Friday, 27 July 2012

Africa time

I wrote this post 2 days ago, but had a bugger of a time trying to upload the photos.  Now I'm sitting in a rainy Port Elizabeth, at 6am, waiting for my next bus.

There’s a clock at the hostel I’m staying in: labelled Africa time, it shows segments of  the day under headings that include “later”, “in a while” and “tomorrow”.  It’s taken me a few days to adjust to Africa time but I’m definitely there now, because when someone asked me earlier what I’d been up to today, I replied that I’d been pretty busy, “walked to the beach, read a book, washed my hair”.  That’s what passes for a jam-packed day here on the Eastern Cape.

This region of South Africa is diverse and beautiful, incorporating mountain ranges, wild bushveld, indigenous rainforest and sweeping golden beaches.  It is also one of the poorest regions of the country and, not coincidentally, one of the regions with the largest black population.  It is here that the apartheid government constructed a separate black state, the Transkei, now fully reintegrated into South Africa

The Eastern Cape was my favourite place on my 2001 trip, when I stayed at an amazing hostel in Port St Johns called Amapondo.  The highlights of that visit, which extended from the intended 3 days to almost 10, included watching the resident dog playing with monkeys on the veranda and sitting on said veranda one night watching an almighty thunderstorm over the Indian Ocean.  The best moment, though, was being taken by the owners of the hostel to a Sangoma (or ‘medicine man’) ceremony.  In a small village of traditional thatched mud rondavels (round houses), we watched a cow being slain and the Sangoma drenched in its blood as a purifying ritual.  We sat in a hut filled with smoke and wild drumming, watching the dancing.  Finally, we shared pieces of the expertly butchered and cooked cow, the freshest steak I’ve ever eaten.

If this visit to the Eastern Cape has lacked a ‘wow’ moment like the Sangoma ceremony, it certainly hasn’t been lacking in excitement.  I decided to start my trip in Coffee Bay, a tiny and impoverished village two hours drive from the main road and right on the beach.  The hostel, Coffee Shack, has a reputation as a party place and it more than lived up to that (although I failed miserably to keep up, going to bed before 11pm both nights).  The locals are involved with running the hostel, and I enjoyed knowing that my money was going directly to help the community.  It was here, during a surfing lesson on the stunning beach, that I came rather too close to a Great White Shark for my comfort.

From Coffee Bay I came to Cintsa, further down the coast and into the more developed part of the Eastern Cape.  I’m staying at Buccaneers and as you can see from the photographs, it’s an incredible place.  A collection of cottages nestled on a wooded hillside, it overlooks a lagoon, miles of pristine beach and the turquoise blue ocean.  My days have been spent reading, walking on the beach and sitting in the sun, and my evenings spent in the bar sitting by the fire (it is, after all, winter here, and the bitterly cold nights remind me of that fact even while I nurse mosquito bites or sunburn). 

One of the nice things about travelling in South Africa is that the majority of backpackers follow a very well-worn path between Durban and Cape Town, meaning that you bump into familiar faces at every stop.  When travelling alone, there is nothing nicer than walking into the bar of a new hostel and being greeted with the smiling faces of the guys you surfed with up the coast, or the girl you chatted to on the bus five days ago.  Of course, the flipside of this is that a loner misanthrope such as myself has to – shock horror – socialise all the time.  And on that note, I’m being summoned away from staring at my laptop to go to the beach for sundowner cocktails.  It’s a hard life here on Africa time.

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