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Durban - Louis Fourie was not kidding around when he named his place Be Out in Africa. Despite being given directions from Lusikisiki, we managed to get lost, riding along a sprawling tea plantation to the edge of the Magwa Falls, only to realise we were on the wrong side of them.
An apocalyptic sky threatening to erupt at any second was incentive to take the “shortcut”, which involved skirting fallen tree trunks, driving through a river with the help of an old Pondo man with no English – who managed to convey the route using emphatic hand gestures accompanied by toothless grins – and teetering across gorges like a tightrope walker on wheels.
As we rode through Gwexintaba village, children and adults alike stopped in slack-jawed astonishment, waving at us with unbridled excitement. Louis came to meet us halfway, driving a banged-up FJ45 Land Cruiser and stopping to give schoolchildren a lift.
As we followed him through an ancient Afromontane forest, the children crowded in the back started singing in harmony, a moment that would have seemed contrived were it not so spontaneously exuberant.
Arriving at Be Out in Africa, Louis was a whirlwind of energy, catapulting us from one subject to another on a high-speed tour. From his organic permaculture garden to the compost toilet overlooking the valley below, to his water pump that harnesses the energy of Magwa Falls to pump 18 000 litres of water up to the village (about 900 buckets of water a day), a natural swimming pool and an earth-bag building made using recycled materials with the help of two Dutch volunteers (who like the place so much they’re staying for a year), Louis is an unstoppable force.
Adorned with inspirational quotes and Xhosa translations, Louis’s rondavel is the biggest I’ve seen, and certainly puts junk to use: the stairs are tree stumps, an old net makes a rocking chair, a hat is the lampshade, and climbing equipment hangs everywhere.
Naturally Louis captures rainwater, uses solar and is deeply involved in community work – teaching gardening and soccer to children. He also cuts down alien trees (spearheading a massive alien removal project at the falls), has a weekly educational movie session and manages a talented local band.
It rained steadily for three days, which, combined with Chris’s tickbite fever, resulted in lazy afternoons. Fortunately the shrouds of mist finally parted to reveal our incredible location on top of a 240-metre-high plateau, surrounded by the Goso Forest. The next morning we had to visit the Magwa Falls, which plummet nearly 150 metres into a rainbow-lit canyon.
After near-constant rain, the gravel road was decidedly slippery. Fortunately, splashing through huge puddles was more fun than scary. Leaving the endless green hills of the Wild Coast behind with regret, empty tar roads, perfect weather and speed limits of up to 100km/h meant we could ride at full tilt – a rare treat that almost made up for it.
Past the no-horse town of Redoubt and we were in KwaZulu-Natal, where we stayed in a self-catering apartment at Far Horizons Lodge, Port Edward.
Owner Debbie Sharp told us of her plans to go completely off the grid in the next two years, starting with the Eco Camp. Once a chicken farmer, Debbie is today more interested in pigs – their manure will feed her biogas digester and fuel her car, while the pigs also fertilise and dig up the soil for her organic veggies.
In line with this, Debbie has founded the Eco Green Training Centre, aiming at developing eco-friendly farming methods and efficient waste recycling for rural upliftment. Debbie also purifies her grey water using effective micro-organisms and testifies to outstanding results.
Hot, humid and tropical, it was hard to believe that it was winter when we left the next morning.
Swanky cars swished past us, so close it was as if they were trying to bat us out of their way. Riding past hibiscus trees, rolling sugarcane fields, the massive South Coast Mall and through a toll gate, we arrived at Port Shepstone, where we’d be staying at the Honeywood Guest Lodge.
Honeywood has eight beautifully appointed chalets with sweeping views over the indigenous vegetation, carefully preserved by geologists Sharon and Ian Smith. They limit their impact with energy-saving light bulbs, a filtration system that uses effective micro-organisms and rainwater harvesting that reduces their use of municipal water by 60 percent. The couple are also very involved in community work through their Rotary Club.
The next day we followed the N2 through the township, passing more speed cameras than I could count. Arriving in Harding, we were met by principal Jonathan Simpson, who inspired us with his drive towards sustainability. With the motto to “Live and grow”, the school has a permaculture garden that feeds more than 150 special needs children and which has reduced rates of illness. The school is also committed to recycling and hopes to become a resource for the entire community.
Siphakamele Combined Primary School was similarly inspiring. With a vast permaculture garden, the eco school helps feed more than 1 000 children, more than half of whom are orphans and vulnerable children.
After attending a permaculture workshop, natural sciences teacher and Enviro Club mentor Gugu Mzimande now practises worm farming, companion planting (onions and chillies deter moles), and hopes to see teachers and pupils becoming more aware of what is happening with the environment.
Likewise, we were interested to see if COP17 had increased environmental awareness in Durban. Watch this space.
l Andrews and List are on a 7 500km carbon-neutral scooter safari to document inspiring environmental projects. Follow their journey on www.eco-friendly-africa-travel.com or www.facebook.com/EcoFriendlyAfricaTravel - Cape Times