Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mary and Vanessa Visit South Africa

The first of our family members to visit South Africa arrived at the end of last month to spend a couple weeks with us in our village and exploring South Africa. Mary and Vanessa, Jessica's mother and sister, arrived at O.R. Tambo International Airport after a two long, yet uneventful flights. In 14 months we had not seen anyone from our family, so as they rounded the corner and exited customs, needless to say we were slightly excited to see each other!

We made our way directly to the village to start off their South Africa adventure in Seleka at PNGC (read previous PNGC Week 13 post for details on their experience at club). Their fun filled first day was tiring in the heat, but also exciting to be able to show them all about what we do with PNGC each week. A few more days in Seleka and the surrounding villages allowed Mary and Vanessa to see our schools, our village, meet our teacher and the women at the drop in center, explore the bushveld with our friends at their homes and out on the farm and see pieces of our day to day life in Africa. Needless to say they were in for a number of new experiences. They got to help carry water, bathe in a bucket, brave the dust and heat of the day, eat warthog voers (sausage), braai, have a spitting contest with Impala dung, and much more. It was a truly jam packed first few days, and despite their long flights they were up to the challenge of meeting and greeting the whole village.However, Seleka is not the only part of Southern Africa worth seeing and our next stop was Lesotho. After a 15+ hour drive that included a few stops, bad traffic, a wrong turn, a near miss with a couple cows in the road, shady border crossings and some rough last few kilometers of gravel road we arrived at Malealea Lodge where we spent our next five days. Arriving so late the first night to a place with limited electricity hours and complete darkness otherwise, we spent the first day sleeping in and enjoying our first views of the mountains of Lesotho. The lodge is set on the edge of a beautiful valley surrounded by high peaks offering stunning views and cooler weather. Our leisurely day was also meant as preparation for our coming 3-day, 2-night pony trek into the mountains.Our trek began early the next day with a short introduction to our horses. Having packed our bags earlier in the morning, we stuffed a few apples, sandwiches and water into the saddle bags and set off with our guide Thato and his apprentice Jappie. In Seleka, I am also known as Thato, which means 'God's will' in Sotho. We felt this was a good sign for our trek. We bounced our way out of the lodge and started down the road. Malealea is a small village and soon we were out in the valley and the road narrowed to a thin dirt track that led us for about 6 hours down and back up gorges, across rivers, through small villages teeming with excited children and smiling parents. At times mountains loomed directly above us casting long shadows over our horses and at other times they were far in the distance leaving us in the spread of another valley under the intense sun of the day. We arrived in the village where we would sleep for the next two nights saddle sore and happy for the chance to stretch our legs.The village of Riboneng is accessible only by horse or walking. They buildings are predominately circular rondavels of stone, clay and stick with thatch roofing. With no electricity or running water, villagers fetched water from the springs up the mountain, washed clothes in the river below, and lit fires as the sun set behind the western peaks. We came to love this tiny village in the short time we spent there. The young boys telling us about their sheep and goat herds, the men playing an interesting game with stones on a carved rock, the women cooking in their communal reed kitchen, the old transistor radio bringing news from far away places and more importantly the South African soccer matches; all this was quite charming as we settled in for our two nights on thin foam pads with a gas burner supported by field stones for cooking.The second day of the trek brought a sunrise and the sounds of the goats and sheep in their kraal (pen) directly outside our door. We saddled our horses for a day ride up the mountain pass to the top of the Riboneng waterfall, instantly aware of how sore our backsides were. Yet after a few hours, the combination of gorgeous scenery to distract us and numbness setting in made for an very enjoyable day of trekking that included lunch at a cool mountain stream, stories from Thato about Lesotho traditions in the area and meeting a man and his brother hiking to the other side of the mountains to go meet up with his fiance and present her with a traditional Basotho Blanket. Upon our return to the village we had the option of striking out on a three hour hike to the base of the waterfall that we had just stood atop, however a short conversation with our bodies concluded it was wiser to work our the aches and pains with a stroll through the village and a glass of wine (yes, we packed wine all the way out to the village. It was delicious!).Winding our way back over the mountains on a different route we made our way back to Malealea the next day. Our trek had been extremely exciting, awe inspiring and scenic despite sore rear ends, Vanessa's midnight stomach bug and having two horses strike out for home without us on the last morning (somehow Jappie tracked them across the valley and up the mountain to a village about one hour's ride from our hut). We were glad to be back to a hot shower and some clean clothes, but part of us wished our pony trek adventure could have lasted for much longer. Our final day at Malealea found me in bed in a nasty disagreement with my stomach, but gave Jessica, Mary and Vanessa the day to explore the village and meet Thato's family. As we ascended out of the valley leaving Malealea we stopped at the top of the pass to look back on a once-in-a-lifetime trek through a unique mountain kingdom. With having done so much, what more could we possibly do? Next stop, curio shopping.Over the next few days we made our way through Lesotho, back into South Africa and on to Graskop near the Blyde River Canyon. Along the way we stopped in a few small villages to peruse the local craft markets. We met a fellow PCV from Lesotho at the weaving group she works with, enjoyed a fantastic meal in the artsy community of Clarens, and continued the theme of good food with Harrie's Pancakes, Portuguese beef entrees, fresh coffee with chocolate cake and more. The girls were able to take advantage of the Graskop area's excellent collection of crafts from South Africa and other parts of the continent. We took in a classic African sunset over the canyon as well as the rolling green hills and valleys that are in such contrast to the flat bushveld of Seleka. It was a time of relaxing and enjoying some of the best that South Africa has to offer. Yet with a few more days left, we continued on to what some describe as the best of South Africa, Kruger National Park.Early in the morning we packed up the car and drove the hour from Graskop to Kruger. The day was overcast and perfect for viewing wildlife. In our two days in the park, we had hoped to see the Big Five, but came up one short. Despite that, we had an incredible drive through one of the best game viewing parks in the world.On their last day in South Africa, we were back in the city and took a trip to the Apartheid Museum. Expertly designed and explored in detail, the museum offers a clear historical account of the history of Apartheid from factors leading up to its inception as well as the events that eventually led to it's end and culminating with the 1994 elections and Nelson Mandela's presidency. It was a sobering, yet important reminder of South Africa today and a good way to bring our trip full circle. As we sat having dinner with our friends that night prior heading for the airport, we candidly discussed the time Mary and Vanessa spent in South Africa. It's beauty, wonder, promise and hope as well as the struggles, challenges, obstacles and turmoil. They had experienced it all and at the end of the day found South Africa to be an incredible country.


Abby said...

you guys are CUTE!

SouthAfrica.TO said...

I really enjoyed this blog posting and the stax of photos. We run a travel website and have chosen this as our blog post of the week - you can see it at our weekly newsletter, from which we've linked to your site.

Please keep up the blogging.


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