The rest of our journey in Lesotho passed without incident as we passed the odd town, which appeared more western than those we had seen in the Malealea area, but still dusty and neglected and yet somehow thriving and functional!
As it was Sunday a lot of the locals tend to dress in their best clothes and we were treated to men in their shiny black suits and women in colourful dresses wondering along the road on their way to or from somewhere or other.
The Buthe border post was a lot quieter than Maseru Bridge however we still had get out of the car and go to the Lesotho passport control for a stamp, go back to the car, drive across the border, get out of the car, go to the South African passport office for another stamp and get asked a question or two and then finally get back in the car and drive past customs officials who normally just look at you suspiciously. Today however we were pulled over and our passport and car registration nos. duly noted by a rather stern and non-communicative official.
Now back in South Africa the difference is almost startling, no longer are there numerous villages clinging to the roadside. If there are any they are usually hidden away from the road. Where in Lesotho there are either signs of erosion or intensive tracts of crops, here the countryside is in the main, relatively unscarred.
The previous white apartheid regime seemed to always create two towns, the white dominated main town centre and its white suburbs and about 5 kilometres away the black dominated satellite. This is, of course, all changing but the evidence is still there as the population both black and white grapple with the changes necessary to evolve into a fair and equitable society. Nowhere is the difficulty more obvious than a place called Clarens, about 40 kilometres north of Buthe Buthe.
Clarens is trendsville! Curio shops and cafes jostle for your attention along the single short main street. You could have been anywhere in the western world. White South Africans from the bigger towns around strolled and stopped for lunch or a drink enjoying their day out. There was not a black face to be seen. For us after just ‘roughing’ the last week in Lesotho, it was timely if somewhat culturally disturbing. We had a nice lunch in “Bruce’s Pub” and then moved on.
A singer from the Basotho children’s choir near Malealea, Lesotho
That tricky river crossing was the final challenge and can you believe it wee stopped for lunch about ten minutes from there!
We just wanted to get it over and done with!
David & Clement had been unable to talk to each other as much because of David having to spend a fair amount of time controlling the now impatient and eccentric Black Label. So we figured that they wanted to have a final ‘chat’ before heading home.
The crossing was actually no big deal going back. This time we were climbing the steeper side of the gorge and it’s a lot more comfortable looking up than down. For me riding a sure-footed and obedient pony made a big difference.
We got back at around 1.30 pm and despite feeling dirty and dusty we headed for the bar and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.
The next day we headed out back to South Africa.
The road was pretty much the same until we reached Maseru.
To avoid the city centre we had to travel along the eastern outskirts. Even though we had been assured that there was no danger by almost everyone, this area seemed uncomfortably close to the spot where all the rioting had happened 6 months ago. We passed several buildings that had been gutted by fire or looting and appeared to be sitting there unused and ignored.
But we never felt threatened by the many people who were going about their business not in the least bit interested in two potentially nervous white tourists.
What did make us uncomfortable was a lone policeman standing in the road waving us down. You hear lots of stories of corrupt African police officials extorting money from helpless tourists in exchange for not impounding their vehicle, luggage, children or anything else that’s worth them confiscating.
He examined the tax disc on the front of the car very closely as if it was strange flaw in the windscreen. His face lit up on viewing my Australian drivers licence and said beaming, “Aha, from Australia! Kangaroo!” We laughed with him at this obviously witty and perceptive comment not realising at the time that this was going to be repeated many times by what seems now to be an army of officials, bureaucrats, tour guides, hotel workers and any other smart arse that inadvertently wanted to piss us off!
He waved us on politely still beaming at his joke.
Women cleaning the outside of a mud hut near Malealea Lesotho