Wild Coast of South Africa
Wild Coast of South Africa-.visiting tribal South Africa.
Wild Coast of South Africa.
The early sunlight glimmers on this east coast of Southern Africa. You feel like you are on the edge of the world. A Humpbacked Whale leaves the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and returns with a huge splash as it flops back into the blue sea. Nearby a spray of water indicates that this is a pod of whales moving northwards into tropical waters. A small group of Cape Gannets patrol the coastline in search of small fish. Two fold back their wings and bullet deep into the water in search of their prey.
On a nearby hill a young Sheppard herds a mixed group of goats and sheep onto the grassy slopes in search of another days grazing. From a hut in the distance a lonely figure winds her long way down to a stream with a container on her head to fetch precious water for the day ahead. A lazy wisp of smoke from a chimney that is not much more than a hole in the roof indicates that a fire has been started to boil the water when it arrives. Out side a hut a man sits wiling the time away.
A couple of days on the coast just north of Coffee Bay gave me a new vision of this part of the South African coast. It is known as the Wild Coast. According to the South African Family Encyclopedia it consists of the area between the Kei River and Natal. This province, now part of the Eastern Cape, was formerly known as the Transkei. At one stage during the apartheid years it was given its independence. As we travelled along the N2 from East London we passed the village where Nelson Mandela was born and where his modern house can be seen from the road. Several rivers flow into the sea in this section of coast including the Mtamvuna, the Mzimvubu and the Mbase. It is a rocky coastline with interspersed bays and beaches and according to the travel brochures is “unspoilt”.
Tribal villages dot the landscape and the occasional fishing shack overlooks the ocean. Towns along the coast like Port St Johns and Coffee Bay, are popular resorts for up country holiday makers who arrive in their 4X4 vehicles with ski-boats and jet-skis in tow. Unlike the Kwa-Zulu and Western Cape resorts they are largely un-crowded because of the poor roads that make a 100 plus km. journey from the N2 somewhat of a nightmare. Travelling from East London to the turnoff 200 kilometers away took about two and a half hours. The hundred kilometers from there to the coast took another two and a half hours on potholed tar roads and dirt roads winding through the valleys and hills.
Life for the Xhosa people in this area is precarious to say the least. Food and water are often precious commodities and yet everyone seems to survive. Unlike the Xhosa community in the East London area where we live, we saw here few if any overweight people. A diet of Crayfish and fresh fish will do that for you. A local woman told us that no one really goes hungry because of the subsistence farming/fishing and government grants that keep them going. As the modern world also impacts on these tribal areas, we do notice the occasional solar powered energy source and even TV antennas. Everyone does seem to have a cell-phone and so communication is good. School children walk to nearby or not so nearby schools. The occasional Taxi (20 seater Toyotas) plies its trade along the main roads. Toyota “Bakkies”(trucks) are the preferred mode of transport even if they are rare in this area off the beaten track. People walk long distances and time takes on a new meaning.
The coast line is “unspoilt” and we were amazed to be offered Crayfish and fresh fish on a daily basis (at a price). Obviously “rich” holiday makers are seen as a cash opportunity. The shells on the beaches are plentiful. We spent hours walking along the coast picking up Cowries, Cones and other shells to add to our growing collection. When I swim in the bays I am the only person in the sea, a far cry from the crowded Durban beaches.
When I saw the advert for this place and they wrote about the fireflies I thought "oh yes, what a claim to make!" But in the evenings the fireflies come out to play and when you turn the lights off and leave a door or window open a light show begins. At one stage we had as many as a dozen frying around the room. In my many years of travelling in South Africa and else where I have never experienced anything like this. This must be firefly paradise!
Most days we saw a group of hikers walking along the coast heading for their overnight accommodation at Coffee Bay or Port St Johns. Hiking along the coast is offered by various companies either with slack-packing or carrying your own tent. The hiking trails gravitate from the beaches to the hills, with spectacular views and great beaches and rock pools to explore along the way. Hikers can stay in up market accommodation or in basic tribal huts.
But now it is back to my second cup of coffee as the sun rises high above the ocean and big decisions loom ahead. Fishing, snorkeling, shell collecting or just sitting on the verandah and watching the whales, dolphins and Gannets pass by; and Oh! - what to cook on the outdoor barbeque with the best view in the world this evening? Difficult to decide!