Living it up on the Wild Coast

Two long bus trips have taken us into and then out of the city of Port Elizabeth, with a short overnight stay in the city backpackers between. We have now moved from the Garden Route to the Wild Coast, a more isolated, windswept but still beautiful stretch of coast in a different sort of way. The Wild Coast is crossed by a multitude of rivers coming into the sea, forming lagoons or wide river mouths cleaving the wide white beaches pounded by the heavy tab to read further

One of these is the mighty Kei River, and the area north of this is referred to as Transkei, which translates to ‘across the Kei’. Transkei was nominated a supposed independent state for Xhosa speaking people to live during the Apartheid era. This was one of four ‘homelands’ under what was referred to as ‘separate development’ policy. These states had their own governments and defence forces but were more a justification of Apartheid than anything else, and were not recognised by any countries other than South Africa. The Transkei homeland’s 31 year history that ended in 1994 was dominated by a corrupt leader Kaiser Matanzima who effectively ran the country as a one party state. As a result the area is still lagging behind in infrastructure. It can take a long time to recover from decades of neglect.

We had travelled in less than 24 hours from what could easily have been part of Europe to a much more African appearing landscape. Rondavels (rounded huts with thatch roofs) appeared, the population and traffic thinned, the flora coarser and the roads rougher.

Our destination of the second long bus leg was Buccaneer’s Lodge, Chinsta. Sam and I have three nights here to take in the white sand, big rolling surf, and panoramic views from the hostel verandas. On the second day we went on a trip to a village nearby where pigs, geese and dogs roamed the dirt roads between the rondavels. Children peered out of the doorways and the women balanced firewood on their colourful bandanas. As part of the visit, we met a local Xhosa legend. 95 year old Mama Tofu outlined for us the principles of their culture. Standing over a small group of seated Europeans from the backpackers in the community rondavel, she started her well honed routine when Sam started playing up.

He was more boisterous than normal,  as I had forgotten to give him his ADHD medication, and was bouncing off the mud walls of the small thatched roofed hut. She insisted I not restrain him and to let him do whatever he wanted as long as he was safe. He immediately pointed to some of the photos she had on display which included one of a topless African woman.

‘Inappropriate!’ he said.

Madam Tofu laughed uproarishly and gave him a hug.

‘You’re old.’

‘Yes I am, Mister Sam.’

‘I hope you don’t die.’

Fortunately, I think she missed the last comment. Language barriers can be protective sometimes. Mama Tofu was quite taken with Sam. They walked hand in hand around the hut. A vivacious and engaging woman, she was remarkable for her age. She had on a side table nearby a photo of her with Jacques Kallis, the famous South African cricketer. She was a cricket nut like me. We had a conversation about the recent disappointing loss South Africa had suffered in the Cricket World Cup, and how silly mistakes had cost them dearly in the semi-final. With a shake of her head she admonished various team members for their performance. She really knew her cricket.

‘Steyn needs to get his temper under control. He is a very good bowler, but if he doesn’t take wickets, he loses his head.’

I scrambled to stop Sam knocking over a jewellery display that had been set up in the hut.

‘Let him be. Whatever happens in here is fine by us. You just relax.’

As we were leaving, I took a photo of two young girls with patterned white painted dots on their faces. Standing near Sam, and much to his surprise, one of them burst into song and within a few seconds a chorus line of ten children and adults, including Mama Tofu, clapped, swayed and sung in perfect harmony. The two young girls then leapt forward from the line and swung their lower legs in turns like gyrating helicopter blades while skipping on their other leg. We were all gobsmacked. Sam just laughed and bounced his way into the minibus.

On the road out of the village a man walked along wearing a road worker’s fluoro jacket. As we passed him I noticed he had a white painted face. I asked our Xhosa driver why.

‘He is a witchdoctor.’

Of course.