Sunday, August 14, 2016


 St Lucia is my next stop, I decide. Not on the original itinerary, but recommended as a place where hippopotamuses roam the streets and you better get out of their way, as they kill more people than lions and sharks combined do. One small issue to get there? Nobody has any information, as everyone seems to drive around in their own car, so simply have no idea. Finally someone seems to know something. "Tuba Tuba" he says. I guess he must mean the name of a bus. When I get to the taxi rank in Durban, I say 'St Lucia'. Only when I say Tuba Tuba, the guy gets what I am saying and puts me in the right taxi. When I say taxi, I mean a van that sits sixteen passengers and leaves when it is full. I am always the only white person on it. Actually, white people don't know about it, or will ask me if I am safe, telling me I am brave. The passengers are just people who have no car and are going to wherever they need to go to for a cheap price. It is one of those situations where I ask myself whether that is a racist question or not. The rich are overwhelmingly white. The poor are overwhelmingly black. Some poor people use crime to make a living and most people in big cities have had some experience (people of any colour), so people, especially whites have become extra careful, as the colour of the skin might create expectations on how much there is to gain.
When we arrive, I see dusty roads, people trying to sell things everywhere, a bit of chaos. I am a little surprised, as I see no tourists or hotels. The lady that sat next to me on the bus helps me out. I have arrived in the town of Mtubatuba. St Lucia is another taxi ride away. In fact, I enter another world: a long street full of hotels, restaurants, bookings agents... Too much of this kind, in truth. I check in at the cheapest place, which is a hostel that is falling apart, smelly and a bit spooky and the receptionist cannot give me any information on anything. I sign up for a game drive (you know the kind, you drive around and get out of the car to play scrabble, snakes and ladders, drafts etc. Just kidding. Animals!). The vegetation is different, as it used to be wetlands. Most animals I have spotted before: zebras, kudus, steenbok, buffaloes... It is just me and a couple, so a very chilled day. I, however do not spot hippos. Apparently, they walk the streets in summer, not in winter (which we are having here now), as that is too cold. Funny, if you think about it. They live in the water, because their skin is too sensitive for the sun and need cooling off all the time. They cannot swim though. I heard that about 800 hippos have died in Kruger park, due to the drought (in fact saw a dead one there). It is fine, as seen many hippos elsewhere.
Always on the go, I want to go to Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast, but as usual, nobody can tell me if there is a connection, including the hostel in Coffee Bay. Convinced that I can do it, I leave at 6AM looking for a local taxi to take me back to Mtubatuba. A car stops, thinking I am hitchhiking. The driver tells me to be careful, as I cannot trust those blacks. "Why not?" "they'd rape you" "white men don't?" (I know, not a great response). The minivan in Mtubatuba fills up after two hours. I chat a bit with other passengers and learn a few Zulu words, as in this region most people are Zulu. In Durban I am referred to one shared taxi, then another and I finally find my shared taxi to Mthata. Six hours of loud South African gospel music does not turn me religious, I learn. People always help me at arrival; someone will grab my backpack and walk it to the next shared taxi I need to take. As strange as it sounds, it has never worried me when they do, as they are just trying to make sure I get into the right direction. A woman helps me here and if I can please visit her at work, so that her colleagues can see her new friend. There is still some status to be had to have a white friend, or even better: a white girlfriend. Regularly, when I just ask for information, or just have a chat. people  (esp. men) will ask for my phonenumber. It doesn't matter that I am abroad they just "want to chat". I suspect there is a bit of surprise in my approach-ability.
Coffee Bay is not easy to reach, but has developed itself in some backpacker paradise. The hostels have a cosy atmosphere with bonfires, a bar etc. I meet people here that have been traveling for years (with rasta hair and a joint in their hand). Coffee Bay allegedly got its name when in 1893 a ship full of coffee beans shipwrecked here. Some of the beans did take root and grow, but the salty soil was not suitable for them.I get a warm welcome at the hostel, as they knew I had been trying to get there all day, and they upgrade me so I can get a good night sleep. This evening thee boys, aged 8-11 are dancing, moving their hips and behinds in a way that makes me jealous, I wish I had those moves! We are now in an area where the majority is Xhosa (please, the x is a click sound) and these boys are getting ready to go into the mountains for a month to undergo a circumcision ceremony. After that month they cannot dance like that anymore. I am told (by an outsider) they are collecting money, as they need to buy cows and goats for slaughter as part of the sacrifice, pay the circumciser etc. They will live in grass huts in seclusion and only eat certain things in that month. My narrator tells me they will eat their foreskin. I have however not found any other source for this (and he has never witnessed it). I did however found that boys have died or ended up in hospital, due to complications.
The hostel trains locals so they cam eventually manage the place themselves.
I meet a Scottish guy and we undertake a hike the next day to the 'whole in the wall'. As often, the destination is just an excuse to go on a long hike. The arrival point is a massive rock in the sea with a natural gate in the middle. The sea is far too cold and has strong currents, so swimming is not an option.
Early evening we cross the river and find a different Coffee Bay. An unpaved square with lots of male youngsters ready to get drunk. The shop is small and you cannot see anything from closeby, as the products are at a distance, behind bars.
I enjoy an evening with a few drinks, turn down the hostelmanager and get ready for another ridiculously early rise the next morning.

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