Lesotho – April 2011

Living in the Western Cape, is like living in the most luxurious province of South Africa I guess… to make it easy, we just don’t include Johannesburg in this comparison.
So to see more of rural South Africa we have to travel quite a bit. We therefore had planned to go to Lesotho with some friends. As you probably know Lesotho is a Kingdom and lies in … or is … landlocked by South Africa.

I love traveling by car even if there is nothing to see. The road is endless in the Karoo and as far as the eye can see there is grassland.
We decided to have a half way stop, at the Gariep dam for dinner and a sleepover. 
Fouriesburg was then the next stop, here we booked a cottage and it was also the place from where we would travel with a 4×4 and a guide for 1300 km. Which would have been too much for one day!

Leaving Stellenbosch

Beaufort West is after long hours of driving, our first coffee stop …. This is my fault because I don’t want to stop at a petrol station for coffee. This is one of those things I have to accept and eventually did…but that took some time. My dear husband doesn’t like to spend time looking for good or better places…like something cozy or taking time to explore the city… So if there is a small shopping center and a parking spot…that’s where we go!

After coffee it is all the way up to Colesburg on the Gariepdam, where we stay at the Orange River. The Gariep dam, is a storage reservoir and the biggest dam (374 km²) in South Africa. It borders the Free State and the Eastern Cape provinces. In South African English, ‘dam’ refers both to the structure and the lake it impounds. The Orange River, that has different names flowing through the country, is called Gariep River, Groote River or Senqu River and is the longest river in South Africa. It rises in the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho, flowing westwards from South Africa to Namibia where it ends in the Atlantic Ocean.

After a drive of 800 km we arrive at our B&B ‘Waschbank’ and boy are we glad we made it before dark. Travelling in South Africa is nice but better be safe and drive by daylight!
The next morning after a quick view at the Gariepdam we hit the road towards Bloemfontein…didn’t see much of this city as there was a detour and we once again missed out on the petrol-station-coffee. 
We made a stop in Bethlehem ….been there long time ago… not in South Africa but in Israel …and there is nothing in this place that seems connected with my idea of Bethlehem, nevertheless our lunch and coffee where good.
It’s still early and Fouriesburg isn’t too far anymore, so we decide to take the longer route through Clarens.
Clarens is a place where many artist live and they have their pretty creations for sale in the little shops around the village square. 
It would have been nice to have stayed over in this place and go from there into Lesotho. 
We however stay over at a farm cottage …and I will be short about that …no comment!

Day 1 To Katze 
Our two drivers with their 4×4 bakkies arrived early morning. Unfortunately we don’t have a 4×4 and the ‘roads’ of Lesotho are definitely not designed for a sedan….We took Calendonspoort border-post to enter the country that they also call the Nepal of Africa. 
It’s a mountainous Kingdom and not very touristic. 
For me this is real Africa, especially if you compare it with the Western Cape were we live!
You have to take some time to get through customs…and don’t make a writing mistake like we did, they make you redo your forms all over again!

Botha-Buthe is the first place that we pass, there is a sort of market that Sunday, but it isn’t very busy and the market stalls are just some wood tables with black agricultural plastic over them  or just a blanket on the ground. It is not a fancy place but is set up just alongside or on the road with all the traffic rushing by.
A bit further on the road to Leribe it becomes clear how poor this country and its inhabitants are. People are traveling by foot or by horse or donkey and those with some luck you have an oxcart. Along the road there are a lot of kids that beg for sweets but the surroundings are so beautiful …the heights and the deep cliffs…all the different shades of green…and the waterfalls. And in this amazing country someone scattered a few rondavel huts around a kraal, at least that is how it looks.

We travel on the road to Katze and pass over the Mafika Lisiu Pass (2950 m) were we have a quick photo stop. It’s cold and windy but worthwhile to get out of the car and enjoy the view. We drive pass shepherds with the most beautiful Angora goats before we arrive in 
Katze Village. A place near the Katze dam that was built for the workers and engineers that build the highest situated dam in South Africa that is 40 km long.

Day 2 St. James mission post

Today it is not a long trip, but no tarmac roads…just driving ‘dirt roads’ which means very slow driving. Nothing wrong with that,as we enjoyed the view and along the way the people got more and more friendly. When we arrive at our B&B, we have to all sleep in one room (funny as we didn’t expect this), we then walked to the ‘village’ …I believe it’s just a High school and a church, but nevertheless it was an exciting little trip. 
Along the walk, more and more girls walked with us and they all wanted to touch our fair hair…especially that of my husband and our son who are grey and blond respectively . 
There was a lot of chatting and laughter around us before the barrage of questions hit us. Back at the accommodation there isn’t electricity so we have to eat by candlelight and walk in pitch-dark from the communal room to the bedroom.

Did I mention that in Lesotho there isn’t any wildlife anymore…. Okay there isn’t…a long time ago they were all killed for consumption. The only wild animals that are left, are the birds of prey…and shame we didn’t spot those either. 
In the morning we took a ‘donkey’ shower, which is an oil barrel with  a fire underneath it, so…in our case…only the last to shower had warm water but no pressure. Yep this is Africa, so hip hip hooray for deodorant and perfume! 

Before leaving St. James I wanted to take a picture of a ram that was standing next to the house, it had such a distinguished head with enormous horns that caught my interest. 
It seemed that this was the real wildlife on our Lesotho trip…preparing to take my picture…-I had the wrong lens on the camera so I had to get a bit closer-…my son asks:” Is that animal on a chain”? “Yes”, I reply to him and go down on my knees ready to press the button…

The ram runs towards me, lifted me on his horns…and threw me (that’s what they told me) 2 meters up in the air and onto the grass…Oh my, I had forgotten to check the length of the chain… Luckily there wasn’t any harm done. It’s a  stupid thing I did but its something that we  still talk and laugh about…

Day 3 Maloraneng

Today is another  drive on dirt roads and as a special treat the last 9 km are a real 4×4 trail with steep curves and a lot of rocks and we cross 7 times a small river. Those last 9 km will take us an hour to drive so we first we have to fill up on petrol. In the first village we find two pumps with enormous tanks with petrol, just next to it. The station is run by Chinese people…can’t believe that they immigrated to this lost place on earth….We later found out that we were very lucky to find petrol, as we spoke to people who visited the same place the day after  only to find that there was none…

At around 11 o’clock every morning we make a stop for coffee served out of the boot of the car. The guides always try to find a nice spot not far from the road and make sure that we have some nice food with us. We share our leftovers with the locals. Today we saw 3 lady’s and a baby, they had just come back from gathering wood that they will burn with cow dung to make a fire for cooking. I can’t imagine that the food will still smell nice…

We pass the road along the Lets’eng diamond mine, taking the hump and bumpy road for 9 kilometers and arrive at Maloraneng Chalets along the banks of Khubelu River, also known as “Chalets in the Sky”.

Time to explore the surroundings and hopefully meet a few  locals. We walk downhill … pass a bridge ….uphill…downhill and come to a river that is too deep to pass without taking off our shoes to get to the village. We look for a lower point in the river to pass…after a while we see a woman with a child on her back, crossing the fast running stream. We wait for her and when we chat with her …translated by the guide… we see that she has twins on her back. She is a widow and on her way to the ‘city’ to find work…and all the time she laughs…at this point there are thousands thoughts running through my head.

We pass a field where women with a small scythe are harvesting wheat, that they form into small triangles to dry. We also pass two shepherd boys who happily pose for a picture. Once in the small village we visit a ‘pub / supermarket / hairdresser’, quite convenient that everything is under one roof. We ask one of the women if we can see her house and are very surprised to see everything that is in it, but also too scared to take pictures because I thought it would be an invasion of  their privacy, nonetheless we are very grateful that we were able to see it. 
This evening we have a lot to talk about next to the fireplace.

Day 4 Fouriesburg
The next morning is the final day of our trip and the world is much smaller as we wake up to a land covered in mist. Along the road it starts raining and the river we had to cross on the way to the chalets is flowing much stronger now. Around midday we are back in South Africa and have traveled 4 days and 500 km through magnificent Lesotho.

Basic was really basic, good to know how fortunate we are!
Yet Lesotho has everything …Mountains, sun, people and water…the things we never get bored of…hope one day to see it all again!


Tips from the Winelands, Western Cape  
by Zeelandhuys