Skating through the Transkei

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
4 Winds Guest Lodge

Flag of South Africa  , Eastern Cape,
Thursday, January 20, 2011

On Thursday we woke up early, bid Pat farewell as he left for work, made some sandwiches to eat on the road, hugged Despi numerous times, and then packed up our awesome rental car and started driving south. Our day's route looked pretty straightforward on the map: we needed to follow the main highway all the way to Mthatha, then venture onto a smaller highway to the coastal village of Coffee Bay.

Knowing that we just had to stay on the same highway for most of the day, we must have completely missed the signs indicating we needed to turn, despite the fact that we weren't actually changing highways. By the time we realized we were on the wrong road, we were a ways past the turn, so rather than backtrack, we decided to explore some of the smaller roads that would connect us to that highway a bit further on down the line. 

It was overcast, drizzly, and extremely foggy as we wound our way through the mountains of the Transkei, a large area in southeastern South Africa that was the country's first Bantustan. Bantustans (or "homelands") were created during the Apartheid era, and were basically undesirable or undeveloped areas that were reserved solely for black South Africans. The party line was that these areas would provide a home for all black South Africans, giving them a place to live together, an opportunity to exercise self-sufficiency, and a chance to govern themselves. Of course, the real motivation remained unspoken: the creation of these Bantustans would get rid of the black people living in the cities and other places whites wanted to control. 

In addition, the areas that were designated Bantustans were undeveloped regions that had no infrastructure, making it incredibly difficult to develop any sort of self-governance or exercise any degree of sufficiency. To compound the problem, these Bantustans only made up 14% of South Africa's land area, yet black South Africans comprised 80% of the country's population -- further illustration of the complete inequity of the government's decision. As you can imagine, innumerable difficulties arose as a result of the implementation of this law, many of them long lasting -- in fact, the Transkei is still one of the country's poorest areas today.

With the history of the area in mind, we were interested to see how different it looked from the other areas we'd seen in South Africa so far. Despite the fog and rain, we enjoyed the drive through the beautiful, green, rolling hills of the Transkei quite a bit -- I can only imagine how lovely the area must be on a sunny day. 

We eventually made our way back to the main highway and then into the city of Mthatha, the capital of the Transkei and Nelson Mandela's hometown (or close enough, at least). Even taking into account our adventure along the smaller highways of the Transkei, we were making good time... until we hit the turn-off for Coffee Bay. Once off the main highway, the road degenerated quickly into messy, pot hole-filled madness, and our progress was quickly curtailed. The poor road conditions coupled with the driving rain made the rest of the trip down to the ocean a bit unpleasant, and by the time we actually arrived in Coffee Bay the rain had become a proper downpour. 

The rain made accommodation hunting incredibly unappealing. Fortunately, the first place we looked at was okay and we agreed to stay for the night in a self-catering room with bath and kitchen for 350 rand (about $50). We chatted a bit with the American woman who was running the place with her husband and three children, and I started to get a creepy vibe from her.... As we later found out, she and her family were missionaries, just in South Africa "to do god's work." To be fair, she wasn't so overtly god-in-your-face, but her missionary friends who came to visit were. Disturbingly so, as we would discover soon enough.

It had taken us nearly all day to get to Coffee Bay, and after checking in and unpacking our bags, it was already nearly 5pm. The weather wasn't great, but we wanted to try and take a look around, so we put on our all-terrain flip flops, grabbed our umbrellas, and hit the walking trails to the ocean. It turned out to be much too rainy and muddy to attempt such a walk, so before too long, we were turning back towards 4 Winds and our cozy room. 

It was a good thing that our room was as comfortable as it was because the poor weather kept us indoors for nearly the entirety of our time in Coffee Bay -- and let's be honest: we weren't ready to hit the common area and hang out with the missionaries. So we stayed in our room, read our books, and waited for the rain to let up.

Around 8pm, we decided to venture out and try to find some food. At that point we discovered that, not only were the "roads" incredibly slick and muddy, but that the town was extremely dark and much too quiet to make us feel comfortable. We wandered in the direction that we thought would yield the best restaurant selection, but started to feel extremely nervous the further we got from our hotel. After making what seemed like no progress, we eventually decided to give up and turned back to our room, opting to forgo dinner for the night.

With a belly full of air, and a mind weary from too many nights of too little sleep, I unintentionally fell asleep around 9pm -- so much for rocking and rolling in Coffee Bay! Getting to bed at such an elderly hour meant we were up the next morning fairly early too. Unfortunately, the weather still didn't look promising, and we were in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. We'd planned to stay the day in Coffee Bay and do some hiking to the famous Hole in the Wall, but now that prospect wasn't looking very appealing. 

We decided to walk up to the house and ask the owners a little more about the terrain and make our decision based on what they had to say. During the night, they'd returned from East London with some more American missionaries in tow who had brought loads of clothing and other supplies to distribute to the locals. That seemed very nice, but they started to creep us out a bit when they started talking. I mentioned something about how it wasn't a very nice day (fair to say, I think, seeing as how it was rainy and grey), and one of them said that (and I quote) "every day that god creates is wonderful." 

Well, as it turned out, it wasn't wonderful enough to persuade us to stay in Coffee Bay. The owners of the place told us that the trail to Hole in the Wall would be impossibly muddy and slippery and that it would be very difficult to make the trek in this weather. We hoped that if we traveled west, we might get around the bad weather and finally see some sunshine, so we packed up the car again and hit the road to Cintsa around 10:30am. 

Before leaving Coffee Bay, we wanted to at least see the ocean, so we drove up the coast a bit to White Cliffs and snapped a few pictures before setting out along the potholed road back to the main highway. We'd been looking forward to Coffee Bay, but the bad weather had made it a bit of a bust for us. We just hoped that we could get out of the rain and into some sunshine so we could squeeze in a little beach time along the Wild Coast -- on to Cintsa!

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