Tag: travel

:: 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

:: 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!

:: 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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:: saying farewell to our life in the uk ::

Eight years, eight months, six flats, six companies, one postgraduate degree, one massive heartbreak and thousands of happy memories later, here we are saying goodbye to our little life in the UK.  As we reflect back on our time in this part of the world, we know we will sorely miss the people, places and experiences that made it so special for us.

Here are just a few of our favourite memories of our life in the UK in no particular order:

Thank you to everyone we have crossed paths with whether short or long, this is in no way a goodbye but rather an au revoir as the French say…

Our Life in the UK

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.  ~Carol Sobieski and Thomas Meehan, Annie

Onwards to new adventures and experiences in Lesotho!