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From One Hole To Another - Part 1

Our planned one-week photo trip to the Transkei had been reduced to a mere two days due to a business crisis and illness. Some extreme prioritising had to be done in order to focus on the most important photo opportunities. Eventually we settled on three places: Hole in the Wall (Transkei), Grahams Town (Eastern Cape) and Graaff-Reinet (Karoo). In the end, Grahams Town too was cut.

We left Mthatha around lunchtime Sunday for Hole in the Wall. The first 95 kilometers from Mthatha to Coffee Bay was a pleasant drive on a surprisingly good tar road. Although the amount of animals, playing children and adult pedestrians caused us to drive somewhere between 40 and 80km/h, many other reckless drivers caused us to slow down even more.

We arrived at Coffee Bay around 90 minutes later. According to our sources the road onwards to Hole in the Wall was better tackled by 4x4, but as we had no choice, a sedan had to make do. The road was dusty and rocky, winding up and down steep hills. Traditional huts of local farmers dotted each hill, and most of these have spectacular views to counter any beachside villa around the world. Some are built on the very edge of a cliff, at the foot of which the tumultuous waves of the Wild Coast is pounded day in and day out. Others are built further inland, still sporting views that cannot easily be bought.

At the first good viewpoint we stopped for a picture. Another family had already stopped to take some pictures, and immediately launched into a friendly conversation. They work in East London, were raised in Mthatha and were visiting their family for the long weekend. Now they were on their way to see one of the natural wonders of our country: Hole in the Wall. You could sense in them the excitement that we ourselves felt at being so close to this magnificent structure, and even though we all enjoyed the view, we were eager to get back into the car and continue the journey.

We arrived at Hole in the Wall - 10km from Coffee Bay – around 30 minutes later. As we rounded the bend over the last hill, we could see the enormous rock rising from the waves, and the urgency grew to get there as soon as possible. Having not booked in advance for the last night of a long weekend, we knew our chances were slim to get a room in the resort, but we headed to reception anyway. All the chalets were booked, but there were places available in the backpackers lodge. If we returned to Coffee Bay, we would have to cross this road twice again in the dark to be at the beach when the sunlight was best for photos, so we decided to rough it at the backpackers.

Before you think we consider ourselves too fancy for backpackers, please keep in mind that we are used to camping, communal bathrooms and we love the outdoors. However, having never slept in a backpackers lodge, we had no idea what to expect. Were we going to be sleeping in a dorm room with people of both genders? Were we going to have to endure late-night parties when we knew we had to get up well before sunrise again? Were we going to . . .? Well, i’m not sure what we really expected, but we were pleasantly surprised. We had a private double room WITH OUR OWN BATHROOM. We even had a double bed. The resort provided towels, bed linens, toiletries, a kettle and cups. In short, we were thankful for this blessing.

As soon as we knew we had a place to stay, we changed into beach gear and set off towards the Hole. On the way, several locals offered to be our guides. Others offered fish they had caught, or even crayfish. All of these we declined. It is quite impossible not to find your own way to the Hole in the Wall. Under different circumstances we might have bought some fresh fish, but that would have to wait for another time.

As we left the resort, we started climbing out a little hill, then rounded it and descended into a little hollow before entering one of the most enthralling places i've ever set foot in: a forest right on the beach. The word “primeval” came to mind, which will probably always be the way i remember this unique spot. It seems to be one of the first places ever created on earth. The trees all seem to have ancient bark and their limbs seem rheumatoid. Their branches hang low above the grass and it seems like these forest creatures have been here since the waves had first started beating upon the rock in the river mouth. i could sit here and wonder at the way in which every single place we visit in South Africa adds another layer of beauty, of diversity, of “otherness”. Everywhere we go, creation is displayed in unique beauty, and this especially is one of the very best items on the menu. i COULD sit here and wonder at all these things, but i knew that time was catching up to me and it was time to get to the focus of our visit: the Hole in the Wall.

Although we had seen it a few times already – each time a little closer than before – seeing it up close can only be described as awe-inspiring. It is actually a tidal island of sandstone and shale in the mouth of the Mpako River, with an arch big enough to fit a sailboat. There is a constantly rotating number of visitors who take photos of this stately beauty, and at times it’s difficult to get the picture you want without any strangers, but by the time we started with the fun stuff – long shutter speed photos – the sun had set and most people’s cameras could not make sense of the darkness. Then we had the beach all to ourselves.

Well, almost. As we were waiting for the last few shots, a local fish seller approached us. He would not accept our refusal to buy anything from him, even though we explained that we had no cooking facilities in our room and no cooler box to take the fish home. That-man wanted to leave, but i asked him to wait just a little longer, as i could get better pictures with the fading sunlight. The fish seller changed course and started asking for money, but we could smell on his breath where that money would go, so we declined. He zig-zagged between trying to sell fish and demanding money. That-man REALLY wanted to leave, but i needed about 10 more minutes, and asked for patience. That-man went off to put on his shoes, and the fish seller went with him. The last bit of light that could be captured by my camera faded, and a few minutes later i joined them.

As we walked back through the beach forest and up the hill in darkness, one little headlight showing us the way, my soul started breathing. Phase one of this part of the mission was complete, and for now all i could do was drink in the peace around me.

Other articles in this series include:

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