Monday, January 10, 2011

Lesotho or Bust

This marked the border crossing
My passport now bears a stamp from the Kingdom of Lesotho, a mountainous and stunningly peaceful land hidden in South Africa.  The journey to Malealea village in southern Lesotho began on a stormy morning (with little sleep and lots of nerves) winding north and east through the Eastern Cape into the Free State where we marvelled at the mountains and their shadows, the rolling farmland, and the endless sky.  Our trip was undeterred by the weak showing by the Yaris on mountain climbs or the huge potholes as we neared Lesotho. 

As the landscape changed, we approached Van Rooyens Gate border crossing and unlike the Canada-US border, the Lesotho-South Africa border was a series of shacks with police officers milling around offering no real direction.  Already nervous from the impending customs crossing, it took us 3 tries over the speed bumps with Sarah finally stalling the car and scraping our undercarriage to a rapt audience and a chorus of “ouches” which only inspired uncontrollable nervous giggling. 
Something we won't tell Budget...

But, once over the border, we entered a world totally different from South Africa.  The two blondes got waves, smiles, and we marvelled at the donkey carts, small brick houses, and cattle herder uniform of gumboots, traditional Basotho blankets, and cone-shaped hats.  After numerous police checks, random turns, and potholed roads, we found the dirt road that led to the village and had the awe-inspiring and terrifying experience of driving through the Gates of Paradise Pass.  The views were unbelievable as we felt like we stepped back in time to a gentler pace at Malealea Lodge, the former trading post turned rustic lodge with no electricity or phones. 
Our morning view

 After a performance by the Basotho choir and band, we were led to our forest hut under a blanket of stars!  You forget how deafening pure silence can be, without traffic, TVs, or cellphones. 
 The next morning, we awoke to blue sky and explored the surrounding village with its maize fields and huge valleys.  As we walked, I felt like the mountains in Lesotho (which means kingdom in the sky) had risen up to bring us closer to the sky.  Before leaving for Lesotho, I had hoped to purchase a traditional Basotho blanket which act as a practical piece of clothing and a status symbol.  Each blanket has different markings—I found exactly what I was looking for with a large maize cob which is a symbol of fertility.  As I am now the proud bearer of a passport with a Lesotho stamp in it, I feel like one of the very few in this world who have had the opportunity to visit a kingdom that everyone should see before dying. 
Fred Flinstone village house
Maize fields
Basotho band with homemade instruments

Our forest hut

My blanket

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