In Port St. John’s, I discovered Africa. A new Africa, that I had not seen yet. A black Africa, where white faces were a minority in visibility and actual numbers. We entered the Transkei. I had been forewarned of going into the district from relatives and white faces we met in our travels. We were told not to stop, pick up hitch hikers, drive on dirt roads and God forbid an accident occurred and we hit something; again the message was to NOT STOP! For anything. It was dangerous and full of unrest, was the message that was drilled into us. With some trepidation, we did stop though. And for that I will be forever grateful.
Port St John’s is on the coast of the Indian Ocean in the middle of Pondoland. It is considered to be a traditional black homeland and as such, has a very limited white population. The language was another new one to me, so communication with the locals was limited to sign language and what little English they could get by with. Even with that, I felt the difference here though. For two weeks we made the area our home, and it was a beautiful, lush and peaceful place. We stayed in a hostel that was five kilometers from a beautiful beach, full of sand and shells. The town had a traditional market, “Take-Aways” aplenty, a more “formal” supermarket and a bank, if you were willing to stand in the long and very slow line. My van mate Taro even discovered that the Town Hall played movies and he attended with a few local youths that he befriended. They became fast friends and spent several days together just doing and being whatever they liked and required.
I found a measure of quiet, that I sorely needed to recharge my tattered soul. I made new friends and acquaintances. I discovered a new faith in the country that struggled with its identity after so many years of apartheid and unrest. It was a simple place steeped in tradition. Labelled rustic by some, I found it quaint and it stole my heart. Many words flowed from me as I sat by candle light. A hike to a waterfall, spawned a longer hike along the Wild Coast Trail. For four days we hiked through back country. We skirted deep, dark chasms, jumped from boulders to rocks, waded through tall, waving fields of grasses and discovered magical streams to take the sting out of burning, sun-baked skin. This was topped off by spending the last night in a traditional rondavel with a Xhosa family that fed us in the manner that they were accustomed to. We slept on the ground in our sleeping bags surrounded by stray dogs and scattered chickens. We were fed rice, samp (beans), mussels and fish from the ocean we had just been hiking beside. We were steeped in the smiles of the locals. The children seemed to have such an amazingly pure energy and joy of life that was contagious. You could not help but wave and carry on the smiles that they handed out so freely. Those smiles buoyed me up and the simplicity around me made me appreciate all I had and knew. It was a far cry from our previous stops in Port Elizabeth, Addo National Park and East London and that was a good thing.
*Enkosi means Thank You in Xhosa, one of South Africa's Eleven official languages. I noted that was the only word I picked up in Xhosa in a post card written home
Here is a link to Miriam Makeba singing the Click Song in Xhosa.