countin' the days

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Into the Great Wide Open

South Africa is rocking my world. I've been blissfully out of touch for the last three weeks, mostly having too much fun to think about updating the blog. But here's a taste...

It was a bit of shock to fly from into Jo'burg from Tanzania. I remember our ride from the airport to the hostel, feeling completely wowed by riding in a new, clean vehicle on a huge multi-lane (paved!) highway with plentiful signs directing the flow of traffic. What were these crazy inventions? South Africa, though still very much a developing country, is leaps and bounds ahead of east Africa, something that has been both pleasant and disappointing in some respects.

Anyway!... We stayed in Jo'burg for a few days, longer than we had planned on. Joe got pretty ill with a fever & flu-like symptoms on our second night which, when coming from a malarial area, means you've got to high tail it a hospital, which is what we did. The malaria scare turned out to be just a nasty travelers ailment (all too familiar to most of us), but we chilled out in the 'burg for a couple days to make sure all was well. Finally, we decided on heading south.

After a brief stop at a delightful hostel in Pietermaritzburg where we camped among enormous cannabis plants and grubbed on homemade thai curry, we headed for the mountains. The Drakensberg ("Dragon") Mtns run along the border between South Africa and Lesotho, a collection of sandstone & basalt peaks that form a gnarly sharp skyline for endless kilometers. We decided to go up the famous Sani Pass, a death-defying series of insane switchbacks going straight up into Lesotho. However, I saw practically none of the pass on the way up, because I was crammed into the very back row of a minibus taxi (that's South African for matatu), with my bag on my lap & shoved in my face, with 17 other passengers who kept yelling at each other to open the windows. It was pure hell, and easily the longest hour of my life. But Lesotho proved a warm, beautiful welcome... and we spent the next 4 days in pure bliss.

Lestho has been called a "hiker's paradise" and it really is. You can hike for hours, days if you want to, without seeing other hikers or fences to interrupt your path. You would likely see some of the locals, shepherding their goats, cows & sheep, and if you paid close attention, you could probably see their small stone huts blending into the mountainsides. One of my great Lesotho moments was coming around a ridge curve and finding a very small village, where a shepherd was gleefully singing at the top of his lungs, filling the valley with this beautiful joyous song while we made our way through. We were also greeted by another Lestoho shephard on a peak, at the top of a pile of rocks. Dressed in a heavy grey woolen blanket and not much else, he ran straight up the rocks we'd spent at least 5 minutes working on and just stood by us for a few minutes, watching us munch on snacks and devise our next move. The Basotho people don't speak much English, but any lack of verbal communication is made up for by enormous smiles and enthusiastic greetings, which we received from many people. On our last day, sitting by the Lesotho border post hitchhiking our way down the pass, we struck up a conversation with James, a local who was incredibly fluent in English. We discussed many matters, including his recent wedding and New York City, and he explained to us Lesotho's motto: peace, friendship, prosperity. Indeed.

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