The Coffee Shack
The only part of this whole travel the world for a year itinerary that was Brian's territory was the Wild Coast. I gave him full range to plan it (or not plan it) as he felt fit. I was really looking forward to stretching my legs, incorporating a lot of hiking into our days, and taking in the great outdoors. I imagined the Wild Coast to be a quiet haven with mornings spent leisurely sipping a piping hot cup of coffee while staring out into the vast, untouched coast of the Eastern Cape, getting bendy with some outdoor yoga, familiarizing ourselves with local customs, enjoying the wildlife, eating freshly caught seafood, and hiking from one village to the next. My imagination definitely got the best of me, because when we arrived at Coffee Shack Backpackers Hostel in Coffee Bay, everything was the exact opposite of my beautifully thought up dream.
I'll be honest. It took me a long time to fall in love with the Wild Coast. I'd even go as far as to say, I didn't love it. I didn't love it until it was too late. Okay...lets backtrack.
Brian and I are traveling on a budget, but we are by no means backpacking around the world (update: we are pretty much backpacking through India now thanks to going over budget by $2K in Africa). Yes, we have a backpack, but we aren't backpack-ING. Does that make any sense? For example, we have only stayed in one hostel and that was after safari in Lusaka, and it was the first time we didn't have our own bathroom. With the one exception of the budget tent in Mfuwe where we had to take a flashlight to the outside bathroom for $12 a night, but that was because our actual Safari was so ridiculously expensive we didn't have a choice. For the most part, our hotels and guest houses have been under the $50 price range (and now that we are in India it's more like $10-$25) and while they are in no way shape or form luxurious (or even that clean at times), we always have our own bed and a private bathroom (my request).
Now I would expect Brian (my boyfriend of three years, fiancé of one, and husband of three and a half, totaling over seven years together) to have a pretty good grasp on my (very basic) needs for traveling: bed, private bathroom, no serial killers. I know most people reading this think that I only stay in five star hotels and have super high demands but you have it all wrong. I may be Persian, but I am no Shahs of Sunset. I'm the one always picking the cheaper hotels and choosing overnight trains and buses over private cars (mainly because I don't want to take away from our France budget). Don't get me wrong, Brian would sleep on a rock, outside in a ditch, on top of an ant farm, if it saved us money, but I am by no means one to travel luxuriously (would I like to? HELL YEAH! But that's just not in the cards for us, nor has it ever been).
Soooo...back to the point. I would imagine, if a scenario came where one would not only have to share a bathroom, but one would have to share it dormitory style with both males and females, it would be discussed prior to arriving at such an establishment. Right? I have expectations, yes, but they aren't much, and they can easily be adjusted GIVEN advance notice. So I'm sure you could imagine my surprise when we arrived at Coffee Shack, the oldest ones easily by ten years, to our private hut (phew!), sans cute Dutch door and beautiful view and no bathroom within sight. It was like summer camp, except that I never went to summer camp because I'm Persian and Persian parents don't send their kids to summer camp! They study to become doctors and lawyers (of which I am neither). The bathroom was disgusting. It really was. Three public toilet stalls and three showers all in one line with sinks in front of them, always wet from who knows what (I told myself it was water and not pee every time I went in). The best part was when Brian went to ask for towels and got laughed at... by everyone. "Uhhh, this is a backpackers! There may be a towel left over by someone else if you want to look." Let me tell you how excited Brian was to share that news with me. Thankfully, Brendan and Brit came to the rescue yet again as they gifted us microfiber his and her towels before the trip. I'm sure they told us we would need them in the Wild Coast, but clearly, we weren't paying attention.
Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. Our hut didn't have a view of anything except the giant tree and dirt (which became mud for the rest of our stay) road in front of us, the door was just a normal door, and the scene was anything but relaxing. It was a total party, day in and day out. It's home to the famous Babalaza where every night a vicious game of Killer Pool is played by everyone (except Brian and me because for some reason we were never asked to join; most likely because they figured we were chaperones for a group of school kids or something just as lame). And let's not forget the bathroom (if you know me, you understand. I just...well, it's a touchy subject really, but I'll gladly talk about bowel movements with anyone willing to listen). Also, the main lady (I think) who runs the place most definitely is related to Joffrey the spawn of satan Airbnb host from Cape Town because she was horrible and the least helpful person ever (and also the lady who laughed at Brian when he asked about towels). To be fair, EVERYONE else at Coffee Shack was incredible and this, ladies and gentleman, is the reason why I loved the Wild Coast: the people.
Now if Brian had given me a heads up, just a, "oh by the way, this is a hostel and the bathrooms are shared by everyone, including the wildlife (usually just frogs)," I could have adjusted my expectations. But he didn't. He didn't even hint at it. He just kept talking about how AWESOME it was going to be (and again, it was, but it took some time, even for Brian). So, after I let out my frustration to Julie via text (sorry again, Jules!) I was ready to embrace it. And then it started raining. And then Brian told me he booked us there (and the other four backpacker hostels) for FOUR NIGHTS EACH. That's sixteen days! SIXTEEN! So, I did what I usually do when I don't know what to do. I cried. And I hate myself a little for it because when we left Rwanda and Ethiopia, I told myself I wouldn't let these petty things bother me anymore. When I saw how other people lived in comparison to us (and a lot of the world), I was overwhelmed and disappointed with myself for everything I take for granted. And now, I was crying. In our private hut on the eastern coast of South Africa, during this incredible trip around the world, because I'm so incredibly privileged in every way. What. The. F. (Sorry, Mrs. Backhaus!).
I'm sure Brendan and Brit are reading this right now thinking WTF!! How did Shiva not love it?! Just wait, I'm getting to the loving part. Like I said...it took me a while! And you can blame Brian (and my imagination) for that!
Our days at Coffee Shack (which we shortened to three nights) grew better with every passing minute. We met incredible people (looking at you Bas, Jack, Lizzie, & Marcus) and had the best time! We went to the local village one night where we ate a home cooked meal, drank the local Xhosa beer (made from maize, malt, yeast, and water), and danced until our skin glistened with sweat. We hiked to a hilltop with a bottle of wine and watched the sunset as whales and dolphins danced through the waves with new friends studying abroad from Germany; we attempted (and failed due to the rain) to hike to the caves but still enjoyed the gorgeous coastline between parting clouds; we ate, drank, and sang with friends until stumbling back to our rooms (which by the way, was impossible at night due to the tide since you have to cross a river to get there. They should seriously consider building a bridge or a pontoon boat to pull yourself across). I was filthy and my clothes felt damp every day, but in the end, Coffee Shack was loads of fun, despite the rain.
It had now been raining for a couple days, so we had to completely cut out Hole in the Wall (our intended second hostel booked for four nights) and needed to take transportation to Wild Lubanzi Backpackers as it was strongly advised not to hike due to the rain. Huge disappointment since the highlight of the Wild Coast (for me at least) was hiking between the towns but since there is no trail, and lots of steep hills, hiking in the rain would have been impossible. We had to take a shuttle from Coffee Shack to a random stop, jump on a local mini bus (with a goat, I swear to you), and get off at the hospital and then look for a white truck with a red top to take us the rest of the way to Wild Lubanzi (total hours of transport, four hours).
If the truck was any indication of what the state of Wild Lubanzi was, it would have been spot on. The truck was missing half of its steering wheel and flooring (I could see the unpaved roads under the drivers feet). It also never starts on its own. You have to put it in neutral and do a rolling start to get it going, every time. Brian sat in the front seat while I was the lucky passenger jammed in the back sitting on top of what I'm pretty sure was all the car parts that were missing. It was a long, bumpy ride.
Another thing Brian should have told me before arriving to Wild Lubanzi was that it no longer exists. Yep. That's right! Wild Lubanzi was not only shut down, it was destroyed (sadly by the government saying they didn't have a permit for the land) and the pieces were being recycled to build the new and improved Wild Lubanzi (which is such a cool, and also necessary, idea). It's just that, it hasn't been built yet. We slept in a tent that was sitting on top of a giant wooden platform, on top of a construction site, on the rainiest, windiest, and coldest night ever. Even though we slept with three (wool) blankets and ALL of our clothes, we still weren't warm enough. And then the tent started leaking. I didn't even try to hide the fact that I was crying at this point. And to make matters worse (I know...I know), there was an evil being stalking the path to the bathroom. We even sustained a couple injuries (not including the mental and personal distress from it all). Gilbert the Bathroom Guardian Goose.
The only way to get to the bathroom (I'm using this word extremely generously here) was to climb up the hill and walk by Gilbert's territory. Everyone kept saying you just need to stay confident, shout, and kick him in order to get by but kicking him included physical contact with this terrible animal, and I couldn't do it. I felt like Rachel from friends and the steady hand, but instead of a hand it was my foot and like Rachel's, it wasn't steady. Brian's ankles got the worse of it from that little bastard (sorry Mrs. Backhaus) when we tried the you distract and I'll run method. It may not sound like much, but trust me, he was the worst.
It wasn't all bad though. When the sun was shining (a rare occasion for us), we went for an incredible hike along the coast. I felt like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music and naturally, we sang all the songs for the remainder of the evening. The best part about Wild Lubanzi, and the reason why I would still encourage anyone to visit during this building phase, is the people. They are incredible. Oh, and they cook amazing food! Honestly, I'm not sure how, but everything from the bread to the veggies are homemade and homegrown. I wish I had some of that bread now. Really, I do. UGH, I WANT THAT BREAD! So, if you find yourself hiking the wild coast, definitely stop by for an overnight stay and make sure to come back when Wild Lubanzi part deux is complete. We definitely will be making the trip back out!
Next up, the hike to Bulungula!