Published: May 16th 2007May 16th 2007
After J-Bay I moved on from to the Wild Coast in the Transkei region, which is quite a bit further up in the direction of Durban. It was a 9-hour bus ride—ouch! But it left so early (5:30am) that only half of it was during waking hours anyway. As usual I had two seats to myself so I was able to curl up and complete my night’s sleep. I reached Mthatha, which is a town inland from Coffee Bay where the hostel shuttles come and fetch you. We arrived around 2:30pm, which is when all the kids get out of school, so there were hordes of them in their cute little uniforms running all over the place around the town. We passed so many of them along the road before reaching Mthatha, it really gave me a sense of how far these children have to walk every day to get to school.
This part of the country, called Transkei, is quite a lot less developed than where I’d been so far. In a way I prefer it, because there isn’t that awful, conspicuous contrast between rich and poor (which sadly roughly corresponds to white and black). The towns are
very lively, with tons of people milling about and street vendors everywhere—and very few if any white people. Kind of how one would picture other parts of Africa. The reason for this as I learned from a local guy is that this area was a homeland—a region in which blacks were able to travel freely and own property during apartheid. Even today, if someone wants a parcel of land here the only way is to go to a local chief for permission. During apartheid blacks were confined to the homelands, and could only leave them with permission (and usually with far less rights). Although many people feel this part of the country is more dangerous, I have actually felt safer here than in many other places, and have met several South Africans vacationing here who expressed a similar sentiment. It is definitely rural and extremely relaxed.
A shuttle (R45) came and picked me and some other surfboard-toting backpackers up from the Mthatha gas station to take us to Coffee Bay, which is about an hour and a half away on pretty bad roads. It was another gorgeous drive, through gorgeous rolling hills dotted with the traditional dwellings of the
Coffee Bay is barely a village—there are a handful of homes and two backpackers, a tiny store, and that’s it. But it is the most beautiful place I have been so far, nestled in between two steep hills right at the point where the Bomvu river meets the ocean. I had planned to stay only one night but the second we arrived I decided I had to stay longer! It is absolutely gorgeous, lush, and the roar of the ocean is the only noise you hear. (There are no cars here, only the occasional truck coming into town to make a delivery.) I am staying at the mellower of the two backpackers, called Bomvu. It’s absolutely great, they have a really lovely setting on a hillside overlooking the ocean and tons of outdoor space to relax, as well as a communal kitchen, outdoor shower, book exchange (yes! finally) and clean bathrooms. Unfortunately I am stuck in what is probably the least desirable room here—it is literally in the bar area (I am sandwiched between the bar and the pool table), with no windows except a sliding glass door (which you can’t safely leave open at night). But it’s still very comfortable, and I have been spending all my time here outside anyway. And thankfully it’s not an obnoxious bar, it’s very mellow and the music not too loud and in courtesy to me they've been closing up around 11. (The Coffee Shack, the only other hostel and right across the street, is supposed to be extremely obnoxious—last night they had a party which was just getting going around the time we were all going to bed, according to the staff here!) Bomvu employs mostly natives of the village, and everyone working here is very nice. The food situation here is not too great, the store doesn’t have anything but noodles and dehydrated soups (and chips—of which I bought like 6 bags!) and the meals served at the hostel are pretty much a racket (I paid $5 for a bland plate of overcooked noodles topped with canned broccoli and carrots), and there’s no where else to eat. The best option is probably to bring some food to cook yourself from a better-stocked store in a bigger town.
Bomvu organizes tons of activities during the day—this is great hiking country and you can get a guided walk for around R60 (9 bucks). I have heard it’s unsafe to walk around the area alone so I think using a guide is a good idea (and a form of employment for the locals). There are also horses everywhere so I imagine that’s an option too. I myself have opted to do nothing but read the Robert Ludlum thriller I got in the book exchange this morning and enjoy the perfect weather on the lawn outside :)
Around dusk we (me and another girl) heard some singing from down the road so we went to check it out. Some local girls (probably around age 14 or so) were giving a performance of traditional singing/dancing at the Coffee Shack. It was quite nice, one of the girls was drumming and the rest were singing and dancing in their customary dress. When we came back to Bomvu for dinner, there was a small group of even tinier girls here to give their own performance! Same costumes, dancing style, everything—we joked that they must have been the other girls’ little sisters. They watched us with big eyes while we were all eating, with them giggling at us and us giggling back. Dinner was a nice change from last night, a traditional Xhosa sausage (I'm guessing it was mutton) with mashed potatoes and whole stewed peas. When we finished eating the girls cleared all the tables out of the center of the room and started performing for us (see attached video!!). They were adorable. The performance we’d seen earlier in the evening was far more serious in tone, with the older girls clearly being masters of their craft and the feeling being generally more formal. The little ones were giggling the whole time, some were a little unsure sometimes of the steps or a little too shy to sing loudly—it was so cute and endearing. I imagine it’s what I must have looked like doing ballet at age 7, trying to imitate older girls who knew what they were doing!
Soon after dinner we were graced with another performance, by a local drumming group. One of the members, John, is on staff here at Bomvu, and the rest were local Coffee Bay guys. They were amazing, and it was especially nice because local villagers came out to watch their boys. It was really lovely. They also give drumming lessons some days, unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to do it but it would be well worth it, they were definitely masters. I found out later that they are among the most well-known drummers in the country, hence Bomvu's motto "you can't beat Bomvu" - they actually developed a unique technique for making drums so it's definitely the place to buy one. A girl I met there bought one for just over $100. Back to Ludlum...