July 10-13   

Greetings from South Africa! We were able to grab 2 seats on a small plane to Durban, South Africa. Arriving in Durban we found a good deal on a small rental car and decided that it would be great to have our own transport so that we could do some exploring on our way to Cape Town.

Being in the Kwazulu Natal Province, home of the Zulu heartland, we took a drive to the Valley of 1000 Hills. The actual name is the Umgeni Valley, and we had heard that this was a great place to visit traditional Zulu villages set among the rolling hills.

Much to our surprise we found the area had become something of a tourist trap. The rolling hills did provide a spectacular backdrop to our drive, but we found little in the way of traditional Zulu villages. We did find lots of craft stores, B&B Cottages and restaurants. We were able to find a small nature reserve that had two very high bridal veil type waterfalls.

Leaving Durban, we headed south into the Transkei to explore the area known as the Wild Coast. The Transkei received its name from the early Boers. It literally means “Trans” “Kei”, or “past the Kei” river. This has been the traditional home of the Xhosa people.

Under Apartheid, the Transkei became one of the black homelands to which the black Africans were restricted. According to propaganda, the homelands were to be separate but equal states to the white controlled areas. In reality, no money was spent on the homelands, so they had virtually no infrastructure. This area also holds the childhood homes of Nelson Mandela and the current South African president, Thabo Mbeki.

The great irony of these actions, or rather lack of actions, is that the Transkei is now a major destination for South Africans who want to experience a more undeveloped, naturally diverse area. The Wild Coast is such an area.

Our base for exploring this region was a place called Buccaneer’s Backpackers. The people who live and work here are very involved in projects designed to help the Xhosa people. We’ll be posting more information on their projects under a special section on the South Africa web page.

We took a 4WD tour with the Buccaneer’s up the Wild Coast north of the Kei River. Due to the lack of investment by the previous South African governments, all the roads other than the highways are unmaintained dirt roads, or even 4x4 tracks. We crossed the Kei River on a small, one-vehicle-at-a-time ferry. Lots of photos will be posted in just another week. Please check back to view them.

Then we visited a traditional rural Xhosa village where the people are building a small cultural center to teach travellers about their culture. We visited with the local Sangoma (herbalist and healer) and were treated to a show and tell of herbs and traditional medicines.

The Sangoma are always women. Women accomplish most of the work in the villages as well. We’re not quite sure what the men do with all of their free time. We then shared breakfast with the village women, who put on a musical and singing show for us.

The Xhosa villages in this region consist of bright pastel colored houses set with mountains behind and with cliffs falling into the sea in front.

Leaving the village behind, we drove over trails to an area called “The Gates”. This place is aptly named after a natural break in the cliff face through which a river flows. The area also supports a microclimate that allows fauna not found elsewhere in the Transkei to flourish.

In this river canyon we went “kloofing”. This is the South African term for canyoneering, where you negotiate river canyons, climbing boulders and rock faces, then jumping off the cliffs into the river pools.

We then climbed back into our Land Rover and drove down more trails until we reached the Indian Ocean. Here we watched a pod of whales swim by, and then we explored the remains of the “Jacaranda”, shipwrecked on the beach in 1974.
  Because of the mixing of two ocean currents, the waters off the Transkei coast are very dangerous to ships. Over the centuries many ships have been wrecked in the area. 

The next day we were hoping to visit the sites of some Khoisan (Bushman) rock art, but unfortunately we were unable to get in touch with the people who were starting a new museum dedicated to the rock art. Be sure to check out the photos of rock art we did visit in Zimbabwe.


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