June 22, 2023
We have had an absolute blast these past couple of days back in Kenya at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy! Before we set off, we stopped at a market outside Nairobi to buy some snacks for the next few days. Our LODs, Molly and Katherine, accompanied Cameron inside and spent thirty minutes picking out treats for the whole group. They returned to us triumphant, arms full of snacks. We arrived at camp on Sunday and were greeted with a lunch buffet of rice, chicken, and vegetables. Our guide, Gilbert, brought us to see Ol Pejeta’s chimpanzee sanctuary, and the girls were treated to a crowd of chimps running around and playing with each other. We took forty-five minutes to just stand and watch all of them interact. It was so cool! We had to drag the girls away from the chimps back to our Land Cruisers. As soon as we got back in, we were swept away on an afternoon game drive all around the conservancy’s 90,000 acres. We saw elephants, giraffes, lions, and rhinos – four out of the big five! Despite our long morning of travel, Reese stayed alert and asked our guide various questions throughout the drive. That night, our chef prepared an amazing meal of Fettuccine Alfredo and Emma Catherine immediately became Chef Henry’s biggest fan.
The next day, the girls spent the morning helping the rhino sanctuary with a few tasks. Ella and Molly took charge and enthusiastically scooped rhino poop while Kenzie manned the wheelbarrow. Grace and AnneMillen raked and leveled the dirt for the rhinos’ rest area. Afterward, we all walked out into the field where the last two Northern White Rhinos are looked after! The girls all helped clean out the rhino’s water trough, although Nataleigh and Sarah spearheaded the task and scrubbed the trough squeaky clean. Reese donated all her wet wipes to the group and helped everyone clean up afterward. As a reward for their hard work, all the girls got to touch the last two Northern White Rhinos, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! We spent the afternoon in our Land Cruisers tracking lions and luckily found a lioness and her cub. The girls took so many pictures, with Grace and Centaine earning the award for best photos. Our last full day at Ol Pejeta started with a conservation presentation from one of the park rangers. We learned all about the inner workings of the conservancy and the wide range of animals that live there. We headed to a local school around lunchtime and helped teachers give lessons to the students. All the elementary school kids idolized AnneMillen and followed her around everywhere, giggling and imitating her every move.
For our last afternoon together, we hung out around camp and squeezed in some final bonding moments. Kenzie shared her friendship bracelet string with everyone while Nola set up the perfect music queue for the mood. That night, we went on a night game drive to see some of Ol Pejeta’s nocturnal animals in action. It did not disappoint! We observed different types of antelope, hyenas, and a pack of lions! Our guides let us follow three lion cubs as they slowly met up with their mother. Everyone thought they were so cute and the whole experience was awesome! On our final ride together, we did a quick tour of the livestock sector of Ol Pejeta before setting out on our journey back to Nairobi. The drive was long, but the girls loved every moment and sang their hearts out to a lot of Taylor Swift and Zac Bryan. We stopped halfway through for our final ice cream stop which was much needed on such an emotional day. Centaine stocked up on every type of chocolate and Molly finally found the souvenir she was looking for.
When we made it to Nairobi, we shared one last meal before the girls hopped on their midnight flight to Amsterdam. There were lots of hugs and happy tears shed when we said goodbye, an indicator of how memorable this trip has been. We have had the trip of a lifetime with these girls and we can’t wait to hear all about their next adventures!
– Cameron and Blake
June 16, 2023
It has been such a pleasure getting closer to this group! We have spent 4 magical days on the island of Zanzibar SCUBA diving in some of the bluest water and exploring different attractions of this alluring place!
After our travel day to Zanzibar from Nairobi, the group was greeted at our beachside hotel with juice and dinner. The next day, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise and walked along the beach to begin our Open Water SCUBA Certification. Since Kenzie and Nola had already received their certification, they headed out for picturesque dives along the Mnemba Island Reef. Nola was completely a natural for SCUBA as she used less air than the whole group and the instructor. Kenzie submerged into the blue water spotting all sorts of sea life including her favorite: a massive starfish. Back at the practice pool, the group braved SCUBA quizzes and hard skills where AnneMillen was an expert in all the questions. Katherine had an arduous instructor that demanded the best every time. Never once did we see her smile or her enthusiasm waiver in the face of a challenge! Nataleigh and Sarah had to complete their certification in a separate group and rocked it! Their instructor reported back that the two were the best of the group and would make fine divers in no time. By late afternoon, the group was found lounging and swimming at our hotel pool before dinner and Moonup.
The next day, the group was well on their way to achieving their certification as they completed dives on the reef and practiced hard skills. All were amazed by the gorgeous blue water and swirling sea life found below the surface. After lunch, we explored Prison Island with a guide who informed us about the history of Zanzibar and its surrounding islands. We met some new friends along the way that included peacocks and tortoises. One tortoise was almost 200 years old! Emma Catherine was spotted admiring these old creatures and gladly fed one a piece of lettuce. At dinner, the group was entertained by an acrobatics group that of course required volunteers. AnneMillen and Nola happily joined the spectacle in a limbo competition and jump rope. We finished the day with our Moonup and headed to bed to prepare for another day in paradise.
By day three of SCUBA, the group finally completed their Open Water Certification and got to ring the bell at the Scubafish Dive Center. Everybody cheered them on and our Moondancers could now fully enjoy the sheer natural beauty of Zanzibar and what locals call the “Seafari”. Also, Nola and Kenzie fearlessly embarked on their pursuit for an Advanced Open Water Certification that required further buoyancy tests, compass work, fish identification, and a deep-water dive. By now, the group was starting to feel the effects of longer days and SCUBA excursions. Nevertheless, Sarah was always there to comfort her peers and lift up that one friend who was down. We couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls that strive to support one another! This was on full display as we all pushed each other to find the rare Red Colobus Monkey of Zanzibar in Johsani Forest. After a few trails, some laughs, and some rustles in the trees above, a group of these native monkeys was directly above our group! It was a treat to see these intriguing animals followed by a leisurely stroll down the winding boardwalks of the flooded Mangrove forests of Johsani. Centaine was eager to learn a song called Jambo Jambo from our tour guide in Swahili. After a solid nature filled walk, the group headed back for dinner and Moonup. The hotel staff prepared us a traditional African meal with chapati, ugali, mango soup, octopus, and sweets. Grace and Centaine with very brave and sampled all courses with curiosity and plenty of smiles. We were weary after a long day that we did not even have time for the night swim in the hotel pool that Ella is always up for!
On our final day of SCUBA, the group loaded onto to the same boat for diving, sunbathing, swimming, and pictures. Molly finally found her green sea turtle she had been hoping to see, and the advanced divers dove down to depths of 95 feet. Emma Catherine and AnneMillen dove both dives of the day while Ella was always the first to jump in for a swim on the surface. For our afternoon activity, we perused, picked, and sampled the many different spices of Zanzibar at a Spice Farm. The group’s favorite was cinnamon. Nataleigh was crowned spice king and could see drinking some fresh coconut water from our friend called the Butterfly Man who can climb any tree for coconuts. Emma Catherine gave him a big hug, and Molly ran back from the bus so that she could give him a tip. Back at the hotel, Reese led the group with a beachside Moonup with music, laughs, hugs, and a few tears as we started to realize that our time is coming to a close.
Cameron + Blake
June 12, 2023
Jambo from Oseki Camp in Kenya!
We have had the BEST time starting our trip at Oseki Camp in Kenya! Our journey began in Amsterdam as we all met after a long group flight from Atlanta. Everyone braved the eight hour flight like champions. After a brief stay at an Eco Lodge in Nairobi, we headed out in Land Cruisers towards the Oseki Camp of the Maasai Mara. There, we would begin the cultural engagement section of the trip.
After settling into our tents, our local guides Luca and Jackson lead us on a bush walk. The girls learned how to shoot arrows from a homemade bow, throw sticks like spears, and embody the spirit of being a Maasai warrior in their lives back home. Reese excelled at shooting an arrow and shot the farthest one. Katherine won most improved on her arrow shooting; she dropped the first couple arrows but then shot her last one almost as far as Reese did! Suddenly, Jackson, our guide, points into the distance. Molly peered into some binoculars and a herd of giraffes came into view. Grace was eager to climb a tree with our Maasai friends as we headed back for dinner. She spotted and helped everyone on their climb up! After dinner we had Moonup, a time to reflect on the day, and got to bed early to recover from our long travel days.
We woke up early to visit the local village and learn more about Maasai culture and practices from the Maasai community. They welcomed us into their home with a traditional dance and song. Everyone joined in and we danced our way into the village. We were greeted by a group of local women who showed us how they build their houses. They use a mud mixture to build walls and gave us the opportunity to try for ourselves! Emma Catherine jumped right in, completely unafraid to get her hands dirty. Everyone followed, and soon all our hands were caked in mud. A Maasai woman helped us wash our hands and then led us into her home to cook a local food staple: Ugali. It’s made of corn flour and water and usually followed with a sip of milk. Both Grace and Kenzie sat in the tiny kitchen and watched her cook for twenty minutes, long past everyone else. When everyone had tried a little piece of ugali, the Maasai men demonstrated how they start a fire with only two pieces of wood and the help of friction. Centaine was determined to make a spark and twisted the rod as fast as she could. Molly was the only one who successfully created a little smoke from the friction she made. The Maasai women couldn’t wait to show us how they bead their traditional bracelets and necklaces and asked the girls to come sit with them as soon as they finished learning about how to make a fire. Everyone sat with a different Maasai woman who showed them how to make a bracelet and gave them two to take home as a gift. Nataleigh had an animated conversation with her teacher and was so thrilled to be taking home such a unique creation. After learning so much from the Maasai community, the girls were given the chance to find gifts made by the local Maasai women and spent a long time browsing and bargaining for the best price. Reese came out on top as the bargain queen, negotiating the best price out of everyone for all her trinkets. Finally, the Maasai women taught us how they get water for the village. They walk to a nearby river, fill up plastic jugs and then use a long piece of tied fabric to help them carry the jugs on their backs and foreheads. AnneMillen and Kenzie followed the example set by the Maasai women and happily helped them carry the jugs back to camp, despite it weighing 25 pounds! We said goodbye to the Maasai people and headed back to camp for lunch and some free time. We set aside some time for journaling and all the girls sat alone with their notebooks to reflect on the morning and the past couple days. Grace shared some of her thoughts and talked to us about the importance of perspective and how she planned on taking home elements of Maasai culture and applying them to her everyday life in the U.S. We closed the afternoon with Nataleigh leading us in a group game called Mafia. The next day, we headed to the nearby Semadep School to tour the grounds with the school’s principal and connect with the students. As always, AnneMillen was seen in a deep conversation with her newly made friends after rounds of questions, new games, and dances. Grace and Nataleigh participated in a high jump competition, and Catherine talked over a cup of porridge with a group of students in the shade. The whole school and our group attended an environmental club meeting where Reese and Centaine taught various lessons in recycling and conservation. Later at camp, the Oseki team faced off against the Moondance squad in a friendly game of soccer/football. Ella was our key player that rallied the girls and led us to a 4-2 victory.
After a fulfilling day of cultural learning and connection at the Semadep school and camp, our group retired to watch the sunset across the Maasai Mara plains. The group knew that the coming day would be fascinating. It was time to venture into those very plains in search of the Big Five. We awoke early the next morning and loaded into two safari Land Cruisers. After a short drive into the Reserve, we were welcomed by a majestic herd of elephants! We ventured further into this beautiful grassland. Weaving through the Savannah, our group had spotted everything from Cheetahs to Hyenas and Hippos to Lions (all of which were captured by Centaine, Reese, and Kenzie on their cameras). After a picnic under the shade of a tall tree, only the leopard and the Black Rhino remained to be seen. After an hour of searching and spotting many other animals, we found a Leopard cooling off by a gulley. We exited the park a little early as the group wanted to play soccer and see the Semadep students one last time. After hours of song, dance, and soccer, the girls had to finally say goodbye to their new friends. Nola bonded with many of the kids and wanted to stay even longer. Nevertheless, Sarah guided the group back and led a wonderful Moonup session after dinner at the fire pit to close our beautiful time here in Maasai Mara Reserve. On to the tropical island of Zanzibar!
Signing off for now!
Blake and Cameron
June 7, 2023
Hello Kenya + Zanzibar Families!
We heard from our leaders this morning and the group has landed safely in Kenya! 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!