Guessing my way to Lesotho Part 4
DAY 4: (or Guessing my Way from Lesotho Part 1)
I had a great time in Lesotho and I met some cool people who were able to give me directions for getting back to Pretoria so my trip back to site would be a little less perilous. The consensus was that I should take the 6:00 taxi to the border crossing into Ficksburg where I should be able to make it back into Pretoria on the same day. So I went with that plan. Justin drove me to the taxi rank right about 5:45, but the place was completely empty. There was just one taxi sitting there, which upon closer inspection, had someone sleeping in the driver’s seat. The guy roused himself and told us that the taxi I needed was actually going to depart at 7:00 because it was Saturday. So Justin and I went back to his place and caught another 45 minutes of sleep, but when we returned I got on board and I was on my way shortly. The taxi wouldn’t actually go to the Ficksburg crossing, but it would go to one of two places where I could resume my journey from there.
Like the ride to Katse, the ride out wound around mountains and valleys, but the roads seemed more aggressive. The roads on my journey a week ago were nestled comfortably into the mountain side, while these ones were forcefully carved up and down the mountains, and we passed many signs warning drivers to shift into the lowest gear to avoid careening off the road, and to look out for falling rocks.
We came to a stop at a checkpoint. It was a lonely little place in the middle of the mountains, with some bathrooms and a lady selling candy. The driver asked everyone to get out of the taxi, and then he drove through the checkpoint as we walked through it, and then we got back on again. I’m not sure why we did that but I’m pretty sure it was silly.
The taxi reached its destination and the driver pointed out to me another taxi on the other side of the road that could take me to Ficksburg. As soon as I got off, though, I was pushed into a nearer Ficksburg-bound taxi. I say pushed because it was so sudden, but it wasn’t aggressive, but helpful, as if they wanted to make sure I ended up in the right place.
A short trip later, we were in a busier town and people started steadily getting off the taxi. Just when I thought we must be getting close, the driver pulled into an alley and everyone got off except me.
“Where am I?” I asked the driver. “Which way is it to the border?”
“Over there,” he pointed. It was literally just around the corner from where we had stopped. I might have noticed had I not been focusing on all the crafts people were selling on the side of the road. I almost wanted to buy one of their traditional fighting/sheepherding sticks but I would have had trouble getting it back to site.
I stood in front of the crossing and made a few final calls from my Lesotho number to the people who had helped me along the way. As I did so, I was approached by a couple of strangers whom I expected to ask me for money, but they just wanted to know if I needed help. Basotho have a reputation for being friendly, and as I was about to leave I began to see why. I was told that they’ll still ask you for money, but from my visit, I think that’s just kids.
This crossing was much busier, probably because it was at a better hour, and some guards who weren’t really paying attention stamped my passport and I was good to go. Almost as soon as I set foot back in South Africa, I was the taxi rank on top of a hill. It took maybe three hours for a taxi to Pretoria to fill up, the first two hours of which just had me and three others waiting there. Waiting for transport doesn’t faze me anymore, but it helped that I had a backlog of phone calls and emails and BBMing to catch up on.
As the driver made the traditional stop at a filling station, a woman stood up and said a prayer over the driver’s seat, or maybe it was an exorcism. All I know is that she shouted “The blood of Jesus!” at the top of her lungs a lot.
Now, this day was Saturday, and since the next day was Sunday, that meant that when I got back to Limpopo I would have to catch the 1:00 bus back to my site or I’d be stuck. I began frantically BBMing nearby volunteers asking for a place to stay should it come down to it, and I was about to lose faith in humanity when finally a Tsonga volunteer from the group that arrived after mine said that I could stay with her if I needed because PCVs don’t leave a man behind.
Fast forward a few hours and we’re in Pretoria at taxi rank. It might have been the right one, but it was getting dark and I didn’t recognize it so I stayed on. We kept going north until we reached a busier part of the city, where everyone got off. I didn’t know exactly what I was but I knew it wasn’t where I needed to be going.
“Hey, where are you going next?” I said to the driver.
“Lesotho,” he replied. Brilliant.
I pleaded with him to take me to Hatfield where the backpackers are, but he didn’t really speak English so it was no use. Aided by the Google Maps app, I started walking to the nearest Gautrain station. I probably could have taken another kombi to Hatfield, but dark as it was getting, the Gautrain station seemed like a safer bet than poking around unfamiliar taxis.
So I walked there and was about to get on the train when someone called my name. It was another volunteer who was just returning from a visit to her home in America. I took a seat with her and shared travel stories and made a plan for the next day. We decided to share a metered taxi to the bus station at 4:30 in the morning, her because she had an atrociously early bus for getting back to her site in the Northern Cape, and me because I wanted to do everything possible to catch the aforementioned 1:00 bus. We got some Chinese food and stayed at the cheaper backpackers, which is great for when you don’t have time to eat breakfast and you weren’t planning on getting much sleep anyway.