Real Food Tripping – The long road to the Transkei’s Bulungula Lodge

Posted on 18 April 2012

When two roads diverge…

It’s a nine hour drive from Port Elizabeth to Bulungula Lodge in the Transkei. Unless your clutch gives up on an unnamed dirt road 27km from said lodge – just before the onslaught of a sub-tropical thunderstorm. Then it could turn into a 13-hour ordeal resulting in a flooded vehicle, wet sleeping bags and dampened spirits.

The first seven hours had gone smoothly enough. Tar roads and mostly plain sailing (except for a very near-miss with a pack of dogs somewhere along the N2, and a minor altercation over a New Zealand drivers licence with a traffic officer). Finally we were at the more challenging part of the journey, where directions go something like “seven-point-two kilometres down this dirt road, take a right at the yellow MTN shop. Five-point-six kilometres on, take a left at the blue school” and so on. This made things all the more exciting as we were finally getting closer to Goal: Paradise.

…sometimes we must take the one less travelled by…

Enter whispery shrieks from somewhere behind the clutch pedal, matched with silent mental prayers that this was not really about to happen. Minutes later (and 41 kilometres into deep rural Transkei) the clutch pressure slackened: journey suspended. We’re stuck. The small group of spectators that had begun gathering around our vehicle had no English, and we little more than polite greetings in isiXhosa. And the rather larger gathering of threatening thunderclouds added injury to insult – to say the least.

A series of unsuccessful attempts to contact a number of tow companies (who works on a Sunday anyway?) led to a hesitant consideration of the pros and cons of setting up tent on the side of the road before the heavens opened. When, out of nowhere, our knight in shining armour arrived – in the form of a small silver bakkie. They speak English! They live right next to Bulungula! And they offered to help. The driver / hero’s name was, rather fittingly, Siyabulela – the English translation is ‘Thanks to God’. Thanks to god, within a few minutes, a tired looking tow rope arrived (*cough* that’s right, we didn’t have one) and we set off. It was about 5pm – one hour of daylight left – and the drizzle had begun.

…because it is grassy and wants wears…

Talking you through the next five hours would serve no real purpose. But some highlights wouldn’t hurt. Like the times (more than a few) when Siyabulela’s 1.4 bakkie couldn’t quite pull us up a hill, or out of a donga, and a passing Samaritan with a ‘real’ bakkie, or just even just a bigger car offered to either take our luggage up or actually take over the towing for a few minutes to get us sorry folk out of our predicament. Or when we were accidentally towed into a small lake in the road, leaving me in the driver’s seat with water up to my ankles (no exaggeration), and Carlin buttock deep in the small lake to pushing us out. Without question a passing pedestrian (torrential rain does not keep people indoors in the Eastern Cape) leaped in to assist him and the two brave men heaved (with vociferous groaning) the weighty vehicle out. Or perhaps when about 4.5 hours into the tow (though time does not really exist during an adventure like this, only the challenge directly under your nose) the rope snapped yet again. There was really nothing left to knot together and we were literally and figuratively at the end of our tether. But when we showed Siyabulela the problem he just said, smiling, “It’s long enough. It will last!” And though we doubted him, it did. A few minutes later the Bulungula truck arrived to manage the last and most treacherous part of the route.

And keep the other for another day…

We dropped our car off at a local spaza-shop for safe-keeping and said our forever-indebted-to-you goodbyes to Siyabulela and co. As we rumbled off safely in the back of the truck with thoughts of a warm bed awaiting and realising for the first time just how soaked we were, we were able to reflect. Siyabulela and his three lady companions selflessly gave up almost five hours of their lives to help us that night. The people we encountered along the way helped us along mostly without asking for a thing. The man who threw himself into the water hole to help Carlin heave the car out did not even seem to think twice about his options – he saw a fellow man in trouble and had to help.

Because this will make all the difference

These actions showed us a community of people that understand what it is to be human; that everyone needs help sometimes and maybe next time it will be them. So they help, willingly and without question for the most part. For that reason we decided that the only way we can ever truly repay Siyabulela and all those people that came to our aid that night, is to ‘pay it forward’. Maybe there is a bank up there somewhere that stores good deeds, and the more we put in it, the more will be available when our time comes again. We think so.

(Note: unfortunately conditions were too extreme to allow photographic documentation of the mission. It’s a rare occasion but this happens to the best of us. Pics below are of the paradise that awaited us.)

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