Tag Archives: Lesotho

Reflections on Africa

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Well, the dream is over and the adventure is nothing but a memory. I’m back home in Australia, it’s about nine degrees, and I can’t help wishing that I was still exploring strange lands on the other side of the world. My two months travelling through the Dark Continent have come and gone, and the astonishing landscapes and beautiful people of Africa are now thousands of kilometres away, but the things I experienced and the people I met will always be a part of me.

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Africa was never a place I really wanted to visit, largely because the Australian perception of the continent is one of death and violence and chaos. Even leading up to my trip, I kind of felt like it was a place I should visit, rather than one I was actually passionate about seeing. That changed the moment I stepped foot in Africa. For that reason alone, it was the most surprising place I’ve ever been to – and my journey through Africa turned out to be the most enjoyable overseas trip I’ve ever had. If you’re tossing off up about going, just book a flight over there and go for it. Where else can you climb a mountain, dodge a carjacker, get chased by a lion and get smashed on great beer in the same afternoon?

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I was very aprehensive about what would welcome me in Cape Town, and was worried about even making it from the airport to my hotel. The slums that slid past the bus window as I stared out in wide-eyed wonder did nothing to ease my apprehension, but it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the city. It’s certainly troubled, but it’s also overflowing with incredible hiking trails, lovely beaches, top restaurants and pubs, and some truly special women.

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They call Cape Town the gateway to Africa, and it was the perfet entryway to the place. After renting a shitty Hyundai that even a sex offender would be embarrassed to drive, I found the rest of SA to be even more incredible. The rugged coastline, the misty mountains, the freaky animals, the beer, the dried meats, the gigantic fruit – dude, the place rocks. And despite having a reputation for being knob-jockeys, I found the Saffas to be the kindest, most helpful people I’ve ever met. Of course, I’m not black, which might have something to do with it.

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Through the remote mountains of Lesotho, across the rolling hills of Swaziland, past the wild waters of Zimbabwe and shambling dead of Zambia, the beating heart of Africa entranced me and caused me to fall madly in love with the place. It’s no wonder that people have been travelling around the world to explore the wilds of Africa for so many years. It’s the sort of place that draws in the adventurous, the open-minded, and the lost.

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In Malawi I found a special place surrounded by mountains, where the water is crystal clear and full of neon fish and lethal parasites. On the beaches of Cape Maclear I found peace and happiness in a place where few people have ever been. I visited so many memorable places in Africa, but the Cape tops them all, and the memories of the week I spent there will always bring a smile to my face.

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After living amongst poverty and desolation, it was strange to end my journey on the tropical beaches of Zanzibar and Mauritius, where most people are most definitely tourists and not travellers. It would be wrong to call these places let-downs – they’re incredibly beautiful and I highly recommend both destinations – but it was disappointing to be back in civilisation, having given left the remote backwaters and interesting people that are inevitably drawn to them.

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It was a privilege to cross paths with people having their own adventures in strange lands, and I cherish the friendships I made with people I’ll probably never meet again. It’s surprising how strong the bonds between travellers can be – when you’ve got nothing and no one to tie you to your normal life, that dude or dudette you bumped into at the hostel can feel like a lifelong friend. And that’s what travelling is really about – meeting people from different backgrounds and becoming a part of their life for a day or two.

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Oh, and what happened to Prince Imotep, the Nigerian royal who sent me an email asking me to help him move his millions, thus kicking off this who adventure (before promptly being forgotten)? I dunno, let’s just say he came through, sent me the money, and I’m now so rich that I own a helicopter and one of those fancy Japanese sex robots. How that for an awesome through-story with a satisfying and believable conclusion? I really should be a Hollywood screenwriter or something.

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I wandered through Africa for two months, but it’s only since returning home that I’ve truly felt lost. There’s a line in the Third Eye Blind song Deep Inside of You that goes, ‘I’d walk with my people if I could find them’, and I think that for a while I was in-step with people I have something in common with.

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Oh well, there’s no time to wistfully ponder my time in Africa – I’m heading to Bali in a few days for a month of paragliding, drinking, and being awesome. What can I say, it beats sitting in the office.

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Patrick Swaziland

I’ve been an admirer of Hollywood heartthrob Patrick Swayze for decades, and was crushed when he was tragically killed during a breakdancing competition several years ago. So when I discovered that there’s an entire country where Swayze fans congregate, I hopped in my 1965 Buick Rivier, blasted the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and headed over to check it out. Swayzeland, I assured myself, would be as awesome as watching Road House and Ghost back-to-back with a bucket of choc chip ice cream (otherwise known as every Tuesday at my place).

I expected the border to be full of handsome white folk with big hair and acid wash jeans, and was shocked to see large numbers of black people who certainly didn’t look like Swayze’s regular audience (unless his films have found unlikely popularity with people who cook chicken in the burning wrecks of cars). It was then, like a kick to the stomach, that I realised I was actually entering Swaziland. I bet it’s a common mistake.

Swaziland is geographically close to Lesotho, but a world apart in most other ways. Instead of steep, barren mountains, I was greeted by rolling green hills. The capital, Mbabane, is easily bypassed on the impressive road system, but looks tidy and prosperous. It was certainly a gentler welcome than the culture shock of the comparitively bizarre Lesotho. 

I was cruising through the spacious valleys of inner Swaziland when I saw a sign pointing to a concert for one of my favourite black rapping men, the face-tattooed, hat-wearing, buck-toothed singer of Bitch Wat A Ho, Bitch, Yo, Lil Wayne. Seeing him ‘spit fire’ on stage would ease my Swayze disappointment, so I turned up a dirt track and followed the signs. However, instead of finding the finest voice of our generation, I was ambushed by a herd of zebras. Turned out I’d actually ventured into the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Sometimes I think I’m not very smart.

It’s a quiet and peaceful park in a gentle and welcoming country, and offers plenty of hiking opportunities, so I laced up my boots and got out there. Antelope and weird horny cow things grazed in the wide open paddocks that I sauntered through, and birds flapped around me. I just hoped I didn’t bump into the park’s resident hippos, which are known to plod around like they own the place.

Before long I found myself surrounded by dozens of zebras, and they really are goofy-looking things. Fat horses with short legs and mohawks, really. They’re very tame here and I was able to hang out just metres from them, which was a much better experience than watching them from my car in Addo. I was able to get so close that I can confirm they’re not just ponies with spray-painted stripes, so the Swazis are one up on the Chinese in that regard.

Nyonyane Peak dominates the skyline around Mlilwane, so I got my legs moving and powered up there. It provides an incredible look out over the park and a good portion of the tiny country of Swaziland. Even though the park is only 20km out of the capital, the valley it lies in is quiet and rural, with fertile farms and surprisingly tidy villages. This country is certainly a surprise after the shambles that is so much of South Africa, and the barren wastelands of Lesotho.

Now, if they can just stop naming everything after my favourite celebrities, we’ll be fine. What next, Garyglitterville?

The One Man Backpackers Hostel

I’ve stayed in some fucking great backpacker hostels over the years. A good hostel is the perfect place to get pissed, meet some cool people, and maybe cop a handy off a Dutch chick when everyone else in the dorm has gone to sleep (or is listening intently and masturbating silently). The hostel I stayed in last night offered none of these things.

The drive between Lesotho and Swaziland is long and boring, so I broke it up by staying overnight in some three-dog town called Ermelo. Even the name is ugly. It’s not on the tourist trail, and is barely on any maps, and I knew things were a bit fucked up when I cruised in after dark to find cars on fire and people fighting in the streets. I raced over to my accommodation to find it locked up behind a tall fence, with dark windows and no one around. I could see shadowy figures moving toward me down the street, and I was about to burn out of there (well, slowly creep away, seeing as I’m driving a Hyundai) when the gate opened and a chubby bloke rushed me inside and then closed the gate to the monsters outside.

I was safely inside the Gateway Backpacker Hostel, but things were about to get even weirder. Tony, the manager, showed me around a very old fashioned and totally deserted mansion, then pointed me towards one of a number of tiny sleeping stalls that had been built in a giant bedroom. Once that was done, he locked me inside and left me alone with the sounds of rioting outside.

With the run of the place, I was like Macauley Culkin in Home Alone, and made the most of my bizarre accommodation. I played pool, ate pies in a kitchen straight out of the 60s, and even cheered on a sporting team that was playing on the television. Did I masturbate in every room? You’ll never know.

Of course I did!

It’s a Rudi-ful Day

Rudi (right) with an admirer

I’ve met some wonderful people during my world travels, and more than my share of complete nutters. There was Henry, the homosexual pensioner with full-face tattoos who I met in Samoa. Stavros, the pizza-crazed Slav who I saved from certain death in Hobart. And who could forget the pleasant chap who I saw giving a dog a bone in Guilin? But I think the oddball I met last night beats the lot of ’em.

I bumped into Rudi in the bar of the Semonkong Lodge, which isn’t a big surprise because he’s the manager there. The conversation started pleasantly enough, with the usual chatter about where I’d been and where I was going, beer and women. He seemed like a bit of bullshitter, but harmless enough. When I mentioned to Rudi that I’m a writer, his eyes lit up and he poured me a shot of Jager.

“You must put my life story into words,” the Namibian gasped. “I already have a multi-million-dollar book deal with a major New York publisher, and Steven Spielberg is interested in directing the film adaptation. It will be called According to Rudi.”

It seemed like a good offer. Who could refuse? I was surprised that a major publishing house would throw millions of dollars at a story about some random hillbilly that’s been written by an author whose two novels combined have seen less interest than Dave Hughes’s used underwear, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?

“This is the offer of a lifetime, but you must sign the contract in the next 24 hours. You will stay here in Semonkong for free, and will spend your days with me and your nights writing. You must learn everything about me – the way I smile, the way I interect with the ladies, and the way I talk. I say ‘cool beans’ a lot – it’s a Rudi-ism.”

While I’m not sure a biography of some dude who runs a hotel would be as popular as Rudi believes, if he’s done even half of the things he claims, it would be a decent read. Here’s a rundown on Rudi’s supposed life and times – consider it his biography, on the off chancethe print version never comes out

  • He was captured by terrorists while racing in the Paris to Dakar Rally. After they chopped off his teammate’s head, Rudi killed the bad guys, jumped in his car and finished the race
  • He was a mercenary in the Angola War, and while he wouldn’t give me an exact number of people he killed, he did say that, “If you piled their bodies on top of each other, it would reach higher than Semonkong”
  • Stephen King and Tom Cruise are his best mates, and they often travel to Semonkong to ask Rudi’s advice on their latest blockbusters
  • He slept with Glenn Close, and didn’t show a scrap of shame when he told me that
  • When Richard Branson told Rudi he couldn’t fly a hot air balloon across the Sahara, he did just that, and had sex with a woman as soon as he landed, and
  • He once punched a crocodile and killed it

I told Rudi that I’d think about his once-in-a-lifetime offer, then staggered out of the bar and promptly fell in a ditch. I’m sure I did a better job of getting home than Rudi, though, because that motherfucker was smashed. The next morning I got up bright and early, hoping to fuck off out of there before Rudi turned up at the office, but he was already there. I got ready to fight off further begging for my services, but the prick just thanked me for staying there and took back my room keys without another word. It’s lucky I didn’t cancel the rest of my trip to stay with him!

     

    The Kingdom in the Sky

    The day starts early in Semonkong, with doneys and goats and sheep and people bubbling out into what passes for streets as soon as the sun peeks over the mountains. I was up at sparrow’s to catch the sunrise, then made the most of my early start by heading out into the wilderness to explore the fascinating country of Lesotho. The main attraction around here is the Maletsunyane Falls, so with a spring in my step I headed out in that vague direction, dodging animals as I went.

    The villages in Lesotho are truly fascinating, incredibly poor, and from a different world. They have no electricity, running water, or roads, and are little more than a random sprinkling of huts amongst the hills. I didn’t see too many kids running around with the fancy new Nintendo Switch in their hands, that’s for sure. Everyone’s very pleasant here, and people waved and did their best to say hello as I went past. The walking is tough at such an altitude, though, and I was huffing and puffing like a donut-muncher before long.

    I eventually made it to the Falls, and they proved to be as spectacular as I’d hoped. The viewing area (an open cliff, really – there are no fences or signs to be found) is a long way from the waterfall, but the size of the big, wet thing is still immensely impressive. It’s not a wide, open waterfall like Niagra or the aftermath of a huge night on the VBs, but the height of it is frightening. I’ve seen a lot of awesome natural spectacles, and Maletsunyane Falls is up with the best of ’em.

    With all day to walk, I crossed wide, open plains and climbed rocky outcrops. I jumped rivers and pushed through thick thatches of grass that sound like rain falling whenever the wind blows. This land is almost untouched by modern society, and that’s part of the beauty. I’ve never been anywhere so remote.

    I was strutting along, minding my own business and looking cool, when a couple of young lasses came running over and struck up a convo. They didn’t speak much English, and surprisingly enough I’m not fluent in Lesothonese, so we didn’t delve into an in-depth discussion of Russian politics or anything like that, instead sticking with basic pleasantries.
    “I like your face,” one of them struggled to say.
    “I like your muscles,” the other almost said. Things went on like this for a while, and I was feeling on top of the world (and being in Lesotho, I guess I was) until the conversation took a disturbing turn.

    “I like your penis,” yelled one of the girls, and a balaclava-clad dude on a horse turned around to give me a filthy look. I hoped it was a mistake, but then her mate threw her arms in the air and yelled, “I like your penis, too!”
    Now the bar at my lodge tossed me out at 8pm last night, so I was pretty sure I didn’t get smashed and start chucking it around at the locals, but the situation still worried me. If the locals thought I’d been porking their sheilas they might come after me with spears or, even worse, make me marry the girls. I don’t thrive in the cold, so I was reasonably concerned.

    I could see a few horsemen sharpening sticks and glaring at me, so I waited until the girls were distracted by something shiny and dived into a bush. I thought it was the perfect place to hide until I realised it was a rare Condom Tree. In a country where half the people are rancid with AIDS, I was a little concerned that I’d end my trip to Africa looking like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, but I tested the tree’s fruit and it tasted fine. Thumbs up!

    I ended the day by almost agreeing to write the autobiography of some nutter named Rudy who I met in the bar. Richard Branson will be signing my cheques personally, apparently. It’s a great story that ended with me falling into a drain, but I think Rudy deserves his own entry!

    Lesotho is remote, oh!

    Lesotho is known for three things. 1) Being the highest country in the world, with every scrap of land above 1400 metres. 2) Having the highest rate of AIDS on the planet, with around 45 per cent of the locals suffering from the nasty disease. 3) Being the only nation to have a name that rhymes with the delicious Italian meal, risotto. Today I made it the 45th country I’ve visited, crossing the border from Ladybrand in my dinky little Hyundai and heading for the alpine village of Semonkong, home to Africa’s highest waterfall.

    Heading across the border took no time, and I was soon out of the first world and very much into the third, with animals and overflowing buses everywhere. The capital city of Maseru doesn’t offer much for tourists, and from my brief journey through it seems like a busy, dirty, poverty-stricken wreck of a place. The one tourist spot is the Basotho Hat, which is a souvenir shop in the shape of Lesotho’s bizarre national headwear. I guess it counts as a Big Thing, then. I didn’t get much of a chance to take photos of the hat, though, because there are heaps of beggars lurking around out the front, so I dived back into the Hyundai and burned out of there.

    Driving in Lesotho is funny, frustrating, and fuckin’ incredible, often at the same time. The roads out of Maseru are full of potholes and crawling with people, who don’t seem too bothered about getting out of the way of cars. The streets are lined with dusty shacks, tiny stores, and gutter cookouts. Even compared to the rural areas of South Africa, it seems like a different world and a huge step back in time. Reminiscent of the rougher parts of Southeast Asia at times, this land is nonetheless different from anything I’ve ever experienced.

    Once out of the city, I started to feel like I was the only man on Earth. Climbing massive mountains in a car that would struggle up an anthill, I barely saw another vehicle. Every now and then I’d pass a man and his donkey, seemingly heading nowhere. Every person I passed turned and stared; whether it was because I’m white or because cars are so rare, I couldn’t tell. I crossed through a few villages, and the children ran out onto the road to dance around my car. I was terrified, not because I thought they would hurt me, but because I was sure one of them would end up under my wheels. And a squished African kid in the wheel arch would probably eat into my security deposit.

    After three hours of tough driving the 120km journey, I finally hit Semonkong, a bustling village of maybe 1000 people. The tarred road ended, and I weaved the Hyundai in and out of donkeys and women with baskets on their heads as I bumped through potholes that reminded me of Rebel Wilson’s sex video. The road just got worse as I tried to steer down into the valley that holds the Semonkong Lodge, and I was truy amazed that I got the tiny vehicle down such rough terrain. The locals, climbing down the cliff on their donkeys, thought I was an idiot, and they were probably right.

    The journey, as tough and weird as it was, turned out to be worth it, because the place I’m staying is truly incredible. I’m sleeping in a rondavel above a perfect stream that winds through jagged cliffs. The locals swagger past my door in their woollen caps and full-body ponchos. Children gallop by on horses, laughing. This area is full of life, and the only effect the modest tourism industry has is to give the locals a bit more to eat. It’s remote, quiet, happy and beautiful. Sitting at 2,275 metres above sea level, Semonkong is also incredibly cold, and the air is so thin that even a brisk walk is hard. I’ve never been anywhere similar to this – most people to walk the earth haven’t – and I can’t wait to get out and see more of this gorgeous country tomorrow.