Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Mountain Kingdom: Part 1

Beautiful Lesotho
I'll be honest. Before I came to South Africa I had never heard of Lesotho. I don't remember learning any African geography in high school. As I was not the most conscientious student, not remembering doesn't necessarily mean that it wasn't taught to me. I do remember learning European geography (I'm old, Czechoslovakia was still a country back then) which makes me think that African geography was not taught.  In case your geography lessons also fell short, I'll give you a little information about Lesotho and then tell you about our trip there. 

The first thing you need to know is that Lesotho is a country which is physically surrounded by South Africa. The name is pronounced Les Sue Too. In many African languages a Th is pronounced like a T. Just one of the things I've learned in my job as a fake English teacher. The country is also known as the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho because Lesotho has a king, Letsie III. He recently stayed at the Maliba Lodge, the same place we stayed while in Lesotho. Even more exciting, King Letsie stayed in the same room at Maliba, number six, where my parents stayed. And, as an aside, Prince Harry also stayed in room six recently. Letsie III is a constitutional monarch meaning that his role is largely ceremonial and he doesn't have absolute power. 

Lesotho declared independence from the U.K. in 1966. According to Wikipedia about 40% of its two million plus people live below the international poverty line. Lesotho is mountainous and rural and even though it's physically inside of South Africa, it looks and feels completely different. 

Lesotho has few cities including Maseru (pronounced Mas Ser Roo with a little rolling on the r) the capitol, which is where we flew into from Joburg. That collective gasp that you just heard is the sound of shock and dismay from South Africans reading this post who are baffled to learn that anyone would fly to Lesotho when the distance could be easily driven in just five and a half hours. South Africans love to drive places. They drive from Joburg to Cape Town or from Joburg to Mozambique completely unfazed at spending 12-15 hours in the car each way. But in advance of this trip, Mr. Deep and I decided to fly because our trip to Lesotho was scheduled on the heels of another trip with my visiting parents to Timbavati (next to the Kruger Park) and that was a long drive of six hours each way. 

It's a good thing we decided to fly because about two weeks prior to the trip we found out that Mr. Deep would not be able to go with us to Lesotho as he had to return to the U.S. for a business trip. Yes, this trip was to discuss his next move reinforcing the knowledge that our remaining time here in South Africa is limited. 

I invited my friend and fellow American expat, Meghan, to join my parents and me in Lesotho. It's too bad that Mr. Deep wasn't able to go as he would have liked the scenery and the night sky full of stars an advantage to being in the middle of nowhere without pesky light pollution. But, there are some things about Lesotho that would have driven Mr. Deep crazy.

Specifically, things in Lesotho move very, very slowly. Some people from Europe or the U.S. would say that things in South Africa move slowly but compared to Lesotho, South Africa moves at lightening speed. 

When we arrived at the airport there was just one guy whose job it was to collect all the luggage from the plane, load it onto a cart and bring it inside the terminal. There was a conveyor belt but either it didn't work or it just wasn't used.  Then, we headed out to get our rental car, and the woman behind the counter hand filled out the paperwork. She didn't ask us if we wanted insurance or a GPS or anything like that. She just gave us one of the two cars that she had on site and that was it. There was also no running water in the airport at all. There were regular sinks and toilets but the water just wasn't working and when we returned to the airport four days later to fly back to Joburg, the water still wasn't working.

I think there are only two roads in Lesotho. The roads were paved and seemed to be in much better shape that the holey roads in South Africa. You would think a limited number of roads would make it easy to drive from the airport to lodge without getting lost...but you'd be incorrect. 

We drove for a while and even though we brought our own GPS and the Ops Department/TPT had printed out directions, somehow we missed a turn and ended up at the border crossing moments away from reentering South Africa. We had to explain to the border agents that we didn't want to go back to South Africa, that we had just come from there. One guy asked me to come with him and he took me to a small office where a tourism official gave me some maps in an effort to get us back on the right track. We turned around and then began our three hour drive to the lodge. The trip is only 154 kilometres (96 miles) but all of the roads are just two lanes, with lots of speed bumps referred to as "humped zebras" meaning they are painted with black and white stripes. Because of the speed bumps, or possibly simply because it's Lesotho, people drive extremely slowly. So slowly that I am not sure they are putting any pressure on the gas pedal at all, they may just be coasting. Mr. Deep would have been extremely bothered by the slow drivers as even when we used to drive on the New York State Thruway he would constantly complain about other drivers, being too slow, and "boxing him in like a turtle's pecker."

The drive may have been slow but it was beautiful and interesting. There were people walking along the roads and we saw numerous shepherds dressed in traditional clothing meaning wrapped in blankets, carrying large sticks and wearing cone shaped straw hats, called Basotho hats. Unfortunately my camera and phone were in the (boot) trunk of the car so I don't have any good photos of shepherds with flocks. 

Finally, after a long day of travel we arrived at Maliba Lodge. The lodge is the only five star hotel in Lesotho and it's name is pronounced Ma Deeb A as an L is Sotho is pronounced as a d. When Mr. Deep proofed this post he asked "if an l is a d does that mean the name of the country name is pronounced Des Sue Too?" And the answer is no, it's not and I have no idea why. Regardless, the lodge is in the Tsehlanyane National park and it offers gorgeous views from every angle. 

Kids on the side of the road. Photo credit to my mom.

View of the chalets at Maliba Lodge. 

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About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.