Monday, September 2, 2013

Up Sani Pass To The Mountain Kingdom Of Lesotho

A Huffington Post contributor wrote of his visit to "the wold's highest country:
Lesotho is completely encircled by South Africa, so making a visit to the fabled mountain kingdom was a big priority of mine when I knew I'd be nearby. The only question was how. Many options for visiting Lesotho exist, but several of them are logistically challenging. 

I could've traveled via the Sani Pass in South Africa's southern Drakensberg region. This would've allowed me to enjoy a cocktail at the Sani Chalet, which is arguably one of the World's Best Bars, at thousands of meters above sea level. The problem? Getting to the southern Drakensberg is difficult for backpackers, and Sani Pass treks are very expensive.
Lucky us - Sani Pass is the very route we travel, setting off early one morning in well-broken-in Land Cruisers on the longest, bumpiest and most fascinating four-wheel drive we've ever experienced, switchbacking up through a mountain pass that ends at the "highest pub in Africa."

From here it's eight bumpy kilometers through a "no-man's-land" until we reach the official Lesotho border control at the top.

 It isn't all that surprising to see ice along the way in Africa's highest country -  and one of its poorest and most isolated - as we climb up and up toward an eventual 2800 meters.

 Finally, a bone-jarring hour or so after setting out we arrive at the pass summit, 2873 meters or 9426 feet. It seems even higher.
After presenting our passports at the Lesotho border control building, our next stop is at a small collection of huts, one of which we're invited to enter while the head tour guide gives us a little talk about the history.

 Most of us feel the cold in a biting wind, and the residents aren't dressed that much more warmly than we are.

You can see by the body language how chilly our tour members are, relieved to be sitting inside, squished together around a fire and out of the wind for a few minutes.
The woman on the right is our hostess, and she has baked bread for us all to try as the head tour guide dons a Lesotho hat and talks for awhile. She probably only speaks Sesotho and lets the guide do the talking but her bread is quite tasty.

She also offers a modest collection of souvenirs for sales and she welcomes donations. As Craig had suggested early-on in our coach tour, this is the place to donate soccer balls ("the poorest of the poor") and we hand over two of them, all pumped up and ready to be kicked. 

The older children are all away at some kind of boarding-school facility. Maybe they'll play soccer on the rocky ground when they return, or maybe they will sell the balls or trade them for something more practical - like food. It's clear these people are dirt-poor. As of 2009 Lesotho's life expectancy for males is 41.18 years and for females 39.54 years. 
Strangely relieved to be outside in the cold again, Kathy hands over drawing pads and crayons to children who surely don't quite know what they are or how to utilize them.
A small and somewhat pathetic group of the inhabitants is assembled to "entertain" the tourists. The two of us feel a little guilty to be here, but the other group members and we are leaving donations and the local folks can no doubt use the money.

Little ones clutch their new drawing pads and crayons, clearly not knowing what they are, while some singing and hand-clapping take place.
There's even an accordionist.
Fortunately nobody in our group needs to use "the facilities" immediately.

After a little bit more taking of photos we return to our Land Cruisers to drive a few hundred yards across the plateau to "Africa's Highest Pub" at the Sani Mountain Lodge for a pre-arranged lunch.
It's cozy and warm and even includes indoor plumbing. Still, it's been a long half-day and the expression on the face of ostrich-riding Rachel's brother probably reflects the feelings of several of us as we dine buffet-style on that famous African specialty, lasagne (okay, it's pretty good, especially when complemented by a glass of South African red).
After lunch it's all downhill, to coin a phrase.

Eventually after traversing the many switchbacks in the opposite direction we arrive back at South African border control and re-enter South Africa.

And now we can say we've visited the Kingdom of Lesotho.


Jane Bryce said...

Lovely to meet you both on our S Africa trip and we are really enjoying your travel blog reminding us of all the places we visited what a great idea! You have taken some great photos too . Keep travelling and looking forward to reading of your next trip .

Kathy and Brian said...

Thanks for the kind words. It was our pleasure. We're flying to Singapore a week from today and in the meantime will be posting more South Africa photos.

Happy and safe travels to you!