Travel Stories

In Country

          Okay, yes, this, for me is about as far out as the lad gets.  I mean the village of Lieshnitza (sp) where I lived in Bosnia in 1964 was pretty far out, and maybe the elephant camp in Laos was out there, or that village I visited on the other side of the Mekong in Cambodia, but parking my butt and staying in a hut in the foothills of Lesotho at the Trading Post Lodge definitely also makes it to the top few on the list.  And the question of how much further I will push myself is upon me, but here I am, among crowing roosters, ripe lemon trees, rocks, dinosaur footprints, and Basotho villages.  And how I managed to finally transport myself here is a tale worth telling.
          In the morning I find the taxi rank in Maseru, find the Roma taxi van all by myself, and get on for the one hour ride to Roma as planned, only to learn when I arrive that there is no Roma in Roma other than a crossroad with a shut down internet café, a “grocery” shop with only bags of chips, candy, soda, and bananas, a three by four foot tin shack with large rocks on the roof to hold it down when the wind gets too racy, and a sign on the side of the “building” that reads “public telephone communication center” and is shuttered closed.  So I stand there on the side of the road, or in the bustling center of Roma, depending on your perspective, with my small rolling pack at my side, asking each passerby, as befits my circumstances, “Trading Post Lodge?” and they’d shrug their shoulders and walk away, or occasionally stop to “talk,” most of which goes something like, “Where are you going?” and I’d say “Trading Post Lodge,” and they’d look puzzled and say “we don’t know it,” or “there is a lodge 20 kilometers from here,” or best of all “what are you doing here?” to which I’d reply, “I’m lost,” which I was.  Calmly lost, I’d note, which it turns out is often how I feel when travelling without real plans on walkabout, with no real deadlines, a profound sense that what is meant to happen next will indeed be what will happen next, and besides, it isn’t as if I am days up some Amazon tributary (next year’s trip) without a paddle.  And, of course, the environment is benign, there are no mosquitos or cannibals, and occasional taxis regularly go by headed back to Maseru.  So maybe it would end up that Lesotho just didn’t have that much to offer I found appealing, I mean besides spectacular mountain vistas and people wearing colorful woolen blankets and rubber boots.
          And standing there in the center of Roma, home of the underwhelming National University by the way, just waiting for what will happen next, along comes the taxi driver who’d dropped me off here in the first place, who, upon seeing me standing exactly where he left me stops and asks, “what are you doing?” and I say “being lost,” and he says, “where are you going,” and I say “Trading Post Lodge,” and he says, “come, I will help you find it.”  And, without going into detail about the number of stops we make, the number of people we ask, the number of shrugged shoulders we encounter, the number of times he says “we are now friends,” or the fact that when I play Alicia Keyes on my cell phone iTunes app he knows all the words to the song I am playing, tells me he “loves” Alicia, and we sing along with her at the top of our voices, “No one, no one, no one, can get it the way of what I’m feeling,” laughing out loud and giving one another high fives while speeding down the road, and, I must add, simultaneously negotiating the “special” fee he is going to have to charge me, a number clearly running higher and higher in his mental meter.  And after about a dozen stops we finally find someone who calls someone, who knows someone, who calls someone, who thinks maybe he knows where this lodge actually is, and roughly how far down the road back the way we’ve already come it is.  So we turn around and the driver pulls off to the side of the road to get down to some more serious negotiation, which ends up - if I understood him correctly - that if he gets me to the lodge and drops me off there the fee will be twenty five dollars, but that if he can’t find the lodge, or has to take me back to Maseru, the fee will still be twenty five dollars, about what a two dollar fare paid by each passenger would total from Maseru to Roma with the van filled to capacity.  Fine.
          Ah yes, the Trading Post Lodge, just as Lonely Planet had said it would be, with a lovely clean cottage, hot water, breakfast, no other guests I see, and a fabulous dinner of fresh salad, mashed squash, baked ziti with cheese and vegetables, and some chocolate pudding that I could taste the rich bittersweet cocoa in, all for under 50$ per night, bring my total costs for this day in Africa to something like seventy-five dollars, plus a five dollar tip for the guide I used later in the day to help me find what at least looked like dinosaur prints about an hour hike into the hills, two dollars for the beer I treated myself to, a dollar for the Coke I bought the guide, and about three or four dollars that I handed out in coins to cute kids and pathetic looking old women who held out their hands to me as I walked by or who chased after me as I wandered in their hills, oh and a quarter to the Rasta man smoking the ganga outside a totally darkened hut I went into with dozens of people wearing woolen blankets and hats crowded inside drinking home brew, listening to reggae music, and dancing on the earthen floor.
          And in these and other ways Lesotho is magical: its lowest sea level elevation the highest in the world at about 4,000 feet, higher than Nepal or Switzerland, its virtually impenetrable mountains that made for its long-standing independence and relative isolation, its people, restrained but friendly, and stone houses and vistas unlike anything I have ever seen … anywhere.  Oh, and dinosaur footprints.