Classes are finished! After a week of intense studying for finals, we were ready to break out of the Western Cape and do some traveling. With two close friends, Alyssa and Michaelanne, I took off on a 20-hour bus ride to Port St. John’s, South Africa. From there we would embark on a 5-day, 40 mile hike from Port St. John’s to Coffee Bay, two very small towns nestled along South Africa’s Wild Coast. The Wild Coast is known as the traditional home of the Xhosa people in South Africa.
The trip was an adventure the second we stepped on the bus! Along the way, our bus broke down three times, and what was supposed to be a 20-hour ride turned into a 26-hour ride. As a member of the Junget family, I have completed some pretty intense roadtrips, but I had never been stuck sitting in one place for so long in my entire life. Due to the bus being late, we missed our shuttle and the bus company arranged a mini-bus taxi to drive us. The hour and a half soon turned into two and a half as the shuttle picked up hitchhikers and stopped in every little town along the way. My eyes were opened to a new form of transportation!
We wasted no time and started our 5-day hike the next morning. The first day was quite hilly—we instantly regretted how heavy we had packed our bags! We also walked along beaches that were miles long. When you’re carrying a burdensome pack and the sand is deep, long walks on the beach aren’t all they’re cracked up to be! Six hours later, we reached the village we would stay in that night. Although our legs were tired, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. Not knowing what to expect, we were taken to a house with a couple of surrounding huts. There a woman in traditional Xhosa clothing and an apron greeted us with coffee, tea, and bread. We took turns showering but had to be quick, as the showers consisted of a bucket of hot water that had been heated over a fire or stove. The Eastern Cape (like much of Africa) is experiencing water scarcity and this is extremely prevalent in rural villages. By the end of our hike, we were masters at the army shower! Also, we had very limited access to electricity the entire week. Only one village had electricity and that was used for cooking. We would eat candle-lit dinners of traditional food each night and didn’t use our cellphones for the entire week—a much-needed technology cleanse!
The hike was a challenging way to see some of the most beautiful coastline in all of Africa—but I think that the cultural aspect of the hike is what I will take with me forever. Most of the members of the host families we stayed with in villages along the way had never even left their villages. One woman, Christina (pictured), said she was born and raised in the same hut and hasn’t moved. Now a widow, she says that she has had to learn to provide for herself, but knows that she is safe within the community because Xhosa has a very community-oriented culture where all try to provide and look out for one another. She cooked us spinach fresh from her garden, bought some crayfish fresh from the beach, and taught us how to prepare it. After immersing ourselves in Xhosa culture for about 5 days, I came away enlightened and humbled by the happiness of those who have so much less material goods than we do, but also very grateful for the school systems, technology, health care, and many other services we take for granted.
As our travels around South Africa come to an end, I have a couple more days to soak in the South African sun and then it’s back to the frozen tundra of Minnesota!
Friends we made along the way!