|Lesotho (le-soo-too) where the Besotho speak Sesotho! This stunningly beautiful little country, aptly named the Kingdom in the Sky, rises like an island in the clouds in the middle of South Africa. The eastern border is formed by the dramatic Drakensberg escarpment where the highveld plunges down over 1000m before spilling onto the plains. All the guides book warn you not to attempt to go into Lesotho unless you have a four wheeled drive, and, even though I got permission from my rental company to take the car into Lesotho, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and took a day trip instead. I rather foolishly thought that the tour would have a nice comfy 4x4 in which the (only) three of us on the tour would undertake the journey from the Northern Drakensberg to this tiny country. Wrong! A rather sorry looking minibus greeted us in the early morning to take us up through the Monantsa Pass. Well, perhaps the roads aren't as bad as the guide book makes out? Wrong again! I would have balked at taking a 4x4 on the roads let alone a dodgy minibus and I'm talking a real 'ard 4x4, not one of those war supporting SUVs that yuppies take their kids to school in. And I use the word "road" in it's looses sense, if you can call a collection of huge rocks and 3 foot deep fissures that roughly point in one direction steeply up at a greater than 45 degree angle a road. Still the driver assured us he could teach Schumacker a thing or two, which strangely failed to inspire much confidence. After picking up a few locals at the border crossing we rattled and bumped our way into Losotho, our brains swishing about inside our skulls in a manner reminiscent of many autorickshaw journeys in India.
Lesotho is a bit of real Africa, it's easy to forget sometimes that you are in this vast and varied continent surrounded by the Ferraris, shopping malls and beach houses of Cape Town but Africa has a something about it, I really understand how it gets under you skin and into your soul. Surrounded by it's stunning beauty you really feel a huge and ancient energy beating at it's heart. As we drove through the spectacular mountainous scenery of Lesotho, past little roundel thatched mud houses and herds of curly-coated white fluffy goats an air of peaceful serenity creep over you. Nothing much goes on in Lesotho, there's no industry to speak of and most of the Basotho people are small self sustaining farmers growing maize and tending their animals. Our first stop was a little village school where children of all ages are taught in two stone buildings. The country was a British protectorate for a while and English is widely spoken and taught. One of the teachers showed us around and let us sit in on some classes. The children were quite shy initially but after I took a picture and showed it too them I was besieged by little clamouring faces falling over each other to have look in a classic re-enactment of that clichéd mob scene you associate with children in Africa.
Afterwards we walked up into the mountains behind the school to see some caves with San paintings on the walls, unfortunately the local kids had scratched out most of the details but it was lovely to sit and survey the bucolic tranquillity of the landscape...At least it would have been if not for one of my fellow travellers. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Lionel Blair he was one of those people who has to fill every millisecond of silence with inane observations and endless dreary details of their lives, "The grass is green, the mountains are high, the sheep are being farmed by the villagers....." on and on and on. Before we'd even got to the border post I knew his entire life story in intimate detail, only pausing to ask the odd seemingly polite question about his audience the answer to which merely served to facilitated a new diatribe about some aspect of his own life....Radio People! Oh well, he was well meaning but it would have been nice to enjoy the silence in peace.
Later on we went to a shabeen (local pub) where the presence of home brewed "pineapple" beer is indicated by a tall stick with a fertilizer bag or some such on the end flying from the roof of a mud hut. We were given a huge green bucket like receptacle filled with the local hooch, which despite it's name is not made from pineapples but from maize. Although resembling dish water it was surprisingly nice (tasted like pineapple!) and we were entertained by the local policeman called Power, who was more than rat-arsed from said beverage, and two boys tormenting a cute looking puppy. We dined on a meal of mealie pap (maize porridge) and spinach, the local speciality of deep fried mice was thankfully off the menu that day, before bumping and grinding our way back to the border.
After so much rattling around I felt in dire need of some beach action so I drove all the way up to the north east corner of South Africa to St Lucia near the Mozambique border in Kwazulu-Natal...where the Zulus are from. The Greater St Lucia wetland park is S. Africa's largest estuary and a Unesco World Heritage site, the coast line stretches for 280km and is packed with deserted beahces, turtles, whale sharks, hippos, and crocodiles. St Lucia itself is a nice little seaside village where, as usual in S. Africa you have to be careful about walking around after dark but in this case not for fear of being mugged but in case you come across a hippo having her tea, cute they may be but friendly they are not. After so much running about it was lovely to sit on a nice beach and chill for a bit. A day or two after I arrived the heavens opened and it rained quite heavily, winter is coming to S. Africa for sure. For want of anything better to do I went to near by Hluhluwe-Imfolozi national park (pronounced shloo-shloo-we). This is the oldest national park in S. Africa, but for me at least it lacked the magic of the Kruger. Obviously, the first thing I saw was a cottaging male impala, clearly this is a practice is not just restricted to the antelopes of the Kruger! All the other animals seemed to be under an umbrella someplace sheltering from the rain and who can blame them, it was pretty miserable. I did see a male rhino with his missus being closely shadowed along the road by another male. It seemed pretty obvious to me what was going to happen next, although clearly not to the chavs in the car in front of me. As I backed away as quickly as I could, they manoeuvred themselves right in to the middle of the two male rhino to get a better look. A few seconds later they were treated to the full interactive experience as their car got panel beaten by 800kg of pissed off pachyderm. A bar brawl ensued as the first male took exception to the encroachment on his bird of the other male and he asserted his manhood in a somewhat violent fashion. Scary!
I've finally got upto date with uploading my pictures but no more entries for awhile, I'm going where the sun of the internet has yet to shine!