A flame-grilled road trip through the Eastern Cape


On a recent trip to the Eastern Cape, I discovered that Mother Nature rules in the Wild Coast, a little bit more than in any other part of SA.  

Time isn’t really important there. Roads aren’t either. Neither are cars. Or cellphone reception. Nor is any other basic detail that makes the modern, capitalist world function.

But there is one exception to Mother Nature’s rule in the EC. Nandos.

On a recent trip to the Eastern Cape, I found myself in a Quantum taxi on route from Durban to Lusikisiki – a village north-east from Port St John. The tour group I was part of was scheduled for a 'Traditional African lunch' but, because of roadworks, potholes and cows, we missed it...

Our tour guide Velile – or Bra V as we called him – kept reassuring us that a restaurant was just around the corner. But it must have been a wide corner because at about 3:30, we were still only talking about food. 

As we bumped through the potholes, I could hear a faint “mxm” coming from Lelethu – an annoyed fellow tourist - on the seat behind me.

We were getting hangry, so when Bra V suggested we stop at Nandos, our intentions of “experiencing a traditional African meal” flew out the window of the now speeding Quantum.

So hungry were we that the live chickens being sold and slaughtered at the market right in front of Nando’s in Bizana couldn’t even bother us from getting our hands on some flame-grilled goodness.

We bought two whole peri-peri chickens with 12 rolls, a 2L Fanta grape and a 2L Sprite. And some foamilite cups. We were 5 people.

Walking out, I felt like a member of the original A-Team walking from a scene of destruction in slow-motion – complete with chicken feathers (from the market slaughter place) flying over our heads.

Few words were spoken in the Quantum as the brown paper bags were ripped open and buns dealt like poker cards. If it was poker, I was dealt the best hand of my life. Never had a plain bread roll with pieces of chicken torn from the bone tasted as delicious as that day. A rather extraordinary quantum leap if you ask me.

I must have dosed off in the taxi after that, because when I woke it was dark already. We were still driving.

I could hear faint squeals coming from Lelethu’s side. When I looked over, her complexion resembled the colour of wet cement. Hands shaking, she gestured to her stomach. Either it was something in the air at the market or the Nandos had turned on her.

While I was sleeping, Lelethu had rallied up everyone else in the taxi – who were now hanging over their seatbacks, looking at her squirm in pain.

She gave a big groan, which caused Bra V to shift the Quantum up a gear.

“It’s just around the corner’ he assured her again while the rest of the travelling party tried to console Lelethu - who was turning paler by the minute.

We were supposed to see a sangoma – or traditional healer – at some point during that day, but we sped right past that en route to Nandos. Looking back on our life choices, we should have stopped there. But then again, no amount of muti would’ve helped Lelethu anyway.

We turned from the potholed tar road onto a single track dirt road, where the Quantum swerved like a rouge Ferrari past the unsuspecting Ngunis dosing off in the grass next to the road.

We could smell the ocean.

‘The lodge is just around the corner,’ Bra V promised. 

But Lelethu had heard that one too many times. While in motion, she jumped out of the taxi and ran off into the dark night. 

Five minutes went by. Then another Five. We attempted to shine a flashlight in the direction she ran in, but I guess we were afraid of what we might see. Another 15 minutes passed. We listened to Destiny’s Child on Umhlobo Wenene FM.  

I thought she’d never return from those bushes. But she did, thankfully – just as Beyonce did a Grammy deserving scream singing “I’m a survivor! Keep on surviving!’”.  

*hangry (han-gree) adj. – A state of anger caused by lack of food; hunger causing a negative change in emotional state.  
*mxm – xhosa expression of distaste, pretty similar to tsk.