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Port St. Johns: A little slice of paradise July 4 - 7 2010

Written on: Sunday July 4th, 2010

A journal entry from: Africa 2010

PORT ST JOHNS, EASTERN CAPE PROVINCE, SOUTH AFRICA

Population: 279,739
Languages: Xhosa, Pondo (a mix of Bantu languages)

Fast Facts

PSJ is located on the Wild Coast of South Africa, a large expanse of wilderness largely preserved from desctruction by humans. Many kilometres of it are protected in nature reserves and parks. Most people do 5 or 7 day hikes a long the coast through the sandstone cliffs and along the white sandy beaches.

It is also part of Pondoland in the Wild Coast. Though the Xhosa are the most prevalent tribe here, the combination of Bantu tribes and languages has resulted in a mixed language called Pondo - which in turn gave its name to the area.

Getting there & away

After leaving Kathleena and Nili in Durban, I hopped on the Baz Bus once again which dropped me off at Mthatha, about 2 hours from the coastal town. I was met by a shuttle from my hostel, but unfortunately I was the first one there and we were waiting for 2 people to come in on a plane, and 2 more buses carrying people from every direction. We waited a total of 3 hours before finally heading to PSJ, so I didn't even get there until nighttime. I had only intended on staying one or two nights, but extended it to 3 since the first day was a complete waste.

Luckily on the way out the shuttle didn't leave until about 1130am and my bus to Port Elizabeth was there within half an hour.

Climate

Although not as tropical as Durban, PSJ has a wonderful warm climate even in winter. In the summer there are terrific thunderstorms and such, but for the 3 days I was there is was mostly sunny and wonderfully warm. At night it got quite chilly as it seems to everywhere in SA in the winter time. 

Eating

PSJ isn't exactly reknowned for its food and I stuck to my self-catering ways while I was there, shopping at the local grocery store and cooking for myself. A standard Xhosa meal is similar to that of Zulu, though there is some of the curry influence from nearby Durban. Of course there is also lots of seafood, and fish is a staple in the Xhosa diet.

Accommodation

I was staying at the Jungle Monkey, a fun, lively hostel that also houses the only local bar that isn't a shebeen (the fairly run-down bars in nearby villages which are great if you just want to get a beer and get out of there). It is located in the middle of the wild jungle that envelops PSJ, and holds true to its name as the monkeys are plentiful! It is located not too far from town and near the beach, though it is more of the industrial beach than the beautiful touristy ones. The Silaka Nature Reserve and lovelier beaches are 5km down the road, fairly difficult to reach on one's own.

As per usual I was in a dorm, but with only 4 beds this time. Unfortunately for the first night it was just me and the loudest snorer to ever sleep on this earth! Luckily the second night there was also this wonderful British couple to ally myself with in attempts to stop the snoring! These involved slamming the door, shaking the bunk beds and throwing things in the snorer's general direction.

Sights & Activities

My first day in PSJ I decided to explore on my own since I am fairly averse to tours. I wandered into town and the tourist centre where I found out about a short hike called the Eagle's Nest that would take me to a lovely look out point. Unfortunately there are absolutely no signs indicating the beginning of the path which is off a road on the edge of town. I recruited a local to help me and was eventually on my way.

At first the path appeared to simply be the local toilet, at least for the first 10 feet. After that it turned into a veritable trek though the jungle. Hmm, I suppose this isn't the most popular hike. Even without a machete I managed to scamper up the rocks and push myself through the branches and bushes (I still have the scrapes to prove it!), and reached the top within half an hour. It was well worth the slight distress and bleeding it caused me for the view was phenomenal. It overlooks the entire town, beaches, mountains and river - and I had it all to myself. I spent an hour or two just enjoying the scenery and avoiding the return adventure, which I eventually began once it was about lunch time.

After the hike I bought some groceries and prepared lunch, returning to the hostel where I met that fantastic couple from the UK and spent some time with the locals. They informed me that I was lucky to have done that hike on my own without encountering any dangerous locals... That evening my new friends and I had a little too much fun at the bar, accumulating even more friends including a group of German musicians and the local rastafarian. I do not recall this but apparently one of the Germans was professing his love to me near the end of the night... I must have been unimpressed since I made my way to my bedroom, scooping up the hostel's cat along the way and the spent the night cuddling with her instead! They were making fun of me for it the next day but it still seems like the smart decision to me!

The following day, all of us with wicked hangovers, we headed out on the tour provided by a local. Although I was skeptical at first, I was eager to see some of the things that are not accessible by foot and it actually turned out to be compeltely off the beaten track.

First we headed out to a local muddy pool and stream where there must be a large sulphur deposit or something because the water reeks of rotten eggs as does the mud. The locals drink the water for purification and use the mud on their skin to keep it smooth and beautiful. Our guide insisted we strip down and cover ourselves in mud as well, though the other girl and I kept our shirts on and opted for facials only. After slathering ourselves we went to a nearby cave with white-ish clay where we decorated our muddy bodies. Throughout the morning we were killing ourselves laughing and making references to the tequila of the night before...

After that we headed over to Second Beach (the more beautiful, white one) and trekked through the Silaka Nature Reserve to Third Beach which is also very beautiful. The beaches are populated by as many cows as humans, who also seem to enjoy the soft sand and beautiful blue waters. We rinsed ourselves off and then headed off for some lunch at a local haunt. Then it was back through the nature reserve to what they call "The Gap", a blowhole in the rocks right near the ocean. It was a bit of a trek getting there, involving more ladders and rock faces, and it was so windy on the edge that it was a little unnerving! This was not the first time that I thought to myself "this would so be illegal in Canada", but it was really fun, especially since we were all best friends by this point!

At the very end we headed to the local shebeen where the drunk locals enjoyed our company for a few minutes while we waited for our bakkie to schlep us all back to camp for real showers and siestas!

We had been talking a big game all day about how we were going to indulge in much more tequila that night, but we all passed out either during or immediately after Holland defeated Uruguay. Unfortunately we had to say our goodbyes the following day as we headed our separate directions, me to Port Elizabeth just overnight on my way to Cape Town.

I would love to come back to PSJ for a month or two, just hanging out and helping out at the hostel to pay for my room and board. I fell in love with the place and the people in a matter of a couple hours, and could easily have spent another week if I wasn't on a tight schedule! As it was I cancelled all of my time in PE, but was anxious to head to Cape Town expecting to fall in love all over again.

 

From Jason on Jul 20th, 2010

What an adventure! Keep up the updates. Have fun and be safe! Big hug!

From Poppy on Jul 21st, 2010

Some wonderful-sounding treks! Cuddling a cat is not my idea of physical pleasure but the German may not have been a good idea either.It is unusual for Tequila to keep one so rational. On the other hand it was a blessing from Bacchus.