Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lesotho...One day by foot, 3 hours by horse and an eternity by car

October 12th, 2008- still the same day

The fun we had with the children would soon fade as we noticed our petrol was nearing empty. Also of note was that our water tank too was empty. Unfortunately we were ill prepared for Lesotho, as we quickly got used to the comforts of South Africa. However we weren’t too worried as our map marked a settlement. This was would be the first village we would go to which was actually marked on the map. We arrived at Semhonghong and asked where the petrol station was. No English. Diesel? No diesel, that was clear. Where diesel? Puzzled looks. Pointing towards the south. And off we went again.

We stopped every person we encountered, slowing at village after village asking about fuel. No dice. The ‘empty’ light lit. Mother F$%^er. Next village. Diesel? At last an English speaker. Thank the lord. No diesel here. Far, far away. One day’s walk. F$%^. Diesel? Another English speaker. No diesel here. Far, far away. Three hours horse ride. F$%^. Diesel? No diesel here, down hill, long ways. Sehlabahlebe, diesel there.

No idea where we were, or how far it would be to Sehlabahlebe, Karel and I both wondered when the car would stop, silently pondering our fate, not wanting to say anything out loud as it might seal our fate. Hopefully not while we were climbing one of the many steep inclines, or even worse one of the inclines which a sharp corner. The lanes were all single, so we might cause a road block. This may not have been a problem as we so far had only encountered one other vehicle early on our trip. We eventually reached the down hill section of the journey. Good for saving on petrol.

At the bottom of another mountain, Sehlabahlebe. We saw a man. Diesel? Maybe if you pay me. F$%^. We’ll ask someone else. Karel spotted a man getting out of his truck. We stopped. Karel climbed out of our car and approached the man. Greeting him kindly, he asked the question we had asked for the past two and a half hours. Diesel? Yes, there is a place up just up the hill. Almost there Nessie, our beautiful car, almost there.

We arrived at the fuel station. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. No pumps. Only barrels and a hose. The owner, a Chinese man, directed his employee to get fuel. The man sucked the hose until the petrol came and filled a smaller well used container. This was then funnelled into our fuel tank. At last diesel. We’ve learned our lesson Africa.

Lesotho...How many Lesotho children can fit in the backseat of our car?*

October 12th, 2008

We woke up to the sound of roosters crowing, a donkey hee-hawing and the smell of a fire burning. It was five o’clock. We packed up the tent and brought out the camera. Asking if we could take photos, we were well received. Happily snapping away, we later showed them their photos. This was met with much amusement, pointing and laughing.

Saying our good-byes we wished each other well. A final hand shake with the chief and a kiss on the cheek later (me to him) we left. We drove all of 100m, when a group of school children wearing a royal blue school uniform, with a woolly v-necked jumper edged in gold, crisp white shirts underneath and assorted skirts and shorts, flagged us down asking for a lift. A group of two became a group of six, who piled in to our backseat. It was so full that I actually needed to get out to shut the backseat door.

It was an eventful trip, filled with laughter. The children spoke English quite well so we were able to introduce ourselves by name and age. Me being 28, made me very old. I was asked if I had a child, and when they learned I didn’t, it made me very strange indeed. They attempted to teach us different vocabulary, and my mispronunciation provided great enjoyment. The only word I remember now is hoo-hoo which I think is a chicken, but it might actually be an egg. 3 kms later we delivered the children to their school, a walk which normally takes them an hour and a half. I’m sure their teacher would be pleased with us, six excited children over an hour early for school.
**Answer six

Lesotho...Meeting the Chief

October 11th, 2008 – yes still the same day

We decided to continue our drive in Lesotho and complete a small loop exiting from a different border control post. It looked nice and simple from our map book as really there was only one road to follow, it also looked quite short so we were confident in finishing the route before the border shuts at 4:00 pm. And so we set off.

Enjoying the sheep, goats and cows grazing beside the edges of the road, and being slightly horrified by the sheer volume of children chasing after the car asking for sweets, we made our way on single lane gravel roads at best. There was no postage of what road we were on, where exactly we were headed and as time crept on we were relieved to see a small, easily missed sign pointing to the left. Taking the left turn we continued our journey. More sheep, goats, cows, but also the occasional donkey loaded with goods, horsemen wearing ski masks covering their faces, draped in thick wool blankets in 20+ degree weather, and still loads of children chasing the car demanding sweets.

This road was slightly different as Karel says ‘mountain up, then mountain down, followed by mountain up, then mountain down’ with altitudes between 2,000m to 3,500m. Much, much steeper. Much, much rocker. Time continued to tick past. Looking at our watches, then looking at the sky, then looking at the map, trying to judge how much longer sunlight would last, we formulated a plan. Another 15 minutes drive and then if we didn’t see anything promising we would stop at a village and see if we could spend the night.

15 minutes later we arrived at a village. Stopping the car, unrolling the windows we asked a young girl getting water if we could speak to the chief. She pointed towards a house down the hill. We drove back down, climbed out of the car and approached a woman wearing a ribbed red polo neck top carrying a baby. Asking if we could see the chief it soon became clear that she didn’t speak English. Luckily another woman came out from her hut and we explained we would like to speak to the chief to see if we could stay for the night. She directed the woman in red to show us where the chief was, so we walked uphill.

The chief was a man with kind eyes and grey hair, wearing a pink shirt slightly worn at the seams, clean khaki trousers, a dark blazer and dress shoes. He didn’t speak English, but shook our hands gently while looking at us tenderly. Another gentleman translated for us (Karel later thought that this man probably worked in the mines around Jo’burg as he spoke Fanagalaw, a mix of English, Afrikaans, and several African languages). As we walked to the car, the chief held Karel’s hand with one of his, and his cane with the other.

Immediately we were asked if we needed food, water and a place to sleep. We told them that we had everything we needed and that we have a tent. They were a bit curious when we said we slept on the roof of our car, so Karel popped open the tent as a magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat. Amazement for all.

Thinking quickly of what we could offer our new neighbours, we remembered we had a flask of peppermint tea. Gently unscrewing the top, and carefully pouring the tea, I offered firstly to the chief. The look on his face was a picture. He wrinkled his nose, squinted his eyes and smacked his lips. It didn’t go down well. We offered next to the translator, the second in command if you will. He had a similar reaction and asked if it was medicine, surely only medicine could taste so badly especially as we boasted the drink was healthy. After the men, we offered to who we think was the chief’s wife. She really enjoyed it and finished the cup. The chief decided to then try the tea again. If his wife liked it, maybe there was something to it after all. But no, no there wasn’t. We asked if we could offer to the children, as we generated a great crowd. I guess if there’s no t.v. strange white people with a magic tent are as good as it gets. Children came up, took a quick sip and passed it on amongst themselves, daring each other on.

We wished each other a good night and said other kind words in our separate mother tongues. We were told it was an honour to have us stay, especially as they don’t have any white people visiting their village. The final words of the chief weren’t for us, but for the pekenese (children), telling them not to bother us. Never have we ever seen such a quick fleeing of children.

Sani Pass

October 11th, 2008

As we are adventurous types, we decided to drive up the Sani Pass. This is a mountain pass from South Africa to the Lesotho border which climbs up to 2, 873m and is rightly boasted as being the highest border post in the world. Only those with 4x4 need apply. Advice was given to drive in low range, second gear and keep momentum to avoid the sheer, but stunning drop. We made our ascent at about 10 am. Climbing steadily, stopping only for photos we revealed in the beauty of our surroundings, orange and red coloured cliffs, green fields with low grass and the occasional donkey.

We stopped only once, at a designated viewpoint. Asking a friendly woman if she would take our photo we soon made acquaintance. She was from Cape Town and her brother from Canada. As we admired the view, we also met their mother. She lives in a box. A small green box, neatly labelled with her name. Did I mention she is cremated? As it turns out every time the family meets up they scatter part of her ashes in a carefully thought out location. They were giving her, her final hurrah and scattering her ashes at her favourite holiday place the Sani Pass Chalet, which is immediately past the border.

Back in the car we ascended the most difficult part of the pass, definitely in low range, second gear. At last we made it, to the roof of Africa and what a roof it is. Spectacular views all around.

Finding Rhino….

September 27th, 2008

Still on a high from our previous game drive, we decided to go on another. This time we went to Cape Vidal, about 35 km from St. Lucia and this time we had an agenda – to see a Rhino. We started much earlier and were some of the first people through the gates. It was a rainy day and as we paid our entry fee we asked the park ranger if we were likely to see a Rhino. He told us that finding a Rhino on a rainy day was like trying to find something in a dark room. Karel, always optimistic, was determined and announced that we would lap around the park until we saw one.
On our first lap around the park we saw some Sykes monkeys, Vervet monkeys, zebras, warthogs, bush pigs, reed bok, bush bok, water bok, and red duiker but no rhino. After stopping for lunch we began our search again. We lapped around the perfect ground for rhino, well we thought if we were rhinos it would be perfect, but again no rhino. We did see some heron, which were amazing, but they didn’t have horns, so it really wasn’t the same. Feeling a bit discouraged, we got back onto the main road heading for an alternate route. Noticing a line up of cars we slowed down. There they were. Five of them. We parked and watched as they munched on greens and moseyed across the road. The oldest mammal on land. We captured him on film, about five hundred times (you know Karel). Beautiful. But that’s not all. As we were heading home we saw another one. Only in Africa.

Buffalo Solider…

September 26th, 2008

We headed to the Kwa-Zulu Natal game reserve Imfolozi/Hluluwe to begin our search for the Big Five. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the phrase, the Big Five are Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Leopard and Lion. These are ‘the’ animals to spot in S.A. An early start was intended; however we had a leisurely breakfast followed by an even more leisurely discussion of what we should do, so we did the unthinkable and arrived at the game reserve after 12 pm. Once we cleared the gates we hunted, not yet for the elephant, but for food. Karel ordered an ostrich pita, charming the Zulu ladies behind the counter using every Zulu phrase he knows and teasing them about the secret sauce. The women loved it, and in return pointed out a row of three bats sleeping under the thatched hut roof. It was amazing to see them perfectly lined with their wings safely tucked around them.

After lunch, a visit to the curio shop, and two woven baskets later we were off. It must be in South African DNA to be a natural game spotter. In the distance, and I mean distance, Karel would stop the car, point and say ‘look it’s a giraffe/bok/hippo’. I, on the other hand am oblivious unless it’s two or three metres away. Thanks to Karel we were hugely successful on seeing loads of animals; nyala, kudu, giraffe, baboons, monkeys, warthogs, elephants, blue wildebeest, zebra and impala. It was brilliant.

Hours slipped away and before we knew it, it was twenty past five. We needed to be out of the park by six o’clock and we were ages away from the gates. Reading the information frantically on the pamphlet, they were very strict with shutting the gates at six and if you didn’t make it, too bad for you. Now you might think what an opportunity, you’re completely self-sufficient and carry everything with you, you could easily stay the night. However we had heard from several people that a month prior to our visit a man had been having a braai (BBQ) at a hutted camp and a leopard had jumped out and bitten his head. 350 stitches later and a permanent souvenir of his stay, the park basically shut down all the camping sites. Looking at each other and our watches anxiously we made a quick retreat. Unfortunately we had to speed through the camp. Karel was like a seasoned formula one driver and I was on the lookout for any wildlife. As we rounded one corner, Karel had to slam on the brakes. In the middle of the road was a buffalo. We stared at each other for a few minutes, with Karel ready to reverse but thankful he decided to continue on his way. A sigh of relief passed through the car and a big tick off the Big Five list. We made it to the gates at five fifty eight.