The call of the wild

In a region where time seems to stand still, visitors to the Wild Coast of South Africa can have the time of their lives.

South Africa Beach 311 (photo credit: MASADA SIEGEL)
South Africa Beach 311
(photo credit: MASADA SIEGEL)
The sky was bursting with stars; the African continent was aglow with brilliant suspended diamonds. A shooting star streaked across the heavens. It seemed to be a sign, the start of a great new adventure.
South Africa is filled with a magic, a pulsing sensibility that is hard to touch but easy to feel. While the Wild Coast of South Africa is one of the poorest regions in the country, it is one of the richest in beauty. The birthplace of former president Nelson Mandela, it is located between Durban and East London and stretches well over 240 kilometers along the eastern tip of South Africa. It was known as the Transkei Homeland during the apartheid period from the early 1950s until 1994.
The breathtaking jagged coastline is dotted with remote villages, numerous rivers, waterfalls, shipwrecks, unspoiled beaches, expansive open space and pristine forests.
The Xhosa and Mpondos people live in these areas, and many adhere to ancestral traditions, keeping livestock and tending vegetable gardens.
The Wild Coast evokes a feeling of freedom, a restlessness of sorts which might be a result of its raw, untouched beauty.
As we bounced up and down on the rocky road, reddish brown dust churned around us.
Round houses with blue roofs stood next to small green plots of farmland. On the other side of the road lay miles of empty land with an occasional cow or sheep.
I watched women walk with daily necessities balanced on their heads, while carrying swaddled children on their backs. Deserted shacks gleamed in the sunlight. Children in school uniforms walked in the middle of the dirt road and scattered in all directions as our truck honked. I waved, and huge grins spread across their faces as they waved back.
In South Africa, time seems to operate on a slower schedule. The Wild Coast exemplified that concept, seeming to have stopped completely hundreds of years ago.
I opened the window and breathed in a mixture of grass, dust and salty sea air. Over the horizon, the blue Indian Ocean appeared.
We were headed toward Lambasi Bay, Port Grosvenor, Eastern Cape.
We arrived at our inn, a community project that operates on solar and wind power.
Run by the Drifters group, it is a land lease.
The tour company is given the land cheaply in exchange for training the locals, who will take over running the property once the lease runs out.
The little white round houses have high ceilings and tan thatched roofs with a simple decor – crisp white beds, wooden night tables and cabinets.
A few steps past my room was an open area filled with tables and chairs, a bar and a kitchen covered by a huge thatched roof. A few steps away was an observation point overlooking the ocean. After a buffet dinner, I retired to my room and was lulled to sleep by the undulating waves.
EAGER TO EXPLORE my surroundings early the next morning, I walked down to the beach along a tree-lined path, with the sound of crackling branches swarming with monkeys.
At the beach, my toes wiggled in the white silky sand, and I noticed a small stream flowing into the ocean. The blue-green ocean’s frothy white waves crashed onto the sand; I could see my reflection as if it were a mirror.
I thought I was alone, but I soon spotted a young barefooted boy gathering wood near the stream. I walked over to him and tried to communicate but had no luck, so I smiled.
He smiled back shyly, white teeth glistening.
I watched him pull a reed from the side of the water and cleverly turn it into a rope to tie his sticks together and walk back toward his village.
Soon after, my group and a guide joined me.
We hiked through a soggy, grassy field over to a rusty shipwreck. Enormous pieces of twisted metal with jagged edges were strewn over the rocks. As I peered into one of the huge gnarled black pieces, sharp bits of metal stared back at me with wires dangling below.
Although the ship looked old, the wreck occurred in 2004. The ship, the BBC China, had gotten stranded on the coast. While they tried to refloat the ship, they had no luck. However, all 16 crew members were rescued by helicopter.
Left in the water, the rough seas had ripped it apart and washed sections of it ashore.
I climbed up onto the picture perfect rusty metal. Bikini-clad, I pretended to be a Sports Illustrated model and posed. The blue ocean seemed far, considering that I was standing on what once had been a ship, now wedged between huge white rocks.
We made our way back toward the beach, finding pockets between the rocks filled with white seashells. Moments later we hiked over rolling hills covered with long blades of grass blowing in the wind, intermixed with tall pink flowers and an occasional rock jutting out from the ground. The scenery was breathtaking, and I was breathing hard as we climbed away from the ocean.
Soon after, we hopscotched over a small waterfall, careful not to slip on the rocks. (It would have been a long, unpleasant, bonebreaking way down.) Descending a narrow brush-filled pathway, I could hear the pounding water. Pushing aside bushes and branches, I was greeted by a blue lagoon surrounded by lush green foliage and a shimmering waterfall.
I looked around, to make sure I was not on a Hollywood set. Everything was so perfect, it hardly seemed real. Immediately everyone stripped down to their bathing suits. We swam in the refreshingly cold water over to the waterfall itself. Streams of white water pounded on me and I sat there letting nature massage my back. However, time kept slipping forward, even though I desperately wanted to hold onto the day forever.
We returned for a typical South African lunch of vetkoek – pieces of dough fried in oil. They were delicious. Eating them was simple; just poke a hole in the round dough and add any of the fillings on hand, such as savory mince, tuna, chicken mayo, grated cheese or jam.
After stuffing ourselves full of fried sweetness, we headed back to the private sandy beach for a few hours of frolicking in the white foamy Indian Ocean and relaxing on the sand.
Evening fell and everyone hung out in the open dining area, having a beer or a Springbok, which is a South African drink made from peppermint schnapps and Amarula (tastes like Kahlua, but even better). Suddenly, huge claps of thunder shattered like broken glass through the night sky. As torrents of rain poured down, I wished aloud for the dirt roads to get washed away so we could stay longer in this paradise.
South Africa’s magical energy, an untamed, effervescent force, had enveloped, enchanted and, like a drug, addicted me to a feeling of always wanting more. But hard as I tried to grasp the moment, it slipped through my fingers.
Soon after, the electricity went out, and I was even more ecstatic. In the darkness, no falling stars this go round, only sheets of rain.
But with every downpour there is rebirth, and in South Africa more adventures are always waiting just around the corner.