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.