Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lesotho

From Pretoria our plan was to work our way directly down to the coast near Port Elizabeth and meet up with Ben. It was to be a journey of over 1200 km so would take us a couple of days but, surprising no one, we just couldn’t stick to the plan.
As we all know (and I am constantly ridiculed for it by the rest of this group) I am trying to visit as many countries as I can. We were driving past Lesotho on the way to the coast. Savannah is no longer in possession of a passport, as the Canadian embassy keeps it while you wait for a new one (this seems like a retarded system to me since the British, US and Dutch all allow their citizens to keep their passports as ID during the weeks of processing). Do you see where this is going? Clearly the only possible solution was to make a detour into Lesotho on our way down to the coast and we were going to have to smuggle Savannah in and out to do it.
Ok, I will admit that this doesn’t really sound like the smartest of ideas but it was sort of a last minute decision on the way down and only an hour or two before we’d had to change directions to get to the border. If you’d crossed as many borders as we have and seen how little effort is actually put into checking tourists and their vehicles (especially since Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and SA are part of a common customs zone and really don’t check much), and if you were travelling with a bunch of crazies that were game for just about anything, you might not think twice about it either. It was actually no problem at all crossing in, we were quickly stamped out and in and nobody looked at us twice.
We entered Lesotho from the north-west at Ficksburg and the difference was immediately obvious. I’ll comment more about South Africa in another blog but for now let’s just say that going from SA to Lesotho at the border was like crossing from the US to Mexico or Ceuta to Morocco with the impoverished people lining up and passing along fenced paths to cross. Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world (which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me since it is completely surrounded by SA which is one of the wealthiest in Africa and you’d think they’d profit by that somehow) and many of the Basotho (the people of Lesotho) work in SA as simple labourers. It didn’t even seem all that geared up for tourism though there are tons of tourists in SA that could come over. When we stopped in Maseru, the capital, the few people I talked to were a little surprised to see us and were quick to ask why we were there. The answer seemed obvious to me: Because of its mountainous beauty.
Lesotho is mostly mountains and the landscape before and just after crossing the northern border reminded us very much of a cross between Utah/New Mexico with its rock formations and semi-desert vegetation and Wyoming with its wide open spaces and ranching. The population is about the same as that of Namibia and Botswana so it is much denser but in a very rural kind of way. The towns and the capital city are quite small and most people live in villages which are surprisingly close together. One of the biggest changes for us was the sudden switch back to open spaces. Everywhere in SA so far has been fenced off for farms but there were no fences in Lesotho and for the first time since Angola it felt like we were back in “Africa”.
Historically Lesotho was lucky because its people had the right leader at just the right time in history who managed to prevent the Afrikaans and British from completely taking over, and Lesotho was not included in the union that led to the creation of South Africa. Lesotho did, however, lose most of its low ground and today is the country with the highest low point. Everywhere is over 1000m, not a good thing if you are visiting in the winter because it was the coldest place so far down here. We enjoyed just driving through at looking at the scenery and waving to the people we passed on the road. They are quite friendly, more so than the South Africans. We stopped in the capital for a quick look and to shop for food and then ended up camping in a village named Morija at a closed Christian youth camp. The people were very friendly in opening it up to us. We also had our first rains since Brazzaville in the Congo and I’m surprised it didn’t snow because it had been below freezing when we went to bed that night.
Because it is so mountainous and cold the people are always wrapped up in blankets and it seems like the most distinguishing characteristic of the people. I like the look. The road traffic was light and we never saw any trucks though we drove about 200km of the main highway in the more populated area of the country. We also never saw any Lesotho flags (not even at the border crossings). That’s a first for me and I wonder about their national pride…. The country exports labourers, water and electricity to SA and tourism is based around pony treks, hiking and dinosaur footprints so there was actually nothing really for us to do at this time of year and we crossed back out to SA via a remote border crossing in the southwest that second day. Bre was yelling at us to get to Ben the whole time anyway.
Crossing out was a little scarier as we were very nearly busted by the SA border guards trying to get Savannah smuggled back in. It was obvious to us that the guy was beginning to guess that something was probably going on (his number counts were confused) but he couldn’t figure it out and in the end really couldn’t be too bothered, exactly what we’d been counting on. Having said that, we will not be trying such a thing again. I liked Lesotho and would like to see more of it, especially the more mountainous east if I ever end up in the area during the summer season.
Ammon

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