Previous "South Africa 4"
We were greeted by a very friendly face who said "what do you have to declare". Once we said nothing he added "not even food". Well of course we had food and after a lot of chat managed to keep hold of it. We were prepared for alcohol confiscation, but not food. Anyway we were soon through the border without losing anything and arrived in the land known as "The Kingdom in the Sky". Lesotho (pronounced lesootoo) is entirely land locked by South Africa and stands on a high plateau. It is very green and mountainous and you travel for hours and hours along dirt roads which twist and turn until you come to your destination which is virtually no distance, as the crow flies, from where you started. Roadside cows, sheep, goats and people are a bit of a problem because they are everywhere and add to the slow pace of driving - but it is their country. People, wearing traditional Basotho hats (shaped like a mountain with a knob on top) tended their fields and children tried their best to extract sweets from us. They still wouldn't have been successful even if we'd had some.
After a few hours we arrived at Malealea Lodge where we planned the activities for the next few days. Pony trekking on Basotho Ponies is an absolute must and indeed was one of the main reasons for visiting this country. That evening we booked our horses then settled down with Phil and Gabe (from New York) with a few bottles of wine (oh, I was still on the antibugs and was desperate for some vino but strictly couldn't with those particular tablets). We listened to some local boys play their home-made instruments. What an absolute delight. Two had guitars made of wooden posts nailed to old 5 litre steel oil containers with three strings spanning the length. One had a violin made of a steel oil container with a piece of wood sticking out to which one string had been added. The drum was a large barrel of some sort with an inner tube stretched across the top and the final instrument was a plank of wood into which bottle tops had been loosely nailed. When the plank of wood was banged on the ground the bottle tops jingled. The music they produced was fantastic and these charismatic chaps were such fun to watch. After dinner we were treated to a performance by the local choir.
The following morning our horses were ready. Andrew climbed aboard "Black Cat" with ease as he had riding lessons as a boy and knew what he was doing. I, on the other hand, had a grand total of a two hour experience on a horse ten years ago and a donkey ride at Rhyl beach twenty five years ago when I fell off. However I did manage to get on my horse called "Sister" the right way and it wasn't long before she was taking me off in the wrong direction through a farmers field. Four wheel drive is much more controllable than four legged drive and I wondered how to make this thing turn, or preferably stop. Vincent, our guide, was shouting instructions at me but Sister wasn't having any of it. She was going all over the place and I was just bouncing up and down trying to hold on. Vincent came after us and managed to stop Sister. I was relieved to get off and mount the much more docile (and smaller) "Black Mamba". I just hoped she didn't bite. The next four hours were pleasant indeed as Black Mamba behaved beautifully and only needed the occasional nudge to get her moving or turning in the right direction. Black Cat, on the other hand was a bit of a slow girl and needed to be shown a stick now and again. You only have to put a stick within their field of vision to make them go.
We felt like the Lone Ranger riding through the rocks along the mountain side. Goodness knows how those cowboys and Indians managed to stay on their horses whilst having a fight. Up and down the mountain was pretty hairy, particularly when the horses foot slipped on the rocks. However we both managed to stay upright and didn't suffer greatly from saddle sore. Four hours was enough for a first go and trekking around such beautiful countryside was a real treat.
Back at the lodge, an afternoon of reading in the hammock was called for. Andrews new sunglasses had disappeared but we found them in the garden. The size of the teeth marks on them revealed which dog had done the dirty deed.
This is dog howling country and after a poor nights sleep we packed up and headed off in the direction of Sani. It wasn't long before we reached tarmac. Lesotho is slowly improving its road network with financial assistance from the Katse Dam Project. This country is so poor. The main towns have electricity occasionally whereas everywhere else uses generators or candles. Telephone is practically unheard of so the chance of finding an internet cafe is probably zero (although there may be one at the capital Meseru which we did not visit). The main industry is farming. There is very little mechanisation and much of the work is done by the Basotho horses. Following the dam project Lesotho earns revenue from selling electricity to South Africa and the money is being used primarily for roads.
The countryside is beautiful and the numerous valleys, hills and passes reminded me of the Horseshoe Pass in Wales. Some of the peaks are at 10,000 feet - the level where you are meant to use oxygen if you are flying a light aircraft. There were people everywhere trying to flag you down for food, a lift or some clothes. We saw a lot of different types of attire. On the higher mountains people wear beautifully designed Basotho blankets as ponchos. White wellies were a common sight and are very practical given the extent of summer storms. Girls wearing intricate beaded clothes could be spied occasionally - this is one of the four costumes worn to signify a particular time in the schooling process. At the point of a costume change there is a ceremony. We saw two women dressed in wicker baskets. Their boobs hung over the top and their skin was painted with some sort of white emulsion. Goodness knows what that was all about.
Finding diesel here is a bit of a hit and miss affair. When we managed to find some the attendant had to take the pumping mechanism off the petrol pump and put it on the diesel pump before he could manually pump the fuel into the car. It was much faster than the automatic pumps though. That evening we arrived at the Mashai Camp in the middle of nowhere where we were greeted by a very nice lady with a very sad dog then had a very poor nights sleep due to the dogs at remote sites sounding their presence throughout the night.
The morning was lovely and we set off early expecting the journey to Sani to take all day. However, the roads were good and we arrived at lunch time having given a total of six people a lift to various locations en route. One chap was a Swiss character (Erve) who travels for six months of every year to avoid the European winter. It would seem that being a Swiss farmer is a lucrative business! Just as we arrived at Sani the weather closed in. The clouds dropped and visibility reduced to a few metres. At least we had a good excuse when a chap came running after us shouting at us for crossing the border into SA illegally. Apparently we had driven past the border post without realising it. Oops, after a quick reverse and big apology we went to the Sani Top Lodge where we had planned to spend the night. However, the drop in temperature and the absence of the apparently spectacular view meant that the camping and sightseeing options were out. We decided to cross the border and get down the mountain and into some warmer clearer weather.
Lesotho is a common customs area with SA so there were no car formalities to consider, just a quick stamp in the passport and an obligatory purchase of a ticket for 8 rand (80p) to allow you to go down the Sani Pass. Just a little money earner which seemed a bit off as the area is in no-mans land!
Sani Pass is the highest pass in SA. It's gradient is 1:6 (not as steep as the pass at Tiffendel) and the turns are tight. To come up the pass from SA you require a 4x4 but to go down it, you don't. When it rains it's apparently treacherous. It was raining! In fact, it was pouring but had only recently started so the road was not yet slippery. At the bottom we reached the SA border.
Next "South Africa 5"
|Watch your horse for you, mister ?||Bum break - relaxing by the falls for lunch||Hope the horses don't slip!||Made it home with sore bums||You can't believe how good the sound is ! The instruments are made of rubbish|
|Local choir going for it African style||Mountains and streams on the way to Sani Pass|
The guide books recommend that you buy food in South Africa before arriving here. Good advice - food is sparse.
from South Africa - visit no 4
|Malealea||via Mphrane||Malealea Lodge|
|Mashai||via Thaba -Tseka & mountain pass route||Mashai Lodge|
|Sani Pass||via A3 & A14||Sani Pass Lodge|
to South Africa - visit no 5
This country is very poor. Hide all indications of goods/food.
There are no imports of alcohol allowed from South Africa so either forget it, or hide it.
Food is difficult to come by.
Summer here is the rainy season. With its high altitude and fast weather changes you have to be prepared to be stranded in the cold for a while.
There is not a great deal of diesel outlets.
No visas are required for Brits.
If you come here then you must go for a pony trek and/or hike through the delightful mountains.