Students are fresh from their time in Cape Town and are now enjoying their time in Johannesburg at the African Leadership Academy. Check out this update from Leslie, written after their hiking trip in the Cederbergs a couple of weeks back. 

Howzit! Hello from South Africa! 

After over a month traversing the surreal landscapes of Namibia, from endless sand dunes to foggy coastlines, we finally crossed over into our final country of the semester… South Africa! It was a bittersweet moment for our group: we are full of gratitude for our semester so far and brimming with excitement about the five weeks to come exploring South Africa, a country incredibly rich in history, culture, and biodiversity. Students have been eagerly anticipating some moments to come in South Africa, including Campus Visit in Cape Town and our visit to ALA (the African Leadership Academy) in Johannesburg, but first we made a stop in the beautiful Cederberg Mountains. 

The Cederberg is situated northwest of Cape Town, and sits within the Cape Floral Region, meaning the lush valleys and sandstone rocky outcrops are dotted with an amazing array of wildflowers and succulents. We are moving into new class units, preparing to study the recent history of apartheid in Honors History & Politics, investigating environmental justice case studies in Honors Global Studies, reading Coconut by South African author Kopano Matlwa in Honors Literature & Composition, and digging into geology in Honors Environmental Science. 

We were also here for a five day backpacking expedition deep into the Cederberg Mountains. As you’ve heard, this trip was sadly interrupted by a wildfire – read retellings of those events from Marley and Macy below! In true TTS fashion, our students brought light, fun, and laughter to our week despite our change of plans. Our local guides were so impressed by our students’ resilience and adaptability.

Fire on the ridge in the background

Hiking out at 3am with headlamps 

The Cederberg, once a bit of an underground climbing mecca, has since been put on the map in the last two decades for its rockin’ bouldering and climbing areas. Thus, during one of our unplanned days back from trail, we had to take advantage! This day was a real highlight. We started the day with a morning of classes, then set off for a hike to some Koisan rock art led by our Student Leader of the Day, Macy, who superbly interpreted the ancient painting (some dating back to 6,000 years ago!) with the help of a recently purchased guidebook. 

After a cool-off swim in some beautiful rock pools, we returned to camp and geared up to join our new climbing friends (guides Jodi, Kiki, and Alex) for some bouldering at a crag just up in the hill from camp. 

That night, we donned our costumes and celebrated halloween TTS style, with spooky spring rolls for dinner, halloween music, and a laptop-screening of a halloween movie. Some highlight costumes were students dressed up as each other, ketchup and mustard, and teachers as creepy mermaids. 

After a couple days back at camp, we embarked on a second overnight backpacking trip – this time to the spot that would have been our final camp of our trip! We hiked 12km to a small village of beautiful whitewashed houses nestled in a mountain valley. Here, we had a braai to celebrate Savannah’s 17th, complete with a dutch-oven-baked red velvet cake! We also got to chat with a local woman who shared with us the story of the small farming community and taught us about the rooibos and buchu plants they produce for tea. The rooibos plant is endemic to the fynbos ecoregion of the Cederberg, making the area the world’s producer for the wildly popular rooibos tea and other rooibos products. Students got to sip some freshly picked rooibos and buchu tea. After dinner, we hiked another couple of kilometers (by headlamp!) to our camp for the evening, where we slept under the stars, and our birthday girl Savannah saw her first (two!) shooting stars. 

We’ve also been learning some South African / Afrikaans lingo along the way. So far we’ve got….

“Lekker” = cool

“Bru” = friend

“Yebo” = yes! 

“Braai” = cookout / barbecue 


Keep reading for Macy’s beautiful storytelling of the Cederberg: 

My toes plunged into the freezing cold, crystal clear water of the waterfall. I tilted my face up towards the sun, peering from under my baseball cap at the water droplets splattering off of the rocks, sparkling in the light. I quickly took my feet out of the water, they were aching from how cold it was despite the heat of the day. My sandwich that I ate for lunch was the icing on the cake of that beautiful afternoon of hiking and relaxing.


Later that night, we made it to camp and had a few classes in the sun before it set. We huddled around our stoves, cooking up various dinners in our small crews. I had smoked chicken and pasta, still tasty despite the bits of pine needles from the stuff we spilled. I cozied up in our tent afterward, listening to the wind in the trees to fall asleep. 


2am: we all stumbled awake to the yelling voices outside our tent. Savannah unzipped the door, catching a glimpse of the orange haze spilling across the sky behind the hills. We scrambled to pack up, gathering our belongings and tents, prepared to hike away from the fire. We eventually began the trek in the dark, headlamps on, waters filled, adrenaline pumping so early in the morning. We hiked for multiple hours, facing head on into the wind that was keeping the fire away from us. As the sun began to rise, we settled behind a boulder for a breakfast and rest moment.


Multiple hours later, a day after we initially began our hike, we packed up our rest spot and continued on into the now-sunny day. Tired and wind-blown from the long night, we kept our spirits up with sugary snacks and recollections of the intensity. As soon as we got going again we had to wait for more information, this time for the final call of whether we should evacuate the mountain. When we decided to leave, we spent the day hiking off of the mountain and driving back to the basecamp. 


The now-empty days that were supposed to be filled with our backpack trip were now open for Halloween fun and a supplemental hike. We went on a walk through wall-art sites, went swimming, had classes, went bouldering, watched a movie, realized we forgot to purchase the Halloween candy we picked out, celebrated Savannah’s birthday, hiked out ot the Cederbergs again, had delicious braai and cake, spent the night in the wilderness with some bush-whacking along the way, and hiked back the next day. 14 miles in two days. All of these activities were concluded with a fabulous pizza and brownie dinner at the local Hen House restaurant, lots of giggles, and a productive study hall. 


The excitement of the Cederbergs never stops. 

And some words from Marley:

“Our 5 day backpacking trip in the Cederbergs was cut short by a forest fire, which we were all pretty disappointed about. Even though this experience was very unexpected and a little bit scary it was also super exciting and pretty fun. I remember it being 3 AM and we were waiting for the final call to pack up our tents. We were all sitting in a little shack to shelter us from the wind. Although this moment probably should have been very serious, I remember every one of us laughing and making jokes, journaling about what was happening, and making blogs on our cameras. We were all huddled in a corner under sleeping bags and eating snacks, joking about the situation. Even though there was a fire and we were all running on no sleep, sitting in the hut with everyone before we actually had to start hiking was one of my most fun memories of the short trip. We started to hike around 3:30 am, but we made sure to get a picture with the fire first. (Pics or it didn’t happen). It was windy and cold, but the combination of the stars, moon and the fire was very pretty. A lot of us have never been able to hike under the stars, and that was an amazing experience. We hiked for about 2 hours and then had some breakfast, and all took a 2 hour nap because we were so tired. When we were told we would actually have to leave the trip early everyone was really sad. Luckily, we still got to do some really fun day hikes, bouldering, and even another overnight trip with our guides where we got to celebrate Savannah’s birthday. We found out some people are secretly talented climbers, and we got to swim in a really nice swimming hole, have a barbecue, and another night sleeping under the stars. Despite not backpacking, we still made the most of the 5 days and had a really great time.” 

Phew, what a week! Now we set off for some city time in much anticipated Cape Town, where the adventure continues with the addition of some new faces – see you soon, Jennifer and a couple of families! 

– Leslie Sandefur, Honors Environmental Science Teacher