Coffee Bay on the wild Coast night of the Jan 25th and Jan 26th Saturday and Sunday
Friends, I’m sorry that I can’t give you moment by moment encounters of our amazing journey through South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya. Simply we my great and amazing travel buddy Zoe, and I are having too much fun meeting so many people, playing music, writing, and enjoying the magnificent lands. Come visit!
25 Jan – 26 a journey of over six hours from St. Lucia on the Wild Coast of South Africa
The landscape and rolling hills, green and lush, I need to get some more of my poetic adjectives lined up. We drove without a radio or music, village after village, field of sugar cane, corn, soy and millet. What I noticed was the complete absence of trees. Was this clear cut? And I discovered that fires were part of the normal ecology of the area. While we often see trees in valleys and crevices, those areas were protected from the forest fires that regularly raged across the land. Thus creating grasslands and the treeless hillsides. Nevertheless, it is weird to see miles of paper tree millions of hectares throughout South Africa. In our travels north to Blythe Canyon to the borders of Mozambique south to the Coffee Bay, I did not see any large older forests. This area is one of the oldest land formations, part of the original land mass, but the rain forests and virgin forests seem like they have all been decimated.
This morning, awake at 5:30 am for sunrise. I spent about an hour playing guitar. Greeting the new day. Out of earshot of my neighbors. The coast line is magnificent. In this sheltered cove, of the Ocean View, tucked into the mountainside. Serene, idyllic the waves pounding on the shore, we are lulled, “beach stoned,” waves continually pounding on the shores. I could be here for a month. It is difficult to pull ourselves away from the beach, but we walk into the village behind us and there are a few low end backpackers lodge, a few tin shack places that call themselves restaurants. Sorry, my stomach screams, “Don’t even dream of eating there.” I admire travelers with cast iron stomachs, but not me. . I could survive on beans and rice, plus some veggies.
Coffee Bay is bleak on the back side of the hotel. I had this notion that it would be a funky place like Caulker Cay in Belize. No, it is just another deeply impoverished community in South Africa. There was the big soccer game, a grassy overgrown field, without clear boundaries or markers. People leaped over the septic pool and broken walls to get to the games. Many of the homes are rusting tin shacks, built with sticks and a handful of cinderblock. There is no sense of a town plan. It seems as if the shacks and building were pushed from the sky and fell haphazardly to the earth.
This is the thing that is hardest to cope with for me, is the intense poverty. Yes, there is prosperity, black South Africans driving in Mercedes Benz and BMW, but at every turn whether or not here or in Johannesburg, there is the overwhelming poverty and decay. Yes, I can see the gleaming malls and the sprawl of affluence spreading out from Jburg, but in the inner cities that have been decimated by white flight, I only see the desperation.
Today, a seven hour drive to Grahmstown. Driving the first few hours, huge potholes, car size devouring pot holes, we drive very slow, maddening to the other drivers. We pull over to let them pass. I like driving slower, I can see some of the beautiful hillsides of the Wild Coast. The round traditional houses in pastels of green, pink, and yellows. Not the standard issue Township houses. There are some places with big water tanks, but children rolling small barrels of water uptown to home. Children everywhere! From primary school to high school walking on the road. No school buses of course. Children walking anywhere from a mile to several miles or more to the tiny crammed classrooms. Newspapers tell about children having to sit on the floor and teachers overwhelmed with their impossible tasks of teaching. Yet, the kids seem happy, playing with each other, not the grimy soul destroying poverty we’ve seen. Yet, it is poverty. Make no mistake. Over 65 % of Black South Africans live in poverty about 25 million people, 41 % of “coloured” (not black nor white) about 2 million people. 39% of Blacks live in townships.
This is the enormous task that confronts the South African government. This along with the profound corruption of the ANC. The ANC once the champion of liberation has become the Mercedes Benz class. In Kenya they call these people “Wabenzi”, the rich politicians who drive Mercedes.
But, to be fair and balanced, in the United States we also have so much profound corruption. People do not realize that the lobbyists represent a profound disease of corruption. When you have the pharmaceutical and medical industry spending upwards to $1 billion to ensure their favorable and preferential treatment. Or the Military-Industrial complex that costs the USA over a trillion dollars a year in military expenditures.
What is the difference between a South African politicians getting a new house in exchange for favorable treatment to a public works project? Or even more pathetic, in the USA we have millions of people living on the streets, sick, and mentally ill in a country that can easily remedy the problem with the snap of its fingers. There is not a single reason to have homelessness nor poverty in USA.
As we travel, it is about holding the mirror up to our own culture. We often think of traveling as that perspective on other cultures and lands, the beautiful lands, the icons and monuments, but the most priceless understanding is the understanding of yourself and your home country. What are the lessons you take from traveling? What are the insights? Traveling at its heart is discovering yourself. Stepping away from the known and familiar of your home. And, avoiding at all costs, All Inclusive Resorts.
In the 25 years since the end of apartheid South Africa has gone through a seismic transformation. Not even the aftershocks have really been felt. It is a country that is profoundly defined by 400 years of colonialism and the rapacious destruction of communities, land, and resources. The period of apartheid extends from 1948 until 1994. But apartheid was part and parcel of the colonial occupation. When the English and the Boers were not busy killing each other, they were killing as many of the indigenous people as possible. 25 years since the official end of apartheid, this magnificent country with so much resources, talent and money is still trying to figure out how to equitably distribute the resources. How does South Africa bring the talent, resources, labor, and genius of its people together? How is the beauty of this extraordinary multicultural tapestry woven together?
I underscore, these are my small imperfect observations on a trip that is too brief to South Africa. One of my takeaways so far is how beautiful the country is. I had seen a movie about surfing many years ago called the Endless Summer and it was in part about surfing on the wild coast here in southern Africa. It seemed like the most magical place on the planet. Yet, not until now was I able to visit. There are so many places like Blythe Canyon, the wild coast, the mountains and landscape on the way to Swaziland, the Dragennsberg moutains, but even more magnificent is the incredibly warm and hospitable people that we met. Our journey has been blessed by meeting and chatting with strangers, reaching across the illusory divide of cultures and race. One man said to me in an offhanded way, “you’re the first white person I’ve actually spoken to.” He said, “I’ve met white people who work, but it never actually sat down over cup of coffee and talked to a white person.” This is the divide for all of us around the world. In my art and performance projects a key component is talking with people. In that process of talking, there is also listening.
I do not pretend to have any kind of deep or profound insight of South Africa and its people. It is complex and confusing as the rest of the planet. But what I do know is that if we reach across the divide, which is not a divide, and simply talk to people/play music together/sing together/have a meal together… There is the possibility of transformation. Perhaps that is also one of the reasons why I love New Orleans it has that magical alchemy where people spontaneously meet and talk with other folks.
Today, we go on to the Garden District on the wild coast of South Africa. The sun is up and soon we will be walking around Grahmstown for a few hours. If you get the opportunity, South Africa is one of the places that should be on your travel list. Yes you will read of the danger and the violence, but so is New Orleans and even New York City. That said keeping our wits about us and our banner of optimism raised high we continue our journey.
We find that the more we travel the more our Wonderlust grows. These past two months from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and down here through South Africa have been one of the most transformative experiences for us.
Keep your banner of Wonderlust and adventure raised high.
Future of South Africa
children in yellow and green
young men in thin
imitations of dress jackets
girls in plaid dresses and
knee high socks
older kids taking their younger
brothers by the hand
every road there are children
walking back and forth
some walking miles to the
primary school, others even further
schools are jam packed with students,
all eager, back packs bursting with possibility
that is the precious and fragile hope,
children of south Africa on the long
road to school