The little coastal stretch from East London to Kokstad
Travelling messes with your head. Seriously. I'd been in South Africa three years earlier, sort of on my way to Australia, and had never really expected to come back, especially to the same areas I'd visited on my first trip. But as we had a car, and had seen some of the more remote areas of the country, it made sense to drive around the way we hadn't gone yet, around Lesotho, which I didn't mind. It meant I could see the Wild Coast again.
Wild Coast is a stretch of coast roughly between East London and somewhere just before Durban. I remember bussing through it, almost precisely three years ago to the date, and thinking it was one of the most fantastic sceneries I'd ever seen. I'd spent some time in few of the backpacker epicentres of the area, and remember I'd had a brilliant time. We'd decided on two or three nights, and I picked Cintsa, for it's gorgeous beach, and Rich chose Coffee Bay, which he'd heard good things about. But three years is a long time, and a lot of things chance. Including you.
Driving through the winding road to Cintsa was pretty, sure, but it wasn't quite how I'd remembered. The hills were just not quite as winding and steep and impressive as I'd remembered, and the lack of rain meant there was no luscious green stuff around- just brown barren earth. The backpackers in both towns were nice and friendly- most of them had arrived by the Baz Bus, the door-to-door backpacker shuttle which is pretty much a party bus that takes kids from one hostel to the next, where they drink obscene amounts of booze and move on. But I couldn't get into the conversation- so much of it was about ticking things off an unwritten list; have you done shark cage diving yet? No? What have you done? Or: I went on a township tour, and you know, people are really poor here!
It felt inane and when everyone moved into the pool room for a loud, rowdy game of killer pool, I followed cautiously. The silly bar rules felt embarrassing (such as if you drink with your right hand, you must down your drink in one go) and suddenly it hit me. I was old. I glanced at Rich and the look on his face told me he felt the same.
Three years ago I took part in every single pool game, drank the shots, urged people to down drinks and spent the next day doing nothing with a hangover. I used to admire people who'd taken overland tours from Nairobi to South Africa, and thought they were so cool and brave. I never, in a million years, thought I'd do such a trip. I remember looking at the huts and houses along the road thinking I'd never understand how people live there, what their world was like. The road to Coffee Bay was incredibly pot-holed and bad and I couldn't understand why they didn't fix it.
But no, the road to Coffee Bay seems fine. I have travelled on much worse ones. And I felt different about pretty much everything else as well: I don't think overlanders are cool, I don't get involved in forcing people to drink, and I hate wasting time with a hangover the next day. I know what life is like in compounds and townships and small huts in the middle of nowhere; I lived in one for six months. And I am old, maybe, but kind of in a good way.
Things chance, situations change, people change. The small enclaves of the coast were still fine, such as the lovely little town of Morgan's Bay, where we took a detour to, but a lot of these backpacker places are a bit too much for me. I think we were both glad to head inland again, and towards the Drakensberg once more, for a short stopover before Pretoria.