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  • Day89

    Lesotho - Day 3

    February 21, 2020 in Lesotho ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    We were due to have breakfast at the relatively late hour of 9am so I was able to get up at my leisure. I packed my rucksack for a day's trek I had planned. However, when i tried to open my dorm room door it had completely stuck and wouldn't open so i had to climb out of the window to get out. We had a cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, beans and toast cooked by the cook group in the communal kitchen.
    After breakfast, Graham, Kristen and I organised to do a trek to a waterfall and then to some caves with ancient 7000 year old rock paintings painted by hunter gatherer bushmen. We were allocated a young local woman as our guide for the day and she took us out of the hostel and down a long hill towards a valley surrounded by high mountains. The guide stopped by a series of graves and told us about the local funeral and burial practice which seemed to be a mixture of ancient burial rites mixed with more recent Christian practice. For example a cow and a sheep were sacrificed and eaten as part of the funerary and burial rites. The family also cut off their hair and mourned until it grew back. The rites were also strictly divided between men and women. If one of twins died there was an even stranger practice where the living twin had to get in the dead twin's coffin and grave and say their dead twins name and say, but I am not him/her, I am the living twin.
    We continued to walk down to a beautiful river valley with a bubbling stream tumbling down it. There were small fields of maize and sunflowers. Apparently, local villagers could claim land for farming with the permission of the chief of the village. We walked along the stream valley with wonderful views of the surrounding mountains until we reached where the stream met a larger river valley. The rain had brought out a carpet of various wild flowers that were visited by a multitude of butterflies and insects. We talked about the density of wildlife and how England would once have had a similar density of life before the intensification of farming. The stream carved through a geological layer of white smooth rock which created sculptural carvings in the rock. A large eagle circled in the thermal updrafts above. We crossed the river with some difficulty as the the river had risen due the heavy rains that fell when we arrived in Lesotho. As we made our way up the lovely river valley towards the waterfalls, the guide realised that the river level was too high to go up the river to reach the waterfalls. We therefore had to climb up a steep, loose rocked, path out of the valley which was a very taxing climb in the hot, strengthening sun as we approached midday. We then crossed over the top of the valley to the top of the waterfalls. The waterfalls were quite high with the river water passing through two narrow outlets to tumble about 30 metres to the floor below. We then had a long walk over and down to the bottom of the waterfalls. As we arrived at the bottom, two herder boys came down and started some very poor drumming on a home made drum in the hope that we would give them money. This rather destroyed the peaceful atmosphere of the place and after a short rest we climbed back up the steep path to the top of the waterfall, climbed back across the valley top, and then had to negotiate a very tricky descent back down the loose rocked, steep path. The rocks rolled under foot and you had to concentrate very carefully not to slip and twist or break an ankle. When we reached the bottom of the valley, we walked back down the valley, and then turned up a long, steep incline up a hill towards the local village. We all got very tired climbing up long incline and rested under a large rock ledge to shelter from the strong, hot sunshine. The views back across the valley to the mountains beyond were again very beautiful. Three young children approached where we were sitting, but did not come too close, and shyly waved at us from a distance. They later cupped their hands to ask for money, emphasising the poverty of the area. There were also children and adults herding sheep and two donkeys, one very young rested in the sunshine. After our rest we passed through the village. Some villagers were friendly and said hello, but others looked at us with a blank expression as if we weren't their. I had noticed this contrast in local people's response to us white tourists already during our stay here.
    We then had a long descent down the other side of the hill towards another valley where the caves and ancient rock paintings were. We could see large, dark clouds gathering over the mountains behind us and could hear worrying rumbles of thunder. but we were lucky as the storm passed by us without raining on us. We had wonderful views over the distant mountains all around us as we slowly descended from the high point of the village. When we dropped down into the new river valley a large group of children ran excitedly down the hill to follow us down. This river valley had huge sheer, polished, rocky sides which opened out into a simply stunning view over the river and to the valley beyond. You could see why the ancient bushmen hunter gatherers regarded this as a special place. We walked down to a small cave and the guide showed us how the bushmen had used this cave acoustically as an impressive echo chamber. I whistled loudly and a perfect echo of my whistle came back a second later as it reverberated down the sheer sided, narrow, rock valley sides. The young children watched on from above and chatted and laughed with each other. After a short rest we continued on down a short path to where another indent in the rocky sides of the valley revealed a number of very interesting 7000 year old rock paintings in red (blood and plant pigment), white, and black (charcoal) colours. Most of the paintings were of elongated human figures with animal heads including birds and antelope heads. Our young female guide suggested that the elongated human figures represented the visionary experiences of the shamans who painted the images. She said that the shamans experienced themselves as tall giants in the landscape. This was a very interesting insight into the nature of the shamanic visionary experiences. There were also images of animals such as antelope, snakes, fish, and a beautifully rendered figure of a large cat. There was also a depiction of a number of human figures congregating together and possibly singing and dancing. This place had a very strong atmosphere and was clearly a sacred place for thousands of years in this stunning valley. The images had faded with time and were difficult to photograph, but you saw more and more in them the longer you looked. We then walked on to another indentation in the smooth yellow rock where there was another series of rock paintings, fewer in number, but perhaps even stranger and more evocative in nature. Some of the figures were painted high up on the rock wall and were more distinct. One of the elongated figures had a birds head and another had two horns. A third figure was more bent over and had a very strange, indefinable, animal like quality. The figures had an other worldliness that almost took you into the visionary experience of the shamans who painted it (apparently only shamans were allowed to paint the images). Another figure that was difficult to make out had an impossibly extended leg and foot which extended for nearly a metre away from the body. This also gave a sense of how the visionary experience allowed the shaman to stretch his spirit body to enormous lengths. We spent some time resting, photographing, and looking at the rock painting. Unfortunately, a third cave with rock paintings was too difficult to reach. We decided to walk back up out of the valley. When we reached the cave with the echo, the children had set up a small choir and sang for us in the hope of us giving them some money. I had no money on me, but left them a big bag of nachos to share among themselves which they seemed quite happy with. We climbed back out of the steep valley with stupendous views of the valley and mountains behind. It was hard work climbing out of the steep valley after many hours of walking up and down steep inclines in this mountain terrain. We then reached a more level path where we could recover our breath a bit. We passed some houses where people waved back in a friendly way - they also knew our local guide. We passed a very old and characterful woman with a dog who also sweetly said hello and goodbye to us. We then had another exhausting climb back up to the hostel and were fantasising about reaching the bar for a cold drink. When finally got there we paid for the guided walk in the reception and I paid in advance for the evening meal. We also left positive comments about our kind and friendly guide in the visitors book which would help her to get future guided walks and gave her a big tip. The guided walks are apparently shared among members of the local community to help give them some extra income.
    I then bought a cold coke in the bar which tasted very good after a long, tiring walk and collapsed into a chair. The evening sun cast long shadows across the distant mountains. My dorm room door had been repaired while I was out walking, so i could now get in and out of my room. I returned to my room to get a shower and rested in my room until it was time for dinner in the dining room and 7pm. I joined my fellow traveller, Brian, for a nice dinner of roast chicken, potatoes, peas and carrots with a gravy like sauce. I had a nice glass of red wine with my meal which was only 20 rand for a large glass, about £1. We sat opposite a young American woman who was working locally as a paediatrician before returning to Texas where she was from. We had an interesting conversation with her about our mutual experiences of Africa before going to the bar for another drink.
    I felt very tired after my day's exertions and soon retired to my room to rest. The crickets were chirping loudly as I slowly went off to sleep on the less than comfortable mattress.
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