Cycling in Lesotho
My First days in Lesotho felt as if I was in the Scottish highlands. Rain, mist, the hint of mountains in the background, sheep, camping on a puddle filled field and when the locals spoke I couldn’t understand a word.
The first day in Lesotho I went hiking up to Hodgens peak from the Sani top chalet with a few girls I’d met the day before, unfortunately I agreed to join them before they told me they planned to start at 6am. Nice hike, nice girls but too misty to enjoy the views.
Luckily the following day as I set off on my cycling adventure into the Kingdom of the skies the mist cleared within minutes and I was soon wishing I was in the cool mist while climbing the first pass on a road not much better than Sani pass and only slightly less steep.
About cycling in Lesotho
Distance in Lesotho is not measured in Kilometres or hours but instead in road quality, road gradient and how often the road climbs 400m then drops 300m only to climb another 400m. By lunch time I’d only covered 12km and was at 3200m, only to spend the next 2 hours in a painfully slow descent regularly stopping to let my brakes and rims cool off and of course as its Lesotho once at the bottom of the valley it was another pass before another descent into the city of Mokhotlong where I camped in the garden of a hotel, not the most inspiring of places to camp but the view of the mountains was nice.
The people of Lesotho are very friendly but like most poor countries see a white face as an ATM and ask for the predictable sweat, pen, money, cigarette or offer to push your bike and of course the occasional wedding proposal . For now though the kids are not as hard core as in Central Africa and soon give up after a polite no and a cold shoulder.
Wild camping in Lesotho is a tricky situation, all land belongs to the “chiefs” so you’re always on someone’s land and in theory need permission from the local chief to camp (good luck finding him), a stealth option is almost impossible as the “hills have eyes”, just sit down anywhere for 20 minutes and you’ll soon be under the watchful gaze of a shepherd boy.
So the next night I did the only logical thing and camped in a small village. Never an easy decision as this means being the focus of attentions all evening and a sleepless night because of the livestock, kids, dogs, cockerels etc etc. Luckily 2 of the girls spoke good English so it wasn’t as hard work as usual. I played the standard game of taking photo’s and showing the kids the result and of course the compulsory dancing session…. The family invited me to eat with them but I’d already eaten before I got to the village. Once it got dark I made my excuses and was in bed by 8pm, leaving at 6am the next morning and leaving behind a small selection of food and a little money for their hospitality.
Once again a long climb of about 600m followed by several “ups and downs”of 100-200m until I finally hit what in theory will be the highest point during this trip the “Tlaeeng Pass” 3255m and claimed to be the highest motor-able pass in Africa, I suspect this is nonsense, it seems everything is the “highest” around here. Highest pub 2880m, highest restaurant 3020m, highest motorable pass 3255m, highest mountain in Africa south of Kilimanjaro 3460m etc, etc, who cares!!!
I thought after the highest pass in Africa it would be all downhill, but you guessed it, 200m down 100m up so it continued until I arrived at the Afriski ski resort just as a storm started, and how relieved I was to find out they have a cheap backpackers bunker (series of sea containers) and wouldn’t have to spend the night in a cold wet tent. I guess I was really lucky because this is the first year that the resort is open in the summer, I was half expecting to arrive to locked doors and really didn’t want to push on another 15km to the next option.
Apparently I arrived at Afriski on New Years eve so after lunch and a little snooze the staff invited me to join them for drinks with the predictable outcome, the next morning we had a New Years dip in a cold mountain river to sober up. The staff where really friendly and welcomed me into their “family” for a couple of days. There’s a certain amount of irony in spending New Year at a ski resort in Africa, certainly not something I planned or thought possible.
New Years day seemed a convenient day to give my battered knee’s a rest day before the last 3 passes and then long descent into Batha Bathe before heading back towards South Africa again.
In the end I stayed in Lesotho slightly shorter than I planned, mainly because I couldn’t see any logical route to cycle the big mountains and also see the Katse dam in the 12 days I had remaining on my visa after Sani. So I had to make a choice and chose the easy road ( if you can call dozens of passes over 3000m easy that is). After a week at 3000m South Africa seems to have gotten very warm all of a sudden, I suspect the coming weeks through Northern South Africa and into Namibia are going to be a mighty warm business. As you can see from the following photo Lesotho has taken its tole on my features lets hope the sun doesn’t make it any worse:)