Favorite Study Abroad Memories – South Africa (Post 2 in a series of 3)

It has been rather hard for me to determine what was my favorite memory from my time in South Africa in 2010. This doesn’t really come as a surprise, as I spent 22 weeks there – or just about five and a half months.

To just share some highlights from that experience, I: lived on the other side of the world from family and friends for 22 weeks; visited penguins in the natural habitat on a beach; saw a monkey walking on my college campus; discovered my love for Savannah and Hunters ciders, Tex and Aero mint chocolates, and Appletiser drinks; played with and pet lion cubs; spent a weekend in Lesotho, after riding up and down mountain sides in both cars and horses; was on top of a World Cup 2010 stadium (on the last day it was open before the World Cup started); visited the southwestern most point of the African continent; had a tribal doctor as a professor who predicted his own death; introduced Mexican food to my African friends; and made memories and grew as a person that will help me for the rest of my life.

… No wonder it has been hard for me to share just one story. But share a story I must – and the one I choose is my visit to Lesotho.

For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting this rural country, located inside of South Africa surrounded by the Drakensburg mountains, Lesotho has about 11,560 square miles with a population of under 2.1 million people. Of its citizens, 40% live under the earnings of $1.25 per day international poverty line.

Perhaps I should back track a little – I wasn’t sure if I was going to go on the weekend adventure to Lesotho. When determining what activities should be done while at the Sani Pass Lodge, it was figured out that groups had to consist of 4 people or more – with our entire group being only 8 people. The two girls I knew the best were planning on doing the 1 day itinerary, with having a free day to explore the area, with two other students. That left me with three girls to do the overnight horseback riding trip for about $250 for the weekend costs. I don’t ride horses often, with the last time before this being three years previously, and I didn’t really know these three other girls that well, who were a click of their own within the American students at University of KwaZulu Natal Pietermaritzburg campus that semester.

After spending the first night as a whole group after our arrival at the Sani Pass Lodge, we divided up as travel groups in the morning – with the four of us girls piling into our vehicle to depart for our drive up the Drakensburg mountains to reach the border checkpoint for Lesotho and South Africa. (At this checkpoint, I also received one of many marriage proposals for while I was in Africa in 2010 – with the border guard actually scaring me a little, as what if he did not let me go back to South Africa the following day? Luckily, he was not at the post when we left Lesotho so I did not need to think of a reason to deny the request.) It was about four hours of bumpy driving on roads that could barely be considered roads before we reached the location inside a valley in Lesotho where we climbed on top of horses (which as a short person – is not an easy feat) that we galloped and rode up and down mountain sides to reach a village, which felt like was in the middle of nowhere.

The village consisted of huts in assorted areas, with animal pens located in various sections around the circle and square-shaped huts. The children swarmed around us girls, who had been joined by four European women also traveling around the area, so we took photos, played games like Ring Around the Rosie, and being shown around the village. This village, like many others in Lesotho, rarely sees white people and has no electricity. It was interesting to see how the women cooked, while people used traditional torches as well as modern flashlights to get around the area after dark.

Being at least 3,000 feet higher than where I spent most of my time in South Africa, it was very cold at night. But the stars – oh, the stars! I have never felt like I’ve been a part of the sky before – seeing stars literally everywhere and which such brightness! The stars almost lit up the darkness outside, enabling most of the locals to be able to move just by them – except for avoiding the occasional hole or animal hanging around. Unfortunately for outsiders to the area, the stars were not bright enough, nor was one flashlight for four people, to find the pathway to the toilet (like a porter potty but built out of natural things such as wood walls, etc.). Slightly an embarrassing – but memorable! – moment of my journey in Lesotho is when us four Americans had to go to the bathroom and unable to find the toilet, we went on the side of the hill – just as the locals shown a flashlight and called out to us, making sure we were okay.

The next morning before our departure was spent playing with the children again and participating in a parade that was welcoming a visiting priest to the village. (Priests travel around to churches every couple of months in Lesotho, so this was a big deal.) We then continued to ride on horses back to where our vehicle was to drive back down the mountainside, after getting our departure stamps from the Lesothian border guard. After meeting up with the rest of our American students group at the lodge, we packed up everything to make the drive back to Pietermaritzburg to begin the work week of classes and all that encompasses being a study abroad student.

I know there will be other times where I will travel and feel peace, simplicity and calmness like I felt that weekend in Lesotho. Perhaps I may even find myself visiting there again in the future. It is movements (or weekends) like these, that cause reflections and challenges out of the comfort zone, that I feel help me grow as a person and truly enjoy traveling. I will always cherish my other moments and photos of being in South Africa for so long at that point in my life – but I would also recommend to every traveler to plan a weekend or day where you turn off the cell phone, step away from the computer (and if you feel very adventurous – away from electricity) to appreciate even more what you have.