Tarred roads are for Tsotsis
PART 3: Where we snubbed google maps and found eden route: Himeville to Mdumbi Backpackers on the Wild Coast – 366km
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But at least it’s paved. This was our sentiment leaving Himeville on the R617 along the Midlands Meander – which was pretty patchy and pot-holed, but at least tarred.
Our Outback 3.6 bounced past dams and naked trees shivering in winter sun, frosted grass flanking the road. It was like driving through an oil painting, lush and vivid, the Drakensberg escarpment slumbering to our right. Underberg has an excellent Spar, where we bought huge strawberries and good flat-white coffees. In Kokstad’s main road we stopped for bacon and brie sandwiches, which unfortunately were off. Leaving, we promised the owners, a geriatric couple, that we wouldn’t ruin their impressive TripAdvisor rating. And we didn’t.
Crossing into the Eastern Cape, the fairy tale continued, the road rolling past hills dotted with the province’s trademark turquoise-green painted huts. In Mthatha, news of local hero Siya Kolisi’s first Springbok captain victory blazed on lamp posts, while a huge billboard assured motorists of a brighter future if they borrow money from a certain bank.
Along the well-maintained N2, we veered right towards Coffee Bay. Here the going got trickier with jaywalking cattle, sheep, pigs and piglets, tiny like kittens –and minibuses pulling to stealthy halts behind blind hills. This gentle mayhem unfolded against a canvas of ludicrous effervescent green, puffy clouds chasing overhead.
Roads in the Wild Coast are often unmarked, but Mdumbi Backpackers wasn’t hard to find. ‘Just don’t follow the directions on Google Maps!’ We were told. Descending towards the sea, a wooden sign on rusty hinges pointed left along a twisting gravel road. ‘This looks all too familiar,’ said Travel Companion, switching back to X-Mode. The spectacular Mdumbi River estuary and mouth appeared to our left, swathes of cobalt blue and creamy sand; then another sign pointed us up a slope to a cluster of huts under trees. Here we found dogs, surfers, children, and some city stragglers pondering life, the universe and everything – several of them from Europe.
From the back of our Outback we offloaded boxes of clothing and 13 laptops, kindly donated by healthcare consulting service Elsabé Klinck and Associates and Subaru Southern Africa. We handed it over to Astrid Gifford of TransCape , a pivotal NGO that runs a community school in the area.
I first caught sight of Johann Stadler, owner of the Backpackers, under a sand-coloured 4×4, as he lay tinkering with the engine. He’d driven it all the way along West Africa on a surfing trip, he later told us. Johann, son of a missionary, grew up around Mdumbi and matriculated at Mthatha in 1997. Brimming with stories relayed over candle light, he told us how 13 years ago he lost the keys to the lodge’s main lounge door, and has simply never locked it since.
Mdumbi Backpackers provides clients for local entrepreneurs, such as Notshana Rwandiso, founder of Mdumbi River Kayaks. Rowing up the mangrove-lined estuary behind Notshana, a couple of fish eagles soared overhead. He pointed out a blue and orange kingfisher on a stone, devouring fish flashing silver in the sun. Notshana had strong opinions on tarred roads too. ‘Tarred roads bring crime,’ he said. ‘We never want a tarred road to Mdumbi.’ For sure; the carefree open doors and windows here, free of burglar bars, are as refreshing as the sea-scented breeze.
What to pack
- Snacks – shops are limited in Lesotho and along the Wild Coast.
- Loo paper or tissues
- First-aid kit
- Torch or headlight
- Fold-up shovel (for snow, no jokes)
- A tyre-repair kit
- A small air compressor