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Why the Wild Coast is rocking!

Eastern Cape

Colleen Dardagan

 

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Caption: A local and his dogs wades  through the waters of the Mbotyi River Mouth on a perfect day for the white beaches of the Transkei Wild Coast.
Picture: Colleen DardaganCaption: A dog takes guard at the front entrance of a villager's house overlooking the Mbotyi River Lodge.
Picture: Colleen DardaganCaption: The rolling green hills that surround the Mbotyi River Lodge offer walks with the most spectacular views over the sea. And, you can do the walk barefoot.
Picture: Colleen DardaganCaption: A signature feature of the Wild Coast are the cows that love to doze on the sand after feeding on the green grasses of the surrounding hills.
Picture: Colleen Dardagan

Port Elizabeth - Steamy cow pats, women in traditional gear tramping across windswept beaches, a black dog scrambling at high speed across the rocks believing the two cormorants winging over the surf are just inches from his yapping jaws.

The hot bread with melting butter dripping through my fingers.

The sound of rain, as we cuddle under the covers while drifting off to blissful sleep as the waves pound and the wind roars.

The green hills of the Eastern Cape Wild Coast that meet the flying spray at their edges and, on their flanks, the prickly grass under bare feet are a tranquil therapy beyond any price.

Table tennis or the time to read a good book, a Scrabble challenge – these are the true antidotes for jagged stress or a tired mind insistently driven by the incessant barrage of information that has become our modern era.

The simplicity of this faraway place, reassuringly settled in the cycle of the seasons and unchanged by progress, is heaven: a most beautiful place.

Mbotyi River Lodge is where tales of a ghostly woman walking the beach on dark, stormy nights looking for her love, or where table settings remained intact for a decade, as if the guests had left in a terrible hurry, get richer in the telling.

And indeed it’s true, the day SACP leader Chris Hani was assassinated in 1993, helicopters were chartered to ferry panicked guests who thought they were about to be massacred by the neighbouring villagers in retribution.

For all those years the place stayed shut, with its overgrown lawns and unmade beds, a ghost of its former glory.

Remarkably, it was neither vandalised nor burgled.

Or the story of the missionary couple who walked the dunes for months, calling for their two lost children who “vanished into thin air” as if by magic in the 1960s.

The story goes that the children were seen walking along the beach years later by locals on a dark old year’s eve. They described them as hooded apparitions that “appeared to fade out to sea”.

What about the notorious bank robber Andrew Stander who used the “time warped” Mbotyi as a hideout before escaping to the US in the 1980s?

It is also true that murders and tales of violent crime in the early years post-1994 kept guests away.

Now the four-star lodge, which is owned by a private consortium, is again its homely self.

The fare is simple and wholesome. The most irresistible home-made bread, butter made from the milk of the roaming cows and the rich eggs from the chickens that scratch in the dirt around the thatched homes of the neighbours, were delicious and demanded second helpings at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Having visited the lodge 10 years ago, my husband Greg and I decided to return earlier this month. The five-hour drive south along the N2 from Durban was easy.

A stop at Mac Bananas Café and Pancake House or Mattison Square outside Port Edward to recharge our flask with boiling water and to shop for delicious home-made goodies, added to the feeling of going nowhere slowly.

The Mtamvuna River bridge, which once marked the border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Transkei homeland, still draws a line between what is developed and what is rural.

Still, the construction of Tuscan-styled houses all the way through Flagstaff, Bizana and Lusikisiki is remarkable. All three of these towns are becoming sprawling metros, with fast-food outlets and franchised building and supermarket chains lining the clogged, potholed streets, in contrast to the small traders on the dusty sidewalks who sell anything from sweets to hapless chickens and panting sheep.

Roadworks between Port Edward and Flagstaff are an irritation as the hold-up at each of the two stops can last more than 20 minutes. But the drive will be a pleasure when the road is finished.

Outside Lusikisiki and after a few kilometres on a stretch of cemented road, the dirt thoroughfare – which is in good condition – passes the now-defunct Magwa Tea Estate before starting the decline to the lodge through pristine indigenous forest.

Spending time wandering along the beach or sitting beside the pool in the gardens is like returning to a better place, a simpler way, that makes it difficult to return to the everyday hustle and bustle.

The warm, friendly and efficient staff were abuzz with the planning of a wedding scheduled at the lodge the weekend after we left. The spot would make for a memorable occasion.

What about the future of Mbotyi? Scars of upturned red earth on hills suggest growing interest in big houses and sprawling accommodation between the hand-tilled fields and simple mud huts.

The blackened sand on the beaches, which suggest the presence of heavy minerals, raises a question: for how much longer can the mining houses be kept at bay from this pristine coast?

Maybe the best time to visit is now.

For more information, go to www.mbotyi.co.za. To book, e-mail [email protected] or phone Helen at 083 260 5588.

Sunday Tribune

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