Lesotho – Give It Horn

Lesotho – Give It Horn

Warren And Western At The Highest Pub In Africa

After much planning and deliberation our epic Lesotho weekend finally arrived. I swung via Western’s place on the way to work and picked up all his kit. After he’d loaded my car to the point where it was nearly bottoming out on the freeway we headed to the office. In just 6 hours we’d be on our way to Lesotho.

After a slow morning in the office we hit the road, Western on his KLR650 and myself in the Paj. We opted for the back road to Underberg which was a bad idea. So after a slow trip through the middle of Pietermaritzburg we finally hit open road, and an hour and a half later were in Underberg. We filled our vehicles, and jerry cans, and then it was time for the fun to start.

Half an hour later and we were through border control and on our way up Sani Pass. Yeehah!! The pass is definitely in the worst condition I’ve seen it. Most of the rocks seemed to have come loose and it was a bumpy drive up. Luckily the pass was dry, and there was no ice on the road, making it an easy drive.

A Besotho Girl With Western

An hour later, and another border post, and we arrived at Sani Top Pub (the highest pub in Africa). We were in luck and they had a free room in the backpackers. After chucking down our kit we hit the pub for a few drinks and dinner. It was, as it always is, highly festive. We met a lot of people, some who were hiking, others who were 4x4ing, and some who were just there for a bit of bedroom golf.

Dinner was a fantastic 3 course meal starting with soup and some freshly baked bread. Then we had peppered ham with potatoes, gem squash and cauliflower cheese. Mmmm… And finally for dessert we had an apple crumble with custard. Then it was time for some serious drinking. The owner decided we needed to try a few of the local mampoers, including what he referred to as beer mampoer (ouch). A couple of those later and we were all chatting merrily. It was quite a unique situation. There were about 15 testosterone filled men, and one woman. However it didn’t seem to bother her; she seemed to be loving all the attention she was getting.

Cold Bike Saddle

It was at this point that Western got the burn of the night. The hottie got up, walked up to him in her semi solid state, and took his face in her hands as if she was going to kiss him. His face brightened as she leant in. And then she blurted out, “my God you have a big nose”, and walked off. He looked shattered.

After a good night in the pub we hit the backpackers for a few hours sleep before the real epic part of the journey began.

We got up at about 7am to a frost covered landscape and made ourselves a quick cup of coffee and breakfast. Then we packed the Paj, payed our bill, and headed for the darkest depths of Lesotho. On the way to our planned 4×4 route we stopped at Mokhotlong for our last sip of fuel. This is when we had our first incident.

While filling up with fuel Western put his helmet on the ground. After he’d filled his tank he pulled off, and I drove forward to the pump, and straight over the helmet. This was (in my opinion) a blessing in disguise since the mike and ear piece installed in the helmet popped out. So for the rest of the trip I wore this as a necklace and ear-ring, and we could chat while driving.

Western King At The Start Of The Adventure

After our refueling and incident we were back on the road, and half an hour later we reached our road, and started the 85km journey to Katse Dam.

Having read that the “road” would take us 11 hours to drive, we were high on anticipation. But low and behold, it was the best road we’d been on in Lesotho yet. It carried on like this for miles, with Western and I mocking it continually. This might’ve been a bad idea, since 32kms later the road pretty much ended, and what we were left with seemed to only resemble a track…at best.

The fun had finally started!

At this point our average speed dropped to somewhere in the region of 5kms per hour. But what fantastic driving!! This was 4x4ing at its best. Steep inclines and declines, river crossings, big bolders and patches of mud. Yeehaa!! After a couple of hours of tough driving we stopped on the top of a hill and enjoyed a quick lunch. Then it was back to the track for another 2 hours of insane driving.

Warren Prior Getting His Pajero In On The Action

Every time you pass over a hill you go through another small village, filled with kids, who normally spent the next kilometer following you yelling “Sweeeeets!”. Since I was driving at walking pace they didn’t have much problem keeping up. Luckily we only had one minor stone throwing incident, and one girl who decided she would try and open my back door while I was moving. Luckily the doors were locked, and after I yelled out the window she took off at pace.

At around 4pm we decided it was time to set up camp. So after passing through a village we drove a few kilometers and then picked a fantastic spot under a few willows next to a river. It didn’t take long for the local kids to find us, and they quickly made themselves comfortable and stood there spectating.

We busied ourselves setting up the tent, building a fire place, and doing all the fun things which needed to be done. It was at this point that I noticed my sleeping bag was missing. I’d clearly left it at the backpackers, which meant I’d be sleeping with just a blanket. This wasn’t a thought that impressed me as the sun dropped below the horizon and the temperature plummeted.

Our First Camp

The kids were still standing around staring at us, and although they didn’t cause any problems or try to steal anything, it was annoying being watched permanently. Some of the older, cockier ones also took it upon themselves to ask us for everything from food to the clothes we were wearing. Eventually however, as darkness fell, most of them mossied off, leaving only 3 boys who we found out later were between the ages of 10 and 12.

We built ourselves a fire and sat down for a few beers and some wine. Slowly the boys got braver and inched their way up to the fire. Eventually they got so brave that they fetched rocks from the river, which they used as seats, and the 5 of us sat cosily, in the dark, around the fire.

Once the fire was ready to braai on we set up the grid and loaded it with our dinner, plus some food we were cooking for lunch the next day. I don’t think the 3 boys could beleive the amount of food we had, a huge piece of steak, sausages, potatoes, and toasties. It was at this point that one of the boys walked into a nearby field and came back with one mielie, which he lay down in the dirt next to the fire. Nothing can make you feel guilty quite as quickly as sitting there eating steak and potatoes, while 3 boys share a single mielie which was cooked in the dirt. Sadly we knew that feeding them was a bad idea, as it promoted more begging, so we sat there and guiltily ate our food.

Warren Prior Sharing His Meal With Besotho Kids

Once we were done we gave them our left over toasties which they munched down greedily. They’d probably never eaten anything like that in their lives. They then went and got 3 more meilies which they again cooked in the dirt, even though we tried to teach them to use our grid. They then shared the mielies with us. They were hard and dusty, but didn’t taste too bad, a bit like popcorn in fact.

After dinner we enjoyed some more wine and then a bit of sherry. The three boys found it highly amusing to fill our empty bottles and beer cans with water from the river, and then pretend to drink and get drunk.

We took a few photos of ourselves with the boys, and they laughed wildly as they looked at the pictures of themselves on the digital camera. It was a highly entertaining, and enlightening evening.

Finally it was time for bed. Western and I climbed into the tent, and the three boys cuddled up around the fire. Even though I didn’t have a sleeping bag, and was wearing almost everything I owned, I few asleep quite quickly.

Western Riding His KLR650

I woke up a few hours later as then temperature had dropped dramatically, and I was freezing cold. I pulled the blanket right over my head and tucked it in, and managed to fall asleep again. Shortly after that I was awoken by howling winds and pouring rain. Straight away I knew this was bad news as we had a lot of rough “road” left to cover, and then we had to wade a hopefully low Senqu river. The rain would most certainly be filling the river, and making the “road” slippery and dangerous. And to make matter worse, the mattress I was sleeping on developed a slow leak, so by midnight I was sleeping on the floor. It certainly was an interesting night. I luckily managed a little more sleep before morning.

When we woke up it was still raining which was not what we needed. Isn’t winter in Lesotho supposed to be dry? We opted to sit in the tent in the hope that the rain would subside. Luckily the rain stopped within the hour, and we begin the process of packing our camp back into the car. We washed the dishes in the river, took down the very wet tent, made some coffee, and had a few rusks.

Western Enjoying Our Lesotho Adventure On His Bike

Photographing Lesotho

Cold Conditions

Rocky Descent
Warren Prior – Giving It Horn

Then it was back into the car (and onto the bike) to push on. We’d covered 62kms of the 85km road, so we had just over 20kms remaining. Shortly after leaving camp we realised this was going to be tough going, and a lot slower than the previous day. Western and his bike were slipping all over the road, and even came off once or twice. And the Pajero wasn’t doing much better on the clay surface. I even managed to leave the road completely at one stage.

We pushed on until we got to a point where the slippery road slopped down towards a sheer drop into a river. The car was slipping badly towards the dangerous drop so I decided to stop and assess the situation. Making matters worse, there were some rocks on the inside of the road which also slopped down towards the valley. After careful consideration we decided to stop for a while and see if the sun, which had come out, would dry the road to a point where we could continue without danger.

We sat on the side of the road playing cards, and soon a small crowd had gathered and sat there watching us. After an hour or so we knew we needed to make a decision. The sun had no power and the clay was drying slowly. After another careful assessment we decided to continue. It took us 30 minutes to get the car over this 10 meter section of road. We’d dig a track for the tires so they couldn’t slip sideways, and then build up the outside of the road with rocks, before driving about half a meter forward. Then we’d reassess, and repeat the process. Finally we’d made it through, my heart slowed, and we continued on our way.

Our Second Camp

Although the road was no longer dangerous, the clay kept posing problems and we were covering ground slowly. We were also worried we may get to another dangerous section, or that after covering the 20 remaining kilometers the river may be uncrossible. If the river was uncrossible and we had to turn around, this would mean covering the whole road again backwards. This, topped with the fact that we had limited time to get to Afriski, made us decide to turn around. At least we knew the road, and knew we’d make it to the ski slope on time. It was a sad decision, but better safe than sorry.

When we got back to the dangerous section we’d battled through 30 minutes earlier, the road had dried to a point were we got around it without too many hassles. A few kilometers after this we climbed away from the river, and with it out of the slippery clay section. Although we were now covering ground at a reasonable pace, we were left wondering what would’ve happened had we carried on. Would we have made it through? Was the road ahead better or worse? And would we have been able to cross the river? I guess we’ll just have to come back to conquer the road at another stage.

Warren Prior And Western King Relaxing In A Chilly Camp

Due to the wasted time in the mud, and the slow start due to rain, we weren’t able to make it back to the main road before dark. So we stopped and set up camp on the same hill that we’d had lunch on the day before. Being on top of a hill, and out of the valley, the wind was howling, and cold. The view however was spectacular, and all around us we could see fresh snow covered mountains from the previous nights snowfall.

We had only one or two sporadic visitors on the top of the hill that evening. And through some miracle we managed to make a fire and get cooking. Just after dinner the wind dyed down completely, and we were left with the most beautiful evening. We sat around the fire drinking sherry, and enjoying the vast snow covered landscape which lay in front of us. It was incredible.

Having no sleeping bag, and no mattress, I decided to sleep in the car. So while Western climbed into the tent I rolled back the passenger seat and quickly dozed off. All of those flights to the UK seem to be paying off. The car was warmer, and more comfortable, than sleeping on the ground. I woke up only twice during the night, and when morning arrived I was well rested. While sleeping all the glass inside the car had misted up, and then frozen, so when I woke up I was sitting in something which resembled an ice capsule. This certainly is the most epic trip I’ve done…yet…

KLR650 In Lesotho

The morning was chilly, and all the water around us had frozen. We made a breakfast of eggs and bacon sausages, packed up a now dry campsite, and were back on the road. We only had in the region of 10 more bad kilometers to cover, which we worked our way through in about an hour. There were some interesting sections due to ice on the descent, but they didn’t pose too much of a problem for us now legendary drivers.

And then it was all over…after two days of tough driving we were back on good road. It was a bittersweet moment. We’d covered the dangerous ground without any serious problems or incidents, but we hadn’t achieved our goal. But you can’t dwell on this for too long, and soon we were hurtling down the dirt road chatting eagerly about the upcoming skiing. Having spent the last two days averaging about 5kms per hour, we seemed to be flying.

Soon we joined the tar road we began our way up and over Tlaeng Pass, which is the highest tar road in Africa. This however is a bit of a loose definition, since there is more pothole than road. The scenery was stunning and we were surrounded by snow. Even the potholes, which had filled with water, were frozen over.

Our Adventure Reaches The Snow

Along this road we passed the Letseng diamand mine, which is an amazing site. We stopped on a hill overlooking it, and enjoyed a few boerewors rolls. Letseng mine produces very few diamonds per ton of earth, it does however produce the highest percentage of large diamonds (greater than 10 carats) in the world, giving it the highest dollar value per carat of any diamond mine.

Shortly after lunch we spotted the ski slope off in the distance. It looked significantly higher up the hill than it had been in previous years. Our excitement grew and we picked up the pace. Within half an hour we’d reached Afriski, and were greeted with a dismal sight. Although there was more surrounding snow than we’d seen before, an out of season rainfall had washed away large chunks of the slope, and there was no skiing. Aaaggh!

This was of course rather upsetting, but there was still snow around, and we were going to have some fun in it one way or another. After a couple of beers in the bar we had it worked out…tobogganing!! We managed to get our hands on a few bum boards, and were soon flying down the slope at high speeds, aiming for anything that resembled a ramp. It was fantastic!! Sadly this is only fun for so long, so we decided to cut out trip one day short and come home early.

Windhoek In The Snow

The backpackers we were staying in was certainly interesting; it looked like a giant mettle shed. The corrugated iron roof was held down with mud and grass. To enter you walked through two big doors, and into a central foyer (if you can call it that). The floor was made entirely out of stone chippings, there were ten or so tables scattered around, and a pool table at a dangerous angle. Coming off this foyer were lots of rooms, each with bunk beds and barely enough room to stand in. They’d also had the ingenious idea of building the top bunk twice as high as usual, and not providing you with a ladder. Luckily I had Western with me, who claims to be an accomplished rock climber, so I quickly claimed the bottom bunk, and laughed as he used the light switch and door handle to get onto his bed.

But the best bit of the backpackers was the small room in the corner which had four showers in it. After 3 days without a shower, getting into a stream of hot water felt incredible. Soon we were both clean and smelling good (well, at least decent), and headed to the restaurant for dinner. After throwing back a hamburger each we hit the pub, and were soon involved in some serious drinking games with the staff *MOOSE* (if you don’t get that…you were there). Many many drinks later we stumbled back to our room, stopping at our car to eat anything we could find. We then made the shocking discovery that we’d lost our room key…not a good thing at 12pm. We stumbled back to the restaurant where we thought we’d left it on the table. Sadly (shockingly?) it was closed, which left us in a bit of a pickle. By some act of God we stumbled across a staff member, who hunted down a key and let us back into the restaurant. And luckily our key was still there. So at 1am we clambered into our room and fell fast asleep. For the first time on the trip I wasn’t cold, thank you radiator.

Fun On The Bum Boards

It rained, snowed, and sleeted through the night. Sadly it was never going to be enough to get us skiing, so the next morning we had a few red ambos (Cokes for those of you who’ve never had a hangover) and headed back to Sani Pass. We drove back over Tlaeng Pass, and were greeted with the amazing site of a road covered in snow. It was the first time either of us had driven in snow, and it was an incredible sight watching the snow fly from the tires like a wake from a boat. Surprisingly the road wasn’t very slippery, and soon we were back in Mokhotlong and ready to refuel. Luckily for us we had packed the jerry cans, since the petrol station had run out of fuel.

After refilling the cars we joined the dirt road and headed over Kotisephola Pass back to Sani. We were surprised to see a lot of snow had fallen on the pass since having driven over it three days earlier. The road, other than the pass itself, is in good condition and we covered the distance to Sani quickly. Then came the crunch time, would they have my sleeping bag? Or was a Besoth appreciating it in his hut? Amazing they still had it, and after chucking it into the vehicle we headed quickly down the pass. Bad weather was approaching quickly and neither of us wanted to head down in the rain.

Partying At Afriski

The pass was a lot slipperier coming down than it had been going up a few days before. In fact, some of the corners had even iced up, and salt had been thrown on them to make them safe to drive. An hour later and we were down the pass and through the border. After that we did some low flying back to Hillcrest, which was an uneventful journey. Flat tar can be extremely boring after 4x4ing in Lesotho for 5 days.
It was an amazing trip, and probably the most epic one I’ve done. I’ll certainly be going back there for more.