the wild, wild coast

2 Jun

Through the small back window I could see a long white trail of dust stretching far back along the dirt road behind us. As the sun started to set, I, my three friends from Rhodes, two Peace Corps girls we had just met, and three older African women bounced along in the back of a trailer on our way to Bulungula Lodge. For two and a half hours we rode across the Eastern Cape from where we had been picked up at our bus stop in Mthatha (a six-hour trip from Grahamstown in itself). Finally, we arrived at the lodge, well after the sun had gone down. We were shown around by the staff and then settled into our round Xhosa-style huts for the night.

The next morning when we woke up, we could see how beautiful our surroundings were. In one direction, there were rolling hills dotted with huts, cows, and sheep, and in the other direction was the Indian Ocean, literally right next to the lodge. We signed up for a program called “Woman Power” where we would be able to live a day in the life of a Xhosa woman. A village woman came to the lodge to get us and we walked through the village and up the hill to her hut. She then painted our faces with traditional Xhosa face paint and tied head wraps over our hair. Then she handed us small buckets and told us to go to the river and get water, which we had to carry back on our heads.

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Over the next hour or so, we gathered sticks for firewood in the forest (which we also carried on our heads), ground cornmeal on a big stone (which we did not carry on our heads) and bought a cabbage at the village store. Then we started a fire and made “umnqa”, a Xhosa meal consisting of chopped cabbage, corn meal, salt, sugar, and water cooked in a pot. It tasted alright. I feel like I could make something like that on a college budget haha.

Unfortunately, I started to feel sick during the woman power thing (something sinus-related) and when I got back to the hut I basically spent the next two days in bed. I’m sad that I wasn’t able to take more advantage of my time at Bulungula… I would definitely go back there though. On the night before we left, I met a girl who goes to Millsaps College and knows people I went to high school with. What a small world.

The next morning, my friend Sarah and I woke up at 5 AM with our new Peace Corps friends (who were awesome by the way, and have reaffirmed my faith in the PC). We walked across a dark field to the only road in the village, where we waited for public transportation to come by, which apparently only happens before 6 in the morning. I’m glad the PC girls were there, because when a sketchy-looking pickup truck with homemade benches and a covered bed pulled up to pick us up, they reassured me that many of the taxis are like this. We climbed in and began our drive to Coffee Bay, where we would spend our last night of the trip. Along the way, the taxi kept stopping to let more and more people in. When about twelve of us were crammed into the pickup bed, I began to have doubts that any more could fit. Africa proved me wrong. We stopped a few more times to let in not one, not two, but three more people into the taxi. Four people if you count the newborn baby one woman was holding.

After that cozy, two-hour-long ride, we were dropped off at a junction where we were able to catch another taxi straight to our hostel. In total, I paid five dollars for transportation that day. At the hostel, Sarah and I asked directions to Hole in the Wall, a famous landmark of the region. We were told that it was a three-hour hike, so we decided to forego taking naps after our long taxi rides that morning and hit the trail so we could be back before dark.

We walked on a goat trail along the coast for three hours, down hills and up hills (mostly uphill though, or so it felt to me as I was still unable to breathe out of my nose because of my sinus thing). The scenery was amazing… The Wild Coast is an undeveloped region, so we passed farms, cliffs, herds of cattle, fields of tall grass blowing in the wind. Finally, we reached the Hole in the Wall. Very appropriately named, it is a rock formation parallel to the beach, with a big chunk missing out of the middle. I have no idea how it possibly could have formed.

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After looking at a cool hole in a wall for a few minutes, the reality of the return trip began to hit us (especially me, as this study abroad experience has revealed to me that I don’t have a future as a professional hiker). We walked into the nearby town and tried to hitch a ride back to our hostel, which was probably a ten-minute drive away. Eventually, we were picked up by a very touristy Asian-American couple who drove us almost thirty minutes inland and dropped us off on a main road, where we were luckily able to find cheap public transportation back to our hostel again.

The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed for an early two-hour surf lesson. The price? 40 rand, the equivalent of $5. I finally successfully stood up on a surfboard, and the Indian Ocean cleaned out all my sinuses. I then went back to the hostel again, got packed up, and said goodbye to the Wild Coast and my new Peace Corps friends as I set off for Grahamstown.

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So here I sit in my bed at Rhodes, procrastinating studying for my finals, which are worth a terrifying 70% of my final grade. The Wild Coast was my last overnight trip of the semester, and it was one of my favorites because even though I got sick, I felt like this was such a cultural experience and I would have missed out if I had left South Africa without doing this. In two weeks, I’ll be on my way back to the states, but the closer June 17th comes, the sadder I get. I will most definitely come back to this country again, because I’ve met so many amazing people and done so many cool things, but I am nowhere near being finished with South Africa. Or rather, South Africa is nowhere near being finished with me.

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2 Responses to “the wild, wild coast”

  1. Herman Moolman June 13, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    I just google’d searching for a word, and came here somehow. Glad I got to read this, and especially glad to see that you enjoyed your time so much here, hey? šŸ˜‰ I love our country, and its refreshing to see international people with a psoitive attitude towards us. So I would like to thank you for that. We need more visitors of your calibre. I had a chuckle with your afrikaans words, and being afrikaans myself I can’t seem to find the word “lekker”. SURELY the people you met must have taught you this one? We hope to see you again soon, then we’ll have a “moerse lekker braai”…

    • Audrey June 13, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Thank you so much for your comment! I’ve really had a wonderful time here and I will hate to leave… I was debating including lekker but I wasn’t completely sure of its meaning. Could I describe my time in SA as lekker? Or would it only apply to good food/drinks?

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