24 May 2013, Friday
“Well you go through life so sure of where you’re heading. And you wind up lost. It’s the best thing that could have happened.” – Brad Paisley Find Yourself
We only stayed in Durban for one day and two nights. Since I was the only driver left, we decided to break up the drive to Johannesburg by staying in the Drakensburg Mountains. After the Great Gatsby, we drove to Amphitheatre Backpackers in the Drakensburg Mountains. We got there just before sunset. We were only planning on staying there for the night, having a relaxing morning, and then driving to Johannesburg, but as we were checking in to the backpackers, the two women at the front desk told us we were going to miss out on all the great adventures they offered. The wanted us to stay for several days. We told them we were just passing through and needed to get to the airport the next day, but they told us the next day they were taking a day trip to Lesotho. While we were driving, Claire had been talking about how she would really like to see Lesotho, so when the two women mentioned this trip, Claire was very interested. Then one of the ladies brought up pictures of Lesotho on the computer and started telling us about the day. She said that the trip would be over by 4 pm which would give us plenty of time to get to Johannesburg. I was a little leery because it was still another 3 hour drive and it gets dark around 6 pm and I didn’t really want to be driving into Johannesburg in the dark because I didn’t know exactly how to get to the airport and Johannesburg isn’t the safest city if you end up in the wrong part of it. It was clear that Claire and Mo really wanted to see Lesotho though so we asked how much it was and it turned out it was 500 Rand (approximately $55). That’s a quarter of what we get paid in a month so we told the women we would really like to go but that’s too expensive. I asked if there was a volunteer discount and after a really strange conversation in which one of the women insulted volunteers and Peace Corps and joked that we should pay more because she hates volunteers, she told us we could go for 380 Rand. We talked it over and decided to go on the trip and even though we got into Joburg in the dark and the rain, our day in Lesotho was worth it.
I don’t remember the name of our guide for the day, which is really terrible because he was really good. It was something like Andre. Anyway, we started by following Andre in his combi (a large 15 passenger van) to a village called Qwa Qwa. From there we left our rental car and got in the combi to drive up the hill to the border with Lesotho. If you don’t know your African geography (which let’s face it most people don’t and I had to look up where Namibia was when I got my Peace Corps invitation), Lesotho is a completely land locked country surrounded by South Africa on all sides. It is considered the highest country in the world because it has the highest low elevation point. It is a country of nomads and subsistence farmers and is the 3rd poorest country in the world after Senegal and Ethiopia, I believe.
So Andre drove us up the mountain to the South African border with Lesotho. It was a good thing he was driving because it was a terrible, terrible dirt/gravel road. Again, one of the worst I had been on to that point. When we got to the border crossing, we were up in the clouds and the mist and we couldn’t see how high we actually were. We all piled out to get our passports stamped. One of the girls from Holland was with us again but her friend couldn’t come because her visa had expired and she was worried about leaving the country even for the day.
Then we all piled back in the combi and headed into no mans land. The road was concrete and actually a really nice (steep but nice) road down the other side of the mountain. When we got to the bottom there was a very nice bridge over a little stream. Our guide informed us that that is where the border crossing into Lesotho used to be until it got washed away. We would not be getting out passport stamped for entering Lesotho because the border post no longer exists. The South African government paid to have the road paved to that point and from then onwards were the worst roads I have ever been on in my life. They were kind of like driving down a dried up river bed but it wasn’t even all completely dry. The ruts running across the road were so big that I’m not sure how we managed to drive over them. Then every once in a while there would be huge stones to drive over. There was no way anything without four wheel drive was going to survive in that country, but despite the roads, the country itself was absolutely breathtaking. We were in the mountains and it was so beautiful. I took more pictures of Lesotho than of anywhere else.
Our first stop in Lesotho was at a school. The backpackers we stayed at actually helps to support the school and built one of the buildings at the school. We brought with us in the combi a couple of 5 gallon buckets of paint, some wood, and a sign for the school that day. There was a celebration going on at the school, so there were kids there from 7 or 9 different school around the country. We spent some time interacting with the kids before we hiked part way up the side of the mountain.
As we hiked, our guide told as a little about the Basotho people (people living in Lesotho). The traditional wear of the Basotho people is blankets which I thought was really interesting and really cool. I’m including a link to a story about how that came to be their traditional wear, but the short of it is one of their leaders was given a blanket as a gift and he like it so much that he started wearing it around. Now a days the blankets are status symbols. The heavier and more brightly colored the blanket, the wealthier the person is. We saw a lot of the teachers in big colorful blankets, and we’re talking heavy wool blankets. The women fold the top of the blanket down and then wrap it around their shoulders and use a huge safety pin to fasten it together under their chin. The men wear it a little differently and somehow fasten it over their shoulder. I really wish it was acceptable for me to wear a huge blanket around it the winter. They also have a traditional round straw hat that is only made on one specific mountain, if my memory serves me correctly. We got a lot of information that day.
On our hike, we saw some old rock paintings that were left to tell other hunters where to find the Eland (a really huge antelope). That was pretty cool. They were kind of difficult to see now and our guide said that some people have started chipping away the paintings. We also walked past huge caves in the mountain that used to be used as grain silos. Then on our hike back to the school we stopped by a shebeen to try some traditional beer. We knew it was a shebeen because it was flying a white flag outside of the little round hut. Yes, I tried it and it taste like beer; still disgusting even if it is traditional and made with weeds and a straw sifters.
From the shebeen we went back to the school. We were hoping to see some traditional dancing but the program was progressing very slowly. Some of the kids were putting on a short play but we could hear them or understand what they were saying. After about 20 minutes we moved on to meet Gabriel, a sangoma or traditional healer. I’m including a link which describes sangomas because it was really interesting to hear his story. Gabriel told us about how he became a sangoma and what his job entails. He told us in Sesotho and our guide translated as best he could and Gabriel spoke some English too. Basically he said that he was in college in Qwa Qwa when he started to get visions of things like people dying and then those people would actually die. His parents took him to a priest to figure out what was wrong and the priest told him he was a sangoma. The way it was explained to us was that sangomas believe some illnesses are caused by ancestors who are trying to communicate with living people. Then the sangomas can enter into a spiritual world and talk with the ancestors to learn what herbs can be used to cure the person. Gabriel said that to become a sangoma he was told to get two goats. He didn’t have money for the goats so he traveled to Johannesburg to try and find work. He had a hard time and had to live on the streets and eat out of dustbins but eventually he had the money for a goat. Then the story got kind of confusing. There was something about another church and somehow he got another goat. That goat he had to take to a special ceremony where he had to kill the goat and drink its blood and eat pieces of its flesh raw. But anyway, it was an interesting story and then he let us ask questions. Someone asked him if when he gets sick if he’s able to cure himself or if he goes to another sangoma. He said sometimes he will go to another sangoma but mostly he just goes for western medicine. I thought that was really interesting. He said mostly what he cures is headaches and stomach aches and sometimes infertility and “men whose stallions won’t gallop”. Yes, that’s how he put it. He had a bit of a sense of humor. But he said he understands the value of western medicine and knows he can’t fix everything.
About the sangomas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_healers_of_South_Africa
After visiting Gabriel we stopped at another house to try some traditional food. The woman brought out a plate of porridge and traditional spinach which is also some of the traditional food for Namibia. I let everyone else have their fill of it since I’ve had it before and I really don’t care for porridge or spinach. After that we drove out of Lesotho and back to Qwa Qwa to get our car.
The drive to the airport wasn’t too bad except it rained for part of the drive. Once we got into the city it had stopped but we were tired and hungry and crabby and we couldn’t find a gas station to top off the car before we returned it, but in the end we found one at the airport. When we returned the car that was stressful too because there was some miscommunication and we ended up paying for an extra day. There was also something covering the keyhole on the driver’s door and a small dent, neither of which was recorded on the paper work. We were in too much of a hurry when we traded the car that we didn’t check that everything was written down for our new car, so I had to fill out a claim for those damages. Hopefully they won’t charge me for them. While we were taking care of all that, Gio was trying to get a shuttle to his hostel because he was going to take the bus home in a few days instead of flying. It was a really stressful car return.
When we got into the airport, we were too late to check in, so we couldn’t go wait in the terminal. Our flight was in the morning and we decided to just sleep in the airport instead of pay for a hostel for a few hours. We were really bummed when we couldn’t get into the terminal though. Instead we went to the KFC which had some couches in a corner. We hung around there until they kicked us out when they closed. We felt really homeless because we were just sitting there as they cleaned everything, reading and praying that they wouldn’t kick us out. They were supposed to close at 10pm, but they didn’t kick us out until about 10:45. Then we wandered around the airport looking for any open benches that were away from doors so we wouldn’t be too cold. Eventually we found some metal benches that were four seaters with an armrest in the middle. They weren’t terribly uncomfortable. Then shortly after we had settled down and curled up under our shitenges, a man came up to us and told us we should move to the other benches a little ways down. He said the metal would be too cold and the other ones had fabric over the seats. He even chased some people who were sitting on the benches away so we could have them to ourselves. He was right, they were warmer and I slept just fine for about 5 hours. I woke up freezing at 4 am but that was fine because we went to check in at 4:30. Our flight was delayed an hour so we went and got some breakfast. A two hour plane ride later and we were back in Namibia. The next time I’m on an airplane, I’ll be headed home. 🙂