Nqileni is home to a vibrant rural community where times have sometimes been tough; migrant labour has taken its toll on family structure and health service & education have been difficult to access. But in spite of these challenges, the typical scene at sunset is children singing beautiful harmonies as they walk up the hills together on their way home, Mama’s laughing together as they collect water from nearby springs while men and boys effortlessly herd their cattle home to their kraals. The Xhosa traditions are strongly adhered to and are respected by Traditionalists and the Religious alike.
Unlike visiting a cultural village, where guests are offered an insight into a culture through fake, rehearsed performances, a homestay allows a guest to experience traditional village life in an authentic way. The person who’ll appreciate this experience is someone who is interested in enjoying the simplicity and slowness of village life and who does not expect a multitude of traditional dances/events to miraculously occur all at once for their benefit. There are often ceremonies in the village (about once every 2 weeks) which are fun to join and experience, but they are not scheduled in advance and it is not possible to plan your visit to coincide with one. They happen when they happen, and you can join it with everyone else and will be welcomed as a special guest.
The internationally famous iLanga Fire restaurant is a stone’s throw away if you’re in the mood for great pancakes. If you feel that your tongue has just about twisted enough trying to pronounce the Xhosa Clicks, take a walk to Bulungula Lodge where you’re bound to find a cold beer and the hub of English words in the village. Delicious meals are also available; but needs to be arranged as early in the day as possible.
A visit to a shebeen can be fun. Umqombothi (Xhosa beer that is brewed over 5 days to a week) is mostly brewed for traditional ceremonies and sometimes when we’re lucky just for fun and is a treat that can be enjoyed without the worry that you’ll be swaying and falling around, even after drinking a liter! Because it is made from Maize it is nutritious while it gives a bit of a buzz. It makes for a great party starter!
If you’re staying for a couple of days or more, and would like to get involved in some of the Bulungula Incubator’s many projects on the go, contact them in advance to see if there’s somewhere you could lend a hand. They are based at The Jujurha Education Centre on the Bulungula River side of the village.
- Each hut is fitted with two single or one double bed and bedside table with a little lamp.
- Each homestead has a compost toilet
- The hot water shower is shared between the 2 homesteads.
- Interpreter can be hired for an extra fee
- Breakfast: Xhosa Bread & jam or porridge, with tea.
- Lunch: Guests must provide for their own lunch. Options include local shops, a short walk to the Bulungula Lodge, or the highly recommended iLanga Fire restaurant open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday & Sunday for delicious savory and sweet pancakes.
- Dinner: the staple meals are vegetarian (samp and beans and soya mince sauce, mealie pap with spinach/cabbage sauce/relish). If you’d like meat for dinner (your hosts all eat meat, they just can’t afford to buy it often), you can take a 40min stroll (or send a child) to the nearest shop where you can buy frozen chicken and tinned fish. Your hosts will add this to your meal – it is customary to share meat like this, but your hosts may be shy to ask, so be sure to offer.
What to bring:
- Clean bedding is provided, but if you think you might get cold, bring along an extra sleeping bag/blanket.
- Torch (flashlight)
- Water Bottle
- Walking shoes
- Swimming costume
- Fruit & snacks
- If you’re planning on cooking for yourself sometimes, bring everything you’ll need to do so, incl. stove, pots etc., although we encourage you to eat local meals or with your homestay family.
What not to bring:
- sweets for the children ( there are no dentist in the area and some don’t have toothbrushes)
- hairdryers or other electrical appliances ( there’s nowhere to plug them in!!)
Activities available in the area:
The nearby Bulungula Lodge offers a variety of activities run by local villagers including:
- Woman power tour
- Herbalist tour on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday & Sunday
Other nearby activities:
- iLanga Fire restaurant
- Birdwatching in surrounding forests
- Beautiful beach is just a stroll down the hill
- Walking around the area to admire the wonderful scenery
Extra R70/p/day for breakfast & dinner
Camping:R90/p/night excluding meals extra R70 for breakfast and dinner
- Call Bongezwa on 047 577 8908 (8am – 5pm)
- After hours: Call Velile on 073 789 4723 or Vuyani on 078 304 8087
How to get here:
BULUNGULA LODGE SHUTTLE FROM MTHATHA : Their shuttle collects from the Mthatha Shell Ultra City (Baz`Bus, Translux and Greyhound bus stop) at 3pm. You MUST call them well in advance to book your seat and thus ensure that the shuttle is sent to fetch you. The shuttle costs R90 per person.
LOCAL TRANSPORT: We believe that most people in South Africa are missing out by not travelling around the country on local transport. Not only are minibuses and non-tourist buses much cheaper and quicker but they are also often the best way to meet interesting people and to learn about local culture. We recommend a crowded bakkie taxi filled with people, chickens, groceries and laughs over luxury transport any day. Coming by local transport is definitely the only way to appreciate the unique location of the homestay.
Please take the following precautions when using minibus/bakkie taxis:
- Only catch taxis from a taxi rank not on the side of the road (remember that taxi ranks are popular with pickpockets);
- Don’t get into a taxi with a drunk driver;
- Women travellers should be wary of taxis that have only male passengers; this is unlikely to be a taxi and is more likely a football team car or something;
To get to us by taxi, go to the Mthatha long distance taxi rank which is about 300m west of the Shoprite at Circus Triangle. Ask for the taxi to Xhora/Elliotdale. It costs about R25 and takes about an hour (on the way, you may stop and change taxis at Mqanduli – the driver will organise this). From Elliotdale/Xhora, you have 2 options. There are a handful of taxis that come directly to our village. Ask for the taxi to Nqileni or Bulungula (the last one leaves Elliotdale at about 3pm). OR catch a taxi to Nkanya (R25, 2 hours). Before you get onto this taxi, confirm that they will drop you at the ferry (“eskepeni”). You will have to walk the last 800m from where the road ends to the ferry. The ferryman will row you across the Xhora river (R5). From there it takes about 15 minutes and is a stunning walk through a beautiful friendly village. Make arrangements to meet Dali, who will be your guide for the duration of your stay, at the river or taxi stop.
If you want the cheapest and quickest way to get to Mthatha from Cape Town, take the DMJ Transport bus from the main Cape Town bus station (the DMJ office is next to the Greyhound office). The bus is as luxurious as the Greyhound (toilet, video, drinks, etc), costs R350, takes only 13 hours (it uses a much shorter route than Greyhound/Translux) and on your return to Cape Town they drop you at the door of your lodge/house for free. (Tel: 021 419 4368). The only down side with coming to Bulungula on the DMJ bus is that it gets into Mthatha at around 9am while our shuttle only leaves Mthatha at 3pm… a long wait… (wait in the Wimpy in the shopping centre at the bus stop). Therefore, if you come by DMJ the best bet is to continue on local transport (minibuses) all the way to the village.
SELF-DRIVE (click here for map): it is now possible to drive to the village with any car (thanks to the new government road). Please print our map and measure your kilometers carefully and make sure you get here well before dark otherwise it is easy to miss the landmarks given in our directions. It is not possible to drive to the homestead, but it is easier for you to drop your luggage off before you park your car, so let your guide know what time you plan to arrive, so she can meet you on the way and go with you to the parking place. From there you can take a stroll to the Homestead. Parking costs R10 per car per night.
PLANE TO MTHATHA: There are now 2 airlines that fly to Mthatha: SAA and Blue Crane. These airlines fly directly from Johannesburg to Mthatha daily and from Port Elizabeth to Mthatha once a week (book well in advance to get cheaper seats). You must catch a flight that gets to Mthatha before 3pm so you can catch our shuttle or alternatively you can hire a car at Mthatha Airport (Avis, Imperial Car Rental and Budget Rent a Car) and drive to our parking area.
PLANE TO EAST LONDON: FlySafair (budget) and SAA (more frequent but more expensive) both fly to East London from Cape Town. From East London Airport you can either hire a car (we recommend Around About Cars which have unlimited kilometres) or you can catch the Airport Shuttle (Tel: 082 569 3599) to the East London bus station where you can catch a Greyhound or Translux bus (these depart EL at 12pm) to Mthatha where the Bulungula Lodge shuttle collects from the Shell Ultra City at 3pm. This needs to be pre-arranged with them. 047 577 8900