AFTER FIVE years I'm back in the Republic of South Africa. Was a 13 hour flight from Sydney and I watched toooooooooo many in-flight movies including The Queen, The Last King Of Scotland and Scoop. I even got to watch Snakes On A Plane...on a plane! The addition of watching that film in context made it even more super-gripping than ever!
So I flew into Johannesburg and it's still dangerous but once again nothing bad happened to me - Andy 1 Law Of Averages 0. I stayed at Eastgate Backpackers, which is not the place to stay in Joburg. But it's only five minutes walk from Eastgate Mall, which I have now been to more then any other shopping centre in the world, and that's a fact you can take to the bank, shopping fans. I've even been there more than Meadowhall in Sheffield, and I lived in Sheffield for three years! Incredible.
After wondering for a while about where on earth I was going to go now I was back in South Africa, inspiration (from the Lonely Planet) hit me and I was soon on a bus to Bloemfontein, which has only one hostel in town. In fact I'm there now. In fact I've been here before. But I haven't stayed here all this time, I've been in the magical Kingdom of Lesotho, one of Africa's smallest countries. Interestingly it is actually landlocked entirely by one country, in this case South Africa, making it a bit like the Vatican City (except probably less corrupt - is that libelous? I wouldn't know, I get my religious knowledge and history from Dan Brown these days.)
We didn't go to Lesotho last time we were here. I forgot my passport which people tell me is actually the number one thing you need when crossing an international border.
Lesotho is home to the Basotho people, and the foundations of the nation were laid by King Moshoeshoe The Great. And he was great, folks, just so you know. He fought the Boers and the Zulus, just like Michael Caine, although history scholars are divided over his quip-ability.
They speak Southern Sotho in Lesotho. Sample phrases include 'dumella' (hello), 'la kae' (how are you?), 'kea leboha' (thank you) and 'sala hantle' (stay well!)
So I am fluent in the native language. Practically a local, really. In lesotho transport isn't a double-decker cruise liner with meals and movies, it's a cramped minibus which is NEVER full. Why, just yesterday I was the only white person squeezed in with all these Africans, sweating away, 'listening' to house music blaring out the windows and all with some woman's child on my lap. It's the proper African experience! There's a romanticism to it all but a few hours is all I can take I think. Couldn't do a 12 hour stint in one of those.
The capital of Lesotho is Maseru, fact fans. It's half the size of Plymouth and feels like a small provincial town. I travelled with a Canadian woman called Marcy and somehow we made it to Malealea where they have a famous lodge that's really set up for touring groups and costs double what I usually pay but they have a few backpacker shacks and they let me stay (I now look very scruffy - my hair is even longer and I have a beard growing. I can' find my shaver. It's in my bag somewhere but my bag has started to smell. To solve the problem I have avoided opening my bag.)
Anyway in Malealea I found peace. The local villagers are friendly and funny. One kid wanted to exchange a pound sterling some tourist had left as a present. So much for sentimentality! I gave him ten Maloti for it (the currency in Lesotho) which is actually much lower than the official exchange of 14.6 Maloti to Gordon's pound but he got it for free (the kid I mean, not Gordon) so we're all happy campers. I now have SIX English pounds in my wallet awaiting spending back in Blighty. Here that's a slap up meal and some beers, back home I suspect I will be lucky to get a coffee and a copy of Empire.
Yes. Peace. In Malealea. Surrounded by mountains (not like the ones in Bolivia) it's really quite a postcard setting. As I mentioned earlier the Malealea lodge caters to an older crowd, the average age must have been 45 or even 50. So it was a different crowd than I usually hang out with, but I'm no ageist! It was still an enriching experience.
Oh, in Maseru I stayed at the Anglican Church Training Centre (I told you Lesotho wasn't set up for backpackers). I met a nice Korean guy called Lee (below). I thought I should mention him because we both discovered Hunter's cider together. It makes Gaymers and Magners taste like Swamp Donkey.
It was a nice experience to be in Lesotho. It's a bit off the beaten backpacker track. No hostels, just lodges. Hardly any whiteys, people staring at you in the street or while you're in a minibus. Silly white man, what's he doing here?
Courtesys and greetings are very important here. 'Hello's' and 'how are you's' aren't just confined to the sticks. A ten minute walk through Maseru as a stranger can elicit twenty or thirty greetings. Some people even want to stop and chat. I might try it in London.
Lesotho is quite poor and AIDS, as in most of southern Africa, is quite a pickle. Many kids you speak to have lost at least one parent, and although you don't pry, it's quite likely due to AIDS. It affect all kinds of people even across different social groups. I don't know what the answer is, but I'm pretty sure it isn't the Teenage Chastity Ban as was inforced by King Mswati III of Swaziland recently. Despite that foolish policy Mswati is one of only three absolute monarchs left in Africa. He answers to no one, wears funk colours AND he has 13 wives! I can't be sure but I'm certain he's a big James Brown fan. You rock King M!
So I am back in Bloem' and tomorrow I get a (hopefully comfortable) bus to Cape Town. There I kick my heels for a couple of days and then Laura is flying in! Very exciting. Our plan is to travel up the coast and see monkeys and whales and live in treehouses. The treehouses I feel are very important. I can't strees the importance enough of such a house. In a tree. Brilliant!
I apologise if you feel the blog is boring with not enough pictures. I will remedy this tomorrow hopefully. Bloem must have a photo shop type place to make cd thingys. It's certain, I'm sure.
I feel very relaxed and happy at the moment. South Africa feels foreign yet familiar at the same time. I don't know if I will properly look up people from the old gap year teaching days or go back to St. Marks College in the Limpopo province. Maybe we should let memories be? Then again, maybe not.
Fingers crossed, then, for a safe trip to the Western Cape.
Oh, and that was a joke about the Vatican by the way, I don't want one of Pope Benny's assasins after me! Not that they exist. Or do they? Over to Mr. Brown...