Monday, 16 April 2007

Around the coast

Time now to see the jewel of South Africa - its fabulous coastline, and our first stop was a Xhosa-run establishment called Bulungula (check out in the Transkei. A really beautiful location, and an interesting experiment in running an eco-friendly resort, with local Xhosa ownership and involvement. It was a bit of an effort to get here, as the bus trip ended on the highway, from where Rufus (a 70 year old Xhosa with a long history of driving things, including trains, taxis, trucks and tankers) picked us up in 4wd and took us the remaining 100km or so to the village. He entertained us most of the way with stories, including one he shared with Max about his circumcision, which happens in early adulthood without anaesthetic. The boys are sent into the bush to recover from the "operation" and when they return they are men. Just like that!

The Xhosa live in these picturesque round houses (rondevals, in Afrikaans), dotted across the hills. They shout to each other from hill top to hill top, a practice that is still used when speaking on their mobile phones in Cape Town, as we were to discover.

So, having arrived here at this little piece of paradise, we spent a few days wandering along the coast, checking out the local restaurant (open 3 days a week, anything you want to eat as long as it's pancakes, and great brewed coffee - which made a change to the Nescafe we are becoming accustomed to), and visiting a gardening project when the villagers are encouraged to practice permaculture, irrigation and propogation. All good stuff.

In between visiting the permaculture project and patronising the local restaurant, some serious relaxing was in order in the beautiful surrounds of Bulungula, in South Africa's Transkei.

Next stop was Cintsa, another picture perfect piece of coast, where we had our first serious rain - rain is always serious when you are staying in a tent. However, here we were perched on a wooden platform, so no problems really. We visited the local school where the students put on an end of term performance for us. A great experience - they sang and danced for an hour and a half in groups of girls, boys, and littlies, all under the enthusiastic instruction of Marjorie, the principal. At the end of the concert we all had to get up, introduce ourselves and show the children on a tatty map of the world where we came from - for which we each got a round of applause. On a slightly more sombre note, our donations went towards a school feeding programme, which supplied food, utensils and a cook and ensured that the children got two meals a day - cereal in the morning, and soup for lunch.

How adorable are these kids - we were privileged to see their end of term concert.

The surfing mecca of Jeffrey's Bay was our next stop - the waves weren't great, but the weather was, so we got the chance to swim and lie around in the sun. We hired a taxi for a few hours and did a trip out to nearby Cape St Francis, and the village of St Francis - where it is decreed that all houses be whitewashed and have thatched or tiled rooves, and be in Cape Dutch style. It all looks rather fabulous, even if slightly manufactured. There are canals around which the houses are built, and lots of speed boats and kayaks. And, no, in case you were wondering, black people do not live here.

The bus trip through the Garden Route was really spectacular, and this was one place we were sorry we didn't have a car. It would have been nice to have been able to stop when we wanted.
Our final coast stop was Mossell Bay - chosen as it broke a long bus trip nicely. However, it was a real find. Full of maritime history (Bartholomew Dias stopped here while trying to find the route to India, eventually discovered by Portuguese compatriot Vasco da Gama - no James Cook in this part of the world), a lovely coastline and pleasant places to eat and drink, we spent a very happy 24hrs here, camped on the back lawn of the Mossell Bay Backpackers.

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