Our first day went by in a whirlwind. The Gala Campground gate hadn't even shut behind the families before the students and JRE team jumped right into action here, going over policies, roles, and responsibilities. We talked to each other and gained a level of understanding and respect among the 15 continuous members. But enough of the boring stuff. All that gabbing worked up an appetite, so everyone pitched in to help prepare our first meal together. The first tortilla lunch was a hit and it seems we’ll have plenty of tortilla lovers by the week’s end.
Shortly thereafter, everyone made the trek to Gala Boat Landing, where the students could learn or brush up on paddling, hopping eddies, and teamwork. Surely after Kyle had Zach and Georgia demonstrate every stroke in a canoe sitting in the parking lot, everyone had grasped everything they could on land, and had gotten a good laugh too. The next step was just 50 feet away, flowing and gurgling past. Communication became key when taking the heavy and unwieldy boats down the landing towards our put-in, but these guys had gotten the task down remarkably fast. After hauling the boats into the water, all canoes were headed away from shore to practice newly acquired or refreshed skills.
To say we stumbled upon lots of wildlife seems to understate how incredible our day was: the group on the river found lots of tree species, turtles, frogs, fish, birds, and many bugs while our land support saw a bear cub on her way back to camp! Even without having an official day on the water, and only using today as practice, it was so exciting to see so much flora and fauna in our short time on the river.
Fast-forwarding to evening, we had an absolutely perfect end to our day after a belly-filling meal of Ugandan Groundnut stew, quinoa, and spinach: a night walk as the sky was darkening was some kind of magical. This group – having only met some 12 hours ago – were walking in stride, laughing, giggling, smiling, and jabbering away with each other. As we walked out into the field in the front of the campground, we all fell silent for a bit to admire all of the fireflies in the trees, in the grass, and in the air. It was straight out of Disney. Even the manly boys were caught gazing at the glittering silhouettes made by the tree line surrounding this field. Kyle even noted that they looked like Christmas trees! It certainly was a surreal end to the summer solstice.