Calvin, we lined the pathways with large rocks and smoothed out the excess dirt so we could come back later in the week and spread gravel. All of our work will help the school conserve water for their gardens, prevent mud from being brought into the classrooms on (rare) rainy days, and limit the amount of dust inhaled by the students on a daily basis.
After our lunch break, it was time to hang out and play with our buddies! We headed down to the futbol pitch and divided up into teams. Juliana, Emerson, and James showed off their athleticism, but really, none of us were any match for our new Tanzanian friends on their home turf! It was so much fun to just let loose and play after a morning full of work!
We returned to camp for afternoon full of pool time, cards, reading, and a whole lot of smiles.
After breakfast we drove back out towards the Mungere school, but this time we would do it a little differently. Sheb took us about halfway there and then we met our buddies and walked the rest of the way! The school is set in a rural location and most, if not all, of the students walk over an hour to and from school every day. It was a peaceful and beautiful morning, but it also provided all of us with a lot of perspective and gratitude.
We arrived and all drank a bunch of water before we jumped right back into our service project! Between Suzanne’s singing and Aubrey’s jokes, work truly seemed like play as we bounced around campus and quickly completed our tasks. There were lots of conversations and smiles to go around—however, none were bigger and more vibrant than the ones shared between Hugh and his buddy Moses!
Today’s main afternoon activity was basketball! James dominated on the “hardwood” leading his team to victory. Others got into groups and played hacky sack, juggled the soccer ball, and taught each other the American and African versions of tic-tac-toe while we all jammed out to music. And just for a few moments, I think we all felt like little kids again.
The late afternoon back at camp brought more leisure time with frisbee, nap time, ‘death sack’, and playing cards before we shared an awesome chicken curry dinner.
Lillian and Martin, the LODs, led an incredible Moonup around the campfire to close out the day!
Day 7: Service
James and Chuck (Charles) woke up before the rest of the group and enjoyed the sunrise by a morning fire. As everyone began to crawl out of their tents, the sun broke through the clouds and our day begun. We sipped on delicious coffee and chatted about our families and lives as a part of our slow-morning routine. Aubrey raves about the “mysterious brown juice” that we had at breakfast. All we know is that it was yummy and fresh squeezed. We bumped along in the trucks to school—listening to music and taking in the bustle of the town. We had four heaping piles of gravel to tackle, so we got right to work! Greer and Calvin became machines as they hefted heavy bags of gravel across campus. James and his buddy ran back and forth with the wheelbarrow, while Aubrey led the charge making sure the drains were filled correctly. Juliana and Rose sang songs with the students as they worked, including “You Are My Sunshine” and “Our Song”. The standout song, though, was “Baby” by Justin Bieber. Before long, students began pouring out of the classrooms—and were excited to be finished with exams and to lend a helping hand. With their help, we finished the pathways in record time!
We ate a quick lunch so we could start playtime… some things never change. Hugh and Emerson took a group of students to the basketball court, while Danny started a game of chess with his buddy. Greer played UNO with Suzanne and some students, and Miles played “Life” with others. Juliana and Martin whooped when someone pulled out Jenga and an intense game ensued. When it was time to return to camp, we said our goodbyes for the day.
With Jack Johnson singing to us from Owen’s phone, some of us passed out on the lawn, enjoying a well-deserved nap. James and Lillian giggled like kids on the rope swing, and Miles took a dip in the pool. Mary Virginia taught Chuck how to play 20 questions, and Danny started a game of Eucher. Exhausted from a hard day of work, the group cheered when we surprised them with Kit Kat bars! Chuck adamantly journaled beside an intense Eucher between Owen, Danny, Calvin, and Suzanne. After dinner, Danny and Hugh told stories around the campfire before Aubrey and Danny led us through moonup. We went around the circle and shared what keeps us up at night and what gets us up in the morning. Rose led everyone through a game of mafia before we hit the hay.
Our LODs Chuck and Emerson were elected for their hard work on the service project and unwavering positivity. They helped everyone get organized for our fun day today! We met the Mungere students at the school and began our hike up to a waterfall. Along the way, Aubrey and Rose picked flowers with their buddies while Danny and Miles learned Kiswahili from theirs. The students pointed out different crops, homes, and animals as we walked past farms and neighborhoods. We then ascended into a forest and monkeys swung around in the trees above our heads! Hugh was quick to take a silly photo with his buddy, Moses, as they had quickly become good friends over the course of the week. After taking some awesome pictures and enjoying the cool mist from the waterfall, we headed back to school for lunch. We ate quickly and used our extra time to play one last time with our friends. It was hard to say goodbye to the Mungere students, after all they have shared with us and taught us. We are so proud to work with the Red Sweater Project and can’t wait to get home and write letters to our buddies!
After bittersweet goodbyes, we left for our next adventure. Sheb introduced us to a local Maasai home, and we were welcomed with a song and dance. The family then showed us the Maasai marriage dance—where the boys got to try their hand at jumping the highest while the girls sang to the beat of their stomps. Mary Virginia peeled off to play games with the little children and their giggles were contagious! The family showed us their stick and mix huts, how they cook, and how they make fire. Richer in knowledge, we then drove to do some shopping!
Martin and Rose showed off their bartering skill and left with some prizes from the wood carver. At the painting collective, Charles excitedly thanked the artist of his painting he bought and loves—and made sure to take a photo with him. Martin and Danny got jerseys from the Maasai Market and Mary Virginia got some shiny jewelry for a great deal. After shopping, we treated the group to cold sodas, which we happily sipped on by the pool.
Emerson and Charlie led us through our last Moonup at the Mingobani Camp— a time for thoughtful reflection as we wrapped up our service section in Mto Wa Mbo.
We are continually impressed with our group’s maturity, easy-going attitude, and ability to be both silly and responsible in the same minute. It’s an easy trip to lead when we are lucky enough to have kids like this.
In two days’ time we’ll begin the climb—and we are so excited for our KIL4 family to tackle this next challenge together. It is going to be an incredible experience for all of us.
Until next time,
Suz & Owen
July 10, 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!