The Kingdom in the Sky

Trip Start Sep 10, 2008
Trip End Sep 03, 2009

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Amphetheatre Backpackers

Flag of Lesotho  ,
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Apparently the highest country at the world, Lesotho is also one of the poorest. With no electricity or running water, Lesotho has had a troubled past. This was where dark Africa lived. In the early 18th Century, struggling to survive with no animals (as very little game lives at such high altitude and the few animals left had been driven away from humans by hunting), this is where people were cannibals. Around this time, the British army decided to use the hard to reach kingdom for training, as there was no-one there who could spy on their methods, and they brought food and blankets. Blankets have now become a symbol of prosperity in the kingdom and are worn with pride by many of the men.

I decided to go to Lesotho for a mixture of reasons. Firstly I wanted the passport stamp, secondly I was curious to see the country and thirdly, there was nothing else to do as the hostel really was in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately I never got my Lesotho stamp, only my exit and re-entry into South Africa as the village we were visiting was too small and remote to have its own border post. (I'm not bitter at all, honest!).

It was worth it though, as we were the only tourists who visited the village, and so the experience was very relaxed and authentic, nothing like the "human zoo" effect you sometimes get. After visiting the local school and being shown round by the enthusiastic Mama Bope (I don't think I've ever met anyone more enthusiastic - some of the money we pay for the trip goes towards the school and she thanked us for this about 50 times!), we headed up into the rest of the village, walking initially up the hills, up through a bit of a tight cave which involved a bit of clambering, to give us a bird's eye view of the settlement. Learning a bit about the history and working of the village, called Mafikalisiu by the way, we ate our lunch admiring the scenery.

Although Lesotho has its own currency, trade is the main way of doing business. People advertise what they have to trade using a flag system, if they have excess meat they display a red flag outside their house, vegetables require a green flag and alcohol a white or yellow flag. We headed towards the white flag and joined the locals in their afternoon drink. Crowding into the house we all took a seat. Plastic tubs of home-brew are passed around everyone.

Here, you don't buy a drink as you would in the UK, the drink is shared round and you take however much you want (or can!). The brew itself is a strange milky lilac concoction made from corn and wheat that has been ground down and sieved and warmed. It tastes a bit like mild fruit juice, although the slightly fizzy/thick/bitty texture is a bit strange. It seems to work however, as a woman fell over when trying to sit down, spilling the drink all down her front. When a few minutes later she then managed to drop the remaining contents, she and her friend entered into a bit of a banter, which apparently translated as her friend saying why is she spilling it, just because she is already drunk, doesn't mean that everyone else has had their fill, why would she waste good drink!

On our way back, we were invited to share a meal at the chief's house, so we tried some of the traditional maize and spinach which was really tasty. Heading back through the border, another storm came in. All sat back in the hostel the power soon cut out, and so we spent the night sat round candlelight, which created a nice atmosphere and made for a good night.
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