Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Pony Up

Just got back from my first weekend in the interior of Lesotho. It was definitely one of the best tourist weekends I’ve had in a long time.

Early on Saturday, our team of eight joined up with three Basotho friends and traveled to Malealea, a trekking and camping area South of the capital.

On Saturday afternoon, I spent the better part of the day learning to ride a horse. I’d ridden horses before with limited success (on separate occasions: losing control of a galloping horse; renting a broken down nag that refused to trot; having to ride a camel instead). This time was better, though. The lodge rented me a very fast and responsive horse, Excise (like the tax), who I took on a four-hour trek through the highlands.

The scenery was stunning – blue skies, rolling pastures and deep river valleys. Our path wound its way up and down hills and through fields where sheep and cows were grazing. The only sounds other than ours were the chorus of cowbells from the herds we passed. Halfway through, we stopped at a beautiful waterfall hidden in a valley for photos and cool-down. Perhaps predictably, there were two boys playing “traditional” instruments for the enjoyment (and tipping) of passers-by. Of course, I wasn’t able to resist trying my hand at the old bucket-drum-thingy. I never got any tips... odd.

Some of my traveling companions knew much more than me about horsey matters and taught me how to control my animal. By the end of the trek, I felt like I could keep my horse in line – whether that meant going fast or slow. I’m not like John Wayne yet, but I made some progress. Towards the end of the trek, one of my Basotho companions and I had a race on a long, flat stretch. Going at full gallop is great, and it made me want to take lessons and learn to ride properly.

The best part of the day, though, was the night. To save fuel costs, the lodge shuts its power off after 10 pm, and the compound is plunged into darkness except for the occasional guard with a flashlight. Without a new moon, and without any village lights to pollute the night sky, the stars were clearer than I’ve ever seen them before. I saw the band of the Milky Way arc across the whole sky – impossible to capture with a camera but incredible to see.

On Sunday, I went horse-trekking again, this time to visit Khoi-San rock art. The Khoi-San are a large family of ethnic groups, including modern-day Kalahari bushmen and the original inhabitants of Lesotho. The original Khoi-San inhabitants were eliminated by the ancestors of modern Basotho during the Bantu expansion a long time ago. Nonetheless, some of the rock art they created is still preserved in a series of protected caves near Malealea. The drawings were small but very sophisticated-looking (in fact, I wondered at first if the locals hadn’t made them to attract tourists). Here is me with a little vintage artwork.

So that was it in a nutshell – great first weekend in Lesotho. I needed the rest; this week has been quite hectic with work… but more on that later.

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