June 22, 2023
The African sun has set for our final time, and we had to say goodbye. While we are all sad to leave each other, our final moments were far from sad. Today, we rose before the sun to begin our travels from Mozambique, but everyone slept most of the bus ride. By the time we arrived at JNB — everyone was ready for AIRPORT FUN DAY!!! We really have made a home at the Johannesburg airport. While it wasn’t a game drives looking across the African bush or watching the sun set over the coconut trees, we made camp with all 12 bags and backpacks at Wimpys (the American burger joint) and the Fusion restaurant (which has great fried rice) to feast for our final meal. We also took a trip into Woolworth’s — arguably the best grocery store ever (imagine Whole Foods in South Africa) — and bought Crawford a delicious caramel cream birthday cake. The girls also all bought matching lion T-shirt to commemorate our lion encounters. Our last day encapsulated our group — random, silly, and tons of fun.We could not have asked for a more special group. Each person brought something different to the table. Here are some of our takeaways:
1. Margaret taught us to capture every moment — especially the silly candid shots.
2. Marion taught us to make the most of the little moments whether it was building a three person tower in the ocean or spinning in circles in the airport until you fall over.
3. Crawford taught us to always come prepared with a camping pillow. Everyone will want to be your best friend and borrow it. He also taught us it’s totally acceptable to celebrate your birthday 3 days in a row.
4. Luke knows every classic song, stats on sports, lyrics to Jolene, every movie ever. Luke taught us knowing lots about everything makes for great conversation topics.
5. Andrew taught us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable (especially in the sand).
6. Riles taught us to dream big and shoot for the stars (send us a picture from space one day!).
7. George taught us be ready for anything… especially when called on to be a rhino veterinarian.
8. Cate taught us to jump in and dig the hole with whoever is ready for fun.
9. Lexie taught us to observe the little things — whether it’s a zipper in a jacket or a battery in a pool noodle.
10. Mary Avery taught us to be ready to go in for a musical rap at any moment (shout Hamilton).
11. Phoebe taught us to wear a smile always and life will be infinitely better.
12. Ella taught us it’s always worth the chase — seeing 10 dolphin within arms reach could not have been cooler.
It was a pleasure to meet and learn from each and every student on our trip. We are beyond thankful we got the opportunity to be leaders of this group and were able to spend the best 17 days ever with them!
Having less fun now that everyone is gone but reliving every memory,
Sarah Catherine and Lucas
June 21, 2023
Hellooooo friends and family! Nice to talk again!
Thursday evening, we landed in Mozambique and took a scenic drive through the endless coconut trees until we reached Tofo Beach. Shortly after dinner, with headlamps and travel clothes still on, we sprinted into the Indian Ocean. The warm air underneath the stars, and listening to the waves set the stage for a memorable ocean-side Moonup. Our Leader of the Day, Lexie, put on a spectacular performance splashing in the waves. The group almost believed she’d been bitten by the “nug jug” while swimming and were laughing hysterically when she emerged from the water announcing “nug jug is open!!”
We started our Friday morning with some delicious chocolate crepes and hit the beach. Our morning beach walks to Tofo Scuba and the surf shop were some of our favorites with the warm sun on our skin and some pump-up music on the speaker getting us ready to shred the waves. Day 1 of our morning surfing lessons was calm and allowed us to get the hang of surfing on some manageable waves. Marion and Riles were pros from the beginning, and soon enough Luke and Lexie were catching them on their own proclaiming “I am Moana!”
When we weren’t hanging ten, we spent time relaxing and playing classic beach games at Tofo Scuba. With energy high after our surfing lessons, we raced to beach volleyball. We’d been looking forward to playing our entire trip! Riles was our star libero, diving after every serve and laying it all out for his team. We got to see Mary Avery’s competitive side. You could always count on Mary Avery to set up her teammates on the front row. Later, we switched to playing Newcomb (which is basically catch-and-throw volleyball). Newcomb became a fan favorite. Phoebe, using her athletic skills from flag football, was diving left and right and had some killer catches. Margaret by game 6 became a force to be reckoned with at the net. George utilized his wingspan and posted in the middle of the court — a few throws passed his reach. And to think — we packed all this in before lunch!
That afternoon, we hopped on the boat for snorkeling! Despite not having a speaker on the boat, the girls took it upon themselves to bless the boat with a variety of karaoke from Gangnam Style to Hannah Montana to Hamilton (like I said, quite the variety). Phoebe whipped out some surprising, yet killer sound effects that added to musical performance. While enjoying the self-made tunes and scanning the water, we found dolphins!!! Masks and flippers on, we jumped into the water. The dolphins were out to play that day and soon we were surrounded by (give or take) 10 dolphins in two groups. We continued our pursuit of the dolphins for quite a while — many in our group started to propel themselves through the ocean with their flippers mimicking the dolphins. It was so exciting and many people’s favorite animal we’d seen on the trip (and we’ve seen a lot)! To top off the snorkeling adventure, the skipper passed out coconut pieces for everyone to eat to get the salty taste out of our mouths. We finished off the entire Tupperware of coconut in no time. I have a feeling a few people might be coming home requesting some coconuts from the store for a snack! With the sweet taste of coconut in our mouths and smiles on our faces, we returned to Tofo Scuba. Everyone was hungry after our dolphin chase, so we sat down underneath the tiki hut and enjoyed wings, chips (aka French fries), and much-anticipated milkshakes. With full bellies, we kicked back and enjoyed some time on the beach. While many were relaxing in the sun, Crawford, Cate, Andrew, and Riles set off to dig a hole together. We’ve become so close — it’s simply just fun being together.
A new day brings new fun! After a long sleep to recharge from a full day in the sun, we were ready for our next adventure. We thought we’d seen our last safari in the bush, but by mid-morning, we were boarding the boat for an ocean safari! The goal was to find a whale shark, and that we did. Whale sharks are a little shy. I can’t say we are the most graceful bunch, so after 14 splashes right above the whale shark, it had seen enough and dipped down into the deeper part of the ocean. This happened two more times, but a glimpse of the whale shark was enough to get this group amped. We called it a mission success and enjoyed the sun on our skin and the wind in our hair as we cruised around the ocean. We ate another delicious lunch at Tofo Scuba and spent some more time digging the hole (they finally hit water!). Thank goodness this group loves to eat because we had a cooking class to attend! Our outfitter, Tony, led us just a short walk from our lodging into his village where we learned about a traditional Mozambican dish, “Matapa”. Matapa consists of cassava leaves boiled, seasoned, and smashed into a paste with ground peanuts and coconut milk. It can be served over rice, dipped with bread, spread across meat, or just about any other way you can imagine it. We also made some “cookies”, which we decided were a little more like biscuits. Nonetheless, the coconut cookie/biscuits we designed in various shapes were a hit (I think we all ate 4-5 each).
The food just kept coming! A guy from the village climbed a coconut tree hoisting himself up with nothing but his hands and feet. Momentarily, it was raining coconuts as they fell from the sky. The coconut pieces were such a hit on the boat everyone was eager to try this different variety. These were softer and instead of eating the white meat, they opened them up to reveal a sweet and thirst-quenching coconut water. Ella consumed two by herself! By then, our Matapa was finally done cooking over the fire, and we sat around a table to enjoy our meal. Our plates were filled with rice, Matapa, pineapple, and fish. The fish was served as the entire fish. Lucas and I separated the meat from the bones leaving only the skeleton so everyone could try it. George promptly picked up the fish skeleton and goes “I’ll eat the eye if someone else does!” Lucas took up this challenge and it was awesome! While everyone may not have gone so far to eat fish eyes, we were so proud of everyone for trying new foods and embracing the adventure. For Moonup, all nestled around the picnic table, everyone told a compliment to the person on their left. It was so cool to see the qualities they admire within each other and see how their friendships have grown since day one.
The day has come — BANQUET DAY! Banquet day began with a morning of surfing lessons and games on the beach. The waves were bigger, but we were better after our first day of lessons. Everyone improved dramatically and was consistently catching waves! Our afternoon activity was a trip to the market! Everyone was so excited to buy some souvenirs to commentate their time in Africa, it was perfect that it worked out to be the last day of our trip. After a quick lesson on conversion rates between 3 different currencies, off we went! We tried our hands at bartering — some better than others (Cate was a pro by the end). Nonetheless, everyone came out with souvenirs unique to them and their time here. Some fan favorites included beaded bracelets, engraved hand-carved whale sharks, more coconuts, paintings, and patchwork bucket hats. After our market extravaganza, we set off for our final activity. We wrapped up our scheduled activities together with a dhow sunset cruise. We walked down through the village where we found many fishermen collecting their blue crab from the day to take to the market to sell. We waded through the water and boarded our little sailboat. We sailed along listening to Coldplay radio and sipping on our Cokes and Appletisers (another item they might be asking for from Publix when they get home). We came upon a flock of flamingos that were so pink and beautiful. The wildlife never ends here in Africa! The sun set one last time together, and we headed back for our banquet celebration! For our banquet attire, we surprised the group with coordinating printed shorts we bought at the market. 14 of us in matching, colorful patchwork shorts was a sight to see and the perfect vibe for this fun group. This night we had more than one reason to celebrate — Happy Birthday Crawford and Lucas!!! The two of them were so easy to celebrate because they brought so much energy and joy to the group. After our meal, two brownie cakes and candles were delivered while we serenaded the birthday boys with the happy birthday song! Banquet was a night to remember!
That night during Moonup we settled down from our usual goofiness and reflected on what everyone hoped to take away from our time together. Andrew shared wisdom about first impressions and Ella shared the value of being open-minded. An overarching theme was to continue to “Live in the Moment.” This was everything and more we could’ve hoped to hear as leaders and I hope for all of them they continue to live their lives as full as we have these last 2 weeks.
Home-bound soon but still having a blast,
SC & Lucas
Margaret- Thank y’all for this trip! I’m so excited to tell you all about how much these last 2 weeks have meant to me. This experience has been unforgettable and I’m so so thankful for you guys!!
Luke- Thank y’all so much for letting go on this trip. These two past 2 1/2 weeks were some of the best in my life. Can’t wait to tell y’all about it. Love you and I’m so grateful for you two.
Riles- Thank y’all so much for allowing me to go on this trip. I have had an amazing experience over the past 2 1/2 weeks. I look forward to telling y’all all about the adventures we went on. I love y’all and I am so thankful for everything you have done for me.
Mary Avery – Thank y’all for letting me go on this trip. It has led to so many amazing experiences and I can’t wait to share them all. I’m so thankful for everything y’all do for me. Love u and can’t wait to see u!
Crawford- I’m so grateful for the opportunity to go on this trip and am glad I will have these memories for a lifetime. Can’t wait to come back and see y’all and share everything I’ve done. Love y’all.
George – Thank you guys so much for letting me go on this trip. It has been so fun and we have seen some amazing things. Can’t wait to see y’all soon! Love y’all
Phoebe- Thank y’all so much for the amazing opportunity to go on this trip. It has truly been the coolest experience ever and I’m so excited to get to tell y’all all about it when I get back! Love y’all so much!!
Lexie- Thank you for giving me the opportunity to go on this trip! I had the best time and made so many memories on the adventures we did. I can’t wait to tell you everything!! I love you guys and am so excited to see u soon!
Ella – This trip has truly been one of the coolest experiences of my life. Thank you both for everything you have done for me and everything you do for me every single day. I am extremely blessed to have both of you in my life. Love and miss you guys to the moon and back!!!
Cate- This has been the most rewarding experience that I have ever had. I have never laughed harder and had more fun than I have on this trip, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to do this. Thank you for everything y’all do for me and I can’t wait to see you in 24 hours!! Love y’all!!
Marion- Thank y’all so much for giving me this opportunity to experience one of the coolest trips of my life. I had the best time and I can’t wait to tell y’all all about it. It was truly amazing and I am so grateful for all y’all have done for me! Love you tons and see you soon!!
Andrew- thank you for giving me the opportunity to come on this trip, it has been very rewarding and has reawakened my love for the smaller things and has brought back my interest in reading, I’ve had so much fun these past two weeks I am truly nothing but grateful for you mom, thanks for being here for me
June 17, 2023
Hello again from South Africa/Mozambique!
Something that always transcends age, background, and cultures is music. Nevertheless, the music has been the MVP of the second section of our trip. We began this section with a traditional dance and musical performance from local community members and ended the trip with a classic van jam session.
Monday afternoon we arrived at Little Mongena to begin our community engagement section. We were treated to a lunch of salads, wraps, and sandwiches and almost immediately embarked on an afternoon game drive to explore all the wildlife the new game reserve had to offer. It was undeniably our most exciting game drive yet. To our surprise, after watching a lone elephant enjoy its tree-filled dinner, an entire herd of twenty-ish elephants emerged from the bush. The herd sauntered across the road in front of us. It was jaw-dropping, and we were lucky enough to have a front row seat. I think the elephants took our excitement as a bit of invitation because later that night, our guides informed us our Moonup might be a little long tonight. The elephants decided to join us at camp! Right outside our tents! We continued with regular programming of Moonup by the campfire with games, endless conversations about music, and laughter until the elephants retreated from camp.
Tuesday morning, it seemed only fitting to wake everyone up by opening the tent flaps to a beautiful sunrise over the marsh with the Lion King theme song playing over the speaker. The sunrise/sunset is guaranteed to get a “nug” at each Moonup (nugs are basically Moondance’s versions of props for things we are grateful for, and challenges overcome from the day). After another incredible breakfast spread, the team was fueled and ready to rock our first day in the community. The teachers and students at Awake Daycare greeted us with the warmest welcome and songs. Quickly, the group split into inside and outside teams and got to painting. Inside/outside became quite the rivalry. George, Marion, Luke, Mary Avery, Crawford, and Margaret tackled the inside. George and Crawford focused on the upper portion of the rooms using their height to their advantage. Marion and Margaret were the queens of the details ready to fill every crevice. Mary Avery jumped in wherever needed playing a versatile role. Luke even took ownership of an entire room himself and did not break until it was finished. The outside paint team consisted of Phoebe, Riles, Andrew, and Cate — plus honorary members Lexie and Ella who entertained the kids and helped keep them from venturing into the wet paint. This group is not afraid to work hard and get their hands (and clothes) dirty. Everyone walked away each day with a sense of ownership and pride for their progress, smiles, and paint speckles everywhere.
The final day at Awake Daycare was a race against the clock. We ran out of paint the day before and got to a bit of a later start. We still had the kitchen to finish with the tallest walls, office, and back room. It was all hands on deck and the friendly rivalry was set aside to get the job done. Remember when I said the speaker was the MVP of this section? The speaker was on full blast with the kids, teachers, and our team all jamming out to Rihanna, Counting Crows, Zach Bryan, and Taylor Swift. With music to pass the time and encourage us on, we finished everything with a buzzer beater finish in time for school to be let out! We are grateful for everyone at Awake Daycare for welcoming us into their school and a chance to give back to a community that has offered us a space to create amazing memories together. Special shout out to all the boys who said they “weren’t good with kids” yet always had eager little ones ready to be pushed on the swing or spun around!
After saying our goodbyes to everyone at Awake Daycare, thanking them for hosting us, and making the last few days so fun, we headed back to camp for our activity. Surprise! We slept in the bush Thursday night! Everyone was a little surprised since no one packed sleeping bags, but the Little Mongena had 14 sleeping bags ready to go for our night under the stars. We quickly washed the paint off, packed our bags, and listened to the guides briefing for our bush walk to the campsite. With packs on we set out — silently as not to disturb any of the animals we could encounter while on foot. We arrived at our campsite, enjoyed dinner under the stars, and sang songs by the fire. I think Coldplay was the only agreed upon artist but nonetheless we had a great time swapping songs and listening to George’s voice get quite a bit more southern when he would sing country songs. The music continued late into the night long after we made our way to our sleeping bags. Lucas and I awoke to Crawford attempting to teach the group about pitch and holding a constant note. Sleeping bag races also occurred. After a night of laughter and little sleep, you would’ve thought the van ride to Johannesburg from Little Mongena would be quiet and maybe everyone would take a nap… but no! They chose to make more memories and continue to goof off belting out all of the Rihanna radio I had downloaded for most of the ~2 hour ride. Everyone has done a great job branching out and trying new foods such as passion fruit (a now, group favorite), lentil soup, and various stews. As a reward for their adventurous eating over the last 8 days, we permitted a much-requested lunch stop. The one and only golden arches (McDonald’s) were calling our names.
It’s Saturday morning and we have boarded the plane to Mozambique after a restful night at City Lodge and some airport fun. Our time at Little Mongena was a fulfilling adventure. Lucas and I are extremely proud of all the students for the way they opened their hearts and hands over the last few days. Stay tuned for some shoutouts below! Off to warm weather in Mozambique!
Still having a blast,
Sarah Catherine and Lucas
Marion- Happy Father’s Day dad love ya! Have fun in Kiawah and miss both of y’all so much! See you soon
George – Happy Father’s Day Dad! Hope y’all are having a great time in California and can’t wait to see you again soon
May May – I miss y’all and love y’all! Tell the dogs I miss them 🙂 Alsoo Happy Father’s Day Dad. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I can’t wait to see you guys soon. <3
Margaret- Happy Father’s Day dad! I love you! Remind me to give you your present when I get home. Having the best time and can’t wait to see y’all!
Crawford- Hello parents I miss y’all so much. Open the monkey card and press the button it’s very funny. I have seen a lot of animals and have touched a sedated rhino. Having fun! Happy Father’s Day.
Ella- Hiii Mom!!! Tell everyone I miss them so much and it’s been one of the coolest experiences of my life by far!!! And please give dad a message for Father’s Day! – Thank you for being my inspiration for everything, being my biggest role mode, and teaching me so much about life. Love you Kev! I miss and love you all so much especially the puppies!!!
Andrew- hey mom everything’s been really good here saw a lot of super cool animals on safari and helped paint a day care about to go to Mozambique to snorkel and surf should be really fun. Father’s Day on Sunday, tell that to dad please thanks.
Riles- Hey family. I love and miss y’all. Happy early Father’s Day dad. I am alive and so far have had a great trip. Love y’all.
Luke- Hi mom and dad. The trip is going great. We spent 8 days on safaris and helping paint a school in a local village. I saw lions, hippos and elephants very up close. We are off to Mozambique tomorrow for the ocean. I love y’all and miss you. Happy Father’s Day dad.
Cate- hey everyone!! I love and miss y’all so much, but we are having a blast and I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. we are off to the beach tomorrow and then before you know it, I’ll be texting y’all from the air coming home (because I’m buying the wifi again… so plan accordingly regarding my green light card). also happy father’s day dad!!!
Phoebe- hey mom, dad, and mattie!! I am having the best time going on safaris, painting a daycare in the village, and playing with little kids (which are absolutely adorable). Today, we are going to the beach to go surfing and snorkeling which I’m super excited for. anyways I love and miss y’all so much and i wish i could be there to wish happy Father’s Day to dad!!
Lexie- Hi mom, dad, and charlie!!! I miss you guys so much! I hope graduation went well Charlie, I’m so proud of you! I’m having the best time in Africa, I’m going on safaris and seeing loins. We are about to go to Mozambique for 4 nights and go to the beach I’m so excited! I love you guys so much, thank you so much for this opportunity. Happy Father’s Day dad!! You are the best dad ever and I’m so happy to have you. You are always there for me and I love you. Thank you for everything. Xoxo
June 12, 2023
It’s time for (South) Africa!
Everyone arrived in South Africa at the Johannesburg airport Wednesday evening. After a long day of travel, the short walk to the hotel where Lucas arrived shortly with boxes of pizza was well received (and engulfed quickly). We had our first Moonup together out by the pool and quickly curled up in our beds to recharge for the first section of activities.
Thursday morning, we woke up to an amazing breakfast ranging from an omelet bar to traditional South African meats to a wide spread of fruits. Ella was absolutely amazed by the mini pancake machine, and they became a hot topic at the breakfast table. During some downtime before our transfer, we spent time learning new card games such as “Egyptian Rat Slap” and bonding over classics such as “Spoons”. Once we began our drive to the safari section of our trip, Marion, one of our first leaders of the day (LOD) and Moondance veteran, did a great job breaking the ice with the group and getting everyone involved in conversations. Crawford also kept the conversations interesting with topics ranging from high school sports to music, to hobbies such as making Buffalo sauce! How fun!
We were welcomed with the warmest greetings (and lunch) from the staff at Mabula Game Reserve. Within a couple hours of our arrival, our bellies were full from lunch and tea time, bags unpacked, and we embarked on our first game drive. Right out of the gate, our mouths were open in awe of the cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, wildebeest, rhino, and impala our guides were able to show us. We ended the evening Moonup by the fire beneath the brightest, most prominent stars many of us had ever seen. You could even see the galaxy!
The first game drive set the standards high and let’s just say we were never disappointed. We began our days with a sunrise game drive and ended our days with a sunset game drive in the beautiful Savannah. Margaret never missed a chance to get a shot on her camera of the painted sky or the mama zebra and her baby. Our guides, Liam and Promise were highlights from our stay at Mabula. Even if the animals were being a little shy, Liam and Promise would find birds and share captivating stories of how they catch their prey, or find plants that have been used for medicine. Andrew followed our guide’s lead and tried out making a makeshift toothbrush from the branch of a tree. Liam also showed us a game played around South Africa where kids will place dung pellets between their teeth and see who can shoot them the farthest. Mary Avery, with some encouragement, hopped out of the van to give the game her best go at it!
Each game drive brought new opportunities to not only be amazed by the wildlife around us, but a chance to share conversations and play car games such as “Alphabet I Spy”, “Telepathy”, and “20 Questions”. Lexie was the queen of 20 Questions which often turned into 50 Questions because she would choose such obscure objects. There was constant laughter when Lexie was up to choose the object.
Between the sunrise/sunset game drives, our days were filled with activities. On Friday, we visited the Ground Hornbill Project. Despite an early morning, everyone was engaged and asked great questions about the steps Mabula was taking to protect the endangered birds and how they mate. The next day, the group went on a Cheetah walk, where all the girls eagerly volunteered to get up close with the cheetahs. On Saturday morning, we relentlessly searched for the buffalo. Once we spotted them, we all hopped in the truck and took turns feeding the buffalo right from the truck. In the afternoons after our activities in the bush, we would return to our lodging for free time. Riles quickly jumped in on starting up a game of ultimate frisbee. Everyone got super competitive, and one team even scraped out a one-point win. Cate led the charge of a polar plunge into the pool after the game. She embraced the Moondance philosophy, “when there’s a body of water – jump in it!”
Sunday was a day to remember! We rose before the sun to meet the ecologist for a briefing. He shared with us that we would be working alongside himself and a veterinarian to dart a rhino! The mother rhino needed a new tracking collar, and her child needed its’ ear notched as a way to track these endangered animals. Luke helped take measurements of the horn and was quick to jump in wherever needed. Phoebe was consistent and steady holding the oxygen tube and monitoring the rhino’s breathing. George had the glorious opportunity of checking to see if the mother rhino was pregnant. With the guidance of the veterinarian and a large glove all the way to his shoulder, he placed his hand in the rhino’s butt and followed the veterinarians instructions. Now, that’s something you can’t say you’ll do again! Our day continued with a lunch in the bush with a beautiful view of the mountains, an intense game of soccer, and an exciting final game drive. Everyone wanted to see elephants and we had yet to get a clear view of them. Like from a movie, as the sun was setting, a herd of 5 elephants walked right in front of our vans. It could not have been more perfect timing! We ended our day back at the lodge for a boma dinner. We all sat underneath the stars by the fire sharing stories and eating the delicious braii — similar to a barbecue back at home. It was truly a magical way to end our stay at Mabula!
It has been a joy for Lucas and I to get to know this group and experience these incredible moments together!
Having a blast,
Sarah Catherine and Lucas
June 7, 2023
Hello South Africa Families!
We heard from our leaders and the group has landed safely in South Africa! 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!