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Mystery Trip 1 • July 6-July 26, 2022

One Final Update and our Mystery Manifesto

July 26, 2022

Ugh. It’s that feeling again. That inevitable bittersweet feeling of the end of another trip.


We as a company and as leaders are almost casual in our usage of the term ‘trip of a lifetime’ and yet it is perhaps the loftiest of goals we could possibly set for ourselves. Similarly we use descriptors that can seem cliché when we describe a group as the ‘cream of the crop’, the ‘best of the best’. But there are, in all honesty, not enough words, not enough superlatives nor praise with which we could even begin to articulate our love for this group and this experience. We have known the end of the trip has been looming, we’ve known it since day one, but now that it’s over it is by no means easy to accept.


We are left to wake to new days in which we can only cling to the memory of the utterly unique and joyful experience of seeing:

The tireless glimmer of kindness in Katie’s eyes.

The mischievous brotherly love pour from Asher’s every action.

The inspirational inquisitive intention of Ari.

The bountiful joy and infectious cackle of Catherine.

The ageless enthusiasm of Richard.

The attentive playfulness of Andrew.

The vulnerability and fun loving attitude of Susanna.

The passionate and hilarious storytelling of Elizabeth.

The bouncy ball of love that is the very being of Beckett.

The compassion and warmth of Emily that lights the darkest space.

The selflessness that necessitates everyone around Will to be and do better.


How can we fill days like we did on this trip? How can we be this version of ourselves that we have so deeply fallen in love with? We actively tried to reflect on this before the end of the trip snuck up on us and caught us off guard unable to take it all in. It is not an easy feat to try to encapsulate what the elusive magical spirit of moondance is, but we have tried. I challenged each of us to use the writing prompt of “we are…” to better understand what this weird old world we create really is for us. After a little editing, cutting, rearranging, translating, and gluing back together we came up with this to leave you with and to give ourselves to look back on. Please enjoy taking the time to read it and perhaps be transported for a moment to the space we have been in for 3 glorious weeks. And as always, thank you so much.


The Mystery Manifesto

We are willing to sacrifice knowing what’s next to feel more fully what is now.


We are travelers with no destination, prepared for anything, anywhere, and anyone.


We wake up early and stay up late. We squeeze every drop of life out of




We trade hunger for sunsets. We sacrifice sleep for sunrises. We choose each other even in the moments that we want to choose ourselves.


We say “YES CHEF, THANK YOU CHEF!” to every opportunity. We choose to climb extra steep peaks over the comfort of the valleys we know below. We reflect on our days to remember what moves us, what ignites us, and what inspires us.


We accept that sometimes the lowest lows allow for the highest highs.


We turn our eyeballs to full HD mode, we open them wide even when it makes our allergies flare.


We jump in cold water that makes us yelp and squeal and hoot and holler. We turn the music up and sing along even when we don’t know the words.


We make sounds that make no sense.


We speak in silly voices.


We burp, we fart, we roll around in the dirt, and go too long without a shower; we accept that life can be as messy as it is beautiful.


We eat well, and always, always say yes to more ice cream.


…and crepes.


…and chocolate mouse.


…and Vegan Classics™️


AND we put Nutella on allllllllll of it!


We laugh loud and with reckless abandon.

We seek joy even in silence.



And we love silence…


It can be as vibrant as a philharmonic orchestra.



We are comfortable even in discomfort. We are uplifting, and brave. We accept nothing from each other except

everything we are,

everything we have been,

and everything we are yet to be.

We hold each other accountable to the highest standards because we have shared with each other our very best selves.

Our smiles are bright.

Our hearts are full.




We strive to do better and to be better. Our kindness is radiantly infectious.


Yes…. We can be grumpy, we can be tired, we can be worn down and fed up, forgetful and lazy, BUT we are patient with ourselves, and revive each other with love.


We are explorers of our souls. We question who we are, accepting uncertainty and embracing change because we know – nobody knows it all, and we must never settle for anything less than a lifetime of growth.


We are risk takers, joke makers, and booty shakers.


We come from different homes, have lived different lives, hide different secrets, and carry different pain, but





We are laughers, lovers, sisters and brothers.



…are family.

Dolphintely OverWHALEming!

July 25, 2022

Whalep, our time in the Atlantic has somehow sped up and flown by. They say time flies when you’re having fun, which is true. But we also think time flies when you’re making deep and meaningful connections, trying new things, enjoying new foods, adventuring to new places, and spending time with a group of former strangers who you now consider family.


Our last two day in the Azores were action packed and iconic. Our dancing queen Susanna turned 17 with us, and we spent the day celebrating her with homemade crepes by Jack, lots of music, and the grand ole activity of coasteering. Coasteering was new for everyone, and we were all quite eager to experience this maritime merry-go-round. We all wetsuited up and headed to the cliffs of São Miguel for playtime in the deep blue sea. The next few hours were spent swimming in the ocean, bobbing our way to different cliff jumping spots, and using the waves to move through small channels. The amount of joy this activity evoked in us was unmatched, and our giggles were constant. We all felt like little kids at a theme park. Jack and Will spent more than half of the activity splashing around and wrestling in the water like two giddy toddlers but that was the kind of fountain of youth this activity ignited in us.


In the afternoon, we explored more of the town of Ponta Delgada. We of course had to start the journey with ice cream and espresso, and then ventured into the small cobblestone streets – some shopped for local trinkets, while others followed Ari to visit a former synagogue turned Hebrew museum to learn about the rich Jewish history of the Azores. Somehow after that, we worked up space in our stomachs for MORE ice cream and visited our favorite local gelatoria much to Catherine’s delight, our self appointed queen of ice cream. Elizabeth got her hands on another map, this one made by locals, and led a few of us to an old fort on the island with tons of militia artifacts from the late 1800s all the way to the WWII era. We’ve loved this group’s willingness and desire to explore what’s around them and immerse themselves into the culture.


Our next morning was early so we could set out to sea for a whale and dolphin watch tour! The Azores is a fantastic place to do this and is home to 30% of the world’s cetacean (whale and dolphin) population. We had the boat to ourselves, and Beckett and Asher took the seats at the front of the boat for a more adventurous ride, according to our guide and marine biologist, Alex. We all filed into our seats and departed the pier wide-eyed and ready to see these magnificent mammals.


It wasn’t too long before we heard from the lookout that a sperm whale had been spotted very close to us! Our skipper raced to the spot and Richard was the first to see signs of a sperm whale underneath the surface! This particular sperm whale was a local and one Alex could easily identify as ‘Mr. Liable’. He’s been living in the Azores for about 12 years and is a very big boy! We were able to see his dorsal fin, his massive body, and a few really good whale sprays. Then, Alex told us he was about to head back down to the depths of the sea to hunt giant squid! Mr. Liable took his time as he angled his head into the water elegantly and in a fashion that almost bragged about his confidence and familiarity with the area, he slowly flicked his giant tail up like a majestic wave goodbye and making for the BEST photo opp, which Katie absolutely snagged. She’s been our Nat Geo photo gal for sure!


We were off again quickly once the lookout spotted a very rare and elusive Beaked Whale. While the crew couldn’t quite pinpoint the exact species, they told us just how lucky we were to be seeing not one but THREE! We knew this was a huge deal because of how thrilled Alex was. They didn’t hang out for too long, but were quite the sight to see.


The lookout was truly the hero of the day, who by the way, we never saw, but only heard. He was stationed in a lighthouse on the coast, and was the reason we encountered the biggest pod of dolphins we’d ever seen. Alex estimated over 100!!! These dolphins were not shy AT ALL and swam and jumped all around our boat. Some were so close that we could have touched them! These were Atlantic Spotted Dolphins and even had some adorable babies in the mix. It was truly remarkable to witness these new creatures jumping alongside their mom and friends – a few really showed off for us too with some big jumps and splashes.


Completely overwhelmed and awestruck, we headed back to the pier to conclude our journey. However, our ‘eyes from afar’ did it again, and spotted ANOTHER sperm whale. But this sperm whale, like us, was just a tourist visiting the area! Our local guides and the lookout confirmed they had never seen this sperm whale before! We couldn’t see much of him, as he was quite shy and hesitant for us to get close to him, so we started an epic game of ocean edition Hide and Seek. Just before giving up we had a final call from our trusty lookout to sprint across the water and caught him just before he too went to hunt for squid. It was an EPIC adventure and I think we’re all still in a bit of shock from it. What a fantastic and memorable activity to conclude our time in the Azores.


As time slips ever faster through our fingers we are finding ourselves desperately clutching at what little we have left as this remarkable unit. Our penultimate LODs, Will and Katie, had the task of seeing us safely on our flight back to Lisbon for our final few days, then keeping us wrangled in this big old artsy, quirky, and utterly unique city. We feel like we have been transported to a bohemian paradise of layered culture in every regard. This city has us hypnotised with its endless character steeped in history and pulsing with life on every corner. With such an overstimulation sneaking up on us at every turn it is difficult to intentionally slow time down like we so desperately want to. Jack and Andrew had high hopes of logging in some more Portuguese miles in before the trip ends but alas, there’s only so much we can squeeze in to this itinerary!


Amid taking in the city Emily’s mind is so delightfully focused on how to continue her moondance days when this joyous trip ends, always finding an opportunity to ask us questions about being a leader in the future. We have such high hopes for all of these angel-humans to continue their memories with Moondance in any way possible but we are much more focused on truly taking in every moment that we are so lucky to have together.


As we write this, we’re all getting ready to head out to our last supper, our celebratory banquet meal in a local restaurant that everyone at the hostel has raved about. It is so hard not to feel overwhelmed by the impending sadness of our inevitable goodbye but we know all good things eventually come to an end and our gratitude for having this remarkable experience will live eternally in our memories.


As always we write this with enormous thanks to you all for allowing/helping/encouraging us to be here with each other and we can’t wait to share more stories with you in person!


With an abundance of love,


Liza and Jack

Eruption of FUN!

July 22, 2022

Hello our MYSTERY friends,

600 miles later and a whole closer to one another, we are in the Azores!!! These remarkable 11 humans have continued to impress us, teach us, and show us a lot of humor and a whole lot of love.

The Azores are an archipelago consisting of 9 islands, off the coast of Portugal, northwest of Madeira, also known as the Hawaii of Europe! Our travel day here was quite smooth, and we had a wonderful time exploring the small city of Ponta Delgada on the main island of São Miguel. Elizabeth quickly released her logistical brain and adventurous spirit by suggesting we climb up one of the main bell towers of Ponta Delgada. We got a great view of the city, the ocean, and the rolling green hills. And what would a walk around town be without ICE CREAM?! This group is OBSESSED with delicious frozen treats, and there’s no holding back now.


Our first activity here was perhaps the most Hawaiian activity of all – SURFING! Almost everyone had surfed before, and the newbies were PUMPED to test the waters 😉 Our surf spot was pretty iconic with the softest, warmest, black volcanic sand, which led to the bluest, clearest, most pristine ocean water any of us have ever seen! Will proved to be quite a natural – we mistook him for a local multiple times! Beckett and Asher were fearless and went straight for the biggest waves. The group really enjoyed embracing each wave, even if a few of them knocked us down. Surfing can be harder than you think, and it really brought out the best in everyone – adventurous spirit, compassionate support, and joyous celebration.


This ocean spot was too hard to leave, so we extended our stay after the surfing lesson, ate our lunch, and returned to the soft sand to lounge on the beach and play in the water. Catherine, Susanna, and Ari refreshed themselves with a delicious pineapple juice, and ohhhh my is the pineapple out of this world here! For most, the sport of surfing was very much still on their mind, so Jack took a crew back into that dreamy ocean water for some body surfing! These waves have been a blast to romp around in!


For the afternoon, we headed up towards the clouds to check out one of the iconic volcanic crater lakes here on this island – Lagoa da Fogo. Richard led the group up a short path to get a better view of the lake, which was nestled between abruptly steep volcanic banks and lush greenery.


Day 2 of surfing was another a huge success. Katie really mastered the waves and was up on her board pretty much the entire time we were out there. Andrew tested his new skills and ventured deeper out to the bigger waves catching more than just a few! But all in all, the best part of surfing has been watching this groups’ determination and encouragement for each other to succeed and have a good time. We are fully in that sweet spot of a trip like this when we can just be in each other’s presence and feel content, so hanging out on the beach or in the water after surfing is an easy choice to make.


We took the afternoon to visit another incredible volcanic crater with multiple lakes this time! Sete Cidades holds four stunning lakes – Lagoa Azul, Lagoa Verde, Lagoa de Santiago, and Lagoa Rasa. Everything is beautiful here, even the windy roads that lead up to the ridges of those steep volcanic peaks are lined with the most vibrant blue, purple, pink, white, and green hydrangeas.


Two days of surfing here felt like it barely scratched the surface of what the ocean has to offer, but we have limited time and so it was on to the next activity and back to yet another volcanic crater Lake – Lagoa Furnas! This third distinct crater lake area is home to some geothermic activity creating opportunities for hot springs to burst onto the surface, lush flora to grow, and even subterranean temperatures that can act like an oven to cook! Rather than let any of that slip through our fingers we had a day packed with it all! With a busy day on the schedule our LODs, Catherine and Will, got our day started early so that we could spend the morning kayaking on the lake.


While we worked up an appetite (not that these hungry hippos of ours need help in that department…) the ground beneath us had been hard at work as well, cooking up the traditional dish: Cozida das Furnas. We headed into town to meet our lunch and feast on the volcano cooked meats and vegetables, then with full stomachs we fought off the after lunch sleepies by checking out the abundant geysers all around us. To keep up with our busy day it was straight on to a beautiful, bountiful, botanical garden that had naturally heated pools and jacuzzis! After a quick sulphuric swim we had Elizabeth jump right back into her role of orientation extraordinaire taking us for a quick lap around the luscious garden and hopped back on our bus for a tea plantation tour and tasting!! Beckett couldn’t have been happier with getting to sample teas and after Emily broke the seal almost everyone in the group was quick to follow suit in buying some of the local specialty tea to bring home! Maybe, just maybe, they’ll let you try some when they come back!


We’ve got a few more mystery activities up our sleeve and can’t wait to experience them and share some more stories! But we’ll come home soon, we promise! We’re feeling a lot of gratitude as our trip closes in, so we thought we’d share a tiny bit of that with you now 🙂

With my love,

Liza and Jack

Word from the adventurers!

Emily – Oh my goodness I’m having the absolute BEST time! This trip is incredible and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here – thank you!!! All of the activities have been tons of fun but most of all I’m making so many friends and adore my leaders. Thank you again so much for allowing me to experience this and I’m so excited to share all the stories with y’all when I get home. Xoxo ems  btw I also finished 2 BOOKS on this trip!!!!


Catherine – HIIIIIIIII I miss you all and the dogs! Thank you so much for allowing me to come on this trip. I am having the time of my life. I can’t wait to tell you guys all about it! I love y’all so much thank you – cat


Susanna – Hey y’all!!! I’m having an absolute blast in the best place with the best people, and I couldn’t thank you enough for giving me this opportunity. Can’t wait to recap when I get back, say hi to Pluto for me!! Love you all -Suz


Will – hey y’all, miss you guys and I wish y’all could see this place it’s amazing! I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip.


Ari – Hey guys! I’m having a great time in the Azores. The ocean is beautiful here and surfing was great. Thank you for sending me! Miss you guys and can’t wait to tell you of my travels.


Beckett – Hello family. I miss you all a lot. The entire trip has been a blast and continues to be so in the Azores. I’m so happy I’m lucky enough to have these experiences. I can’t wait to see you guys soon!


Andrew – Hey. I’m having the best time. We’ve been doing some awesome activities, and Madeira and the Azores have been really cool. Thanks for sending me on this trip.


Asher – Hi Family. Miss y’all a lot. This place is really cool -currently in the Azores- the experience I’m gaining is priceless. Really looking forward to discussing the new things I’ve learned with y’all. Hope all is well!


Richard – Hello guys. The Azores are just as cool as Madeira, and I am having a blast here in this beautiful place with some really cool people. They have some really good cheese here . Thank y’all for allowing me to come on this trip. I can’t wait to tell y’all all about it and show y’all the insane photos. Love y’all and see you soon!


Katie – Hey!!!! I am having the trip of a lifetime and cannot thank you enough for this opportunity! I have made the funniest and sweetest friends. My leaders are so supportive and inspiring- it’s going to be hard to leave them in a few days! I miss y’all so much Tell Elvis I said hey! Love y’all!


Elizabeth – I am having the best time in the Azores. The people and leaders are amazing and I have learned so much from everybody. I have made so many memories of a lifetime and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Thank you so much for sending me on this trip – I really appreciate you supporting me through my entire Moondance journey. Love you all


Liza – thank you to Moondance for this incredible opportunity to lead incredible kids in incredible places and always supporting us and the hundreds of other groups out there all the way from Nashville! Thank you to friends and family for loving me and supporting me to lead this trip. Thank you to my amazing coleader Jack who makes me better every day and builds me up. I’m having the absolute best time and am dreading leaving. This has truly been a once in a lifetime experience that I will strive to NEVER forget.


Jack – I’m having an absolutely incredible time and legitimately struggle to imagine the days to come (all too soon) when I awake and don’t get to spend the entire day with this group. The students are remarkable people who I can’t wait to see grow up. I’ve got an absolute rockstar as a co-leader who has become a lifelong friend over the course of this trip. I’ll be eternally grateful to the endlessly hard working office team, Hayes for continuing to trust me as a leader ten years on , my mum for being the rock in my life, and LF for bringing me so many extra unexpected smiles. Can’t wait to see you all again soon

Fun Fun Funchal!

July 17, 2022

Well sweet friends and family, our love story adventure continues! There’s an abundance of love to be found here. There’s the love we are discovering for this remarkable island, the love we have for our incredible Madeiran guide Gonçalo, the love we have for the locals, the welcoming love the locals so generously give us, and of course, most of all the boundless and ever deepening love we are finding for each other.

We know you know your child/friend/loved one is wonderful (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this!), BUT let us just reiterate to you that this is an unbelievable collection of humans. We will continue to try to sing their praises but we also know we will never do justice to how highly we think of them.

Since last we wrote to you we’ve continued to embrace this beautiful culture and found more and more hidden gems as we moved on to our second official activity of the trip, canyoneering! During our hiking section of the trip we often found ourselves longingly looking out at distant streams and waterfalls and even though we had a couple occasions to jump in them, the heat and dry climate has us constantly craving more water whenever possible. To have the chance to spend a couple entire afternoons jumping, sliding, swimming, and rappelling down the brisk mountain water has been such an invigorating joy! Ari and Asher really gave canyoneering their all and we’re always first to try the jumps, cannonballs, and rappels. Seeing the joy on everyone’s faces made this activity a fast favorite. Plus, Madeira continues to shine and show more and more of its hidden gems all around us.

Given that this is the trip of all trips, we didn’t linger long on our second activity and moved right into our third…rock climbing! With the rapid turnaround of epic outdoor activities, it’s not only keeping us on our toes but also constantly testing our comfort zones. It is absolutely mind-blowing how quickly the climate and landscape can completely shift here! Seeing Richard and Will both take on their fears and apprehensions with heights was truly inspiring for us all. Elizabeth and Susanna also took on the climbing as first-timers with a bold and brave commitment that was truly wonderful to witness. We’re also pretty confident a new passion has been discovered!

It’s become an evening routine to enjoy the sunset after dinner and soak in the idyllic island landscape. Our favorite Moonup spot has been what we think is an abandoned castle that overlooks the quaint town of Porto da Cruz and the deep blue sea. Our evenings are ever extending into game-filled nights with laughs and competition abound. As a last-minute thought we packed the board game Codenames to bring over from the States and couldn’t be happier we did, as it has become a crowd favorite and one we can all play at the same time! Seeing Catherine’s creative mind go wild with her team clues is quickly becoming one of our favorite parts of the evening, though her team can be left wondering how on Earth she is connecting one word to another!

Kickstarting our second day of rock climbing we awoke to the hustle and bustle of the Trail Porto Da Cruz Natura gathering all around us – a 50km trail race around this part of the island! The locals have told us about many races in the area and yet again Madeira shows us more facets of how active and inspiring life here can be! Not to be outdone by the ultra-athletes all around us, Jack took Elizabeth, Katie, and Andrew for a 5km run to start the day and take in some of the first rays of sun for a different kind of wake up! Then it was off to the easternmost and thinnest part of the mainland to experience what felt like yet another climate and our second day of climbing right by the ocean, allowing us to get some respite from the sun with a rejuvenating ocean swim between climbs. Katie set the bar high with being the first person to climb the hardest route of the day while Emily and Beckett weren’t far behind.

When we returned to our hostel after climbing, it felt like the vibe was headed to a sweet little siesta until our hostel owners led us to the local cliff jumping spot! The excitement was high and everyone eagerly jumped in with once again, sheer joy on their faces.

Gonçalo has been a truly wonderful ambassador and guide for us here in Madeira and it is with heavy hearts we finally say goodbye to him. He had incredible sweet things to say about everyone in our group and while we are happy he’s off to get some much needed time with his newborn baby, we will miss him terribly!

With our canyons ‘eered’, our rocks climbed, and yet another new location and new activity looming, we thought it was the perfect time for Liza and me to stop blabbering and let you hear a few shout-outs directly from the kids! The next time you’ll hear from us, we’ll be living it up in the Azores!


Bye for now!

Jack and Liza


Ari – “Hi family, I’m having a great time and enjoying the scenery. Madeira’s great and so is the group.”


Susanna – “hey y’all!! hope you guys are doing well, I’m having the best time in this beautiful place so far! the leaders and group are the best. can’t wait to see y’all, miss you all!”


Emily – “hi mom, dad and maybe friends if you’re reading this too!! I’m having the absolute best time on this trip. I adore my group and leaders!! Miss and love y’all and hope all is well. Can’t wait to tell you all about it in a couple weeks!”


Beckett – “hello family, all is well in heaven. I hope everything is good back home. I’m currently sipping on an espresso and looking down on a beautiful view. I miss you and send love.”


Andrew – “hey guys, this trip has been awesome so far. The group and leaders are great, and we have been doing some great activities.”


Catherine – “Hi family and others who may be reading this, I’m having the most amazing time here in Madeira right now! Thank you for sending me on this trip- I have made such amazing friends and love my leaders. Tell the pups hi and also hi Mattox”


Katie- “Hey family! I miss you so much! I’m having the best time in Madeira. My group and leaders are amazing, and I can’t wait to tell you about the trip! Thank you so much for this experience! I love you!!”


Asher- “hey family. I’m doing great. Fire trip. Very glad I went. Cool people and places. They don’t take USD tho. Anyways love y’all and see y’all soon.”


Richard – “Hello Family. Madeira is super cool and beautiful. I hope everyone is doing well at home. Can’t wait to tell y’all about the trip soon.”


Elizabeth – “Hi! I am having a great time in Madeira. The mystery trip is amazing and I have really enjoyed being surprised by all the new activities everyday! I love you all and can’t wait to see you soon. Can’t believe we are half way through the trip already!”


Will M – “Hi! Madeira is awesome, I wish y’all could see it! I’m having a great time and am excited for the rest of the trip.”


Liza – hello sweet family and friends! Like all the kids said above, this trip is INCREDIBLE!! Everyone rocks and this country is beautiful and such a blast!!! Already planning my return 🙂


Jack – Hello dear old mum, in such a short time you’ll be hitting that big ole impressive milestone of 7 decades on this earth and I’m a lucky lucky human to have had you be my mum and my hero for 37 of those years. Thanks for everything you’ve done, everything you are, and for continuing to inspire me to love others as selflessly as you have in your life! Xxx

Magnificent Madeira Memories!

July 14, 2022

Jack here. We made it to Madeira!! Whaaaaat!!! Where!!??We are not underwhelmed, nor merely whelmed, but absolutely fully OVERwhelmed by the privilege of getting to these remote islands and all that lies ahead of us. Our travels to get here were long, a little complicated, full of twists, turns, pivots, a lot of hurry up and wait, and a total necessity to fight through our fatigue and truly test our positivity. BUT I can imagine, knowing that you know at least one of these sweet humans with us, that you are unsurprised to hear how remarkable everyone has been with staying united, positive, and caring everyone has been from the get go.

I often feel ill-equipped to even begin to convey the varying levels of gratitude I have for being a leader with Moondance and for getting to meet the students who choose to spend their summer with us, but this group has instantly proved to be the cream of the crop, number one, king of the hill, top of the heap! While our first 48 hours were spent together in what might seem like a tedious and tiresome fashion, the details of which I’ll spare you from because they are indeed boring, the company has been anything but that. The travel days were perhaps hardest on our first arrivals in Atlanta, the Texas duo Catherine and Asher both having had very early starts and coming from Texas time to join us, so much so I’ve affectionately titled them ‘The Dallas Sleepers Club.’ But we caught some z’s where we could and embraced the loopy energy that can fuel a quick family bond and many ridiculous laughs. The Texas connection didn’t stop there with Will and Susanna also hailing from that lil ole state. It is such a treat though when students from a similar area still seek connection with everyone in the group equally and this group excels at that! These kids are Moondance pros after all! Friend makers, body shakers, and undoubtedly heart breakers when they inevitably leave Liza and me!! It’s hard to stand out in a room full of award-winning humans, but Liza and I had no choice but to keenly observe the group to pick our first two LODs (Leaders of the Day). After seeing leadership skills poking their heads out from the jump, it was a hard task but we saw a little extra awareness and glimmer of that ‘put me in coach’ energy from Emily and Richard and took it as a sign to let them loose for day 1!When we landed in Madeira, even in the pitch black night, the island seemed like something from a fairytale. We were going through, under, around and over the steep valleys lit by lights that looked like candle sticks crawling up the steep hills. The candles couldn’t have been more apt since it was already officially Ari’s birthday so we sang happy birthday to him as we weaved our way through the impressive system of tunnels and roads.

After some much needed rest, we made the shotgun call to delay the start of our hiking because after all this is OUR trip and there was no way we were going to miss the opportunity to go jump in the awe-inspiring natural pools of Porto Moniz next to our accommodation on the northwest corner of the island. With some synchronized underwater adventures in the books, we had a lovely lunch at a restaurant overlooking the coast and then headed up the mountain by taxi to set up camp and take a tour of the surrounding area. Upon getting to the top of the first summit, it really hit us just how lucky we are to be in a place this spectacular. I’ll try my best to switch up the adjectives to attempt doing justice to explaining this place but please know it’s a futile attempt, we are lost for words! Emily and Richard took their Moondance veteran experience to a new level by requesting we take a moment to stop, find a spot and allow ourselves some silence to try to take in the beauty that surrounded us. We glanced around the 360-degree views trying to decipher where the sea of clouds gave way to the expansive ocean and comprehend how we were above it all and still seeing a mixture of rolling hills and steep volcanic cliff sides in every direction. The silence created a space akin to a natural amphitheater that called for some poetry to be read aloud and set the tone for the stunning days ahead.

On our second day of hiking, we had an all-star combo of Catherine and Will as LODs who stepped up to set an extremely high standard of leadership as they got us going on what turned out to be a challenging, but beautiful hike where we clocked over 20km! Asher, Ari, and Beckett found themselves chomping at the bit as they unleashed their youthful energy and fresh legs pushing our pace up front all day. But as we all know, the tortoise wins the race, so we challenged each other to care more about making it together than making it first. Thankfully our big day of stomping through the Madeiran landscape was split in half by the opportunity to take in a truly remarkable waterfall. Beckett was once again first to break ground by immediately jumping into the frigid water to soak up some much needed moisture and that uniquely revitalizing energy waterfalls can bring. Everyone else was right behind, eagerly jumping in to wake the senses from head to toe. While the waterfall was a popular destination for other tourists and locals alike, our group was among the very few who braved the water and we couldn’t have been happier to do so. It is such a joyous and unique opportunity to be able to enjoy all this island has to offer and we find ourselves desperately trying to articulate our gratitude and appreciation for everything around us including each other. I am so hopeful to convey even the slightest glimmer of what we are encountering on this trip but for fear of being unable to do so and to attempt to curtail my long-windedness, I’ll pass the ‘mic’ to Liza. Over to you Liza!

Is my mic on? Okay. Liza here reporting live after more magical, magnificent, and mysterious days of trekking. The crux of our trek was the fourth day. It started with an earlier wake up call when the clouds were still rolling into our campsite’s meadows, giving us a soft and gentle, “Good morning.” Katie and Ari, both acutely aware of the significance of the day, put themselves before the group and immediately jumped on cook crew to fuel us. Our efficiency honed in, we were ready to begin our 17-kilometer (almost 11-mile) day through the mountains of Madeira. This island may seem small at only 309 square miles, but these trails, mountains, and sweeping views will tell you a different story, causing you to constantly gain and shift your perspective. The trail talk was flowing and energetic, which kept the momentum going and positivity high as we trekked up 1765 meters (almost 5800 feet) in elevation. Will shared his passion for mountain biking and rocket science. His approach to learning is fascinating and has taught Jack and me a thing or two. Elizabeth shared her passion for helping others and improving the world, which we’re pretty sure she’s going to change.

And if the climb or the chatter wasn’t taking our breath away, the views around every corner were. The landscape and views constantly changed. We started the hike out literally in a cloud! We were pioneers of the sky and felt like a plane could fly by just feet over our heads at any given moment. But all of the sudden, we emerged from a waterfall of clouds and felt the air get dryer and the landscape snapped into focus with a bluebird sky above us. Now our goal was in sight. Pico Ruivo – the tallest peak of Madeira, at 1861 meters (6105 feet) tall. We still had to meander our way through the mountains, but each climb and each curve brought us closer and revealed more and more of this island’s intense beauty and stunning characteristics. The group pressed on and all reached the summit, feeling accomplished and proud. Jack surprised the group with a summit treat of dark chocolate which really got everyone hyped because we still had a bit to go in order to reach our destination for the night – an incredible mountain hut, nestled in the mountains and the clouds. The mountain hut was a well-deserved treat with delicious food prepared for us and a warm bed! We were actually the very first people to stay here! The group loved our hosts and left an amazing first impression. This little spot felt like our little secret. We explored the area, and thanks to Andrew, saw an incredible sunset. Which of course prompted Jack and me to recruit whoever we could to watch the sunrise the next morning. Only a few brave souls joined – Richard, Katie, and Emily. This doesn’t surprise us of course, as they are go-getters and adventure-seekers .It was a bittersweet moment leaving the mountain hut, but we knew there was more trail to conquer and views to soak in. Our fearless LODs, Andrew and Susanna, took charge and led us through the mountains yet again. And my oh my are these some MOUNTAINS!!! Up and down, over and back, we went. The landscape changed again!! Now we’re feeling like we’re on Mars or in Moab, but also in Switzerland, but maybe it’s actually Iceland or Colorado?! You really do have to see it to believe it. We passed through tunnels and saw iconic frames of Madeira that we’ve even found on postcards! Eventually, we made it to our last campsite for the trekking section, another beautiful, wooded meadow with clouds rolling in. We feasted on fish, chicken, steak, and veggie rice and learned that Asher is quite the grill master! We ate well and slept soundly.

Our last day of trekking was fun and energetic. Everyone had their hiking legs, so we CRUISED to the little town of Monte and made it by lunchtime. We still had a ways to go in order to get to Funchal, Madeira’s capital, and our home for the next few nights, so we decided to shave a little distance, Madeira style, and ride down in toboggans! Toboggans are traditional wicker basket sleds that took us down a steep, 2 km hill! Both thrilling and cultural, we all were smiling ear to ear. The mystery continued! There were moments on this trek when perspective was challenged. We’d see our target and wonder how we were going to get there. We’d stare out at a sweeping landscape and not understand how this island is only 34 miles long. We’d dip in and out of clouds and simply trust of feet and the person in front of us. Now we’re settled into our hostel, feeling content after trekking, yet eager for what’s to come. Jack and I keep reminding ourselves that we’re only a third of the way complete with our trip! It doesn’t feel like that though. These 11 wonderful humans are the cream of the crop and a dream for us to lead. Ari’s sense of humor and insightfulness keeps us on our toes. Andrew’s helpfulness and silent leadership makes our job easier. Susanna’s compassion makes our hearts warm. Will’s kindness spreads like wildfire. Asher’s perspective challenges us. Katie’s strength and positivity keeps us moving. Richard’s jolliness makes us smile. Catherine’s connections glue us. Beckett’s empathy supports us. Elizabeth’s wisdom inspires us. Emily’s leadership carries us.

Thank you for sharing the most amazing kids with us. We can’t wait to see these next two weeks unfold. So until next time!

Much love from Madeira,

Jack and Liza

Made it to Madeira!

July 7, 2022

Hello Mystery Trip Families!

We heard from our leaders that the group has landed safely in Madeira. 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!

-Moondance HQ


  • Andrew
  • Ari
  • Asher
  • Beckett
  • Catherine
  • Elizabeth
  • Emily
  • Katie
  • Richard
  • Susanna
  • Will