countin' the days

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wild Wild Coast (Gone Wild p.II)

As of yesterday, and thanks to the generosity of our new Mainer buddy Greg, our 2+ week extravaganza on the Wild Coast concluded. For now we're chilling in Jeffrey's Bay, one of the world's great surf capitals, and though it's a bit odd to be in such a developed area, we're enjoying the abundance of fresh produce, fresh waves, and bright sunshine. But the last couple weeks were some of the best ever, so here's a rundown of how our wild fortnight in the Transkei went down:

We headed from Durban to Port St John's expecting to spend just a couple stop-over
nights there. Instead, we spent over a week. From the first instant I arrived, I was hooked. People were friendly, chilled out, and after nothing but a smile; the landscape was beautiful and dramatic, a river mouth (originating in Lesotho) emptying into the Indian Ocean, surrounded by tropical jungle and steep cliffs; and most importantly, it felt like Africa again. We fell instantly in love with the backpacker's, Amapondo : perched
on a lush hillside steps away from Second Beach (the best swimming beach), with a big vegetable & herb garden fresh for the (free) picking, good campsites with a great view, and fantastic characters all around. In the first few days, we got covered in mud at the sulfur springs, hiked to Third Beach, boogie boarded endlessly, made friends with many a local, and visited the community center started by the Amapondo Children's Project. The rest of the week was decidedly more relaxed, as we took it nice & easy and enjoyed the multiple meanings of PSJ's catch phrase: More Fire!!

And oh yes... the drumming! There are drums all over the Wild Coast, and people playing them all day. Our first night at Amapondo we went up to a local shebeen (illegal bar) for sundowners, and as local dredlocked drum-maker Bali pulled his homemade creations out of his 1974 bright blue Peugeot station wagon, a crew of local kids banged out some rather phenomenal rhythms. Bali teaches a drum class to these kids twice a week at Amapondo's community center, and I went and observed one such session. Aside from providing tutoring, the Project tries to give these kids a creative outlet as well. I heart Amapondo!

Somehow, we made it out of Port St. John's. Our next stop was Bulungula Lodge, a place I'd been hearing endless good reviews about from every other traveler. My expectations were high, but were easy surpassed. This place is pretty amazing. Bulungula was started by a South African dude named Dave, who after studying social activism for a while decided to put it into play. The Xhosa people own 40% of the lodge in a community trust, and the lodge is completley part of their village. They make up the whole staff, help make decisions concerning all aspects of the lodge, and dozens of them hang out in and around the lodge all day. Part of Dave's plan is to empower the Xhosa, who have been more or less trampled on by South Africa for centuries, and teach them various ways to rise up and out of the extreme poverty most of them are trapped in. I heart Bulungula!

My first glimpse of it, along the rocky dirt "road" carrying us along the home stretch of a 3-hour drive, was from the top of a perch looking down at the green hills, blue waters, wide river, turquoise Xhosa huts, and the sparkling little peninsula on which it sits. It is a completely rural location, and that is part of it's overwhelming charm. Guest accomodation is in traditional Xhosa mud huts, each one decorated a little differently. We, of course, were camping, and scored the best location yet: a little nook under some mangroves, on the sand, right next to the beach, waking up every morning to ocean waves and sunrises. In addition to being a Fair Trade in Tourism member (for reals: businesses get awarded by SA's Fair Trade in Tourism board... how cool is that), Bulungula is also extremely eco-friendly. Powered by solar & wind, they have compost toils, and paraffin-powered rocket showers, both of which are decorated by psychedelic murals made of paint & tile. We spent our days there taking walks, jumping off of sand dunes, testing out the waters, eating at the local restaurant -- a mud hut run by 2 women serving up killer curry or dessert crepes, doing yoga on the bluffs, laughing with the locals, eating fantastic meals (fresh crayfish!), and collecting absolutely mindblowing seashells & decorating the campsite with them. Bulungula is the kind of place that forces you to slow down, breathe deep, forget about the rest of the world and just enjoy life's most simple beauties.

Our final days in the Transkei were spent in Coffee Bay, a beautiful location with a lovely hostel and some killer drumming ... but after dwelling in the magic of Amapondo & Bulungula, we were disappointed. The vibe was off, the strangely prominent begging culture was shoved in our faces, and a whole lot of locals were only concerned with what might come out of my pocket instead of my heart (were we back in East Africa?). Plus, I've been anxious to get to Cape Town, since next on the agenda is going to the nearest STA Travel office and changing my flight so I can stay here in this fantastic country for another 3 months!...


Yzerfontein said...

I'm South African but have never been to Port St Johns - it sounds scenically stunning, and I've heard that some people like smoking the local vegetation. Have a good flight to Cape Town.

Anonymous said...

awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks. lina holzbauer