Lesotho - A Kingdom high within the Drakensberg mountains
Apr 26, 2005
|Bloemfontein proved to be the easiest way for us to access Lesotho. The plan was to try and get to Maseru - Lesotho's capital - from Bloemfontein via minibus taxi. For those not versed in African transport a minibus taxi is a 9 seater minibus that you may have been in when on one of those schooltrips , generally a little old but works well enough. It's the most popular mode of transport used by the locals. However when we got to Bloem we were unable to find a taxi to take us and our heavy, heavy (did we mention it was heavy?) rucksacks to the local minibus station. So in the end, with day turning to evening and amazingly no taxi in sight for over an hour or so we opted to spend a night in Bloem and try and get a taxi for the morning.
We stayed at a really nice place in Bloem, which is a very Afrikaans place and has little to amuse you with. It's strange that now seeing a hotel room that has its own bathroom, is spotlessly clean and shock horror has a television makes us so happy. I wonder how long it will take for us to forget this feeling when we get back. After talking to the man at reception, it was suggested that it would be significantly easier to take a taxi straight from Bloem to Malealea, the place we were staying in Lesotho. The following morning the taxi picked us up and we got the first proper viewing of the apartheid townships erected for the colours while driving out of Bloem. Initially they looked nice houses but the further we drove the more you saw the rickety houses made with corrugated iron scraps. We got to the border and added one more stamp to our passports (with Neha happy that they did not use one of her few remaining blank pages up). The people of Lesotho have a blanket as their national dress which we immediately saw how useful it was considering the cold weather they have up in this high kingdom. Additionally it looks great! We were greeted at the border by a dozen Lesotho radio presenters dressed in matching yellow blankets and dancing their way across the border, immediately warming us to the place!
You could see the difference between the relative wealth of the 2 countries when you crossed the border. There were significanly less cars on the road with ponies being the transport of choice for short distances within the country. Lesotho is a land locked country, it's only neighbour being South Africa, and is situated high in the mountains. The spectacular views of the mountains are anywhere and everywhere you look and was instrumental in giving Tolkien, who was born here, the picture of how Middle Earth was to look in the Lord of the Rings. We leave New Zealand but we still can't escape Lord of the Rings!
We eventually reached Malealea lodge - a place run by a Lestho born (English origin) couple - who house their guests in Rondavels, huts seen all over Lesotho. The lodge contributes a significant amount of time & money to improve the quality of life of the locals and only uses local people for tours around the area. After an early start and the crazy bumpy roads we couldn't face getting on a pony and seeing the country that day so opted for a tour the following day. In continuing the theme of encouraging locals to interact with the guests, a local choir sang typical Lesotho songs while a band played their homemade instruments in the evening with the majority decked out in their warm blankets.
The following day we got up on the ponies and headed off into the Lesotho mountains. This was Neha's first time riding ponies/horses so it involved some trepidation at first. We were escorted by a local lad - David - who came up to Kiran's navel and looked about 15 years old and an Australian lady, Jane, who was an experienced rider and had just completed other tours in the country. Our ponies typically reflected our personalities. Kiran's pony decided that he didn't fancy doing much strenuous exercise that day and however many times Kiran would shout at the pony it took its own time to climb up and down the hills. You can take a horse to water.......... (ok that was a bad joke!!). Neha's pony was a little more responsive but seemingly had skipped dinner the night before and was peckish for snacks at any opportunity. This invariably involved Neha having to wrestle control with the pony while it eyed up fields of crops to munch her way through. The local farmers didn't look too impressed either at their produce being gulped down by a cheeky pony.
The difficult terrain was managed adeptly by the ponies as they balanced precariously, calmly walking on steep verges and narrow passes. However we didn't seem as calm as them. Kiran adopted the look straight ahead and shout at the horse to get a move on and Neha used the tried and trusted practice of closing her eyes. Thankfully the animals knew exactly what they were doing so it was completely safe.
We reached a waterfall which involved a steep walk down with a local boy and climbing over various rocks. 8 months ago we would have baulked at such a suggestion, but anything seems to go now with us. We'll try most things. The only snag was that our legs were still shaking from the pony ride.The waterfall was fantastic although it must be said (and we don't want to sound inconsiderate) we have seen quite a few now so sometimes it's a little difficult putting it into perspective.
The overall route chosen was difficult, with little slippery rocks and narrow passes. As always the ponies made it look easy, although Kiran's pony was adamant he didn't want to play anymore and called a protest at one point. All very amusing for everyone else while Kiran bellowed at the animal with no reaction. We rode for about 5 hours stopping off once more to see a 7,000 year old bushman painting that was one of the first wall paintings ever made.Once again it was a tiny path with a huge drop. The little girl who was our guide on this mini-trip made it look like the easiest thing as she skipped along. Kiran slowly managed his way back and was deflated at the proposition of having to cajole his horse for the final route back.
We got back to the lodge, thighs chafed (too much detail there?), legs exhausted and no feeling in our arses but ecstatic at what was a fantastic day and amazing views. We relaxed the following day trying to regain feeling and read our books having a spectacular view of the mountains and watching theinsane but highly amusing dogs who live at the lodge.
We set off very early the next day with a mission to make it back to Bloemfontein by public transport. Little did we know that this was one of those monumental experiences. Recharged after doing nothing the day before we boarded a minibus taxi for Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. It seemed fine with just us, our rucksacks, the driver and the 'conductor' if you can call him that. Not long into our journey the minibus was suddenly packed, with Kiran using the tricks gained in Asia and folding up his legs into new contorted positions. The conductor proved to be more the van clown with his storytelling that amused all the customers including us even though we had no idea of what he was saying. It's all about the delivery of the gags you know! Quite a few times he thrusted cash in Kiran's face thinking that the tall, lanky foreigner was bound to be loaded and would have lots of change for him - he quickly found out it wasn't the case.
With the minibus taking more and more people and turning upset others away we made our way towards Maseru. There were regular stops as some people had to get out while the minibus went through a police checkpoint and then waited for the same people to get back into the already crowded vehicle. It seemed to be the same way that we deal with speed cameras back home. Slow down, pass them and obey the law and then carry on speeding afterwards.
On arrival at Maseru we were put into a clapped out taxi and we ended up at the border with South Africa. We had no idea what was going on, and after a little reccy by Neha we got our rucksacks on our backs and crossed the bridge that separates the 2 countries getting strange stares from the various people crossing either way. On arrival at the South African side we were put into the only empty front seats of another minibus, this one a little more rickety than the last one. However we had no room for our luggage. Before we knew it one rucksack was packed into a tiny amount of available space and the other on the lap of 2 elderly women sitting in the back. Anything seemingly goes here as they just jostled to get comfortable with a heavy rucksack placed on their legs and then just carried on chatting to each other. Nothing fazed them. On leaving we were told that we would need to change once more to get to Bloem in a place that neither Kiran nor Neha had ever heard of. The surprises of travelling in Africa.
Eventually, after our last change, we were on our way to Bloem with the rucksacks now on our laps and chatting away to a really friendly guy from Malawi. He seemed to be the walking Malawi Tourist Board with glowing recommendations for the country. Now we're confused on whether we have enough time to make it there.
Once getting to Bloem our adventure was not over. We got off one minibus and boarded yet another to take us to the bus station. We were called over by an old man who was dancing like he was jumping on coals with a stick balanced on his finger. Crazy man with crazy logic! He decided that the only customers with any luggage should be at the back of the minibus. We managed to get in, pushing all the passengers around and lodged ourselves in the corners of the minibus. Soon enough the bus was full and we were off, trying to hold our rucksacks and dig out our fares for the trip. Being the only non-black people for our whole trip didn't seem to faze any of our passengers. They were quite happy to smile at us, were so helpful and understanding even with a rucksack in their face or back. They seemed to be more amazed and surprised that we didn't mind taking the minibuses. We eventually got to our destination and had to try and get the rucksacks out. It was quite amusing. The entire minibus were involved in shunting 2 big rucksacks out of the bus and onto the ground outside. All amused by the silly tourists, they disappeared down the road while we got ready for the long wait for a big, proper bus to Cape Town.
Having to kill 5 hours when there is nothing to do is infuriating at the best of times, but having taken 4 minibuses, carrying our rucksacks around (did we tell you they were heavy) and trying to stay awake in the heat, meant that every minute went so slow. We eventually got on the bus and got ready for an overnight trip to Cape Town. We were happy to see comfortable seats but there was limited leg room. Our desperation was just to get to Cape Town and not get in a bus for a few days!
We arrived in Cape Town and got to the hostel we are staying in. The sight of a bed and the ability to stretch our legs was wonderful. I think we shall be staying here for a few days, as the city is stunning and has so much to offer. However the best of all is that we are meeting mates over the weekend. Seeing familiar faces will be great after an exhausting but immensely rewarding start to our journeys in Africa.