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How about a drinkette?- Part 4



For the last instalment of this piece, apart from continuing to have fun, I’m putting on my tourist guide hat. I have visited Golden Gate at least four times. This is just across from the northern border of Lesotho, in the Free State. The huge sandstone formation that gives the place its name is spectacular, especially under the setting sun, when it glows radiant gold (to paraphrase Alan Paton, “ah, but your continent is beautiful!”) There are scenic drives with look-out spots from which you can spot rare eagles and vultures. There are baboons — though don’t try to get close to them, and don’t feed them, as this encourages them to behave like the Artful Dodger (and one of these weeks I’m going to reveal in this column my absolute love of Dickens, who created the Dodger). From one look-out spot you can get the best view available of Mont-aux-Sources, the highest peak in Lesotho (or one of the highest; as I grow older, my data are getting dodgy). The first time I stayed at the Golden Gate hotel (right opposite the sandstone Gate) I was with a visiting British friend, Margaret. Since then the hotel has been taken over by the Protea group and has become much smarter. We arrived after a long drive from Mafikeng and went straight to the bar. This was small and incredibly dark and all around the walls were hunters’ trophies — stuffed animal heads. The barman was elderly and looked as if he’d just come from a funeral, possibly his own. The ice bucket for our wine turned out to be full of warm water, with a dead cockroach floating in it. There was a dinner menu, but it was too dark in the bar to read it. Margaret and I started to giggle —surreptitiously, of course — at which the point the barman let out a great groan. Margaret turned to me and whispered: “one thing I’ll say about you, Chris, you know how to take a girl to fun-filled places.” That finished me off. Back to Golden Gate in a bit, but first to Lesotho, as it’s just across the border. Once I took a few days holiday to Katse Dam with my taxi driver friend Tšepang Leuta (lumela, Tšepang!) We stayed overnight on the way at a guest-house in Pitseng, which gave us the opportunity to visit a favourite bar of mine, called London. This is attached to a garage and riotously lively: great fun. At the guest-house we had lovely Indian food and delicious home-made buttermilk (you see, not all my favourite drinks are alcoholic) and we made friends with a couple of young female American tourists, who weren’t going to be staying in Katse, but said they’d meet us at the hotel there the next day. They found us, oddly enough, in the terrace bar at the hotel, overlooking the dam lake, where you can fish for superb Lesotho mountain trout and yellowtail and where I believe you can go water-skiing. The next couple of days Tšepang and I did tourist, in between drinks at the bar and endless rounds of the card game Casino (with an off-duty barman who turned out to be a former student of mine: cue for heartless jokes about the nature and quality of my lectures). Things to do at Katse. There’s a great guided tour of the dam, including a talk on how the thing works, delivered (on that occasion) by a bright-as-a-button female NUL science graduate), and a breathtaking walk along a gallery facing the dam’s inner wall. We also got the low-down on how little the Republic pays for the billions of gallons of water that Lesotho pumps to it to keep the Free State and Johannesburg viable. This is a scandal that must be addressed. But saying that reminds me of the poet e.e. cummings’ observation “a politician is an arse upon which no man has ever sat.” In Katse there is also the botanical garden, which collects indigenous Lesotho transalpine plants (an incredible range of little beauties) and which has a nice tea-room at the top. And finally back to Golden Gate. I did two research trips there with one of my junior colleagues, Lerato Masiea (lumela, Lerato!), the first when we were working on Mopeli-Paulus, the second for work towards the Translating Mofolo book. Both times we were interviewing people who lived in Phudithatchaba, but I didn’t want to stay there, and our interviewees, Chieftain Mopeli-Paulus and Njabulo Mabuso, were quite happy to drive down to work with us at Golden Gate, with petrol money, lunch and drinks laid on. At our first dinner, the evening before we started work, so it was just the two of us, Lerato had a soft drink and then a lager and I had Graca, a nice Portuguese vinho verde or “green wine” (actually a dry white). I kept asking Lerato if he’d like to try some and he said no, he’d never cared for wine. But eventually he took a sip and said “mmm.” Then he took another sip and said “mmmm.” Then he asked if we could have another bottle. That’s my kinda guy. Chris Dunton

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