David took a half-day on Friday and we headed south to Clarens, the art community that we visited a couple of weekends ago. It was lovely to be back in that quaint town and out of the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg.
We arrived at 5:30 and found the Lake Clarens Guest House where I had reserved two nights. Such a charming place, which I thought was really old but actually had been built specifically for a Bed and Breakfast lodge just a few years earlier. A short distance after you turn off the main road to go into Clarens, Lake Clarens Guest House is on the right-hand side. Their website is: http://www.lakeclarensgh.co.za
It is an idyllic setting! This brown sandstone building on a dirt road. Across the road is a pond of ducks, geese and swans with bunny rabbits hopping on the perimeter and a couple of donkeys grazing in the nearby grass.
An added bonus with our room is that it is the same room that Brad Pitt; yes, the actor, stayed in when he was visiting Bruce Weyer, the owner and friend of Brad. So, I can say that Brad Pitt and I slept in the same bed and used the same toilet! That is probably about the closest I will ever come to a celebrity in my lifetime!
Conveniently, next door to the guest house is Artichoke, an Italian restaurant that Bruce owns as well. There are lovely flowers bordering the outdoor seating area, the porch seating has more wonderful views of the mountains that surround Clarens and inside there is seating as well.
Before dinner, David and I walked around Clarens to stretch our legs. It was after 6:00 and the shops were closed but it is such a lovely small town. From the homey and farm atmosphere of the guest house and the quaintness of Clarens, I felt as if I had stepped back in time. We walked past the Dutch Reformed Church that was built in the 1850s and constructed out of the local sandstone. It was sweet and complimented Clarens nicely.
The atmosphere at Artichoke was festive. Bruce, and his lovely wife Kieta, were holding court on the porch. An engaging lady, whom I had briefly chatted with earlier, was at the piano playing wonderful oldies. One song she played was “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. Listening to that song, I was carried back to my college days, standing around the piano at the Valley Inn in Hillborough, New Hampshire belting that song out with my friends. Whenever I hear that song, I am always carried back to those carefree days!
We shared an appetizer of grilled veggies. Dinner was a seafood salad for me and fetticine in a cream sauce for David…his dish was delicious! The house red wine is only $2.00 a glass, which is dangerous for me!!! It wasn’t half bad, either.
Saturday we were up bright and early as we were getting picked up at 8:00 AM for a tour to the nearby country of Lesotho. The weather cooperated for us to have breakfast on the terrace. It was served buffet style with choices of cold cereal, juices, yogurts, fresh and stewed fruit. Hot breakfast is available, too….toast, eggs, a variety of grilled veggies. Each morning, we had freshly baked muffins as well.
Bruce Weyer and his wife Kieta, are the proprietors of Lake Clarens Guest House and Artichoke Restaurant. They are excellent host. I fear that petite Kieta gets lost in the “larger than life” personality of her husband.
They moved to Clarens years ago when it was a sleepy, run-down town. It was their vision that created the Clarens that we see today. With much hard work they bought and restored properties, encouraged businesses to move in and started a few of their own. They are committed to Clarens and the people who call it home. At their guest house and restaurant, they have developed training programs to help the local young people learn the hospitality trade. They are good people with big hearts. I was happy that David and I were able to support their efforts.
Dean, the owner of Maluti Tours in Clarens, was our driver and guide for the day. We were the only two who had signed for the tour to Lesotho that day, so it we had a private guide! Their website is: http://malutifootprints.webs.com
As we were leaving Clarens, Dean gave us a little history. Clarens was incorporated in 1912, the same year that the Titanic sank. It was named after the town of Clarens, Switzerland where the former South African President Paul Kruger was exiled and died.
South Africa was originally settled by the Dutch or Boers, as they are known in this country. In 1900, nearby Clarens on Surrender Hill, there was a battle between the British, who eventually took over the country, and the Boers who were defending their territory. Over 4,000 Boers surrendered after one battle. Before they surrendered, they burned all of their weapons and ammunition so the British could not use them. Dean said that to this day, where they burned their weapons, nothing grows in that area.
Further past Surrender Hill, is a large cave in the sandstone cliff. Dean said that during World War I, the Boer women and children hid from the British. They were never discovered there.
Before her death, Princes Diana was involved with various charities in Lesotho. Today, Prince William and Prince Harry continue to carry on her charitable work. Whenever they make a visit to Lesotho, they stay in this medieval style castle that was built 2004 by Michael Fogg. Destiny Castle is built high on a cliff and although there is somewhat of a road to it, most often people arrive by helicopter.
Like Swaziland, the country of Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa. When it became a British protectorate in 1869, it was called Basutoland. In 1966, it was granted independence and became known as the Kingdom of Lesotho. Today, it is ruled by King Lutsi III. It has a population of approximately 2.4 million and 1.1 million of the people live in the capital of Maseru (the Sesotho word which means “place of the sandstone”). The main resources are diamonds and water. Lesotho has the Katse Dam which was built in 1996. Lesotho sells water from this dam to South Africa who pays $35 million dollars a year. Maluti Tours offers a tour to the Katse Dam which is a very impressive structure standing 607 ft (185 meters) high.
We arrived at the border of Calendonspoort about 9:30. It was a very tranquil border post and we were processed through quickly and easily. It helps to have a guide who has done the process many times before.
A short ride later, we were in the city of Botha Bothe. My impression of Botha Bothe was it was one large market place. The roads were lined with stalls where fruits, vegetables, clothes and other sundries were being sold. Dean said that people from surrounding villages come to the city for the market. He said that one person in the village will buy just vegetables, another just fruit and another just meat. Once back in the village, they will barter with each other to get whatever they don’t have.
Passing the villages, we saw houses with various colored flags outside of their homes. This is to advertise what they have available to sell. The red flag is for meat; green is beer made from hops; white is beer made from sorghum; yellow is fruit and vegetables and blue is for water. One house that we passed had several different colored flags….I guess he was the local supermarket!
In Lesotho, there are three types of taxi. Outside of Botha Bothe were cars with yellow strips on the side. These taxis are for the city and Dean said that they are horrible drivers….like the taxi drivers here in South Africa. You give them all the space they need as they drive by their own set of rules. Then there is the lowland taxi that is a small van to carry the people from the city to their villages in the foothills of the mountains. To get up and over the mountains three are 4-wheel drive mountain taxis.
On the outskirts of Botha Bothe, we saw houses mostly constructed of gray bricks. Some homes were finished and families were living in them. Others were in various stages of completion. Dean said that most of the men, who owned the land and were building houses, worked in the mines in South Africa. As they earned money, they would buy the bricks and add onto the house little by little. Eventually, they will have a completed home for their family.
Our first destination in Lesotho was the Ts’ehlanyane National Park where we would visit the Maliba Mountain Lodge for awhile and have our lunch. The road we traveled followed the meandering Malibamatso River which we discovered was so vital to the people. The water was used for drinking and cooking, to wash clothes and irrigate the crops.
I was amazed at how young the girls were carrying these large, five gallon containers on this heads. There is no way that I could lift a five gallon container filled with water above my head, let alone carry it. Their neck muscles must have been some strong. Plus, they more than likely had to walk up a hill, with this water on their head, to get to their homes.
To earn money, young girls will carry water or work in the fields. School is free for all children until the eight grade and once they enter high school, they have to pay 50%. Children will work so they can continue their education. The boys earn money, for their education, by helping the shepherds herd their goats or sheep or with the sheering process of theses animals.
There was much activity on the road as we drove along. We saw a few “Lesotho 4x4s” which were made from the back end of a pickup truck and pulled along by oxen.
We saw many shepherds distinguishable by their Wellington boots, wool blankets and sticks carried for protection. Many would have their trusty dog walking along with them. The boots and blanket are worn for protection against the elements and snake bites.
Not only do the shepherds where blankets but they are part of everyone’s attire. The blankets can be up to 90% wool and are worn in summer and winter. The high wool content can keep a person warm during the cold of the winter or cool during the heat of the summer. It can keep a person fairly dry during a rain as the wool doesn’t absorb very much water. The Basotho people wear their blankets with elegance and pride. When they have them on, they walk slowly and purposely. When they have to do hard work, the blanket is neatly folded and set aside or draped over their shoulder.
Lesotho is known for the lovely handicrafts made out of mohair wool from the Angora goats. This mohair is said to be some of the finest in the world.
Having herds of goats or sheep is often how young men earn their livelihood. In the summertime, two shepherds will take their herd high up in the mountains to prevent the animals from eating the crops planted in the lowland. They will stay in the mountains for several months. Whenever they run out of supplies, one will come off the mountain with their donkey to get more and then make the trek back up to where the herd is grazing. The shepherd controls his herd with by whistling. The animals have large bell tied around their necks and if they wanders to far, the shepherd will use the whistle, he has trained them with, and they return to him. I bet David wishes that would work for me!!!!
As we traveled farther away from the city, the houses became more traditional. They are round buildings, called rondavels, made from natural resources of rocks and wood. The “plaster” is made from soil, horse and cow manure mixed with water. They apply 3 layers of this plaster to the structure.
The roofs are thatched. To maintain the building, the plaster has to be reapplied every six month and the roof is replaced every 20 years. With a thatched roof, they need to be extremely careful cooking over fires. Whenever they can, they will cook outside. In the winter, the temperatures can drop as low as -22*F (-30 C). To heat the rondavel, a fire is built outside and stones are placed in the embers. Once the stones are warmed, they are rolled inside the house. Very clever!
There are a special breed of ponies in Lesotho. They are known as Basotho ponies and Dean said that they are never taken from the area that they are born in. They learn the terrain of their area so well that they can easily navigate the trail in all kinds of weather. I imagine when the fog is so thick that a person cannot see an inch in front of them, it is a comfort to know that your horse can get you to your destination. They are very sure-footed and are known for having excellent stamina.
We were not prepared for the absolute beauty of Maliba Mountain Lodge and its setting. Over a year ago, the actual lodge burned completely to the ground at 2:00 in the morning. It was caused by faulty electrical wiring. This is the new lodge. http://maliba-lodge.com
I believe that this bird statue, made from the salvaged wood of the previous lodge, is a Phoenix. As in the Greek mythology, this lodge has risen from the ashes of its predecessor. I love the symbolism.
You continue through the dining area out to the outside deck and before you, is the most gorgeous, breath-taking mountain views!
High up one of the mountains was a waterfall.
Below the lodge deck, is another deck with a fire pit. Can you imagine sitting out there at night under the thousands of stars that are twinkling above you and you can actually see them all because there is no “light pollution”? It must be like our experience in the Namibian desert with the stars!
The lodge is owned by three men, Nick King and Chris McEvoy are from Australia and Stephen Phakisi is from Lesotho. One thing that I really appreciate about these men is their social consciousness. It was Stephen Phakisi who petitioned the government to set the land aside to establish the Ts’ehlanyane National Park. These men have also established the Maliba Development Trust of which 50% of all the lodge profits go toward the trust. According to the brochure we picked up at the lodge, “The goals of the Trust are to identify, plan and assist with projects in partnership with the local community.” They hope to improve employment and entrepreneurial opportunities through education, building and supporting a library, and in building community centers that are used for a variety of workshops to train people in necessary skills to improve their quality of life.
The trust is supporting the local St Denis clinic by purchasing a mobile clinic that can be used to reach some 40 local villages whose residents might not have the means to travel to the St Denis clinic. Along with providing necessary medical services, it is also used to provide health care education on HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, sanitation and nutrition to name a few.
Other programs supported by the trust are clothing donations and agricultural and livestock skill training. They have environmental programs as well supporting the endangered vultures, clean water and recycling. Dean and Maureen of Maluti Tours are very proud to be associated with Maliba Lodge and involved with many of these projects as well.
David and I took a short hike near the lodge. It wasn’t as long as we would have liked because there was a big thunderstorm rolling towards the lodge and we wanted to get back before it started to rain or worse…..lightning.
Shortly after we got back, we enjoyed a lunch on the deck overlooking the mountain view. Our meal was delicious, local rainbow trout, grilled veggies, greek salad and for dessert, fresh fruit. My meal was a special request as I do not eat meat and try to stay away from sweets. I have to say, Dean and his wife, Maureen, were more than accommodating, as was the lodge.
After lunch, we met with Daniel who was our guide for the village tour that we had requested. Daniel is around 30 years old but because of his short stature, he appeared to be much younger. He grew up in the area and his family lives in a nearby village. He was an excellent person to have as a guide. Before heading out on the village tour, David and I gave Daniel a donation of school supplies to be distributed to the local schools.
It is always such a dilemma to us whenever we make a cultural tour. Often, when foreigners visit, they tend to hand out candy to the local children. We really hesitate to do this for a variety of reasons. The dental services in these countries are not very good. Sometimes, if there is a large group of children it can cause mass confusion and also, the older children can bully the younger for candy. That said, the pattern has usually been set long before David and I enter the country for a visit.
An example is this picture. This young man saw me trying to take a picture of the donkey carrying water. He jumped in to have his picture taken. So, I obliged by taking another picture of him. I showed him the picture and then he asked for sweets….that was the reason he wanted me to take his picture. Thank goodness, Dean had some candy with him.
There were many more photos of children to be taken throughout the day. I will share some of them with you later in this posting. Not all the children wanted sweets. Some just wanted to see their photo. I later wondered if it might be because they have never seen their image before in a mirror? Possibly, a mirror is a luxury. Maybe the closest thing they have to a mirror is seeing their reflection in water? I don’t know and didn’t think of it until after the tour. At any rate, I was often asked for sweets or bonbons…..even the littlest guy knew the word bonbon!!!
The red Mulita Tour van is well known to children…Dean will be driving along and children will be waving and yelling “sweets, sweets”! We had to stop at market and make another candy purchase….the children are very smart…they saw the van stop at the store and knew that the purchase was going to be candy. Unfortunately, the owner only had two bags of candy.
I was “swallowed” as well
For me, it is a dilemma….to give candy, stickers, pencils or anything.
When we went on our camping/hiking tour through the Andes, we encountered many children as we passed through the small villages that dotted the way. I was prepared with stickers and sharpened pencils that I handed out. I swear that the children in the remoteness of the Andes had cell phones and were texting that “Americans, with gifts, are on their way toward you.” We would be walking along, with not a house in sight and along the trail, a young person would be waiting for us! How they heard that we were coming, we could never figure out.
Anyway…..back to our cultural tour…….
Our first stop was a small village where the sangoma or village doctor lived. The sangoma is a medical doctor but can also make predictions either by “throwing bones” or through praying. David and I very much wanted a reading from her.
I rarely write about my spiritual beliefs. For me they are a private matter. I don’t like to get into any kind of philosophical discussions over what I believe, nor do I try to convince someone that my theories are something that they should follow. My way of thinking has evolved over the years. Just this once, I will share what I believe and have discovered in my short time on this earth.
I have a strong faith in God but I, also, believe that there are people on this earth that have been given gifts to help guide us through this life’s journey. I believe that they are “God’s helpers” like our guardian angels who live in the spirit world. Yes, I visit spiritual guides whenever I am home but my one and true supreme being, in my life, is God. With that said, we were open to meeting and hearing what the sangoma could read from “throwing the bones.”
We were invited in and offered a seat on a bench. Daniel shared with us how a person becomes a sangomas. They don’t decide to become a doctor, like a profession in the states. In a dream, a sangoma’s ancestors will tell him/her that they are to become a doctor.
In the case of the lady that we were visiting, her ancestors told her as far back as 1968 that she was to be a doctor. She denied this calling because she thought that they were evil spirits. In 1970, she became very sick and it was in 1971 that she accepted her ancestors’ guidance and began to pursue becoming a doctor. Doctors learn their skills through visits from their ancestors in dreams. In these dreams, they learn about the various diseases and how to mix the herbs and roots they collect. They can also consult with other sangomas who will help in their education as well. A sangoma can also pass his knowledge onto his child if they have received the calling to become a doctor.
In the rondeveld, there were bags hanging from the ceiling of herbs that the sangoma had collected. She was storing them until they were needed. In the cans and jars along the wall, were medicines that were already mixed. Some of the medicine can be premixed for common complaints such as stomach aches or headaches but other times, she must mix the herbs specifically to treat the ailment of the patient.
Sangomas make their predictions in two ways, either through praying and or by “throwing the bones.” It isn’t necessarily just bones that they use to throw. Again, the sangoma is instructed, by their ancestors, on what they need to collect to make the predictions.
Our sangoma was told she had to get seashells. Now, the closest beach to Lesotho is Durban, South Africa which is a 5 1/2 hour trip in a car. Imagine trying to navigate taxis and buses to make the trip. It would be a considerable journey for someone from a small village. Evidently, she made the trip because she had beautiful shells. Also, for her prediction, she had a snail shell, a coin, a domino, some bones and the hooves of a small animal.
Finally, the time was ready to get our predictions. She rolled out a straw mat and we were instructed to put 50 rand or $5.00 on the corner of the mat. David and I each decided to give her 100 rand ($10.00) for her time. David’s reading was first. She sprinkled some kind of powder over the money, gathered her “bones” in her had, shook them and rolled them on the mat.She told David of a health issue that he had, which was correct. I guess she couldn’t see much from the first toss, so she gave David the items to shake and throw. She saw that he was working with many people and that one particular person was causing him trouble. This was true as well. She saw that he is very successful and that he will continue to be as successful in the future. He is very healthy and his future is bright!
My reading was just as positive and good. At the beginning of my reading, she warn me of a possible health issue that was caused from bending over too much and for too long of a time. Later, she said that I wouldn’t develop the health issue that she had mentioned earlier but to be careful about bending over for long periods of time. The only time I think I really bend over is doing a yoga pose or stretching. It isn’t like I am working daily in a field harvesting vegetables or pulling weeds…thank goodness!
She said that my mind is very busy and that my ancestors were questioning why. It is true that my mind is constantly in motion. Often at night, I will wake up and can’t get back to sleep because I am thinking, thinking, thinking…..or some song will go through my head over and over. When this happens, I either read a book (thank goodness David is a very deep sleeper) or I will concentrate on breathing to clear my mind of my thoughts or songs. I have also started meditating on a regular basis to help my busy mind. My ancestors question why my mind is so busy when David is so successful and I really have nothing to worry about. I am not worrying just planning, organizing, trying to stay “one step ahead” of what is going to happen. Just my nature, I think…..
She said that she sees that I work alone and that I will be very busy for a while. I need to work hard but it will pay off because I am going to be very successful. Watch out literary world…..here I come 🙂
Finally, the sangoma said that I have done much traveling and will continue to do so. That I use the traveling as an education and I am always learning.
Of the two of us, I think I got the better reading! It is nice to know that both David and I are going to be successful in our future endeavors.
After leaving the doctor’s office, we walked back to the van to see it surrounded by children. This is probably a great time to show you some of the pictures I had taken of the various children throughout the day. Like I said, they loved to have their photos taken. February 18th, I am returning to the states and I plan to have copies of the photos made and send them to Dean and Maureen to distribute to the children. I know that will be a big hit with them all.
Another part of the tour was seeing the inside of a home. Daniel took us to a group of four rondevelds which were all one home. We visited the middle building first. The door was locked but Daniel had the key and let us inside. It was so neat and clean…..it definitely put my housecleaning skills to shame!
The next building Daniel took us to see was the kitchen, the building on the right in the picture of the three buildings. It was a gray and cloudy day. The only light available came from the open door. An elderly lady, the owner of the buildings, was sitting on the floor on a piece of foam with her legs stretched out in front of her. Covering her head, was wearing a colorful scarf that was tied under her chin, an old sweater that was stretched and had seen better days. Her skirt appeared to be mid-length, although it was difficult to determine by the way she was sitting. She had long woolen stockings on and worn shoes. Over her shoulders, was draped a woolen blanket. Daniel asked permission to show us her kitchen and she consented.
She told Daniel that she had an ear ache and couldn’t hear very well. It looked like she was in pain. I didn’t realize until we were halfway through the visit that a young child, probably about a year old or so, was sitting next to her. I was amazed that child was sitting so quietly.
The kitchen was not as pristine as the first building. The thatched ceiling was covered in soot, from the cooking fire that was built on a piece of sheet metal on the floor. Daniel showed us the grinding stone that the lady used to grind grains and how the ground meal would be caught in the burlap bag. On a bench were a variety of chipped enamel plates and mugs, pottery containers to hold food and wrought iron pots for cooking.
It was time to go. We gave the lady a small tip for allowing us to see her home, especially since she wasn’t feeling well.
This young man was lingering nearby during our visit. I asked if he wanted a picture taken of him and he said yes. When I showed it to him, he seemed pleased. Such a sweet, sweet face. He was a man of few words.
Our next stop was at the shebeen or pub. Dean said that he believed the origin for the word was Irish. When an Irishman went into his local pub he would ask, “has she been?” Meaning had his wife been to the pub to check to see if her husband was there. Hence, the expression “shebeen”.
David and I almost passed on going on this part of the tour because we had visited a shebeen on our Soweto tour and at that time, had tasted the domestic beer made from sorghum. Well, let this be a huge lesson to us to participate in everything that is offered on a tour.
This turned out to be a really, really fun time! We walked in and there were two men and three women imbibing in the local drink. It was 4:30 in the afternoon and I would guess, but the look of the men, that they had been there for quite some time. The liter glasses were only 5 rand (50 cents US).
In a separate building, Daniel showed us the large container of beer and explained the process of how it was brewed. We had a taste….although, again, I was going to pass. I did not like the taste the first time I had tried it. The earlier lesson was reinforced….try everything once! This domestic beer was really quite tasty. I think I could have gotten a small glass down but definitely not a liter! It almost had a sweet flavor to it. It is served warm as refrigeration or even electricity is very much a luxury.
As I said earlier, it was a fun, fun time….David and I agreed, we could have spent an afternoon in that shebeen.
Speaking of electricity, each house in the village is allowed to use one light at night. Each village has a chief, who has a black flag displayed at his house. When the monthly electrical bill arrives and the chief will divvy up the bill to each house that uses electricity.
Along with the chief, who is a descendent from the royal family, is the chief’s advisor. This person’s duty will tell the village residents where they may build their home, how much a piece of property cost and gives advice to the chief. We didn’t get to meet any chiefs on our tour which would have been interesting.
It was probably one of the best tours that we have taken because we were able to interact and visit with the locals. I have really enjoyed writing and sharing the day with you. Our only regret is that we didn’t arrange for a nights stay at Maliba Lodge. Dean said that could have been part of our tour. We didn’t realize it. If you are planning to visit Lesotho and especially if you use Maluti Tours, make certain you allow enough time to spend at least one night at the lodge. You won’t regret that you did.
My parting shot is of Mushroom Rock that is near Clarens but not visible from the road heading toward Lesotho. The top is basalt, a volcanic rock found in the area. The basalt is sitting on top of sandstone, which has eroded over the years. Dean said that it is possible to hike to the top of the rock. I wish we had more time.
It was a great, great weekend. I really didn’t enjoy the 4 hour drive back to Johannesburg but for all the wonderful memories, it was definitely worth it!