Stories from Southern Africa – part four: South Africa & Lesotho

So much has been going the weeks before I left Thailand and since I arrived in Cambodia… So now, from a balcony in Phnom Penh, I gather the motivation to write up the final part of my 2008 backpacking trip through Southern Africa.

South Africa

I arrived in South Africa from Swaziland and my first stop was Durban. I only stayed for one night and didn’t wander far, besides going to a local shop to buy some groceries. I met some travellers in the hostel, who told me about travellers they met who had been robbed and/or shot in broad daylight in Durban or Johannesburg. South Africa was certainly different from its neighbouring countries. I would soon discover more pleasant sides to SA, but there are parts I would still not return to for travel. From Durban, I travelled to Mthatha, an area where Nelson Mandela came from, and went on to Port St. Johns and Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast. There were gorgeous views, but unfortunately it was too cold to try surfing lessons.

Coffee Bay

I went onto the Eastern Cape via Port Elizabeth. Can’t remember much on the way until I reached Cape Town. Cape Town was amazing and I loved it instantly – despite the cold/rainy weather and despite the bed bugs in one particular hostel. The vibe was so different from anywhere else in South Africa – I felt safe to walk around by myself, even at night. People were friendly. There were still dodgy areas, but they were not where I stayed at the time. I went on a day trip to Hermanus, where I saw humpback whales breaching close to the shore – amazing! I did a wine tour through the area – even though I didn’t and still don’t like wine. A visit to Robben Island was very impressive. It’s the same when visiting the Holocaust museum or Tuol Sleng here in Phnom Penh. Any such reminders of human atrocities gives me chills. On the way back from Robben Island, there was a perfect shot of Cape Town and the Table Mountain, which I of course climbed as well. I went to see penguins and toured around. I skipped the slums – people in poverty are not tourist attractions. I met lovely people and ate amazing food. I spent about a week and a bit in South Africa, but I enjoyed Cape Town most and spent most of the days there.

Cape Town – view on the way back from Robben Island

From Cape Town, I took a bus to Bloemfontein, on my way to Lesotho.

Lesotho

In order to reach Malealea in Lesotho, a place that someone in Mozambique told me beautiful stories about, I had to take a bus from Bloemfontein to Maseru, take a mini bus from Maseru to the middle of nowhere, switch mini buses in the middle of nowhere, in order to finally arrive in the middle of nowhere: a place called Malealea. It was in between a range of mountains with gorgeous nature. I arrived at a camp site that organised horse riding trip into the mountains of the area. I couldn’t want to start the trip. I arrived around 4pm and the lovely owners took me to my little bungalow. I was the only one there, besides the owners and staff, and it felt so peaceful! The owner told me that dinner would be served at 5pm in the dining room. I walked around the area, petted some horses and a little before 5pm, I walked into the dining room. It was decorated with lots of photos from visitors from all the years. As I looked at the photos, the door of the dining room swings open – and in walk a group of 30 Dutch tourists! What? It took me forever to get to this place and I thought I found this peaceful oasis and a group of people from my own country walk in… They started talking to me in English, since I look Asian and they probably would have never guessed I’m Dutch, and I outed myself as one of them. They were lovely people and we had a nice dinner together. At the same time, I was laughing about the irony of it all.

The next day, I prepared for my trip. My horse, Pepper (or something similar), was all saddled up and ready for me. We went into the mountains. The higher we got, the colder it became and soon, it started snowing. I only had a fleece jacket, but nothing more. My Basotho guide insisted on giving me his blanket that he wore. For the rest of the trip, people were very happy to see a foreigner in a Basotho blanket. The first night, we stayed in a Basotho village. There are no guesthouses or anything in the area, so we stayed in people’s homes. There was a mat in a room and it was enough. We got there in the afternoon and a local guide took me to some waterfalls in the area. The views were amazing…

Lesotho

I only did a two-day trip since I was short on time as well as money. The next day, we went back to the camp but through a different route. When we descended enough and the weather was hot enough, I returned the blanket to my guide and I started to try the horse out a little more. So far we had only walked and trotted, so I started taking it for a run. The only thing I didn’t like was that the horse didn’t respond to the reigns – yes, it responded to steering, but not to pulling. In order to make the horse stop, one would have to whistle. And guess what, I couldn’t and still can’t whistle. So each time I wanted to horse to stop, I had to yell to my guide, who had to whistle. That wasn’t very efficient – my fault, I should know how to whistle. After getting back to the camp, I packed my back and was on my way to Johannesburg.

South Africa

And I was back in South Africa again. Johannesburg, exactly where I started and staying at a hostel I stayed at before. I ran into a guy I met in Mozambique, on the bus, and we had a nice chat. I only had one day this time and since I didn’t see lions on my safari in Botswana, I decided to go to a lion park – even though I don’t like zoos, it’s like an internal battle between wanting to be close to animals but not wanting them to be in captivity. I went, together with an American guy who had a project in Malawi. On the way to the park, our guide told us they have giraffes there that you can feed. The thing is, I love giraffes, so I think I got very excited, got an even bigger smile on my face, etc. We arrived and first we did a ‘safari tour’ through the park. There were white lions, the only few left since they have become extinct in the wild – poaching has destroyed many species. In this regard, the park was great as it had a white lion breeding project. We saw many beautiful types of lions and after the safari, we went to an area where they had the lion cubs you can play with. Again, I had the internal battle – play with them or leave them alone. Thinking that they are already here and I already paid for my ticket and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to play with them, I went for it. They were too cute!

Me playing with a lion cub

After this, we went to the giraffes. The first time I fed the giraffe, he wrapped his tongue all around my hand and wrist and I just felt this slimy, rough tongue – nasty! After that, I got used to it. It was interesting to notice the female giraffe ate very elegantly, just using her lips to take the food from me – like horses do. I was very happy to be so close to these gorgeous creatures. At the same time, I thought they should be roaming free…
[Update 2016: I would have made a different choice today if I were given the opportunity again. I believe animals should not be confined, they should not be ‘used’ for our entertainment – even if they are taken care of well. Even though there may be good rehabilitation programmes going on, human contact is not in the animals’ best interest and should be limited. A rehabilitation or breeding programme that allows human contact is, in my opinion, not in it for the best interest of the animals but rather for financial gain.]

Feeding giraffes

I left the park feeling satisfied, with the day and the whole trip, and I was ready to go back to Europe where I would start studying in London (which turned out to be an amazing year as well, but I won’t document all that in this blog). Seven countries in six weeks… And it went by so quickly. I still hope I can return to the area some day – hopefully Botswana or Malawi, which were my favourites. We’ll see what the future has in store for me! For now, I’m loving Phnom Penh and I hope to be staying here for a while!

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