Bumping and tilting, lurching and laughing, we eased over and through the rutted and pot hole filled dirt road on our way to Bulungula. Thankful for the clearance of our Renault Koleos, a small SUV sold in South Africa, we edged onward as the road dipped down and curved along the hill, taking us ever so slowly to our destination on the coast.
When our South African friends told us about Bulungula Lodge, they described it as a paradise, a beautiful, relaxing place where we could learn about the local people; after checking out the website, www.bulungula.com, I knew I had to go there. I wanted to experience this place that is solar powered and 40% owned by the village. I wanted to go to this place where I could learn to carry water on my head, eat South African food, walk on the beach and kayak on the river. We changed our itinerary, adapted our route and added an extra week to squeeze in a 3-night stay.
Before we left the U.S., we called David, the lodge’s owner, not once but twice, asking questions about the roads. We scrutinized websites and blogs which described the route and debated renting a 4 x 4. We considered leaving our car in Mthatha and taking the shuttle to the lodge. But David patiently reassured us. He told us that 60% of the people who stay at Bulungula use 2 x 4 cars to get there. We printed out the driving map and instructions from the website, left ourselves plenty of daylight hours, and hoped for the best.
After filling up on petrol, we took a left off the N2 and followed cars and open trucks crammed with people and women singing, passing small buildings and a telephone box before we turned off the tar road onto dirt. Colorful round huts and square buildings accented the rolling hills; a store, a school, cattle crossing, a dog, children yelling, “Sweets!” People walked only a little slower than we drove, and they smiled and waved as we passed by. The sky was blue and clear, the green hills rolling to the sea. A man in a suit walking by told us we were going the right way, and we continued, eventually seeing the peach and turquoise colored huts at the river mouth, our destination.
Getting to Bulungula Lodge isn’t easy, and that’s a good thing. It took us 3 hours to drive 79 kilometers (that’s only 49 miles) to reach Number 11 on the Rough Guide’s list of “Things Not to Miss in South Africa.”