Johannesburg to Botswana

Among the list of tasks to accomplish while in Johannesburg: collect our South African visa extension.

You get three months on arrival. We knew that we wanted to spend more than that in the area, so we applied as soon as we got here.

This turns out to be expensive, time-consuming, and vexatious. At long last, we pick up our passports with the much-desired extension.

Let me in…Immigration Man…

The day we leave Johannesburg, we spend a large part of the day at the Cradle of Humankind Information Centre and nearby sites.

Justin Trudeau might say ‘the Cradle of Peoplekind’

Among other things, we learn that ‘Lucy‘, one of our unimaginably-distant ancestors, is named after ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds‘.

(Cultural tip: good (but a bit violent, like most Luc Besson films) sci-fi film from 2014, ‘Lucy‘, with Scarlett Johansson. It has a barely-there, tangential connection with the fossilized Lucy, too.)

A nearly-complete Australopithecus Africanus skeleton was found in the Sterkfontein caves.

Little foot‘ was big news in 1997.

Besides the paleoanthropological interest, the cave is wonderful in itself

Interior, Sterkfontein cave

This is where the boffins do their work. (But not today, because it’s Saturday.)

Digging in the Dirt

Next day, a few more hours of driving brings us to the Botswana frontier post.

Once across, we spend the night in the small town of Kanye. Then we drive 875 kilometres to Maun.

Lucky for us the the roads are good

This is the longest single-day drive we’ve ever done, including in Australia, the usual home of the marathon driving session.

Sight or Insight of the Day

‘Pula’ is an interesting setswana word. Besides being the name of the local currency, it also means ‘good fortune’ and ‘rain’ (which is good fortune in this often-dry country.)

‘Pula’ means rain

Pula also features prominently in the Botswana coat of arms.

Zebras? Or horses in pajamas?

The Kingdom in the Sky – Lesotho

We fix a leaky tire in Clarens, South Africa before crossing the border into Lesotho.

Close encounter with a high truck, looks like

Lesotho, like every country in Africa, suffers from appallingly bad government. It’s pretty, though.

(I often marvel how places like Canada and Australia can have politicians that range from ‘mediocre’ to ‘God-awful’ and still be nice places to live. Most places are not that lucky.)

Two aspects of Lesotho stand out: horses and blankets.

A good way to get around

Basotho blankets serve many purposes.

The blanket culture starts young.

We spend a week at the Maliba Lodge. We alternate between taking road trips and hiking in the park. (The lodge is located in Ts’ehlanyane National Park.)

One day, we visit the Katse Dam.

You can tour the inside of the dam. (But can’t take pictures, for some reason.)

There are a couple of Danish nurses on our tour of the dam. They’re volunteering at a hospital in a town up the road.

Looking down from the dam

Goats and sheep abound. Lesotho is a big producer of mohair. Or was, until the government gave sold a monopoly on the export of mohair to a single Chinese man. (Who has stopped paying the farmers.)

‘You’re working for Xi Jinping now…’

No part of Lesotho is lower than 1,000 metres above sea level.

Mafika Lisiu Pass – elevation 3,090 metres

Another day, we drive around the northeast of the country as far as the Letseng diamond mine.

The Wearin’ o’ the Green

We spot this unusual bird along the way.

Southern bald ibis

Some days, we hike the trails that criss-cross the park.

This beast appears nightly near our rondavel in Maliba. It’s a full-grown eland. And it’s huge.

On our way to Roma, we stop near Leribe to see some dinosaur footprints.

Clearing away the mud

Supposed to be 200 million years old.

Maria doesn’t believe these are really dinosaur footprints

Roma is an interesting small town. We stay at the historic Roma Trading Post. We are so charmed, we spend five days here.

Breakfast in the shade

Our little bungalow has its own garden.

Burgers on the braai

Thaba Bosiu is where the Kingdom of Lesotho got its start, under King Moshoeshoe.

Thaba Bosiu from below
From the top, we get a view of the Basotho ‘cultural village’
Maria clowns around on the edge of a cliff
Some 19th century graffiti
The remains of a stone-built dwelling
Praying mantis
The grave of King Moshoeshoe.

This is Mount Qiloane.

It’s reputed to be the inspiration for the distinctive basotho hat, or mokorotlo.

…which is also found on the license plates….

….and the national flag.

From Thaba Bosiu, we drive to the historic town of Morija.

Craft centre run by a Canadian woman

We get lost on the way back to Roma. Turns out we stumble onto a private dwelling area that belongs to the King of Lesotho.

Royal domain

Security personnel point us to the right track.

Next morning, we spend a few hours in Maseru, the pocket-sized capital city.

Not a pony in sight
A woman selling basotho hats

After departing Lesotho, we break our journey in Kroonstad, then it’s up the N1 to Johannesburg.

Speed limit 120 KMH

The smooth ribbon of the N1 is a far cry from the potholes of the Lesotho road system.

Sight or Insight of the Day

We admit it – we’re suckers for baby animals. We pass many on the roads here.

Fuzzy young colt

The mountain climate seems to make them extra-fuzzy, which amps up the cuteness factor.

Fuzzy baby donkey

Battlefields and Mountains

From the Natal coast, we go inland to the town of Dundee.

Downtown Dundee

This part of KwaZulu Natal is the site of many battlefields dating from the Boer War and earlier, such as the Zulu War of 1879.

One of the first and most disastrous battles of that war was Isandlwana.

Approaching Isandlwana from the north

(You might notice we have a different car. Nelson was recalled to the Thrifty rental car lot in Durban ‘to be put on a sales list’. We are given a slightly larger version of the Datsun Go, the Go Plus. We name him Shaka, after the great Zulu king.)

The distinctive saddle-shaped mountain looks just like it does in the famous painting by Charles Fripp in London’s National Army Museum.

National Army Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Not very far is Rorke’s Drift. Unlike Isandlwana, which was catastrophic for the British, Rorke’s Drift was a scene of almost incredible heroism.

Rorke’s Drift today

I remember seeing this movie, Zulu, as a kid. Later I learn that it’s based on an actual event, the defense of Rorke’s Drift by a handful of British soldiers against an army of thousands of Zulu warriors.

While driving between Islandwana and Rorke’s Drift, we catch sight of some ceremony going on in the fields.

White-clad celebrants

We visit the site of the Boer War battle of Elandslaagte.

All of these battlegrounds are now isolated, peaceful spots. Hard to imagine the blood and slaughter that briefly disturbed the landscape so long ago.

(An interesting historical tidbit: fighting on the Boer side at this battle was a Hollandercorps made up of Dutch volunteers. Among them was a brother of Vincent Van Gogh (Cornelis) AND a brother of Piet Mondrian (Willem).)

Not many people are drawn to these historical places. I complain in a long-past blog entry that even the Second World War holds no interest for most people alive today. So these century-old conflicts are really ancient history. Even though the Boer War had significant Canadian involvement.

We drive though this scenic part of Natal to the Drakensburg and wind up camping at the Hlalanathi Berg Resort.

Our campsite has a great view of the Amphitheatre

In Royal Natal National Park, we hike the Rainbow Falls Trail.

As it turns out, this is the same trail we hiked when we were here a few years ago.

Much different in the summer than in the winter

Butterflies are everywhere.

Nice butterfly

From here, our next stop is Lesotho.

Sight or Insight of the Day

At our campground, we form the habit of feeding the birds in the morning.

Lullaby of Birdland

We get all kinds, including this handsomely-crested hoopoe.