Astounding Southern Africa - Ramabanta, Lesotho, Sunday 2015 March 1

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March 1st 2015
Published: May 22nd 2016
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Undulating beauty!Undulating beauty!Undulating beauty!

near Harrismith
8:45 p.m. We have landed in the most unimaginable “hotel” ever! Out my window and patio door is a wide view of a Drakensberg escarpment and mountain, fully green and filled with darker green trees and bushes. My “room” is a bedroom off a large sitting room and kitchen, shared by Judy, who is in a loft. Ours is part of a set of four unique sitting-bedroom arrangements, each unique, once part of a farm with stables. Ramabantha Trading Lodge was one of the original holdings on a trail of trading posts established by one family in the early twentieth century. They still run the modernized business. When we arrived about 5:00, out of curiosity we all walked through the other buildings and people's rooms. Norm and Duane are in the converted stables, with rooms that echo the configuration once there. We had dinner at the main house, out on the patio. As soon as the sun set, the air got cool because we are at about 7000 feet in elevation.

This morning, our day started and continued with driving through spectacularly beautiful landscapes. The mountains are green right over the top, and many tops are flat because of glacial scraping. Some
Golden Gate National ParkGolden Gate National ParkGolden Gate National Park

entering towering stone formations
were veiled by clouds, recalling last night’s heavy rain. As we came nearer to the Drakensberg Range, the “sculpture” became more severe: straight sandstone cliffs and bluffs supported by rounded “pillars”, as if in a great Norman cathedral. The stone was either in shades of grey or multi-coloured with metals, especially patterns made by the leaching of tannins from the plants above. Incredibly, the mountains are a sort of great sand dune: sand from the Kalahari Desert was blown over sedimentary rock and, with rain, gradually solidified into rock. The Golden Gate National Park preserves this old rocky land, named for a group of high steep formations that remain golden in colour. On the South Africa side, the mountains are called the Drakensberg, and on the Lesotho side they are called the Maluti.

Just after entering the Park, we stopped for a tour at a Basotho interpretive village that was very well done. As is customary, our guide first sought permission to enter the village. We were introduced gravely to (an actor playing) the chief and his assistant. They invited us to sit, a few at a time (men first), and to sip sorghum beer. To my surprise, it tasted quite good – both a bit
Chief and AssistantChief and AssistantChief and Assistant

Basotho Cultural Village
tart and sweet. We saw the chief’s house, and Jack was dressed in traditional clothes, each piece explained. They we went to the chief’s first wife’s house, and Elizabeth was dressed in her traditional clothes. Finally we went to the chief’s second wife’s house, where a woman (actor) was grinding corn. She invited us to taste it – sweet and nutty. Then our guide, Jack, explained these houses and customs belonged to the 1600s. We then saw houses from the 1700s, where European influence brought doors and windows; then the 1800s where more European possessions were placed on very attractive shelves, and the houses were rectangular; then the 1900s when a single house with many rooms became the style, at least for the well-off.

Lunch was at Clemens, a town named for the Swiss town where Paul Kruger died while trying to set up a government in exile after losing the Anglo-Boer War. Modern Clemens is a tourist resort town, with lots of shops and restaurants around a central square park. After eating I walked around the square, looking in a few nice shops. In the last minutes, I found a bathing suit cover-up for half price – only

Most spectacular views in the world!
150 rand ($16.50).

Crossing the border into Lesotho was a wordless breeze.

Driving again, I marveled at the towering thunderheads in the expansive mountainous scenery, which turned out to be close to our destination. The clouds were flat and heavy grey on the bottom, rising through ever-lighter shades of grey into shining white gigantic puffy tops highlighted by a few nearly black streaks.

For all its beauty, Lesotho is a very poor country with high unemployment and HIV/AIDS rates, plus troubles with alcohol and young men. Chinese investment is widespread near the capital, but the good jobs are kept for the Chinese and the workers are poorly paid – except in this country, having any job is good. Some of the houses, which are at least owned by the working individuals, are new or still under construction and look nice but very small for families. The main manufacturing, employing about 7% of the population, makes denim cloth and clothes – all the big brands. As we drove out of the capital, Maseru, we saw lots of people walking along the side of the road, getting to or from work or school or shops. The majority of the men were dressed with a Lesotho blanket, a sort of overcoat in this cool climate. These men were herders. I had fingered a blanket at the interpretive village: 90%!w(MISSING)ool, 10%!c(MISSING)otton, nicely thick, bright colours and patterns.

Dinner: rice, carrots, peas, chicken fingers, steak, salads, rose wine. One salad was shredded raw butternut squash - mild sweet flavour. The best salad was made with excellent tender beets.

View map of route to date.

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


Ndaba VillageNdaba Village
Ndaba Village

Clear view of yesterday's village on top of the hill
University of Free State, Qwaqwa campusUniversity of Free State, Qwaqwa campus
University of Free State, Qwaqwa campus

Classes taught in local language
Basotho musicianBasotho musician
Basotho musician

Welcoming us to the interpretive village
 Basotho Village Basotho Village
Basotho Village

Each house from a different era
Houses mimmic the landscapeHouses mimmic the landscape
Houses mimmic the landscape

... as stressed by our guide
Basotho Cultural VillageBasotho Cultural Village
Basotho Cultural Village

Judy consults the traditional healer.
Grain basketGrain basket
Grain basket

an artwork!
Chief's first wife Chief's first wife
Chief's first wife

Actor shows off the home
Chief's second wifeChief's second wife
Chief's second wife

Actor demonstrating corn grinding
19 century Basotho 19 century Basotho
19 century Basotho

Fabulous design and colours!
20 century Basotho house20 century Basotho house
20 century Basotho house

More daring than any other culture!

House reminiscent of Bong's uncle's new house
Over a pass towards LesothoOver a pass towards Lesotho
Over a pass towards Lesotho

Just the beginning of verdant vistas!
Golden Gate National ParkGolden Gate National Park
Golden Gate National Park

The other end of the "gate"
 Lesotho Lesotho

Here people walk - impoverished and not-urban
Lesotho terrainLesotho terrain
Lesotho terrain

Undulating up into high mountains
Our sitting room!Our sitting room!
Our sitting room!

Ramabanta Trading Post Lodge

22nd May 2016
Undulating beauty!

Love this shot.
23rd May 2016
Our sitting room!

So similar and yet so different
Many of your photos evoke places I've been - the Scottish Highlands, Arizona, Australia. Maybe there's only so many ways you can pile up rocks and flank them with rolling hills! Yet some of them are just enough different that I could tell (I think) that I've never been to that spot, even without the location identifier. Great shots of the houses, too - the interior of the 20th century house makes me think I'm too timid with patterned walls (having exactly none . . .).

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