We only had a short drive today and it skirted the border of Lesotho, the only country in the world totally surrounded by another country. During colonial times as the British and Dutch slugged it out for control of this region, the locals were decimated and scattered along the way. In the Lesotho area an especially strong king rallied and united his people and formed an alliance with the British. Thus, when the British moved out of the rest of South Africa, which came under Dutch/Afrikaans control, Lesotho remained a British protectorate. Although its people today are the poorest in the region, their spirit was never crushed by the Apartheid rules that stifled the country wrapped around it. Although most of its people are literate, over 1/3 suffer from AIDS. The country has no real natural resources except water and stunning mountain scenery. Its main export has been workers to South Africa, but now that many mines have closed, the unemployment rate is about 45%. In the capital high unemployment and the weak economy have resulted in the kidnapping of aid workers. Perhaps because we have been feeling altogether too safe and comfortable, a group of us decided to detour into Lesotho taking a route nowhere near the capital.
Our leaders and the mechanic who follows us around picking up the pieces, did not accompany us on this "off the record" route. However, we felt safety in numbers and caravanned in a tight formation toward the border. Nothing was clearly marked, but people were friendly and we found ourselves checked out of South Africa and into Lesotho after filling in a form, and paying a 15 rand entrance toll in about half an hour. Borders areas are never the nicest part of a country, and the border teemed with people selling produce and other daily life type products. We were stopped by the police who wanted to verify that we all had driver's licenses, but they and the border officials were courteous and friendly. Our drive took us through gorgeous mountain scenery and we passed many folks walking long the road or waiting for the bus. The kids were getting out of school as we passed and smiled and waved enthusiastically. I waved back so much I began to feel like the Queen of England. Adults stopped what they were doing to stare at this parade of large vehicles driven by white people. They were as curious about us and we were about them. As we waited to reenter South Africa, we were wooed by vendors selling woven goods that we didn't know we needed until we saw them. We were happy to leave Lesotho and glad that we took the chance to get a taske of this anomaly.
Continuing on, we came to Clarens, an amazing oasis of art and fine eating. We were shocked by the quantity and quality of galleries in this out of the way spot and many spent the afternoon enjoying a leisurely meal in this lovely haven. We skipped the art and the lunch and carried on to Golden Gate National Park. Supposedly there are wild animals living here, but we did not see anything except a supposedly rare vulture. However, the rock formations and scenery rival our national parks. Zion in Utah came to mind. Two loop drives took us to altitudes above 7,000 feet. Although we are here in the fall, this is the first place that has felt like fall. Some leaves are turning yellow and there is a nip in the air. In the winter frost and light snows are common here. Time to move back down to the coast.