Most people don’t know much about Lesotho, if anything at all. But it’s an amazing country with an interesting history, friendly people and spectacular landscapes. I took a day trip there from the Amphitheatre Backpackers in Northern Drakensberg and it was well worth it.
Country profile: Lesotho
Population: 2 million
Government: Constitutional Monarchy with a Prime Minister elected every five years.
Poverty: It is one of the poorest countries in the world. Only 5% of the population have running water and electricity which is mostly confined to the capital.
Geography: It is 30, 355 sq km and is the only country to be completely land locked by one country. It is also the highest country in the world because most of it is in high altitude mountains.
The day began with a two hour drive to the border post where we had to get our passports stamped for exit and then re entry into South Africa. On the Lesotho side, there was a broken down caravan which was apparently their abandoned border patrol that the government hadn’t been bothered to fix or re-man. So technically we became ‘illegal immigrants’ for the day.
As soon as we crossed the border the road stopped and we continued on a track full of pot holes and ditches that made for a bumpy ride to the village we were going to visit. Instantly, it was obvious that the landscape was widely untouched and natural. There were farmlands all along the track and beautiful mountain ranges surrounding us.
Entering the village was like stepping back in time 200 years. It was very primitive and typical of what the hunter gatherers would have lived like. People were dressed in basic clothes, they lived in hand built huts made from elements from the earth (mud, water and cow dung), they only ate what they grew and held as livestock, there was no electricity or running water and they used a barter system rather than the national currency.
We visited the primary school (above), which was funded by the Amphitheatre Backpackers I was staying at. Primary school was free and generally well attended, but the high school was a two hour walk away and cost $85 a term meaning that most children didn’t get to go due to the expense. By the age of 15-16, girls are married and starting families and boys are sent to South Africa to work in which they require a working visa that can take up to four years to obtain.
We passed the ‘police station’ which looked more like a house and the shed was meant to be the holding cell. There didn’t appear to be anyone there and we were told that it was hardly used because there was nothing worth stealing and no reason to murder anyone in Lesotho so the crime rate was very low.
We visited the village’s natural healer, who explained through a translator that she was born with the gift of healing and was chosen by the elders to pursue her job. She made all her own medicine and said she saw about five patients a week. Most people can’t pay her so she uses a barter system where they provide her with whatever service or goods they can provide in exchange for her help.
Finally, we went into the home of a family who made their own local beer from the maize they grew. We were allowed to taste it but when I saw that it looked more like milk and was in an old container that everyone was sharing I decided not to. But it was interesting to see inside their home and how they lived. They were happy for us to take photos of them but only if they could see the photo on the camera screen, which they thought was amazing!
By the end of the day I realised that I had experienced something pretty special. A small country that gets no attention and beautiful people who live a very basic but happy life. There are not many places so natural and underdeveloped left in the world so it was extremely interesting and amazing to see.
*post adapted from my trip here in November 2014 and from my original blog site elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com