Sunday, March 22, 2015


There are few things finer than setting your alarm for 3:00 am to make a 6:00 am flight to New Orleans. 

OK, I lied. There are quite a few things finer than that. Including hearing someone call your name in the airport and finding it's a friend you hardly ever get a chance to see.

Miss N. was on her way to Florida.  

Kevin's got business to tend to in New Orleans and we finally washed up, via Chicago Midway, in the early afternoon. We dropped our bags off at our hotel and wandered through the French Quarter.

A late breakfast at CafĂ© SoulĂ©. Grits, a biscuit, a gigantic croissant... Yum. 

 I was impressed by the ornate... well as the simple. 

I was not expecting the cacophony. 

Hey, we watched "Treme" - we knew there'd be plenty of great street music. Just not the overlapping waves of sound from every direction, washed over with the over-miked magicians and performers whipping up their crowds. "And where y'all from? Chicago? REPRESENT!" It was a veritable din.

We greeted the river. That there is the Bulk Patriot out of Panama. I wonder what's on her. Probably some of everything.

Eventually we passed out back at the hotel and woke up in time for a late dinner just off Bourbon Street at a steakhouse.  This town is crawling with Brennans in the restaurant industry, but you don't get a break if you share that name. Heh heh. I have no shame. 

Initial quick impression? The soundscape is like the cousin of Mombasa - that's got the boom box / Muslim call to prayer mashup. This is snare drum meets trombone and tuba meets banjo and fiddle, with jacked up car stereos and amplified magicians mixed in. The faded beauty and elegance reminds me of Venice. There is way, way more neon than I expected. 

It's in the 70s and humid down here. In a little over a month, I've gone from New England to southern  Africa and back, to South Carolina, to Connecticut and then Vermont, and now here - I think I've got a touch of whiplash. Yee haw! Fortunately, I've got my running shoes. I should be good to go.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

the last of lesotho

Where were we. Friday, February 27th – we’d driven up to the lookout on the approach to Katse Dam, and now we were headed back to Thabo Phatsoa to crash at Qamako’s (former) Outward Bound facility. We must have stopped for supplies at some point, because I snapped this in the grocery store in Hlotse:


I was captivated by the variety of names on the Coke cans. I’m not in New England, am I. Nope.

We arrived at Thabo Phatsoa in the late afternoon and immediately went for a walk. Kevin aimed for the little impounded lake, where he’d learned to roll a kayak in 1985. Along the way, we came across one of those dongas – eroded gullies.


They are worlds unto themselves.


Qoqolosing and Qoqolosaneng. Remember, those q’s are clicks.


New to me.

We wandered down the dirt road for a while, gazing up at the incredible mesas and buttes that Lesotho is blessed with. The more I looked, the more I realized just how settled this little valley is, in a very low-key way. At one point, a taxi van went by us and disgorged its passengers – men and women, home from their jobs or their errands. Off they went, checking their cell phones, down foot paths I might never have thought to notice. If I’m ever in a place where I’ve lost contact with what peace and quiet feel like, I have this in my heart.

That night, we were the only guests at the facility. The staff – which as of that moment, consisted of two or three girls fresh out of high school – prepared us dinner in the dining hall. Qamako showed up past dark and we hung out on the porch of our cottage and talked. A kitten found us and fell asleep in the palms of my hands. I slept like a rock that night.

The next morning we were off to Emmanuel Seventh Day Adventist High School, about a 40 minute drive from Thabo Phatsoa, in Levis Nek/Ha Nkhasi (those are two adjacent villages).


Kevin had visited a couple of times since his Peace Corps service in the 80s, but even so, some of the changes surprised him. There were many more buildings, for one thing.


The building on the left was just being completed when he started.


His classroom. He taught Maths and Science to the oldest kids.

I made him recreate one of my favorite pictures of him.


He lived at first in a little house next to the girls’ dorm and across the yard from the principal’s house (Ndate Moyo, whom we’d seen on Tuesday back in Maseru)...


...but when he got the chance to live in a traditional rondavel, he jumped at the chance.


It burned down years later, and this is all that is left. This is where he learned to make do on a couple of gallons of water a day (cooking, bathing, dishes, everything) and figured out how to cook pizza on single burner stove. There are probably Peace Corps cookbooks with such feats recorded for posterity.


The view from the walk from his housing to the school buildings is vintage Lesotho jaw-dropping, in my book.

Around now is when his former pupils showed up. The hugs, the exclamations of delight, and an overall giddiness prevailed.


This is Thato, the guy who, two weeks into Kevin’s two year gig, kindly informed him that “we all like you very much, but we do not understand a word you are saying.” That’s what got Kevin to slow his native New Jersey patter down to the Voice of Authority he’s got now. (If you know Kevin, you know he could read you the phone book and you’d love every word of it.)

I was not immune from the hugs.


We sat in an unoccupied classroom (it was a Saturday, and anybody in residence on the property was at church all day) and folks chatted in a mixture of English and Sesotho. Cell phones were whipped out and used to document the proceedings. Outside, a storm rolled in and it started to rain.


We gathered under the porch roof of the neighboring classrooms, trying to stay out of the rain, unwilling to cut our time together short. Eventually we got into another round of picture taking. The guy in the plaid shirt, “Mr. MP” because he was running for a seat in Parliament and elections were being held that very day, swapped places with me behind the camera.



And there I am.


After many more hugs, we all took our leave of each other.


Kevin and I headed for the nearest border crossing: our flight back to NYC was the following night, out of Johannesburg, and we had a lot of things planned for our last day. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The road to Katse Dam.

On Friday, February 27th we left the tranquility of Maliba Lodge in Ts'ehlanyane National Park (sob!) and headed out for a view. Lesotho is a mountainous, land-locked country; let me throw some Wikipedia your way: 

"...[Lesotho] is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres (3,281 ft) in elevation. Its lowest point is at 1,400 metres (4,593 ft), the highest lowest point of any country."

We were aiming for Maliki Lisiu Pass, elev. 3,090 metres (10,138 feet). This entailed driving along a long valley and occasionally in and out of side valleys, ascending gradually. Kevin drove while I gaped.

In this next shot, that long diagonal across the headwall of the valley is the roadcut. You can make out an electric pylon. I should mention that this is the road to Katse Dam, constructed in the mid to late 90s. The only reason the road we're on is any good is that it was used to haul supplies for the dam's construction, and thus had to be engineered to pretty decent specifications.

No matter the elevation, there were always angora goats, and occasionally a shepherd.

I don't know if this will really register, but in this next shot of the opposite wall of the valley, small waterfalls caused the whole face to gleam and glitter in the sun.

There were occasionally small rocks on the road, but the culverts were pretty good so the occasional waterfalls didn't spill into the road.

Finally we got to the top of the pass and stopped at a lookout for a view of the valley we'd just ascended.

Kevin was hoping this viewpoint would extend in the opposite direction, toward the lake itself, but to find that we had to drive another couple of kilometers. So we did. You can jut make out two little sections of water, below.

But I got distracted by something Kevin found: a little lizard in the rockface at the side of the road.

I fell in love. I don't have any fields guides and the interwebs are not being helpful so for now, we'll just call it Stan and move on.

We turned around and headed back down the valley. 

Note the rondavel on the ridge.

At one point Kevin stopped the car for me - that's the Trusty Rental parked there - because I spotted something clinging to the side of the cliff and HAD TO LOOK AT IT.

See it?

No? Hint: bottom left.

Southern African has some crazy flowers. 

...and some crazy flower lovers. Kevin felt compelled to document me in action.

Ahhhhh..... care to drive down with us? Just for a wee bit. Three minutes. If I can do it without puking, so can you:

(I'd embed that link but blah blah technical difficulties blah blah.)

The day held additional beauties, but I'll leave you here for now.  As I put this together, it's Monday, March...9th, already? and I'm stuck in an airport for the next, oh, eight hours minimum. So I must ration out my pleasures and make them last for the day.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ts'ehlanyane National Park

The plan was to sleep in, and to wander in the hills. In this, we were not disappointed. I’d say the only bummer of the day was the Nescafe. I don’t care what anyone says: instant coffee is just no good. But it’s what was available. I pondered the unfairness of life from the upstairs balcony.


Poor, poor me.

After brekkie, we headed back to the little stream we’d visited the evening before, and found the trailhead on its other side. Crossing was not a problem – plenty of slabs of rock.


Our micro-hike took us gently up the side of the hill we’d seen the eland on the previous afternoon.


The main lodge is at the top left; the lower structures are a different set of lodges. Not ours.



Our little house is the third from left.

I slowed us down, taking pictures of what else, flowers. I only had my phone with me, so I didn’t go too crazy.




At one point a fence appeared – I believe to keep us from tumbling down some steep places.



Plenty of eland poop.



Kevin walked with his arms overhead, trying to avoid contact with the tall grasses.


That boy’s one walking allergy.

When we got back to the rock pool, we found a bunch of tadpoles.



Including one with legs.

We practiced our selfies.


I found a rock with three threads running through it in different directions – a first.


I figured it was magical, so I conjured up an offering to the river goddess.

Later in the day we headed up to the main lodge, in search of wifi.

I admired the lobby’s decorations: my kind of place.



The check in desk.


The sitting lounge.

That night, it clouded up...there was thunder...there was stars. Just a peaceful evening and deep, deep sleep.