Driving through a hot and humid Durban, what started off as a meaningless conversation about what we wanted to do in our own lives led to a series of questions;
“What if someone wanted to spend their vacation doing good, not just lying on a beach?” “And if they wanted to see more of a country than being limited to one place while volunteering?” “How about if they were able to spend their free time doing awesome activities?” “Or getting involved in the communities?”
Global Handprints’ Volunteer Road Trips were born. I mean, who doesn’t love a road trip? And what better way to improve an old classic but to add volunteering in to the mix.
So, we had the idea, the basics of what we wanted to put together and some kind of idea, between us, of what areas we could start exploring in this awesome country. Hmmmm, what comes next? We spent most of that night excitedly talking about itineraries, pouring over maps, making an all important excel spreadsheet with days and towns and activities. The spreadsheet that would come to be our most ‘fiddled with’ document, with us both making changes and edits nearly every time we opened it and something else came to mind.
As this went on, something became clear, no matter how much time we spent devouring maps or how much we read about regions, cultures and activities, nothing beat getting down and dirty on the road and discovering things for ourselves.
With bags packed, arrangements for the dogs to be fed made and the rental car (this was pre-Landy days) full of petrol, we hit the road.
Ever since coming to South Africa, I have been intrigued by the Transkei (Wild Coast) region so for me it was an easy decision to head south and focus on that route first. Leaving sunny Saint Lucia behind us (not too hard to do on a day when the municipality water ran out), we stayed in Durban with an old school friend of the boy’s and spent the night talking about the pros and cons of Land Rovers and work out how we could try to persuade them to give us a Landy for the tours…something we are still working on 🙂
From Durban, just as our Road Trippers would do, we headed South towards Port Shepstone and off the beaten track towards Coffee Bay. As soon as we left the tar roads I had a few doubts about whether the little rental would get us to destination B but, as they say here ‘every rental’s a 4 wheel drive’. Driving through the Transkei region as the sun sets, through the villages, passing traditional Xhosa, brightly coloured round rondavels that make up the communities, is something that will always stick in my mind. Seeing the real, rural South Africa in all her glory was that point that I knew these trips were an awesome idea.
We made it to Coffee Bay the round about way with a few stumbles and wrong turns resulting in us giving an elderly local a lift and he luckily pointed us in the right direction. Coffee Bay proved to be everything and more that I expected. It’s small and relatively un touched (for now) with a beautiful bay being overlooked by green grass, yes grass not yellow sandy, rolling dunes. We checked in to one of the 3 hostels and spent the evening watching a local band and making plans.
After having a wander on the beach to set ourselves up for the day, we headed to the nearest (read, only) ‘café’ ready to make lists and plans and get back to the excel spreadsheet. Little did we know that this pit stop, aptly named Friends, would be the answer to all our open ended questions for Coffee Bay. And that it would set the precedent for the rest of our (and our volunteer’s) adventures. Over two plungers of coffee we got to know the owner and manager who as it turns out are involved in several small community based projects, have a whole heap of ideas on how to expand them and a little book of contacts of more people who would be willing to get involved!
Over the next 10 days we spent our time exploring the (many more than necessary) back roads and dirt tracks of the region, knowing we wanted our volunteers to stay away from highways where possible. Outside of driving, our days were filled with meeting community members, asking questions, looking for contacts and ideas, turning up at peoples doorsteps unannounced, visiting projects, drinking a lot of coffee (and wine) and trying out the different adventure activities whilst also on the hunt for cultural experiences. All of which were to be incorporated into the itineraries born from the spreadsheet! We journeyed from the Transkei Wildcoast north towards the Drakensburg, across the mountains and back down through the Midlands.
The biggest shock to me was the amount of local people who are actively involved in community projects and who are passionate about the development of various local services and projects. It was inspiring to meet people who have gone out of their way to put something in place for others and I knew that this was where Global Handprints was meant to be. Since our inception in 2010, we’ve been all about the small, grass roots level projects. We believe in working with those who sometimes get overlooked by the larger organisations and in keeping the ownership of projects with those who start them and who benefit from them; the community.
I got back home having seen parts of this country I had called home for 6 months, but had never seen and having met people who made me want to go straight back and get involved with their work. This is what we want the Volunteer Road Trips to do for our Road Trippers; inspire them to empower and evolve. And to help them fall in love with Africa; the people, cultures, traditions and landscapes.
Fast forward one year, lots of exploration, new roads discovered ideas thrown out, inspiration received, many motivating people met, and two itineraries are finalised (the excel spreadsheets are locked). The first Landy has been purchased, partnerships are in place and the Volunteer Road trips are ready to go. We have two routes both starting and ending in Durban with new routes running from Cape Town coming soon! You can check them out here and let us know what you think.