Thursday, March 5, 2015

old friends, high mountains, ancient art, and cliffs, cliffs, cliffs

Lesotho. Where Kevin served in the Peace Corps while I was still a tasty high school morsel. The whole second week of our trip was vacation time, to be devoted to revisiting some important places and people in Lesotho. Our goal was to get to the border at the capital, Maseru, in the northwest corner of the country, by nightfall. So shortly after encountering the Apartheid Museum last Monday, February 23, we headed south from Johannesburg on the toll road.

For some reason I was not drawn to photograph the veldt. It was relatively flat, and relatively monotonous. No doubt beautiful, on foot, or slowed down, but I guess I needed to spend some time inside my head after the experience of the museum, so I didn’t whip out any cameras. We were getting close to the border as the afternoon light faded. Rainclouds gathered ahead of us, and in the distance, we noticed lightning. Eventually we were pointed directly into that lightning, which by now was unsettlingly frequent. At first there was no rain. But that changed. And changed again, into hail. One by one, a line of us on the two-lane highway turned on our hazard lights and crept along, winding up through foothills til we finally reached the border post outside Maseru.

The rain eased up as we found our way to a hotel a mile or two later. We actually had a booking for the following night, and no reservations for this night, because we’d thought be might hole up in Bloemfontein back in S.A. Unfortunately, they were fully booked, but no worries: we were pointed to a hotel two blocks away, one Kevin had stayed in many times previously, and they had a room for us.

The next morning, we wandered around on foot for a bit, while Kevin adjusted to the changes that thirty years had wrought. We stopped by an indoor mall for road food supplies and found a tourist kiosk with a very helpful woman. She and Kevin chatted. Together they formulated an itinerary.

First stop: the headquarters of the organization that ran the school where Kevin taught Maths and Science for two years. The school where he’d taught – Emmanuel –  was miles and miles away, but he thought the staff here at HQ might know who was still around from those days.

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Remove that earring and put it in your pocket, Kevin. There’s nothing to do about your ponytail now, so let it go.

Would anybody remember Kevin? Indeed, anybody would. We were meeting with the main pastor, and a couple of other dudes. One of them, the CFO, had been a little kid at Emmanuel when Kevin taught the 11th and 12th grades. And the guy who’d been Kevin’s principal? Was now no further than a few hundred yards away, a department head of the local area school.

What a happy reunion that was!

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Kevin and Pilate Moyo admiring each other.

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The pastor waving good bye as we left.

From here we drove out to an important cultural site: Thaba Bosiu, where the King sheltered his population up on a well-guarded mesa to evade everybody else: Zulus...British...Boers... this was in the 1830s. This little hill with its cap was within site of where they shacked up is something of a sacred symbol in Lesotho; you see folks occasionally wearing hats based on its shape, and it’s featured on their license plates.

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A nearby cultural center, seemingly deserted, had an open restaurant that was able to scare up grilled sandwiches and chicken after about...an hour of waiting.

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We didn’t mind. It was super peaceful. We listened to birdsong, and absorbed vitamin D into our New England-starved skin. Then it was back to the Trusty Rental Car. We headed toward Roma, to visit the site of Peace Corps training. I very shortly realized I’d want the Nikon for what I was seeing as we headed through valleys watched over by the most amazing cliffs.

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He’d never mentioned this.

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The cliffs. He’d failed to mention them. I was getting rather astounded at the all the beauty around me.

We found An Important Spot that Had to be Documented.

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And then headed towards God Help Me Pass, its actual name.

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It’s up there in them thar hills. Those figures up ahead on the road are on ponies.

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Many maize fields along the way, dotted with rondavels.

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We rose through the foothills.

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There’s that characteristic cap of different rock at the top.

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Up and up and up we went.

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Over a saddle and into the next little range.

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Do you see specks of white on that hillside? They’re sheep and/or goats grazing.

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For these hills are very much inhabited.

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We got to the pass. That’s 7,500 feet. Later in the week, we’d get much higher.

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It took me several more days in Lesotho to learn what I unwittingly filmed here, right here: that corrugated metal structure with the PVC pipe sticking out is an outhouse.

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A little while later we came to the next pass.

 

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We’d been seeing guys on ponies and sometimes donkeys, shepherds, periodically, but I hesitated to take pictures, because it’s rude in my book. Even though some of them were wearing very distinctive blankets that Kevin and I have a collection of. So strange to see our cuddling-in-front-of-the-TV blanket around some guy’s shoulders.

For our final adventure, once we headed back to the valley floor, we sought out some Paleolithic cave paintings. We got as far as the trailhead with a guide, but he told us the site was a half hour walk away.

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It was down into a ravine. In the distance, we’d been hearing thunder. By this point, we were a kilometer away from our car, which was parked in a maize field another few kilometers in from the paved road. We’d left it there when we came across a small stream in the road we didn’t want to chance with our front-wheel drive.

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We knew by now that we’d brought rain and lightning with us into the country. Looking back toward the car, the skies didn’t look friendly. We didn’t want to take a chance of being trapped down in the cave while out in the fields while the lightning played. For one thing, the rain would turn the dirt roads into mud, and our Trusty Rental wouldn’t have liked it. For another thing, did I mention the lightning? So we turned around without having seen any cave paintings to speak of, and hightailed it for the car. The first drops fell as we got within twenty feet of it.

We headed back to Maseru, swopped out hotels for the one we’d been booked in all along, and crashed for the evening. Next up: more cliffs, more old friends, more fantastic countryside.