The Mountain Kingdom
21 November 2012- Somewhere in Lesotho
Right now we are stuck on a closed road. We dont know when it will open or at this stage where we will stay tonight as we don't know how far we will get. We may end up pitching up somewhere and asking if we can stay in a village. When we arrived, quite a while ago and were told the road was blocked and pointed to another road as a bypass which was to eventually meet up our road up ahead. So we turned around to make our way back to the smaller road and stopped to greet an oncoming vehicle. The man spoke good english and advised us not to go on the smaller road as it is basically a goat track and would take a very very long time. He suggested we wait for the road to open and said if there were both of us waiting they would be more likely to hurry and open it, so we turned around and here we are.
A quick catch up while we wait-
We were both nervous leaving the relative ease and security of Durban, this time Olly more than me- the thought of driving ourselves the length of Africa can seem daunting at times! I was focusing on the smaller picture, just where we are going that day (great technique!) The second battery was playing up so we stopped to get it checked and the man warned me of all the rape, murder and hijacking that happens in SA, then waived us off very nicely telling us to "enjoy the trip" Uh, thanks!
The Drakensberg was so beautiful, we had the place to ourselves for the most part. On our last day we did a guided three hour walk to see some San rock art and enjoyed chatting to our guide about a few things, language (what is taught in the local schools, the difference between Xhosa and Zulu) and asking him something we had been wondering for days- why in the rural area we were driving through some of the women had there faces heavily painted- of course we were curious about possible symbolic reasons but it turns out the ochre used as a sunscreen! The area we were driving in was very rural and poor with small villages and once again the road lined with people walking - many of the school children in their tidy uniforms, smiling and waving at us. So different to Durban with the shopping centres etc.
When leaving the Drakensberg we ignored the directions on the GPS, not sure where Ms Garmin, as we call it, was planning to take us but it was well out of our way to the Sani Pass. Sani Pass is a steep switchback pass that connects the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal with the country of Lesotho. Olly has been up the pass once with Nick (his brother) and was very keen to get into Lesotho via Sani. Its known to be a steep and winding road, in fact on the SA side there is a sign saying it's forbidden to attempt it unless you are driving a 4x4. We arrived at the start in the late afternoon and were planning to camp at a lodge right at the top. We had read the border closed at 6 and passed a SA couple coming down (who had turned around because it was too rough) who also thought it closed at 6 so we bumped our way up the road through dramatic beautfiul scenery, after about an hour or so we saw a police vehicle coming towards us, they drove past us a little and realising they were the border police we waved them down and asked if the border was still open - a quick reply came back - no. So within spitting distance of the border we turned around and noticed a dark grumbly sky ahead of us as we made our way back down the bumpy road. We got to a hostel just as the sky rumbled and the heavens opened and pelted Landy with hail as we sheltered inside hoping the banging and clanging hail stones didn't get too big. The afternoon was not really going the way we had planned! Olly did a mad dash inside to see if we could camp and the night got much better, the skies cleared and we ended up in a little sheltered spot behind the hostel, we even had a simple but yummy home-made meal in the small restaurant there.
So, this morning- Sani Pass take two. We looked at some maps over breakfast and planned to get to a National Park that caught our eye and thought we would aim for there tonight. We rumbled and rattled our way up the Sani Pass (again) with the hair pin bends and sheer drop offs (my mum would have hated it!), slow going with large rocks in the road. We crossed our first border of the trip, a good start for what will no doubt be harder borders later in the trip. Both borders were easy, took a few seconds on the SA side and a few minutes on the Lesotho but only because we were speaking to the police on the Lesotho side about where we wanted to go. They looked a bit startled and said "you want to go there today?" None of them had heard of the road on the map we planned to take and one thought it did not exist. He showed us a place much closer and told us it would take four hours to get there. Mmmm... we need to adjust our plans and expectations today!
Later... While waiting for the road to open along came some police (also waiting for the road to open) who got out to speak us, Olly was trying to remember how to say a few things in Sesotho (the local language) and practised a bit on them. They were intrigued and disbelieving that we are from Australia. They say 'it's too far' and it is, in so many ways. Finally the road opened, we had no idea where were going to stay and asked the police if they knew anywhere they said if we got stuck we could stay at the police compound near Mokhotlong (the one they were going to) which was a few hours drive away. As we drove away the guy we first saw on the road stopped to talk to us about where we were oing to stay and a newer shiny ute pulled up and a women got out and said "I am from Lesotho Tourism and want to help you". She was like a little tourism angel appearing out of nowhere! They just happened to be waiting for the road to open as well (by the time it opened there were half dozen vehicles waiting). Another couple pulled up a minute later and a nice English/SA couple were also wondering where they were going to stay after doing the same thing we did and assuming they would get somewhere that would be impossible in the day! The tourism lady gave us a few suggestions and some guide as to how long places take to get to. She casually mentioned there was a place we could prob stay across the valley where we could see a village and a cluster of buildings. So seven hours (and only a hundred km on a very rocky bumpy road) later we are staying at a perfect little spot, just on the edge of a village in the highlands. There is no power but they started a fire to heat some water for a shower and lit some paraffin lanterns. We are parked out the front in Landy, just getting ready to go to bed after a lovely evening with the English/SA couple. Just us in the simple but lovely place.
Lesotho is a strikingly beautiful and very undeveloped country. I'm enchanted really- by the mountains, the feeling and the smiles. Its the only place I have been that reminds me a bit of Tibet. Grand mountains, large vast vistas. The landscape is dotted here and there with small round huts, made from stone and thatched roof where the herd boys live, who are literally boys and young men who stay out with the herds of sheep or goats. They seemingly come from nowhere, when you have passed no structure or anything man made for ages, down from the hills comes a boy on foot, horse or donkey, with a dog or two, wearing a Lesotho blanket draped over his shoulders (a blanket is worn a lot in Lesotho and is an important status symbol), a colourful balaclava or baggy woollen beanie and wellies (gum boots), what many men where. You wonder where they have come from and where on earth they are going! We stopped to talk to a few, we couldn't speak of course but a few hand signs told me he liked my earrings and I told him I liked his necklace. I took their photo, showed it to them and they chuckled at it.
The small villages we pass are a half dozen small rondavals (little round huts) and a school somewhere nearby. As in rurual SA we have been passing school children, although not nearly as many and we can only imagine how far some of them must walk to and from school.
What a wonderful introduction to this beautiful land. Lesotho is somewhere very special to Olly and I am so happy to be able to come here with him. We look forward to tomorrow, we are going to see the area Olly used to live, Olly is looking forward to it very much and I am as well.