Chilling in Coffee Bay

Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
Trip End Dec 22, 2013

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Where I stayed
Sugarloaf Backpackers Coffee Bay
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of South Africa  , Eastern Cape,
Saturday, November 17, 2012

It was an early start and it would take all day to travel from Port Elizabeth to Coffee Bay. Port Elizabeth marks the end of the Garden Route and the Western Cape. While Cape Town and the Garden Route were undeniable beautiful, I felt there was superficiality about it perhaps because it's the whitest and richest part of South Africa.   Amazingly within a matter of minutes of traveling into the Eastern Cape there was a dramatic difference in not only landscape, but people and environment. The landscape was a little bit rougher, the people were by in large mostly black and definitely not in the same income bracket we were seeing in the Western Cape.  We were getting back into 'real’ Africa.

Our Baz bus driver(Jay) was such a sweetheart and told us that he does charity work and would be stopping along the way to hand over some goods. The first charity stop he did was a quick one where he handed a bag of stuff to 2 teenage boys.  About an hour half later, he pulled off the road by three women and a child probably 3-4 years old.  He gave a bag of chips to the child who returned a large smile and then he showed the women some clothes and shoes and had them pick from the various items.  Turns out they needed a ride to East London and after asking if it was ok with us, they hopped in the bus and carried on.  Then,  a half an hour after that he pulled over to a crowd of people, just outside of East London, who obviously were waiting for him.  This "charity drop" was the most interesting of all because the women and some boys were very aggressive in convincing him that they needed the item he was holding up, almost to the point of grabbing the items out of his hand.  He was very calm about the whole thing and says it happens all the time.  After everything was gone/taken everyone’s attitude changed and they were laughing and then trading the items between each other.  It was definitely an experience and remember saying to myself “This is Africa” either as a reminder or a confirmation….I’m not sure which.

After stopping in East London to drop some people off we continued to Chintsa, which is probably the only place I regret not staying at to date. But I didn’t know how beautiful it was until I saw it and spent about 20 mins there.  I was happy to know that Tymaree and Andre were going to be staying there for a few days and get to enjoy “paradise”.  Chintsa is also where we changed drivers for the reminder of the drive (2 hours) to Mthatha, which was our stop for Coffee Bay.  About 45 mins before arriving in Mthatha we passed Nelson Mandela’s house and our driver told us that he was home because the flag was raised.

Reaching Mthatha we and two new acquaintances Mika and Ines, transferred to our backpackers, Sugarloaf Backpackers Lodge ( truck, in town for supplies (read beer run) and drove for another 2 hr drive to Coffee Bay.  The drive was through rolling hills, with some farm land, lots of colourful rondavels , a few towns and many villages. But it was apparent that the further from the main highway (N2) the poorer the people were.  Finally arriving at our place in Coffee Bay we were greeted by the welcoming committee, three dogs and greeted by more later for a total of seven dogs living on the grounds.  If we had come a week early there would have been a total of 13 dogs, thankfully they gave the six to villagers.  Coffee Bay is a good candidate for a volunteer spading program!

The theory behind the name Coffee Bay is that a ship wrecked here in 1863 and deposited its cargo of coffee beans on the beach.  It is a very remote scruffy hamlet with a beautiful beach that has been turned into a backpacker’s haven; its charm having been developed via the backpacker places and the locals. There is a local population of about 600 being from the Xhosa tribe, and it seemed that many worked in the various backpacker places and a few would mingle with us on the beach trying to sell us beads and dagga(guess??).  Coffee Bay is truly a village. No grocery store to speak of, no ATM, no restaurants to go to. So you either had to be prepared by bring food to cook in the self-catering kitchens or buy meals from the backpackers.  I did both. Breakfast and Lunch was PB and crackers and I bought my dinners. 

After dinner (fish and chips) we walked over with torches in hand (no street lights here, heck there where hardly even roads) to the bar at the Bomvu Backpackers where they had a traditional drumming group performing.  The place was flooded with locals participating and enjoying the drumming and dancing up a storm. We got our faces painted and joined in for some of the dancing when we were passed the “shakers” (water bottles filled with gravel) by the locals.  It was good vibe all around.

Jesse and I had good intentions to go for a hike to the Hole in the Wall, but upon waking up both agreed it was not in the cards.  So for the first time since arriving in Africa I did absolutely nothing.  Except stroll to the beach, lie in the sun for a few hours and then stroll back to the bar and watch SA beat Scotland in rugby.  That night my dinner was ribs on the braai, jacket potatoes and Greek salad. So good and definitely not something I’ve had in a very time.  Rain set in so we stayed at the bar and taught Mika and Inas how to play pool; a relatively quiet night so to speak.

The weather was still not that great the next day and we were taking the shuttle back to Mthatha at noon so it was another lazy morning hanging with the dogs. After having to wait for the Baz Bus for about 1.5hrs at the gas station in Mthatha we were finally on our way to Durban.   Our bus driver John was great and he was full of good useful information about areas we would be driving through and Durban.  We had been warned and heard horror stories about the road work between here and Durban but thankfully the first stoppage we were at the end of a very long line which meant they would be letting us go through soon and only waited 10 mins. And the second road work area, we were the last car waved through before the stopped traffic.  Luck as on our side as we heard of people having to have had to wait up to a total of 2 hrs.

I’m glad to have spent time in Coffee Bay and think it was definitely worth the extra shuttle to get there. It was too bad that the weather wasn’t better but that can’t be helped.  Regardless I got some much needed downtime and almost remembered what it felt like to do nothing.  I say almost because we are coming up on the last three days before Jess has to go home and there is still Durban to conquer!
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