01.02.2012 - 05.02.2012 25 °C
We set out from Hogsback early the next morning on the shuttle back to East London. Thankfully this time we had the luck of a proper car to ride back in which made for a much more pleasant experience. After a short stop at Sugarshack, a hostel virtually on the beach, we departed onwards into the heart of the Transkei area of the Eastern Cape. Our destination was Bulungula Lodge, a hostel run as part of a community project in an isolated Xhosa village on the coast. The level of remoteness was such that we were dropped at a service station near the town of Mthatha and joined another shuttle service for a journey of more than 2 hours, mostly along 'roads' that were so water damaged that even our 4x4 transport had some difficulty. It was truly a stomach churning ride and we were both very glad to finally arrive!
The hostel itself was a series of rondavels - traditional round houses made of reeds and cow dung - and other larger buildings for the communal facilities. While it was not nearly as clean and modern as some of the hostels we have stayed in, we had been prepared for the experience and soon got used to the compost toilets and paraffin powered showers. We were shocked, however by the chicken living in and protecting its nest in one of the toilet cubicals! The community offered a number of trips and tours to experience different parts of village life, although on our first day the heavy rain that seemed to follow us from Hogsback postponed the activities that we had planned on doing. We spent the day chatting to our fellow travellers (once again a high proportion of Germans) and reading. Patrick found a copy of Nelson Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom' and spent a decent amount of time reading it here as it seemed a very appropriate setting for it! That afternoon the weather cleared up a little and we were able to go for a short walk along the beach, which was littered with broken shells and seaweed, an area that lived up to the name of the Wild Coast that we were on.
After the limited opportunities of the first day, we decided to make the most of the sunshine when it came and booked 2 tours for the next day. The first was called 'woman power' and involved spending a few hours in the role of a Xhosa woman. We both had a go at this (after some gentle persuasion on Patrick's part!) and walked to our guide's house. After being given our sunscreen of watery clay, an apron and a scarf to tie around our heads, we went to collect water from the local spring, carrying it back on our heads, collect firewood from the local forest and help in the preparation of lunch. This was samp (ground maize meal cooked with water) and pumpkin, blended together to make stiff porridge-like material. While not the most tasty meal of the trip so far it was possibly the most traditional. Although the tour was an interesting sampler of life in the village our guide spoke very little English so most of Ffion's questions about her way of life went unanswered. That afternoon we set out on our second trip of the day to take a tour around the village. We stopped at several houses and other buildings, almost exclusively in round huts, including a house where a mourning ceremony was taking place for one of the previous inhabitants. As part of the mourning anyone who wishes to pay their respects to the departed visit the house and drink traditional Xhosa beer which is, again, made with maize meal. The local sangoma (spiritual healer) was present to help the passage of the dead man into the world of the ancestors and we were invited into the house to try the beer and talk to the sangoma. We learnt that she sees around 3 people each day and can cure most illnesses apart from AIDS, a problem for which you have to walk a few hours to the nearest clinic. We then visited the local shop and our guide explained the name and purpose of every item on offer! On our walk back from the shabeen (the village's off licence) we witnessed a vet (someone who was originally from the village but was now working in Gautang province) treating a bull for some sort of testicular problem and also met a number of people from the village, many of whom were keen for us to come in and have a chat. The hostel owners have set up a small NGO which, among other things, sells solar panels to families and has built a preschool. There is a primary school a few kilometers out of the village and for high school students travel 1 hour each way by transport. We asked three new mothers where their babies were born and were pleased to hear that they were all born in hospital even though it's 2 hours away by transport. We signed up for the hostel's home cooked bobotie for the evening meal - a Cape Malay dish of spiced minced beef topped with a cheesy eggy crust - and enjoyed the company of some people we had met during our stay at Wild Spirit, who had arrived that day.
On our final day we had planned to spend some time visiting the local medicine man, but unfortunately he had to make a trip into town. In its place we decided to take a canoe trip up the nearby river to the local 'restaurant'. After later reflection, Patrick remembered that he hadn't been canoeing before, a fact that made the trip a little less enjoyable as our guide's lack of English meant that instruction and help was pretty non-existent. Added to this was a strong wind blowing in off the ocean and what may often be a pleasant paddle upstream turned out to be a bit of a chore that almost ended with us capsizing midstream! However, we managed to stay afloat and after our guide decided it was too choppy to try and go any further we made our way up to the restaurant (a round hut with two woman and a stove) for some pancakes. Given the limited cooking facilities the results were quite nice, as we shared a savoury 3 nut (butter-, coco- and cashew) filled pancake and a sweet 'Bulungula special' of raisins, dates, condensed milk, cinnamon other spices. We had a quiet final evening getting things together and woke up early the following morning the prepare for the gut shaking shuttle back for our journey back to civilisation and our biggest city since Cape Town.