After a challenging Indian Ocean passage, we were ready for some land time and what better place to explore than southern Africa! Come with us as we travel inland to incomparable game parks and unique experiences, then make our way down the Wild Coast of east Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope and complete our world circumnavigation in Cape Town.Read More
Luckily, our guide and driver, Tsebo, was not a drinking man and didn't indulge at the SaniTop Pub because the ride back down Sani Pass was more hair-raising than going up. His complete attention and expertise were definitely required as he negotiated tight hairpin turns, steep gradients, boulders, rocks, rivers and washouts. He referred to the rough ride as an “African massage”.
As we slowly descended, we saw a lone young man toiling up the road with a heavy load of thatch roofing material on his back. The villagers who live on the barren, treeless top of the world in Lesotho, must descend and collect roofing materials.
As a side note, the Chinese are financing and building a new paved road up the Sani Pass. We saw and heard the work in progress. It will provide better access to Lesotho's raw minerals and a better route for trucks into KwaZulu Natal. Unfortunately, this seems to be at the expense of the environment. As rough as the current road is, it limits traffic flow through a World Heritage Site. Increased heavy vehicle traffic will obviously alter the natural habit and dynamics of the area.
Though the ride was rough and the afternoon was quickly waning, Tsebo still stopped at viewpoints for pictures and animal spottings. We saw a troop of baboons playing on a hillside, a grey rhebok and a duiker. The birdlife was splendid and we saw several new species. Raptors circled and scoured the ground for prey.
I didn't mention the wildflowers that were in bloom both en route and on the top in Lesotho. It's summer here, and the blooms were prolific including protea, the national flower.
We cleared back into South Africa. Lesotho Immigration had cleared us in and out when we arrived. Tired, dusty and sufficiently shaken (not stirred), we returned to the Sani Lodge for quick showers and then back to the Himeville Arms for a pub supper. Sani Pass was our topic of conversation throughout dinner. Thoughts of heading back to Durban and Brennan and Hannah leaving were put off as long as possible.
The morning dawned sunny again as we packed up and headed back to Durban via the ocean route. As you'll remember, the roads in South Africa are sometimes not the best. David concentrated on avoiding potholes, but one appeared out of nowhere and bam! Hannah was the first to recognize the sound of a flying hubcap. We stopped to check and sure enough, not only had we lost the hubcap, but we'd dented the rim as well and the bead of the tire was broken. We had a flat.
Brennan and David changed the tire while Hannah retrieved the errant hubcap and Marcie … supervised. We made it to the next little town where a local “tyre” dealer banged the rim back in place, reset the tire and inflated it good as new. R20 was charged for his labor (~$2). The guys changed the tire again and we were off.
We intersected with the coast road at Scottburgh, a little resort town about 60 km (36miles) south of Durban. The wind had whipped up and the rollers were enormous as we stopped to let Hannah and Brennan admire this beach and stick their toes into the Indian Ocean.
All too soon, we were back at Nine of Cups. The wind was howling and the kids were packing, excited about the next leg of their trip to Victoria Falls. We were already missing them. We're wondering where they'll meet us next.
Kingdom in the Sky
Having entered Lesotho, Tsebo, our guide, was keen to educate us a bit about the country and its people. Referred to as the Kingdom in the Sky, Lesotho, about the size of Maryland, is all “up”. In fact, it has the highest low point of any country in the world … 1400m (4550') at the junction of the Orange and Makhaleng Rivers. It is, indeed, a tiny kingdom with King Letsie III as its monarch. It's a poor, poor country (though the king seems to do okay) with an average personal income of $2,200/per year. Most Basotho people live at subsistence level and shepherding seems to be the most prevalent occupation outside the capital city of Maseru. People of Lesotho are called Basothos, their language is Sesotho and their currency is the loti, although South African rands are readily accepted.
We were in the eastern Lesotho Highlands, a harsh, cold, wet environment. The tiny village of Mokhotlong was barren. Thatch and tin-roofed stone huts lined a deeply rutted, muddy road. The landscape was treeless with vast expanses of rocky outcrops and soggy marshes. The mountains rose above and around us.
The Basotho shepherds were all wrapped in traditional blankets. Many wore hats and balaclavas covering their faces, protecting them against the ever-present cold wind, the harsh sun and the dust that blew. Heavy rubber boots were worn to keep their feet dry whilst traversing the wetlands tending their livestock.
Tsebo knew several of the shepherds and we stopped along the way to chat. They were friendly and welcomed visitors with shy smiles. We offered candy bars and granola bars left over from our lunch and they were gratefully accepted. Sweets are rare commodities, we were told.
Some were pleased to show off the sheep they were tending.
Others allowed us into their very basic mud-floored, thatch-roofed huts. We crawled into the low entry huts on hands and knees and were packed in tightly as Tsebo elaborated on the life of shepherds … a hard, hard life without many alternatives. For six months at a time, the shepherds remained with their herds, then after a day or two to visit families, they returned to their flocks. I might add that Drakensberg Tours, as part of their Fair Trade tourism philosophy, provides blankets and other basics to the shepherds in trade for sharing a glimpse of their lifestyle with visitors.
In tiny Skiring village, we visited Me Fitelena. Tsebo instructed us on the formal way to present ourselves as we entered. We said “koo-koo”, (like knock-knock) and after being acknowledged, we entered and sat on a long bench and were served fresh bread and the local maize beer, both of which were delicious. Me Fitelena also had local crafts for sale and, of course, we did our best to help the local economy.
We had brown bag lunches at Black Mountain with views of Thabane Ntlenyana, 3482m (11,317'), the highest peak in southern Africa, only a few miles away.
The last stop in Lesotho was at Sani Top, the highest pub in Africa. We sampled the local commercially brewed beer, Maluti.
The views from Sani Top were absolutely stupendous. What goes up, must eventually come down. Heading back down the steep Sani Pass was a hair-raising adventure as well. Hop aboard the Land Rover and we'll begin our slow descent.