Friday, December 29, 2006

Lesotho Pony Trek Adventure!

Lena an I headed off from the Cape at dinner time on Friday December 15, right after work ended for the both of us. The bus took a while to leave the station, but we made it to the border of Lesotho by 10:30 am the next day. The bus ride was not very memorable; we were shown "Ocean's 13" but without much volume and then in the morning were terrorized by a "Best of Celine Dion" DVD.

Our initial encounter with the Kingdom of Lesotho was marked with lots of miscommunication and a frantic attempt to contact Jess, Mac and Sheena (coming from Jo'Burg) before they crossed the border. South African cell phones cease to work in Lesotho, so we needed to plan a meeting spot before we were out of touch. Mission was succesful and we met up by the giant Basotho hat in Maseru. Eli, a guy from Brooklyn, had met our friends at the backpacker's in Bloemfontain and he decided to join our pony party for two days. Sheena and her brother Mac could speak Sotho which was AMAZING as many people we encountered in Lesotho could speak almost no english (except for "give me some sweets!" and "i love you!"). Their ability to translate for us enriched our experience greatly!

We all went to the minibus taxi rank and waited for about an hour before heading for Malealea, a town 2 hours from the capital. In the van we had dozens of people approach the windows, trying to sell us things. Jess scored an amazing cassette with a screeching kitten on the front. It was pure Basotho tunes.

I swear, the Basotho music is great but it all kind of sounds the same! I bought a house mix for my vehicle (I have no tapes here but have a tape deck in the car) featuring an eyeball on the cover. While it features some african language, it is unfortunately not blessed with the classic vibes of Lesotho music. I also scored some sunglasses while waiting, but they were a bit small and ended up hurting my head a lot over the next week. We rocked all the way to Malealea with eardrums hurting from the blaring "Famo" music.

At Malealea, we found the lodge and shared forest huts for the night. I enjoyed the giant St. Bernard and the two silly Staffordshire Terriers. We had dinner with a nice couple from Germany who work for BMW and were exploring Southern Africa for their holidays.

The next morning we awoke at 7:30 and packed the big leather bags for the pack ponies. We met Samuel, our Masotho guide, and were assigned a pony each. Sanghu, the smallest and youngest (4 years) was to be my pony for the next few days.

He was pretty funny. His theme song would be "You can go your own way!" as he consistently diverged from the route only to end up taking a short cut or something. There was one nice horse that he would nuzzle into if we got close to, and Samuel told me that it was his mama Selina.

The first day was great as we must have passed through about six villages, all quite beautiful and peppered with these cool aloe tree things:

At about 3 pm there was a crazy thunderstorm that we rode through. I felt bad for the pony eyeballs, as the rain turned into big ice pellets! The ponies trekked right through it and we all got soaked! Our first night was spent in a village in Ribaneng. The women were all gathered around the cooking pots and the men were dancing to blaring "Famo" that came out of a giant speaker powered by a single solar panel. I am so sad I did not capture that scene. The main dancer was moving as if he was drunk, as his dance involved leaning on a giant stick as though he couldn't stand properly.

There was a litter of puppies that appeared to be starving. They were so so so skinny. Lena and I wanted to scoop some into our saddle packs but that night we realized we'd never get back across the border with them. Poor little guys. I'd be surprised if even one or two of the six survived. Below is Sheena in front of our first night's home. In each village, we would stay in a hut next to the local chief. The huts were equipped with air mattresses, a gas stove and some cooking utensils. We'd get a big bucket of drinking water as well for the night.

After we got to this village, we hired a local guide to bring us to the Ribaneng waterfalls. The hike took over three hours in total but was well worth it.

The next morning we bade farewell to Eli, who had to head back to catch a flight to NYC. Day two of the trek took us through high mountain plateaus. We didn't pass many villages as we had the day before. We saw lots of gorgeous birds and butterflies though and the occasional Basotho horsemen. Here are some that rode by as we were having lunch in the grass and were kind enough to pose for a picture:

Check out the hat and the blankets and the rubber boots. This was the Bosotho uniform.

As we desecended into the village of Ha Hlalele where we were to stay, a nice young pony followed us and heralded our entry into town with a series of "neys!"

Mac had a nap and I made a huge pot of tea for us ladies. While the others read, I wandered around taking pictures of the village animals.

The doggie in this village was special and I loved him a bunch. I witnesses the local children kicking him for no reason at all! I tried my best to tell the kids that they should be kind to the dog. I shared my bread with the little guy.

I gave an orange to three kids that were so interested in us. They really enjoyed it. The youngest one in this picture would cry if I got too close though. I was spooky I guess.

Our home on this second evening was decorated! Here is a close-up of some of the decor:

The chief's wife Georginna was very well spoken and thrilled to meet Sheena, the only Sotho-speaking South African she had ever met. Georgina asked for our help as the local school had been closed since the winds blew off the roof. I got her address and will be sending her photos that we took there of her family and village. I also want to send some clothes for the children. This was the most remote village we ended up at.

At about 8 pm there was a knock at our door; it was Philip, an electoral official who had hiked into the town to stay for the night (above). He was there to register the locals to vote in the national election this February. What a crazy job! Accessing these areas all on foot! He was very educated and interesting to speak with. He was thirty and had no wife. He was ashamed of this, I think. He described the local political parties to us. I asked him if he wishes that Lesotho became a province of South Africa and without hesitation, he said "yes."

The next morning we met our local guide Joseph and hiked towards the Ketane Falls. They are 401 feet or 122 metres high and were beautiful! We were basically viewing them from the edge of a cliff which made it a bit unnerving. It was incredible though. Way more impressive than the falls the first day. The scenery around the waterfalls reminded me of photos I have seen of Ireland, mixed with Arizona. Lena said it seemed a lot like Hawaii. As we were very high up, there were gorgeous alpine flowers all over the place.

The pony trek that day was again through fields high up in remote mountain areas. I picked a lot of sage from bushes as we trotted by. We stopped at the most beautiful place for lunch on this third day. We ate on rocks in a stream. Lena actually braved the chilly water and took a dip!

The skyline as we descended into the village of Ha Sekoting where we stayed that night:

The kids here were absolutely hilarious and got into more than one session of flinging horse turds at one another. Sadly this was not captured onto video. The videos posted below of the happy apple kids and of Alice and her friends dancing were taken in this village. I got out a deck of cards to play solitare and Alice called me over and played some game with me. Of course, she couldn't explain the rules to me because of the language barrier, so she won every single time. The kids watched over our shoulders completely fascinated. I will mail some cards to Alice.

Here is a photo of our "Ponies for Life" crew - unfortunately I never got the name of Samual's assitant who couldn't speak english.

Mac, Sheena, Samuel, Jess, Lena (kneeling), Meghan (me) and the unknown assistant!

There were some sweet puppies in this village, but the one that stole my heart was this slightly older pooch who looked like a labrador retriever mix. I thought his eye was infected and tried to open it to treat it with polysporin, only to realize that there was no eyeball inside! Poor guy! So young and already missing an eyeball? I was sad about this and cried at one point while hugging him. I wanted to take him home with me. He was getting no love at all. It breaks my heart.

On our final day we took a bit of a detour to check out some caves in which there were bushman (san) paintings on the walls of several caves. The San people are the oldest living humans (genetically speaking) and we are all descendants of them. They no longer inhabit this portion of Africa and are now scattered around Botswana and Namibia. Anyhow, the petroglyphs I am in front of below are up to 27,000 years old!

On our way back to the lodge, I figured I had better capture a photo of one of the thousands pof mountain goats we passed by on our trek.

Here is a panorama of our lunch spot on the final pony day:

We got back to the lodge and showered! So nice to wash all the grime and sun tan lotion off of ourselves! We bought a bunch of cold Savannas and made chow and sat and watched the local choir perform. Then Sotho Sounds came on! They are my favourite African band! They have a song called "Oh! I whip horses!" They had CDs, amazingly, and so I have one. I am posting a video of them performing to this blog asap. It was a great night. We played board games and I became acquainted with Johnny Klegg and realized that Paul Simon rips him off!

The next day was a little stupid, as we waited for four hours in the rain at the border for our bus to show up! It was annoying. We said goodbye to Jess, Sheena and Mac at Bloemfontain (they were headed into Mozambique for christmas). Then the bus ran out of gas on the side of the road at 2 am! It was hilarious, actually. Some people were SO pissed off.

We got into Cape Town December 22 at about 11 am and I took a minibus taxi home to find Laure in the kitchen doing school work. She is my new roomate and is subletting from Frank while he is in Spain for two months.

Lesotho was awesome! I miss Singhu!


Anonymous Margaret said...

What a lovely record of your trek!!! Love Mom

3:29 PM  
Blogger Vesper said...

great pics!!!

happy new year!!!

1:29 PM  

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