South Africa’s “Wild Coast” is accurately named.
It’s a place where cows are more common than cars, where turquoise circular mud huts house the locals, and where kids can run free without any danger.
It’s a place where the raw, roaring ocean smashes against cliff faces and soft green hills roll on without end. Between the two, untouched soft sand stretches on for miles, with no traffic except for maybe a local fisherman or a few stray goats.
It’s a place where the roads have been gouged away with potholes and kids ride donkeys around town rather than bikes.
Most importantly, it’s a place where traditional, rural South Africa is preserved. Local communities thrive living the way their ancestors did, with barely any infiltration from globalization or commercialism.
Every South African I met during my trip recommended visiting the Transkei, also known as “Wild Coast”. After living here for two weeks I can see why.
The rugged, picturesque landscape is dotted with rural villages where the dwellings are made out of mud bricks and the inhabitants always wear a smile.
The scenery is charming, with postcard-worthy beaches sitting adjacent to dense forests and sloping hills.
Considering the diversity of the natural beauty here, the activities are endless. Running, fishing, canoeing, swimming, surfing, hiking and horse riding are all common pastimes in the Transkei. But the area is so stunning that I was pretty content just relaxing, walking around, soaking in the views and taking photos.
I worked at Bulungula Lodge doing social media in exchange for free food and accommodation. This incredible establishment is entirely owned and run by the local Xhosa community. Situated on a pristine headland in the Nqileni Village, Bulungula Lodge provides lots of jobs for the locals and generates income for the community through tourism.
It’s a win-win situation: travelers can stay in a colorful, comfy beachfront lodge and experience this gorgeous slice of South Africa. They can eat traditional meals and enjoy the peace and quiet of this isolated rural area.
At the same time, locals can learn about working in hospitality and make enough money to lift themselves out of poverty. In addition to the full time staff, some locals provide activities for the guests to make some extra money and show tourists the local way of life.
Some popular activities include sunrise pancakes on the beach, a tour of the village, learning how to play the tribal drums and a guided hike to Coffee Bay. I did a tour called “Women Power”, where I learned about the fascinating lives of the Xhosa women in the Nqileni Village. I wrote another article about this tour, which also includes my experience attending the local church. Click here to read!
I also did a tour with the local herbalist, named Meldinga. We visited his home and learned about his natural healing techniques. He grinds roots, barks and plants into powders on a stone slab, and sweeps up the powder using a bird feather. He also showed us a large bottle of shark oil, extracted from the shark’s liver, which supposedly helps cleanse people of demons.
Next, Meldinga lead us into the forest where he pointed out different plants that serve as remedies for mental illnesses, pregnancy problems, and physical pain. We saw tree bark that makes you lucky, and a plant that when bathed with, makes others respect you.
Though the Nqileni Village does have a new health clinic, it’s inspiring that this man can still heal most ailments using the Earth.
Bulungula Lodge does an amazing job of maintaining the dignity and culture of the village while promoting tourism. No aspect of the local culture is altered or enhanced for tourists. There is no fence around the grounds, separating the guests from the locals. Rather, we are welcomed to join the community and live amongst the Xhosa people, learning their customs and observing their habits. It’s an enriching experience that you won’t get staying in a normal backpacker hostel run by foreigners.
Nqileni is also home to the Bulungula Incubator, an NGO that provides education, health and nutrition, and sustainable living methods for the village. The tangible efforts of this project, founded in 2004, are visible in the community today.
The Bulungula Incubator primary school, located just a ten minute walk from the lodge, is home to three classrooms, a playground, a kitchen, and a thriving garden. There are three full-time teachers that work hard to develop the minds of the young children while promoting the importance of education in the village.
Parents in the community help at the school by cooking breakfast and lunch for the kids, sewing materials for the classrooms, and reading at home with their children. Some adults are still illiterate, so through reading homework the school teaches the parents as well.
Visiting the school was a heartwarming experience. The principal gave us a tour of the colorful complex and passionately shared her vision for enhancing the village’s education system and turning the children into intelligent, curious and kind worldly citizens.
I think they’re well on their way. The Nqileni kids are full of energy and curiosity about the world. They’re always smiling, laughing and asking for high-fives or hugs. Even at such a young age, with few of the luxuries that many kids in the world have, these children have hearts and minds beaming with positivity, compassion, and a thirst for knowledge.
“Give A Wave” is a new weekly project of the Incubator, which teaches kids how to surf and how to be safe in the ocean. The fee for a surf lesson is a bag of trash collected from the beach. Equipment is very limited here, so if you have any old surf gear or want to make a donation to “Give A Wave”, here is the link.
Bulungula Lodge and Incubator also emphasize the important of sustainable living. Solar power, rocket showers and compost toilets keep the lodge running without damaging the Earth. Rainwater tanks have introduced consistent access to clean drinking water throughout the village, and this has immensely improved infant life expectancy.
The biggest environmental problems now are waste management, as there’s still quite a bit of litter in the community, and the abundance of stray dogs without sterilization. Without the means to sterilize dogs, they just keep breeding and there’s too many dogs and not enough food or homes available for them.
There’s still work to be done here, but Bulungula Lodge and the Incubator have helped the community make massive strides towards a more developed society. Education, basic healthcare, and tourism are new to the Nqileni Village, but they are catapulting the people out of poverty. With these new systems in place, jobs are more available, the standard of living is higher, and more money is flowing into the community.
On my last day in Bulungula, I’m feeling grateful that I got to live amongst the interesting and vibrant Xhosa community. I’ll miss the dense Xhosa bread and the intriguing click sounds of the language.
I’ll miss waking up at sunrise to watch dolphins play in the waves, and walking down the beach for hours without seeing another human. I’ll miss the hilarious interactions between local puppies, pigs, goats, sheep, and cows, and using washed up whale vertebrae as chairs.
Overall I’ll miss the relaxed pace of life here in paradise, but it was amazing while it lasted.