Tag: Maluti mountains

:: life in the maluti mountains ::

Driving through the beautiful Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho you are treated to an array of wide expansive landscapes and rugged mountains. It’s easy to get caught up in this beautiful awe-inspiring scenery and not see much else. Along the road and dotted in the distance, however, are clusters of villages and homes of varying styles.

Usually built of materials from the earth such as mud, stones or bricks, and sometimes a combination of all three, these houses have the tendency to blend into their natural environment.  As you get further away from the urban areas, the houses become even more traditional and so the shiny tin roofs or glinting aluminium window frames that can often make them stand out against the rugged backdrop become more obsolete.

Every day we see and learn more about the local customs and traditions of home life in Lesotho. Reading about the country, talking to people and simply observing our surroundings has given us lots of insight into the norms of life in this part of the world.  Our recent anniversary weekend ‘community visit’ trip, organised by Maliba Mountain Lodge, gave us even more opportunities to meet locals and see how they live in the mountains.

Just down the road from the lodge and adjacent to Ts’ehlanyane National Park is Ha Mali (pronounced Ha Maddie), a small community of approximately 100 homes that Maliba actively supports.  Our first stop in the village was to visit a traditional Basotho rondavel home and cooking hut.  Called a mokhoro in Sesotho, these huts are made entirely of materials from the earth that trap the warmth in winter and keep the hut cool in the summer.

The main structure is built using stones that are then covered with a mixture of sand, soil and dung.  The interior flooring is made of damp dung that they flatten to make a smooth base.  A thick layer of beautiful locally sourced thatch covers the round structure creating a waterproof roof and shelter that often lasts for twenty years.  Many of the more modern mekhoro (plural for mokhoro) have small windows but those that we visited only allowed light and air to enter through the small doorway.

After our local guide made some initial introductions, a young girl welcomed us to go in to look at the interior.  Dark but noticeably warmer inside, this hut had a metal table and side board, some chairs and a simple bed.  The plain mud wall was transformed by some sculpted shelves that held a collection of mismatched plates, beautifully displayed in a kind of shabby chic way that many designers are now trying to replicate in western homes.

Next door they were busy in a slightly smaller hut preparing a fire.  As we entered we greeted an older woman and some younger children sitting on the floor in the smoke filled space eating out of ceramic mugs.  In the corner one of the young girls demonstrated how they grind the maize daily on a large stone, shaped from generations of this repetitive action.  The ground maize is then boiled to make pap, a kind of porridge or polenta which is a staple food in Lesotho.

Leaving the warm smoke filled hut we felt the crisp air hit our throats, reminding us of the harshness of the mountains and life here.  We continued onwards in the car and stopped briefly at the local school along the road.  It was quiet that day as all of the students were at home fulfilling their weekend duties with their families but standing there we could imagine the full classrooms and children bustling around.

Scattered about the classrooms were an eclectic mix of desks, chairs and old schoolbooks.  On one board we could see the English writing lessons and diagrams teaching them about the human body.   Remembering our days of science class, it was hard to imagine how the students manage to have enough energy and attention to learn after what is often a long and treacherous walk to school traversing rivers or climbing down rocky mountainsides in the cold of winter or heat of summer.

Further along the road we were treated to a visit to the ‘local pub’.  To the extent that this place made and sold beer, you could almost argue that it’s actually a brewery, but not one that you may be imagining.  As you drive along the road you will sometimes see a white flag flying outside a building or Basotho hut.  This, in Lesotho, is the sign that there is traditional beer also known as joala being brewed and sold there.

The brewmaster, an older man wearing a large winter coat and gumboots, invited us into his traditional Basotho hut to see how he made this local drink.  As he started to explain the process of fermentation of this thick home-brewed beer made from sorghum and maize, my camera and I became a focal point for the children who were not shy and asked me to ‘shoot them’.

So while CW enjoyed the brewing explanation and tasting, I stayed outside and had a grand time with the children taking their photos, sharing them on the camera’s screen and then laughing with them about this and that.  They were keen to show me their litter of puppies, flock of chicks and handmade clay toy sculptures – all of which they wanted me to photograph and then show them which I of course was more than pleased to accommodate.

We could have stayed there for hours playing with the children, talking to their parents and taking their photos but we didn’t want to intrude too heavily on their lives so we said our goodbyes and headed back to the lodge.  Although it was a short visit, it was a tremendously enriching experience and a perfect way to allow us to see and learn more about their way of life in the majestic, but harsh, Maluti Mountains.

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:: majestic maluti mountains ::

When we found out we would be arriving in Lesotho in July, one of the first things we thought about was how to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We knew that we wanted to stay in Lesotho and take the opportunity to really get out of Maseru and see the country for a weekend so we had a look around and instantly fell in love with Maliba Mountain Lodge in the mountains.

Maliba (pronounced Ma-dee-ba) is far and away the most luxurious accommodation option in Lesotho and we felt that a ten year splurge was merited! It is nestled up in the Maluti Mountains right on the border of the Leribe and Butha Buthe provinces. A joint venture between two Aussies and a Mosotho, it sits just inside the boundary of Ts’ehlanyane National Park, the largest national park in Lesotho.

Maliba Mountain Lodge is comprised of a main lodge and six chalets that are built in traditional rondavel style, complete with thatched roofs. The decor is lovely and each chalet has wonderful amenities such as a big tub, fireplace and electric blankets. The real draw however is the view. You step out of the chalet onto your patio and are confronted with soaring mountains in all directions! It is a landscape that completely overwhelms – with some of the peaks soaring between 800 and 1000 meters above the lodge.

As if that weren’t enough, you can walk down to your own private deck and have the same views, but from a different perspective. The deck is also a fabulous place to view the stars, which come out in their thousands, as well as the Milky Way. Neither of us could remember the last time we saw such a star-studded sky!

The setting is a truly natural atmosphere with several small rivers cutting through the valleys and the sounds of trickling water and birds chirping. In the mornings we enjoyed listening to the chatter of the local Cape White-eyes and one afternoon we were lucky to spot the park’s resident herd of about 16 eland.  In between relaxing by the fire, visiting the local community (more on that soon) and enjoying the view from our chalet, we took advantage of several hiking trails throughout the weekend that offered stunning views and quite a workout – especially for lungs not used to elevations of 2000+ meters!

With that in mind, one afternoon we decided to let others more accustomed to the elevation do the work for us and went horse riding. The Basotho are very fond of horses and some parts of the country are still only reachable on horseback, so this was a very good place for me to ride a horse for the first time. Josephine and Lazarus were very docile, though Josephine had the tendency to kick out at the other horses so we had to keep our distance! We wandered through the trails along the river for a couple of hours, shadowed by Josephine’s 11 month old son who wanted to be with her mother. It was a great way to explore the trails and landscape and we can’t wait to do similar trips elsewhere in the country.

As it was the dry season there really wasn’t much water in the rivers and the hillsides were mostly brown, but it was majestic in its own right and we caught glimpses of the first stirrings of springtime life. The pink blossoms of peach trees were prominent along the road into the park and several small flowering bushes lined the paths. We were told that in another month or two the entire area is covered in colourful flowers and it is like an entirely different place!

We cannot wait for another chance to go back and enjoy Maliba once again in our time here, not only to enjoy the spectacular views and experiences they offer but also to see the new main lodge.  Sadly we were not able to enjoy the main lodge with its 360 degree views this time as it burnt down in an electrical fire two days before we moved to Lesotho.  Most of the structure was destroyed including the dining area and huge deck overlooking the valley.

Despite all this, the staff have done an amazing job dealing with the new circumstances and we certainly did not suffer having meals in our room. There are temporary plans in place to get a form of a lodge in place by summer in December and next year they will rebuild it completely.  Once it is re-opened we certainly intend on going – even if it is only for lunch or dinner because the views and food are worth the trip!

All in all it was a fantastic weekend away – precisely the experience to celebrate ten wonderful years with my soulmate and fellow adventure seeker!