Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lesotho: Day Trip To The Kingdom of Mountains

So, did you know that South Africa has two countries that are kind of smack-dab in the middle of the country?  Swaziland and Lesotho are separate, autonomous countries with their own government, but they are completely surrounded by S. Africa.  

Jess and I got a chance to venture into Lesotho, which is right on the border with Drakensberg.  Confession time, I don't think I knew Lesotho was a country before I got to the area.  Well, I did, because my LP is called "South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland," but other than that, zip.

What It's All About:
The Kingdom of Lesotho is a super mountainous, highly elevated country - about 75% of the entire country is these huge mountain ranges (which are the gorgeous ones you see from Drakensberg).  This means it's gorgeous.  But it also means the country is very scarce in resources, so they rely pretty heavily on South Africa for trading, jobs, etc.

The area of Lesotho we visited (which does not have a big city nearby) was exceptionally remote, so a lot of the traditional lifestyle is still highly on display in this area. Traditionally, the people were sheep farmers - this made sense due to the mountainous terrain, and the men worked from an early age to own their own sheep to lead around all the mountains.

Mountains as far as the eye can see

I've never seen such undeveloped, wild remoteness before - it's so rare these days to find areas with no development at all - and Lesotho is all windswept hilly green mountain ranges, with occasional herds of sheep here and there, or even rarer, a small stone shepherd's hut.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Attempted to hitchhike to Lesotho (4WD is required to enter, so our tiny little car unfortunately didn't make the cut) - but got a little bit of a late start, so decided to opt for the next day instead. We signed up for a day tour to Lesotho through our hostel.

Driving over Sani Pass towards Lesotho - there were like 50 Table Mountains here!  Why is Cape Town's one so special

Here is the South African exit border post

A pano on the way up the pass to Lesotho

The morning started off pretty foggy - basically couldn't see a thing from a lot of the viewpoints

These rocks are called the 12 Apostles - I have no idea where one begins and one ends, so if they say so....

  • After a winding, climbing drive through over sharp corners and terrifying cliffs of death (I can see why you need 4WD!), we arrived to Lesotho!  It took about 45 min - 1 hour to get there from our lodge in Underberg.

Welcome to Lesotho!!

Free beer! ....just joking

On our drive deeper into Lesotho, we passed by these two shepherds on the road. Traditional shepherds' wear involves wrapping a thick wool blanket around their shoulders (blankets are super important; it's a status thing), with sun hats/head wraps and rubber boots. In fact, to keep their clothes clean, many shepherds just wear underwear under the blankets. A number of times, we saw a flash of leg and colored undies from a shepherd when the wind blew up his blanket.

Here is a shepherd's stone house

The ridiculously beautiful drive up to one of the mountains


Then we stopped at the top of one of the mountains to eat lunch

Me, a juice box, and the overlook from lunch

During lunch, we ran into more shepherds. Their blankets are super super important to them - the fancier it is, the better/nicer it is

Jess and I at another overlook

Jess has significantly better hops than me but he's like, twice my height so....

You can seriously see forever into the distance

However, I think the shepherds must get pretty bored out here

Driving back down the mountain. It's crazy because the area is so, so remote and desolate with so few people - but there's this super-fancy, brand new highway that zigzags through. It was built by a construction company from China a couple years back - you still see some a random Chinese person working on the road here and there

After lunch, we drove down to visit a traditional stone home

Here is a local lady in front of her home

Inside her home. We got to answer/ask questions about her life and the traditional way of life in the area. And she made us a huge pot of fresh bread, which she let us taste and then sold by the slice.

The bread is made by heaping hot coals above and below the pot and leaving it to cook all day. And it was warm and fresh and delicious

Jesse clutching his hunk of bread in front of the lady's home

  • After our home visit, we had one last stop at the highest pub in Africa - right on the edge of Lesotho!

Here is the plaque that proves it; 2874 meters high

This is the view looking down from the deck of the pub

Some of the guys from our tour group having a drink

It felt like a little ski lodge and I loved it

And then we headed back down the mountains to South Africa. This is a view of the crazy winding roads down - some of the turns were so sharp, it was terrifying. Apparently this road is especially un-fun to drive in winter, when there's ice.

A baboon perched on a fencepost

This is the courtyard of our hostel. This is a sunbird (so pretty!), which we spotted on the last day - our room was named Sunbird, so very appropriate.  Fun fact, Drakensberg is apparently amazing for bird-watching.

  • The next day, Jess and I left Southern Drakensberg to drive north to Johannesburg, where we had to return the car.  We stopped for one night in Northern Drakensberg on the way, right near Royal Natal National Park. I was sad we didn't have time to spend there because this area is also supposed to be ridiculously stunning - there are natural rock formations and mountains that form what is referred to as The Ampitheatre - a basically long, crazy drop-off cliff at the top of a mountain.

We did, however, have time to take a short evening hike on some of the trails surrounding our hostel in Northern Drakensberg. Jess and I took separate hikes, and his was better because THE HOSTEL DOGS FOLLOWED HIM THE WHOLE TIME. NOT FAIR.

I am basically using Jess' pictures because I didn't bring my phone on my hike....and dogs. Adorable hostel dogs. 

Dusky sunset dogs. Apparently when Jess got back to the hostel after an hour, he heard someone yelling at the dogs "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN!?"  Hahaha

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Lesotho is the same size as the state of Maryland or Belgium, but there are only 1.8-2 million inhabitants.
  • Lesotho has the highest low point of any country - 1,452 meters
  • SHEEP HAVE TAILS.  SERIOUSLY.  We saw a bunch of sheep in Lesotho that had long, hang-down fluffy tails and it looked SO weird. Apparently the tails have been bred out of a lot of sheep today because they used to harbor disease or some weird reason like that, but whatever reason it was, it doesn't apply to sheep in Lesotho.  So once in awhile, you'd see a rando sheep with a long, fluffy tail. WEIRD. WEIRD.
  • In Lesotho, the people are called Basuto, and the language is Sesotho.

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