It’s a ‘terrible’ thing this travel bug! There is no telling when it will bite, but it bite’s often and when it does, it’s a matter of hours that I must pack and go! The bug bit this weekend. I had a sudden urge to go somewhere cheap, rustic and beautiful despite it already being 1 pm on a Saturday. Most places were too far away or were booked unless I was prepared to part with some ‘top dollar,’which is never an option when it’s a spur of the moment trip!
The cheapest place I could find was in another country. It ticked a few boxes: cheap accommodation, beautiful sunrise and a first time experience for our kids. We packed our bags, a frozen precooked meal, some wine and extra sleeping bags. We were going to Lesotho, the Kingdom in the sky…well to the inside edge of it at least. But Lesotho nevertheless!
We meandered our way up the steep and rocky pass, wanting to get there quickly so that we’d have time to drive a little ‘inland’ to have a ‘look’ before it got dark and misty. Our accommodation was literally at the border and at the top of Sani Pass. We’d booked a family room at the Sani Mountain Lodge backpackers.
“My favourite road I’ve ever been on ain’t paved.” – Victor Tatarczuk
The drive up the pass is fairly bumpy and in the summer months, on a dry day – not too challenging. Though come the winter months with snow and ice, or after a heavy down pour – I imagine your 4×4 experience will be tested! On top, however, awaits a newly tarred road that cuts through the steep mountain terrain all the way through to the capital city Maseru. Also on top is the highest pub in Africa where you can enjoy a good Irish coffee, a meal and a hot chocolate in a cosy setting with a blazing fire. For me however, the quick trip up the mountain was very much about capturing the sunrise and the early morning light. But at this stage, the sun was nowhere to be seen, with thick mist rolling in and a steady patter of rain. It was a good night not to camp!
“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.” – Dave Barry
We unpacked and settled in. ‘Backpacker accommodation’ is almost always a simple affair with the bare necessities available. The showers had hot water and were clean. The rooms were clean and simple too. The kitchen and dining room was in a large red enclosed tin shed with all the cooking utensils one needs on such a trip – the only thing missing was a blazing fire in this particular room with a few homely touches. As you do in such places, you meet people from different countries, backgrounds and with different reasons to be there. I like that about a ‘backpackers; that you almost always come away with stories not only about the place you visit, but about the people you meet.
“It is life as it is lived.” – Gore Vidal
I woke early that morning, happy to see that the mist and rain had moved on. I made my way to the edge of the escarpment, just in time for sunrise. I’d trudged up a rather steep incline, taking in huge gulps of thin air, then popping a blood vessel in my eyeball from over exertion, or pressure or thin air! Google gave me countless causes including being on death’s doorstep, which at one point, I thought I was!
With the few short but incredible experiences I’ve had in Lesotho, I can say that the early mornings are special in this country. I can also say, that though the remote grasslands seem to stretch for infinity, your seemingly ‘solitary’ experience is never that. You are never alone in Lesotho, if you look carefully. There in the distance is a shepherd and another and another; their thick Basotho blankets wrapped around their shoulders, blending in with the terrain. But in the mornings, though you can’t always see them at first, you can certainly hear them.
Once the sun had made it’s full appearance, with shards of sunlight slicing through the odd cloud, alighting the rolling foothills below, I stopped taking photos simply to listen.
As herds of goats and sheep fanned out over the hills, the bells around their necks would ring with every step. The local thugs, a flock of vocal ravens, rose from below the escarpment with a gust of wind, hunting pigeons and later bullying a lone Cape Vulture. A jackal makes a hasty escape from the village, narrowly evading the angry village women, no doubt a chicken raid. Then a conversation between the Basotho shepherds on opposite sides of a mountain erupts into thin air, followed by the deep entrancing song of another Masotho Shepherd as he herds his sheep to greener pastures.
“Travelling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – the air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese
I got chatting to one of them. He wanted to know what South Africa is like. Everyday he sits on the edge of the Kingdom in the sky and looks down onto the green grassy lands below. He said it looks very flat down there. I told him it was hilly with plenty of trees. “What is a tree?” he asked. I pulled out a pen and a paper and drew it for him. He realised what it was then and told me that there are a few of them up here, but not many. After a few more pleasantries, he left, walking towards his flock and soon disappearing into the mountain shadows, into the world he knows.
“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” – John F Kennedy
I think this is why the travel bug bites so often. I crave more worlds than one, the diverse experiences, meetings and knowledge that travel brings and the acceptance of ‘different worlds’ to mine, right here on my doorstep. And of course a spectacular sunrise; of morning light revealing a world I know very little about. I wonder how long it will be until the bug bites again.
“All my life I’ve always come back to one thing, my need to feel free and the need to feel the breeze, the ride provides a freedom this gypsy needs, where every road is another blessed memory, a new experience to carry inside my journey, a sense of belonging to a familiar tribe, a brotherhood that goes beyond a bloodline.” – Jess “Chief” Brynsulson