Its a few weeks since we have gotten back from Afghanistan, and I shared most of my photos in earlier posts. However, regular readers will know my hubby is a much better photographer than I am, and here is a guest post of his favourite faces of Afghanistan….
Who says weekends need to be ordinary?!?! When I was a relentless corporate warrior in my thirties I used to use weekends for laundry, chores, sorting crap out, catching up on tele, sleep and email. Hmmmmm. Not that much fun.
Now I squeeze as much enjoyment as I can out of life! So, I have figured out you can have some pretty entertaining weekends, travelling or hiking, provided you get creative. Courtesy of some BA miles and a free companion ticket, hubby and I were off to Zambia to revisit Victoria falls (I love it) and then heading up to Lesotho (country 190/197) to check out Maletsuyane falls. I left the office late Thursday and would be back at my desk Tuesday morning.
Seeing the falls in Zambia
An overnight flight to Johannesburg and then a quick transit through to pick up the flight to Livingstone. Jo’burg airport puts European and American airports to shame. It’s clean, functional, has excellent shops and good food.
We landed in Zambia after a quick flight full of posh South Africans, and after a long wait for an inept visa process, found a luminous purple taxi with a soccer mad driver to take us to the hotel – David Livingstone safari lodge (it wasn’t bad as we got a half price deal on booking.com)
We revelled in the African sky. I love the sky in Africa, it’s so close you can almost reach out and touch it, whilst simultaneously being so vast it goes on forever. We had a lazy afternoon lounging in the sun enjoying the view of the mighty Zambezi flowing past and watching the clouds lazily floating by and being entertained by the monkeys trying to steal our food. It’s a tough life.
Up early, we headed down to the falls. It’s easy to visit both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides of the falls but we had already been on the Zim side. I liked the Zambia side and got a better appreciation for the geography of the falls…. the wide falls with torrential flow narrowing from a width of 1700 meters, falling 108 meters, to become a fast flowing river through a narrow gorge. It’s an easy stroll to the view points and the baboons are entertaining. Everyone else hired ponchos, but we just enjoyed the soaking :-).
We headed back to the airport for the afternoon flight to joburg. Sadly given schedules we weren’t able to get to Lesotho in one go, so had to overnight in JNB. If you ever need to, I highly recommend the city lodge at the airport. The service sucks, but the rooms are clean and you can’t beat the location
Landing in Lesotho – the rooftop of the world
Up early, I availed myself of the airport shops to pick up a puffer jacket. In true last minute form I hadn’t checked the weather in Lesotho before leaving the UK. I had packed for sun. But the temperature in Lesotho was max 12 degrees and below freezing at night.
Lesotho is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. Famous for being the only country in the world which is entirely above an altitude of 1000m, it’s lowest point is 1400m… hence the nickname the ‘rooftop of the world’. Lesotho became independent in the sixties and was lucky that it was under British rule at a key point in history and avoided being subsumed into a larger South Africa. That said, Lesotho is heavily dependent on South Africa for currency and 60% of the working population cross the border to find jobs.
The flight to Maseru was on a tiny plane with 40 seats. The airport was tiny, and as is so often the case in tiny countries. We picked up a car and headed out on the long mountainous drive to semonkong.
Heading through the high passes to Semonkong
The landscape was at once completely empty but full of life. The countryside seems totally barren, no electricity wires or signs of life, there seemed to be no one but if you looked there were people everywhere with their cows and sheep, every inch of the land is being farmed or grazed.
The mountains and high valleys were stunning. The road was a miracle of engineering, although I wouldn’t have driven it at night as it was windy and hadn’t been well maintained after some recent rock slides. The highest point passed thabia putsoa at 3096m, with the road at 2750m. The photos don’t begin to do justice to the vast open spaces.
The people are as unique as the landscape. Everyone is dressed in a Basotho blanket. The men wear them as capes and balaclavas and look stunning in them on their horses. The women wrap them around their waists like sarongs to keep their bums warm. It is pretty cold here – sunny and up to 12 degrees during the day but minus five at night. We feel like we have been transported to gaucho land in Patagonia, except we are in Africa! Horses and ponies are the main stay of life and even now are how most goods (including quite a lot of beer) gets transported to remote villages.
We drove 2.5 hours to semonkong. We stayed at a rustic lodge, miles from anywhere. When we arrived, we couldn’t quite figure out how to get our 2wd car down the steep rocky ‘road’, so left it at the chiefs house and walked the last 100m to the lodge
They gave us room 4, an old stone rondavel, which is apparently where the king sleeps when he stays (and no it wasn’t that flash).
The waterfall at Maletsuyane – the highest in Southern Africa
We set off to hike to the famous Maletsuyane falls. Going up hill at 2300m isn’t that easy, but we managed to overtake at least one donkey and two horses. It was a glorious walk, exchanging greetings with the locals as we wandered by. The villages and huts are simple but well kept, and there are lots of latrines (pretty unusual on Africa). There were also plenty of corrugated shacks serving as shebeens, even a ladies one, and I got a hearty ululation when I greeted them.
After about 30 minutes in a high valley we spied the beginning of the gorge. Strolling along the cliff side we eventually saw the falls. South facing, much of the waterfall was frozen, and probably would be for a while. It was lovely, but I imagine it looks even more spectacular in the summer with lush green foliage.
We hung out in the sun for a while, and then at 4, the sun dropped behind the mountain and the temperature plummeted. We headed back, enjoying the sounds and smells of the locals heading home for the night, looking after the animals and cooking dinner.
We had an enormous dinner of local bread, aubergine chips, steak and malva pudding, sitting next to the fire warming up and playing with Butternut the lodge cat (for sure the happiest cat in Lesotho). but we also dreaded going to bed, as our rondavel was freezing! There was a small fire going in our room when we got back, but it didn’t seem to shift the temperature. We both went to bed fully clothed (and I had a hat and a puffer), and it took me a while to get feeling back in my fingers. Eventually the mountain of blankets seem to start working and I warmed up and fell asleep.
There was no electricity from 10pm to 8 am as it runs on hydro and they turn the dam off, so I decided to skip a morning shower once I figured out it was ice water. I headed back to the lodge and was delighted they had a fire going, which warmed us up while we consumed a huge breakfast. It was a delightful lodge! Highly recommended
Checking out the bars and shops
We meandered back to civilisation, taking tonnes of pictures as we went. We did pick up a Hitchhiker when we went to get our car from the chiefs house, and in a country where transport probably isn’t cheap it seemed churlish to refuse the young lady’s request for a ride, so we took her with us.
There isn’t much in the way of traffic on the roads, probably saw two cars, four minivans and a couple of 4wds in the first 60km after leaving Semonkong. However we did have to deal with a few horse and sheep obstructions – horses in particular have the right of way here over all traffic – mechanical or otherwise.
I couldn’t help but admire the numerous pubs and shops along the roadside.
Thabo Bosiu – Moshoeshoe’s fortress
We headed up to Thabo bosiu – fortress home of moshoeshoe – the former kIng of Lesotho. It’s also the best place to view the ‘sharp hat’ rock, so named as it resembles the famous Lesotho hat, so ubiquitous it features on the license plate. There isn’t much to see at the site – some restored huts and some gravestones – but it was a nice walk.
Is there any gas in Maseru?
After that we headed to the airport, but we’re slightly delayed by having to go to three gas stations. The first two had run out of fuel. No one was sure when they would get more – ‘maybe today, maybe tomorrow’. Such is Africa.
The airport is hysterical. Four flights a day max, with 40 passengers max. There were probably 40 people working there. The checked bags got hand wheeled to the departure gate and put on a trolley. The sole immigration guys computer didn’t work, so he just jotted down our names. The sole scanner was powered by a frayed extension lead hanging from the ceiling. The lounge was full of mismatched old sofas. I bought some chocolate at the bar but had to return it, as it was well past it’s best before date. On the bright side, we didn’t quite have enough money for what we wanted to buy, so the barman gave us a discount
Lesotho was amazing. The landscape, the horses, the friendliness of the people. We will definitely be back, though probably in the summer. For runners there is a great ultra trail in November
Extraordinary how much of a holiday you can have in four short days! It was brilliant!!! Now back to work. Seven more to go