Hiking from Wild Lubanzi to Bulungula
Originally we were spending three nights at Wild Lubanzi, but given the situation and the fact that we woke up to sunshine (!!!), we made a break for it (and honestly, Brian wouldn't have lasted one more night with me if we had to stay. I 100% would have fed him to the goose). Finally! We were getting the chance to hike to our next and final stop on the wild coast, Bulungula. We decided to start north and make our way south because we (Brian) read that Bulungula was the most beautiful and it definitely didn't disappoint (however personally I think the scenery from Lubanzi was better, but honestly, we are comparing diamonds to gold here).
We packed our bags, enjoyed an incredible homemade breakfast, (I could eat that bread all day), said our goodbyes, and hit the trail. We knew we needed to walk south and stay along the coast for the most part. The guys at Wild Lubanzi told us there was a great place to get fresh seafood along the way at Bulls Inn Fishing Lodge and that the restaurant would be able to point us in the right direction from there, as you need to head inland to avoid the giant cliffs on the seaside. It seemed easy enough, right?
After a couple of hours of great views but otherwise uneventful hiking, we came to our first, of many, physical challenges. As we're trekking through one of the many grassy clearings, we noticed a bird pop up, start squawking uncontrollably, and then proceed to dive bomb directly at my head! If you know how much I hate birds, you know how terrifying of a proposition this was. WORST. CASE. SCENARIO. I immediately jumped on the ground for cover as the bird came around to finish the job. By this time, I realized from the plethora of wildlife documentaries Brian watches, that we were unknowingly on a beeline for this bird's nest, hence the attacking. After realizing what was going on and during a break in the attack, we darted for a longer route around. Luckily, we survived the vicious beast with everything intact, but unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to snap any photos while we were face down in the grass!
The hike was supposed to take around five hours and we made it in around seven. Most people hire a local guide given there is no clear trail, but since this was our only chance to hike, we really wanted to accomplish it on our own. And by we, I again mean Brian. The first half was a piece of cake. We headed down to the beach and walked along the coast. My concern grew bigger and bigger as my beautiful view of the coastline was suddenly replaced by a giant (but stunning) green mountain. Not a hill. A mountain. And so we started climbing. And you know what they say...what goes up, must come down. Perhaps, if we were ten years younger (and not carrying our 40 pound backpacks), coming down wouldn't be such a pain (literally!), but these thirty three year old knees were not happy. Our motivation, however, was coming from the decadent lunch we were about to treat ourselves to. Or so we thought.
The restaurant was easy to find. The staff, however, was a different story. There was not a soul around except for the two resident dogs. We weren't even halfway to Bulungula and this was our only chance to eat. WHY!!?? Panicked, Brian started running around like a crazy person trying to find someone, anyone, to help us. Let's be clear though, Brian wasn't panicked at the thought of not having food, he was terrified of being with me for the next five hours without having any food. Poor guy...
While he was running around, I found one of the hotel staff members and with a lot of hand gestures and broken English I managed to tell her that we were hoping to eat lunch. Sadly, she told me in so many words that the restaurant was indeed closed. This woman must have been Brian's guardian angel because she told me to wait while she called her boss and when she returned, she was holding a platter of ham and cheese sandwiches! AND THEY WERE TOASTED!
We inhaled all six sandwiches (they were small!), paid her (even though she resisted), and joined in a group hug that definitely made her uncomfortable. Maybe I cried. I might have. Who knows really. We tried to ask for directions, but she just kept pointing south and shaking her head yes to Bulungula. Oh well, you can't win 'em all.
So, we looked at the coastline, and then up the hill into town and decided to try our luck in town. While not having a guide definitely made things one hundred times harder, it also made it that much more engaging. We would see local people here and there and attempt to confirm our chosen path. Sometimes we felt confident, most of the time not, but we kept going. After climbing and descending more hills and mountains than I can remember, we finally saw what we believed to be Bulungula in the (far) distance. Regaining some energy, we just kept trucking along, crossing rivers and giant slippery rocks (not an easy task with a giant backpack) and then finally...seven hours later...we arrived! The only thing standing between us and a cold beer was A GIANT RUSHING RIVER.
[In the set of pictures below, Brian is attempting to take a photo of himself. While doing so, the tripod was falling over due to the wind. He never told me about this, I just pieced it together when looking through our photos.]
It really felt like we lost the battle; we were so defeated at this point. No one told us we had to be mindful of high tide when planning our hike! It came down to two options. We could A, backtrack and hike into town until we could walk around the river, adding another two - three hours to the trek or B bear the cold (50 degree) rushing water and walk chest deep through the water twice each with our bags over our heads. We chose B, and it sucked.
The next few days were spent relaxing, working, and taking the most insane canoe trip of our lives. We were completely drenched, and our muscles ached for days afterwards. Seriously, the wind was SO brutal. Thankfully, the canoe trip ended in a hike up to a famous pancake house in the village. There is always a happy ending when food is involved :)
Unfortunately, during our stay at Bulungula, I got word that my grandfather passed away. He is the only grandparent I've lost, so in that sense I am extremely lucky; however, hearing this news from halfway across the world and with no way of getting a hold of anyone only added to the heartache. The strange thing was that two days before my grandfather died, I was able to send a message to my parents letting them know that I had a really unsettling dream and had a feeling that something bad was going to happen, so I wanted to tell them to be extra cautious (this is something we do in my family). Also, the night that my grandfather died, although I didn't know it yet, was the night we took this incredible picture of the starlit sky. I like to think it was my Grandpa Arooji's way of letting me know that he is happy and safe. I love you, Grandpa.
On to Durban!
We had a long eight hour journey, one shuttle, two mini buses, and finally the Baz bus to be exact, up to Durban for our final stop in South Africa before India. Durban has the largest Indian population outside of India, so we figured it would be a nice way to ease into our next destination. Although everyone we met said to skip out on Durban, we actually ended up loving it. We happened to be there during the big New Zealand vs South Africa rugby match which made it impossible to find a hotel but really fun to visit. Over the span of five nights we had to switch hotels twice, but it gave us a chance to visit three different parts of the city.
The first night, we stayed at the Balmoral Hotel right on the beach. While we didn't love the location, it was nice to experience this side of Durban. Next, we spent one night at the beautiful Grange Guest House in North Durban. We loved this cute suburb and had a great time drinking delicious craft beers at RepubliK (Man, do I miss this. Our only options in India are Kingfisher premium and Kingfisher strong) while watching the rugby match. Unfortunately, New Zealand absolutely demolished South Africa, but it was still fun to experience. We also had our introduction to Durban curry at Panaji. The best bunny chow you'll ever have! Our last three nights were spent at one of our most favorite hotels we have stayed so far, The Concierge boutique hotel in Morningside. It was walking distance to Florida Street (similar to our Union St/Chestnut/Polk etc) and had the cutest cafe attached called Freedom Cafe and the BEST breakfast (which was included in the price!) ever. Brian got another haircut in Durban, and I got my eyebrows threaded for the first time on the trip. If you ever find yourself in Durban, do go to the The Brow Bar. They are incredible! We walked the four and a half hour, 20km trek (we desperately needed the exercise) from our hotel to Umhlanga where we had drinks at the famous The Oyster Box Hotel. We could only afford one glass of wine and Brian's usual goto fruity cocktail, but it was worth it. The hotel, one of the oldest in Durban, was completely restored keeping the French colonial decor throughout. It was really beautiful.
After five nights of resting up and getting some work done (I swear we did), we finally said goodbye to the dark continent. Africa was an incredible journey. Seventy three days and five countries later, we were really looking forward to experiencing everything India was about to offer us, but we can't wait to return to this magnificent continent.
Delhi, here we come!