Blog 7 by Tan: A Cozy Blankie with your Coup d’Etat?

In the last blog I mentioned that there was a coup type situation going on in Lesotho while we were there. Call me cynical but it appears that it was a squabble between two sets of political elites, all keen to secure the top job for themselves in order to facilitate the efficient plundering of the country’s wealth into their own pockets. I have been noticing a theme in African politics where leaders seem to be in a race against time.   They know their period of gathering (read: stealing) wealth is limited so they look to get as much as they can, while they can. It reminds me of the chocolate game we used to play at children’s birthday party (dare I say it) back in my day.


Post 7 01_newPlowed fields waiting for rain for planting… and what is known locally as Tit Hill (also the Two Tits or just the Titties, the little mound in the middle called “Middle Tit”) in the background. They look more buxom from the other side of the valley.


Post 7 02_newCommon country here in Lesotho


The game involved a 1kg block of Cadbury chocolate, a dice, a pair of oven mitts and a knife and fork. Kids would takes turns rolling the dice and when you rolled a 6 it was go time. You would don the oven mitts and grab the knife and fork and get cracking on the block of chocolate. You had until the next person rolled a 6 to consume as much chocolate as physically possible. It became a frenzy of unadulterated greed and led to many a near choking death. I excelled at this game as I adopted the squirrel method of packing my cheeks full to the point of bursting. When someone else rolled a 6, I would bow out of the game with feigned dignity; then set about enjoying my chocolate wealth, by then a pile of spittle covered, half chewed chocolate in my hands. I recall it tasted all the more sweet for having deprived others of it. I see a lot of parallels with this game and the actions of many politicians I’ve been hearing about here. Of course the any self-respecting African strong man leader would not let a someone else rolling a 6 throw them off their task. So there you have it; my high level analysis of the governance problems in Africa.


Post 7 03_newNew tar on the way to Semonkong


Post 7 04_newWhere we stocked up on supplies for our hike.


Now getting back to the coup, the general agreement among those we spoke to was that the leader of the opposition (himself the former PM), backed by the military, had a crack at a coup d’etat. This happened when the Prime Minister got wind of a possible vote of no confidence. The PM responded by dabbling in a bit of authoritarianism by getting the King to dissolve parliament before the vote. Well played indeed. He then sacked the head of the military. Another wise move. Only he did not count on the leader of the military engaging in high-level statecraft by saying that the letter of termination didn’t arrive and must be stuck in the post. Therefore he was still in charge.

The army then surrounded the PM’s house, sending him running off to South Africa for help. The army also raided police stations to get their weapons, which led to the death of at least one policemen. At one point the leader of the military was said to have had missiles aimed the capital, all the while denying that there was a coup going on at all and claiming to support the government. Rrriggghttt!


Post 7 05_newSourcing fresh bread and exposing my legs to the sun for the first time in months.


Post 7 06_newThis shop was owned by a Chinese guy who was only mildly surprised when I spoke Chinese with him. He didn’t speak Sesotho and almost no English. Apparently this is the case for a lot of the Chinese shop owners in Africa.


All this activity was mainly restricted to the capital Maseru so we mostly avoided the place. I have since read that a few days ago parliament was re-opened with MPs singing and dancing in parliament chambers in celebration. This naturally conjured up horrifying mental images of Australian politicians (overwhelmingly composed of humourless middle-aged white guys) doing the same thing. I shudder at the thought.

Dancing MPs aside, it doesn’t look good for Lesotho long-term as the PM still has the support of the police while the Opposition Leader still has the support of the military and each of them is accusing the other of corruption; making them both almost certainly right. And old mate, the defense force commander, still refuses to leave his job. With all these dramas going on I guess it is easy for them all to forget that a quarter of their people are unemployed, half are under the poverty line and the fact they are only living to 48.7 years due mainly to AIDS. Meh…politics!

Anywho, back to the fun stuff.


Post 7 07_newOn the way to Katane Falls


Post 7 08_newLittle dude on his way to town. So impressive seeing such young kids on their own riding bareback up and down mountains


Post 7 09_newWindy as..


Post 7 10_newOne of the many characters on their way to town. We found the people in Semonkong to be the most outgoing and friendly people we came across in Lesotho. The local chiefs encourage everyone to be friendly to the tourists as they bring important funds into the community.


Our next stop was Semonkong Lodge where we splashed on a great room with a fireplace and did little for the first couple of days but chill out and read by the fire. The staff at the lodge were great and we had some really interesting chats about life in Lesotho. Many were worried about the coup as it was already affecting tourist numbers and therefore the money they were taking home. With the tourist high season just a month off people were right to be concerned.


Post 7 11_newThis guy had a guitar made out of a ~6L container and rubber bands. And a kick-arse hat to boot.


Post 7 12_newThis gentleman is sporting the playing cards design of Basotho blanket. Can you see the spades? More on this shortly.


DSCF2159_newOur guides and pack horse. Sadly we had a issue with our exposure adjustments but thought the photo still had a good setting…


Post 7 13_newOur kindly guide and pack horse


After 6-odd weeks in South Africa, Mick and I have both been noticing that our clothes are becoming tighter and we have been using a little more effort than usual walking up hills. We were fairly certain this can be explained by the soap powder used in Africa causing our clothes to shrink and the altitude causing us to move like geriatrics. However, we started to suspect that we might actually be getting fat off good food and cheap beer. I, for one, started to wonder if dessert for lunch and dinner was not a bit excessive. In the end we decided to leave the bikes and go for a two-day hike to get the heart pumping. We walked through villages, across plains and up and down many a mountain over the two full days of hiking to get to Katane Falls and back. The falls are stunning and as they are quite an effort to get to, they are not heavily touristed. We spent the night in a traditional rondavel and cooked a passable dinner of Lesotho’s most beloved canned semi-food, Chakalaka. After the hike we slept like the dead. All in all it was a fantastic walk but I couldn’t help but think it would have been far more enjoyable on the DRs.


Post 7 14_newPackhorse on his way to graze while we schlepped up more mountains


Post 7 15_newWishing I had hiking boots


Post 7 16_newAlright, we’re here…now where’s my beer?


Post 7 17_newKatane Falls 162m. Quite impressive.


Post 7 18_newThe view at sundown. Also impressive.


Post 7 19_newThe last bit of the hike to the view point was rather steep indeed.


After we returned from our hike one of the waitresses asked us if we could now appreciate how hard it was for people living so far from town. It was clear to us that despite the beauty, life is HARD for these people in the mountains. Our waitress Elizabeth explained that by law, pregnant women living remotely have to come to town a month before their due dates in order to ensure the safe arrival of their babies. Women are not permitted to have their babies at home as it is seen as too dangerous for mother and child. When we mentioned that in Australia there were people who chose to have their babies at home she looked at me in horror and seemed utterly gobsmacked that anyone would do this when they had access to doctors and proper medical facilities. I felt quite embarrassed and didn’t go on to discuss how there were people who chose not to vaccinate their children as well. It seems that in these places where life is so much more difficult they embrace anything that is going to help to make life a bit more secure for themselves and their families. Or perhaps back home infant mortality is such an infrequent occurrence that it is not a reality for the people who make those choices. Anyway I’ll shut up before I upset the angry mummy blogger hordes.


Post 7 20_newLocal sheepdog – this is the mother and her puppies live in the kraal (stockyard) with the sheep and goats so the dogs grow up to see them as their pack and protect them.


Post 7 21_newAll the animals in the kraal for the night.  Note the donkey rubbing his arse on the rock?  He did that for a good 5 minutes.


Post 7 22_newKing Cock


Post 7 23_newOur abode for the night.  Our Rondavel doubled as a primary school during the day.


Post 7 24_newMoon through the trees


Post 7 25_newOur packhorse getting a brush before the hike back to Semongkong


Post 7 26_newShepard with his homemade guitar. Note the corn cob used as the bridge (I think thats the right term anyway?)…


DSCF2343 - Version 2_newThis guy had a really eerie and beautiful voice as he sung in Sesotho


That same woman, Elizabeth, happens to be the only person in the country that gives talks on the Basotho blanket that Lesotho is famous for. Just to clarify, the people who live in Lesotho are Basotho while a singular member of the Basotho is a Mosotho and they all speak Sesotho. Anyway, Elizabeth is passionate about the Basotho blankets and we were curious to know more so went to her house for her presentation. It turned out to be one of the best things we did in Lesotho.


Post 7 27_newThe Malasunyane Falls drop 196m into the canyon.


Post 7 28_newAnd rather impressive gorge. This is big waterfall country.


Post 7 29_newSheep in one of Semongkong’s main streets on the way back from the shearers. All done by hand shears.


We learnt that there is a whole lot of meaning in the blanket designs, how they are worn and the various milestones in life that warrant a new blanket. Boys get them prior to and after initiations, women when they get married and have their first child and people get new blankets when they pass away to name a few.

There is a practical element to the blankets too. The good ones are usually about 90% wool making them rain and fire resistant, warm and lightweight. In the mountains it is said no one leaves on a journey without a blanket.


Post 7 30_newElizabeth in her grandmother’s 100 year old cow skin blanket


Post 7 31_newLaying out the Maize design


Post 7 32_newElizabeth folding he Moshoeshoe design


Post 7 33_newDiscussing the Playing card design


Women use blankets to carry their babies. This is done with two blankets and a couple of large safety pins. One blanket ties the baby to the mother and the other covers it from the elements. Elizabeth told us how there is the risk of suffocation of the babies so many women have the babies with their faces to the mothers back so they can feel the breath of the child. Clever.


Post 7 34_newElizabeth was a wealth of knowledge and had such a passion for her culture


Post 7 35_newOur 1.5 hour talk ended up going for nearly 3 hours as we kept asking questions and Elizabeth kept answering.


Post 7 36_newThe wheat design – my favourite


I asked the lady how women avoided getting baby poo all over their blankets as I didn’t see much in the way of disposable nappies in the shops. Her response blew my mind! In Lesotho they toilet train their newborns so there are only occasional accidents they have to deal with. Nappies are not necessary. It is amazing. I am not going to give you the details as to how this is done as it will be in my upcoming parenting book. The working title is The Lesotho Method: How to Make Your Baby Shit on Command. It will no doubt take the world by storm. Best be kind to me now before the riches start flowing in.


DSCF2447_new More discussion


Post 7 37_newHow men wear the blanket


Post 7 38_newElizabeth’s son… probably wishing he was playing football right now.


Post 7 39_new…in one of the kid sized blankets.  You should see how cute the ones for toddlers are.  


The patterns and the colours of the blankets all had hidden meanings behind them and it was quite gratifying spotting blankets ‘in the wild’ and knowing what they represented.  One of my favourite styles was the playing card blankets, which had hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades in their designs. The story goes that the King wanted them included in designs to show foreigners that they were viewed as equals and very welcome in the Kingdom of Losotho. Playing cards were an exclusively foreign game at that time so that is why they were used. Other designs had wheat, rams horns, the stones used for building the traditional rondavel houses and firewood to name a few.


Post 7 40_newMe getting dressed Lesotho style


Post 7 41_newElizabeth was clearly in her element and loved sharing with people the rich history and tradition of the blankets.


It was all very interesting stuff and if it weren’t for me being on a bike I would have taken one of the wheat ones with me. The highest quality of Basotho blankets go for about 800 rand, which is about $80. Not a bad investment for something that they say can last forever.


Post 7 42_new

Post 7 43_newLooking like the moron tourists we are


With that it was time to bring our ride in Lesotho to a close. We had such a great couple of weeks but it was time to be moving on. We travelled the impeccable, brand new, Chinese built highway to Qachas Nek using the brand new bridges over the Orange and Little Orange Rivers, which were previously 2 of the biggest obstacles in the region. Not any more, xie xie very much.


Post 7 44_newGetting ready to leave Semongkong


Post 7 45_new The new bridge over the Senqu (Orange) River.

Blog 6 by Tan: In the Shadow of Moshoehshoe

After entering Losotho we headed straight for Katse Lodge overlooking Katse Dam, where upon entering we were greeted with a glass of fruit juice complete with coloured sugar around the rim, offered up on a silver tray. The sugary drink served to replace the energy expended on the ride in and also to reinforce the point that we had almost certainly arrived somewhere outside our budget. We winced at the cost of $50 per person for their cheapest room, a twin room with shared bathroom in to old dam builders barracks. But having drank their commitment-juice and bought dirt and their lobby we felt obliged to stay. Turns out the price included a pretty excellent 4-course dinner so between that and the views over the dam we couldn’t complain.

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Tan on route to Katse Dam probably stopping for a lolly break

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Views over Katse Dam

The next day we did a tour of Katse Dam which had us taken from the top to the bottom of the wall and all the way into it for a couple of hours for the grand total of $1 each. The dam was pretty impressive to behold at 185m high and 60m thick at its base and Michael seemed to have enjoyed getting an engineering fix.

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Photo of Katse Dam taken before embarking on our $1 tour

It turns out that Lesotho’s biggest industry is water, which it sells to South Africa along with the bulk of the electricity generated. This naturally upsets people a bit and looking at the photos in the blog you’ll get a sense as to why. Lesotho struggles with water shortages and semi-regular droughts. In fact, no water has gone over the dam’s causeway for three years. And if I had a dollar for every time I saw someone traipsing up a mountain with a bucket of water of their head I’d have enough to stay in the fancy rooms at Katse Lodge for month. People complain that the government sells off resources the country needs, pockets a lot of the proceeds and fails to put any of the money back into improving the lives of the locals. That old chestnut. For all the beauty of Lesotho there is no kidding oneself that it would be an easy place to live. Life in Lesotho even from the back of a motorcycle seems bloody hard. The only thing that would make me choose to live life on the land in those mountains would be to escape marauding bands of murderous Zulu, which was, incidentally, the reason why people moved up here in the first place.

blog 6 05_new
Yet more incredible views

The story they tell in Lesotho goes that the people that went on to form the Basotho nation got sick of being near annihilated by the Zulu who were by all accounts pretty terrifying in a fight. So to the mountains they fled. The leader of the Basotho people was a guy blessed with the inordinately cool name of Moshoeshoe (mo-shweh-shweh). Moshoeshoe wasn’t at all into war and employed the ‘can’t we all just get along’ style of rule. He united the warring clans, giving everyone land and cattle. He was the forgiving type too, even when it came to cannibals who ate his granddad. A Basotho lady told us how, upon catching the anti-social cannibals who dined out on ol’ granddad, he gave them some land and cows and told everyone else to be kind to them and show them how to fit in to a peaceful, not so human consuming kind of society. I suppose that was what he had to do with the cannibal misfits in absence of an island territory like Tasmania to exile them to like the Australians fortunately had.

Our visit to Lesotho coincided with a bit of a military coup type situation that made it apparent that Moshoeshoe’s reported peace loving tendencies were not inherited by the contemporary leaders of the country. But we’ll get to the coup in the next blog.

blog 6 06_new
Yet another incredible mountain pass

After Katse we travelled the amazing mountain roads to a town called Roma where we stayed for a few days of rest and relaxation. While sadly the roads were all tar they did come with the extra challenge of having no lines or road markers. On dramatic, windy mountain roads like these, it made for some rather abrupt and exciting decelerations around sharp corners overlooking what would be a scenic though guaranteed death.

blog 6 07_new
Off to see dinosaur footprints with kids from a local community centre

While staying in Roma we met a couple of young German kids who were at the beginning of a year’s stint working at a community centre. Through them we learnt about some of the harshness of modern life in Lesotho. Riding through the country we had seen what seemed to be a disproportionate amount of funeral parlours for a country of it size or any size really. It seemed that at least 1 in 3 businesses outside of the capital were funeral homes (most of the others are liquor stores or taverns) and they were certainly the most impressive looking structures in most places. Death it seems, is big business in Lesotho. The AIDS rate here is approximately 25% which makes it third highest rate of AIDS in Africa with Swaziland and Botswana ahead of it – granting the tiny kingdom a bronze medal in the world’s shittiest contest. It certainly fits with what we were seeing as we rode past small villages. You would see plenty of children and a few older people, especially older women, but the middle generation was conspicuously absent. They have lost an estimated 200,000 people to AIDS related illnesses reducing their population to just 1.8 million. Sad stuff and especially disappointing considering the huge number of NGOs in operation in Lesotho. Lesotho is 80% Christian and it seems this fact has contributed to the large scale of foreign and especially American charities operating in the country. I was told by a guy working there that there are more NGOs per capita in Lesotho than anywhere country in the world. I’d believe it.

blog 6 08_new
Mick surrounded by enthusiastic children – clearly in his element

blog 6 09_new
A rare photo of the two of us together and out of motorcycle gear

We joined the Germans for a walk with the kids from the community centre to see some dinosaur footprints which seem to be all over the place in Lesotho. Most of the footprints are said to be about 180 million years old and most of them are just sitting there without any signage or commercialisation. We hiked up to the top of a nearby hill with the kids. One feisty little guy informed Michael that he’d be sitting on Mick’s shoulders for the duration of the hike and Mick, figuring him to be a tenacious fellow, judged compliance as the easier path.

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So children – much cuteness

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Some kind of dinosaur footprint and a little girl with a killer smile

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Another stunning kid

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I didn’t do a single paleontology subject in my geology degree but if I’m not mistaken these are the footprints from a juvenile male Seagullasaurus

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Yep, these were defiantly not made by humans

Earlier in the week we had heard about an enduro race that’s held in Lesotho every year called the Roof of Africa. Turns out the guy who owns the place we were staying is heavily involved in route planning for the race. Ashely’s family had been living in Lesotho for 5 generations and had the admirable passion for growing the country’s profile in tourism terms. He has the idea of building a world-renowned trekking route through Losotho modeled on the Annapurna/Everest base camp like treks of Nepal. An awesome idea.

blog 6 16_new
Peach blossoms were in bloom all over the place in Lesotho

Seeing our interest in the Roof of Africa he offered to take up along to scout out some of the possible trails for this year’s event. We jumped at the chance to go scope out some of the trails with him. The Roof of Africa (the Roof) is known as one of the most extreme enduro events out there. After checking out some of the routes for this year’s event I am not at all surprised by this. Nasty, steep, never-ending, whole other level of rocky, rocky trails up and down mountain sides. Absolutely gnarly hellish looking stuff. On the right bike and almost certainly in retrospect, it looks like it would be a lot fun. From the looks and sounds of things this year’s event is going to be a killer. It starts 3 December for those interested.

blog 6 17_new
Hiking up potential Roof of Africa routes – these pics don’t come close to showing how harsh the terrain was

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The route designers had the philosophy that nothing is too hard for the Roof but it could be too prone to bottlenecks

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The guys in charge of the route were encouranged seeing horseshit on the potential routes – employing the philosophy that if a horse can get up the path then some nutter on a bike can make it up there too

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With the routes for the bronze, silver and gold categories for the Roof largely sorted out we made our way back to the car – thoroughly knackered

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Country in desperate need of rain

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Little dudes posing demurely for the camera

Another one of the guys in charge of route finding for the ‘Roof’, Justin, owns a motorbike shop in Mesaru called Cycle Centre. Before continuing our journey through Lesotho we needed to source a new front tyre for Mick and service both the bikes which were at 5000kms. After much too-ing and fro-ing Mick decided on a Mitas E07, which although we’d been satisfied with the E07s on the rear, was a disappointment on the front. With of bike maintenance complete we hit the road in search of more epic views. The south of Lesotho naturally obliged…..

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Mick’s flogged out front tyre a Dunlop 606 all the way from Australia. Funny how my tyre had the same amount of kms but nowhere near the wear – curious-er and curious-er

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Justin and his garage

Blog 5 by Mick: Return to The Mountain Kingdom

We woke more rested but found our room at the Amphitheatre Backpackers had been booked out that morning, so we moved to the campground as we were still in need of some quiet time. We settled in for a couple days of chilling; with me reading, writing blogs, and admiring the views of the Drakensberg with a beer or three, while Tanya was far more disciplined and used the time to do some study. It was a good time to be inside as the westerly wind was hellish and our tent flapped like crazy.

post 5 01
Setting up camp at Ampithetre Backpackers

post 5 02
Sunset wasn’t half bad

Some interesting characters materialised, one being an aussie fella, Liam, on a 1981 Yamaha XT500 which he had just bought and wanted to ride throughout Africa. He was also an avid photographer and offered many of the guests a free lesson in nighttime photography as conditions were near ideal; the moon set early and we were in an agricultural area with minimal light pollution.

post 5 03
The Milky Way in all its glory

post 5 04
A fire on a local hill made for spectacular photography

Liam’s XT500 wasn’t running particularly well, at full throttle it was protesting loudly with lots of backfiring. We did a bit of investigation, pulled the plug, checked the air filter and did a couple test rides; it seemed it was running a bit rich so we did a poor-man’s rejet and removed the cover off the airbox. The bike ran better so we assumed we were on the right track.

The following day we figured we better go see what this old XT was capable of, so I plotted a route of interesting looking local tracks on the GPS and off we went. Alarm bells should have rung when we started going through a few farm gates, but I assumed that if the tracks were plotted on the map (in this case the GPS) they must be public access, farm gates or not, much like many station tracks are in Oz. Just leave them like you found them and all is well.

post 5 05
About to hit some trails on the XT500

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that’s not quite right though. After about half an hour on some really nice trails we ran into a farmer who was very, very confused as to who we were and why we were there. He let us move on once he realised we were dumb tourists and pointed us in the direction of the main road. The magnitude of our folly crystalised as we arrived at the back of a quite high-end accommodation village called Little Switzerland, complete with rows of European style cottages which were just like the cottages in Isle of Wight-(click to read more) and a couple Zebras. We amused the security guards greatly as we appeared from nowhere and exited past the guardhouse and through the boom gates.

post 5 06
Just gone through a farm gate on the way to Little Switzerland

We pushed on up Oliviershoek Pass and out to Retiefklip, a small memorial for early settlers who travelled through this way from the Free State and down to KwaZulu Natal. The XT was behaving itself and was managing the dirt roads without a problem so we followed a sign out to Retiefpas with a hope of finding an interesting way back down the escarpment. There was a small trail plotted on the GPS but it didn’t seem to join up with the road, but maybe with some investigation we could find a way.

post 5 07
Bikes at Retiefklip

Unfortunately there was no way down we could see at Retiefpas, which was confirmed by a grumpy farmer at the end of the road. We turned back the way we came, but not long later the XT disappeared from my mirrors. I turned around and found Liam stopped over a large puddle of fluid a few metres after a 200mm high square edged lip where the dirt met the tar. Oh shit, this isn’t good.

Thankfully my initial thought that the bike had cased out and cracked the crank case wasn’t the case at all. Liam had slowed enough to avoid that, but the sharp hit had caused the float mechanism in the carburetor to unhinge and fuel was leaking everywhere. It was starting to get late so we decided to tow the XT home, which was about 25kms away including the descent of Oliviershoek Pass.

We didn’t get home without incident however, at one stage the XT got out of alignment and the DR went over the towrope, wrapping around the rear wheel and snapping. Thankfully no damage was done to the bike, and after cutting the rope from the rear hub, we got underway again and the DR tractored away and lugged the XT home. Liam shouted the beers that night.

We pulled the carb apart the following day and fixed the float, checking the main jet and needle while we were in there. The cause of the rich mixture was found with the needle lifted nearly as high as it could go. Some owners are so damn clever sometimes, especially when it comes to making “power”. We dropped it to the middle of its travel, gave it a clean and had the bike running sweetly again.

post 5 09
Liam with his carb in bits

post 5 08
I took the opportunity to reverse my front tyre which was wearing unevenly

That night while everyone was enjoying themselves after dinner, two quite drunk and quite large local farming types turned up (driving, it should be mentioned) and looking for trouble. They unsuccessfully tried to pick a few fights and when asked to leave, robbed one of the vehicles in the carpark after trying to break into some of the rooms. When confronted by the owner of the bakky (ute) which was robbed, they attempted to run him over. Twice. Caught in the act, they raced off and clipped the gate on the way out. With all that excitement, it was time for us to go.

We all hit the road the next day, Liam heading north on his XT and us heading west. We made our way back up to Witsieshoek, where Barbara and Jan, the managers there, remembered us and once again looked after us very well. During our flying visit to the Sentinel with Charlie the week previous, we had decided had to return. We had been told there were some great hikes with chain ladders and we figured we better see them.

post 5 10
Liam all packed up and heading to Ladysmith on the old girl

We settled in with a few rums, a fantastic steak and caught up with the news. To our great concern, we learned of a coup de etat in progress in Lesotho, which we planned on entering in the next couple days. This was quite worrying, as there were reports of police fighting in the streets with elements of the army who were attempting to overthrow the government.

We had a wonderful nights sleep in the suite that Jan and Barbara had upgraded us to, and made our way up to The Sentinel carpark in the morning. With little real knowledge of where we were actually going, we set off up the trail, which must be said, isn’t particularly well marked. We had left under the assumption that the chain ladders are used to climb The Sentinel itself, but after about one and a half hours of following our nose, and then about 15 minutes or so of backtracking to find the trail to the top of the Sentinel, we realised it doesn’t actually exist. So we carried on, found the chain ladders, and finished the hike at Tugela Falls at the top of the Amphitheatre.

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Hiking trail below the sentinel

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And some more

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Tan on a tricky bit, the trails were a bit rough

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Tan on the first chain ladder

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Me on the second chain ladder

We relaxed at the top of the falls for half an hour so enjoying the spectacular view, when a group of young French guys arrived and we got chatting. They had planned on touring Lesotho, but had recently been advised by the French Embassy in Jo’burg to not enter due to the political instability. That night we had a good chat with Barbara and Jan about the situation, and as they seemed not overly concerned by it, we resolved to get some reports a little closer to the action before deciding whether to abandon the Lesotho leg altogether.

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View from the top

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Chilling in the sun

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The walk back down

We dawdled the following morning as we endeavored to get the blog to upload. Reliable internet has become a perennial struggle for us – it was one of the reasons we stayed so long at Amphitheatre Backpackers and left so frustrated, their internet was horrifically slow and hideously expensive. Thankfully Witsieshoek was better and got the job done, and our delay meant we ran into a local fellow who stopped for a cuppa.

We chatted with Mark about Lesotho and he mentioned the “Roof of Africa” Extreme Enduro, a tough offroad motorcycle race through Lesotho’s rocky passes which he had competed in a number of times. Talk of the race peaked our interest, so we checked out the website and found on the ground and up to date Lesotho info and news articles on their facebook and twitter feed. A quick look there confirmed that all was quiet in the capital Meseru and we decided to go have a look at the border the following day.

We left and rode out to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the location of the Besotho Cultural Centre. We did a tour there, learnt about Besutho history and culture, dressed up in cow hides and blankets, drank some traditional sorghum beer, ate some sorghum porridge and quite enjoyed the visit, not so much the sorghum.

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Milling sorghum by hand

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Witch doctor can tell your future from some bones for 30 rand. I passed up the opportunity……

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Tan getting dressed up

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Traditional Besotho house interior

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Look, there is a picture of Thomas Jacobson

The ride to Clarens through the NP was stunning, a great road past overhanging cliffs of wonderful oranges and reds, including spotting a herd of Zebra. Clarens was an eye opener, a lovely little town on first sight and very reminiscent of Hanmer Springs in New Zealand with a very touristy village feel. The backpackers we stayed in was an eye opener too. The walls between the toilet cubicles were about waist high giving a quite communal, community feel. And Tan got the fright of her life when she found a fellow traveller sitting in his car checking if his pistol was loaded. Rest assured we slept with the doors and windows locked.

Lovely views in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Our planned ride the following day was only a few hours so we took the time in the morning to check the bikes over and lube the chains. We found Tan’s bike low on oil and I was in need of more antihistamines. The westerly winds that had started a week earlier were playing havoc with my sinuses and I had quickly consumed our meager stock of medication.

We rode through to Caledonspoort, a major border post in the north west of Lesotho. Everything at the border was functioning as normal so we were happy to enter, however we hit a hiccup when we got to the Lesotho side. Our immigration official was very unhappy that hadn’t gotten stamped out the previous time we left the country through Monantsa Pass. We had been advised by some locals who had used this route previously that when re-entering Lesotho the next all that was needed was an explanation that you had exited stampless through Monantsa and all would be fine.

This is not so.

Our official was a very grumpy lady indeed that we had left this way unstamped and put us in the naughty corner to wait for her boss to return from lunch to decide what to do with us. We pleaded ignorance and begged for forgiveness but weren’t overly concerned, we could always just head back into SA, and settled in for our estimated hour and a half or so of time-out before the big boss would return.

15 minutes later the lady called us back and stamped us through, her patience was a little feebler than ours. Two foreigners camped up in the middle of immigration reading books would be rather annoying I would assume. So we were told to have a good hard think about ourselves and promise to be good next time. We got our visas and made our merry way, returning to the mountain kingdom.