The Highest Country in the World – Exploring Clarens

Like many South African towns, this lovely Californian style open plan town had originally been for whites only.  The servants and workers, the black community, had been crammed together in a little township down the hill.  Despite the breakdown of Apartheid, it is the black population who are predominantly poorer than the whites, and still the divisions where people have to live remain.  From our deck that evening, we could see the lights coming on in the villas around us, and people relaxing in large open plan houses watching TV, drinking , having parties.  While, from down the hill, the smoke rose from the hundreds of open cooking fires, the chickens clucked or crowed, the children cried or screamed.  That was not the only contrast, there was one between the sterility of suburban streets and the sounds of chatter, laughter and even singing that showed a stronger sense of shared community down the hill.

I can’t lie in when on holiday – I do not want to waste any of the time doing things I could easily do at home, so next morning I was up early and making myself a coffee.  The others too were early risers and we discussed our plans for the day.  We needn’t be back in Maseru till late afternoon but not worth chancing driving on Lesotho’s roads in the dark.  I might take a chance on the big wide empty roads on this side of the border, but in Lesotho you never knew which chicken, goat, pothole, kid, bus would jump out at you at any moment.

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Sunrise as good as sunset

Becky was after some pampering and had had a Clarens’ masseur recommended to her by a friend in Maseru.  She set up an appointment for mid morning.  We had a couple of hours to kill so we all agreed to treat ourselves to a lazy brunch.

We walked into town – barely a half kilometre away.  The centre town was set out grid iron style with low density plots all around, almost all single storey.  The wide roads with equally wide verges were shaded with pines and jacaranda trees.  Clarens had become an escape for wealthy Johannesburgians and Pretorians.  They would hack down here on a Friday evening and spend the weekend either soaking up the numerous antique shops and cafes, or getting involved with some extreme sport or other.  In the centre, the Main Street opened up into a wide grassy square dotted with manicured shrubs.  If you have ever been to one of those Northern Californian small towns  this was a mirror image;’ bohemian in a way, very neat and tidy, people living easily and laid back.  This was not the image of the Free State that I had.  I saw it as a rather strict community, Lutheran at its heart, and living a simple life that was of its own making and not swayed by outside influences.  But here in Clarens was the most remarkable resort town; definitely something for everyone.

We settled down in the garden of a cafe, a pergola covered in climbing roses and bougainvillea giving us a dappled shade, but with enough sun shining through to make us smile, and we ordered the major brunch experience. Loads of juice and cantaloupe, Eggs Benedict and toast and croissants with fresh butter and jams, all washed down with copious freshly ground coffee.  Considering some of my African breakfasts (cold beans, white bread straight from the loaf), this was enlighteningly sophisticated.

Becky, with a little trepidation, made here excuses to leave for her massage.  Christine and I took a leisurely stroll round town, soaking up the atmosphere and bathing  in the intense sunlight.  When we met up again with Becky, we saw a different woman.  I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so relaxed.  She said she had been pummelled and pushed and slapped, but the effect had reorganised her body into the right shape, and placed a massive grin on her face.  It was a bit of a pity there were no more slots in the masseur’s schedule for Christine and I to get the same experience.

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