Maia Green: The ThandaMandla Trek for Social Change

The first ever ThandaMandla Trek for Social Change was a huge huge success. It surpassed everyone’s expectations and was an absolutely magical week. The weather was perfect every single day, which made for many happy trekkers. We stopped along the way to swim, eat, play games, do activities, learn about natural and physical phenomena along the way and simply enjoy the stunning views around every corner.

Each day, a group of three youth acted as shadow guides to our main guide Bongani. They would point out interesting things to the group, make sure that everyone was doing okay, and at the end of the day they would give a little presentation on what they’d learned about tour guiding. This was a very important part of the trek, as the local youth are in the tourism track at their high school, which is seen as the alternative to mining in the area.

Bongani was a fabulous guide and a perfect role model and mentor for the younger aspiring guides. There were 22 of us in total, 12 local youth from Baleni, Bongani, our guide, one teacher from Baleni, the owners of the lodge, myself, a woman from Washington, DC, a mother and daughter from Chile and an amazing 15 year old boy from Joburg. We were quite the crew trekking along beaches, over hills and even swimming through rivers!! We had so much fun together and many new friendships were made.

In the evenings we stayed in gorgeous little villages with hosts who blew us away. We’d arrive to freshly baked bread, tea and juice. Dinner would be an entire spread of amazing traditional food. Breakfast came in waves of deliciousness, and the eggs would catch us by surprise once we were already full from traditional corn-based porridge. They were so welcoming and wonderful.

Bongani organized all of this, and we were so grateful for his amazing work! The youth camped outside, complete with tent setting-up competitions each day, and the rest of us slept on the floor of a little round house with a dung floor, called a rondavel. They are amazing structures. It was so warm inside even when it was freezing outside. The original “eco-building”, right?. The most amazing thing was that there was not one complaint from anyone on this 5 day trek. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a hike without a complaint. But this particular crew was all smiles all the time.

Erin O’Sullivan: Never been on less traveled trails!

The views on our hike were staggering. We went through a game reserve full of springbok and zebras and then proceeded along the coast with big waterfalls, long stretches of beach, big rolling hills and vast plains. Most of the time we were the only people around, outside the occasional cowherd or fisherman. I’ve never been on more beautiful beaches or less traveled trails. That said, I was never worried for my safety- with Bongani as our local guide, daily check-in points and local phones with medivac numbers at the ready.

We stayed in village-based accommodations, sleeping in rondovels and eating super-fancy iterations of the local food. We ate like kings! Big piles ofstew, rice, chicken, mutton, beets, cole slaw and bread. What’s more, between the hiking and local eating I lost some weight on the trip and was looking great when we arrived at Port St Johns at the end of the five days!

Kajsa Nerdal: The scenery really owes up to the name Wild Coast.

I had the loveliest time horseback-riding along the Wild Coast, watching the splashes of Humpback whales migrating in the ocean and hundreds and hundreds of dolphins playing at Cathedral Rock.

What a wonderful daytrip and with the best of guides, Bongani! The scenery was so beautiful and really owes up to the name Wild Coast! I love this part of the world, it has stuck in my heart and I wouldn´t have experienced it without Bongani who is a most competent tour guide. I really hope I can revisit and do it all over again!

Flora Hajdu: Bongani and the story of Absolute Wild Coast (Now Pondo Tours)

I’m from Sweden and I first visited the Wild Coast in 2001 when starting a research project for my PhD. I was going to do surveys and interviews in the small rural villages along the coast and I ended up staying mostly in one village, Cutwini, a beautiful, peaceful village of 152 households. When doing a survey of the village in 2002 I met Bongani for the first time, a shy young man whose story touched me. His mother had passed away, his father had remarried and moved to another village, and now he was staying alone with his brother, and in many respects was responsible for keeping the house and supporting himself and his brother. A few years later, Bongani worked as an interpreter for me and I was struck by his calm friendliness, his quiet sense of humor, his keen interest in any books he could come over, his knowledge about the area and his excellent command of English.

During this time, an EU-funded project was launched that aimed to promote community-based tourism along this beautiful and serene part of the coast – the Amadiba adventures horse and hiking trails. Several local organisations were engaged in building the community-owned camp sites, village homestay families were identified and got training on how to accommodate tourists. Local persons were also given training as tour guides, in everything from local flora to medical aid and what to do in an emergency. Bongani was one of the persons selected for this training. In hiking and guiding he found his passion and he knew this was what he wanted to work with in his life. He has never wavered in this ambition, even when times were tough and it seemed he would never be able to make a living off tourism.

Amadiba adventures trails community-based tourism project was launched in 2003, a couple of groups did the hikes, but the marketing was not very good, the organisations pulled out one by one and the EU money got finished without much happening in the communities. Bongani instead got employed by a private hiking company, thinking that now his dream was coming true. However, while the company charged the tourists hefty sums for the hikes, Bongani only got very little pay, even though he was taking all the responsibility for the tourists during the hikes. When the company decided that not enough tourists were interested to keep the hike active, Bongani therefore decided to try to launch his own company, which he called Absolute Wild Coast . In many ways, the hikes and activities of Absolute Wild Coast follow the plans developed by Amadiba adventures horse and hiking trails.

In a time when most other young men leave these villages to go and find work in towns, Bongani has insisted that he wants to stay in the village that he loves and do what he loves most, hiking and guiding. He married a local woman, built a home for his wife and son in the village and has invested all he has in his company. He does everything himself, from contacting the village homestay families, hiring local shuttle drivers and porters and organising everything about the hikes meticulously. Tourists have sometimes been few, but those who have come have really enjoyed themselves, and have often come back.

I truly hope that many travellers will give these hikes a chance, as I think it can be one of the most memorable vacations one can have. The peacefulness of this area, with the quiet life of the villages going on amidst the stunningly beautiful natural setting is something that has to be experienced. Bongani is really trying to keep prices down in order to attract the tourits, including South Africans and backpackers on a tight budget, so the hikes are amazing value. And the knowledge that every single cent you spend helps local families just makes it all the more worthwhile!