Joe and I are in Lesotho. We had an exciting day yesterday — here are a few highlights.
It was a five-hour drive from Joburg to Maseru. It was dry and beautiful with lots of cows, windmills, and crazy rock formations. It felt like the American Southwest. We stopped at two interesting places:
1) Makiti, a quirky rest stop/restaurant/lodge/gallery/shop off an exit ramp on the N3 highway, in the middle of South Africa’s Free State. It’s a red adobe dome with giant ant sculptures climbing up the roof and life-size ostrich statues in the yard. Joe says Makiti makes the best biltong in the country but they didn’t have any yesterday.
2) Clarens, a resort town/artist colony on the border of South Africa and Lesotho. We stopped there at lunch time and went to a general store/coffee shop called the Purple Onion. We had coffee, rooibos tea, and something called a “koeksuster.” It’s a plaited piece of dough, shaped like a cruller, which is deep-fried in oil and plunged into an ice-cold sugary syrup. It’s an Afrikaans specialty – the owner of the Purple Onion used to make them in her grandmother’s kitchen. I estimate it contained 94 grams of fat.
Our border crossing was comical and took about an hour and a half. It involved snaking queues of cars, complicated customs declaration forms, overage charges because Joe’s Landrover was too heavy, and a single, kindly, but tortoise-paced immigration agent on the Lesotho side who took his sweet time processing the passports of a long and unruly line of people.
Maseru is the capital of Lesotho. The people of Lesotho are called the Basotho. At the center of town is the Basotho Hat – a thatched-roof building shaped like the conical hats that Basotho people wear. When we got to Maseru we drove straight to the hat because it’s right next door to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, where we had a meeting. I used to work for EGPAF in Washington and Joe and I are doing a project with them here.
Inside the hat is an Indian restaurant called The Regal. We were told that it’s the best restaurant in Meseru so we went there for dinner. I had butter chicken and Joe had a lamb dish (can’t remember what it was). Both were very good. They had a decent wine selection and the naan was fluffy and delicious. We sat on the hat balcony and looked over the city while we ate.
Indian food from The Regal.
The Queen’s Protea
The Queen’s Protea is the hotel where we stayed. We wanted to stay someplace different than the Maseru Sun downtown, which is where everyone normally stays here. The Queen’s Protea is at the top of a hill, at the end of a potholed road. It’s affordable at R600 a night. We walked into the small lobby and met Pumla, the receptionist. Pumla remembered Joe from their phone call a few days ago. “I gave you the BEST room!” announced Pumla, grinning from ear to ear. (Joe has this effect on people. I’m not sure why.)
Our room was indeed spectacular. Huge, with sleek furniture, a luxurious bathroom, and a fantastic king-size bed with high thread-count sheets. It’s the nicest African hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.
Unfortunately I wouldn’t recommend you stay there unless you can tolerate bright lights shining into your window all night and thin walls that magnify every sound outside the room. There was a busload of young, noisy Namibian teachers staying there last night. We didn’t sleep much.
We’re on our way to the Mokhotlong District, a remote area of Lesotho where we’ll be working on a story about Basotho ponies. More on that later.