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Lesotho Epic

6 1/2 years ago the rocky bends proved a bit challenging for our fully-loaded Tenere. I remember that I had to walk a couple of times, and the wind was blowing so hard, that I struggled to keep my footing.
Of course, things are quite different by car. Before we know it, we are on the summit, and we notice immediately that even Africa’s highest pub has changed.

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The whiplash of wind and the hazy light on the plateau are just as we remembered though. I guess, at the scale of our tiny life’s, some things never change.

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We happen to be pairing our first Lesotho bush supper with a spectacular sunset. No braaing though, we are perched on a narrow sliver of sand, between a corn field and a river.

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After refueling in Mokhlotlong the next day, we point the bakkie towards Thaba-Tseka. Soon, we take a sharp left on a dirt track that should see us through the canyons of Sehlabathebe, and across Mathabeng Pass, all the way to Qacha’s Nek, and then eventually to Telle Bridge border post, where we exit Lesotho three days later.

The Kingdom in the Sky wins our hearts

Climbing its steep bends that make tyres screech and send an adrenaline rush to the head is mental. There are plenty of climbs where one must battle the feeling that you are about to roll over and plunge into the abyss. When the wind ain’t whipping, the sun scorches. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, and hard. But then you cross paths with a Sesotho teenager, who make it all seem effortless, and you smile. The Lesotho shepherds are usually either on horse, no saddle, with a folded blanked under their buttocks, or or foot, in cheap Chinese-made white rubber boots, another blanket wrapped around their shoulders, and a woolly hat leaving only their eyes and the nose bridge exposed. Since their country has been opening for foreign investors and tourists, the economy expanded and the people became more keen to engage travelers.

We had a few interesting encounters, as we picked up local hitchhikers along the way. Florence, for example, traveled with us for almost a full day, to her home village at the foot of Mathabeng Pass, with a brief stop to share a lunch of banana with peanut butter, peaches and raisins, everything washed down with cold water that has been infusing in the fridge with a few slices of lime & fresh ginger. Oh, the luxuries that a car affords! Still missing the motorcycles, but boy, is being able to eat cold fruit on a hot day just amazing!

Soon after Florence’s village the track deteriorated. The road up Mathabeng Pass was much more demanding than Sani Pass, then it dropped into a wide valley where boulders and wild iris scattered. Women washing by the river meant a settlement had to be nearby. A half a dozen village beauties strutted past. We had seen the young shepherds earlier, leaning in the grass, with a smirk in the corner of their mouths. Surely this valley will see some action tonight. Not even a half an hour later we found ourselves again at over 2300m altitude.

Such is the weather in Lesotho, that you can go through all four seasons within the space of one day.

With visibility now reduced to the length of the bonnet and slit pouring from the sky, we would have certainly missed the Audi stuck in a ditch if not for the 5 dudes coming out of it at the sound of our engine. This poor thing was brand new, the temporary licence still taped to the window, and it quickly became apparent that if only one of the guys knew how to drive, all of them were equally clueless about how to get themselves out of the ditch. In their defense, there were other factors that might had had something to do with the accident. The empty bottles of Castel beer scattered in the grass sure did not look too innocent to me. It was also so damn cold, that who could blame these lacquered-shoes wearing fools for trying to warm themselves up with some more beer, as they ducked inside the car and waited for someone to drive past. Fortunately, we had plenty of rope, Jon knew where their towing hook was, and no sedan is too heavy for our Toyota. The road forward spanned the edge of yet another canyon. We joked that our epic drive across southern Lesotho was becoming predictable: up, down, up. Then another round of hitchhikers hoped on the truck.

This time a woman from a village, plus 2 men from Qacha’s Neck, which turned out to be a fairly big, modern town, with paved roads, shops and everything. On our last day in Lesotho the sky cleared and the gravel turned to smooth tarmac. Until a few miles off the South African border the road remained steep and bendy along Senqu River. Then the landscape became tamer, the air warmer, villages bigger and visibly wealthier than in the highlands. There seemed to be a wedding or a funeral happening almost everywhere we looked. Buses zoomed by. In towns, denizens chomped on French fries smothered in ketchup. Our Lesotho journey was coming to an end.