Jan 21 – Feb 11, 2020
February 3 – Monday – Lesotho
We left the window open to enjoy the sounds of the thunder, the pitter-patter of rain, and feel the cool breeze. Unfortunately, we also enjoyed the whine of mosquitos. I did not sleep as well as I had hoped I would. I was awake at 2 am, and was fully awake at 6 am. Interestingly enough, the bed seemed to be permanently fitted with a most uncomfortable heated pad – complete with thick cables crisscrossing underneath me. Shelves in the corner of the room had heavy wool blankets on them, making me wonder just how cold it got during the winter in this region. I was rather wishing it was that cold.
Breakfast was served in the room next to the red dining room and while dinner had been great, breakfast was mediocre. We didn’t hang around long and were only too eager to get back on the road.
The breakfast nook
Today was a day that I been anticipating since I booked this tour: Lesotho, the Kingdom in the Sky. “The Kingdom of Lesotho is situated on a highland plateau entirely within South Africa. The lowest point in the mountainous country is 1,400 meters (4,593 ft) above sea level. It is home to 2.2 million residents, most of them poor, living off the land as farmers” (wiki). We were in for some good riding today.
I had no idea just how amazing it would be.
Leaving Lady Grey behind
Deeply eroded river channels
Video of a nice pass and surprise speed bump!
It was in this region that I noticed the appearance of octagonal houses. They all seemed of fairly recent construction and I could not figure out why this design would be preferred over the standard four-walled house. They were not prevalent, but they were common enough to be seen as a regional thing and not just a singular event.
And standard four-walled buildings
It was a fast ride to the border: the roads were open and in good condition. We routed around the few towns that we saw; there was nothing to slow us down!
Heading for the border
Cubed water tower (I think)
Car washes were the South African version of “US Nail salons” – so many of them!
Entering the town of Sterkspruit
Parasols! They were everywhere
Sterkspruit was a happening place!
And back into the open
A more traditional hut
Always something walking along the roadside
Jonathan is giving one of the locals a riding lesson
I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road (this guy was flying!)
Lesotho has entered the game
The crossing into Lesotho was a breeze! We parked our bikes and walked over to the South African border shack, where only six other people were in line ahead of us. The South African border guard put my passport on the scanner and then inked the exit stamp onto the paper. Then it was back on the bike, rode across the river, and walked up to the Lesotho border station. This was an even easier process: the guard there took my passport, flipped through the pages and then just added the entry stamp to my collection. I was in!
We found out later that Jonathan had taken a photo at the border and was firmly dressed down by one of the border guards. We tease Jonathan for the rest of the day about this; everyone knows that you can’t take photos at border crossings! Or if you do take photos, be more clever about it.
Video of the approach (and a bit of) the border
Welcome to Lesotho! (crossing the Telle River)
Border toilets – very specific
First view of the country
As stated earlier, Lesotho really is a poor country. The houses were not grand, there were limited vehicles on the road – and most of the ones I saw were fairly old – and there was almost no evidence of standard Western-style consumption. The countryside was clean, which I assume was due to a lack of there being limited things to be tossed around by the wind. But who knows? Maybe the people of Lesotho have more respect for their land than their neighbors do.
Video of Lesotho roads
Decoy road – I thought for sure we’d go that way
But instead we went this way
And this way went up!
Looking back at the road
We climbed up the arid mountains, Dan and I agreeing that it reminded us somewhat of the American south west, in a vague sort of way. The roads were smooth, which was a surprise. I assumed that a poor country would have poor infrastructure, but I was very wrong. Even the engineering was remarkable, with well-cambered corners and nice sight lines. And then we crested the mountains and it got even better.
Video of the approach to the above river setting
More video from this stretch
And another video from here
This little foal raced back to his dam when he saw me coming
I had to find out more about these round huts. It turns out that they are the traditional dwelling style of the region and are known as “mokhoro” (in South Africa they are called “rondavel“). Most traditional huts are built of local materials (usually stone) and almost always roofed with thatching. Even more recently built huts are topped with thatch simply because constructing a rounded roof out of anything else takes considerably more skill and money.
Architecture lesson over – back to the landscape!
There were so many interesting distractions in this region. I noticed (usually too late to photograph) many small-scale brick makers. They were really small-scale, to the point of maybe four people working on the process at any given time. There were also numerous animals – even more than we saw in South Africa! Because Lesotho is such a poor country, I think that people still rely heavily on their own animals for transportation and food production.
Video of this stretch
Today was just amazing riding. Every direction I looked held such beauty, and every corner brought out new vistas. The camera did not leave my hand very often. And keep in mind: I shared a lot of photos here, but this isn’t just because one section of the road was particularly nice. No – the entire day was particularly nice.
A more modern roof type that frequently popped up
Video from this stretch
Video from this stretch
Zooming in on a village on the other side of a valley
An enthusiastic wave from a shepherd
More animals than cars
White Wellies (the boots) were really common
Hand-planted corn rows
Bricks and donkey
Typical agricultural setting in Lesotho
New roof installation
Moving a plow, using just one tire
Another zoom across another valley
The landscape changed slightly but was still wonderful to behold. The clouds were just the icing on the cake. The roads had been empty for the most part – other than the frequent donkey, horse, goat or sheep. The temperatures were perfectly comfortable and the bike felt great under me. This day had climbed to the top of my “best day riding ever!” list.
Video from this stretch
Crossing the Senqunyane River
Video of this stretch
And into the mountains – and clouds!
The clouds on the horizon had been looking threatening for quite some time, but not really knowing which direction we were heading meant that I didn’t know if we’d come into contact with them. After crossing Senqunyane River, the road climbed rapidly and directly towards the darkest, blackest clouds we could see. It wasn’t long before the flash of lightning lit up the landscape around us. I think that we were going to get wet.
I tried to catch the lightning – and failed
Video from this stretch
Waiting for a ride
I’m guessing they had some pretty heavy rains recently
While looking around on Google for interesting tidbits to share in this report, I saw the aerial view of this region. It is amazing! It is truly artistry which could never be fully appreciated from the ground.
What it looks like from the road
The inevitable drops of rain started to fall and the riders in front of me pulled over to put on their rain gear. I scoffed at the idea: it wasn’t cold (20° C) and I figured that I’d dry off just as quickly as I might get wet. Besides, my gear was in the truck. Not very clever I know, but the weather had been so nice, rain never even seemed like an option. But then David pulled up with the truck so I figured I might as well put on the rain jacket. And I’m glad I did.
Video from the rain gear stop – showing the bikes this time!
Video of me trying to put the gear on
Dan contemplating life as we put on our rain gear
This wasn’t the only burned out car I passed
The drops had started to fall before we even put our side stands up, and by the time I rounded the next corner, I knew that the rain jacket had been a good idea.
The rain started gently, but didn’t take long for the clouds to open up and soak everything under them. Beautiful, glorious rain!
But if riding in the rain, in the mountains, on unknown roads isn’t challenging enough, we ran into what seemed like the Lesotho version of “rush hour”. There were dozens of groups of shepherds guiding their flocks up into the mountains, using the same road we were on.
They were very accommodating to our passing, trying their best to move their animals out of the way, and waving as we went by.
Fluffy clouds and periodic rain
And yet more animals!
We pulled off to the side of the road. Before us was a deep, lush canyon, with waterfalls pouring their contents into the river at the bottom. This would be our last stop before lunch. We had been riding for a while – about five hours – and lunch would be a late one, with us not stopping until almost 2 pm.
Jonathan goes off, looking for a better view
The rain let up for our entry into the town of Semonkong, which was fortunate as that allowed me to more fully appreciate the “local flavor” of the town and its people. We were heading for lunch at the Semonkong Lodge, down along the river and in the middle of the town. There were many people enjoying the drier air on this side of the mountains.
Bricks! ‘an stuff
A happening place
I finally had the chance to check out the saddle type that they used here – very interesting
We had threaded our way through the town and then took a pot holed dirt road down a short hill and across the river. It was lunch time at the Lodge!
Crossing the Semonkong River to Semonkong Lodge
The lunch was good (I had a great burrito; not exactly what I was expecting in Lesotho!) and while we waited for our food, I was entertained by an endless parade of people and animals going by.
When we stood up to pay, one of the other riders made a terrible discovery: sometime during the morning his wallet had fallen out of his pocket. He still had his passport, but he had no other means of identification or – just as importantly – money. As there was no real way of figuring out when this loss might have happened, it was decided that he’d just have to soldier on for the rest of the trip as best he could. Hana and David, in a true testament to how much they care for their customers, made arrangements to loan him some money, so that he could still enjoy the remainder of the trip. Not that there was much to pay for: the rooms, breakfast and dinner were already covered by the tour. But now at least he had the option to eat lunch and buy any little incidentals that he might need along the way.
After lunch the clouds – and the rain – came back
Most of the day’s riding had been tackled and now it was just a matter of getting to tonight’s lodging. Or so I thought. Instead we went through more mountains, more rain, and more herds! And more lightning, too. It was almost constant flickering in the clouds above us, with frequent bolts shooting down to the distant ground. It was real “weather”!
I noticed an interesting situation on one of the corners: there were two young boys madly urging their sheep across the road and out of our way. They wore the comfortable-looking clothes that I had seen on the people of Lesotho and they seemed quite pleased in their success in clearing the road. Then just a minute later I saw half a dozen kids walking down the side of the road all dressed in their smart-looking school uniforms. I wondered at this point how much more privileged the school kids were, compared to the shepherd boys, and how different their futures might be because of this difference.
It had cooled off considerably, with the temperature gauge reading 12° C. That, along with the rain, made for a dampness that would have invaded my bones, if I hadn’t brought along my rain jacket. Regardless, I was really enjoying today, rain or no rain.
Remember all of those herds that were being guided along the road before lunch? Bah! That was nothing! NOW we had really run into the madness of Livestock Rush Hour!
I thought that we had passed a lot of herders before lunch – it just got crazy after lunch!
We finally left most of the furry rush hour behind, but not the mountains. Oh no…. we still had more of those to enjoy before our day was over!
The rain came and went, and came again
The red soil of the region was really beautiful
The end of our riding came rather abruptly. We turned off the main road, rolled through some green fields and then turned again onto smaller and smaller roads.
Our lodging tonight was the Botleng Hotel in the town of Makhoathi. It was strikingly European and seemed entirely out of place considering the types of housing I had seen today. The grounds were planted with flowers and bushes, and the buildings were nicely spaced and designed. It was a fairly quick process to sign in and get our rooms, and I admit that I was looking forward to a relaxing evening. It had been a long and wonderfully beautiful day!
We ate together in the restaurant on the grounds, our group just one of a handful there. The restaurant had a really nice buffet set up and I enjoyed the chicken, rice, and vegetables that they had on offer. After our meal, Dan and I went back to our room, which was set up almost like a house: there were three “rooms”, all opening onto a central living space and full kitchen. And as typical for this trip, I tried to get online from the comfort of my room, but the wi-fi signal was too weak. The wi-fi signal was always too weak. But I guess I should be grateful if there was any wi-fi at all. Besides, I was on holiday!
Link to Day 10