My day pack crammed with dried tomatoes, fruit and nuts for me to nibble on and lots of dog treats to share with canine friends, I set off for a week-long adventure along the Wildcoast. I also took along bean seeds from my garden which I hoped to share with gardeners along the way.
ukutya is the Xhosa word for food, amanzi means water. Our journey was to include local food, accommodation in rural homes and opportunities to learn about wild plants used for food and medicine. Obviously, feeding original dogs was also on my agenda.
After a long walk along the beach, we arrived at the welcoming Mtentu River Lodge – run by a couple of enthusiastic young people for the benefit of the entire community. We indulged in showers with incredible ocean views and settled around the bar to chat. We did wonder what would be for supper – surely we wouldn’t actually be eating Precious and Thandi? Large plates of pasta set our minds at ease!
Breakfast was early before we set off.
Afternoon tea at our accommodation in Msikaba, served by Nokuwo and friends was very welcome. Peanut butter, uMbhako (pot bread),marg and jam featured highly on teatime menus and we loved it every time.
It wasn’t long before we headed for bed. Girls on the left and boys on the right, in the snuggliest rondavels. Seriously comfortable accommodation – this was no hardship at all. Earlier, I had spotted the neighbours arriving with extra blankets.
The dogs enjoyed their meaty treats. There were quite a few dogs attached to each household. Geese and chickens and cats too.
I was curious about all the geese we encountered. Were they for the pot? Eggs, perhaps? No, it appears they were kept as doorbells, night alarms and just for fun.
After breakfast, we headed back toward the shore. Just in the ‘tsunami danger zone’ we encountered Nomfundo Luphondwana, wearing a Scorpians windcheater. This was a little unexpected. She told us she’d grown up in Soweto, was ‘slightly advantaged’, got sick of the city and had headed for her Grandfather’s ancestral lands to grow vegetables and live simply. In awe of her veggie patch on the edge of the ocean (and the non-traditional two doors her rondavel had) I gave her a handful of seeds, naturally. She gave me a beaded South African flag in return. Her dogs (with kennels) got a few nibbles too.
There was a surprise around every corner. Each beach was different, no river quite the same, the stories all intriguing. We heard the tale of Khotso – entrepreneur, medicine man, wheeler and dealer and egomaniac. On a windswept coastline at Lambasi, a whitewashed cottage loomed – the home of one of his remaining 27 wives. Mrs Sethunsa was utterly charming, invited us in and offered us tea.
Late afternoon, we headed inland once again. This dog (obviously Dizzy’s cousin) was a little nervous to venture out for treats,
That night we stayed Rhole village – where we were once again served more delicious homemade bread for tea –
and an incredible spread for supper, which included everyone’s favourite Samp and Beans, sweet potatoes, amadumbe and even salad!
Tonight was the full moon – food for the soul – and we had a surreptitious howl while Vuyani captured the moon for us.
Apparently, moon howling by dogs is frowned upon and discouraged. We hoped the abelungu yelps didn’t summon up any bad spirits. I was pretty sure this little dog would have liked to join in.
Morning trips to the loo (concrete and corrugated iron long drops) were often through veggie patches. I was a bit sad that no one in government had thought of composting loos rather than these short term solutions. Also, I kept wishing the gardeners would mulch their beds!
We had brought along water purification tabs and also some bottled water, but it proved entirely unnecessary as we filled our water bottles as we went in the streams and rivers.
We picked some wild foods as we walked too. Favourites were uthungulu or Num Num fruits. We discovered that they were even more delicious when sundried. Perhaps we have found the next ‘superfood’ which will put Pondoland on the Foodie Map?
As the sun set, we headed into Khutwini village, which was the home of our guide Vuyani. I found the cutest puppy who just loved having her tummy tickled, much to the amusement of the local kids.
Supper tonight included a chicken which Sinegugu reckoned “had done a lot of running around catching insects”! Margie helped herself to a big chunk and chewed manfully. Phil and I tucked into the mashed potato, tomato relish and imifino with glee.
We filled our water bottles before we left in the morning, only to have Vuyani insist we emptied them all and refilled from the Khutwini stream, promising it was the sweetest water we had ever tasted. It was. He shared happy memories of childhood excursions (usually tending the cattle), of the snacks they took along and wild food they caught or picked.
We took leftovers from breakfast on our walk for lunch. I have to say, it was not one of our finest picnics. Vuyani’s grandmother would have been horrified as she refuses to eat any processed/modern food at all! However, the location was wonderful and the pepper ticks at least enjoyed a feast of our flesh as we sat in the grass!
After a really beautiful walk up and down green hills filled with flowers, forested slopes, estuaries and black beaches, we arrived at the Ndlovu household in Manteko village. We were warmly greeted by a beautiful hostess and lots of splendid chickens.
And dogs, of course. There was a scraggly little puppy here and both dogs and chickens wandered in and out of the buildings scavenging for scraps. I loved this bat-eared boy. Most of the dogs were male. We heard too, that most of the children born in the area were male. Curious.
As usual, water was provided for us to wash our hands before tea and big buckets to bathe in before supper. This water had been carried all the way up from the river and often heated over wood fires. We enjoyed our communal washing routine, sharing tips on the best techniques and wallowing in low-carbon luxury.
There was much more food being grown in this area. After crossing the Egosa faultline, the soils changed and were obviously more conducive to food production. We admired the abundance in small neatly fenced plots, often edged with kranz aloes. Apparently, at a recent community meeting to discuss the proposed mining (which will “uplift lives”), an old man stood up and said furiously “Do not call us poor, we are not poor”. They certainly are not.
For dinner, we had a freshly caught Bream alongside samp and beans, cabbage and delicious steamed bread – umkhupha. We took the leftover fish along for lunch the next day to enjoy with vetkoek and an actual lettuce! I hogged most of the greens I am afraid and decided sundried tomato and lettuce on vetkoek is a treat to be repeated.
Despite the fact that we walked all day, I still enjoyed having a little stroll in the early mornings and evenings, usually accompanied by some dogs with a taste for ‘meaty treats’. I did wonder what the locals made of this ‘leisure walking’ when they had no option but to walk to get anywhere. This afternoon, I was delighted when a woman accompanied by dogs and kids wandered past us, obviously simply out to enjoy an afternoon walk on the beach. In passing, she told us that our driver, Ben, had already arrived at the village!
On our last night, we were blown away by Noqekwana village. In particular our hostess, Ncumisa’s fantastic food garden. Pawpaws, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages, spinach and more. I gave her all the seeds I had left and also my ‘farming for the future’ Woollies shopping bag. She seemed very pleased at the affirmation of her efforts. She certainly is the future of farming.
We spoiled the household dogs, but they wondered if they could have some more, please.
We had lots of laughs around the table over tea and supper – mostly food straight from her garden.
Her father lives nearby and he joined us around the mielie cob fire in the evening. He had educated his children by growing tomatoes and selling them in town. Clearly he is proud of his daughter. Ncumisa told us she would like to have enough money to buy a cow (wow, not a car – a cow!) and that she didn’t think that a husband would improve her lot very much. This is resilience at its best.
Breakfast was mielie meal and bananas also from the garden, lots of tea and neat cheese sandwiches.
We headed off on the final stretch of our journey – past plots growing amadumbe, huts being built from earth blocks, cattle and goats. Being a cowfriend as well as a dogfriend, I really loved all the cattle on the beaches.
After a last swim in the ocean, we rounded the corner to be assailed by the smells of Port St John’s and “civilisation” – petrol fumes and KFC were the most prominent. Luckily, as we were rowed across the uMzimvubu in a dilapidated boat, we spotted a welcoming looking deck on the other side. Turned out to be the Fish Eagle Cafe, so we ordered cold beer and pizza straight from their oven and felt lucky, very lucky indeed, to have enjoyed such gracious hospitality in Pondoland.
Contact: Vuyani Mbuzwa – email@example.com 078 975 4471 to arrange your own celebration food and water on the Wildcoast.
Check out Transkei Animal Welfare Initiative who do exceptional work in the area – http://www.facebook.com/pages/TAWI-Transkei-Animal-Welfare-Initiative/134625569972543