Sunday, October 30, 2016

Driving the Wild Coast of South Africa

Lighthouses and Sulphur Springs on The Wild Coast of South Africa

Lighthouse Keeper and me
From East London to Durban Highway 2 winds its way through rolling green hills dotted with colorful houses as it travels a thousand kilometers through the lesser traveled parts of South Africa. Towns like Port St John dot the rugged coastline here which has been nicknamed the ‘Wild Coast.’ This is where the famous Sardine run happens in June and July. Exploring around Port St Johns I made my way up to an old lighthouse overlooking the coast and was told by the lighthouse keeper that when the sardine run happens he can see it all from his window; huge schools of sardines, dolphins, whales, birds, and even sharks. But in all the other months of the year the Wild Coast is more famous for its network of hiking trails. 

Wild Coast of South Africa
The transkei hike follows the coastline and connects the small port towns. It is a very popular hike with backpackers and comes complete with overnight accommodations, waterfalls, incredible scenery, lighthouses, and cold beers waiting at the backpackers lodge at the end. Further in towards the mountainous country of Lesotho, hikers find another delight in the Drakensburg Mountain National Park. 

    Of course getting to and from these areas can be a challenge. Its seems like road work is never ending in the region so prepare to be stopped throughout the day. And driving at night is heavily discouraged, as there are goats and cows all alongside the road. Even during the day you have to keep a sharp eye out for crossing animals.

    But to get off the beaten path, see something new, and experience the Zulu part of Africa traveling the wild coast can be an enriching experience. Here the local people still speak with clicks in their language and visit Sulphur springs like I would visit the doctor. Not wanting to pass up that experience Heidi and I drove down the bumpy dirt road towards the Sulphur springs near Port St. Johns, not really knowing what to expect. Small kids chased the car down the road (turns out they wanted to be compensated for being a hired ‘security’). We were greeted in a rocky clearing by the mom of the village with her small daughter. She said she would take us up to the spring, then show us the mud cave after. 

Sulphur mud facial with Heidi
I was impressed with her ability to scramble up the side of the rocky cliff that was a bit tough for us in our flip flops. A cloudy pool was at the top of this rocky hillside with several locals around soaking their feet. A small offshoot was being used to dip a cup into. The mom got us a cup and told us to drink and it will clean out our stomach. Even with a bit of a head cold ‘cleaning out our stomach’ didn’t sound too comfortable to either of us so we offered to smell it and acknowledge that it did indeed smell like Sulphur. After this we went back down the same steep slope to go underneath the rocky hill where a large cave was filled with white mud. The mom got some in her hand and carefully smeared it on my face and then Heidi’s. This could have been where spas got the idea for mud facials because my skin felt great after letting this cake on for a while. The last thing we did before paying our guide and tipping our young ‘security’ guard, was to kneel down in front of another outflowing of Sulphur gas and inhale. This is supposed to clear up any sinus illness. I’m not sure if this is the culprit but I did start my road to recovery around this time. 

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