Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Backpacking to Lubanzi, South Africa

One of my most memorable experiences abroad in South Africa was our hike to a village called Lubanzi from Coffee Bay. We packed our backpacks with a week full of gear, loaded the rental car and started the eight hour drive to Coffee Bay. We did not have any concrete plans as to where we would be going, and for how long, but we all had an excellent guide book, detailing places to stay and eat along the way. This trip we did not run into any problems on the road, and made it safely to Coffee Bay. The guidebook detailed an opportunity for a hike from Coffee Bay to a small village called Lubanzi, where we could arrange a home stay with a Xhosa family. It said that there was an option to hire a guide, but some people at the hostel we were staying at said that we could do it without a guide.

With this in mind, the five of us set off on the trail with the minimal directions that the hostel owners could provide. They told us to follow the goat trail along the coast and through the next couple villages. They assured that if we got lost, we could ask locals for directions and they would be able to send us in the right direction. After the first hour of hiking, we were unsure if we were taking the correct path. As we were walking through one village, a young man named Ronnie approached us asking if we needed help finding our way. This made it clear that we looked obviously lost. We explained that were trying to find Lubanzi where we would be doing a home stay, and asked if this was the right direction. He said we were a little off, but that he could help us get back on track.

Ronnie was wearing just shorts and a tank top, with no shoes or possession other than the frisbee he was playing with when we first saw him. We began our trek through the fields, rivers and hills, with Ronnie leading the way. We all laughed as we struggled to keep up with him, and I was constantly impressed with how strong his feet were. After hiking for about an hour with Ronnie, we thanked him repeatedly for his help, and asked him to explain how we would get the rest of the way to Lubanzi. He insisted that he take us all the way, even though the journey would take us all day. He appeared to be young, maybe 16 years old, so we pushed for him to go home so as to not worry his parents. Still, he knew that we would not make it to our destination ,and decided to guide us the entire way.

The hike was stunning the entire way, and we realized the whole time that we would be lost without the kindness of Ronnie, and his determination to get us to a safe place to sleep. The sun was setting quickly, and Ronnie warned us that we must hurry to get there before dark. We came upon a river that was too high to cross, so we took the scenic route around it, through another mountain pass.

The sun set and we reiterated how thankful we were for his help, as we would be entirely helpless without him at this point. We had NO idea where we were, or where we were going. A few hours after our assumed time of arrival, we found Lubanzi, and asked around to see which family we would be staying with. Our host family had already had dinner, so unfortunately we did not get to enjoy the lovely food they prepared for us. We insisted that Ronnie stay the night with us, rather than making the day-long journey home through the night. The next morning we all had breakfast together and said our goodbyes.

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