Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Long weekend at Sehlabathebe National Park!

Hello to our dear readers,
We hope your long Easter Weekend was filled with good times. We took advantage of the long weekend to go visit some of our fellow volunteers that live "near" the famous Sehlabathebe National Park. In the last post we promised more pictures of mountains and we are happy to be able to deliver them for you viewing pleasure. We stayed in the rondavel of another volunteer and enjoyed good company, good food, even played some games of Munchkin!, and of course the amazing outdoors!

So, we started our journey on Thursday the same way we start any journey in Lesotho - by riding public. Sehlabatebe is a very remote area of Lesotho but many people are "from" there, but have gone to work or go to school in other place around Lesotho and RSA - and they seemed to all be returning for Easter. The first photo is me (with a 7th grade girl on my lap) and maybe you can get a sense of just how overloaded that bus was, but I still don't think it does real justice to the situation. Please note, that the boy that is staring directly into the camera was coughing almost directly into my face for the duration of the ride, but thanks to our Airborne supply, I've so far been able to stave off an actual cold. Shane had a moment where he realized he literally had no "wiggle room" at all, he freaked out just a little - and he even had one of the best seats next to the window. We finally arrived at our host's house. The next day we went on a beautiful, relaxing, moderate hike, anticipating the big adventure to be on Saturday - you can see some nice photos from that on the "More Vaca" page.

Saturday was really fun because we rented horses for a "pony trek" into the park. You can see the photo of all four of us ready to go in the morning in the above photos. Three funny things about riding horses in Lesotho; often, the only saddles available are English saddles (very uncomfortable and inappropriate for the most common riding style in Lesotho), the horses are not usually trained well (all of ours were assholes to some degree and Basotho train them by beating them) and third, have you guys noticed the terrain in this country? We really enjoyed the park. This park is in Qacha's Nek and was established by the Prime Minister I believe in the 70's because he wanted a beautiful retreat for him and the King in his home district. It is about 15km from the park entrance to the lodge itself, making it almost imperative to have a 4 wheel drive car, horses or just be really tough like the two volunteers that live near there (they have walked there multiple times!). The park is known for its beautiful scenery, bushman cave paintings, and plant and animal biodiversity . The animal diversity is not exactly what we think of when we picture a National Park like Yellowstone. They have birds, lizards, and this little tiny fish called the Maluti Minnow - which is only found in the park and is about the size of a pinkie finger. Most of the wildlife has been killed by hunting, but occasionally it is possible to see the Black-Backed Jackal and the Reebok. We got lucky and saw both, by consensus we decided the Reebok looked almost exactly like a mule deer.

We also got to see some of the San bushman rock paintings, which were very interesting, especially because one of the other volunteers actually could tell us what we were looking at. So, the San were a small people, "with large buttocks" - we are often told. They roamed here in small, scattered, family groups before the Basotho. The paintings were likely used to communicate between the families about what has been happening. They used porcupine quill brushes to make them, but I can't remember much about the paint except that I think they used ostrich egg as one of the binding agents. Many of the paintings were of hunting, especially gazelle and eland, there were a few paintings that even depicted Zulu tribesmen or lions. In the photo above you can see a person and a gazelle.

Our day of pony trekking was really fun, a bit long and I'm even still "saddle sore" today! When we got back we had great success in talking the guy at the center that rented the horses into letting us all take hot showers as part of the deal - as you can imagine, that was pretty nice too.

Sunday, the weather wasn't fabulous and we were all still tired from the previous day's ride, so we just hung out, talked, played cards, had a nice brunch and other good food and got ready to get on the bus at 5am the next morning. As you may have gathered already, we can't ride public transport in Lesotho without having something happen. So, when we were about halfway through the supposedly 4 hour bus ride into the camptown - the bus got a flat tire and we think something else down there must have broken too. So, we ended up waiting by the side of the road for about 5 hours before another bus came and picked up the people who were still waiting. Shane was happy to have finished a whole book in that time, and I'm finally starting to see the "finish line" of Texas. So, that was our weekend adventure to one of the most famous National Parks in Lesotho - we hope you enjoy the rest of the photos too.

In the name of not getting too far off the cultural theme. Please keep in mind that culture is huge and it is often difficult to tease out what is "culture" and what isn't. We did agree that it would be interesting to tell you a little bit about some of the most obvious physical behavior, cultural differences that suprised us especially when we first came.

A few things are directly related to a difference in touch boundaries, maybe you can see some of this in the transport situations. Basotho touch each other (at least of the same gender), often and very comfortably. It is also much more common to see people of the same sex holding hands than of the opposite sex. For example, Shane's counterpart will sometimes walk around town holding hands with Shane - this has taken some getting used to. Sometimes women will touch each other, like on top of their breasts - just in conversation, no big deal- also takes some getting used to. On the subject of breasts, breastfeeding is very common here, which is a very good thing, but it is handled differently than in the states. For example, a woman will just be sitting somewhere, bust out her breast and feed her baby - no covering, no embarassment. Nose picking is really common, you will often see people just stick their finger up in there - different. Public peeing, espcially by men is extremely common - which is even more interesting when combined with the culture of always greeting, at least for me I find it pushes my personal boundaries to have a conversation with a complete stranger who is in the act of peeing. I don't know if this is cultural or not but people litter here, a lot, and no one cares about just throwing styrofoam out the window. If you saw the photo at the Moshoeshoe dance celebration, you saw this. Sharing: this has been interesting, especially with food. I think people don't do it so much with us, but if someone is eating another person can just come up to the other's plate and just start eating too, or even take the plate and finish it - there are a lot of versions of this but the idea is still the same.

I think we'll leave it there for now. Hope you enjoyed this week's post, we'll talk more about culture next week. As always, we hope that you stay well and enjoy the photos.

All our best from Lesotho,
Carol and Shane


  1. Haha, wow, yeah I would probably flee the area if a guy started to speak to me while he was peeing!! Thankfully they don't poop in public!

  2. Look at that pretty lady up there! :)