Friday, June 28, 2013

Daytrip to LESOTHO!

See that curving mud/dirt road? That's what Lesotho's roads look like -
a bit of an adventure to drive on! 
Finally made some time to write about this! On the last day of my May holiday we were persuaded to go on a daytrip to Lesotho – and it was awesome. After driving an hour or so we started into the mountains, where the roads became noticeably worse and the fog very thick. Half an hour in we reached the border post. The 8 of us stood shivering in line and ran back to the bus as soon as our passports were stamped. We were then informed that there was no border post on the Lesotho side. You can stamp out of South Africa, but you don’t get to stamp into Lesotho, at least at this border! Apparently the building on the Lesotho side was washed away at some point… that might have been made up by the tour guide, but it’s totally possible – I think it’s relatively rare for there not to be a customs/immigration post to stamp you into a country!

Anyway, once that was sorted out we we really in the mountains, and as we drove through the twists and turns our guide gave us a little background on the country we were now in. Lesotho is also called the mountain kingdom, and it is in fact the highest elevated country in the world. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s a landlocked little country completely surrounded by South Africa, and the vast majority of the population are farmers. While we were listening to this man speak I couldn’t help but get distracted by the quickly deteriorating road situation. After about 10 minutes we had reached the end of the tar road, and were now driving on mud. This wasn’t a back road, this was the main road of the country, and it was dirt/rock/mud. I wish I’d been able to take pictures of this, but it was by far the worst road I’ve ever had the experience of driving over, it was really bumpy almost the entire time we were in the car.

People in Lesotho are known for the blankets they drape over themselves
to stay warm in the cold weather! 
We arrived at the local school, which the backpackers we were with supports, and we were told that it was a holiday in the country so the other schools nearby had all gathered together to celebrate. This would probably explain the number of kids who stared at these tourists with a mixture of awe and fear. When we tried to speak to them we got mostly no response. Realizing the celebrations wouldn’t be starting for a while – this is Africa time after all – we left for our lunchtime hike into the mountains. Once at the top of one of the mountains our guide pointed out San paintings in the rock, apparently they can be found all over the area. There are many in Namibia as well! On our way back to the school we noticed several huts, and were informed that it is very rare to find power and running water anywhere in the country. Someone had some level of power though, as we passed a shebeen playing loud music!

Lesotho traditional healer explaining the purpose of what he is wearing
Back at the school we waited and waited and waited some more. Slowly people arranged themselves and the kids started with role plays. Kids LOVE role plays in my experience in Namibia, and Lesotho children found them equally entertaining. However, since we understand exactly 0 Sesotho words, realizing these would be continuing for the forseeable future we moved on. Our next stop was the traditional healer. He was really interesting to listen to. He uses traditional remedies to heal ailments that villagers visit him about – headaches, back pain, stomach pain, really anything he said. He became a healer when he started having visions. The traditional healers in this area communicate the ailments of their patients to the spirits, and then come up with the natural remedies. When he decided to follow the calling of becoming a healer he had to be trained, and initiated by killing a goat and drinking its blood. One thing that I found worth note was his response when one of the people in our group asked him what he does when he gets sick – does he visit the other healer in the village? He said maybe, or he would go to a western doctor. It was really cool to see that he understood the benefits of western medicine and didn’t have any problems with it.

We ended our visit at another house, where we tried traditional food. This food was very similar to traditional Owambo food – porridge [less sandy] and traditional spinach. While the non-PCV half of the group each tasted a bite of the food and had had enough, my group saw a plate still full of food and took the chance to finish it off handily, accustomed to the balling up the porridge with our hands and dipping it into the spinach. Yum! A perfect way to end the day! A lot of elements of this visit were similar to my experiences visiting rural Namibia, and I think the tour guide did an excellent job introducing people to what life looks like for someone in Lesotho.

Onward to spending the night at the airport and coming home to Nam!

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