Last weekend we traveled high into the mountains over the Sani Pass and into the nation of Lesotho (“Leh-SOO-too”). It is funny to see this country on a map – it looks like an island surrounded entirely by South Africa. You can find the Sani Pass in the lower left quadrant of the map at the top of our blog.
When we drove out of Pietermaritzburg it was a rainy and dreary afternoon. By the time we arrived at our backpacker hostel located at the base of the pass, the skies were clearing to reveal snow covered mountains!
How lucky we felt getting to see the first snow of the year! The excitement seemed to be shared by all – staff at the hostel, drivers, guides, and of course the other guests. We found ourselves in the company of people from France, England, Switzerland, South Africa, and Canada. There were also more Americans than we’ve encountered all year, including three Peace Corps volunteers serving in Swaziland. I’ve written about it before, that these backpacker hostels are an inspiring place to stay. I love that the kids get exposed to people from all over the world, people traveling on a budget and often serving the local community. When we asked a British fellow about the challenges he’s found as a rural doctor in S.A. he said, “No running water.” What one loses in privacy at these hostels is more than made up for in meaningful conversations! Here are Scott and Elsa Ruth enjoying a cozy read by the fire in the common room.
We appreciated the hot water bottles to keep us toasty in our bunks. The bird bath had even frozen overnight.
We headed out in a convoy of three 4x4s carrying other day trippers. The road conditions are rugged causing considerable wear and tear on the vehicles. One from our convoy broke down before we even started our ascent! As it was the perfect day, no one complained about the wait for the replacement vehicle as we all admired the stunning Mkomazana Valley.
The South African border post is located at the bottom of the road. Gotta get those passports stamped!
Underway, we began to the climb the pass which rises to 9,400 feet. On account of the perfect weather, there was some other traffic – two cyclists, some motorbikes, and a couple dozen 4x4s. “Ascending traffic gets priority,” our guide told us, though I’m not really sure what that means when it’s mostly one lane wide! Several descending drivers were not aware of that protocol and we passed within inches. We also encountered the “Lesotho Special,” which is the once-a-day public transport vehicle that goes between the two countries. I asked the South African woman in our car about it. She had taken it several times and told about how it is packed full of people, all silent, “saying their own prayers,” as they travel along the 27 hair pin turns.
Arriving at the top we checked in at the Lesotho border post with our guide.
The road from here is beautifully tarred and snakes across a rolling plateau.
Traffic is almost non-existent, except for periodic herds of sheep and their shepherds.
We stopped for lunch in view of the highest peak in Southern Africa (one of the not-very-impressive peaks in the top of this next photo).
I must say we were more enthused about finding a little snow still left on the ground!
Part of our tour included visiting a village. Our guide explained that most people leave the high plateau in the wintertime. This woman receives income from welcoming visitors to her home and talking with them about the culture of Basotho people.
Their homes are circular with very thick walls of stone and sealed with mud on the inside. We learned that the most important value Basotho people teach their children is to respect their elders. We tried the sorghum “beer” and the bread baked on coals in this heavy pot.
Traditional clothing is changing but once included this style of hat and heavy, colorful, wool blankets.
Time to descend. We all agreed it was a little more nerve-wracking on the way down!
Here’s one of our companions who was even more excited than we were to have a picture taken by a frozen waterfall!
Looks like we’re going to make it!
That evening we were treated to a sunset that rivaled North Dakota’s.
Monday was the day off for the previous day’s holiday on May 1st, “Workers’ Day.” As the children had no school we enjoyed a gorgeous autumn hike in the lowlands.
And when we found a waterfall from an icy stream coming right out of those snowy mountains, Simon surprised us with this!