Lesotho

Written by on December 23, 2012 in Africa, General with 3 Comments

After nearly a week of rain in South Africa, and the forecast predicting rain for the entire following week, I’d had enough!  Especially because I was supposed to be enjoying sunshine on the beach on the Wild Coast for the next week.  Bummer!!!  So, I made a quick game-time decision to head to Lesotho, a country land-locked in the middle of South Africa that actually thrives on rain.  For those of you wondering how I did this, it was easy as I’d purchased a South African sim card and data plan on arrival weeks prior, so was able to make calls and google hostels, tour companies, etc., from my iphone.  Yay for technology!   It wasn’t like I was completely winging it.  I’d contacted Drakensberg Adventures, operating out of the Sani Lodge Backpackers near a town called Underberg, who had responded to tell me that they had a 2 day tour leaving the following morning, which included an overnight stay in a Lesotho village.  Perfect!

After seeing the weather conditions were only getting worse in SA, I made the arrangements with the Baz Bus driver, and stayed on the bus for the next 10 hours through the rain and fog til I hopped off at a town called Kokstad, where I met the taxi that took me the last 80kms to a town called Underberg.  We were finally dropped off after 9pm after a not-pleasant ride up the mountain through a dense fog in a taxi that must have had 500,000+ kms on it and was not quite road-worthy, especially in these conditions.  Anyway, with only a note on a chalkboard to direct me to the dorm room I was staying in that night, I helped myself to a beer in their self-serve fridge to wind down and called it a night.  LONG DAY!   It was a bonus that the $12/night dorm room was actually empty, so it felt more like a single room, which was really nice.  There’s something to be said for being able to unpack, not worry about your stuff, and lock the door without anyone else to contend with.  Not that I’ve ever had any issues, but still.

The tour group met at 9, so I made a point to grab a big breakfast beforehand as who knows what kind of food we’d be getting the next couple days.  I introduced myself to the 11 Dutch women who’d be joining me on the tour, we split into two 4×4 trucks, and off we went.  I knew I was in trouble immediately after meeting them, as after introductions, they went back to speaking Dutch straight away.  Ugh.  After living and working in Amsterdam for a year and a half, there are few things that annoy me more in this world than being surrounded by Dutch people, who speak PERFECT ENGLISH and know you don’t speak Dutch, yet they continue speaking Dutch in your presence.  I fucking HATE IT!  I knew right off the bat that this was how this group would be, so asked politely if they minded if I sat in front so at least I could talk with the driver.  Unfortunately, one of the women was a bit older and asked if she could sit in front, complaining of an ailing back.  Really?!?  They had overheard me saying something to the driver about the Dutch and promised to speak English.  Fine.  Of course, that didn’t happen for most of the trip.  Ugh.  You could tell the driver was annoyed too.

Anyway, we all hopped into the 4×4 land cruiser and started up Sani Pass, a 9 km road up to Lesotho, aka “the Kingdom in the Sky”.  What Lesotho lacks in trees, it makes up for it in altitude. With the lowest point in the entire country lying at a record setting 4,593 feet above sea level, they have their share of snow and cold temperatures.  I had no idea what to expect from the tour, but was happily surprised that our guide/driver was willing to make picture stops as often as we requested them.  It was an overcast day, but at least it wasn’t pouring…or foggy, so we were able to take in the magnificent landscape.

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Everything was soooo green!  And, there were a few dozen waterfalls, adding to the scenic drive.

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Even through the fog/mist, you could enjoy the Southern Drakensberg mountain range and the geology of the mountains.

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The border crossing was a piece of cake, but the road was horrible, so between the rough conditions and the picture stops, we didn’t actually get into Lesotho until after 1pm.

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We stopped in a village to sample the locally brewed beer, which was pretty nasty.  They’d obviously had a lot of tourists through, as they left this guide scribbled on the wall.

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We stopped on the side of the road for lunch, and continued on our bumpy drive for another 50kms before we arrived at a small village which would be our home for the night.  We met our hostess, had some tea, and walked up and over a hill to another village where we met some local women who put on a bit of a show for us, showing us a few of the traditional dances as well as some of the handicrafts and how they make them.  It was a bit over the top and touristy, as all the women wore matching shirts and skirts, like they were putting on a show.  Didn’t seem too authentic to me, but seeing how and where the Lesotho people live…in rondavels without electricity and some without running water, was more interesting.  That didn’t stop me from trying on one of the hats the ladies had made and passed around.

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The Basotho people live simple lives.  A lot of those living in the mountains that we visited are shepherds, and they all wore a blanket.  It was probably 55-60 degrees  when we visited…I can’t imagine how cold and damp it gets in their winter.  They all looked pretty cold to me…especially this boy.

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It was getting dark, so we walked back to the village we were staying in and were shown to where we were going to sleep.  Since our group was so large, they put 9 of the Dutch girls in one rondavel that seemed more like a dorm with bunk beds, and asked if I would mind sleeping in another rondavel on a mattress on the floor.  I was fine with it and moved my stuff in there.  Soon after we were served a simple dinner, which was followed by more traditional music and dancing, but this time by the men.  Actually, it was mainly teenage boys performing the dances to the beat of a drum and strange guitar-like instrument with a couple strings.

The show was over pretty early, and without much else to do, most of the group turned in.  I’m glad I’d brought my book, and read for a couple hours before turning in.  Unfortunately i woke up at 330a furiously scratching my neck, where I’d been bit 5-6 times by what I now think were bed bugs.  Must have been in the pillow or pillow case.  Eeewwwww!

There were roosters running around the village, and they were making noise well before sunrise.  Everyone was up by 7 and we had a simple breakfast before walking over another hill to a village to meet the traditional healer for the area.  She was quite a character.  She didn’t speak English, but our hostess translated for her.

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She had a fantastic outfit and did a dance for us, and then offered to tell everyone what their future holds for the low low price of ~$8.  I didn’t buy into it, and walked back to the first village with a couple other girls.  When the rest returned, they swapped stories and had all been told basically the same thing – they were healthy, would have a happy life, and will have many children.  Whatever.

We were supposed to go pony trekking (they call the Lesotho horses ponies, although they were full size horses), but it was raining pretty steadily and I wasn’t up for getting wet and then having to be damp for the next 10 hours in the truck and all the way to Durban.  So, I opted out with a couple others and instead paid a visit to a place called Touching Tiny Lives, which is a charitable organization started by an American which hosts children who’s parents have died from HIV.

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The HIV rate in Lesotho is alarmingly high at close to 25%, and apparently there is big business if you know how to make coffins as you can imagine the death rate is quite high.  It’s really sad, and apparently they are only now starting to give a proper education on how HIV is spread and how to prevent it.  With traditional healers claiming they can heal HIV, though, they face an uphill battle.  Anyway, the hour or so we spent with these precious kids was pretty amazing.  This one was super cute!  His mom had died in childbirth.

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We headed back to the village for lunch, and then packed the car for the drive back down to Underberg.  We stopped for a drink at Africa’s highest pub at the Sani Pass Lodge.

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We made our way down the pass and got back to the backpackers by 5.  I had arranged to head down to Durban with the Dutch girls, and finally was dropped off at my hostel around 10pm.  Long couple of days!  But worth it 🙂

 

 

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3 Reader Comments

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  1. Herb says:

    the beautiful face on the boy breaks my heart

  2. mike says:

    wow, you are right, it was much greener than you went to Lesotho!!! so glad you made that journey, not many travelers do it, and we thought it was such a good insight into a new culture.

  3. Hi, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this blog post. It was funny. Keep on posting!

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