After planting trees in East London to offset our emissions, we set out for the Transkei in blustering winds like the blasts of a fire-less dragon. Passing over the border of the old Ciskei, I felt a cold shiver thinking of our country’s history of apartheid.
Too soon we were on a dirt road marked with giant potholes, as if the earth was opening up to swallow us whole. We knew we were close when long yellow grass – so dry it was as if the sun had leached out its life force – gave way to rolling green hills dotted with multicoloured huts, like someone had scattered Smarties.
It was easy to spot the Transkei’s “Big Five” – cow, dog, donkey, goat and chicken.
The sun was long past its zenith when we pulled through the gates to Bulungula, riding between vast rain-forged gorges.
The next obstacle was sand so thick it was like wading through lard.
While Chris stopped to take a photograph, I crept past, gravely underestimating the width of my saddlebags, which bumped Chris’s bike so hard that it caused both scooters to topple over like dominoes, while I sprawled over them like a fallen stuntman.
Located in Nqeleni, one of the poorest, most remote villages in SA, Bulungula is testament that ecotourism can be an effective poverty-fighting tool. Owning 40 percent of the lodge and its profits, the community is very much a part of Bulungula, which was overflowing with guests, guides and village kids.
Completely off the grid, Bulungula uses solar energy, captures rainwater and uses grey water (filtered through three ponds and a banana circle) for the garden. Compost toilets and rocket showers (a chimney-like system that heats water by drawing hot air upwards using just a tiny amount of paraffin) and incredible community development work through a non-profit organisation (NPO), the Bulungula Incubator, assure its eco credentials.
After long hikes on the beach, a tour took us into the heart of the village. We tried to balance a bucket of water on our heads. Then it was time to head to Zithulele Mission Hospital, where we’d be meeting Roger Galloway, founder of the Wild Wild Coast, which works in partnership with the Jabulani Foundation to facilitate environmental projects.
Suckers for punishment, we’d decided to take the coastal roads through the Transkei.
Arriving somewhat broken, we had a cup of rooibos before Roger took us on a tour of his indigenous nursery, telling us about his projects, which include clearing invasive aliens, tree plantings, interest-free micro-finance and skills development, a food garden, and so many more it was daunting. Roger has also spearheaded the formation of the Mbolompo Homestay, village-based accommodation that is the home of the Siyephu family. The three of us formed a mini biker’s gang in riding to the home stay, which enjoys stunning views over the Mncwasa River mouth. Staying in a Xhosa rondavel, we enjoyed ablution facilities constructed from clay bricks, earth, cob and recycled materials. Rocket showers, a living roof, bamboo guttering and old potjie pots for basins further limit the environmental impact.
All road trips test your endurance to the limit, but the next day was my personal Achilles heel. Just outside Mbolompo, my bike shot forward, front wheel in the air as I changed down on an uphill, and I embraced the hard, stony ground yet again. Back on that horse, we rode to Hole in the Wall, carved over millions of years by powerful waves.
Continuing along some of the worst roads we’d encountered we rode up such a steep, rocky and windy hill that Chris fell into a gully. As I snuck past him, I lost power and cut out, toppling over backwards like a drunk off a bar stool and lying on the road, determined never to get up again.
Our bikes lay there like fallen soldiers, while we gathered our wits to try again. Finally arriving at Mawosheni Community Project near Coffee Bay, we met Kate Gething Lewis, who has been helping out for the past two years. However, she was quick to assure me, the project is run by the community, and started when teacher Zukiswa Mtyana (known as Nomapuzi) saw the need for a preschool.
With no funds, no salary and just a ramshackle rondavel, Nomapuzi walked three kilometres every day to give her children the best start in life she could possibly offer.
Today, the project is supported by Willen en Doen (Will It and Do It), is home to a thriving food garden, community centre, spaza, future orphanage, and compost toilets. It offers skills development, including intricate sewing projects using recycled materials and is well on its way to being 100 percent sustainable.
we tackled the last leg of our journey with gusto. Parking our bikes outside The Kraal, we spotted hundreds of dolphins surfing the waves and leaping joyously in the air, as happy and in their element as a world-class ballerina on stage.
The Kraal is the real deal – running on solar energy, water is heated with a dual solar and donkey boiler-type system (constantly circulating water to retain heat).
They capture rainwater, filter grey water through a reed bed which irrigates their homegrown vegetables and have built a biogas toilet (which creates energy from waste). They’ve also formed Kraal Toddlers, an NPO that aims to improve health, living and learning conditions through awareness, education and local empowerment.
As we awakened to more dolphins steaming past as if on repeat, our life in the city felt like an unsettling dream. Fortunately, SA has so many more eco spots to see that life on the road is far from over. - Cape Times
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