Sunday, March 13, 2011

Transkei Adventures

11 March, Addo Elephant Park, Eastern Cape

The Transkei is an enormous tract of land stretching from the southern parts of KwaZulu-Natal into the northern parts of the Eastern Cape Province. The Transkei was one of a number of 'homelands' established for black Africans under the Apartheid regime. The homelands were supposedly self-governing areas where traditional lifestyles were to be preserved. As with most other elements of Apartheid, it simply segregated black Africans into large, extremely poor, rural ghettos.

Today the Transkei is one of the poorest areas of South Africa. For hundreds of kilometres, the rolling hills are covered with densely-settled villages and large family compounds, many without power or reticulated water supply. Women milling around a hand-operated pump, with wheelbarrows loaded with water containers, are a common sight.

The few towns and cities are crowded and run down, their main streets clogged with people, trucks, goats, cattle and the ever-present 'Taxis' (mini-buses). We had intended devoting a full day to tackling the long and difficult drive through the Transkei. Our timing was all off and we found ourselves heading off in the early afternoon, knowing that we would have to drive the last couple of hours in the dark - something we had been warned several times not to do! It must be said that at no time did we feel threatened by the press of people in the towns or the thousands strung out along the road, walking, walking, walking.... What was a challenge was the condition of the roads and the constant incursions of animals. After dark, all this became much worse and we were slowed significantly by road works and dodging on-coming cars and trucks with no lights!

All ended well. We arrived in East London about 8:30pm and grabbed a room in a nice chain hotel, The Road Lodge. A couple of cool-ish beers, a room service pizza and a good night's sleep and we were good as new.

Hogsback is not an internationally known destination in SA, but the father of a friend in Australia lives there and we had been invited to stay. What an amazing place - a little piece of England transplanted into Southern Africa. Terry, our host, is an artist who has lived in this small community for several years. Meeting some of the locals at a great little restaurant capped off a relaxing day for us after the strain of our 900km drive the previous day.

Moving further south in the Eastern Cape today, the scattered villages that had covered the hillsides since we left the Drakensberg region suddenly disappeared. We were entering a much 'whiter' world. Grahamstown was the first town of any size we have come across that had a distinctive 'European' feel to it. Sure there were poor townships on the fringes of the town, but much of the central area could have been in southern England or even some of the older settled parts of Australia. Beautiful old colonial buildings lined the main streets, grand old houses hid behind century old oak and maple trees and elite private schools with more grand old houses transformed into Administration Blocks, lay tucked away behind the main square. It was a very different world!

We now have two days in the Addo Elephant Park with a chance to spot more animals and perhaps tick off our last remaining BIG Five sighting - the elusive leopard.

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