Tag: mountains

:: captivating cotopaxi ::

It is a constant in our lives.  We see it from our bedroom, on our commute, and from the embassy.  It sits quietly in the near distance, yet that potential for catastrophic eruption persists.  It is impossible to be in Quito and not be drawn to its beauty.  Cotopaxi is an iconic volcano, one that occupies a central part of Ecuador’s identity as a destination of natural wonders and adventurous spirits.

Reaching nearly 6,000 meters into the sky, Cotopaxi is the second highest peak in Ecuador and one of the tallest volcanos in the world.  Unlike the ‘active’ volcano of Pululahua, Cotopaxi was actively erupting from September 2015 until January 2016.  This most recent eruption cycle caused mass evacuations of nearby towns, extensive emergency preparedness drills, and not a few ruined car engines from the ash clouds.  Luckily a full fledged eruption didn’t occur, but the national park was closed at the time and the summit remains closed.

Eruptions of Cotopaxi would be disastrous due to the lahar mud flows that would follow.  Basically an eruption would flash melt the glaciated peak and the resulting fast moving mud would engulf all surrounding areas, especially along the various river valleys.  Past eruptions have twice completely destroyed the provincial capital of Latacunga and lahar once even made it to the Pacific Ocean more than 100km away!  Most scientific models show the lahar flowing in the river valley immediately below our neighbourhood – about 50 km from the summit of Cotopaxi – with enough force to do significant damage.  It is a form of nature that we would rather not see or experience.

Cotopaxi is a temptress though.  It is a mountain with sacred ties to the indigenous cultures in the area – including beliefs that gods lived at the summit and it being sacred as a form of rain producer.  That reputation for rain is not unfounded.  A completely clear day, all day, around Cotopaxi is exceedingly rare.  There are constant changes to clouds and light conditions, with rain, wind, sleet, hail, and snow all being common occurrences in the same day.  The best conditions tend to be first thing in the morning or around sunset.  Because of this we commonly inform guests that if the volcano is visible at first light, and clearly so, then we will rouse them and get them in the car by 7am in order to get to the park in time to see the summit properly.

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The drive to the entrance of Cotopaxi National Park is only about an hour from Quito.  After a short drive through some evergreen forests, you enter the rock strewn plains around the base of the volcano itself.  Here there are great hikes available especially around Limpiopungo Lake or a well hidden spring fed stream on the backside of the park.

The true draw however is the road up the volcano to the carpark at 4,600 metres above sea level.  Here the dusty slopes and intense winds can make walking rather difficult.  For the more hearty you can walk up to the refugio which sits at 4,900 metres.  This is currently the highest up you can go, but it used to be the key jumping off point for climbers attempting to summit Cotopaxi.

The snow line is usually above the refugio, but after extended periods of particularly wet weather, the snow descends down to the carpark.  We had a particularly fun family outing during one of these times – complete with michelin baby Piper!

Most people drive up and down from the carpark, but there are tour operators who will drive you up and then give you a mountain bike to descend the rutted dirt road.  Some really go for it on the descent and others appear out for a Sunday ride.  Either way it looks like a great way to experience the volcano and environs.

Of course there is the option to walk, or even run down as well, and with our good friend Thierry, I did run down quite a ways.  It is only a downhill run that is possible at that altitude – going up would require excessive amounts of training!

There isn’t a ton of flora and fauna up at that altitude, but the ground is covered in a wide array of flowers, lichen, moss, and grasses.  Little spurts of reds, yellows, and blues pop out from the white lichen to add colour and texture to the plains.

There are over 800 wild horses in the park along with foxes, deer, rabbits, lizards, and of course birds of prey circling – maybe for gringos stupid enough to run down a volcano!

Beyond the aforementioned 800 wild horses, there are numerous options for horseback riding in, and around, the park.  No matter whether it is an hour plod or a full day excursion, horse riding in the park is quite something.  Cora and our friend Ruth went on a lovely hour ride from Tambopaxi, with me acting as a horse for Piper as she rode in her backpack alongside!  Although the weather was quite overcast, it was lovely to wander out amongst the undulating terrain and really feel the true size and power of Cotopaxi.  The ride took us off into some of the hidden corners and dry river beds that would be filled in seconds should an eruption occur.  It was hard for this two legged baby pack heavy horse to keep up, but all in all we had a fantastic time.

You would think a behemoth like Cotopaxi would be sufficient to capture anyone’s attention, but there are actually several other volcanos surrounding, usually easily visible from the park.  Ruminahui – a jagged dormant volcano reaching over 4,700 metres – sits overlooking Limpiopungo Lake.

Sinchalagua – an imposing 4,900 metre high peak is also easily overshadowed by its more famous neighbour.

On clear days, Antisana, the fourth highest peak in Ecuador, is also visible as are numerous other peaks in the area.

Ruminahui, Pichincha and Sinchalagua all in site from the road on Cotopaxi

There are camping sites in the park, but only one indoor sleeping option – Tambopaxi.  This haven for climbers is very comfortable and is on the track to the more rugged northern entrance to the park.  Being in the park itself means that on a clear night or morning, you can go out and experience the star strewn sky over Cotopaxi or watch the sun come up.  Both are truly magical to experience.

Outside the park borders are numerous other options – our favourite little find is La Campiña – a small little farmstead with wonderful owners (post to follow soon).

Cotopaxi is majestic and magnificent.  Not a single day goes by where we don’t look for it.  Sometimes I will wander out our front door for no other reason than to look southeast and see if it is visible.  If it is, I will usually stand and look at it for awhile, immune from the visual distractions of the neighbouring houses and suburban detritus.

The park itself is one of our favourite places in Ecuador – rugged, largely empty, and with the mountainous surroundings that feed our souls.  You can have spectacular experiences throughout Ecuador, but not visiting Cotopaxi would be to deprive yourself of the opportunity to truly experience the unique and amazing wonders of nature.  Rain or shine, make an attempt and it will truly astound you.

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Thanks to all of our friends and family who have helped us to have so many opportunities to visit this majestic beauty — Aarne, Mom, Heather, the Brooke family, the De Saint Martin family, Mom and Dad and Ruth!

:: the wet lakes ::

Quito spoils you for natural beauty. There are towering peaks in every direction. Rivers thunder over cliff edges. The micro climates offer change in a matter of mere minutes as you climb out of valleys. All of this and wonderful green oases within the city itself. With all of this on our doorstep, it took us a while to find our way to las Lagunas Mojanda. Nestled within several peaks – including the exquisitely named Fuya-Fuya – these lakes offer an easy, and dog-friendly, getaway.

After the ease of walking Mosa anywhere we wanted in Lesotho, Ecuador with its extensive national parks, ecological reserves, and other off limits areas has greatly diminished our ability to take Mosa on our various adventures. Hence why the Lagunas de Mojanda are such a great option. Picturesque beauty, relatively unvisited, and with a lake perfect for doggie swimming!

Our first foray to find the Lagunas de Mojanda did not go exactly as planned. The main entrance is from Otavalo, but we wanted to approach from the southern Quito side and therefore followed a path less taken. We did fine for a while and then wound up on what could only be optimistically called a dirt track. It was a return to some of the harsher tracks we had encountered in the far reaches of southern Africa!

We were back in our element, but unfortunately Cora was pregnant so the bumps were quite hard. She and Mosa had a lovely, if not long, walk in front of the car while Piper and I braved the bumps in the car. We slowly made our way in past the smaller of the two main lakes, which offered some nice walking and a chance for Mosa to romp in the lake. Piper was in heaven watching Mosa chase sticks into the shallow water.

Visiting these Lagunas de Mojanda is a fantastic day out. Yes, the weather can be ever changing and frequently the clouds sit right on the ridge line above the main lake, but that helps to create an otherworldly environment. The best view is coming in from the Tabacundo side from the high pass looking down over the lake. It is stunning in its simplicity with nothing but paramo grasses, the lake, and the mountains behind – exactly how nature should present itself.

:: horse racing across the mountains ::

“Bo-Ntate, you need to move your cars, that is the finish line.”  Standing in a brown field surrounded by mountains, Basotho and horses, we didn’t realise that the two piles of white painted rocks were the finish line.

Horse racing in Lesotho is not like in the US or UK. There are no grandstands, betting windows or tracks for that matter. In fact, there aren’t even any agreed upon races beforehand. Owners show up and haggle over the cost of entering, race length and winner’s purse. Then there is an informal parading of the horses followed by a slow walk out across the fields to the start line. A flag is dropped and off they charge back towards the assembled spectators. No finish line technology, just a guy sitting on one of the ‘finish line’ piles of white rocks in order to provide an “eyeball finish” if needs be.

These informal, but very competitive gatherings happen around the country, but some of the biggest, and oldest, occur near Semonkong, a market town about two hours from the capital. This is the epitome of horse country, with very few roads and no major cities for more than 100 kilometres in any direction. Here in the Maloti Mountains horses are a source of transportation, agricultural labour and pride. People with few other material belongings revere their horses and back them to the hilt in these races.

The horse races generally occur once a month between March and October, though if there is someone staking an extra large amount of money then an extra race day can occur quite suddenly. The money isn’t huge, but there is a lot of it flying around the crowds! Betting is chaotic and anyone can bet anyone else. If you agree terms, you have a third party hold the money, then winner takes all. You add this chaotic betting system to the official negotiations for the terms of the races and rag-tag jockeys riding unfamiliar horses and it is best to watch from a bit of a distance!

We went for the Independence Day races, one of the bigger events of the year and we were not disappointed. What started slow and low-key became louder and more energetic with each passing race. Horses are paired based on age and size, with the races progressing to older, stronger horses. By the end, it became a straight match race – one on one. We have no idea what was really happening, but the excitement after the winning horse came across the line was intense and great fun to be around.

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There is something special to behold from the joy that the Basotho get from their horses.  Seeing it in the natural setting of the fields around Semonkong and Maletsunyane Falls was all the better. These horses don’t belong on the manicured race tracks of Saratoga or Aintree, but rather on rock-strewn dirt tracks streaking across the mountains of Lesotho.

Here are a few videos of the event to give you a real feel for it – first the parade, followed by a win. Please excuse the poor quality and line across the middle…

:: winter sunrise ::

A winter sunrise provides a special palate of colour. With the ground full of tans and browns and the smoky nature of the air refracting the weaker sunlight, the whole scene becomes a little softer and more golden.

There was no reason to wander up a random hill overlooking Ladybrand in South Africa, other than to capture the scene and then enjoy a lazy Saturday breakfast at Living Life with good friends.

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life which are the most beautiful…

:: epic remoteness ::

Ten hours of two lane roads navigating the lowlands and snaking up into the mountains.  Ten hours of traversing rivers, rural villages and alpine meadows.  Ten hours of avoiding rock falls, random car sized potholes and speed bumps.  Ten hours of bouncing along dirt roads for kilometre after kilometre of awe-inspiring beauty.  Ten hours after our departure from Maseru, we finally arrived in Sehlabathebe National Park

Nestled amongst the soaring peaks of the Maloti Mountains and staring out over the abyss of the Drakensberg Escarpment, Sehlabathebe was the first National Park in Lesotho.  Like most things in Lesotho, it isn’t terribly far as the crow flies, maybe 300 kilometres, but it feels like it’s on the far side of the world.  That feeling is amplified by the fact that there are almost no settlements near the park and so once inside the park’s boundaries, you have a better chance of seeing jackals than humans. 

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Once past the small guard house and soon to be opened new lodge, there are literally no structures within the park with the exception of a few ruined shepherd shelters and a rather bizarre house.  In the 1970’s, the then Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan decided he needed a hunting lodge, so he had a rather suburban looking house built in the middle of what is now Sehlabathebe.

I am not sure if there were a lot of animals there to hunt or whether it was more of a convenient place to hole up at times.  Regardless, the house has been operated as a rental property over the past few years by the Lesotho Tourism Board.  Two months ago, however, they closed it for an undisclosed duration, but you are still allowed to camp on the grounds.

We, and our friends Stacy and Cale, set up camp right next to a little babbling brook that flowed out of the once well stocked pond.  Much to Cale’s chagrin, there were no fish in this little pond, but there is apparently a beaver.  With a few trees offering a shady canopy and an unbroken expanse of grassland stretching out for a couple of kilometres, it was the perfect place to sit down and enjoy a beer while the braai got started. 

There is nothing to do in Sehlabathebe and that is the pure allure of the place.  You sleep late, have a lazy breakfast and then wander off in one direction or the other looking vaguely for animals, flowers or just a good view.  With this as our mantra, we walked out towards a waterfall, the location of which was described by the park ranger as being ‘towards the frog mountain and then head to your right.’  Admittedly the frog mountain was quite clear.  It was the head to the right that lead to some discussion and random wanderings, especially as from the top of the frog we could not see anything remotely close to a waterfall. 

IMG_0287001One of the unique features of the landscape of Lesotho is that it hides amazing natural wonders.  This is true across the country – Maletsunyane Falls near Semonkong just appear from nowhere.  So we wandered along a twisty stream, cutting through the high grasses and across the rock strewn waterway in search of this waterfall.  Then all of the sudden, it was there, practically at our feet.  The path ran alongside of the falls and lead down to the lovely pool below.  Though lovely to look at, it was icy cold even in the height of summer.  That didn’t stop us from taking a chilly but refreshing swim!

Cale decided not to join us in the water as he continued his unfortunately futile search for fish in the many streams that carve their way through the grasslands.  He did provide me a nice little fly fishing lesson however, so I now understand the basics of casting, even if that lesson did lead to two lost lures and a snapped line, sorry Cale!

The hike back from the falls turned into a marathon trek up and over a couple of mountains.  It was completely unnecessary as we could have followed the same stream back past the frog and towards the camp, but it being early in the day and we being young and adventurous, we decided to hike straight up!  

Like so many random decisions made on the fly, this one proved advantageous as we were rewarded with amazing 360 degree views and even found a couple of abandoned shepherd shelters that had been built into the rock faces.  We were exhausted by the end, but that just made dinner over an open fire taste all the better!

Stacy is a professional botanist and therefore was in heaven all weekend.  Sehlabathebe is covered in numerous flower species that are extremely rare to find in the wild and so invariably we would find Stacy kneeling down in the grass examining a small orchid or similarly delicate flower.  It was infectious to be around someone who was so knowledgable and enthusiastic.  With our limited knowledge and attention to flowers, it was incredible to see the many different petal, stem and seed structures through Stacy’s triple magnifier.

The real find of the weekend was going to be spotting an extremely rare lily that was apparently growing in some of the rock pools near the camp.  We set off up onto the plateau in search of them, but aside from some other new flowers we were unfortunately unable to locate the lilies.  The journey was good fun nonetheless as we skirted the rock pools – some no larger than a puddle and others that could be safely classed as ponds in their own right. 

On the far side of the pools were a series of rock outcroppings twisted into many elaborate forms by the wind and rain that lashes the Drakensberg Escarpment.  Some have formed perfect arches that frame the famous Three Bushmen peaks.  These peaks cast an imposing watch over the whole area and could be an entire photographic collection as the sunlight hits them throughout the day and clouds roll across their faces.  We weren’t able to climb them this time but when we go back that is going to be day one!

The weekend went entirely too quickly and soon we embarked on the long drive once more.  We attempted to cut across country on the new tar road to Semonkong, but were thwarted by construction works.  So, once more around the lowlands we went.  The Semonkong road would have been fantastically beautiful, but the drive around the perimeter of Lesotho is a treat, even if you did it just three days prior! 

Thanks to Stacy and Cale for all the good times, good food and good company – it was a fantastic weekend!

A few more snapshots of our adventures in Sehlabathebe…

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Here’s what some of our journey was like, though this was one of the best patches of road quality

:: spectacular semonkong ::

“Ntate, can you drive us to pick up the keys for the digger?” These are not the words you want to hear as the weather closes in around you while stuck on a single track road running down the side of a mountain. A truck was stuck in the mud ahead of us and the only solution involved using the digger on the construction site. We never found out why the keys were at a construction office more than 10 kilometres back up the road, but we provided a ride to fetch them and eventually we got through past the stranded truck using an alternate path they created.

Semonkong is solidly in the middle of Lesotho. A small market town surrounded by mountains, it only very recently became more accessible via a 65 kilometre dirt road. The first half of this mountainous road has been tarred, but the second half is still a work in progress, hence the diggers, trucks and mud tracks. In a country of ever improving infrastructure, this was a nice reminder of our surroundings and the power that nature has to turn somewhat challenging roads into a proper test of automotive capacity.

With our temporary tenure as a taxi service and a slightly nervous mud slide behind us, we arrived at Semonkong Lodge well after dark and set about erecting our tents.  Nestled down in a river valley, complete with large overhanging willows and rushing water, it felt more like England than the small mountainous southern African country of Lesotho.

The big draw of Semonkong is Maletsunyane Falls, a 192 meter single drop waterfall. Looking down into the gorge and watching spray lap up the cliff walls, it’s easy to understand how this area is also known as the Place of Smoke. The gorge itself is fantastically beautiful as it suddenly appears from within the rolling hillsides that surround it. A great gash into to the earth, it’s well over 200meters deep in some places and stretches far into the more rugged mountains to the south.

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The best way to get to the falls is on foot or horseback. We hiked it, which took us right into ‘rush hour’ traffic as we navigated past cows, sheep, donkeys, horses, school children and adults – all either heading to town or back from it.  Though we passed through one small scattered village, the majority of people were actually coming from villages unseen behind mountains that even fit people would struggle to walk up.

The views along the way to the falls are immense – enormous green fields running into the base of mountains that reach into the sky.  Dotted along the horizon was the occasional donkey or groups of sheep and cows tended by herdboys cloaked in their traditional Basotho blankets.  The sheer scope of nature and the beauty that surrounded us took our breaths away.

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As we approached the gorge, we wandered along the opposite cliff edge, taking in the awesome scale of the gorge, falls and landscape behind.  From there we could see the small river, no more than twenty feet across, tumbling over the abyss and reforming two hundred meters below. It is truly a spectacle of nature at its finest and one not to be missed. 

IMG_0611001While admiring the views and watching birds of prey effortlessly glide on the up drafts, the clouds darkened and the distant rumbles of thunder echoed across the cavernous landscape. We made it halfway back to the lodge before the storm really closed in on us. Luckily we were able to find shelter under some trees to wait out the worst of it. 

Most of us are brought up learning that you should avoid trees in a storm, but this was by far the safest option we had at the time. Standing in an open field next to rocks whose mineral content attracts the very serious lightning of Lesotho was just not an option.  Watching the storm pass, cowering under its thunder and seeing huge lightning bolts arch across the sky and strike mountainsides was quite an experience. 

Eventually the storm let up and we made our way back through the muddy tracks back to camp and warmed ourselves inside the lodge drinking hot chocolate and playing games. The rain didn’t let up all night and it took the promise of a lovely cooked meal at the lodge to make us move from the cozy confines of our tent. It was well worth the short, wet walk as the food was rich, hearty and warming. We were even treated to some entertainment by some of the men of the village who displayed the gum boot dancing that many Basotho men have acquired from the mines in South Africa. 

The following day dawned bright and dry, so we hiked back to the falls for a second majestic view. Not surprisingly, the water was flowing even more strongly and the plume of smoke seemed to reach halfway across the gorge, lit by the gorgeous sunshine. Our return to Maseru later that day also proved far easier with no unexpected rides or mud slicked mountainsides. Instead we contented ourselves with the glorious landscapes of the Mountain Kingdom in the Sky wherever we looked.

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:: hash mash ::

Over the last couple of months we’ve been able to take part in several hashes so rather than write about each one here is a random collection of photos from these lovely excursions.

And here’s a fun short clip of the kind of thing we may encounter on a hash in Lesotho…

We’re regularly updating our Lesotho gallery with photos from our adventures hashing and exploring in general so have a look: www.pbase.com/malinakphotography/lesotho

:: malealea ::

Gently swinging in a hammock with a 180 degree view of the Maluti Mountains and the sounds of a Basotho choir drifting across the open lawns, it was easy to see why everyone talks so highly about Malealea (Ma-lay-a-lay-a). Nestled in a quiet lowlands valley about two hours from Maseru, this peaceful hodge podge lodge was the perfect place for a short weekend escape with a group of expats.

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We arrived just before the daily musical show and settled into the shared common area and commenced on the cocktails and relaxing inherent in the weekend plans. Within a short time a Basotho choir started up, singing religious songs mostly in Sesotho. It was lovely background music echoing off the rondavels and cascading out towards the mountains.

After the choir came Sotho Sounds, a Basotho music group that has performed all over Southern Africa and just this past year also at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This group of locals plays handmade instruments like three string guitars and sings in Sesotho, all while doing coordinated dances.

The sounds were hypnotic and made you immediately tap your foot and swing your hips in rhythm. As the sun drifted down behind the hills and the chilly winter mountain air began to set in, we were all perfectly content sitting on logs and plastic chairs, listening to this wonderful local music.

One of the big draws at Malealea is pony trekking. The land is perfect for wandering up and down the valley or taking the several hour trek up to the Gates of Paradise Pass. This 2000m high location offers fantastic views of the Maluti range and the countryside below. It still being winter meant that the fields and hillsides were various shades of brown and tan, but in just a few months it will all be a glorious green!

Instead of letting the horses do all the work, we chose to hike down into the river gorge. Being the dry season, the river was virtually non-existent, though a couple of the deeper pools did require removal of shoes and in one instance even our trousers.

The river gorge offered great opportunities to scramble over boulders, shoulder through thickets and firmly get lost. Well lost is inaccurate, we knew where we were and how to get out, but unfortunately we went a bit too far and didn’t know the way out of the gorge except the way we had come in. After a lengthy exploration up the side of the gorge, we fortuitously ran into a local herd boy who led us up out of the gorge and back towards the lodge. Despite our small detour, it was a great hike with really enjoyable company throughout.

That night we enjoyed another evening of music, relaxation and copious amounts of wonderfully grilled meat. A few of us hearty souls roused early the following morning to attempt to photograph the sunrise to varying degrees of success. The biggest benefit of this early start was the unilateral access we then had to the hammock for a lazy Sunday morning before heading back to Maseru!

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A big thank you to Emma for initiating such a wonderful weekend surrounded by beautiful scenery and good friends.

:: hashing ::

Every Sunday morning a group of expats head out of the city to hike or run in the countryside. This is the Maseru chapter of the Hash House Harriers. Hashes, as they are known, exist all over the world. Initially started by a handful of British expats in Malaysia in the 30’s, there are now chapters in most major cities. Many hashes are described as ‘drinking clubs with a running problem’, but hashing in Maseru is much more kid and dog friendly.

The concept of a Hash is pretty simple. Someone called a ‘Hare’ goes out and sets a course for all the ‘Hounds’ to follow. In Maseru this means a couple of people go out and map out a course on Saturday and then Sunday morning everyone assembles and heads out to follow the trail. Some people will run a loop, but for the most part people walk.

We had heard of the Hash before moving here, so when a couple of people invited us along we jumped at the opportunity and found ourselves on a very sunny Sunday morning driving an hour northeast out of Maseru. It was fantastic to see the rugged mountain landscape and even begin to drive into the foothills a bit. The road up to the starting point was paved until the last 6km or so. At this point it was a very good thing that we were in an SUV that could handle all the bumps and craters we drove through.

We arrived at a nice little visitor center consisting of several traditional thatched rondavels, a braii and even loos. It was slightly surprising as there had been one sign at the main road and then none on the twisting roads thereafter. One of the people we were with mentioned that several tourist spots in Lesotho had these newer visitor centers, but most were unfortunately not yet open for lack of funding and general organization. This one was in use however and proved to be an excellent leaping off point as our group of 20 or so headed out into the wilds of Lesotho.

The path was well marked, but generally we just followed along. We met lots of interesting people, many of whom have been in Lesotho for years. We wandered down a steep hillside into a nearly dry riverbed before passing stands of birch trees and eroded overhangs on the sides of the river. The several dogs with us enjoyed jumping into the small pools left behind in deeper recesses of the riverbed.

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Our easy, level ground walk was quickly over however and we started to traverse a steep, rocky hillside. After about ten minutes of climbing and gasping for air in altitudes we are not yet used to, we reached the top and were rewarded with a truly majestic view. The grassland stretched out before us and several miles away a wall of mountains thrust up into the blue sky. It was spectacular.

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We wandered over the red dusty soil and crossed paths with several Basotho herders in their traditional blankets. There were cows meandering across the grassland and a line of trees marking the a water course on horizon, now largely dry in winter. On the other side of the river gorge there were small clusters of traditional round Basotho huts with thatched roofs.

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It had already been a wonderful walk, but it wasn’t over yet as we still had to go past some rock paintings created by the San people. Inhabitants of Southern Africa for thousands of years and the most ancient race in the world, the San people lived in Lesotho before the Bantu speaking tribes moved south out of central Africa and started displacing them. Protected by the harsh terrain, the San lived in Lesotho longer than most surrounding locales, but they were eventually displaced in the late 1800s.

The San left behind quite a legacy – rock paintings in several locations in Lesotho. This one was not extensive, but there were still a hundred or so individual figures and animals painted red onto the rock. Many of the images were difficult to see due to erosion and poor maintenance. Some had sadly been desecrated by visitors scratching their names into the rock over the years. Still, it was fantastic to be mere feet away from something painted hundreds of years prior.

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The hike ended back where we began and then a couple of Hash traditions were carried out. The people who set the course had to be judged for their efforts and newcomers had to introduce themselves. All of these things involve small amounts of beer in plastic cups which you drink and then throw the remnants over your head. Word to the wise, if you are ever involved in a hash, don’t stand directly behind the drinkers!

All in all it was a fantastic experience – a wonderful few hours spent exploring the magnificent countryside and meeting new people. There was even a lovely black lab to keep us company so we were in heaven.

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:: lumela lesotho ::

: Lesotho = Small mountain kingdom in southern Africa, pronounced ləˈsuːtu :
: Lumela = Sesotho word meaning hello, pronounced dumela :

As we flew the final leg of our journey into Maseru, the brown wintery fields of South Africa gave way to rugged mountains stretching north and east into the highlands of Lesotho. We had waited a long time to catch our first glimpses of our new home, so looking through the small plane windows and seeing the beautiful mountains below made this whole adventure finally feel real.

We disembarked onto the tarmac into the winter sun and headed to a small terminal building. They unloaded our bags from the plane onto a hand wheeled trolley and before long we were through immigration and on our way towards the city together with our lovely sponsor and hosts. We were at first surprised that the airport was so far away from this relatively small city, but then our hosts explained that this was the closest bit of flat land required for modern aircrafts.

Heading towards Maseru we were mesmerized by the lovely expanses of brown fields and the outline of distant mountains through the hazy midday sun. As we approached the city we started to see a scattering of small stone and cinderblock houses. Most had corrugated tin roofs, some rusted with time while others were gleaming in the sunshine. The roads on either side leading to the houses were unpaved and pock marked with potholes and oversized rocks.

Before long the landscape changed and we started to see more modern brick and stone houses on either side of the road. Men and women were walking along the road, while others were sitting waiting on a rock or other structure. Most people were wearing heavy coats or layers to keep the winter chill out, often paired with bright colored wooly hats.

Off in the distance you could see people standing or walking through the dormant fields where goats, cows and donkeys were grazing. One figure tending some cattle stood out in particular wearing a vibrant red traditional Basotho blanket which we learned are typically made of a blend of cotton and wool to keep them warm.

As we came into Maseru we started seeing larger buildings and a few modern stores. Alongside the road were vendors selling fruit and vegetables right next to others preparing hot food for lunch. In one area there were hundreds of factory workers queuing for food or sitting and eating on top of piles of large sacks. Everywhere we looked there were people walking or trying to cross the road, and taxis overtaking us and honking their horns to pick up fares.

We finally arrived at our hotel, a modern building perched on a hill looking over the capital. We spent our first evening enjoying a glass of red wine and a stunning sunset from the terrace of the hotel, a perfect way to end our first day and start the rest of our adventure here in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

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