Again I was sad that we couldn’t stay and spend the day at the beach and get a lunch and surf lesson for a mere R50, but at least we would arrive at Madwaleni that evening and stay put for three nights. The owner of Coffee Shack kindly drew us a map and after scoping out our rental car, assured us we’d be fine to take the 45 minute drive to Hole in the Wall, as long as we ‘drove slowly’. I was keen to see it. You really don’t want to get home and say ‘no, we didn’t go’. But just to be safe, Gen and I hiked up the dirt road (roadworks) to scope out the territory. Some of the hills looked quite steep and I felt the anxiety growing. Not just for the conditions ahead, but also getting safely to Madwaleni. There had been service protests and road closures for weeks now and we heard it was happening again.
We were feeling confident in our Honda once we’d conquered the first few hills, but then we hit a muddy obstacle. Mud to the left and right, deep brown water in the middle. I even got out to survey the scene, test the depths, and pounce on the sludge. We agreed we’d take the left route. And then we slowed down and sunk in. Oh man. Stay calm. Pray. Don’t wheelspin. At that exact moment, a well-dressed man came cruising by – and through the puddle – in his little red Citi Golf. Clearly I should have chosen the water! He wasn’t impressed when I asked him to help push. By now more locals have appeared (a well-known Transkei phenomenon), Gen got behind the wheel, we banded together, and with a few push attempts, got the Brio back out. Hallelujah. These biceps aren’t just useful for sport. Hyped up on adrenalin and with legs covered in mud, we graciously thanked the locals in Xhosa and gave them some money to further show our appreciation. Then drove through the water in the middle. Luckily that was the worst of our muddy encounters, but we still treated each puddle with severe and paranoid caution.
Hole in the Wall is not that easy to find. There are no real clear signs (apart from locals trying to offer you their ‘tour guiding services’). We parked on a hill and walked down and around – by which point our eager ‘friend’ Joseph was showing us the way – when it came into view. It was a gorgeous sunny day and despite the chilly wind, conditions were great for my photos. Those tuna-mayo rolls also tasted damn good.
Then we had to get to Madwaleni. The combination of given directions, road signs and Google maps was incredibly unhelpful. We filled up with petrol. We eventually found Elliotdale and the long gravel road that felt like forever. We got overtaken while overtaking someone else. We were overjoyed when we hit the tar road. Only twelve more kilometres. And then we saw the police vans and a large group of people standing on a hill up ahead. One of the cops sauntered over to our now stationary car and explained that they were still negotiating. The road had been barricaded. Time for Plan B. We phoned our friends, basically agreed on a rendezvous point and drove on. The phone signal came and went and I had reached a point in the day where I was fraught with self-doubt and indecision. Were we on the right road? Where are they? Should we stop? Turn around? The sun was setting too.
But then a car with familiar friendly faces appeared and all was right with the world. Well, almost. Andrew-forever-optimistic-Miller greeted us with a smile and a warm Transkei welcome. The only other way to get to Mads was via the Mount Pleasant road, which in an ideal world required a 4×4 vehicle. And so, we were going to park our Honda at the Millers’ house-help’s home and fetch it again later in the week. I was game for anything, provided it was safe and we got to Madwaleni asap. We found their home (miraculously when there aren’t really addresses in these parts!) and left the rental tucked next to their turquoise abode. Oh Europcar, the places we went! Shhh, don’t tell them.
We entered the hospital gates at sunset and I sat down to a lovely supper with my little sister in her current home. So happy to have made it. What a day!
Wednesday and Thursday were spent at Madwaleni and at the local beach – Nkhaye – which incidentally can also only really be reached by 4×4. I finally got to see the classic ‘cows on the beach’ and have our first swim in the sea! It was pretty amazing to have so much space to ourselves. No crowds, no civilisation. The rest of the time was spent playing with little Ben, reading, drinking tea, eating Katie’s delicious bread, getting tours of the hospital and homes, and getting to know the current community of doctors and therapists working there. And all their children. They are a lovely bunch. It made me happy to affirm that my sister had ended up surrounded by people who loved and supported her. People who made the tough days easier and the wonderful summer days longer. It’s a very different lifestyle, that’s for sure, but they have each other and they are making an enormous difference in that region. And that’s worth whatever sacrifices they’ve made to live here. It’s beautiful in its own special way – even with the stinky egrets, muddy paths, overgrown gardens, handpainted signs, noisy nearby shebeen and roaming livestock. It’s simple. Slow.
After lunch on Friday, Katie drove me back to our rental car. Tata Morris’s children had washed it! How precious? Dani and I met up with Rachel and Duncan to spend the following two nights at Mdumbi backpackers, close to Coffee Bay. Gen had subsequently and gradually gotten sick and made the wise decision to stay near the doctors and medicine and comfortable bed.
Mdumbi was fantastic. That beach, wow. The food was great – especially the seafood supper! We saw dolphins frolicking in the waves on Saturday morning, which was incredibly exciting. We dodged the old drunken fishermen, watched rugby at a nearby pub, tanned on the beach, played card games, and kayaked up and down the Mdumbi river. We saw jumping fish and transparent jellyfish.
And dreamt of eating ice-cream.
On Sunday morning we greeted Rachel and Duncan and drove to Mthatha, where we met up with Katie at the shops and I traded my sister for my flatmate. Goodbyes were quick as to not cry too many tears. I was rather sad to know I’d also not see Ben anymore. But it was home time.
We drove a solid stretch to reach Ingeli Forest Lodge just outside Kokstad, where the Simpsons kindly offered their home to us for the night. Google maps led us astray (yet again) and when the man at the gate asked for our passports, we knew we’d gone wrong. The real Ingeli was much more visible and the view from the stoep was a real blissful treat. The howling winds that blasted – and kept us awake for a few hours in the night – was not.
Monday was just cruising on the N2, a very quick coffee with Gen’s friend in Umhlanga, returning the car and finally boarding our flight back to Cape Town. Home sweet Heath Court home.
What an adventure.