Wild Coast Beaches, Friendly Drop-outs and Capitalists

It’s been a while since I blogged. When you are pushing your bike along beaches and up steep ravines it’s hard to think about writing a blog. The Wild Coast doesn’t have many spots with 3G either. So there are the excuses… luckily we can always find many to justify our choices.

The Wild Coast of what was the Transkei, now simply the Eastern Cape, has made me more philosophical than usual. I am sitting at Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay, drinking an Americano coffee, writing this. The sun rises impossibly early on the East Coast and it feels criminal to lie in bed while the world wakes up.

Our bed last night was in an old funky caravan, generously donated to us by a great bear of a man called Mark, a friend of a lesser (in size, not stature) bear by the name of Barry, our now good friend at Cebe Cottages. Barry’s grandfather came from Lebanon and the little off-grid fisherman’s cottage that Barry now inhabits was bought by him. We had had a long day. It took us 6 hours to travel 14km. (Later on that distance was going to seem quite far by comparison.) Two hours of pushing the bikes through sandy dongas, often uphill, two hours of walking or crossing rivers, and two hours of actual cycling, mostly on the hard sand of the beach at low tide. We had reached Wavecrest Hotel (pic below) by 2pm and had to wait for the tide to recede before we could continue. It had been a good day so far because we left Trennerys campsite early (an unusual occurrence on this trip.)

At about 4:30pm we left our perch on the hotel verandah and Sean, the hotel manager, rowed us across the mighty Khobonqaba River.

An hour or so later, after riding on the beach, sometimes dragging our bikes over the rocks, we reached the tiny settlement of Cebe Cottages. Walking up from the beach we wandered right into Barry’s back yard, where he was standing watching us. He greeted us like long lost friends, with a big, warm smile and offered us a hut to sleep in. Try and imagine being exhausted after dragging along beaches all day with heavy bikes, the sun is setting and you are a vagrant with no idea where you are going to sleep, to 10 minutes later standing in a hot shower knowing a hot meal and warm bed is waiting for you. Sigh… it’s impossible to describe. Because of Barry’s kindness we have our caravan to sleep in tonight, after the full moon party.

Our sharing with Barry about veganism and health has led to him buying a high speed blender to replicate the green smoothie I made for him the next day. Perhaps we helped him too, just a little bit. Which brings me to my rant about capitalism.

Our experience with Barry has to be compared with our encounters with some (not all) hoteliers. (Trennerys is to be excluded from this comparison because they were amazing and gave us free accommodation and went out of their way to make us a special vegan meal.) Arriving at The Haven we were not so fortunate. Perhaps Nicola and Grant are regretting their decision to buy this hotel… some people just shouldn’t be in the hospitality business. After much haggling Nicola gave us a slightly reduced rate for a room. They wouldn’t allow us to camp so we were stuck having to pay hotel rates. They had already fleeced us of R60 to cross the Mbashee River in a canoe (nevertheless expertly rowed by Allerick) for which we normally pay half of that. The food that night had some vegan choices, but was presided over by a very domineering, scary woman who seemed intent on making sure we didn’t eat too much. Vegans need way more quantity of food than carnivores to make up the calories. Vegan cyclists… well! People just don’t understand quite how much food we have to eat! Breakfast the next morning was a carnivore’s delight. Even the potatoes were fried in butter. I think she might have done this on purpose…

So if you are running a business, like a hotel, every stranger that wanders in presents you with an opportunity for exploitation. This is sanctioned by the capitalist system, because it is morally acceptable to want to make a profit. More than that, it is your duty. If you choose compassion or kindness over exploitation, you are headed for business failure and not respected as a good “operator.” I have owned businesses, so I understand this thinking. But it is so much more interesting to be seeing life from the point of view of a vagabond, relying on the kindness of strangers. It is my firm belief that our world will ultimately be saved by the compassionate, not the greedy.

My heartfelt thanks to all the people who have helped us in the Eastern Cape. There are so many: Allan, Barry, Brian and Carole, Solly, Mark, Rahel, Gavin, Nosipho and Jeff, Kayden and Tamsin, the guys at Trennerys, Sean, Dave and Dali at Bulungula, Etienne, Michelle and Wouter. There are others whose names I have forgotten, but not their actions. It is an amazing world and an amazing experience.

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