This morning we woke up to the sound of birdsong and mooing cows. Rather different to the usual song of crying babies that we’re used to. After breakfast Frikkie and another guide at the camp, Ernest, took us on a walking tour around the camp. Zingela is made up of three base camps constructed along the Tugela, each with its own accommodation and eating areas. They all have their own style and are as comfortable and picturesque as the last.
The tour took us all morning – up hills and down valleys, and this was before the three hour hike we knew awaited us at midday. The part of the trip that we had been most unsure of. Our itinerary just said that we’d be spending our last night in a rural village, when we asked specific questions all we got were vague responses and general reassurance that we would be well looked after. There wasn’t a moment where we felt we would be in an unsafe situation, but we were after more detail. Like, are there toilets? An important question, seeing as our entire enjoyment of the experience depended on the answer.
After a strong cup of tea and more rusks, we packed our rucksack with all we needed for the night in the village and met up with Ernest, Thebi and Bonnie who were to be our guides on the hike. They were born there, have grown up there and do the three hour hike daily, there and back! Lithe and with an unrelenting pace they hopped and skipped up the side of the mountain like sure-footed duikers, while we trudged on behind. We were so grateful for our kit from Due South. We wouldn’t have got far without the light, easy to wear rucksack that carried everything we both needed easily and comfortably, plus our water bottles and binos. Lunch at the edge of a dried up waterfall overlooking the valley recharged us before we set off again, feeling totally unprepared for what was to come…
By the time we reached our second pitstop I was feeling rather overwhelmed. The enormous silence was deafening and the feeling of being so utterly remote caused a creeping panic to start in the pit of my stomach and work its way up to my throat.
We had no idea where we were going to be spending that night and Frikkie chose that moment to tell us that in Zulu tradition an unmarried man was not allowed near the house of an unmarried woman. Our host Thebi is unmarried, so he was going to be somewhere else, on the other side of the village, in Ernest’s house.
The boys went off in one direction and we in another. Thebi’s house was made up of three huts on the outskirts of the village. She lives there with her baby boy. The first room was where we were received. Here we were given a grass mat to sit on and left, while Thebi went off to draw water and light the fire for supper. We were exhausted, sweaty and more than a little out of our depth at this point. Women from the village came, and hoards of children, they sat on the opposite side of the room and watched us, giggling when we asked them questions and chatting amongst themselves, no doubt about the tired, bedraggled looking tourists in front of them who may well have come from another planet, for all we knew about each other.
Both sides of the room started to gain confidence though, and before long the mama’s sang, while the kids danced and clapped. Babies were handed to us and we were shown a little bit of the feminine side of life in the village, after all the work was done. Lots of chatting, raucous laughter and spontaneous bursts of song.
There were so many kiddies, they all seemed to belong to everyone, as no one woman treated any child more lovingly than the next. We learnt that a lot of the little one’s mothers have jobs in the big city and only come home a couple of times a year. These little ones are absorbed into the village and loved and cared for as if they were family. We learnt the next day that “orphan” in Zulu is intandane, which can also be translated as “most loved one”.
We slept in the third hut, under traditional blankets, snug and safe from the chill winds outside. We were expecting to go to bed as we were, filthy and exhausted after our long hike, but Thebi had heated water, drawn from the village well and brought it to us so we could wash before we crashed into bed.
So many things come to mind when I recall that night. It was in many ways a difficult experience. The culture shock itself threatened to overshadow everything – it was not a ‘quirky African experience’, but getting a first-hand experience of people’s real lives. There’s no electricity, no running water, no toilets and life is hard. That said, there is little or no crime and the people we met were warm and full of hospitality. We were asked back by everyone we met on the road out. “Come again,” they said, “next time stay with me and my family!”
Who knows, maybe one day we will!
Thank you Open Africa for an amazing experience. Next time you are thinking of taking a holiday in and around this amazing country of ours, check out their website and what they have to offer.