South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho
Sometimes I sit and stare at the world map. And I can't believe what we've already accomplished!
Inside the Kingdom of Lesotho.
South Africa (SA) became the very first country for a very long time to have a "welcome sign" at the border. It happens to be a massive country and in many ways a country that is looked up too by many. While happiness is theoretically something one can find anywhere, I have met many people who are dreaming of finding it elsewhere. There are those who wish to live in Europe and those who wish to reach North America. But just as many hope to reach SA! It's the promised land for many and not without reason. SA boasts itself among the continents strongest economies and a large platform of production. While many countries rely heavily on import, SA is a large provider of...everything! South African businesses, malls and restaurants dominate the neighboring countries and apart from different names it seems visually the same as Europe or North America most places.
If you like I, grew up with a children's world map then you will recognize this:
- North America: Cowboys and Indians
- South America: Pyramids, Maya's and Inka's.
- Europe: Kings and queens
- Asia: Chinese people and a Great Wall.
- Africa: Lions, Elephants and Giraffes.
- Australia: Kangaroos and an opera house.
Naturally we all grow up and receive better educations. The world is more complex than the children's map. Our teachers expand on it: "Some countries are tropical others are subtropical. Basically some places are hot, some are cold, some have the atomic bomb, the rest do not. Have a nice day".
When I reached the Southern part of this continent I knew it was going to be different. I just didn't know how much. And SA is the dominant country in the region. And it is amazing!!
As per usual I do not have enough time to roam around in large countries. But I did get plenty of opportunities to speak with many people. I like asking locals the following: "If I could put you on a stage facing 20,000 spectators from over 100 countries around the world...then what would you tell them about your country?"
I've had many rich answers to that. But 2 things seem to stand out:
1) SA always has great weather.
2) SA is 9 countries in 1.
When you start discovering the country through other people's opinions then it slowly starts to change. It is a country which is rich within geographical diversity as well as cultural diversity. 11 languages are spoken across the country while most of those I have met also speak English. But many wouldn't speak English amongst themselves, their family or at the local shop.
I got my Mozambique visa in Pretoria which was easy. I also requested new passports from the Royal Danish Embassy as Central Africa took a heavy toll on my pages.
Pretoria is a beautiful city and it is one of the 3 capital cities along with Bluemfontain and Cape Town. Someone told that that Pretoria has 180 embassies!! So if you want to break the world record for most countries visited within a year then try Pretoria (on a technicality).
Nelson Mandela stands with his arms wide open in front of the Union Buildings.
I admit I was scared at first. For more than a year I had been told stories about how SA is different in terms of violent assaults. "They will shoot you and then take your bag!!" Well, yes? I do not doubt that it can happen under the wrong circumstances. But it hardly happens to anyone. If it happened all the time then the South African population would plummet within a year ;)
I got my pants fixed in Sunnyside after I tore the zipper. Great stuff! :)
Many will advise you to drive around between where you need to go. Use Uber or get the number of a trusted taxi driver. And sure, that would make you extra safe. But you need to weigh out the risk on your own. As Helen Keller said: "Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing".
I don't know what's going on in the Southern African countries? But there are malls everywhere!!
I quickly realized that I was absolutely fine walking around the streets of Pretoria. At least during daytime. I even went for a walk in the part of Pretoria known as Sunnyside. That's one of the neighborhoods I was warned about. But those I met were sweet and friendly. I guess that's life most places. The majority of anyone you'll ever meet will never do you any harm. And then the few incidents will be announced loudly through a giant megaphone.
Thank you for the room Helle :)
My friend Helle, through many many years, gave me a wonderful present. A hotel reservation at my own choice. So I chose a few days in Pretoria. Helle made the booking and I ended up in a great place called "12 on Brecher". It's more like a home than a hotel. But quite luxurious. It's something else. Deirdre who runs it is very attentive and I thoroughly enjoy my present from Helle ;) A longterm guest named Arbrie (I think that's how it's spelled) took special interest in the Saga and offered to pay for my journey from Pretoria to Bluemfontain. I wasn't ready to accept that but he insisted. He has a good heart and I learned long ago that one should never steel the pleasure from someone of giving a gift. I'm grateful for meeting people like him...and I accepted the ticket to go south.
I went on a large scale hat-hunt within all of South Africa. I went as many places as I could in Pretoria and spent much time searching online. And eventually I found the right hat...but way too small. There were however many fine hats if I wasn't so picky! ;)
I do understand what people mean when they say that SA is 9 countries in one. The nature is absolutely breathtaking and according to most people I haven't seen anything at all. I have over and over again been recommended to visit Cape Town but it will have to remain on my "to do list". There is much I would like to see in SA.
Just last night I spoke to a man from SA who said that SA spoils people from the rest of the world. Once you've seen SA you've seen the best. You may go to a beach but you'll look at it and say: "We've got a nicer one in SA". It certainly is a beautiful country and while looking out across the open fields I couldn't quite tell if I was back in Denmark or far from home...
Unfortunately not everyone in SA is living a luxurious life. As you drive through the outskirts of Johannesburg then you'll see how the low income families live. And it's not just a few sheds. Millions of people are living under unimaginable conditions compared to the clean efficient city life you see elsewhere. Diversity comes in many forms.
3 clever businessmen! From left to right: Sechaba Thebe, Tumi Mosoeu and Xolani Magatya. They saved me some money and showed me a good time in Bloemfontein.
I reached Bluemfontain after sundown and didn't have a places to sleep. So I ended up strolling around for a while looking for a low cost place to rest for the night. On my way down a dark road I stopped to ask a group of young people sitting on a staircase behind a metal bar fence. They invited me inside behind the fence and one thing led to the other and I ended up sleeping at their cousins place. They figured that they might as well offer me that for a small amount of money instead of me taking a taxi searching for a guest house. Fair deal. A few days later they regretted taking money from me and wished they had offered it to me for free. But by then it was too late.
My private cell on wheels (for 10 minutes). Thanks to the friendly police of Bloemfontein.
The next morning I got up and left Bloemfontein. I asked a policeman for directions to the bus to the next country: The Kingdom of Lesotho. The policeman told me he would take me to the bus terminal and I got into the back, where I was locked in!...but with my consent ;)
I would certainly return to SA in a heartbeat! There is an endless amount to explore and I have met an ocean of kind people. In my opinion SA is a country of beauty with people who like their meat and sports! Sounds familiar? ;) But certainly also a country of mass diversity surrounded by immense natural beauty. SA: you're doing it right!
A bus ride later and I had reached the mountain Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Lesotho!
It's nice to reach a Kingdom. Then I know that at least we have that in common. This one was special though! Lesotho is certainly a country within its own right. There is a change of atmosphere the moment you enter. I have found its population to be soft spoken and extraordinary polite. And these are mountain people. There is this neat thing where you reference a woman as "meh" and a man as "Ndaa-deh". So you walk around saying thank you Ndaa-deh and good morning meh. It's a sign of respect and it's pretty cool!!
I feel like I belong in the mountains. I feel more free and far more energetic. The entirety of Lesotho is above 1,500 meters and there is even a ski resort. So I had to break out my winter jacket for the first time since we reached Africa. But no skiing this time...perhaps in Dubai? ;)
Johan contacted me on Facebook. He has a friend who has been following the Saga. Then one day Johan learned about the Saga and also started following - and as I approached the mountain Kingdom he invited me for a beer. Johan is a Danish Dane from Denmark and works for the United Nations in Lesotho. A beer became an invitation to sleep on the floor in his new apartment which he shares with his colleague Chris. Good stuff! They are both great guys and Johan has helped me out a lot. It was also Johan who suggested that I would go further up into the mountains to Semonkong. Lesotho has mountains far more impressive than what I would find in Semonkong. But it was only a few hours from Maseru (the capital) and a very impressive waterfall is in connection to it. So I went up there for two nights.
I had this all to myself...except for a herd of sheep and a few birds.
The landscape was more than impressive. It's hard to understand why Lesotho is not a very very rich country? There is no malaria, no cholera and prices are low. The country has me thinking of things I have seen in Iceland, Austria, Bhutan and Bolivia. But it feels like something else. It feels like Lesotho! It should be overrun by tourist all year long?!?
Maseru is nice. But you don't come to Lesotho for its capital alone ;)
Maseru is a modern city but once you get up into the mountains and off the main road it becomes horse country. A horse in those parts is certainly as valuable as a 4WD. Perhaps even more.
Going higher up into the mountains. The roads are great.
I stayed at the Semonkong lodge which provides amazing value! Good food, sweet staff, spectacular surroundings and all of that for about $20/day. How is that possible? Well, book yourself into the luxury dorm room which has a fireplace. Have toast with eggs for breakfast. Have the low cost lunch special and end the day with a soup. Boom!! $20/day. I wish it was like that everywhere.
This is the mainroad from the lodge to the waterfall. I love it!!
The walk to the waterfall is a solid 5 kilometers. It takes about an hour and brings you there on a road which would put a 4WD to work. But I never saw one. I saw lots of horses and people, who like me, where walking. Many wore the traditional blanket but some wore perfectly modern clothes.
I remember seeing this trendy girl in jeans and smart shoes with a school bag on her back...walking across the rocky dirt road avoiding the horse shit and mud...at school you would never guess that she lives up in the mountains. Certainly not based on her appearance.
In that landscape it wasn't hard to image what life would have been like only 100 years ago in Europe. You hear the sound of a horse far away. The birds chirp in the high grass. You feel a fresh air breeze. Your heart slows down and the sun hits your face...perfect!
The mountains contains diamonds and plenty of water. But for some reason pipelines run from Lesotho's mountains to Johannesburg in SA. And then Lesotho imports bottled water from SA. Isn't life funny like that?
I wish for the gentle people of Lesotho that the violent past will remain there and that a prosperous future lies ahead. There is no reason for you not to make it your next destination! You will not regret it.
And if you like beer then you could basically come for that alone. Maluti is perhaps my new favorite!
On my last night in Lesotho I joined Johan and Chris along with a bunch of other expats for dinner. There is an amazing, albeit small, expat community in Lesotho and it really struck my heart. I have worked many years as an expat in many different countries and I felt like staying in Maseru. But that is not a luxury you have if you wish to complete this project! And I do. But at times I really also just want to go home...
Oh well, we haven't come this far for nothing. We are more than halfway and there is much more to discover. Let's keep on keeping on! ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - you will never believe the workload of the Saga.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga