A walk on the Wild side to BULUNGULA
This story goes way back to 1998! Gosh that is just too many years to count. Anyhow so there I was 19 years old having just spent my first 6 months in England and like any self-respecting traveller I hopped on a Euro lines bus to Spain. The trip it’s self was amazing. Spain offered up all these delights that I had never seen or tasted. However, it was on the return bus trip that I met Dave and Lance.
Whilst we were picking up passengers in Madrid this guy came up to me and said, “Are you South African?” To which I dully responded “Yes, Why?” He then hugged me.
He was so happy to see another South African. I guess being from Sunny SA can evoke that response. What I was to learn, was that Dave and Lance had just spent the better part of two years travelling from Cape Town to Spain. Using only free or almost free transport. They were on their way to the UK and could not get a lift or hitch out of Spain so they had to pay for a bus.
We then got chatting on the long journey back to the UK. I still remember it well. There was this guy in the back, who was getting really car/bus sick. He was not the real problem, it was his wife who made this almighty racket every time he hurled.
Anyhow we make it to Calais and we have to disembark for the routine drug searches. This should have taken no more than 20 minutes… 3 hours later and they finally find the guy with the £80 of illegal substances. Oi vey. By now the ocean has had better ideas and there is an almighty storm brewing. There is nothing to do but wait it out till we are allowed to board the ferry. Things take about 5.5 hours to calm down and we can finally head on back to the UK. We arrive in Victoria bus station at about 11.30pm, 8 hours late. The person who was supposed to meet Dave and Lance has long gone. They don’t have that person’s phone number either, just an email. What’s a girl to do? So I invite them back to my old digs in 69 Cranhurst road and we spend the night on the floor.
Long story short, Dave eventually moved into my new digs in Willesden Green and this is where he later met the fantastic and creative painter Sarah Hubert who went onto paint the murals.
Fast forward many years later and Dave opens this amazing Eco Lodge in the Transkei. It’s called Bulungula and it sits nestled between green rolling hills, huts and the river Bulungula that opens up to the sea.
This is rural land where there is almost no phone signal and the road is something to behold. We called Dave to say that we are about 1.5 hours away. When he asked where we were he just stared laughing. His response was “ Karen, in about 25 mins your life is going to get VERY interesting. Turn your speedometer counter to zero each time you take a turn indicated on the map – …. you did download the map right ?! You will get here long after dark so we will see you tomorrow instead.” The Bulungula map – I’m glad to see that Dave has updated the part of the map instructions that said ‘Drive till you are almost at the end of the road, then take the turn off ……
To be fair it does say on the Bulungula website not to arrive in the Kei after dark. Something my boyfriend, Leo, echoed when we left Durban that morning.How bad could it be… Really bad and at the same time really funny? We get lost due to me mis-directing and take a detour that’s not actually the detour. We even have the local kids trying to direct us.” this way, then this way, but not this way” We finally arrive well past 10pm using a mixture of local knowledge and intuition and decide that we should just spend the night in the back of the bakkie, as it’s too late to pitch a tent.
We meet the security guard who can’t speak a word of English and he is shaking his head at our suggestion that we are going to sleep in the car. Did I mention that it’s DARK outside? It’s Pitch dark! The guard hands us as a walkie-talkie and someone says hello. We then try to explain that we are just going to sleep in the car. But he says that it’s not possible and we must come to the lodge. Oh well… lets just get our stuff and walk up with the guard. “Guard, Guard where are you? Helllllllloooooo”
Nothing not a peep? He has vanished into thin air. Okay let’s just see if they have a tent or a room for us for the night shall we.
So we head on up the hill with ALL our gear and try to find the path in the dark, the pitch dark. I keep blinding Leo with my head torch and he keeps swearing at me. I keep falling over as I’m wearing his size 14 slip-slops. (Don’t ask) Anyhow we might have found the path had I not blinded Leo about a 100 times too many. So after half an hour we decide to go back down the hill to the car and sleep there instead.
After that it as all bliss. Things take on their own pace at Bulungula. Things move to a slower more natural beat here.
A high-light for me was the horse riding. I’ve never galloped so fast in my entire life. Picture this… Endless rolling green hills, wild ocean on one side, huts dotted around, kids playing outside, cows, sheep, goats and me a novice rider bouncing merrily along on this poor horse. It was about an hour into the ride and I think the horse just smelt home and decided to hell with this lady I’m going to just gap it. He ran full tilt with me bouncing along thinking “this is it! I’m going to fall off and bounce into the Kei dirt. Head first!! OH Save me now!! “
Thankfully I managed to get him to stop and we had a mutual agreement that he would not try to gap it for home at full speed. What an awesome experience to ride along the wild coasts pristine white beaches and into the rolling green hills.
Another activity that you should try do is the monthly local party, if you are brave enough. The community have these gatherings in a hut.
You walk up to the designated hut and this is where the wall of noise and heat hits you in the face. The door of the hut it the only light source, so as you enter the hut you are walking into a completely dark room. You find a seat between the locals here and there and wonder what the heck is going on. After downing your warm drink, which is free with your entry, it does start to make a bit of sense.There is a DJ Pumping out tunes, local brew being served in recycled paint tins, about 150 people inside one hut and they are all chattering AT ONCE. Some are dancing and shouting, sitting and shouting and standing and shouting. It was total chaos of the very highest order and they have these gatherings once a month. Brilliant experience.
Back at the lodge I loved the outdoor shower and even better the outdoor bathtub, nestled on the hill above the lodge under the trees and overlooking the ocean. Thank-you to Liesl for lighting the fire under the bathtub. What a magic place to take a bath.
Who is Bulungula for?
If the noise of the city and the noise of life have been getting to you lately then this is the place for you. I’d recommend that you spend more than 3 days here. It takes so long to get here that it’s a pity to have to turn around just as you get there.
If you like airconditioning and luxury? This place might be something that your soul needs. To reconnect with how simple things can be. To be able to give back to the space that you go and visit is a humbling one. The fact that you can have a positive impact on a community just by visiting it! This is an amazing concept. It’s made possible by the fact that the lodge is community owned.
Bulungula is this amazing place where tourism and community go hand in hand. Nothing is decided upon unless the whole community agrees. It is one of the first lodges in the world to be Fair Trade accredited.
And to top it all there is another amazing project that is called the Bulungula incubator. It’s an N.G.O. run by Dave’s wife Réjane . It is an amazing initiative that is helping the community by providing basic service that you and I take for granted. Things like clean water, basic sanitation, schooling, and health services. All this ,whilst still “promoting and preserving the positive effects of the traditional African lifestyle and culture.”
If you do happen to make it to this part of the world, take books for the school and you will be a hero if you take a soccer ball. Don’t feed the dogs that you see begging, yes I know it’s sad that they look starving, However, they have owners who do actually look after them. When YOU leave then the dogs become a real problem for everyone else because they have become accustomed to having your handouts. Killy is the only dog that actually belongs to the lodge. Don’t arrive at night. Eat the local lunch on the menu and not the toasted sandwich. Local is lekka after all. Don’t always use the yellow toilet by the door. I know it’s pretty and light by the door, but you have to experience all the artwork that Sarah has done in the many cubicles. Take mosquito stuff so you don’t get eaten alive. Buy the local soap that they make. It’s divine and will leave you smelling like lemons. Go wondering and but don’t get too lost. Take a head torch it’s dark rural Africa. It’s an amazing part of the world to see. Leave all your Western beliefs behind and embrace a different way of life. Theres nothing to buy there except some local crafts from the budding community entrepreneurs and the very basics from a little shop. You can volunteer your services there if they have a need for what you can offer. Smile and chat with the locals and be welcomed – they are after all happy to see and learn from you.
For more info on this incredible place see bellow.
Here are some of the shots from our amazing blissful week there.
If you would like to donate to the Bulungula incubator
“Spectacular…something very special… should be on your must-do list.”Lonely Planet’s Pick of the Wild Coast.
Lonely Planet 2012
Second Best Eco-lodge in the World Lonely Planet and UK Guardian newspaper 2014
Ethical Travel Award: Worldwide runner-up Guardian, Observer and guardian.co.uk 2009 Travel Awards
“One of the World’s Top 25 Ultimate Ethical Travel Experiences” Rough Guide 2007
One of the first lodges in the world to be Fair Trade accredited.
Thank-you to Leo for driving us all the way there. Thank-you for editing my writing too.