The Wild Coast is a stunning and fairly undeveloped coastline which has (as much in South Africa) a bit of history. During Apartheid, the government set up a number of ‘Homelands’ for the black majority. One of these was called the Transkei for the Xhosa people. It was given independence that was only recognised by the South African government in 1963, but later brought back into the fold as part of the Eastern Cape. It had accusations of corruption and providing safe areas for ANC activities probably adding to it’s description as the Wild Coast, not just for it’s geography.
We’d been told that the area around Coffee Bay was worth a visit and found a great little secluded cove called White Clay. Unlike the crowded and ramshackle Coffee Bay, White Clay only had a few people staying and the second night we were the only fools to camp there as the wind had picked up. So much so that we moved from the sea front to somewhere a bit more protected in the campsite. It may be wonderful to be at the seaside, but it isn’t half noisy if you’re trying to sleep!
A fine view from the White Clay campsite
You can see how windy it’s getting from the spray
Each morning, there were fishermen diving for mussels and crayfish. Not keen to relive some of our past experiences with mussels (sitting on a toilet with a bucket in your hands is something we both hope never to repeat…), we declined, but asked about crayfish. One of them came back with 3 reasonable sized (and alive) ones. A deal was made and the deed with a sharp knife was done. On to the braai for a fresh seafood lunch.
Fresh crayfish were really nice
The Lions were playing again and we camped up in front of the telly to watch them. At least Gareth watched, while Angela kept getting distracted by a large school of Bottle-nosed Dolphins that had turned up in the bay at half time and spent the next hour frolicking in the waves and chasing fish. Seeing groups of them through the water, rising up with the waves as they swelled into rollers was just brilliant. She hoped to see them ride out through the whites of the breaker, like a dolphin equivalent of white horses, but they never did, always staying with the main body of water until the next roller built up and gave a great view of their bodies again. Back to the important things: the Lions beat the Chiefs 6 to 32 with 3 tries and a penalty try. Excellent game (and excellent dolphins). Later that day we had a walk on the beach with the aim of exploring a cave on one side of the bay. Unfortunately the tide, which we thought was going out, turned out to be coming in, so we had to make a swift retreat before we got there. Back to the tent for tea and medals.
The bay’s edge, with the cave just visible in the bottom right and Aloes clinging precariously to the cliff top
The next day we moved on again, with a quick stop at the well-known Hole-In-The-Wall. A large number of local touts tried to persuade us that we must stop in the nearby village and they would guide us (for a fee of course), despite the fact we were still a few km from the site and could get there easily on our own. We ignored them and carried on, finding a great viewpoint from the cliff above. It’s a cool feature, a tunnel carved into an outcrop of rock that separates the sea from a tidal lagoon. As the waves swell they force through the hole and when big enough, spread out into the lagoon in a beautiful symmetrical arc. When the tide conditions are right you can apparently ride the wave into the lagoon. Looking at the force of the water coming through, today was not one of those days!
The Hole-In-The-Wall. The ‘Hole’ is the dark blob in the middle
A closer look, showing the water pouring through
We didn’t have time to go down to the lagoon as we had an hour and half’s journey just to get back to the main road before we could head further west. We passed a sign to a place called “Collywobbles” on our way, which raised a smile. We found a lovely backpackers’ lodge called Buccaneers at the village of Chintsa. It was set on a sheltered lagoon behind an idyllic beach which stretched for 18km along the Indian Ocean. We’d love to have stayed longer but the forecast for the next day and was for very strong winds along the coast. Despite its sheltered location we didn’t want to spend a night in the tent with 40 mph winds battering us so decided to head inland.
But during the stop we did finally manage to sort out the next big leg of our trip. We’d been trying for days to change our flights, which had originally been booked to bring us back to the UK in mid-September. We wanted to bring them forward and change the destination. After becoming jaded with things in Zambia and Malawi we had decided to cut our Africa trip short by a few months and spend some time exploring Europe instead. Ironically, we had got our ‘Africa travel mojo’ back in Botswana but we were now nearing the end of our 3 month visa for SA so it was time to move on. We’d found a shipper to take the car to Europe instead of home and we would spend a few weeks visiting some of the ancient cities and towns in Spain, which we’d long wanted to see and could explore much more easily without a large and loaded Land Rover, while she was in transit. All we needed to do now was change the flights.
Unfortunately we were booked with South African Airways and, despite the fact that they are the national airline and their business is to fly people around the world, and that people must make changes to their flights on a regular basis, it seemed nigh-on impossible for us to do this. We made 10 calls and spent over two and a half hours on the phone (mostly on our mobiles, at one point running out of credit, because we couldn’t get them to call us back) trying to get a price to fly to Madrid instead of London 2 months earlier than planned. All we wanted was a price. Not difficult, surely…
We first called on a Sunday. We explained our enquiry and got put on hold for 20 minutes. When she finally came back on the line we were told that the Reservations office was closed until the Monday… We phoned them in the morning and were told they would have to look into it and please call back later. We called back and there was no record of our request. They would have to check it again so please call tomorrow. In the morning, you guessed it, they had no record of our request. This happened 3 times. We eventually got a price from someone who told us we would have to phone back to book “so that they knew it was us”… So we phoned back only to be told the price we had been given was only for part of the trip and we would have to call back.
We then complained to Customer Services, who the SAA website tells you to contact with a complaint. They just referred us back to Reservations. It was appallingly bad customer service and we were intensely frustrated. Gareth did a sterling job of not losing his temper but pushed it and finally got them to promise a call back from a supervisor that afternoon. It was 6.30pm and we’d given up hope of hearing from them when she did call and explained the apparent problem. Our original flight was 2 legs – Cape Town to Jo’burg, Jo’burg to London – whilst the new one was three legs and we would therefore need to book an additional flight rather than just change the original ones. Not something anyone else had explained but regardless, we still didn’t see what the problem was as all we’d wanted was to know the cost and details of getting to the new destination. If it meant 3 rather than 2 then fine. She gave us the cost of changing the London flights and a few somewhat unclear prices for the final flight to Madrid. We said we’d think about it. A bit of research showed us it would be cheaper to cancel the flights (and lose most of their value) and go with someone else. We’d had enough of SAA so cancelled and booked with Emirates. We are going to Madrid via Dubai. Our flight leaves the same day our visas expire. Let’s hope it’s not delayed!
So, with that saga out of the way and our exit from Africa finally sorted we headed in-land to escape the oncoming storm.