Landscapes of Lesotho

Border with Lesotho at the dramatic Sani Pass

The kingdom of Lesotho has about 2 million people, but I haven’t seen many of them. This small mountainous nation is completely surrounded by South Africa, but seems worlds away. The people wear blankets, even when it is pretty warm out, and they speak in their distinct language, Sotho. In the arid mountains sheep graze, and a few cement huts seem isolated in the vast landscape. I am here doing what many South African people here do for the holidays, a road trip. The Sani Pass requires a 4-wheel drive on the South African side, and affords huge views of the jagged Drakensberg mountains. At the top is the Lesotho border, and the highest pub in Africa. It all seems very remote and it amazes me that I am suddenly in this unusual part of the world.

I celebrated Christmas with the family at Chintsa, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Here it is the height of summer, so quite peculiar to have a Lithuanian traditional Christmas Eve dinner, Kučios, in such a warm climate. Clouds shrouded the full moon of Christmas, and the afternoon winds blew away the parasols on the beach.

I am reading the book “Caliban’s Shore”, about the shipwreck Grosvenor that ran aground on the shore of uncharted South Africa in 1782. The castaways tried to walk from near where I celebrated Christmas, all the way to Cape Town. Of course only a few made it. There were many elephants, hippos, hyenas and snakes populating the region at that time. The various tribes didn’t seem particularly helpful to the castaways, perhaps because they also had a hard time surviving. I always enjoy reading stories of old sailing ships of the sea. Now more than 230 years later, the animals are gone, and there are good roads, and shopping malls. I did get to see some elephants at the private Inkwenkwezi private game reserve.

We stopped in Qunu, the hometown of Nelson Mandela, to visit the museum in his honor. Sadly, it was quite lacking of information, and didn’t live up to what Mandela deserves. This is an unceremoniously sparse setting with little creativity, and obviously, little money.

I find that South Africa resembles California is many ways. The diversity of landscapes, with ocean beaches, mountains, and deserts that can all be experienced within a day’s drive. But the diversity of cultures is entirely different, especially when you enter the tiny kingdom of Lesotho.

Solstice: Longest Night – Longest Day

Waiting in Amsterdam for another long flight.
No, unfortunately I was not upgraded to Business Class.


On this solstice day, I am flying from the shortest day of the year, to the longest: from San Francisco to South Africa, with stopovers in Atlanta, and Amsterdam. It is way too many airplane hours, but allows me time to write on this blog, while sitting in Schiphol Airport.

This trip to Africa is to study deforestation and disease transmission in Cameroon. The project is funded by the USAID, and is a tremendous opportunity to work with collaborators at Buea University in Cameroon, and monitor how land use changes affect mosquitoes and malaria in real time. We will be studying avian malaria dynamics, and working in the pristine rainforest. I have been working to get this project off the ground for several years. So now, since I am traveling to Africa, it made sense to spend the holidays with my family in South Africa.

But remind me to not travel during the holiday rush season. The Delta airlines counter in San Francisco had ridiculously long lines. Even though I don’t travel First Class, I have learned to go to the First Class agents, and they usually help, even though they remind me that the line is reserved for priority passengers. At this point, when I am about to miss the flight, I believe that I am a priority passenger. They tell me to take out 2 lbs from my luggage, and I take out a little bit, just to keep them satisfied, but the weight remains the same. However, I failed majorly in the seat selection process. I will have to fly 11 hours to JNB in a middle seat in economy class. I guess I can’t write the ultimate book on “Getting what you want with Air Travel” quite yet.

I enjoy watching the mix of cultures in these big international airports. Where are all these people going? I listen for languages that are completely foreign to me. I recognize the major European languages, but today I heard some people speaking something strange, maybe it was Basque. The world seems very small, and it is getting more homogeneous every day, so I love the little surprises that remind me of the tremendous diversity that makes us human. Wishing everyone a super solstice!