Craig has to visit a colleague at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, about 1.5 hours away from East London. I come along for the ride.
The university is famous because it is the place where a young Nelson Mandela studied (also, Robert Mugabe, but we don’t like to talk about that).
Afterwards, Craig drives the steep and winding road to Hogsback. He is alert, aware that beyond each corner there may be cows or other livestock on the road. “We’ll have to make sure we leave before dark,” he cautions. “The tar on the road retains heat after the sun goes down, so the animals lie on it to sleep… and get run over.”
The community of Hogsback instantly reminds me of some places in British Columbia. They’ve got coffee shops with organic muffins, various artisans (potters, ironworkers, candlemakers, and FaeryLand which illicits an earnest “Dont you dare stop here,” from me), and famously, lesbians. (“Oh you’re heading to Hogsback? There are some lesbians who live up there.”) Just like BC.
Craig says he wants pottery, so we set off in search of just the right thing – a mission that takes us up some pretty gnarly dirt roads right into the heart of Deliverance territory, only it’s cracked out hippies instead of inbred hillbillies. Prior to the Hogsback Experience I would have been certain that the latter was scarier, but there’s something about getting the tour of the kiln-room by a guy in an oversized oatmeal-coloured hand-knit turtleneck with pupils as small and sharp as tattoo needles that makes a dirty pair of coveralls downright comforting. Cue the banjos… how far is the car?
Despite this, Craig is determined. “I have been up here several times already and I want my Hogsback pottery!” he snaps, releasing the bitchy interior designer within. Luckily, we find an amaXhosa potter who isn’t even remotely terrifying. In fact, he’s got flocks of goats and sheep in the yard which makes me lose my mind completely. Squealing, I take a thousand pictures; Craig rolls his eyes so hard I am afraid he won’t be able to drive us back down the mountain.
We buy the potter out, and inch the BMW back down to the main road. We stop at Nina’s for some food and a glass of suspiciously strong wine, which leads to a heart-to-heart conversation with the proprietor (curiously, her name is not Nina but rather Cherry – a fact that makes me giggle all the way down the mountain).
The descent is treacherous. It is dusk and Craig is on the alert for heat-seeking cows. Still, we can’t resist stopping at a patch of calla lillies growing on the roadside.