June 29, 2023
It was really hard to say goodbye to your kids. We truly treasured this group of 14 amazing individuals. These kids came to Africa locked in ready to learn, give, climb, and see all the amazing things Tanzania has to offer. The cherry on top was leaving with 13 new zany friends.
After an incredible time on Safari on our travels back to Arusha we stopped downtown for Moondance’s infamous ice cream top. Arusha did not disappoint – with no hesitation the students got milkshakes, strawberry waffles, and even chocolate lava cake. After packing and playing games we had our epic banquet full off garlic bread, mozzarella sticks, pizza, burgers and more – a welcomed change to our everyday meals.
The next day we traveled to the airport and had our final Mooonup outside. We shared memories and laughter as with thought of things that we will miss from Africa and the group. We will miss having so many amazing people together in one place, so much joy from everyone, being able to be fully ourselves, breaks from our phones, the adventures, and being fully present.
We shared so many little moments of joy, challenge, growth, and beauty over the past 23 days. Addie’s favorite memory of the trip came after working hard during service. She loved the dance parties with the Mungere school students and learning the dance moves to their favorite songs. For Jennings, it was the waterfall hike we took with the Mungere School students. Elise loved the downtime of hanging out with the group at the Migombani camp after service by the pool.
Most of our trip’s favorite memories were from our Kilimanjaro trek. Reagan remembers the fourth day of hiking where we could see the summit up close and knew that we all could make it to the top. Ben loved staying up late after watching the sunset with the entire group to take pictures of the stars. Penn’s favorite part was waking up at 1:30 am on summit day and listening to music while eating breakfast. Hudson will never forget George’s “Rock Out” speech he gave to the group at 3am on summit day. McClendon’s most memorable moment was watching the sunrise from Kili on summit day. For Eli, it was the last 24 hours of the hike – so close to summiting he felt surreal. Sally’s favorite moment was when Rose read out the Bon Vivant manifesto and we all gave the last push to the summit. Austin felt all our hard work and endurance finally paid off when we hit the summit. Caroline loved racing down after we summited as if we were skiing with our hiking poles in less than 2 hours (an exciting and well-deserved feeling). And lastly, Melanie’s favorite moment was running down the last few miles of Kili in the pouring rain with the “slow group.”
On Safari we got to see the “Big Five” – rhinos, lions, elephants, cape buffalos, and leopards. Taking in the sights of the Serengeti and cruising down dirt roads was both peaceful and exciting. Harrigan’s favorite moment of the trip was the one full day of safari when music was blaring and the “vibes were great.”
As our trip came to an end, we shared a very tearful goodbye. It’s hard to believe you could love people so much in only a short period of time. Thank you for sharing your children with us and giving them such an incredible experience. We will miss them so much, but we are excited to stay in touch and hear about all the great things they do in the future!
In Tanzania goodbye is too “final” of a word to part, so instead they say “kesho” (tomorrow). So kesho to Kili 1 – never forget how strong, resilient, and courageous you are!
Rose & George
June 29, 2023
Jambo from Africa!
We have had such a wonderful time over these past couple days exploring both Ngorongoro and Serengeti National Park! Fresh off Kilimanjaro Mountain, a nice relaxing and beautiful Safari was just what everyone needed to help recharged their energy levels. Our rides for this section of the trip were three old school Toyota Land-cruisers, modified so that the roof could be raised upwards to allow us to stand inside the car and have a full 360º degree view! Our first day consisted mostly of traveling from Arusha to the Ngorongoro crater. The car ride to get there was filled mostly with heavy eyelids, Elise being the first to doze off as everyone else soon followed suit. Everyone was catching up on sleep, taking advantage of how much easier it is to rest when you aren’t thousands and thousands of feet above sea level. It wasn’t long before the gates to the park were in sight. As we made our way through the park, whizzing past many other Safari trucks and buses, Alex, one of our drivers and guides, explained to us that the crater is actually the largest unfilled, intact, and inactive volcano in the world! Soon, we stopped at a lookout point where one could see the entire crater start to finish. It was a mix of beautiful earth toned colors, speckled with blue lakes and watering holes; it really looked like a scene straight out of a movie! After snagging a few pictures, we headed towards our campsite for the night, excited not only to fill our stomachs with more of our cook’s delicious food, but also to begin our first full day of Safari the following morning.
To give ourselves the best chance of seeing animals, we did as they do.. by waking up before sunrise! After a quick breakfast, we loaded up into our Safari trucks and descended down the long and bumpy road that leads into the Ngorongoro crater. It didn’t take long for us to see our first African animal… a zebra! Although it was popular among most of the kids, Reagan was the biggest fan of them, making sure to point them out every time she saw one and doing so with contagious enthusiasm. Later in the day, Ben was actually able to spot a Rhino using his amazing binoculars that he kindly shared with our entire group. Rhinos are actually very rare to see, and our guides explained to us how lucky we were to see one on our very first day of Safari. With each new animal we saw, regardless of how big or small, everyone was so excited. Needless to say, there was very rarely a moment in which someone wasn’t snapping photos with their camera. Around noon, our bellies began to rumble so we stopped for a very nice picnic in the crater next to a small marshy lake which had a few bright pink flamingos standing carefully on one leg in the water. We all felt like we got dropped right into the Lion King movie! After packing up lunch, our luck continued as we got the opportunity to see McClendon’s favorite animal, a leopard! It sat high up in an acacia tree, panning its head left and right on the lookout for a potential meal to reveal itself in the tall wavy grass. Unfortunately for the leopard, nothing to eat came by, and we soon started up the trucks again and moved on with our day. We saw wildebeest, water buffalo, warthogs, Impala’s, gazelles, and of course LIONS! Everyone was curious why they were sleeping in the middle of the day; our guides explained that they had likely eaten recently and because of that they are very tired from both the hunt but also from digesting so much meat. So, we sat there in awe watching these beautiful apex predators snooze away in the sun like a ginormous version of a house cat. Before it got too late, we left the crater and made our way towards the Serengeti national park. Along the way we were treated to a very special “African massage”, which is the name our drivers and guides used to refer to the bouncing, shaking, and vibrating that occurred while driving over the unpaved African bush.
By noon the next day, we had all seen quite a large number and variety of animals. Naturally it didn’t take long for the kids to begin debating which of the animals they thought were the best. Melanie liked the mongooses the most because they were so small and cute; in contrast however, she liked hippos the least, in large part due to their nauseating smell that comes as a result of sitting in stagnant muddy water all day. Austin argued in favor of the cheetah, more specifically, he thought the cheetah mother and its cubs that we all saw was the coolest animal we had seen so far. Everyone was very passionate about what animal they believed to be the best, but the debates were all kept very bigheartedly as Caroline made sure to always lighten up the mood with one of her hilarious impressions or perfectly timed comedic one liners. In one of the other cars, Jennings made sure to keep the spirits high by curating an excellent playlist of music that was perfect for a Safari! Addie made sure to teach everyone the dance she had come up with for one of her favorite songs by Matt Nathanson. Despite spending most of the day seated or standing in the trucks, we were all exhausted as the sun began to make its way towards the horizon. It was back at camp that we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen! The sun glowed a soft red and the sky a glorious shade of pink and orange that cannot quite be put into words, nor correctly captured on camera; it is just one of those things that you must experience for yourself to truly know how beautiful it really was. We closed out the day with a wonderful Moonup as we all reflected on just how blessed we are to be in such a beautiful place with such kind and caring friends.
Our next morning was a little bit slower than the previous few as we got to sleep in a little extra, something that everyone appreciated including Rose and me. We ate some delicious crepes, eggs, toast, and cereal prepared by our cooks before packing up our things and getting into our Land-cruisers for our last few hours of sightseeing and animal watching. Although everyone was very sad to say goodbye to all the amazing animals we had seen, there was also excitement about what we were doing next, visiting a Masai village and getting a tour. After arriving at the Masai village, we were greeted warmly and treated to a traditional welcome song and dance. Harrigan was invited to join them, and although his clothes made him stand out, he happily gave it his all, attempting to mimic the dance moves and sing the song with the people of the village. After the dance concluded, next came a jumping contest of sorts. The Masai people are very good at jumping extremely high and have mastered a specific technique that allows them to do so. Penn and Eli came the closest to matching the Masai’s jumping capabilities; they came so close that the one of the villagers found them shortly after to complement them, something that they rarely do! We finished off the tour by asking questions and touring some of the different homes they lived in. Later in the day, we stopped for lunch at the rest area near the front gate of the Serengeti and the kids all quickly made their way to a small shop to buy their favorite soft drinks they had all been craving. Some of the group reached for Coca-Cola while others reached for Pepsi. Soon the age-old debate began on which drink was better, Coke or Pepsi? Hudson took a strong stance in favor of Pepsi, while McClendon was very clearly in favor of Coke. Unsurprisingly, the debate ended in a draw, and not long after we were on the road yet again, saying our final goodbyes to the Serengeti and headed to our camp site for the night. At camp, everyone was eager to take a shower and to wash off the thick layer of dust that had accumulated on their body over the past couple of days. While some showered, others played cards, journaled, or one of our favorite group games called “Signs”. Sally and I took some time to finally write down some lyrics to a song we had been working on over the course of the entire trip; the song is truly a work of art and might just be good enough to rival even Beethoven’s Fifth symphony.
It is clear that everyone has become such close friends on this trip, and although our time together in Africa might be ending, the memories we have made together here truly are forever. Not to mention, there is already lots of chatter in the group about reunion trips and school visits for those that are going off to college. We could not ask for a more wonderful group than this!
George & Rose
June 26, 2023
Picture this – it’s a beautiful sunny day, clouds rolling over the mountain, glaciers decorating the steep slopes, oxygen levels are low, spirits are high and your kids are at the TOP! We did it!! Kili 1 summited Mount Kilimanjaro at 11:45am on June 22nd. Needless to say, we had the experience of a lifetime. This group is strong and joyful and most of all, mentally tough. They stuck together, persevered through any obstacle, encouraged each other along the way, and every single one made it to the summit. We could not be more proud of them.
Our journey began at Machame gate where we hiked through a misty rainforest full of luscious bright green trees and moss scaling the rocks and trunks. We got to Machame camp right before sunset with a warm dinner already prepared and a warm welcome from the porters who had already set up our tents! We knew we were in good hands when we learned our lead guide “Simba” has hiked Kilimanjaro 395 times. And excitement grew as we caught a glimpse of the summit on day one.
The next day we hiked through the “moorland” habitat that is covered with heather and bright flowers. We made our way to Shira camp at 12,500 ft in elevation, keeping ourselves amused with riddles and hiking games like “contact” and “celebrities.” Melanie was the only one to crack one of George’s riddles!
The next day was one of our toughest as we hiked through the “semi desert” habitat full of rocks and dust, leaving the tree line. We hiked to Lava Tower (a large rock tower jetting out of the ground) and had lunch at its base. We reached an altitude of 16,000 ft and then went down to 13,000 ft following best acclimatization practices of “climb high and sleep low.” We camped out at Barranco camp and watched a beautiful sunset where Ben showed off his photography skills getting the best shot of the sun & the group.
One of our favorite moments of trekking was the Barranco wall that towered over our campsite. We all got to scramble up this rock face, with Eli zipping up leaving us in the dust! After the wall we found ourselves in the alpine desert land hiking through the Karanaga Valley with ridges and valleys and the most beautiful views. In the little bit of downtime we had at Karanga camp, Jennings consistently journaled, reminding the group to fully take in each moment. That night Sally encouraged us to have a star gazing moment all cuddled up together for warmth. George and Hudson got a really cool night time-lapse of the vast expanse of burning lights. There aren’t words to describe the stars in a Kili night sky.
The last day before summit day we hiked a steep climb through the arctic habitat to Barafu camp where we spent the day resting and preparing for our next day’s ascent. The kids enjoyed an incredible view above the clouds, watching lines of hikers like little ants trek on. This was our coldest night and we knew we wouldn’t get much sleep so we had an early dinner and Moonup and went to bed.
Even though we woke up 1:30am, Penn was locked in and ready to go for summit day. We left camp at 3am and hiked with our headlamps through the night. Watching the sunrise as we trekked was an unforgettable sight. Our porters surprised us with hot tea and a moment of rest to take it in. We hiked “pole pole” (meaning slowly slowly) and steady so that we could acclimate and keep our endurance as we gained 4,100 ft of elevation. Keeping spirits high, Addie and Caroline sang up the mountain and constantly looked to Reagan who knew every word to every Taylor Swift song. Austin never missed and opportunity to crack a joke and keep us smiling. The porters gave us encouragement and laughter along the way and step by step every kid made it up. We were cold, we were wind burnt, our legs were jelly – but we pushed through! Harrigan most of all had the “comeback of the century” despite feeling under the weather, he made up his mind and pushed through all the way. His face was beaming at the top. We stayed for a while at the summit taking in the view, getting pictures (Elise wiped out her Texas flag at the top with her bright smile) and even shed a few tears of joy as our hearts welled up with pride for each other.
After the summit all the kids were elated. When it was time to go down we took a short cut with a steep descent and everyone was ready to get more oxygen to their brains. On the way down our Leader of the Day (LOD) McClendon intentionally brought up the back, looking out for the group and making sure everyone made it down safely. We had a large lunch at our previous campsite and then went down further to our last camp where we slept like babies.
Kili 1 is an amazing group of kids with so much heart and drive, which got them to the top. We reflected on what we learned from the mountain and what a humbling experience it is to wrestle with nature. We are all the more bonded and so excited to rest our legs as we drive through on Safari these last few days!
George & Rose
⁃Hey y’all. Hope you’re doing well. I’m having the best time here in Africa. I’ve made it to the Kilimanjaro summit and have met some legendary people along the way. Can’t wait to see you soon. Love you.
⁃Hey!! I’m having an amazing time, and I’m feeling great after summiting kili!!! Harry, I hope you had the best time on your trip!! Gray, I hope you had the happiest of birthdays!! Love and miss you guys!!!
⁃Hey mom, hope you had a great birthday. I’m having a lot of fun. Everybody is great and we all made it up the mountain. Let Julian know the porters sing Jumbo Bwana. See y’all soon!
⁃hey! I’m having such a great time and we are celebrating everyone summiting! Bays I hope you had a great time in Kenya and Zanzibar, and Kenny I can’t wait to hear all about your first trip! Love and miss y’all!
⁃Hi family! I just summited Kili and it was truly incredible. Hope dad and Bryan had a great Father’s Day! This trip has been awesome and I miss and love all of you!! To SR: Y’all are the best and I miss each of you so much!
⁃Hi Mom and Dad! I miss y’all!!! I summited the mountain yesterday and am already on the way back to a hotel today. It was really hard but I’m so grateful for the opportunity-thank y’all. Love y’all so so much and hope y’all had the best time in Ireland!
⁃Hi guys, we just finished summiting kili and it was awesome! I’m having the best time in Tanzania with the group and can’t wait for our safari. Love you guys so much and can’t wait to see you all!
⁃Hey y’all. Happy Father’s Day and late Birthday dad! Fuller you need to summit kili like me and Mapp have. Hope all is good back in 251 if any of y’all find this. Love you guys.
⁃Hello mom and dad, thank y’all for giving me the opportunity to come on this trip. I am having so fun and meeting lots of friends. I made it up to the top of the mountain and about go on the safari. Can’t wait to see y’all.
⁃Hey family, just finished summiting kili it was an amazing experience. Meeting a lot of new people and having a lot of fun. About to go to the safari. Love y’all and can’t wait to see y’all.
⁃Hey Mom and Dad, I am having so much fun over here, everyone made it up Kili and it was so much fun. We are about to head to the safari and I’m very excited for it. Can’t wait to see y’all!
⁃Hellooo mom and dad!! I’m actually having the best time ever and this entire trip has been such a cool experience! So excited for the safari but I’ll have to come back with you dad! Miss you all so so much and I’m so excited to come back to the 704 as a kili summiter and hopefully a clean room. Kidding love you lots!!
⁃Hey mom and dad miss y’all so so much!Thank you so much for the most amazing experience, we all made it up kili and it was awesome. Next we have the safari and I can not wait. See you guys so soon love you both!!!
⁃Hey mom and dad hope y’all are doing well. I have had so much fun on this trip and am so thankful for all the opportunities y’all have provided me with. And hey Jack hope Europe was fun with your friends and would like to say that I made it up the mountain with no issues… unlike you. Anyways miss y’all so much and can’t wait to see y’all. Chipotle when y’all pick me up??
June 17, 2023
Greetings from Africa!
Everyone made it safely to Arusha, our eyelids a little extra heavy from a long day of travel, but still filled with excitement to be in a new country about to begin an amazing couple of weeks! After a lovely welcome dinner provided by our lodging cooks, we all had no trouble falling asleep!
Starting bright and early, as everyone happily chowed down on our first breakfast in Africa, we learned our first Swahili phrases including “Jambo” which means hello and “Kwaheri” which is goodbye! Not long after, everyone climbed aboard the bus, and we headed off to a town called Mto Wa Mbu! Time flew by as everyone got to know each other, making lots of mutual connections from hometown friends as well as past Moondance trips! Pretty soon it was as if we had already known each-other for ages; everyone began singing their hearts out to classics like “Africa” by Toto!
Our jaws quite literally dropped as we drove up a long winding hill and laid our eyes upon what we would be calling home for the next couple of days. To our right in the distance was a massive lake that extended farther than the eye could see and to our left was a magnificent mountain range that our bus driver had explained was created as the result of the fault line that ran all the way up Africa. The cherry on top was the pool that sat in a perfect location overlooking everything below! It did not take long for everyone to drop their luggage in their tents and make their way down to the pool with Melanie being the first to jump in! After swimming and having a nice lunch, Ashley and Sheb, the leaders of the service organization called the Red Sweater Project stopped by to give us a quick orientation about what we could expect from the next couple of days as well as our time in Africa overall! Harrigan asked a lot of insightful questions to Ashley, inspiring the rest of the group to be engaged and ask their own questions as well. It was so amazing to see how all of the kids were already so curious and interested in learning about the culture and customs of Tanzania. Next, we filled our stomachs with some delicious zucchini soup, rosemary potatoes, a tasty veggie sauce, and tilapia which Jennings really enjoyed despite it being her first time ever trying fish! Finally, we had our first full Moonup where we shared what we were most excited for on the trip as well as “why are you here.”
The next day marked our first official day of service! Following a nice breakfast, we hopped into our rides for the week; an open top Land Rover defender nicknamed Kiboko which means hippo in Swahili. The second car is a hard-top Land Cruiser nicknamed Kifairu, meaning Rhinoceros in Swahili. After a short drive through the African bush, we arrived at the Mungere secondary school. Ashley gave us a tour of the property and explained what life for their students looked like on a day-to-day basis before we all got to meet some of the students for the first time. Everyone was very shy at first, but over the course of the day everyone slowly began to open up and get a little more comfortable with each other. Our main project for the next couple of days would be caring for and revitalizing their gardens, which provide a much-needed source of food for the students at the school. Our tasks included mixing and creating nutrient rich fertilizer, hoeing, and tilling the ground, and giving some TLC to the banana trees to ensure they would be able to grow strong and healthy. After a few hours of hard work and some lunch, we finished out the day with a big game of soccer where McClendon and Eli were able to show off their awesome soccer skills, rivaling even some of the most talented Mungere school kids! We also can’t forget Caroline’s amazing goalie skills! A hard day’s work was rewarded with some R&R by the pool as well as playing a game taught to the kids called “Whoosh Ball”. Exhausted, we all fell asleep quickly after a nice traditional Tanzanian dinner consisting of beans, corn, rice, tomatoes, and some cinnamon roasted pineapple for dessert.
Later, on our third day of service, we all had the opportunity to walk to school with the students, which really helped to put into perspective what every day is like for the students and how it contrasts with the lives we are all used to back home in the US. Along the way, we got to see some of the students’ families as we walked through their farms and past their houses. By this point, everyone has become very good friends and the students are teaching all our kids different Swahili phrases and words; impressively, Addie already knows quite a few phrases and how to count to 30! Ben and Reagan, our Leaders of the day closed out an amazing day by leading a wonderful Moonup filled with both laughter as we went around answering a funny question as well as a more serious question that allowed for everyone to grow closer and understand each other on a deeper level.
The following day was one entirely devoted to having fun and building relationships with the students at the school. We all got to hike to an amazing waterfall coming off one of the nearby mountains that looked just like something out of a movie! On the hike, Hudson, Pen, and Austin taught the kids some fun games to play, including one called Wavelength! Elise was able to get one of the shiest Mungere students, Irene, to open up and feel comfortable so much so that she even sang one of her favorite songs to Elise. Once we reached the base of the waterfall everyone soaked up the stunning views as a nice breeze and light spray of water helped cool us off on such a sunny day. Everyone began singing and dancing one of Mungere students favorite songs called KwiKwi; there was not a frown on sight!
The next day marked our final day of service; we got to work early in the morning before it got too hot outside. As a final activity before we would have to part ways with all our newly made friends, we held a miniature competition that the Penn dubbed the Mungere Olympics! A series of relay races, soccer ball dribbling contests, and dizzy bat sprints soon left everyone laughing and out of breath. The last competition was a balancing competition in which everyone had to run back and forth as fast as they could while balancing full water bottles on their heads. Almost nobody was able to balance the water on their head for more than a step or two before it would fall. In contrast, the Mungere girls, who can perfectly balance more than 20 pounds on their head at once were able to put us all to shame by running at full speed without the water falling! Team “Chui” (meaning leopard in English) ended up coming in first place! Not much later, however, tears were streaming down everyone’s face as we all said our final goodbyes to our new friends. Although we only spent a few days with each other, it was clear that everyone’s hearts were truly touched, and these friendships would not be forgotten. To cheer everyone up, we closed out our day with a trip to the markets! Our first stop was a wood carving shop filled with amazing hand carved animals, masks, bowls, and many other beautiful items. The kids quickly began exploring the shop and picked out some of the favorite things they saw. Sally tried her best to barter the price down with the salesmen but they ultimately out-skilled her at this shop. At the next market location (a shop filled with many paintings done by local artists) however, Sally stuck to her guns and bartered the price down of the paintings she purchased like a true pro! Finally, we made our way back to camp and sat down for our last meal which was… A SURPRISE PIZZA PARTY!!! We happily stuffed our faces with delicious slices of vegetable, chicken, and cheese pizza. We closed out the night with a wonderful Moonup, reflecting upon the past couple of days and the different emotions and thoughts we had all experienced throughout our service section. Ashley and Sheb joined us for this Moonup and shared both gratitude for our help as well as different ways in which we could continue to help out all of the new friends we had made even after we left Africa!
The past week has been truly amazing as we all grew closer together surrounded by such amazing views and a welcoming community. Now we have begun to turn our attention towards our next task, climbing Kilimanjaro! We look forward to sharing our experiences once we make it back down the mountain in a few days!
P.S. McClendon sends lots of love and birthday wishes to his mom!
George and Rose
June 9, 2023
Hello Kilimanjaro Families!
We heard from our leaders this afternoon and the group has landed safely in Arusha! 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!