Tag Archives: South Africa

South Africa’s Transkei: Fear and Loathing in the Wild Coast

Coffee Bay, Wild Coast, South Africa

So as a way to procrastinate for job hunting, here’s another blog entry from 2 months ago.  Enjoy!

Although it was hard to pry myself away from Neville’s hospitality and comforts in Southbroom, the scenery in South Africa’s Wild Coast or Transkei was definite worth it – they don’t call this the Wild Coast for nothing!

I hoped on a Greyhound bus for the 6 hour journey and found it very comfortable.  The further we got into the trip, the less populated the outside world was.  After chatting with the hyperactive child sitting beside me, I finally got a chance to look up and enjoy the ride.  As I looked out through the front-of-the-bus-second-level window, all I saw were rolling hills covered in green grass everywhere, dotted with small palm trees and indigenous shrubs and forests.  Scattered throughout the hillside were small villages of brightly coloured concrete houses and rondavels.  There were cattle and sheep and goats being herded by children and men.  Also, all along the road, there were people hitchhiking holding signs with acronyms on them.  I got “PE” for Port Elizabeth but what or where is “XB”? After being dropped off at a gas station on the side of the road, I met Rob the driver from Coffee Bay who herded myself and a bunch of grimey backpackers who had just arrived on the Baz Bus (**more on that here) into a small minibus for the 1.5hr ride to Coffee Bay on the coast.  Thank god I got to sit in the front and chat with Rob.  I mean, one of the backpackers was walking around the gas station barefoot playing a ukulele! And the conversation in the minibus highlighted everything I don’t like about backpackers.  Yes, they are the most laid back, fun and interesting people you’ll ever meet.  But occasionally, you get a bad apple like those backpackers who brag about how “hardcore” they’ve been traveling, all the drugs and alcohol they’ve been ingesting and how little money they’ve been able to live off of.  I was just happy to be sitting in the front talking to Rob about his family while he taught me about his people, the Xhosa.  When I first heard him speak, I was so amazed! Remember when Russell Peters made those jokes about Africans speaking in clicks? Well, he probably met a Xhosan because “Xhosa” is actually pronounced *knocking-click sound*-sa and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela is Qunu but pronounced *click*u- nu.  The road into Coffee Bay was windy and up-and-over the hills – it was beautiful! The only thing that detracted from the beauty was the truck in front of us with young men sitting in the flatbed.  One of these comedians saw a van full of foreigners, decided to drop his pants and moon us.  Welcome to Coffee Bay!

When I finally arrived at Sugar Loaf Backpackers, I was given the best welcome ever – a sundowner (yummy cocktail drunken at sunset) by 2 old drunk Afrikaan men and a lesbian couple who run the place.  Again, welcome to Coffee Bay! The rest of the night was spent eating a delicious dinner at the dining table and talking with Wilson, Vernon (the 2 old men), Linda and Joet (the lesbian couple).  Wilson and Vernon told us stories about the apartheid and how they were conscripted as police or army men.  Talking to them was very interesting and like other older generation Afrikaans I’ve met so far in South Africa, there are still traces of racism and racial tension.  The whites still blame the blacks for their country’s problems and vice versa.  The next day, I wondered around the small village of Coffee Bay.  There are only about 20 huts scattered along the hillside and one paved road that runs through it.  After relaxing on the beach and chatting with a bunch of backpackers who just arrived on a big yellow school bus from AfrikaBurn (it’s like Burning Man but in South Africa), I grew tired of their “Burn stories” of partying and drugs.  I never thought that I would meet people straight out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! I should’ve known – apparently Coffee Bay is a drug and backpacker haven because it’s so secluded.  I started hiking up Sugar Loaf Mountain and didn’t make it very far when a little local boy started following me and kept on asking “Do you want to sing?”.  I thought it was some sort of slang for drugs but he actually started singing and dancing over my tired, out-of-breath heaving while hiking up this mountain.  Although it was a tiring hike, the view was amazing! There were huge cliff drops into the ocean all along the coast and behind me were rolling hills for miles, all dotted with brightly coloured huts and rondavels.

Sadly, I had to leave the next day to keep moving or else I’ll never make it to Cape Town! I was planning on changing up the scenery and making a stop in Hogsback up in the mountains.  Along the way, I met a fellow backpacker, Henry, from South Africa who was moving across to Cape Town.  And I thought I was traveling with a lot of stuff – Henry was traveling with 2 backpacks, a duffle bag, a mountain bike, a kayak and paddles! Along the way, Henry pointed out some very interesting sights like Mandela’s hometown of Qunu and a house he built near the freeway which is a replica of the cottage he lived in during his house arrest.  Henry also pointed out the Execution Rock where they used to throw people off and that the Transkei (Wild Coast) region used to be its own country until the end of apartheid.  We finally started moving away from the beautiful coast line and rolling hills to a more wooded region closer to Hogsback.  The small town nestled between the mountains is named Hogsback after the unusual shape of the surrounding mountains which, ingeniously, looks like the back of a wild hog (or a warthog).  The mountains were quite impressive – with tiny waterfalls scattered about and indigenous forests blanketing the mountainsides.  It actually reminded me a lot like Canada and definitely reminded me of the Canadian weather.  It was freezing in Hogsback – not freezing in the Canadian winter sense but cold for Africa.  I think I’ve been spoiled by the fact that I haven’t had to wear a sweater or long pants for the last couple of months that anything under 15C is considered cold now.

Hogsback resembled the Shire from the Lord of the Rings (yes, that’s a geeked out reference) and had capitalized on this fact by setting up stores called the Ring Shoppe, Hobbiton Shoppe and Fairie Sculptures (the fact that their shops are all “shoppes” makes it fancier in itself).  I stayed at a hostel called Away With the Fairies which is comprised of small cottages along the cliff.   After putting on layers of clothing, I wandered around the garden and discovered a bath tub on the edge of the cliff overlooking the mountains.  How awesome is that?! I would’ve definitely taken a bath in such a unique location except for the fact that I would have to heat up the water by building a fire.  That just seems like too much work for a bath – that was my laziness flaring up again.  I hiked along this trail (in flip flops, not a good idea) and stumbled upon a ladder attached to a tree only to look up and find that attached to the ladder was a tree house 15m up.  Maybe I’m just getting old but the climb up and down that ladder almost gave me a panic attack.  However, the view from the well-built tree house was worth it.  You could see the mountain range, the valley below and just trees for miles and miles.   Once it got dark, it was dinnertime! I was starving so when the chef told me tonight’s dinner was going to be warthog and kudu (like a deer), I didn’t hesitate for a second before saying yes.  The warthog and kudu was surprisingly very delicious – although I tried my hardest not to think of Pumba or Bambi while chowing down.   After dinner, I chatted with 2 guys from Texas who were traveling/working in Africa.  One of them turned out to be an engineer (we’re everywhere!) working in Gabon.  Now, traveling in Africa may be a bit adventurous but working in Gabon is downright ballsy.  Paul, the bartender, was super nice and didn’t look at me funny when I introduced him to the best drink in the world – apple juice and Malibu (Tina and I discovered this and always had both stocked in our apartment).  We traded traveling horror stories (he won with being in a bus crash in Peru where the bus flipped over on the side of a mountain and the driver ran away) and gave us free shots of something called “Shit in the Woods”.  It was disgusting but just being able to tell Tamara that I had a shit in the woods was worth it.

The next morning, I decided to leave Hogsback because it was just way too cold and headed towards Tsitsikamma in the Garden Route.  I’m halfway through South Africa and already, I want to move here!

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South Africa’s South Coast: bunny chow, beach and braai

Southbroom, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Wow, this post is waaay overdue – yes, I got too relaxed and even lazier than I was before if that’s even possible.  But seeing as it’s a gloomy day in Toronto, I thought that reliving the warm and sunny days of Africa would cheer me up.  So here goes, blog posts from 3 months ago….

I finally landed in South Africa and all I can say is “holy civilization!”.  It’s actually the little things that reminded me of how far removed I was from what we call western life.  Signs that actually light up in the airport, soap in soap dispensers, paying the amount on price tags or even price tags for that matter and being the most vagrant/hobo-dressed person around.  After a brief pit stop in Johannesburg to stock up on amenities like English books, pens and most importantly, activating my BlackBerry messenger (I was literally smiling for the first hour after finally being reconnected), I quickly bought a flight out of there to Durban on the South Coast.  Word of advice: exchange all your local currency before leaving that country.  I learned this lesson the hard way when I tried to exchange all my random UAE Dirhams, Kenyan Shillings, Tanzanian Shillings and Mozambican Meticais at the money changer and found out 1. no one accepted most of those currencies and 2. for the ones they would accept, it was worth so little that I would have to pay them to exchange it!

Once I landed in Durban, I made a beeline to buy a pair of closed-toe shoes since it’s the beginning of winter in South Africa and everyone on my flight was wearing boots and wool jackets.  Here I was, the ignorant Canadian, wearing shorts and a T-shirt thinking that Africa was hot all the time.  I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped outside and it was 20C! Clearly, South Africans have not experienced a COLD -30C Canadian winter.  Back to shorts and T-shirts! Took a quick cab ride to my hostel in Durban and took in the night time sights – it’s a lot like any other western city except there’s no one walking around on the streets (a common theme in South African cities).  The hostel, Gibela Traveler’s Lodge, is the cleanest hostel I’ve ever stayed at hands down.  It’s a beautifully decorated Tuscan house with vibrant walls and African artifacts and is immaculately clean! So clean that I walked around barefoot – I don’t know if that can be attributed to the cleanliness of the hostel or the decrease in my hygiene standards.  Elmar, who runs the hostel, was very helpful with not just Durban but South Africa in general.  For the next few days, I wandered around Durban – had a relaxing afternoon in the Botanical Gardens while trying to avoid hormonal teenaged couples hidden amongst the flora, went shopping (had to satisfy the habit somehow!) and hiked up and down the steep residential streets.  Like most major South African cities, all of the houses and buildings have intense security measures.  There are barbed and electric fences, alarm systems, pin code entry pads, guard dogs and many signs with skulls and crossbones warning of imminent death if anyone so much as accidentally steps on the property.  I heard that crime in South Africa was high but some of the security measures in place probably cost more than the house itself.  For dinner, I wandered along Florida Road which has some of the swankier restaurants and settled for a small Indian restaurant for a local Durban dish, bunny chow (curry in a bread bowl).  Although Durban has the highest Indian population in all of South Africa, it wasn’t the same as the food in India but I guess I’ve been forever spoiled.

After a very peaceful sleep, I packed up all my stuff and boarded a mini bus to Margate further along the South Coast.  When I first heard the words “minibus”, I had a PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) flashback to the horror of the Maputo-Tofo ride in Mozambique but I was ecstatic when I saw this brand new, air conditioned, 1 person per seat minibus pull up.  It was so comfortable that I had to keep myself from falling asleep so I could take in the scenery.  All along the highway, there were small towns on the right and just miles and miles of beaches to the left.  In Margate, a very nice man named Bruce picked me up to drive me to the hostel in Southbroom 20 minutes away.  Turned out that Bruce is a friend of Neville, who owns the Southbroom Traveller’s Lodge, and he told me about Southbroom and all the comings and goings.  Southbroom is a actually small resort town filled with millionaires and their mansions.  There’s even this one ginormous mansion perched on the top of the cliff worth R55 million or $8 million USD.   To be able to stay at a backpackers place in this town was so amazing but even better was that Neville runs his backpackers as if it’s like staying at a friend’s house!  I had the dorm room to myself and the ensuite bathroom even had a bath tub! The common room was actually the living room stocked with comfy couches, hundreds of DVDs and magazines.  Neville, Bruce and I chatted all afternoon and played with the dogs (a bull mastiff mom and her puppies).  When dinnertime came around, Bruce made delicious spaghetti bolognese and fettucine alfredo.  We all sat down around the dining table so it was like eating dinner with friends.  We also had conversations like the ones I would have at home with my own friends – politics, movies and UFO sightings. 🙂

The next day, I pried myself away from the TV (oh how I missed TV) and wandered down to the beach.  The beach is amazing – so clean, soft and spotless! I was so amazed that I even sent my engaged sister some photos as a possible wedding destination.  I was just so content walking along the beach, hearing the huge waves crash onto the rocks in the distance that I didn’t realize until afterwards that I had not encountered anyone else on the beach for the past 2 hours.  After some more walking, sitting and book reading, the sun started setting so I started walking back to the backpackers but because the houses are hidden from the beach behind sand dunes, I actually got lost wandering around on the beach! Who gets lost on a beach?! I finally made it back by following some locals and was greeted by the barking dogs (I don’t know if it was a greeting or more them protecting the property but I took it as a greeting).  For dinner, Bruce started a braai (BBQ for us North Americans) and South Africans sure do know their bbq-ing! We had steaks, boerewors (sausages) and lamb chops – compliments of Bruce the chef.

Although many people say South Africa is “fake Africa”, my first glimpse into this country has been unbelievable – such hospitality and beautiful scenery.  If this is any indication of what the next 3 weeks will be like, it’ll be difficult to move onto the next country!

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