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Posted on: Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Not another high tea – stories from the road by Ruan Smit

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From the road ...

From the road ...

Most people I meet are people I go looking for or find on my travels, but Michelle found me. On the R61 from Margate I start my day cycling towards the little town of Port St Johns. I don’t have a clue what the road is like or what I’ll find in any of the towns along the way. Half nervous I set off into the unknown.

40km later I reach the little town of Port Edward, I am completely drenched by the rain that has in true coastal fashion washed me until even my bones are wet. I long for a steaming cup of coffee and something to eat. Anything that would help heat up my freezing body. I’m in luck. From nowhere a little pancake shop appears in the middle of a banana plantation. I stop …

They serve me with the biggest mug they can find and attach a huge pancake to the deal. With every bite I can feel my body turning human again. I get back onto my cycle. It’s still raining. Not a kilometer further I stop to help a bakkie that needs a push and with this little exercise I cut my tire. Problem. I patch it up but to solve the problem I actually need a new tire. So on I go again. Not 20km further I can feel my tire giving up on me again and I start to push.

This is when Michelle enters the story. She stops in the middle of the road here in the Transkei and with a big smile she opens the door. Then she can’t keep her laugh anymore. ‘You like like you’re feeling terrible sorry for yourself!’ With my bike on the back of her bakkie we start chatting. She’s on her way to Lusikisiki, about 40km away from my destination.

Transkei

Michelle knows something about everything. And what she doesn’t know she just makes up. We laugh all the way through the next 50km. She runs a T-shirt business, a club, a tavern, she owns some property in Durban. Her mother runs two liquor outlets and she has a law degree from Rhodes. I can honestly say that I don’t know how much of this is true but it makes for a great and eventful story.

Michelle drives like something from an action flick. No lines exist for this bakkie as she takes turns that would make Formula 1 drivers proud. I hold on tight to the handle on the passenger side. Whilst she’s chatting away she hoots at every third truck. It’s my cousin! In every little village she points out a house where more family lives. It’s as if she knows everyone.

We drive into the little town of Lusikisiki, it’s the end of the month and every corner of the town is filled with so many expressions you could learn to be an actor by driving through this village. We stop at her mother’s liquor depo. She has taken it upon herself to get my tire fixed. With no luck she asks me if I would like to see the Magwa tea plantations a short drive away, then she’ll take me to Port St Johns where I’m supposed to sleep. I’m exploring South Africa, so yes! Lets see it all! We pick up her friend Pam who obviously still has a hangover and the dirt road is not making it any better.

After a 10 minute drive we enter something that I never expected. Here in the middle of nowhere, in the forgotten, undeveloped Transkei is a peace of heaven. As far as you can see there is tea plantation. The plants a vivid green with a tinge of yellow where the sun has met with it. Forgotten buildings, village schools, boys playing soccer and a dirt road that is shaded by rows of age old trees.

We take a right turn at a dilapidated sign that reads ‘Magwa Falls’. Pam knows the road but she’s to shy to tell me why Michelle is teasing her. We stop in the middle of a grass patch in the middle of the plantations. She points a finger at a cliff, ‘there’.

The beautiful Transkei

I get out of the bakkie. I walk 30 meters and what I see makes me silent for a few moments. In this silence the wind rustles the grass at my feet, the ants crawl up my leg and the water from a forgotten beauty falls for 60 meters that fills my breath with hope.  A little boy walks over, he insists on being my guide. He takes me to where I can see the waterfall and take some picture. He walks alongside me and is unsure why this man has lost any way of verbal communication. I can’t speak.

In the bakkie I remain silent. Michelle has endless ideas to help this community become what it can be. She calls it the community of hope because hope is everywhere to be found here.

We enter Port St Johns and again as it has happened so many times during the last two weeks I smile. 40km, a different world, a different landscape, the same hope.

Useful Links:
The Wild Coast (also known as the Transkei)
Wild Coast Accommodation
Things to Do in Wild Coast

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