Tag Archives: Bulungula Lodge

Bulungula

Bulungula Village

Nothing could’ve prepared me for how beautiful the landscape was. Straw-coloured hills dotted with bright green and blue randavals tumbled into a small rivermouth that spilled into the sea. This land is completely undeveloped – no vacation homes, no hotels, no tar roads. As mentioned in my previous post, the Bulungula Lodge is run entirely by the community. They’ve found some truly innovative ways to encourage local business initiatives while reducing their carbon footprint in an absolutely stunning atmosphere. It’s chalk full of activities – tours with the local herbalist, massage, sunrise pancakes, canoeing, and hiking are just a few available options – that afford you a glimpse to into Xhosa culture and the Bulungula community.

I set out for a Woman Power tour with my guide, Nomandeza to see how Xhosa women spend their day and hopefully help out a bit without getting in the way. We walked for about twenty minutes to her hut where her mother, sister, daughter and two village children were sitting and chatting. After a few minutes of sitting, Nomandeza told me that she needed to put my hair in a scarf and paint my face. I’m not entirely sure why one person would ever need to do these things to another person, but I wasn’t about to argue with a woman who’d let me into her home on a tour I’d voluntarily signed up for. This instantly evoked flashbacks of when I was 12 and thought it’d be really cool to get my entire head cornrowed in the Bahamas, only to spend the entire three-hour long process crying in agony.

I am both happy and relieved to report that the scarf tying didn’t make me want to take the life of an innocent human being. The clay mixture, however, was not quite as comfortable. After it dried, the mixture tightened my skin so much that it was hard to blink or smile. At least I only have to spend three hours like this, I thought to myself.

Then, Nomandeza told me we needed to get water. We walked for about five minutes to a very small spring nearby. After filling up her five-gallon bucket, she told me to fill up my pint-sized bucket and put it on top of my head. Without any further instruction, she turned, put her bucket on top of her head and walked back to the house. Alright, I thought, well how hard can this be to figure out? After a few minutes of being laughed at by one elderly woman, a group of five children, Nomandeza’s daughter finally relieved me of my humiliation by taking the bucket and walking back with it on her head…and this, she did with ease.

We spent a total of three hours together and in that time we collected water, gathered some firewood, cut cabbage, went to the local shebeen for beer, ate lunch, and did a whole lot of sitting. Whether or not this was an accurate portrayal of what Xhosa women do all day, I may never know. But thanks to Nomandeza’s daughter, who dubbed herself photographer for the morning and captured over 100 photos on my camera, I was able to snag some great pictures. I also sampled the local beer, which comes in a milk carton and has the consistency of a watery yogurt and yes, it does taste just about as appetizing as it sounds. But the nicest part of this whole experience was just being able to meander around the village, say “molo” to the locals, drink in the beautiful scenery and not have to worry about safety.

Beer of South Africa: "Don't drink & walk on the road. You may be killed."

That night, my French friend and I made some friends and our group of two quickly expanded to a group of eight. We ate together, drank together, sat by the fire together, drummed together and had a truly great time. It’s really pretty amazing when friendships like that happen so organically because it really isn’t that common an occurrence – you have to remember to appreciate it when it’s right there in front of you.

The next morning, our group set out to watch the sunrise. For R 40 (about $4 each) we had tea and pancakes prepared for us on the beach while we sat on a sand dune overlooking the ocean. As if that sight weren’t beautiful enough on its own, we spotted tons of whales making their way north along the coast. Every once in awhile, you could make out a fin but mostly there were big spurts of water flying up from the glimmer of the sunlight on the sea.

Sunrise over Bulungula

We headed back to the lodge after breakfast and the three South Africans from the group & I set out on a tour with the local herbalist. We walked over a hill and into the village to his home, only to have our translator tell us that he was at a funeral and wouldn’t be able to do the tour. Considering this is a tour that is only conducted one day out of the entire week, you’d think these simple logistics would be sorted out beforehand but I guess that would be in violation with a truly authentic experience. Luckily, our translator offered to continue our tour without him.

That night, we enjoyed good food around the fire with our new friends, played games, and brought out the telescope to look at the moon. The Bulungula Lodge website states somewhere on it that if you don’t see a shooting star, that night’s stay is free. For a multitude of reasons, this place did not disappoint.

On Sunday, we all packed up our things and headed out. Our whole group was heading in the same direction so the South African girls were nice enough to give Alexis & me a ride to our next destinations. They took me to a backpacker’s in Cintsa, where we all had tea and watched the sun set before they carried on with their journey that night. It’s always sad to say goodbye to new friends, but I really couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my trip.

More photos from Bulungula…

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The Transkei

South Africa's Wild Coast

South Africa’s Wild Coast

 

I picked up the Baz Bus, a hop-on hop-off style backpacker’s bus, in Umzumbe from Mantis & Moon. Unlike the various forms of transportation in SE Asia, this was a fairly legitimate way of getting around in that there was not a variety of caged poultry beneath my seat and the driver didn’t seem as though he might actively be trying to kill us. There were about twelve of us on the bus and ironically, one girl was from Lake Tahoe. Gotta love when life sends you little reminders that the world really is smaller than you think 🙂

Only two of us were heading to Bulungula – a French dude and me – so we hopped off at a Shell Station in Mthatha and boarded a shuttle headed to Coffee Bay. About 45 minutes into our drive, the shuttle pulled into a small superette. Alexis (the French guy) & I hopped off and were to wait until the Bulungula shuttle came to fetch us. After about 20 minutes of talking to some local high schoolers, including one who completely put me to shame by rattling off the names of every governor of every US state, the “shuttle” arrived, which was nothing more than a bakki with bench seats in the bed. We couldn’t sit in the back part of the bakki because it was too cold so four of us squeezed into the back seat of the cab with two in the front and we bumped and rolled over rocky, unpaved roads. 95% of my time in South Africa has been filled with warm, sunny days but this day (of course) was rainy & cold. Regardless, the Transkei is a beautiful, undeveloped part of South Africa where cows, donkeys, sheep & goats roam freely across rolling hills and through dense forests.

There were four South Africans in the shuttle plus Alexis and me. We stopped about halfway through our journey unexpectedly and while we waited for the driver to finish doing whatever it was he was doing, one man in the car turned to me and said, “We’re stopping for hot dogs & chips because that’s what you eat in America, right? You guys are obese like us! We match!!!” And then he nearly laughed himself into a coma and since I couldn’t really argue, I laughed with him along with everyone else in the car.

We reached Bulungula around 6:30 p.m. but even in the cold & darkness, it had a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Dave, the owner, gave us a tour of our solar-powered randaval, bathrooms complete with compost toilets and rocket-powered showers (which are so cool!), and explained all of the activities available at the lodge.

The lodge is run entirely by the community. Whereas in other rural villages it would be unsafe for tourists to walk around, that is hardly the case in Bulungula for a number of reasons. Firstly, the village sees tourism as an income generating opportunity and secondly, the tribal authority basically laid down the law on community members by saying something along the lines of, “We need money. Tourists have a lot of it. Be nice to them or get out the hell of here.” And so with that, tourists are afforded the opportunity to experience a bit of tribal culture without having to fear for their lives.

On a more serious note, it really is an incredible project. The lodge is inspiring local businesses, improving educational facilities and teaching the community to become self-reliant which are recurring necessities in rural South African communities. Excited by the next few days, I grabbed a cider, settled in by the fire to chat with some of the other guests, chowed down on homemade chicken curry with roti and called it an early night.

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