Rural Life at the Wild Coast



We took a trip recently to the “Wild Coast” – a long and remote area of coastline with strong surf and winds.  There were so many new and big experiences for all of us.  Highlights included playing in the huge waves, collecting shells, canoeing in a wide river, and spotting whale and dolphin from the top of sand dunes.



The place we stayed, Bulungula Backpacker (like a hostel), was a collection of rondavels (mud floor and thatched roof huts) plus toilets and a main building. Great care has been taken to minimize its impact on the environment and to operate without modern infrastructure. Cars are parked about a half mile away so visitors walk in with their belongings. The lights are solar powered, rainwater is harvested into tanks, and the toilets are composting. Add in the cheerful murals inside and outside all of the buildings and you get a very special place indeed.




I was not prepared to find that the group of people staying at the Backpacker would be such a highlight.  Just think, we were hours from a tarmac road in an area where most people only speak Xhosa – but people had ventured there from all over the world. Germans are great travelers who show up everywhere so that was no surprise; it was the overall mixture that was so impressive- people from Canada, England, France, Norway, Hungary, Israel, and Mauritius. With shared “ablutions (bathrooms) and limited seats in the dining area there were plenty of opportunities for conversation.

There was the young woman from England who was traveling solo for nine months and a retired couple considering ways they might contribute their time and skills to improve lives here. Ours were the only children until the last day when a family arrived with a four year old daughter. We were amazed to hear that the father had left his long time job as a civil engineer to try a new vocation as an artist. They had sold their home and belongings in Johannesburg and were several months into a year of travel around South Africa.  I love it that our children were exposed to so many interesting people making worthwhile life choices.

This Backpacker is owned and operated by the surrounding community with an emphasis on encouraging visitors to experience daily life with the locals.  Simon joined in with a pick up soccer game but found he needed to keep his shoes on.


Some of the locals also got to try out new activities…like Uno!


We enjoyed a visit at the “Bulungula Incubator” where we learned about community projects. We heard about recent efforts to increase economic opportunities (lemongrass and chicken farming), improve health (clean drinking water has greatly decreased child mortality), and improve basic services (homes in the area had recently received a solar panel to power lights and charge cell phones).


I especially loved seeing early childhood classrooms for three age groups.  Just like preschools everywhere, children learn about the calendar:


And communicating emotions:


And basic hygiene:


(We were told each child has a cloth to dry hands after the toilet in keeping with a community focus on preventing the spread of disease from a common towel).

I was delighted to discover this shelf with a diverse set of dolls:


And we heard about how much the children enjoy playing house, which often involves cooking chicken in a three-legged pot over the “fire”. Sure enough when we removed the lid there was a toy chicken inside!


There were several activities offered by local guides. Scott and Simon spent a morning surf fishing (no luck but it was interesting to see how the fisherman found his own crab bait).

SImon fishing

Elsa Ruth and I enjoyed a tour called “Power of Women.” We learned about the skills and strength of traditional Xhosa women by joining in a morning of work. First we put on skirts and headscarves and were painted with wet clay to protect our faces from the sun.



Then we went to fetch water and carry it back up the hill before going right back down again to collect firewood from the forest. (The homes with hilltop views seemed much less romantic after experiencing the reality of hauling things up!)



I picked, washed, and chopped greens from the garden while our guide Anisa made “Mealie Pap” (stiff cornmeal porridge) to go with it.



Anisa told us that her favorite job is to make bricks- a month long process that at one stage looks like this:


What will this corner of the world be like 5, 10, 20 years from now?  I found that I kept wondering about that and worrying some too.  As people’s lives improve with more access to outside goods, what will happen to all the plastic and trash that comes with that?  Already the area was a strange mix of old and new that kept me on my toes…





5 thoughts on “Rural Life at the Wild Coast

  1. What a great post! I wonder what the kids think of this — especially Elsa. What did she think of the “power of women” — good? bad? I might not be thrilled with all of the hard work. Was the work evenly distributed? I can’t help but think of Will in this scenario and I wonder what he would think. i also can’t help but think about the permanent imprint you’re leaving on the lives of your kids. What a great legacy/memory for them. Love to you all.


  2. Pingback: Sometimes it snows in April…in South Africa | sevennorthdakotas

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