24 November Malealea, Lesotho
We spent last night at Katse Dam with a very friendly and curious security guard following us around and staring at us most of the evening. We had stopped to ask if there was any camping and went to the half dilapidated building that was pointed out to us. We pulled up and sure enough a security guard appeared and we said could camp next to the building, we had a full view of the huge dam. Easy, safe, free and of course nobody else there. He spoke very little english but was so curious (and also prob completely bored, there was nothing else going on and he had to stay there all night!) hence the following around and watching our every move, he was mesmerised when we put the pop top up!
We went to bed early as we were both tired after a long day bumping around on the roads and a visit to where Olly used to work. Olly had received a message saying his visit had been denied so we thought we would just go as far as the public road allowed and see what happened. As soon as we turned onto the road Olly used to use to get to and from work his face was beaming – a walk down memory lane for him. I have always known Olly’s time in Lesotho was something that has shaped him a lot as an adult and over the past few days I have gotten a little sense of what an experience it must have been for him- straight from the UK to rural Lesotho. He seemed to remember every bump and turn in the mountain track and said it was all looking the same. When we arrived at the mine gate security were not keen to let him in to have a look but after some waiting and chatting we were given permission to drive around briefly if a security guard came with us. Turns out one of the guys Olly worked with was still there and he was very surprised and happy to see Olly. He showed us around a little and the two of them talked about old times and the changes that have happened. I sat and chatted to Joseph, the security guard that came with us, about Lesotho, SA and his family. Olly was able to point out where his room was and a few other bits before we had to leave. Just as we were leaving two ladies came over with the biggest smiles I have ever seen- they were the ladies who cleaned when Olly worked there and he knew them when he was there and while the place was much smaller with far fewer people than now- there were laughs and big smiles all around. They seem delighted Olly was back, and with a wife! Olly really enjoyed our few hours there (although to get there and away took all day) and I was so happy to have been able to go with him and see it.
As we made our way down I noticed the lowlands of Lesotho are much more populated than the highlands where we have been to date, fewer people wear Lesotho blankets, and fewer people ride donkeys and horses as their main transport. Maseru (the capital) is big for Lesotho but small for a capital city and was a bustling place with heaps of cars hooting and people all over. I was surprised by how few tourists there were, as in all of Lesotho we only saw a few. We did not feel at all unsafe but I wouldn’t walk around there at night. Actually Olly has been there before when things have kicked off there.
We have been stopped at four police road blocks along our way. My strategy is this: (and I hope to stick to it) assume they are not out to hassle or collect bribes from us, be patient and friendly and just be willing for it to take as long as it needs, if you do get hassled deal with if it comes but not to assume everyone is going to. Well we have had no problems at all- unless you count being seriously questioned as to why at 36 and 33 we do not have children (the guys thought me being older than Olly was very funny)! Really each police check point has just been a series of questions, where we are from, what do we think of Lesotho, do we want to come back, are we married? A bit of chit chat, some flattery – “what do you think of our dam, Katse Dam?” “Oh, its magnificent, Lesotho has a nice dam” and he was beaming with pleasure and opened the gate. Rather than seeing it as an annoyance (although I am sure sometimes we will) we just chatted with them about Lesotho, Australia and family. People everywhere seem love to talk about their kids and grandkids!
Yesterday we made our way to the small village of Malealea in western Lesotho. Maleaalea Lodge is located here and is meant to be an example of responsible community based tourism that is working. I was very interested to see this in action as well as the beautiful area. After finding the place we were greeted by Mick, a South Africa man who has owned the lodge for many years although now his daughter and son-in-law run the lodge, they were on holidays so he was back at the helm. The lodge itself offers a variety of accommodation from private rondavels to dorm rooms and camping. It’s a big place with slightly outdated cheesy murals on the walls but a great find! Its big, homey, full of character and very welcoming. It’s the kind of place you can imagine someone coming for a few days and being there a month later.
The lodge offers activities that appeal to people visiting Lesotho, walking and pony treks mostly. Where the community tourism part comes in is that the lodge is not just fenced off keeping guests ‘protected’ and seperate from the locals. All of the employees of the lodge are local and there are a number of things the lodge does to both raise much needed resources for the local villages in the Malealea area as well as encourage interaction between tourist and locals in a meaningful, helpful way. Each night a local choir and band play which of course provides an income for them as well as something meaningful to work on and practise. Both the choir and the band were inspiring and very very good! We found out later the band had performed at WOMADelaide (a large world music festival in Adelaide) a number of years ago! The choir and band stick around after so you can chat.
Many years ago Mick started the Malealea Development Fund, which has grown into its own separate entity and supports hundreds of people in the local area with access to HIV/AIDS education school (with an infection rate of almost 25% this is very important), pays for the running of a preschool, and is working on food security by teaching people how to have their own simple household gardens, growing things that are appropriate for the climate as well as the need for people with HIV/AIDS to have a variety of fresh food to maintain their health. The Fund also hires local people to do community things that benefit the whole area (ie building a new village water supply and emptying rubbish bins the fund has put in to reduce rubbish). Last night we ended up sitting around with Mick and Andrew (an Australian volunteer working with the development fund for 2 years) as well as Marian (the Funds director). They wanted to hear about our trip – they have never had an Australian registered vehicle pull up at the lodge before so they were very curious and we wanted to hear about the Development Fund. We had a brilliant evening with them, a few other volunteers and a few other guests. It was a young German volunteers 20th birthday so a few beers and some cake topped off the evening. In our budget for this trip is money to donate to local projects we come across. We believe very strongly if you can afford to travel you can afford to contribute, so we left a donation with the fund as well as a book on village medicine in Africa (‘Where There Are No Doctors’) which they were delighted by. Marian, the director found us tonight and gave us some beautiful locally made gifts as a thank you, and told us where she thinks our donation will go (likely to the food security program). We were humbled and deeply touched. What a place.
Last night we heard over dinner about the lack of rain in this area – its has not rained for a month which is unusual at this time of year and rain is much needed, the river is almost dry. Well today must have helped that cause a bit! We pottered around this morning and then decided to go on a village walk, Mick suggested we take a guide as you hear so much more and get to meet people. It was brilliant. I’m not usually into that sort of thing but it was great. Our guide, Mr John 🙂 showed us around and we got to meet and chat to a few people. It was school holidays so there were a lot of kids around. I was surrounded by lovely littlies a few times with their beautiful curious round faces staring up at me. They loved to see themselves in photos, giggling away. About half way into our walk just as we were too far to run back the skies opened up and a torrential downpour flooded down over us! We were able to hide inside a hut but by that time were already so soaked we figured we might as well keep going. Walking down the dirt roads which by now were muddy rivers we shouted ‘its good its raining!’ Mr John was happy about it too. 🙂 It carried on raining which lead to a problem when we got back to landy- how do we get changed into dry clothes and where do we put our soaked clothes and shoes? If one of us gets in we will get the inside of landy wet- not good as its our home and if it keeps raining for days the inside wont dry out. Olly ended up holding up the awning as a screen so I could get undressed outside and jump in to get our clothes. We put our wet muddy clothes into plastic bags to deal with later. A bit of bickering and fussing around and we were dry, although our shoes may take a few days. We are lucky to have a dry landy and dry clothes to go home to.