27: Dancing in the Dark – Diary of a Single Girl – Coffee Bay, Wild Coast, South Africa

27: Dancing in the Dark

I was dancing in the dark. Not a remarkable thing in and of itself; after all, I’ve danced quite a bit in my lifetime and almost all of it when it was dark outside. But, never before had I danced in the African moonlight to Xhosa tribal beats while trying to avoid cow patties…

I was in a Xhosa village (the X pronounced as a clique in your mouth) just up the hill from the Coffee Bay Hostel. Because of its remote location, clinging to the rugged South African coastline, 50 kilometers from the nearest highway, the owners of the Coffee Bay Hostel offer daily activities, most having to do with the nearby village.

Tonight’s activity was dinner with the local tribespeople in the village’s community roundhouse. Though the Xhosa keep cattle their meals are vegetarian, because the cattle represent their wealth; to them, eating their cattle would be like eating money. But the food we shared that evening would have a hard time being labeled vegetarian. The best way to describe the thick lump on my plate was tasteless gruel, or grits without butter or sugar, or maybe even porridge that sat too long on a hot stove. As this was their daily sustenance and they were sharing it with us, it would be considered rude not to eat most of it.

After dinner we exited the roundhouse into the starry night and sat on the hillside (looking carefully around for patty-free spots) while the village girls prepared to show us traditional dances.

The first to perform were young teenage girls on the verge of womanhood. They danced topless, as I’m assuming is tradition, but I could see some of them uncomfortable with this, self-consciously crossing their arms over their breasts and giggling anxiously. But the younger girls who performed next shared none of the self-consciousness of their older sisters. They danced with the joy of children in the spotlight. It was almost more of a game to them, trying to outdo one another with their unique, seemingly simultaneous, stomp-kick-swivel-hip snap moves. I love to dance especially to joyful music, and I was enthralled watching these girls’ bright faces and the dance movements I’d never seen before.

Eventually the girls thought it would be fun to try to teach us their dance, and a girl about 10 grabbed my hand. I really needed to decline as I’d hurt my back in Zimbabwe and I was really stiff and sore, but the music and the joyful abandon was too much to ignore. Soon the same spirit that makes me dance around the house to a good tune took over my sensibilities.

This little girl tried valiantly to teach me her swivel-stomp-hip thrust movements and I tried valiantly to follow, much to her amusement. To be fair, the movements were unfamiliar and I was trying to avoid dung while stomping and swiveling, but unfortunately all I think I accomplished was proving that white girls, even ones with African braids, just can’t dance.

On Coffee Bay
Coffee Bay, South Africa, is in the section of eastern coastline called the Wild Coast. As I was making my way down the coastline from Johannesburg, I ran into many backpackers raving about this section of coastline. They urged me to “forget about the Garden Route” which is touted in all the guidebooks and “focus on the Wild Coast”.

Their advice was right on, as the Wild Coast is still mostly unspoiled and you can stay at a remote hostel right near the coastline with nothing but miles of sand and seashells around you. To get to the Coffee Bay Hostel you would be dropped off about 50K away at a Shell station. Then someone from the hostel picks you up and you get a long, bumpy, dusty ride to the seaside location. There are 1-2 other hostels in the area, one just across the road, but other than that the nearest hostel is in Hole in the Wall, another location well worth visiting.

Coffee Bay does trips over to Hole in the Wall, named after a hole in a seaside wall that crazy backpackers make a challenge out of jumping through as the surf crashes through. The hostel also does trips into the delta, has volunteer projects with the local school and seaside fish frys among other activities. And of course, it sports a full bar so there’s plenty of socializing at night. Your dorm is a round house, or you can camp or, if you’re feeling really one with nature, sleep in a tree-top hammock.

I did visit a couple of locations in the Garden Route to see what all the fuss was about in the LP and Rough Guide and frankly, I can’t see what the writers find so nice about them. While the coastline itself is nice, the areas right across the roadway are covered with homes and it looks like any other overly built, touristy, seaside area. So if you want to see more unspoiled coast and less tee shirt shops, skip the Garden Route and concentrate on the Wild Coast!

Oh, and grab yourself a free Coast to Coast, a local guidebook written by an enterprising couple. While most of it is an advertisement for the hostels in it, it’s still very informative.

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