As we set off to find the bushman paintings, the village men surrounding the gate were severely disappointed we didn’t want a guide. Sure the paintings would have been easier to find with a guide, but what’s the fun in that. Hearing the owners warning not to go into the gorge for fear of disrupting a boy’s coming of age ceremony, we took what we were sure was the right path. Breathtaking scenery, it wasn’t too long before local children started to shout lumela, hello, lumela, at us. Grabbing our hands, the children smiled, asked us to take their picture and got up the courage to ask for sweets. Without sweets, the children were disappointed, but enthralled by our friend’s camera which recorded video. Playing back their dancing and singing, he excited the children so much they didn’t want to let us go. Eventually we made our way into the gorge, our presence being the excitement of the day for children in every village. With only a few words of Sesotho between the four of us, happily navigated our way downstream avoiding every would-be guide along the way.
Seemingly scratching their heads at us, the villages smiled, said “Lodge”, asking if we were coming from Malealea Lodge, and smiled again when we said yes. “Bushman paintings?” we said and thanked whomever pointed the way. Eventually the hands started pointing up the gorge toward the rim. Confused, we let a local sheep hearder, with the same level of English as our Sesotho show us the way. Hoofing it up the hill, he explained in charades that there were 3 paintings and he would take us to all of them. Nodding our heads in agreement, I decided it was time to learn a little Sesotho. Pointing at animals, rocks, huts and trees, I asked our guide their Sesotho names and repeated them in English. We pointed at our chests, the international symbol for “I am” and said our names.
The first two sites were incredible, and we all agreed without our guide we never would have found them. Colored in red, yellow and black, the paintings represented hunting, spiritual life, and even what we thought was an erotic scene or two. We took tons of photographs, tried to determine the faded figures and marveled at the site. We’ve seen petroglyphs before, but there was just something magical about the bushman paintings. Although their style is thousands and thousands of years old, experts put these drawings at less than a thousand years old. The third site, an overhang above the valley, proved the most memorable. Picking up a stick our friend approached the cave painting as though he was going to touch it. Jumping out our guide said what we can only assume was no, don’t touch it! Without touching the painting, our friend had lined up the stick as though he was painting the image. Snapping away, we each took our turns “painting” the bushman designs. Showing our guide the pictures, he laughed and jumped up to take his turn. We could say no more than hello, sheep, donkey and our names in each others language, but we all had a good laugh over our artistry. Waving good bye, we headed back to the lodge still laughing at the thought of the modern Basotho pretending to paint the designs of his ancestors.
Modern Lesotho quickly came into view although I doubt the view is that different than 100 years ago, there was one striking difference. Along the road the school children, in their maroon and gold uniforms danced, sang and ran their way home. Seeing tourists, the children mobbed us, demanding we take their picture and show it to them. Laughing we snapped away as the children acted like they were models in a photo shoot. Recording video of them singing and playing, our friend shared the video with the children, who immediately huddled around him for a better view. Instantly his head disappeared among the sea of children. Giggling, the kids would have been perfectly happy to spend the entire afternoon at the “photo shoot”. We were treated to a lesson on the planets by one girl, and a recital of the numbers one through ten in English by another.
Running into so many villagers on our hike to the paintings made it a real cultural experience not just a hike through a beautiful gorge. For us, after so many negative experiences with children in Latin America aggressively asking and begging for money, playing with these children was a wonderfully different experience.