Friday, September 25, 2009

Bulungula Lodge

Driving to Bulungula Lodge might be the most unforgettable part of our South African road trip. Our journey began on the N2, the highway that runs from Cape Town to Durban. Even though its the major highway in the Eastern Cape, there are signs that read "No Fences for 20 Km" to warn drivers of the cows crossing the road, sometimes alone, sometimes in herds of 20. After dodging cattle we turned off the N2 onto a small black topped road that quickly turned into a pothole minefield. I felt like Han Solo steering the Millennium Falcon through the asteroid field. We dodged the tire-flattening holes for 37 km before coming to the turn-off where our map for the lodge picked up. We confirmed with locals that the building to our right was Nocollege Store and, therefore, the road next to it the way to Bulungula. For 2 rand he said we were heading in the right direction. Pulling away I had a feeling that we might be asking too much of our Hyundai Accent. Although the region is in the middle of a three year drought it had rained the night before turning this dirt road into a mud track. As I drove down the first hill I quickly realized I was sliding. Temple said, "stay to the left." I had to inform her I wasn't in control. The map said continue on the road for 20 km. After 30 minutes the odometer said we had only traveled 1.9 km. But we pressed on waving at every local we saw thinking that at any moment we would be requesting assistance in the form of a tow or a place to sleep for the night. All returned our greetings with broad smiles and waves.

Our strategy of slow and steady was paying off. The kilometers continued to be conquered. As we continued, the opposite of what we thought would happen occurred and the road began to improve although our perspective was a little skewed. The road just got less muddy and the potholes were smaller. We received the unsolicited help of a group of young boys driving a pick-up in the direction of the lodge. We followed closely behind until they pointed us towards the patch of trees where the Bulungula Store was. We pulled into the parking spot where we'd leave our car. The road ahead was only passable by 4x4. We thanked the Hyundai for getting us this far and only asked that she get us out in a few days. We hiked the final 3 km through the traditional Xhosa (pronounced with a click at the beginning) village of Nqileni where hills are dotted with rondavels and animals graze freely. When we saw the Bulungula Lodge sitting at the meeting point of the Xhora river and the Indian Ocean, we knew the journey was worth it.

Immediately, we met the charming Liesel and Albert as well as villagers that worked at the lodge. The village owns 40% of the lodge and all of the activities are run by members of the community so they receive 100% of the proceeds. Albert showed us to our beds in a turquoise rondavel. On the day we arrived the whole village was celebrating the opening of the new school built with the help of the lodge. That evening we had a delicious traditional Xhosa meal with fellow travelers. Some children and parents had gathered around the main area to play drums and listen to music. An adorable 7 year old boy took the floor and busted some incredible moves. Soon there were more participants and we had a good time with locals and tourists shaking hips in the dance circle.

The next day we rose at 5:45 for sunrise pancakes. We walked along the beach with our new Belgian and Dutch friends. Although it was cloudy and started to rain, we enjoyed the views of crashing waves but even more so the delicious pancakes. A few hours later a nice villager who spoke only a little English walked us over hills to another part of the Xhora river for canoeing. We enjoyed rowing through the quiet landscape, seeing the occasional goat or farmer on the riverside.

That evening we had the pleasure of a visit by the sangomas (traditional healers) of the village. A middle aged man led the dance and chants while two older women and a sangoma apprentice danced with him. A lot of children and people of the community were gathered around to watch, drum, sing and chant. Some of the women had white clay painted on their faces, typical of the Xhosa people. The singing and dancing was energizing and we felt blessed be be a part of such a special ceremony.

The next day a nice 22 year old girl from the village gave us a tour of the area. First we visited one of the older female sangomas who we had seen dance the night before. She wore white beads which are traditional for sangomas and a headdress. Some things were lost in translation but her goodwill was obvious. We saw inside of her home where a relative was spreading mud on the floor of the rondavel, which is done every month or so for purification. It was interesting to see the inside of a real rondavel and how the people cook, sleep on mats and keep warm. We met some other nice villagers, saw the two schools, the old silos and the new community center.

Afterwards, we said goodbye to our new friends. We hiked through the village towards the Bulungula Store where our trusty automobile awaited for a long drive out.


foster said...

So, so beautiful! How brilliant and generous of these people to share their spectacular corner of the earth with you and, in turn, with all of us through your beautiful photos!

Addie said...

I love it..

Mary Moore said...

What a lovely place, the native music in background was nice,