Friday, June 13, 2008

African Adventure: Lesotho and the continuing saga of the Landy (Dec 14-19)

Current location: Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Highlights: Attacked by women with painted faces (or so we thought!), fantastic Lesotho pics and video, stranded in the Free State as the Liemer Landy Saga continues with gearbox problems, and we've decorated the Landy for Christmas.

Let me backtrack a little and tell you how we ended up in this little village, where, because of dangerous herd boys, we had to camp in the cow pasture. We continued on our way deeper into the SE corner of Lesotho along some more terrible roads, but the spectacular mountain scenery was breathtaking. As I mentioned several times, the AA map of Lesotho didn't show many of the tracks or roads so we had to stop often to ask which of the forks in the road we must take. Usually the person we asked didn't speak
any English, but they fetched someone who spoke English to help us out. In one village overlooking the Orange River, a very jolly and happy woman who spoke perfect English come to our rescue as the map was way off. Apparently we needed to go down into valley, cross a small tributary of the much larger
Orange River, follow that tributary, and then ascend a high mountain pass (to which she pointed in the distance mountains), and then descend the other side. Just as she was giving us directions, a taxi pulled up into the village. The taxis are the only mode of transport for virtually all of the Basotho in this part of Lesotho. They are invariably older Toyota 4x4 diesel pickups (bakkies as they call them here) into which they pack in the people both back and front. She told us to follow the taxi. I went up to the taxi
driver to ask if he minded, not at all he said in good English, while the woman sitting next to him who was breast feeding a small infant smiled. So off we went! The steep descent into the valley was fun and we could see the river crossing. It looked like another Toyota taxi was stuck in the river and a group of about 20 people was gathered close to the bank. As we got to the river, we could just make out that about 10 women in the group were decorated in elaborate cloths and headgear. All of a sudden, two women
broke off from the group and ran towards us slapping their thighs; we could now see that their completely blunt and expressionless faces were painted white and their head ornamentation stuck up high. Aaron and I were both more than freaked out at this. What had we disturbed? Should we drive off fast and find an alternate route? Were they collecting a toll for crossing the river? As they reached Aaron's closed window, they stood next to each other, with eyes facing down and faces painted a spooky white, and held out
their hands. The taxi driver shouted, don't be frightened; give them something, some sweeties or no more than one Rand. So we gave them one Rand, got out and asked to take some pictures. They didn't understand the words, but understood the gestures with the cameras and immediately the
whole group ran up to us, stood dead still in a line, and looked only down to the ground. We took some pictures and they went back to their spot and started dancing again. This was a very bizarre experience and also a very rewarding one. The taxi that looked stuck in the river was actually parked there as the owners were giving it a wash! So off we headed to the mountain pass. This was really a spectacular drive, very steep; some mud as you traversed the high mountain bowl. I use the word bowl, because it was just
like a ski bowl and we going to drive right up to its top and over the other side along switch backs that got shorter as the bowl got narrower at the top. When we reached the top another Toyota taxi was parked there along with the taxi we followed. They were having some kind of problems with the rear wheels. This was such a great spot that we decided to make a cup of tea and savor the moment, so off I went to collect some water (dripping down off of rocks) to make tea. We could see the village of Sehlabathebe down
the other side so the taxi left and escorted the semi-functional Toyota with wheel problems. We caught up with the taxi and damaged Toyota almost at the bottom of the pass. The rear wheel bearing in the Toyota had completely disintegrated and they were busily trying to remove the rear hub assembly to
take it somewhere for repair. They didn't have any many tools so we gladly helped out and gave them whatever tools they needed from our well-stocked toolbox. They removed the hub and left the vehicle supported by a jack in the care of a local herdsman. I have no idea where they will get it repaired and there was certainly no source of spares in this part of Lesotho. So off we went again. This is the end of the backtrack as we now ended up in the village I told you about in the last diary entry and which I
mention below.

After we left our cow pasture campsite in the Basotho village in SE Lesotho and headed for the Ramatselitso border control gate for entry back into South Africa along the nice cattle track. Just before leaving however, we spent some time chatting with several of the village teenagers. They had
not seen a white person for about a month, and that person was from the church, not a tourist. I felt quite good about this as we had already explored, albeit by accident, a fairly isolated part of Africa not terribly
exposed to white tourists. To put this into perspective, along every stretch of populated Lesotho road, the kids and often adults shouted, "give me sweeties", even in this remote part of Lesotho. Obviously the tourists that usually pass give out sweets to the villagers and they have become conditioned to ask for them. For most, even 4 year olds, it's the only words they know in English. However, in this village, none of the kids asked for sweeties, a sure sign of tourist absence. The early morning light was great to capture everyday Basotho life on film, small children riding horses bareback after struggling to mount the animal, herding sheep, women fetching water from the stream in large buckets then carrying them back to
their round stone huts on their heads, one child giving another a haircut with sheep shearing shears, and everything about a very peaceful and relaxed life style completely distant from the hum drum and often crazy life in a modern city.

When we hit Sehlabathebe on our way to the border gate, we passed two older women in a field making uniformly sized cow pat patties from a huge pile of cow poop. They were happy for us to take pictures. The Basotho use dried cow poop for building (as cement and as a plaster on walls) and for cooking.
These women were making the patties to use to fire up an oven to bake bread after the patties had dried in the sun.

We were both apprehensive about the border crossing back into South Africa as we did not have the re-entry permits, only the receipts showing we had paid R270 for them (see previous diary entry for details) and they might turn us back. The border guard was very nice. We gave him the receipts and told him what they said at the Dept of Home Affairs had told us. He read them, gave them back and asked if we wanted another VISA and for how long did we want the VISA. Great! No problems at all, although the R270 we paid for re-entry permits were a waste. I am not sure who was wrong here, the border guard for giving us new VISAS or the people at the Dept of Home Affairs.

We drove that day to the town of MaClear in South Africa along some of South Africa's rural and quite nasty wash-boarded roads and found a great campsite for only R25 a night. It was weird to be back in even a small but modern town with banks and cash machines after Lesotho. The next day we drove to
Bloemfontein where we would try and get the gearbox repaired and do some other work on the Landy. Thankfully I have some really nice friends in Bloemfontein. Andre is a total old car buff and knows just about every auto repair and fix-it place in the city. We arrived on Wednesday and ideally we
wanted to try and get the gearbox fixed on the Thursday and Friday, but that was not to be. Thursday was a public holiday and everywhere was closed. On Friday we found a gearbox shop that knew Landy gearboxes. They took a look at the box through a top cover plate while it was still in the vehicle after
I removed the floor panels. The selector fork was worn so he welded it up and replaced it. We test drove it, but it still popped out of first gear while using the engine as a brake upon steep descents. They said they would need to pull the gearbox now which was a long job but obtaining the parts might be a problem. So we resigned to the fact that we would be in Bloemfontein until at least Monday or Tuesday (today in Sunday). The worst case scenario is that first gear and some bushes will need replacing which
will cost a hefty R3500 for the parts alone. Now remember, Leimer has pulled this gearbox at least 3 times. The very last time he said that it had been completely rebuilt with all new parts and that it was 100%. Once
again, I have had to pay hefty sums of money to have someone else fix Liemer's terrible workmanship. The best case scenario is that it's a R250 bush that needs replacing.

Let me just mention the story with the shocks, but I won't go into too many details. I wanted to replace the shocks with something a little better suited to off road use. I didn't have the $$ for something like OME shocks or similar gas shocks, so bought some Gabriel safari shocks. We fitted the rear shocks in Jo'berg the day we left and gave the old rear shocks back to Liemer via one of this employees who lives in Jo'berg as he said he would give me R200 back for these shocks (although over a week later, he had yet to deposit this money into my bank account). We could fit the front ones however because they were too short! The front springs have such a large bow (great for ground clearance) that the Gabriel shocks, which are for some
reason shorter than the standard Rover shocks, are about 10 mm off full extension when the vehicle is just sitting normally. We managed to try another Gabriel shock (while in Pietermaritzberg) that has longer travel,
but thankfully I noticed that if I left these shocks on, the brake hoses would have been too short and snapped at full extension! Without going into details, I got the shorter shocks back and thought I would try to get some longer brake lines made up in Bloemfontein, and fit the longer shocks again. We ended up getting 20 mm length of brake line hose made up to length the existing hoses to give the extra travel, but then could not locate the longer shocks here. We ended up at the main TMS distribution center and met
a fantastic guy called Brian. They also did not have the shocks, but he located some in Jo'berg and put in an emergency request to have them shipped to us down here for Monday or Tuesday, all without charge. Thanks Brian!

So that's were we are at right now. We are staying at the Naval Hill backpackers which is real nice, just camping in the parking lots for R25 each per night, and have been invited to Andre and Margies house each night for dinner. Thanks so much Andre and Margie for helping us out with getting the Landy fixed and feeding us! You guys are GREAT!

I have asked the web site guys to put some of the pictures we took in Lesotho on the South Africa page (which you will find by clicking on OVERVIEW, and then ROUTE, and then SOUTH AFRICA), but have also posted some below. I have also asked them to add a video clip we just edited of some of things we saw in Lesotho. These should be on the video page.

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