:: our new mountain home ::

So Lesotho is the Mountain Kingdom, but Quito is a truly mountainous city.  We are now in our new home nestled amongst the mountains and volcanos of the Andes just a hop, skip and jump from the Equator.  Quito is a city of two million people packed into a valley 9000 feet above sea level and in the shadow of the semi-active volcano Pichincha.

To say the views are amazing is a serious understatement.  When it is clear you can see towering peaks both very close and more than 50 kilometres away.  When the clouds roll in, you catch glimpses of mountainsides affected by ever changing light conditions.  And then sometimes it is just solid cloud and you can feel as if there aren’t any mountains at all.

Cotopaxi Volcano is about 50km to the south but has a prominant place on the horizon on a clear day.  This is the same volcano that threatened to erupt last year, and experts say it is still overdue. 

We have been lucky in that our house was ready for us and most of our belongings from Lesotho arrived a week after we did, so we are already mostly settled into our home.  All we need are a few things coming from DC and the chance to hang pictures and other art on our expansive white walls.  And once our car arrives we will truly be free to explore this captivating landscape.  We have acclimated to the elevation so now it is time to start hiking up ancient volcanos, exploring little market towns and making plans to visit the Galapagos Islands and further afield.

Two years will be gone in a flash and there is much to explore.  Stay tuned for more photos and stories of our adventures in Ecuador!

:: cherry blossoms ::

It would be unheard of to live in DC and miss the annual cherry blossoms, so we took advantage of our training time in the area and went on a gray and blustery day.  The blossoms were not as bright and vividly stunning as we had hoped, but it was still a beautiful and worthwhile sight to behold.

These trees, a focal point for hordes of tourists every year, started as a goodwill gesture from the mayor of Toyko in 1912.  Since then the trees have flourished around the Tidal Basin, and other locations, giving DC a splash of wonderful soft pinks and whites every spring…

 

:: adding an adventurer ::

For so long we have been a family of three – two humans and a dog.  Both with Guinness, and now with Mosa, we have ventured out into the world to see what we could climb, swim, hike and explore. We have always been happy as a trio, but now, we are ecstatic to be a quartet!

Piper, our new little human adventurer, joined and enriched our troupe on September 29th and is already creating new adventures for us.  We had hoped she would be born in Africa, but even though her birth certificate is from Virginia, she will always be our little Mosotho girl – our Moeti.

It is daunting, exciting, exhausting and invigorating to think of what we can help her to see and experience over her life.  She already seems rather curious and calms down when we step outside, so I guess she definitely inherited some of our traits!

Here is to a lifetime of adventure sweetie – hold tight and we will go out into the world together!

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:: notes from lesotho ::

We love to spread the news about how wonderful Lesotho is.  Thanks to the wonderful network of Foreign Service bloggers, we were able to do just that.  Ania at The New Diplomat’s Wife blog has a great little side feature called Notes from the Field in which she highlights a different post around the world every so often.

Cora reached out about featuring Maseru and Lesotho, and Ania was more than happy to give us a slot.  It was great to be able to write about this fantastic place that we love so much and hopefully help other people, both in and out of the Foreign Service, to learn a little more about this hidden gem!

Check out our feature on her blog here: http://www.thenewdiplomatswife.com/2015/10/notes-from-the-field-maseru-lesotho.html

:: sala hantle lesotho ::

Two years.  They can pass in an instant.  It is nearly impossible to sum up our time in Lesotho.  It has been amazing in so many ways – the friends we have made, the places we have seen, the challenges we have faced.  It is crazy to think back to that Friday afternoon two plus years ago and how receiving a little flag with a hat on it has changed our lives forever!

People always ask us what it was like to live in Lesotho and we can’t answer without smiling.  Here is a country of striking natural beauty, with mountains, rivers, harvested fields, gorges and waterfalls that you could spend a lifetime wandering over, through and beneath.  The people are open and warm, a ready smile as soon as you say ‘Lumela’.  It was a place we easily called home for two years – a place we could have stayed much longer.

Though Lesotho is a place of majestic beauty, it is also sadly a country of equally great challenges.  HIV/AIDS and TB is rampant.  Poverty is endemic.  Education is massively underfunded and supported.  And political divisiveness threatens to tear the country apart.  Sometimes the basic functionalities of government and civil society seem to be a herculean task.  Even leaving the country has its own challenges with an enormous amount of inconsistency and conflicting relations with its surrounding neighbour.

It is frustrating to see the unfulfilled promise of a country and a people, especially when you know that they have so much to offer.  Lesotho could easily be an eco-tourism hot spot, which in turn could bring in much needed income to its population.  There are already success stories, like Maliba Lodge, Malealea Lodge, Semonkong Lodge and Afri-Ski.  There could be dozens more with the natural beauty of Sethlabethebe National Park, Katse Dam and Sani Pass just to name a few.  It will take a major change of mentality and that is always a grand challenge.  Still, we remain hopeful that others will find this country and with that, new opportunities can be created to help to improve the lives of the Basotho.

For us, it was a brave new world.  Our first assignment in the U.S. Foreign Service.  Our first experiences in sub-Saharan Africa.  Our first time living in a developing country.  We knew our lives would change, but in what wonderful and weird ways, we never could have guessed.

Firstly, we travelled.  Both of us, but especially Cora, travelled all over Lesotho.  There are few people, either Basotho or foreigners, who have seen more of Lesotho than Cora.  For her job she was able to visit communities so far remote that she and her colleague Hopolang sometimes had to take horses or walk for an hour or two to complete the visit.  That would be after a similar length of time bumping and jostling over the ever diminishing dirt tracks in a 4×4 vehicle.  No matter where you went, whether close to home or across to the opposite border, this country has never stopped offering viewpoints that will simply leave you speechless.  I know we have described some of these sites in other blog entries, but truly, it is hard to properly explain what it is like to travel around this country.

We met amazing people here.  So many have left large imprints on our hearts and spirits.  Some are like us, nomads out exploring the world and fortunate to have backgrounds and opportunities to do so.  Others are permanently at home in Lesotho so we will have to remain connected through electronic means and keep the firmly held belief that we will once more see each other in some future time.  People make an experience truly magical and that was certainly true for us in Lesotho.  Rea leboha especially to our Basotho friends and colleagues who connected with us and showed us amazing patience, love and interest.  You all know who you are.

Professionally this was an amazing first tour.  Though it was more limited for Cora, in that she wasn’t able to formally use her skills as an Intercultural Consultant, she was able to work in an extremely fulfilling job that allowed her to support a lifeline of funding and empathy for Basotho.  For me, it is hard to imagine a location and job that would have offered me more opportunities than I had here the past two years.  My role as the General Services Officer (GSO) allowed me to experience so many different facets of U.S. Embassy functions and I learned and developed a tremendous amount.  The challenges were great, and nearly constant, but the lessons I have learned and skills I have acquired will serve me well for years to come in this career.

We could write an entire book about Lesotho and the emotions it stirs in us, but ultimately we fear that anything we write will leave out a key component of our lives here and truly will not do this wonderful place the justice it deserves.  For this, we will simply say that if you can find your way to Lesotho, do so, and you will not be disappointed.  Until you do, come and visit Lesotho virtually through our gallery: http://www.pbase.com/malinakphotography/lesotho

Rea leboha ha holo dear mountain kingdom and Basotho people.  We will miss you dearly and hold the memories we have from here forever in our hearts.  Not least of all, we carry with us the most beautiful tangible memories of Lesotho through our gorgeous Mosa girl and little Moeti to be.

We know that we will return.  No doubt in our mind, we will return.

In the meantime… Khotso, Pula, Nala!

 

*Note*: For those of you following our blog through email, first of all thank you.  Secondly, apologies for these recent posts which seem a bit out or order, and late.  We are finally catching up on all of our posts and are backdating older ones so please bear with us… More soon on our current adventures!

:: visions of lesotho ::

Lesotho is truly a special place for us, somewhere that will always be a part of our heart and soul.  This tiny little mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa is full of magical moments – majestic landscapes, warm people, bucolic scenes and hidden gems.  After two years, the time has come to finally say goodbye, but we will forever hold dear the many visions of Lesotho we had.

We know we will be back, and we hope others will find their way to this wonderful little mountain kingdom.  For now, we leave you with just a few of the wonderful visions we experienced in this mostly undiscovered and underestimated Kingdom in the Sky: http://www.pbase.com/malinakphotography/lesotho.

Stay tuned for a more detailed post soon which attempts to encapsulate our time in Lesotho in words…

:: island getaway ::

Sometimes you just have to go to the beach and get away from it all.  Of course we aren’t very sit in the sun all day type of people, so our beach holiday destination still had mountains to hike, fish to snorkel with, local markets to explore and very limited time on the beach!

With massive changes on the horizon for us, we decided to abscond from the ever shorter, colder days in Maseru and head to the island nation of Mauritius.  Situated in the Indian Ocean, about 1000 kilometres east of Madagascar, the island is almost completely ringed by coral reefs.  Its history is long and complex, giving rise to English as the official language in Parliament, French as the de facto language and Hinduism as its most common religion.  It is a colourful country, small enough to visit just about everywhere in two weeks, but enchanting enough to make you want to stay a lifetime!

It is hard to describe the variety of such a small place.  Driving out along the southern coast, the road slices through sugar cane fields that tower over the top of your car.  Here the sea and coastline are a little fiercer than elsewhere, due to the limited reef system and influence of the Southern Ocean.  If you head south from Mauritius there is nothing until Antarctica.  Elsewhere on the island’s coast, calm bays and coves sparkle with turquoise waters, perfect for snorkelling.  And then there is the mountainous interior, with deep gorges and waterfalls tumbling into the forest below.

It isn’t just the natural beauty either.  From the bustling central market in Port Louis to the simple food and vegetable markets in the small towns and villages, there is life and colour everywhere.  Hindu shrines and small churches are nestled down alleyways hemmed in by rock walls.  There is a peaceful reverie about the island, but also an undercurrent of energy long cultivated through the trade routes of the Indian Ocean.

Mauritius is home to quite a few artisanal merchants including the Mauritius Glass Gallery.  There we watched them make little glass penguins (a favourite of Cora’s), bowls, glasses and all sorts of other objects.  The teams worked amazingly quickly, yet each worker had a certain artistic flair and unique style.  It was mesmerising to watch the molten liquid be formed and shaped with relative ease by these skilled artisans, and the end products were stunning.

Meanwhile, set on the coffee and sugar cane covered slopes in between the stunning Le Morne Peninsula and the Black River Gorge, the Rhumerie de Chamarel offers wonderfully produced rums in a tranquil setting.  Feeling more like a hacienda with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop, it was a relaxing place to try a few rums and learn more about their process from growing the sugar cane to bottling – all done within a few hundred metres of the main tasting room.  Much like the glass company, a few samples may very well have wound up in our luggage home!

Mauritus is truly an island that can give a traveller the most luxurious, cloistered stay if they desire.  Yet there are little gems to be found everywhere if one is willing to explore a little, like magical late afternoon light filtering through a quiet grove of trees situated atop thirty metre high cliffs on the south coast.  Or the tunnel-esque trail in Black Gorges National Park that occasionally opened up to views over much of the western side of the island.  Being who we are, we explored what we could.

We snorkelled in Blue Bay Marine Reserve in the southeast coast and swam amongst wonderful schools of fish and calm, peaceful waters.  We took a catamaran trip that treated us to wonderfully unique coral outcroppings, a plenty of dolphin sightings and a lovely Mauritian lunch aboard.  We also were able to snorkel right next to the coral wall, which offered another fine array of fish.  Unfortunately our underwater camera died so regrettably we don’t have any photos of these lovely local underwater wonders.

Though we used our rental car to get around the island quite a bit, we also took advantage of the bikes available at our resort and went on a guided bike ride with one of the staff up through the sugar cane fields and into the nearest little village for their Tuesday morning market.  It was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the different kinds of sugar cane and to sample wonderful local street food and Mauritian spices.

Not far from Chamarel is the rather unique little tourist site of the Seven Coloured Earths.  Here a patch of exposed earth is coloured like a rainbow, or tie-dyed shirt.  Due to the chemicals present in this one random spot, the colours occur completely naturally and do not seem to fade through rain or sun.  The colours are a completely natural phenomenon, created as basaltic lava was converted to clay minerals.  Nothing grows here in this small patch of coloured earth so what remains is a unique corner of coloured earth that often features in popular nature and photography magazines.

On a cloudy, rainy day we drove through the heart of the island, up past the enormous Hindu shrine and holy lake of Ganga Talao and on towards the more populated northwestern part of the island.  We made it to the capital of Port Louis, and wandered around the central market, sampling more street food.  Though certainly not as busy as many world capitals, it was still wholly refreshing to depart and head back down along the coast and towards our home away from home.

The resort we stayed at was a special treat, a kind of splurge before our little one comes into our lives.  Spoilt with amazing meals, luxurious pools, a secluded beach front and water and land sports, we could have easily stayed on the grounds all week.  We had a room as far away from the main reception and restaurant buildings as possible and the walks along the winding pathways were unhurried and perfect for spotting lizards, birds or new flowers.  Swimming under the towering palm trees to the edge of the main pool you could throw your arms up onto the ledge and look out at the waves crashing on the reef wall.  An herb and vegetable garden was used to provide daily speicalties in the restaurant and a small ‘rum shack’ sat off on its own, perfect for a pre-dinner drink.

The flora and fauna on the grounds, and the island in general, were particularly were stunning.  Flowers grew in all shapes and sizes.  The moisture rich environment let trees grow tall and leaves broad.  And then there were small surprises, like the tiny fern leaves that would crumple up when touched.  Birds and lizards were always prevalent and even a monkey or two could be glimpsed in the trees.

At the end of each day we were treated to a different and often dramatic sunset, with the light across the bay and over the distant mountains changing dramatically and filtered through the ocean’s spray.  It was always the perfect way to relax in the late afternoon.

We didn’t really know exactly what to expect from this holiday, but it was truly magical and the perfect way to re-charge, re-connect and prepare for the massive changes ahead with our little moeti on the way.  Thanks Mauritius for the perfect little island adventure and escape!