Thursday, January 14, 2010

A visit to the The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho

This weekend we went the Kingdom of Lesotho. Lesotho (Le su’ tu) is an independent country completely surrounded by South Africa. South Africa has a mountain range, the Drakenburgs; that runs in a northeast to southwest direction, and goes right through the “Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho”. See the Google Map here.

Saturday morning, we left from our friends, Carl and Brenda’s place at 7 am and arriving to meet our guide and driver at 10 in a small village called Himeville. We loaded all our baggage into a Toyota 4 wheel drive minivan. I took the front seat first, with the intention of trading off if anyone wanted to later. And we started off. The drive on pavement was for a very short time and then we were on the dirt road.  In the picture to the left, just above Carl and Brenda you can see the cleft in the hills, that is where the Chalet is, the valley behind them is where the road goes...

Our driver, Roger, informed us that it would take just a bit over 2 ½ hours to get up the pass. The road is about 25 km and winds along a narrow valley and is carved into the side of the slopes… The Pass at the top is just that a very narrow area where a vehicle can slip up the face and onto the top of the plateau. We had to stop at the South Africa Border Station and leave South Africa, (stamp the passport) and then we were in a no mans land until we cleared the pass.

The Drakensburg Mountains come right out of the floor and tower right up to the several thousand foot level, there isn’t much in the way of foothills to get you started on the climb to the top. To the eye the hills look velvety smooth and soft, but they are covered in rocks, and on the valley sides there are lots of natural springs, which in some places come down in falls… and sometimes cross the road. The summer, as it is here now, is the rainy season here, so all hills are every color of green. Near the top, there are some shear sandstone walls that are very high. Imagining the sheer power to thrust these mountains out of the ground leaves one in awe.

Near the top of the pass, the last 8 kilometers is on a very tight one lane road with lots of switch backs and is pocked with some very large rocks… and deep ruts. It is even difficult for the 4 wheel drives to get over. Once over the top we had to stop at the Lesotho Border Check Point to fill out immigration paperwork and obtain a visa to visit. From where we were staying to the Check Point only a hundred yards or so, but it is all very formal.

We arrived at the Sani Top Chalet about one o’clock and checked into our rooms, just to drop the luggage off. The room came equipped with a propane heater and in ours we had a propane fire

place, (Carl & Brenda had a wood burning fireplace). The beds had down comforters and heavy blankets. Do you think the temperature drops after dark up here?

On our way back to the main building we found horses loose in the courtyard area… saddled and munching on the grass, not interested in the humans at all. We were all hungry and went in to have some lunch. After lunch Brenda and I took a pony ride out into the country… we saw lots of grazing sheep, cows and rocks. The landscape up on top is barren, no trees or shrubs, just rocks and grass as far as one can see. It is so very quiet and desolate up there… you can’t even hear the wind blowing.The ponies are very sure footed and picked their way carefully around the loose rocks. The plants are very tundra like, in that they grow very close to the ground and the flowers are all smaller than a quarter. After the ride we made our way to the village mall. Most of the workers at the Chalet live in the village that is right next door. The mall consisted of a corrugated tin shack with a muddy floor. I bought a broom, just like the ones used in the Chalet and a small basket, (I think I like baskets!) Dinner comes with the room (as does breakfast) and is served at about 7:30, (a lamb stew, lasagna, cauliflower, rice, peas, soup, gem squash), when the generator is fired up, and the power is supposed to stay on until 10:30, but that is an arbitrary time… as we found out… power was cut at 9:35. Fortunately we were just about done with the day, so we didn’t even bother to light the kerosene lantern provided in the room, but we did start the propane heater.

On Sunday morning, Roger informed us at breakfast, which is served at 7 am that we are not in a hurry to leave, so whatever is a good time for us is good. So we had breakfast, (bangers, bacon, toast, fried eggs, fresh fruit cup and cream farina, orange juice and coffee). After breakfast we were trying to decide what to do. Roger said that Stenwo (barkeeper and all around guy) would drive us to the next village and the Sani River. We crossed the river and pulled up to a busy barn, which turned out to be a shearing shed. Stenwo, arranged for us to watch the village men shear some sheep. Nothing like the modern shearing, nope the fellows cut the wool off with hand shears and it is also sorted by hand.

Next he pulled into the little village and stopped at a hut. We were
invited in by a villager named Bolita. She showed us her modest hut, gave us a piece of her homemade bread and spread her handmade items out on a mat for us to peruse. I purchased a doll that was wearing the traditional garb, (a blanket and a skirt) and another basket. This hut was round, maybe 15 feet across, had a thatched roof and a dirt floor, but very very clean! In a pan over her fire pit, was some homemade bread, which she put on a plate for us to taste and the remainder she wrapped in a sheet of news paper for us to take with us. I don't know who's lunch we were give... but, she was so happy to make a few Rand and was the least we could do for her hospitality. If I ever get to come back here I am going to bring her some fabric scraps to make the dresses for the dolls.

As we came back toward the Sani Top Chalet we found the elevation sign in both feet and meters. This pass is at 9000 feet, but from here we can see some higher peaks...

If the ride up was something…. The ride back down was twice as bumpy. I got the front seat again… and not because I wanted it… I am short and my feet didn’t have anything to brace on… so I had to keep myself in the seat by using the granny handle and the roof. We didn’t stop at any turnouts on the way down and it took nearly as long as going up did… and we stopped about 3 or 4 times on the way up to see some of the views!

I wouldn’t mind going back again for another visit. Actually I would like to travel from one end of Lesotho to the other over the mountains. The next large city is 1 ½ hours from the Chalet on a 2 lane dirt road, and I was told the capital is 9 hours away!

Next weekend a return to Hluhluwe Game Reserve!!! Remember comments through the month of January enter you in a drawing for a Trinket from South Africa!

As always, More Later!!!


Karen S said...

What a charming place. And a lovely story. I'll send her some of my scraps too!

angela said...

That looks like an amazing place to stay! I would especially love to ride around on the horses. Thanks for letting us join you through great pictures!