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Published: February 12th 2009
In the centre of South Africa, is the world’s third-smallest but highest country - Lesotho. Lesotho has 2.1 million people living in it. The population is largely farmers, living in small rural communities, their main crop maize. The Northern Drakensberg, where I am staying, is nearby the Lesotho border and my backpackers runs day trips across the border. So that was my adventure today.
Two mini buses of us packed in and headed off. The drive was almost 2 hours to the border. We all lined up with the locals at the immigration booth to have our passports scanned and stamped. Then we entered Lesotho.
Right away, it was different. Lesotho is quite a poor country. South Africa, while it has it’s challenges has it’s share of people who are poor, has great financial infrastructure, especially compared to this tiny neighbour. Immediately, the road was rough. Very rough. We’re talking huge rocks all along the road. And the road was so steep, we needed to get out to walk up the hill, cause our mini buses wouldn’t make it up. But wow, was it beautiful!
Only a few kilometres across the border, in the district of Botha Bothe,
was the village of Mafika-Lisu. Our first stop was at the village school. The school has 154 students in 7 classes sharing 4 classrooms. A group of the village kids came to gather around us. They sang for us. They smiled shyly. They giggled. And they asked for candy and money. But we’d been told if we were to leave money, there’d be opportunity for us. The school had a small office with some local crafts made by parents. Purchasing their work pays for their children’s school fees. One of the school’s teachers was there and we could make donations to the school.
After the school visit, we walked through the village and up one of the hills to a cave area. There we saw some ancient cave drawings by the Saan people. Unfortunately, a lot of damage and wear has happened to the drawings, as the area doesn’t have anything set up to protect such things and of the things the area and the country need, protecting rock art is low on the priority list.
Under the shade of the cave walls below the cave drawings, we had our picnic lunch. And our guides took turns telling
us stories first of the Saan people, then of the people of Lesotho. It was so beautiful up there, with the view of the village below and the hills rolling beyond that.
From our lunch spot, we headed back down into the village to a local “bar”. The “bar” is like any other house, except in the front yard is a small one colour flag waving. The different colours mean the different types of “beer”. The “beer” is homemade in the house, dished out of buckets and served in tin cans or plastic tubs. Locals sit outside on the ground, on crates on rocks and share drinks and conversation. We strolled along and were given a few containers to pass around and try. I confess that I didn’t try any, as it’s made from maize and I can’t eat corn! But it was still interesting to watch everyone else!
We were driven to the far side of the village and went to another home. This time the home of one of the village’s Shamans - a traditional healer. We were welcomed into his home where he treats people and with our guide translating he told us about himself
and we could ask questions. He told us of how he became a Shaman - it’s a calling that just happens, you don’t choose to become one - and of some the things he treats people for - fertility, mental disorders, general feelings of unwellness. He was a very interesting man with a great energy.
Our final stop was at one more local home. Again, tons of children rushed along to gather. Here we were given a few plates of local food to pass around and sample. Again, the staple is maize so I had to pass (good thing I wasn’t born here, or perhaps if I was the intolerance never would have developed?). I loved just standing there looking at the gorgeous countryside.
And then it was time to head back, back down the rough road, back to the border, back into South Africa.
Yesterday’s tour to the top of the ampitheatre and today’s tour of Lesotho were both brilliant. Incredible tours of incredible places. I want to share something else that’s been pretty incredible throughout both for me . . . Also staying at the backpackers with me is a married couple from Germany and
their two seven year-old twin girls. Wonderful family. And the whole family went along on both tours that I’ve done. While the adults panted our way up to the top of the ampitheatre, the girls happily strolled along. While I sat in near tears at the thought of going down the chain ladder, the girls patiently waited turns for their dad to help them down. While we sat for an hour listening to our guides tell the history of the Saan and Lesotho people, the girls happily sat in the shade playing with flowers. While the village children crowded around to check out the visitors, the girls shyly smiled back and they all posed for photos together. So often I’m asked about when I’m quitting what I do, when I’m going to settle down into a “normal” life. And I put far more pressure on myself to come up with those answers than most would believe. I’ve always tried to tell myself that I don’t have to entirely give up one for another, there has got to be ways to balance it all. This phenomenal family has become my inspiration. I was fascinated by them. Here they were, having travelled
from the top of the globe to the bottom - on a family vacation. Mom, Dad and the kids go out on tours that I’m considered a brave and adventurous young traveller for doing. This family is doing it. I will too.
Lots of photos for this entry - I couldn't narrow them down!
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