The kelp anchors looked like something from a Sci-Fi movie.
Ah, Cape Town. Existing below the equator, this South African city is renowned for its unique coastline and urban-meets-nature feel. I was bracing for chilly winter weather, but this metropolis (found at the edge of the continent) was rain-free and replete with sunshine! Having recently come from Mozambique, I was excited about the change in scenery, as well as some longed-for creature comforts (mainly hot showers and veggies).
Of course, I had to go to Table Mountain National Park, a protected space that stretches much more extensively than I had originally anticipated. Yes, it includes the iconic Table Mountain, but this natural place also encompasses an assortment of gorgeous hikes and impeccable coast land around the city and throughout the peninsula.
It was a beautiful drive down to Cape of Good Hope – the southwestern most part of the continent. Sure, the place was riddled with tourists, but I was able to pull away from the crowds to enjoy the crashing waves, unique cliffs, and sea-salt-infused air.
But mostly I enjoyed the sights.
You’ll recall that Channel Islands National Park was one of my favorites. The combination of rock, ocean, and greenery was the perfect recipe (in my opinion) for an outdoor setting. Well, picture this same assortment all around. It seemed that whenever the car turned a corner or whichever direction I faced, there were impeccable vistas that absolutely captivated me.
The ocean(s), in and of itself, was sublime – this is where the Indian and Atlantic meet. The shrub-covered ground was teeming with interesting plants while the mountains served as an amazing backdrop. There were wild ostriches flocking about and some odd-looking antelope (apparently called an eland). Warning signs about mischievous baboons made me anticipate seeing one, but they must have decided to stay hidden.
Yes, the area around Cape Town is so pretty! It was a delightful place to spend time out-of-doors.
I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. The roll of flattened tubing was heavy, and uncooperative as I tried awkwardly to unroll it. My hands were already filthy, so I gingerly used my inner elbow to hold back the sweat already dripping from my brow. I began to hum an indistinguishable tune, finding my rhythm as volunteer farmhand-for-the-day in the northern region of Mozambique.
I had eagerly agreed to help install a basic irrigation system on land owned by Iris Ministries just outside the city. This system would coax thirsty tomatoes into hearty plants during the dry season. On the truck ride over, I learned of the incredible value that viable farmland adds to an impoverished community. Besides the obvious job creation and food production, local farms contribute much-needed nutrition and add to the overall economic sustainability of an area.
The farm itself was gorgeous (and somewhat reminiscent of my time at Capitol Reef in the Fruita district.) Picturesque trees dotted the landscapes, interspersed between plots for carrots, eggplant, onions, and other veggies. I was told that the mango trees absolutely droop with delicious-tasting fruit when in-season.
I unrolled tubing. I measured. I marked. I cut. I turned. I fastened. I twisted. I straightened.
With a hard-working team, the installation process moved along fluently. My hands relished the opportunity to touch the African soil; my eyes regularly peeked upwards, paying homage to the lazy clouds in the sky.
When the system was successfully completed, we celebrated the outcome with some carrots pulled fresh from the soil. They were delicious (and organic). I walked to the edge of the property and peered into the marshy creek edge, searching for the crocodiles that I was told regularly lurk there. I didn’t see any.
Two years ago, while I traveled around the country in a teardrop trailer, I never imagined I would one day spend time on an African farmstead. It makes me excited to realize how far I’ve come, how much I’ve done, and how many more things I have yet to see!
Along with the mental and physical benefits, getting kids outside in a school-based environment encourages them to become passionate about the places that they will one day seek to protect. In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv talks about the inevitable joy for natural spaces that is founded upon both experiential and academic knowledge.
Yes, outdoor ed has recently become a field that I have both researched and championed in hopes of inspiring the next generation to get out-of-doors and connect with nature. It’s my soapbox, so to speak, that just so happened to unknowingly be toted along with me to Mozambique.
You can imagine my delight when I was given the impromptu opportunity to lead a group of high school English students in a learning engagement. Yes, I was tired – it had been a long week of humidity, manual labor, and an emotional outpouring. But here I was, on my last day in the country, making the most of a chance to collaboratively participate within a unique educational setting. I found myself in a room without air conditioning, the windows open to catch the hint of a cross breeze. The students fanned themselves listlessly while maintaining polite eye contact during my brief introduction.
I eagerly introduced myself, mentioning how delighted I was to have spent a week in their country, immersed in all of the beautiful, natural surroundings. The students seemed intrigued when I described my job as a teacher in the United States and leader of Muddy Monday escapades on a regular basis.
And then I posed this question: What is your favorite part of the outdoors in this area?
I could see the high school class pondering the question as they mentally translated it into their native language, brows furrowed in concentration. Their faces were pensive as they sifted through years of experience in an outdoor environment that, at times, had been very unkind to them.
In a country where poverty and hunger are rampant, most individuals focus primarily on daily survival. I could tell that this consideration was a new one, so I prompted them to discuss within their seat groups. I walked around the room, and, in halting English, I could hear some of their endearing responses.
“I like the elephant. I saw one with my father when I was young.”
“My favorite is the baobab tree. It is large and strong.”
“I enjoy the sea. I hope to sail on it one day.”
I joined in on some of their conversations, drawing out smiles when I recollected my recent encounter with moringa, a green super-food that tasted like bland, gritty spinach. (This nutrient-packed plant is an local phenomena that was enthusiastically served to me over a bed of rice at recent meal.) I received murmurs of agreement when I talked about the gorgeous African skies that seem to change shades and forms at a moment’s notice.
It was delightful to see these young people engage wholeheartedly with a question that was so far removed from what they might normally regard. They seemed to appreciate the focal point that was placed on accessing multi-sensory outdoor experiences, as their thoughtful answers indicated.
After a sweet time of sharing responses collectively, I left the class with this exhortation: “When you’re outside, stop and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of your land. Look for the wonder in the glorious things that surround you on a daily basis.”
The students waved goodbye and assured me that they would.
The sea was an alarming cobalt blue, hinting at shades of azure and turquoise when the sun hit it just right. In all its glory, the sky looked like a drawing from my childhood, with fluffy innocent clouds and careful shading. Yes, the blue-hued background of Pemba, Mozambique was a natural wonder, drawing my eyes, but only for a moment.
“Salaama!” The singsongy voice of children brought my focus back to the foreground. Heaps of trash swelled at the edge of the path and large black flies buzzed lazily about. A thin layer of dust seemed to cover everything within this small community, located at the very edge of a garbage dump within the city. The precious little ones flocked about, eager to hold my hand or play with my hair. The adults were welcoming, but weary, a tiredness evident within their countenance.
I was here, in Africa, to love people. I was here to bring hope, sustainable aid, and lots of hugs. On this bright day full of sunshine, I marveled at the juxtaposition of beauty and suffering. The Indian Ocean was a sight to behold, contrasted by the poverty surrounding me.
I was struck with gratitude. My adventures to natural places are such a gift, one that I am able to enjoy because my immediate needs are not in danger of going unmet. These children bear the marks of malnutrition – swollen bellies, skin blemishes, and tiny frames. They live day-to-day, finding appreciation in a warm, starchy meal or discovering a piece of trash they can turn into treasure. My heart broke for this country and these people.
So I wholeheartedly chose to look at the beautiful faces of those around me. The landscape was awe-inspiring, but I found an even greater wonder within the resourcefulness and kindness of a community that faces challenges I’ll never have to worry about.
I looked down at the kids clinging to my arms. Carefully cupping a small boy’s chin in my hand, I gazed into his eyes. They were an astonishing chestnut brown, hinting at shades of gold when the sun hit them just right.
I had stayed up way too late for a work night, scrolling through pictures and stories that tugged at my heart. I read through reports of orphaned newborn babies receiving a safe place to stay and women presented with hope in the midst of suffering. All of this started to shift my perspective on the concept of travel. It began to adjust the way I viewed my own wanderlust.
The 47 Parks trip I took last year was very me-focused, and, despite my love for personal adventures, I realized that it was time to direct my attention and resources towards others.
Located in northeastern Mozambique exists a missions base entitled Village of Joy. This remarkable place hosts a variety of ministries that serve the local community, and it happens to be the location of my next big trip. This time, I will choose to make any natural outdoorsy explorations my second priority – the beautiful Mozambican people will be the sole focal point of my stay.
So what will I be doing, exactly?
Supporting the Children’s Home (playing with, teaching, and loving kiddos)
Working in the Baby House
Volunteering in the Clinic
Assisting with any work projects
Joining established prison/hospital ministries
Helping in the Sewing School
A big thank-you to everyone who has supported this trip financially or donated useful items that I’ll take over with me. I eagerly anticipate reaching out in love and continuing my quest to explore the world.