ENROUTE TO LESOTHO
We have been told of some steep tracks, beautiful high mountain scenery. At 6.30am we forced ourselves to get out of the warm bed, just as the sun came up over the mountains. I quickly pumped up the fire (still smouldering from last night) and when Clary had the coffee ready, the fire was roaring. Our first stop today is Rhodes; for many years one of the most remote getaways in the Eastern Cape (formerly Transkei). Children, dogs and horses roam the gravel streets freely without hindrance. From here we travelled to South Africa`s only ski resort Tiffendel.
The drive up the Carlisle Hoek Pass is a must for every 4WD enthusiast. and in Dutch we have a saying I sh..t 7 colours of Poo. Clary sh..t 14 today and after a little domestic we continued uphill. Clary did not look out of the window as the road had given away in many places and there were no barriers. Once we arrived at 2750 meters we came to a locked gate and a security guard informed us that the resort had gone bankrupt and we had to turn back. The way back was a real problem for Clary as she did not want to stay in the truck. She walked the 4-km steep descent. Clary nearly walked as fast as I could drive as the hairpins required 6 point turns and the weight of the truck pushing it very close to the edge of a 500-meter sheer drop. At one stage, the angle of the truck pushed the whole thing side-ways. Not a nice feeling! As the resort was in receivership and with the heavy rain in Nov-Dec, the road had had no maintenance at all, so that did not help. Once down, we had another pass to go. It still took a little persuasion to convince Clary. I wanted to visit Naudes Neck Pass 2500m and the highest lodge in South Africa at 2505 meters – S30.42.57 E028.08.19. From here we backtracked to our campsite on the Steep River, where another roaring fire kept us warm.
We travelled via East Barkly and Lady Grey to Tele Bridge, the border post with Lesotho. The natural beauty of this area must be witnessed and absorbed; this is magnificent scenery. Today was our first border crossing. Carnet and passport in hand we arrived. Customs did not know what the Carnet was. They sent us to the Police, but they did not know either? The inspector had seen none before. So, I explained, “Sign here and here and stamp please”. So, he did. “Thank you” I said. Next- Lesotho customs.
In South Africa they had a computer for all the information and our passports, here everything is manual and is all was written in a book. “Carnet, where do we stamp this?” the officer asked. “You don`t need one” he said. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, sure”, he said. We then realised that we had the South African police inspector sign the second slip but not our copy on the top? Shit! As we had to back track through no-man`s land, we asked permission to drive the truck back. No worries they said. So, we did. We saw the same fellow and told him to take his copy and sign and stamp mine. He had no idea but followed my instructions. We turned around and went back to the Lesotho border. They recognised the truck and waved us through, easy! After an afternoon of grand slaloms (potholes) we arrived just before dark in Malealea and while setting up camp we heard singing. The local band had arrived with home- made instruments and came to entertain us and asked if we could please donate $1.50 AUD for the local community. No worries. (Last of the big spenders some of you may say!) A local tour guide offered to show us Semonkong, the neighbouring village of Ha Moahloli and Maletsunyane Falls. Semonkong has 2000 inhabitants but only 20 or so cars. So, everything is on foot, Bashoto pony, horse, or oxcart. We learned about local life as we walked the streets (muddy wet tracks) and we did meet local people. We also had lunch at a local restaurant where we were served local Lesotho food. I realised after lunch that the walk across the mountain to the waterfall was one hour or more, so we decided that we did need transport. The oxcart we organised was not available, so we looked for a car and for $12.50 we got a driver. The Toyota Landcruiser had no door handles, a slipping clutch, and the doors would not close! Who cares! off to the waterfalls and the village of Ha Moahloli, where we were invited into people`s home so we had time to interact with them. We saw people make traditional clothes made of animal skins and plants. Last but not the least, the mighty Maletsunyane Falls, one of the highest single dropping waterfalls in Africa. The cascading water creates a haze as it plummets 186 metres into a spectacular gorge. It is from this haze that looks like smoke that Semonkong gets its name. Smonkong means The Place of Smoke.
During the tour we were advised that some Dutch people run an orphanage just outside the village. It is home to 89 orphaned children from the Semonkong community. The orphanage was opened by Jill Kinsey, a missionary from England. It is now run by her daughter, Tara and Son in Law Patrick. They moved here from Holland in November 2007. Patrick was in South Africa and Tara showed us around. She explained that the children here have often experienced things young children should not and living together as one big family helps them cope and find joy in life again. The youngest is a twin, who arrived with them at just 2 weeks old, her mother had died the day after giving birth high in the mountains and her twin died too. There are 2 bunk houses, one where the girls plus young boys up to 10 years old sleep. The boys` house is for boys 11 years upwards. Once a month after the church service, they hand out food parcels to orphans living with relatives. They like to have the orphans living with relatives but if there is little food, the orphan goes hungry. So, by giving food parcels the orphan becomes important to the family as they bring food instead of only taking food. So, they look after the child better. The orphanage also has a Shepherds school which provides basic education 4 evenings a week. This is for males from 8 years of age through to 45 years of age. After school, they get a meal. In summer, the shepherds roam the mountains, but once the first frost arrives in mid-April, they return. The weather here is very harsh, and the temperature can drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius at night in the winter. The orphanage works together with the Lesotho department of social welfare and Dept. of Health Sentebale (Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry`s Trust for OVC`s) and they provide 25% of the funds required. The rest, Tara explains, is from God, through churches in South Africa, England, America, Portugal and Holland. Tara` s mother has now opened another orphanage in Quiting where she already cares for 50 children. Due to the high HIV/Aids rate in Lesotho, there is such a large number of orphaned children. Tara explained that in the orphanage here in Semonkong, she has eight HIV infected children. Some people in Lesotho believe that having sex with children will rid them of Aids. Child rape and incest are also rife.
SEMONKONG TO KATZE DAM
As they say in Lesotho, you do not measure distance in kilometres but in hours. And the trip from Semonkong to the Katze Dam took 12 hours and 6 mountain passes 2500m+.
Result we arrived at Katze Dam in the dark of the evening. Unfortunately, the weather was not very nice today, but the driving was a challenge. The roads were muddy and slippery, but we made it. One pass was called GOD HELP ME PASS. (the name says it all). The highest pass we went over today was 2927 meters. The inclines and descents were steep and slippery and the rivers where flowing. Waking up this morning, we realised we had set our truck right on the escarpment overlooking the Katze dam. What a view! Great for a few days R&R. From here some more mountain passes. Via Bogong Nature Reserve right on top of Mafika Lisiu Pass – 3090 meters. Covering 1970ha, the Bokong Nature reserve is small, and it straddles the road from Katse Dam to Ha Lejone. Coming down, I think we came down 1000 meters in 5 or 6km. We were thankful for the air brakes. From there, after lunch, we continued to Liphofung Nature Reserve which has a cave overhang. This was used by the San people, who left rock art and a rich archaeological deposit of Stone Age implements on the cave floor. Unfortunately, the people were less than helpful in this very interesting place. As it was getting late, we found a campsite overlooking the river.
KATZE DAM TO SANI PASS
Our last destination in Lesotho is Africa highest pub on top of the Sani Pass. (Also, the highest road in Southern Africa) We camped right on top of the Sani Pass. A few years ago, we camped next to the Man of Snowy River hut which from memory was around 1800 meters. Our campsite was at 2869 meters. The scenery was spectacular, and it surprised both Clary and myself that on altitudes of 3000 meters people live with no electricity, no local firewood. All firewood is carried up the mountain on foot. Clary did not sleep very well last night as the owner of Sani Lodge Pub made sure Clary was going to be very worried traveling down the pass. It is freezing cold and we woke up to a blue sky.
The view was spectacular and made it worth putting up with the cold. Don`t forget we are at 2873 meters; Mt. Kosciusko, Australia`s highest peak is at 2228 meters. As we walked to the edge of the escarpment, we realised that we were above the clouds. After breakfast we left for the Lesotho border before descending the Sani Pass. This pass is the only driveable track into KwaZulu Natal. The steep track with 30% gradients was a bit of an anticlimax after what we had experienced during the previous days in Lesotho and the stories we had heard from other travellers. Clary was quite happy to stay in the car. With the size of our truck we had to do a few six point turns but nothing like the steep side slopes we had experienced before. However, nothing could have prepared us for the unbelievable views. We descended 1000 meters in the first 6 kilometres of the track. From there on, it gradually went down, so we took our time and took heaps of photos of the incredible scenery. Our Carnet had to be stamped but no one knew anything about it, so we explained the procedure and the police officer did what we asked him to do! In hindsight, maybe we didn’t have to have it signed when we left South Africa, but it is better be safe than sorry.