After Semonkong, we were off to Lesotho’s capital, Maseru. First, some Lesotho trivia. The country is located in southern Africa and has a population of over just 2m. It is an enclave (entirely surrounded by South Africa), only one of three such countries in the world. And no offense to the pope and fine residents of San Marino, but your “countries” bear an eerie resemblance to cities, unlike Lesotho, which clocks in at almost 13,000 square miles.
On a less sanguine note, the country faces grim economic and health prospects. 40% of the population earns less than $1.25 a day. Lesotho also has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world, with almost 25% of the population infected. Fortunately, the country is progressing and the spirits of its people seem high.
After one night in Maseru we were off to South Africa to see a Queen cover band perform at a local town’s 100 year anniversary festival and then head back into the mountains of Lesotho.
The cover band put on a good show. At the end, lead singer was so into the show that he tore his shirt off. This served as a strong reminder that some things are universal across all nations: middle aged men should keep their shirts on in public.
Downtown Clarens was picturesque, unlike the townships which surrounded the city. The visit starkly illustrated that while apartheid in South Africa was officially over, its legacy was not. The thousands of attendees of the anniversary festival were 99.9% white, while its various “service workers” were 99.9% black. Friends shared stories of previous trips to Clarens where Americans who were of Indian origin were refused service since they were considered to be “colored”. South Africa is a country of great potential, but also a very painful history to overcome, as the spate of riots and strikes that have recently plagued the country unfortunately demonstrate.
Next up: Maliba, a beautiful mountain lodge back in Lesotho. I’ll let the pictures below tell most of the story, but want to share one anecdote. Dinner was Lesotho trout, which was caught in Lesotho. However, it hadto be exported to South Africa for processing then re-imported to Lesotho. As a “fresh fish” fan, this struck me as a bit ridiculous; akin to exporting apples from Washington State to Canada for Canadians to make apple pie to be sent back to Seattle. Imagine the controversy this would prompt at in a US presidential election.
Mitt Romney: President Obama has allowed socialists (i.e. Canadians) to take control of an item vital to America’s national security: apple pie.
Barack Obama: If Governor Romney were elected, he would continue to outsource the production of apple pie to third world countries (i.e. Canada), eventually making apple pie only available to the 1%.
One final thought. Lesotho brought an new term that I had not previous seen in Africa: “humped zebra crossings”. At first I was excited about the prospect of spotting a new African game animal, a camel zebra hybrid of sorts. As it turns out, the term referred to something entirely less exciting: speed bumps.
Usually, but not always, they would have a warning sign. However, the signs were always at varying distances before the actual bump. A bit like TSA security: you never know exactly what you need to take out or take off. Always keep them guessing, I suppose, or the motorists will win.
That’s it for Lesotho (other than breaking a hospital strike line in Maseru, a story for another day). Next up: the Philippines in December.
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Until next time.
First, an apology. By titling this post “Africa”, I am violating one of my own biggest pet peeves when it comes to the continent: assuming it is one country. It is in fact 54 countries (welcome, South Sudan), comprising over a quarter of the world’s 194.
Covering a month world of travel in one post is aggressive/crazy, so this is in no way comprehensive, just a ecclectic collection of thoughts and anecdotes.
I was surprised that the cab driver who picked me up at the airport had a very familiar sounding accent. After his particularly gregarious greeting, my suspicion increased. During initial pleasantries, it was confirmed – he is American. A former ambulance driver from San Diego, of all things. Which obviously begged the question of why a guy from California moved to Africa to drive a taxi. I assumed the worst: running from the DEA after a drug bust (San Diego is in fact quite close to the Mexican border…), avoiding child support on two dozen children fathered with an equal number of women, or worst of all, perhaps he sold mortgage backed securities for Goldman.
As politically correctly as possible I tried to ask, “What the heck are you doing here?”. He had clearly been posed this question before. It all supposedly started with a misaddressed email – she was trying to contact someone for business and mistyped one key. He responded regardless. An online courtship ensued. Some time later, he flew out to South Africa and called her when he landed. Shockingly, she picked him up at the airport instead of calling the police. They now have six children.
Moral of the story: next time you receive an email from a Nigerian prince or princess, start thinking about wedding rings instead of cursing Gmail’s poor spam filter.
I generally am leery of things that are hyped up, but Cape Town is one place that fully lived up to expectations. It has been duly added to my cities I could live in list.
A quick political digression. Although it was great to enjoy all the luxuries of first world living in Cape Town, a less pleasant reality exists in the city (and the country as a whole). There is a legacy of colonialism and apartheid that did not exist in East Africa. Implicit economic segregation replaced explicit racial segregation, but in practice the two have largely the same outcome.
Every hotel, restaurant, and shop we visited was owned and operated by white South Africans, even though they comprise less than 10% of the population. White collar jobs, nice homes, and good schools also seemed to be almost completely segregated by race. I understand that it is a delicate balance between scaring off the owners of most of the human and financial capital (see: Zimbabwe) and ensuring equal opportunity for all citizens post-apartheid. Yet, it is not clear if South Africa is achieving that balance.
As it stands, I sense there is a great deal of tension. If left unaddressed, it could lead to a Zimbabwe type situation. Julius Malema, the immensely popular leader of the youth wing of the ANC (SA ruling party) advocates a Robert Mugabe-esque repatriation of all white property. Which seems unfathomable and nonsensical, unless you’re destitute, unemployed, young, black, and living in a township. In which case, life really could not get much worse. I certainly hope for everyone’s sake a better balance is struck.
Full picture album on FB: South Africa
Namibia continued to impress in terms of development; although it was odd to see African street names (e.g. Fischreiter); Namibia was at one point a German colony. The legacy of colonialism in Southern Africa is much more pronounced than in East Africa. Although mixed overall, colonialism did have a decidedly positive impact in terms of infrastructure. For instance, compared to East Africa:
- You can drink the tap water for nourishment, not for a week-long full body cleanse.
- Highways entail more than packed dirt, ¨checkpoints¨ every mile to see if you have a few spare dollars for the hungry traffic police, and Ford Excursion-sized potholes.
- Perhaps most shockingly, the police have cars. This would have dramatically altered my approach to Tanzanian traffic police entirely (which was, wave hello when they tried to wave me down to stop).
But the real gem of Namibia is its natural beauty.
Full picture album on FB: Namibia
Botswana was stunning. We spent the first part I’m the Okavango delta, a massive swamp accessible only by traditional dugout canoes (mokoros).
The second part was in Chobe National Park. It had more animals than a zoo (but without the petting option).
Full picture album on FB: Botswana
Unfortunately, all we were able to see in Zimbabwe was Victoria Falls. Fortunately, Victoria Falls is absolutely stunning. Despite being both American and Canadian, I think it blows away Niagara Falls. Sorry, mom (Canada) and dad (USA).
Full picture album on FB: Zimbabwe
One last political note. Zimbabwe felt perhaps the most like the African cliché. It may have been the locals selling trillion-dollar notes on the street. At least now Vic Falls has basic tourist infrastructure. Supposedly a few years ago it was completely desolate. An election crisis rendered the country incapacitated. Mugabe lost handily according to all international observers but refused to give up power until finally an internationally brokered but toothless power sharing deal was struck. The entire area around Vic Falls (Zimbabwe) shut down and all tour companies switched to Livingstone (Zambia).
I wish I had learned more about Zimbabwe politics as I am fascinated by Mugabe, but we were explicitly instructed to avoid any political discussion while in the country as “people would be listening”. Intense. The transition from Rhodesia (¨the bread bowl of Africa¨) to Mugabe-the-heroic-liberator to Mugabe-the-crazy-tyrant is wild, but seems to echo the journey of many post-colonial African countries and their leaders/big men.
Overall, it a great trip. We covered thousands of kilometers, saw hundreds of species of animals, visited five countries, and I hung out with three great family members… and didn´t pay any bribes, catch any tropical diseases, or get mauled by any wild animals. An unqualified success.
Next up, South America. Goodbye safari, hello sasla.