Day 679 – 8 January, 2017
After a brief overnight in Port Elizabeth, where there were heavy bars on the windows inside of an iron gate and a padlock on the front door locking me in, I knew I had made the right decision to not spend more time here. My first stop on this second leg of my Baz Bus journey was Cintsa, a beach town on the Wild Coast.
My bus maneuvered down a long windy dirt road before stopping in a parking lot surrounded by wood cabins at Buccaneers Backpackers. The largest cabin was for check in and as soon as I stepped inside I could see the view. We were actually on the edge of a cliff, looking out over the windswept wilds of the coast on the Indian Ocean. I was told I too would be staying in a cliff-side dorm room and I was excited to see the view. It was mid-day as I stepped out onto the wide wooden balcony and observed a parade of surfers with their boards expertly hooked under one arm.
There was a campground and single room cabins further down the driveway before I reached the pool with a well-stocked bar, hammocks and lots of other space to lounge about. I continued on down a short haphazard staircase to the sand that would lead to the beach. The beach separated the ocean from a large inland lagoon so a small log bridge had been built over the lagoon which smelled vaguely of sewage. A few kids played in the lagoon not more than 100m away. Ah well…. It was a nice walk around the lagoon, but once I was past the shelter of the cliffs I soon realized why the only beachgoers were the surfers. The winds were incredibly powerful. I had thought I would bring my book and lie on the sand, but I was getting more sand in my eyes and mouth than I cared for so it sent me running for the nice calm shelter at the pool.
On my way back toward the lodge, I noticed an older woman hunched over and vomiting into the bushes. I stopped to ask if she was ok just as she emptied the rest of her lunch all over her shoes. I searched through my beach bag, looking for a napkin or water or anything that would prove helpful under the circumstances, as she picked up a few leaves off the ground and wiped off her shoes. Like a complete badass, she kicked dirt over the rest of the vomit and wiped her face with the back of her arm. She did take my water and insisted she must have eaten something bad, while I took her arm and helped her walk the rest of the way up the hill to her room. Her name was Kristina, from Austria, and she was 75. She had spent her life working for the Austrian consulate in several countries all over the world, but now she was traveling alone and one of my roommates in my hostel dorm room.
For dinner, there was nowhere else to eat besides at the hostel, but it made no difference to me. For a reasonable price, the dining cabin hosted a buffet with silver and actual linen napkins. This hostel would not cease to amaze me! I sat with a German lady who was also 75, and 3 Argentinians who convinced me that I just had to visit India before I went home. What I loved so much about Cintsa was not the beach or the views, but the seemingly varying backgrounds of the people who stayed there (and some of them stayed for weeks!)
The German lady and I were also in the same room so we walked back together to find that Kristina was feeling better. She was sitting on the balcony with some crackers and a glass of wine so we joined her. Both ladies were intent on seeing the world and had been to some really interesting places. However, out of everywhere she had been, Kristina said her worst experience had been at home, in Vienna. She had been pushed to the ground and robbed of her handbag about 4 years earlier. She recounted the hassle of replacing her passport and credit cards. And then….she lifted her shirt to expose her bra bulging with cash. She said after that terrifying incident she now keeps $500 in one side and €500 in the other side and she just dares anyone to reach inside and grab one of her “sandbags.” It was such a surprise that we all burst into a fit of laughter.
When I left Cintsa after a couple of days of ocean breeze, I was expecting a shuttle to pick me up for a ride inland to Hogsback, a mountain town with rugged hiking and a bohemian vibe. Instead of a shuttle, I was collected in a pickup truck by a driver and his girlfriend. They were both nice enough, offering me a snack and some small talk. Not long after we started on our 2 1/2 hr drive to Hogsback, we were passing several local people walking on the side of the road. Some of them were carrying heavy loads. Some had children with them. We stopped and picked up a few hitchhikers and with an unspoken negotiation between them and my driver, money exchanged hands. We drove into East London, some passengers got out and others got in. The driver stopped at a hardware store and left all of us in the car for at least 20 minutes. Now my patience has greatly improved after such a long bit of time in developing countries, but we had a long drive ahead of us and I was paying a nice price tag for a private transfer to Hogsback. Nevertheless, hitchhiking had proven to be quite the cottage industry in South Africa so I figured this was normal par for the course. When we finally left East London and began the journey inland, we stopped several more times to accommodate our other passengers, but in between, we barreled down the road around blind curves and narrow passes, presumably to make up time for all of the stops. I’m not a good passenger. I often see my life flashing before my eyes and the speed of this car chase was terrifying. Upon arrival in the town of Hogsback, we stopped one last time to drop off the girlfriend and her mother who was our most recent passenger. The driver bought some ears of roasted corn that he noisily sucked on while he lazily leaned against the side of the truck and asked me to please not mention all the extra passengers to his boss.
I was dropped off at Away with the Fairies much later than I had anticipated and I was tired and pretty irritated by the time I got there. I never would have even thought to mention the extra passengers to his boss until he asked me not to, but I agreed and I just wanted to rest now that I had made it there alive. The receptionist that checked me in asked about my transfer and I just indicated that he drove way too fast and she promised to sort that out.
That evening I joined a communal meal in the dining lodge, swapping travel stories with other guests when I mentioned the crazy transfer on which I had arrived. Unbeknownst to me, the hostel owner was the recipient of my tale and his jaw absolutely dropped. He was beside himself because they had already had similar problems with this driver and he had already been warned. They wanted me to sign an affidavit as to what happened to use as proof to fire the driver. Oops! I had never intended for it to go this far, but as I started to hear past transgressions by this same driver, I felt more comfortable with my role as the snitch. The manager of the hostel wrote a statement based on what I had told him and all I needed to do was sign it. Easy right? I did just that only to learn that the hostel’s lawyer did not feel that it would be sufficient evidence to fire the black driver, who is protected under affirmative action type laws in the country. It was determined that the affidavit needed to be signed in front of a police officer who would then stamp with an official seal.
The next day I went out on a hike in a light misty rain through a mystical forest with giant trees and rushing waterfalls. I exited this hike on a rural road that, if I followed it, would lead me directly back to my hostel. A truck drove by and offered to give me a lift, but I preferred to walk today. I had ceased thinking this was strange or dangerous; hitching was all too common in South Africa. When I got back, the manager was waiting for me and wanted to take me to the police station to complete our business. It was a short drive and a single officer was in the middle of his meal when we walked in. He still had food on his lower lip when we explained why we were there. He read the statement, but felt uncomfortable stamping it himself and said we must talk to the police chief who was out at the time.
I went back to the hostel and was completely wiped out after my hike that day. I took a shower and crawled in bed to watch a movie on my tablet, thoroughly forgetting that I still needed to talk to the police chief. Not quite asleep, the manager came to my room around 10:00pm and said the chief was in the lobby, could I please come out? I quickly got dressed and ran a comb through my hair only to be greeted by a woman in her mid-late 50s. She had short cropped black hair and was well-endowed in all the right places, wearing a low-cut cotton dress her cleavage could have held a whole stack of coins. And that’s how I met the police chief. She was staggering drunk and asked me to tell her my story of what had happened with the driver. I recounted the whole scene, while she remained absolutely silent. To be fair, I wasn’t even sure if she was still awake! When I had finished, she put her arm around me and told me she would sign whatever I wanted her to sign. Spittle flew out of her glossy lips when she said, “becuz yere a TURist! And TURists are aways right in Sooth Africa.” This was priceless, but the worst part is that, after hugging both myself and the hostel manager, that woman swaggered off to her car and drove away.
The next morning I had another full day of hiking and wandering planned, but I did learn that after I had gone to bed, the police chief had gone back to her office, stamped and sealed a blank piece of paper, returned it back to the management and encouraged them to write whatever they wanted. Thus is the corruption of South African law enforcement.
The sun was out in full force today so I got an early start, meandering on back country roads looking for the Mirror Garden and Crystal Corner. It was a much longer walk than I anticipated. Signs along the way advertised fantasy sites like the Eco Shrine, the Labyrinth at The Edge Mountain Retreat, and the Fairy Realm. The house had a large gate in front that was partway open, but otherwise the property seemed deserted. I rang the bell with no answer. I walked inside the crystal shop that appeared to be full of healing crystals and fairy dust (for lack of a better description). Still, no one came. It was kind of creepy and I was inclined to leave altogether, but I had walked so far to get there I decided to give it one more try. Signs indicated that the Mirror Garden was in the back of the house and it was free to walk around. In the garden, I finally saw an older woman with billowing white hair that hung down past her waistline. She was clipping flowers in the garden and placing them in a basket on her arm. Her back was to me and I didn’t want to frighten her so I called out a couple of times to get her attention and ask about the garden. After three tries, she finally turned around, acknowledged me, and waved me into the garden without saying another word. I smiled and walked past her and didn’t even realize how spooky this was until I’m recounting it now. When I turned to see her again, she was gone.
The garden was unremarkable, although I didn’t want to rush out in a panic so I gave it a proper look around before I attempted escape. Trying to slip out of the gate, undetected, the man of the house finally appeared and implored me to take a look in his shop. I politely declined and was back on my way. Finally time to start my hike, I had a rough time of following the map. I couldn’t find the starting point for the walk I wanted to do. By the time I put in a solid effort on an incorrect trail, I was already over it. The path I chose hadn’t been used yet that day or maybe for a few days because it was streaked with invisible spider webs, the kind that you don’t know are there until they are coating your whole body and making you itch from head to foot. I was growling with every step as if I was taking on the most formidable opponent in the boxing ring. “You can’t beat me! I’m sorry I’m destroying your web but why do you always have to build it across the path?! Take that! And that!!” All this as I did a full knee raise to bring my foot down on the webs before they touched my body. It makes me shiver just thinking about it now! My destination was a weak little waterfall. The path went over the top of it so you actually couldn’t see the fall itself. The day was turning out to be mildly disappointing. But not for long…
Back at Away with the Fairies hostel, I had reserved a private bath on the cliff, overlooking the whole valley. With an hour’s notice, the staff will stoke a fire to heat the water and a makeshift privacy sign indicates when the bath is in use. It was a magical end to a “fairy”-tale kind of destination in Hogsback.