Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Cape, Lesotho and Beyond

I'm back!  And what a vacation I had!

We (Janet, a PCV from Bethanie) left for Capetown not really knowing exactly what kind of vacation we would be having.  With only two goals in mind (backpack and pony trek) we were pretty much open for anything.

Our first stop was Cape Town, a large city at the bottom of South Africa.  It to over 16 hours to get there from Keetmanshoop where we started from.  We stayed with some ex-Peace Corps volunteers from Namibia who are now living in the cape.  After a few days of shopping, eating and visiting museums though, we were ready to get out of the big city.

On the road through South Africa we saw endless river valleys filled with vineyards and wheat farms.

A view of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain, where we hiked one beautiful day

Here's me with all of Cape Town at my feet.  A drop of about 400 meters is directly in front of me.

Myself, Amy, Janet and Josh (Josh is a volunteer teacher in Namibia and Amy is his girl friend from the States) at the top of Table Mountain

One night we went to a great middle-eastern restaurant where we smoked Huka (herb-flavored air with a hint of tobacco) and enjoyed a belly-dancing show.

From Cape Town we took a bus to Blomfontien which is near the border to Lesotho.  We took taxi's from the bus into Lesotho eventually ending up at a PCV's house just north of the capital city.  From there we made our plans, deciding to attempt a complete circle tour of Lesotho.

The Lesotho border with South Africa near the capital city of Masearu.  It was a pretty crazy place.  all the vehicles you see are various taxis.A typical taxi/mini-bus.  You can see it's full of people just waiting for the last one or two passengers so they can leave.

We took more taxi's to another PCV's site seeing much of Lesotho on the way.  We passed through endless villages and towns.  At one point we walked along the road (since there were no cars or taxis) for three hours, never once being an eye-shot away from at least one village. 

Some small boys came up to us to ask for sweets.  It may seem funny, but we saw many boys with no pants, only a sweater.  The rubber boots were also very prominent even among the adults.This is a good idea, bathrooms right outside the garden; instant fertilizer! Here's a close view of a roundiville, the main form of housing in villages.  There are remnants of old abandoned houses everywhere as you can see in the background.

The villages in Lesotho are made of rock and straw.  There were people everywhere.  Many never leave the area, traveling only a few kilometers to shop.  They wore mostly western-style clothes however we saw a lot of people covered with blankets.  It gets so cold that blankets are a necessity.  Their blankets are made of goat hair and have a very unique texture to them.

A view of a village on the slope of a hill.  Imagine life here...An elderly man waiting for a taxi or bus to go to town to buy smokes.Some teenagers bringing donkeys to the next village so that they can haul wheat back.

Eventually someone passed and picked us up. We got to Sani pass, where we expected to be able to backpack to a national park further south, eventually connecting back up with the main road.  When we got there, however we were told that no such trail exists, but we could just walk there over the mountains.  As I was entering in GPS coordinates to attempt this rather difficult trek a professional backpacker came to speak with us.  He suggested an easier trail that was actually a trail that was nearby in South Africa (across the border).  He also offered us a lift as he was headed that way.

A group of men beating the wheat. I was told something about separating the edible part of the wheat from the rest but I didn't quite get it.A view of another village perched on a hill overlooking the highlands of LesothoThis is Sani Pass, looking towards South Africa to the east.  On a clear day I could imagine seeing the ocean from here, more than 400k away.

We ended up hiking the Castle Cup trail, a 60k hiking trail (that is meant to be a 5-day easy hike with lots of side trips and sites to see) in two days.  It was pretty intense, especially since at one point we got lost and ended up scaling a 600 meter saddle to rejoin the trail.  Along the way we found some cave paintings, which I thought was pretty amazing.

Janet walking along the trail on our first morning of hiking.A nice suspension bridge along the way.We were fortunate to never have to sleep on the floor for our entire trip.  On the trail we stayed at this lodge-like house.  It had water (although cold) and hostel beds.
Our food supplies.  We pretty much survived on peanut butter and bread.A nice shot of the Drakensburg mountainsJanet and I in our "grandparents" shot.  We had just finished the trail and were completely exhausted.  Another 12k hike uphill awaited us the following day
Me next to the cave paintings we happen to find while lost.

On the other side of the trail we then had to hike back up into Lesotho.  We climbed more than 1,000 meters back up into the highlands of Lesotho through a national park, eventually ending up in a lodge in the middle of the park.  From the lodge we got a random and very lucky lift in the back of a pickup truck to the nearest town, four hours away.

The ride in the back of the truck was one of the most amazing experiences of the trip.  We coursed through massive mountains that sprawled into the distance as far as you could see.  The mountains were so pronounced and steep that there was barely any room for the spattering of small villages and homesteads that peppered the slopes.  Large herds of sheep, goats and cattle were seen everywhere, tended closely by teenage boys.  Occasionally we would crest over a hilltop or saddle and be able to see for what seemed like thousands of miles.  It was truly amazing.

This is all I have from that amazing ride in the back of the pickup.  Some things you just can't get pictures of...Lesotho is called the "Magic Kingdom" You can get an idea of why in this picture...

After another day of taxis we ended up in a lodge in a remote village called Maleale. There we went on a two-day pony trek and stayed the night in a village.  It was an amazing experience and I am still shocked at the type of terrain horses can walk on.  At one point we decended into a river valley using a goat path that was not only narrow and rocky, but at points had huge boulders in the middle which the horses would either scale or jump.  I always hoped for the former because jumping a boulder on a goat path with 300 meters of cliff to one side is not exactly a moment of happiness.

You can barely get a sense of just how steep this trail is. You see the rock in the distance, to the left?  Yeah, my horse jumped that.Me on my horse.Me on my other horse.  The first one was too slow so the guide switched with me.
Our accomodations at the Maleale lodgeOn our over-night pony-trek we hiked up to this waterfall.  It was pretty amazing and VERY cold.

After spending a few days at the lodge and meeting lots of interesting people from all over (including some volunteers from South Africa and Namibia!) we started heading back home.  We spent two nights with the volunteer we started at, then headed to Cape town for two days before going back to Namibia.

It was an amazing trip I'll never forget.