Bulungula. A place of mystery and laughter. Of beautiful water, soft sand and crabs that dance. A place filled with happiness and despair and beauty. A place that should remain hidden so it will not be destroyed.
Once I had arrived at the Bulungula Lodge, I could not dream of a more peaceful place, although getting there was a bit of a struggle. Located on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, the Transkei"”a place that was strangely forgotten during apartheid"”does not boast of having the most modern modes of transportation. The closest city is Umtata, about two hours by bus or taxi from the lodge; Coffee Bay is also a popular stop for travelers and, if driving yourself, is only 80 km away. My transport consisted of a flat tire on the intensely troublesome dirt road, a ride in the back of a bakkie"”aka pick-up truck"”filled with a group of Xhosa men, a missing van driver, and finally, a van ride consisting of 90 degree angles and absolutely no true roads. Summed up, the trip was a rough one. I wouldn't change any of it, but I wouldn't call it peaceful at any rate. I have heard of people arriving by hovercraft, transportation provided by the lodge, although I did not have such a pleasure.
Stepping out of the van upon my arrival, I turned slowly in amazement"”the Indian Ocean in front of me and fertile hills for miles on all other sides.
While at the lodge, I stayed in a round room, something I have wanted to do since I was a little girl. I did not anticipate my round room being made out of cow dung with a thatched roof, of course, but I think I was probably happier with it the way it turned out. I did not receive my long-awaited canopy bed, but I was very comfortable with the simple, clean accommodations that were provided. We shared community compost toilets with the other guests"”one in the front, two in the back with an added scoop or two of soil, and life felt good again. There was a shower that ran off of paraffin, although I have to admit I did not use it once. The Indian Ocean kept me clean.
I spent my mornings with the natives, descending from the Xhosa tribe, most of them wearing used westernized pants and shirts. We did not converse much, but together we walked through the rocky streams that would be deep under water in an hour or two due to the tide. I searched for extraordinary signs of life that I had never witnessed before and seashells to give my sister; they searched for fish and clams to feed their families. One morning I met up with two young girls in tattered dresses, both carrying buckets full of clams. They showed me how to eat them raw, straight out of the shells, direct from the ocean. Those girls had no shame. I envy them.
I spent my afternoons swimming in the Indian Ocean, playing in the small but strong waves, and reading on the shore. Luckily I was able to interact with many of the children of the neighboring Nqileni village. As I was reading one afternoon, resting on the beach in my salt water soaked jeans and t-shirt, a large group of kids came over to me and stood at a distance, watching me. One little boy crept forward with an outstretched hand and offered me a tiny little purple fruit that surprisingly tasted a bit like a peach. We all ate this fruit together for a while, no one speaking. Every now and then I would catch the eye of one child in particular, and we would immediately begin to giggle. Soon enough our entire group caught the giggles. We had nothing to say to each other with words, but we certainly got on quite well with our eyes.
At night, everyone staying at Bulungula came out for dinner cooked either by themselves or, for a very small fee, by the people who ran the lodge. After dinner, we would all sit by the campfire and stare at the sky – for it was worth staring at. I remember seeing seven shooting stars in less than thirty minutes. Shooting stars are so common in this place that if a guest doesn't see a single one within half an hour, she will receive free lodging for the night. After stargazing, or before, a party could be expected"”music, dancing on the beach, laughter. A man from the village took an Australian guest fishing late one night"”the two of them left wearing large shrimp boots that ended just below their knees. They returned with a huge crawfish in hand, the size of a lobster. It was the best crawfish I have ever tasted.
Late one night everyone rushed to the ocean to spy some phosphorescent algae. To match our movements, it glimmered under the water like moonstone or diamonds.
Nights at Bulungula were magical.
I found out later that to the Xhosa community, Bulungula is a woman spirit who comes to men in their dreams and gives them the best sex they have ever had. Strangely enough, while in Bulungula, I had my own memorable dream. It did not entail such physical excitement, but it did give me the pleasure of spending a night held tightly in the arms of a man"”something I had not experienced in months. The spirit of Bulungula gave me beautiful dreams while sleeping and even more beautiful dreams while awake.
Please visit their website for more information: www.bulungula.com.
Written by Thembeka with photography by Holly Zerbe and Thembeka