Road Trippin' South Africa: visit to the highest country in the world

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Africa » Lesotho
July 29th 2013
Published: August 9th 2013
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I only did a day trip to Lesotho while I was staying at the Amphitheatre Backpackers in Drakensberg.

The tour wasn't cheap, but it was well worth the money. Again, I'll mention the guide, Adrian, who excelled himself in this trip. The other people in the group were a French family of 4, Claire from the UK, Victor from France and a German couple.

Lesotho is known as "the mountain kingdom. Even though Lesotho is landlocked by South Africa, it's an independent kingdom.
It's the highest country in the world. Surely, one thinks about Tibet or Nepal when you think about the highest country in the world. But it's in Africa. Lesotho is the highest because its highest "lowest point" is 1200m. Odd facts you pick up while traveling.

To read about the history of Lesotho, here's a wikipedia article (Lesotho). One of the most influential people in Lesotho history is King Moshoeshoe I, who was the one who united all the tribes in that area. He also fought several wars against the British, Boers, Zulus and other tribes (King Moshoeshoe).

Lesotho is "The land of the people that speak Sesotho". Sesotho being the language and the people that inhabit the country are known as the "Besotho". "Sotho" is literally translated as "high". Thus, the Besotho are the people of the highlands. Lesotho (according to the guide) is the third poorest country in the world.

The way of life for most people is very simple. People harvest their lands for their own consumption. Same goes for any cattle they might have. A very high percentage of the country is considered to live in poverty. Also, a big problem they have is that about 1/3 of the population has AIDS.

The Besoho are very friendly people and will often greet you as you pass by.

We drove for about 1 1/2 hours from the Backpackers to arrive at the border pass in Monantsapas. This particular point of entry in the northern part of Lesotho is controled only in the South African side.

After getting our passports stamped, we had a short drive to a small village (can't remember the name). There aren't any other tour operators that visit this part of Lesotho and the reason that we went there is because Amphitheatre Backpackers contribute financially to the school in the village.

Then we got off the van, we visited the school (the children were on holidays) and when we began the walk, we were followed the entire way by a group of children (very well behaved actually). Along the way and during the entire day, Adrian told us about the way of life, a bit about the history and current situation of the country. As a guide, this area is his specialty, so he was in his element.

We walked past the village and saw some horse riders in traditional clothes and we also walked by traditional houses. Part of the traditional clothing involves people covering themselves with blankets; sort of like a "poncho" concept. The blanket comes from the times of King Moshoeshoe I. He was presented a blanket once, by an Englishman called Mr. Howel in 1860. The king grew quite fond of his blanket and a lot of people started imitating the "new fashion".

Over time, the blanket was used to represent the different tribes and also used in different ceremonies.

The "Victoria Blanket" (if I'm not mistaken had a leopard skin design or some kind of other pattern) was used by the king and tribal chiefs and it symbolized status.

Nowadays the blankets are widely used in everyday life. Usually they're not hand made, but just purchased in stores. Here's a case study I found about the blankets (Lesotho Blankets).

The houses are called "mokhoro" and are round shaped (they help preserve the inside temperature). The Lesotho also believed that demons would hide in the corners of buildings, therefore it was another good reason to have round shaped houses.

After visiting the village, we walked up a hill where we went to see rock paintings about 700-800 years old, made by South African indigenous people, called "bushmen" or "San people". There we took a break and Adrian explained other facts about the life there, including the rituals for boys and girls to pass onto adulthood. A little bit about them in point 7.- in this article: Rites of passage.

Two more places we went to that day: we went to try the local beer and then visit a Sangoma.

The beer (as well as in other places in SA), is made by the women and they make it out of corn. We went into a traditional house where an old couple lived and they gave us some of their home made beer. It wasn't as bad as I expected (after seeing the faces the others were putting after trying it). Beer for them is a big thing and they have to offer it to their guests.

One other particular thing about the Besotho culture is the concept of "Ubuntu", or sharing what you have. Houses will have colored flags outside that will tell travelers what they can be offered or bought in a house. (I can't remember which is which, but there were green, red, white flags, etc. which could mean food, beer, accommodation, etc.).

In that village we also learned a bit about the food. The main diet is a mash made out of maize. They eat that all day and it's called "pap". They usually have it with spinach, which is also grown there. We had some of that there. Chicken is also common, but reserved for more "special ocassions". I also saw they had pigs and cattle.

About the sangomas: even though most of the Besotho are Christians, they still keep many of their old traditions. One of these traditions involve the traditional healers, or "Sangomas". Here's an article: (Sangomas).

The Sangomas play a very important part in life there; from curing ilnesses to praying for rain. The sangomas can be either male or female. They don't choose to be a Sangoma, but they get a "calling". The calling is different for every sangoma and it can be manifested by dreams or visions.

The Besotho believe that when someone falls ill, it's because their ancestor are "bored" or want the people to pray to them. So the sangoma has to fall into a trance, speak to the ancestors and ask them what to do with the patient.

Although we didn't get to meet neither of the 2 sangomas that lived in the village (although we encountered one of them when we stopped at the border in SA), Adrian was the one who told us about them.

The sangomas, after they receive the calling, have to go through a long process to become one and they have a final test, which is different for everyone of them. The test that one f the vilage sangomas had to do was to dance all night with a rooster on her head. If the rooster fell off or decided to jump off, that was it; she couldn't be a samgoma.

That was the trip more or less; very interesting and with a lot of information for just a say visit. I really enjoyed it.

While we were driving back, we were stopped by a couple of kids who wanted to sell us dead mice thay had just caught and that were carrying around proudly.

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9th August 2013

saludos desde Lonquen
Hola Daniel, Muy buenos e informativos ambos últimos post the Sudafrica. Por acá todo sigue muy bien. Aun en pleno invierno con algo de lluvia la ultima semana lo que como agricultor se agradece. Estamos haciendo trabajos de invierno en la viña como abonar con guano, hacer un pozo nuevo para el agua de riego, podar, subir alambres, cambiar postes, desmalezar etc para que cuando llegue la primavera en 1 mes mas estemos preparados para ese gran evento donde todo florece rapido y donde hay que andar al dia en cada nuevo trabajo en las parras. Los niños muy bien en el colegio de vuelta de las vacaciones de invierno. Sofi estudiando mucho para la PSU y haciendo muchas cosas para el centro de alumnos que preside, Asunción haciendo el yearbook del colegio para financiar su viaje de estudios, Pablo entre pasarlo bien y juegos algo estudia, la Trini en sus talleres de teatro y Clemente regaloneando con todos. Con Monica estamos sin novedad y sacando adelante espero que en 1 mes mas nuestro nuevo emprendimiento. Todo por ahora, un abrazo Andres

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