Thursday, November 18, 2010

Return to Tsehlanyane

Thaba Bosiu was not our only adventure with the CHED 2010 group in July. We also got to return to Tsehlanyane National Park, which, as you may recall, lies at the upper end of a stunningly beautiful valley...

We all - CHED 10 volunteers, Peace Corps Lesotho staff, and myself - piled out of the vehicles at the braai area, where a little impromptu dancing occurred. This new group of volunteers does not lack exuberance, as shall be seen..

Peace Corps Lesotho's training staff, consisting mostly of bo-'m'e (pronounced "boh-may" and indicating a group of adult women, with 'm'e the singular form), began preparations for the braii in a rather picturesque setting:

The rest of us headed off on a hike through the park:

With my wife leading the way, of course!

We came across this water hole after hiking for a while, and the water looked so clean and inviting...

... that some had to savor its purity...

... others had to contemplate its calming essence...

... and others had to show their appreciation with some of their aforementioned exuberance.

The tranquility of the place contrasted perfectly with the volunteers' energy, creating an entrancing balance of play and meditation.

As we hiked onward, we saw fire lines that defied explanation: How could just that strip of brush burn, but nothing around it?

And we just enjoyed the beauty of a largely untouched place:

Finally finding our way back to the main camp:

And the braai. And yes, that is my wife plunging into vast volumes of smoke arising from burning meat...

All enjoyed the moment, the park, and the pleasure of each other's company, as yet another group of young Americans began to explore Lesotho and to get to know the Basotho people...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thaba Bosiu with CHED 10

Given that it is the birthplace of Lesotho, I suppose it is not surprising that we returned to Thaba Bosiu. This time, Kathy and I joined the newest batch of volunteers - CHED 10 (Community Health and Economic Development volunteers beginning their service in 2010) - as they toured this historic site.

This time, we had a guide, Ntate Edgar (pronounced "nh-Dah-tay", it literally means father but is used more like "sir" in English - though more frequently than we now use "sir"in America). Not only is he a font of knowledge on Basotho history, but he also runs a program to help out with the education of local orphans, of whom there are many (often AIDS orphans). He and I chatted all the way up the mountainside, and he was just an incredibly nice guy.

The view from the top of Thaba Bosiu was quite grand, and well worth the hike.

The volunteers gathered around Ntate Edgar as he shared with them some of the history of this place, including that the fallen tree next to them was where King Moshoeshoe I used to meet with the equivalent of his "parliament".

From the top of Thaba Bosiu, we could see Qiloane (pronounced "kill-WAH-nay", though the first syllable properly begins with a click rather than a "k" sound). Qiloane is source of the shape of the traditional Basotho hat that is featured prominently on Lesotho's flag.

I was not the only one who thought this view worth a picture:

No, I mean really not the only one:

One of the reasons Moshoeshoe chose this location is that the top is flat and expansive enough for herds to graze and crops to be grown, so even during a siege, he and his people would not starve.

The CHED 10 volunteers are the first group I have gotten to know as they arrive, and I must say, they are a great group!

I particularly enjoyed chatting with a couple of them who had grown up in Michigan, just as I did. I had not thought about many of my memories of that place in years. I quite liked being able to joke about how everyone from the lower peninsula grew up "just outside of Detroit"...

Proof that I am, indeed, a lucky guy:

One of the most significant elements of Thaba Bosiu is that it serves as the royal graveyard.

On the way down, we passed by a a curious child who apparently lives at the foot of Thaba Bosiu.

After we parted ways with the CHED 10 volunteers, we went on a bit of a drive through the countryside, where we saw some Springbok - the first stereotypically African wildlife I had seen up to that point.

Actually, apart from the ostriches in Bloemfontein, these are still the only animals I have seen in Africa that are not birds or lizards. This, I suppose, is one of those lessons I am learning about the real Africa where I live as compared to the stylized Africa I had seen in movies and on television before we moved here. I am not saying there are no giraffes or lions in Africa, rather that Hollywood has only seen fit to find the giraffes and lions worth special attention. The continent is incredibly diverse: tropics and snow-capped mountains; deserts and beaches; cities and wilderness; diamond mines and maize; waterfalls and motorcycle races; deep spirituality and petty crime; and, of course, both ferocious lions and precocious lizards (how that one lizard found its way into our sun room I will never know).

Just think about how much we have seen and shared on this site after visiting so very little of all that there is here in only two countries, Lesotho and South Africa...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Kathy's 44th Birthday, Part VI: Eastern Cape & Lady Grey

Alas, that we had to leave Mbotyi...

Our first stop before we began to turn toward our home in Maseru was in Port St. John's, a small city at the end of a river valley on the Wild Coast, just south of Mbotyi.

In all honesty, I think Port St. John's looked much bigger on the map than it did in person. Nonetheless, it was a quaint little coastal town.

But we were soon on the road again...

This time, we traversed the full breadth of the Eastern Cape. It was marvelous - grand and rolling and colorful (even in winter).

We ran through more of the smoke from burning fields, which gave the expansive landscape less depth than it might otherwise have had. It was, nonetheless, spectacular.

Little villages dotted the landscape, with much of the housing similar in structure to that found in Lesotho. But in South Africa, the residents tend to paint their homes, mostly in pastels. In Lesotho, they are typically left in the natural color of the stone used for construction, with the result that they blend into their surroundings much better, thus seeming to be a part of the landscape, rather than something added to it.

I lost track of time as Kathy drove us across the province, where we never seemed far from mountains and ridges, vistas of depth and splendor, with each change in the light recharging my captivation...

Sunsets in South Africa are immense, seemingly greater than the sky in which they glow...

We eventually drove into Lady Grey for the last night of our journey in celebration of my wife's birth. We stayed at the Comfrey Cottage, a quaint and incredibly comfortable set of cottages set on the outskirts of town.

They raise alpacas on the grounds, which were worth wandering just to admire the fauna and flora.

The main building held the dining area, where one of the owners, Grant, served us the best meal we had during the entire trip. Indeed, the service we received at this family-owned enterprise was top rate and always friendly.

Besides, the alpacas were just so cute!

After we reluctantly left our cottage, we explored the town of Lady Grey a bit. This was my first full experience of how the legacy of Apartheid has played out in the places of South Africa, as only minutes from the cozy comforts of our cottage we encountered an entire section of town consisting of shacks. The contrast in standards of living was stark, to say the least.

We then drove to one of the local sights, a dam, which actually looks more impressive in these photographs than it did during our visit - mostly because the pictures do not capture how poorly maintained the site was. It could have been a nice spot for picnics and perhaps even swimming, but not so when we were there.

In leaving Lady Grey, we took one of Kathy's famous turns - when she decides to try an "alternative route". While I must confess to having been quite nervous about the quality and narrowness of the roads she found, the sites were quite gorgeous.

Though traffic was a bit of a problem:

Once we returned to the main road, we were Maseru bound. Hard to believe it was only a long weekend, with so much seen and experienced and felt. But so it often is with us and our life together. So much beauty, so much living.

Happy Birthday, Kathy! Happy Birthday, love of my life!