Port St. Johns to Grahamstown, South Africa

Overcast skies at 8AM on a Sunday morning and already people are out wandering the streets of Port St. Johns, not as many as yesterday afternoon but way more than you would expect at this early hour.  Traffic is light, the road conditions good and we make good time out the R61 towards Mthatha. The scenery doesn’t change much, pockets of more mountainous regions and lush vegetation but mostly the same over-grazed fields and rolling hills dotted with brightly painted single family dwellings.

Around Mthatha it starts to rain and continues off and on the entire day. Just when we think the sky is clearing, it darkens again with more rain. At East London we hit a patch of blue sky, making for a pretty drive down a long incline into the city and across the river. This is more the dramatic type scenery one would expect of the “Wild Coast”.

South of East London we take the coastal road R72 recommended by our host Mike at the Lodge on the Beach. With more heavy rain and few vistas the detour was hardly worth it, and probably wouldn’t be even in good weather. Certainly the scenery coming into East London on the N2 was just as remarkable if not more so. What does change significantly is the number of poor black towns and locals wandering the roadsides. Deep in the Wild Coast the country side population is dense, but as you drive west the number of villages and rural housing greatly diminishes replaced with more western looking white towns and small cities.


At Port Alfred we take the R67 north to Grahamstown. In dense fog and at times heavy rain we pass through rolling green hills, reaching Grahamstown by mid-afternoon.  Through the fog we can make out some of the historic colonial buildings the town is known for, but there is scarcely a soul on the street. A sharp contrast from previous towns.

At the Colonel Graham Guest House we are greeted with a sign giving a number to call if arriving after 1pm on a weekend. We call and our host arrives about ten minutes later, the rain still coming down in buckets. She quickly shows us our room and gives us the basic info we need. Unfortunately there is not the Wi-Fi we were counting on to finish booking the rest of our trip.

The simple room is light and airy (in sunny weather) and opens onto a lush green lawn and parking area inside a secure fence.

A long hallway to the bathroom and kitchenette area, complete with a fridge and coffee station, give the space a converted garage feel. Not the coziest room but certainly adequate for one night. The next morning in the light of day and absent the rain the compound made much more sense with a gate leading to the main house and breakfast area.

We spend the rest of the afternoon on a “borrowed” internet connection. After losing the connection from the room we move to the car in the driveway, rain still pouring down, to finish making our bookings for the next couple of days.

For dinner we first cruise the main drag, High Street, to see what might be open on a Sunday evening. Not much and we end up at the Rat and Parrot, a college bar/restaurant near the university, where our host from the B&B was working the weekend shift. A young university atmosphere, albeit a bit dated, with brick colored walls and checkered table cloths, loud 70s and 80s tunes, and students (both black and white) downing pizza and beer. One of the rare instances of inter-mixing of races as equals that we’ve seen in South Africa.

October 2, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the South Africa page.