March 13 – Mdumbi
. After breakfast, we got together with Melissa and Philip and loaded up their little rental car (smaller than my Chev Aveo) with all our luggage. Good thing none of us are big people!
The directions seemed simple. 5 km then turn right onto a gravel road for 18 km. It was simple, just REALLY rough. We all pitied the poor little car. An hour later we reached Mdumbi back packers. Our rooms weren’t ready but we looked around and already liked it much better than Coffee Bay. Sue and I set off on a 5 km hike. Of course we got royally lost, asked directions a couple of times and did more like a 12 km hike but it was fun anyway. We saw views, beaches, forests, roads, homes and villages and chatted with a few nice people.
Back at the hostel we immediately asked for some lunch. While eating Melissa and Philip returned. They too had enjoyed an adventure trying to cross a river. We unloaded the car and thanked them again. After a hot and sweaty walk, the out door shower was a real treat.
The Transcape (Transkei) has a 94% unemployment rate and is the poorest area in the country. The hostel does it’s best to help by suggesting things to do that provide income for residents. Hot water is powered by solar panels as are some of the lights. They’ve got these really cool solar mason jars.
Madeline invited us to dinner “hippie style” which apparently means everyone contributes something and it goes into a pot. Interesting. We had a half bag of pasta yet so I gave her that. The pasta creation was delicious. We even had dessert. Someone had leftover dough ball things with chocolate that were really good.
A thunderstorm made for a great lightning show while we enjoyed conversation with fellow guests from Germany and Belgium. We all decided not to check the weather forecast in case of bad news. It’s better to get up in the morning and hope for the best.
Rain on a thatched roof is a comforting sound as is the sea pounding in the distance. We awoke to gloomy skies and walked around the property. At 7:30am children started arriving for the pre-school on the property. Some of the bolder kids grabbed Sue’s hands so I took a photo. Next thing you know I’m surrounded by kids wanting to see.
We did a morning walk down to the beach and over the rocks looking at pools and taking photos of the waves. Back at the hostel we had mussel soup for lunch. It was cool and damp and felt like a soup day.
After checking out the property we headed in a different direction, down a “road”, through some woods, past some sheep, goats and the occasional pig.
A woman invited us into her home to see her bead work. I told her we had no money with us but she welcomed us anyway. Siphokozi’s home was humble but clean. She had two rooms. One had 2 double beds, neatly made and the other a parafin single burner with a rice dish cooking away on the floor. She had 2 plastic chairs and a cupboard with pails, pots and her kids’ school certificates proudly displayed. There was at least one case of empty beer bottles. She told us that she’s hiv positive but her kids are not and asked for our support. I really didn’t know what to say. Much as I’d like to help, I don’t know that sending her money is the answer. I realize the unemployment rate is over 90% but she, her mother and aunt all just make beads. I wonder about other options. It’s such a beautiful area. If only they could capitalize on tourism. The infrastructure is just not there though. It would take someone willing to invest a lot.
Dinner was cottage pie, cabbage, squash and salad. Delicious!
Tuesday, March 15
Someone called our SA cell phone at 5 am so we were up early and decided to go for a nice long walk along the beach and up the hill. We were anticipating a long bus day.
After breakfast, we connected with Singkozi (sp?) who took us to the village and told us a bit about Xhosa culture. The Mdumbi backpackers once belonged to a church, was used as a retreat or conference centre and given to the community. The hostel rents it from the community so they all benefit from it’s presence. The hostel drilled a bore hole and shares the water with the community as well so cholera is no longer a problem. Since then the government installed more taps so people don’t have to walk so far.
He introduced us to a woman well into her 90’s. She doesn’t know how old she is but they guess based on things that happened at certain points in her life. Singkozi interpreted for us as she told us a bit about her life. Of course, she wouldn’t tell us anything until we told her what we’d pay. Smart woman. The government provides every house hold with an outhouse and a propane stove. Her roundavel was quite barren and she sleeps on a mat on the floor. Her grandaughter lives with her but sleeps in another rondavel. She gets water for her.
Singkozi is trying to start his own business and needs start up money. I suggested he find an NGO (Kiva.org ?) to lend him the money. It seemed to be a new idea to him but I told him that I too had to borrow money to start a business. Just because one lives in a “rich” country, does not mean things come easy. I hope he runs with it and succeeds. He seems very ambitious with great ideas. It is MUCH more difficult for him as there’s very little guidance in such matters in the Transkei.
We’d spent too much time chatting and had to rush to change, finish packing and head out. Singkozi dove us to Coffee Bay where we met the shuttle that took us to Mthatha. 3 hours later, through the scenic hills, we met the Baz bus after grabbing a sandwich at Steers.
When we didn’t find Moses, the fellow we’d called to arrange a shuttle, I called him.
“No” he said “you’re arriving on the 18th”. Um. Nope. We argued back and forth for a while and finally he agreed to send a car and would call me back with his arrival time. Ingrid joined us as she was also hoping for a shuttle (Moses knew nothing about her) and we went to Wimpy’s for a bite to eat. Sue and I were second guessing ourselves as Moses claimed the Sani Lodge wasn’t expecting us either. Thankfullly Wimpy’s had wifi and she checked the email reservation: 15th to 18th confirmed. Right.
Moses called back. We enjoyed a salad and around 8 pm he picked us up. We arrived at the lodge around 9:30 and reception was closed but there was a note on a board for us with our room details. The key was in the door and we settled in.
Another lesson learned. If it’s not in writing, get the service provider to repeat what you’ve arranged or call back to confirm. I’m pretty sure Moses didn’t really understand what I wanted in the first place or, since he was driving when I called, just wrote the date down wrong when he arrived home.