We came here on the suggestion of Ola, the daughter of the owner of Wild Spirit Backpackers’ (the same lovely lady who gave me an awesome haircut during our stay there). As usual, our Lonely Planet book was brief on the Amathole Mountains, but one interesting tidbit we did learn was that Hogsback was a holiday retreat for a young JRR Tolkien, and supposedly contributed inspiration for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s a small mountain town, with a fierce fairy influence, a touch of new age, and a lot of beautiful forests, waterfalls, and mountains begging you to hike through them. One of the other reasons we decided to stop here was because one of the two main backpackers’ in Hogsback is a place called Terra Khaya, and several people told us we had to go there and experience the sustainable, completely made-of-recycled-materials, off-the-grid, and running-on-renewable-energy spot the owner Shane has built from the ground up. When we arrived, Shane was out for the day, but one of his employees was there and told us to go ahead and set up camp. Then we walked around the property. The 4 or 5 buildings are all made from scraps of material: traffic signs, tin sheets, old furniture. Almost all waste is re-used: either turned into a new product, burned in the furnace for cooking or for heat, composted, or used to make art. Shane told us he has yet to take anything to the dump. The toilet creates compost, and the shower is outdoor and must have the best view of any showers anywhere. Shane has dogs, cats, horses, chickens, geese, pigs, and cows. He has a vegetable garden, which he hopes will fully supply all the food needed at Terra Khaya, and he recently planted a “food forest”, which is a bit like an orchard, but instead of one type of tree in neat rows, he hopes to plant an entire ecosystem: groundcover, grasses, shrubs, short trees, tall trees resulting in a self-sustaining garden which will bear fruit and other food with minimal need for upkeep, fertilizers, or pest control. When Shane needs wood, he cuts down an invasive tree from his property and always plants an indigenous one in its place. Big dinners are cooked for all the guests every night, and because all of his food is either grown on his land or bought in bulk, there is less waste than if each of us cooked our own meal with supermarket products.
Contrary to what you might think, Shane is not a preachy, out-there, “my-way-is-better-than-everyone-else’s-way” kind of guy. He is down to earth, and as he put it, he is still learning about this stuff each day, and wants others to be able to learn from what he’s done. The place he’s built is impressive and beautiful, and I do believe he’s doing a fine job of showing his guests and the community that living simply, without waste, is attainable and does not require sacrificing comfort or aesthetics. Part of the reason he turned his property into a backpackers’ (aside from financial), was so that others could experience this way of life and learn something from their stay with him.
Our stay here was short, but we did take a horseback ride into the forest and to a pretty outlook with a wide view of the surrounding mountains. Shane rode barefoot without a saddle or reins; he’s trained his horses to understand voice commands, pointing, and weight placement. I was amazed to see his horse do exactly what he wanted with just a quick word or point of his finger. Nick and I rode our horses with saddles and simple bridles without bits, which is much gentler for the horses. Unfortunately, my horse, Baron, got a little too excited about cantering, and I got tossed off. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet and walked away (slowly) with only bruises and a very sore tailbone. However, it was nothing an afternoon of lounging with the cats and reading with the mountains in the background couldn’t take care of.
That evening, we enjoyed Shane’s delicious “warthog stew” and homemade bread with the other guests by candlelight, followed by a dessert of homeopathic concoctions Shane prescribed to me out of his medicine toolbox. Due to my soreness and bruising, we treated ourselves to a night in beds instead of camping, and we slept in the loft section of his dorm house, reachable only by climbing a tree (which I miraculously did not fall while doing). While our search for hobbits in the forest and my attempt at horsemanship proved fruitless, we’re still thankful we checked out Terra Khaya and can’t wait to check up on Shane’s progress in the future!