Ten hours of driving later, traversing long stretches of winding highway, past the dry fields and rolling hills that litter the wild Southern African coastline, we finally arrived. The sun was just starting to set and the air was crisp and fresh as we clambered out of the car and stretched our limbs, turning our heads to the sky, breathing in the strong smell of fertile soil and pine.
A little town in the Eastern Cape where the beautifully unconventional come to live and play and build cottages that sit suspended over jaw dropping views of a plunging mountain range, hills carpeted in lime green grass and endless forests of tall trees that stand strong in dappled sunlight. Hogsback is a haven of magic. There is an intangible and unexplainable sense of mysticism that springs from the mountain streams and flows right into the taps and into one’s spirit.
Owned by the warm, kind and heavily eyebrowed Shane, Terra Khaya is an eco-hostel, built on a hill overlooking the treetops. We set up our tent outside and settled in. Outdoor showers overlook the valley and horses litter the land with their excrement. The smell of the earth is pungent. The main house is built from clay and with its insulating thatched roof and cosy interior it offers a space of calm and comfort. Nooks and crannies, a bookshelf, beanbag, fireplace and endless cups of tea make for the ideal setting to rest, read and recuperate.
A thick mist flooded the air for most of our stay, raindrops coming and going in between beaming sunshine, the cloudy sky playing with rays of yellow light. We went for a horse ride, through the forests that led into a vast, open field. The beauty of the Amathole mountain range is incomprehensible. There is something about being on a horse, cantering along dusty pathways with ancient mountains sprawling out in front of you that triggers a sense of awe in one’s spirit. A wildness leaks from the soul, a desire to ride into the forest and never look back.
The next day we ventured into the forest again, this time on foot, 5 strong women, on a mission to find the perfect spot to spend the day. Amidst the pines we encountered an ideal little opening and lay our blankets down on a sea of soft pine needles. We burnt incense and ate magic mushrooms and floated for hours among the trees, allowing ourselves to laugh and cry and feel it all. Alice played the guitar and sang as the sun leaked through the branches and warmed our bodies. We melted into each other, riding the waves, journeying into otherworldly celestial planes, transgressing the limited borders of our earthly chained minds. I lay on my back watching the mist and the sun dance together, tears falling from my eyes as I breathed it all in and let go. Acceptance, surrender, serenity. The world glittered and I’ve never felt so much love in my heart before. My friends held me and let me feel it all so bravely, so wildly, so fully.
It was hard and it was soft and it was happening. When we returned from the forest to lie on couches with sleepy eyes and dream about what we had seen and tasted and felt, I found my hair had knotted itself into two thick deadlocks on top of my head. My new dreadlocks were unsalvageable, the hair was so matted and tangled not even a night sleeping with conditioner in and a stern brushing could penetrate this birds nest of hair. It seemed that nature had taken control and formed these thick knots for a reason, the only choice left being to cut it. I cried as my friends cut all my hair off, my heart aching with the realisation that I was changing, that the old Michelle was gone forever. The pain of letting go throbbed in my chest.
I left Terra khaya with short hair and a new found strength, born from the embers of the old me. How much ego do we hold in our hair? Losing my hair felt like losing a part of me But I was still the same me. So what had changed? Hair is just a mask. Something we hide behind. Now I am exposed. Naked. Raw. Vulnerable. Now the work is in loving and accepting myself exactly as I am. I am finally embracing the real me, beneath all of the layers.