Lesotho’s lowest elevation point is at about 1400 meters above sea level making it the highest country in the world. Besides this cool fun fact, that is not the only reason you should visit this country. The people in Lesotho are some of the warmest and their landscape some of the most jaw-dropping. If you love photography or culture exchange, you are definitely in for a treat!
My trip started in the Amphitheatre Backpackers hostel. The hostel is one of the best I’ve stayed while in South Africa. In Amphitheatre Backpackers, Karen and myself booked our trip to Lesotho for 690 South African Rands ($69 CAD).
We started the tour by driving towards the high up the mountain South Africa-Lesotho border crossing. The Lesotho customs office is quite funny because it is just a small portable building with the customs officers looking like friendly teenagers as oppose to menacing government officials. Regardless, it was still an official border crossing and we got our stamp for entering the country.
As we drove through dirt roads, we arrive at a local school house. We sat in the classroom and became students for a day. Shortly after, the local school teacher came in the room and began educating us about the country. We learned that Amphitheatre Backpackers is helping fund the school by donating part of their profits. The Basotho (the name of the Lesotho people) school children often times have no problem finishing elementary school, it is high school that they have troubles completing.
Elementary schools and colleges are free but high school is not. The cost of going to high school is quite expensive. Furthermore, the distance the school age children have to walk to reach the high school is very far (taking up to 2 hours walk each way). Most Basotho families simply cannot afford to send their kids to high school. Finishing high school means getting better education. With higher education, the Basotho people are able to get better paying job. Since the country is currently struggling with poverty, increasing the number of high school graduates will help alleviate this problem as people become skilled workers.
Hiking and Storytelling
After hanging out in the classroom, the school teacher sold some trinkets to some of the tourist. The money earned helps to pay for maintaining the school.
After the quick sale session, our tour guide took us for a hike through the village with the goal of visiting areas with rock art and paintings.
The first thing I noticed is how raw and untouched this remote Lesotho village is. I don’t think they have electricity at all in this place and everyone seems happy and content to live a simple life. As we walked through the village, we saw the locals tending to their livestock or working on the farm.
We then reached our destination where our tour guide sat us all down and began telling us tales of how the Basotho people came to this land.
Story time in Lesotho
Apparently, the Basotho people used to be nomadic back in the days. It wasn’t until the start of the European colonization that the locals also started settling in the land. Among the paintings contain stories of former nomads inhabiting Lesotho.
The life story of the local medicine man
After trekking back to the elementary school, our tour guide loaded us back in the van and took us to the home of the local medicine man. The healer welcomed us in his home. We then proceeded to sit in a circle around him as he told us his life story.
The Basotho medicine man would speak in his native tongue and our tourist guide would translate for him. Despite the medicine man being able to understand English, he is unable to speak the language.
Medicine man’s (or woman) in Lesotho are formally called Sangoma’s. We also learned that not everyone came become one, they must be chosen by their ancestors. Their ancestor would enter their dream and give them a sign to start their journey.
Part of the ritual to become a Sangoma requires sacrificing a goat. Our Sangoma host said that in order for him to afford buying a goat, he had to travel to Johannesburg to find work to earn money.
He said his journey wasn’t easy and he had to travel to Johannesburg twice. The first time he tried, he was unable to find a job and had to live off dustpans for food. He luckily found a two-day job which earned him enough money to travel back home. After recovering, he once again travelled back to Johannesburg where he finally got a job and earned enough money to buy a goat.
Since then, he formally became a Sangoma and has since practiced being a healer. Apparently, just by looking at you, he knows what kind of ailments you have. He did mention that he is unable to cure everything and you should still seek a doctor if the treatment is outside his ability.
Eating local Basotho cuisine in the elementary school teacher’s home
After our story time with the Sangoma, we took pictures with him and his family. Soon after, we proceeded to the elementary school teacher’s house where he introduced us to his son (a child who’s no older than 2 years old).
He then gave us a sample of their local cuisine consisting of spinach and maize. To me, the food tasted pretty bland but Karen really liked it. Apparently, they eat this food everyday and only once a week do they get a chance to eat meat.
Soon after, we wrapped up our tour and headed back to Amphitheatre Backpackers.
Visiting the remote Lesotho village and doing the cultural exchange was quite an amazing authentic experience. Learning about the culture of the Basotho people was an eye opening experience. I very much recommend everyone visit this amazing country if learning more about other cultures or photography is something that fascinates you.