Making your way from the N2 through rural Transkei to the coast is a bit of a mission, as the state of the roads is still rather poor. After dodging potholes and large muddy puddles for 2.5 hours, and just when I thought I was never going to get there, the landscape transformed from green rolling hills dotted with brightly coloured rondavels and small veggie plots to an open landscape plummeting straight into the Indian Ocean. Walking over the last hill and finally glimpsing Bulungula Lodge, sitting on the edge of the world, is breath taking and makes the long and tough journey completely worthwhile.
Bulungula is set on the beautiful and remote Transkei coastline just south of Coffee Bay. It is built on the edge of the steep cliffs overlooking the Xhora River mouth and the turquoise ocean, a truly idyllic and spectacular location. I had heard so much about Bulungula and was extremely excited to be able to visit the place on my Fair Trade in Tourism Eastern Cape road trip. However, sometimes when you have been reading and hearing so much about a place, the reality can sometimes be a somewhat disappointing. This was certainly not the case with Bulungula.
This backpacker lodge is one of the most unique places I have come across on the African continent. The ten rondavels emulate traditional Transkei rondavels both in their design and furnishings. Some people might find it a little Spartan, but the beds are comfortable and the huts are clean, and what is lacking in additional creature comforts is made up for in peace, tranquility, and natural beauty.
Every building from the main lounge area, to bedrooms, and the shower and toilet buildings are is decorated with vibrant murals by Sarah Hubert. Her colourful and unique themes encouraged me to try every single toilet and shower, so I could enjoy the different artwork on the inside.
The lodge is set up in a truly sustainable way, making use of unique and environmentally friendly technologies. All their electricity is generated by solar power. The toilets are dry composting and solid and liquid wastes are separated by a uniquely designed toilet. Hot water for the showers is either generated by solar power or paraffin burners. All their waste is recycled, burned, or eaten by local livestock. And their water consumption is about the same as a normal household’s, mainly due to the lack of flushing toilets and baths.
Bulungula is an example of a true and successful community tourism project. It was established on community owned land just over 10 years ago in complete cooperation with the local Nqileni community, who partly owned the lodge. At the end of 2014, the remainder of the ownership was handed over to the community free of charge, so the lodge is now 100% community owned.
The jobs created at the lodge are distributed as fairly as possible among community members, and given to those who need it most, like widows, and mostly on a job sharing basis to create as many jobs as possible.
The Bulungula Incubator provides assistance to community members, who would like to set up their own micro-business to offer activities to the tourists staying at the lodge. This has created jobs and incomes for 33 additional families offering activities, such as massages, horse riding, canoeing, village walks, and fishing.
Besides being such a great sustainable tourism example, it also makes a fabulous tourism experience. The coastline is unspoilt from large commercial developments. The remote beaches are clean and quiet. The air unpolluted and night skies sensational. All you hear at night are the waves lapping onto the beach and the wind blowing around your hut. Sitting in front of one of their rondavels overlooking the Transkei landscape on the one side and the clear blue ocean on the other is magical. It is the perfect place to recharge your batteries.
The Transkei also has a strange pull, as if we can sense the long history of these traditional African cultures in the fabric of the landscape. Visiting the Nqileni village, you witness a social cohesion that is missing in our cities. The way people look out for each other. How the different generations interact and have mutual respect. Unfortunately, we city slickers hide all too often behind our front doors, not really caring enough about our neighbours and community members. The traditional community spirit of this Xhosa village seems to only enrich its members.
This blog was originally written by Louise de Waal for the award winnning The Good Holiday.
All photos © Louise de Waal