Lesotho – A Road Trip
Crossing the border from South Africa into Lesotho was a piece of cake. So did the immigration officer at the Lesotho side also think, as she was expecting me to buy her lunch—a piece of cake, as she put it.
Finding a local SIM card, however, was more troublesome. After running back and forth at a downtown shopping mall in Maseru, the capital, I finally found a vendor at a local makeshift booth that was able to sell me one and willing to go through the registration process — all for 10 Rand (about half a Euro). As the registration process was going to take a few hours to be confirmed I headed towards the guest house where I booked a room hoping to be able to buy balance for the SIM card later.
Shoeshoe Villa is located about 23 kilometres from downtown Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, in a valley called Thaba Bosiu. The area was recommended to me as a beauty spot by my friends Arne and Olav and is definitely quieter than the busy and chaotic capital. The guest house that I found on booking.com was half a mile down a dirt track from the main road and provided no food. However, the guest house employee, who spoke good English, escorted me the five minutes’ drive to a nearby restaurant and was waiting outside while I was enjoying my lunch.
Lesotho is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres in elevation. Its lowest point of 1,400 metres (4,593 ft) is thus the highest lowest point of any country in the world. It is also one of the poorest, ranking 182nd on IMF’s list of GDP per capita. Lesotho also has the highest suicide rate in the world as well as the highest rate of HIV in the world (together with Eswatini). About one of every four adult (15-60) is living with HIV. Wise then, of the lodge I stayed in, to stack the bathroom drawer full of condoms together with shampoo and body lotion.
The road from Thaba Bosiu to Thaba-Tseka was a long and winding road passing through the occasional village and then climbing to a mountain pass, then descending into a valley with a few villages before climbing up to yet another mountain pass. The road was in fairly good condition, and with very little traffic along the way. Attention was needed to look out for falling rocks and domestic animals like cows, sheep, goats, and the like.
Thaba-Tseka is a tiny market town in the middle of the country with a population of around 15,000. As soon as I am through what looks like the end of the town, the hard surfaced road changes into a bumpy gravel road. Still another five kilometres to The Clan Lodge, that has rooms for around 750 maloti – around 38 euros. The lodge itself is in an enclosed compound, with a bar and restaurant. As with the night before, I was the only guest in the restaurant and in the breakfast room.
Early next morning my I was on my way to Mokhotlong. This part of the trip was a mere 100 kilometres from last night’s lodge, and Google estimated 3 hours and 19 minutes driving. However, Google definitely knows nothing about the condition of this particular road. It’s a bumpy and rough gravel road all the way, in parts so poor it’s worse than the worst I ever travelled on. Luckily, I rented a SUV with high clearance, otherwise I would have been stuck in the mountains at 3,000 metres, with no villages in sight and no mobile phone signals. In the end it took me nearly six hours to complete the journey.
Mokhotlong is a nice and clean town at 2222 metres above sea level. Population 12,900 and there is an airport with a 700 metres runway, just enough for small aircrafts. The economy in this district, which account for a population of around 100,000, is primarily driven by livestock rearing and subsistence agriculture, though neither of these fully supports most families. In Mokhotlong City, the Mokhotlong district capital, formal employment is boosted by the presence of government offices, I read on Wikipedia.
It’s also a hub for travels to Sani Pass, which borders the KwaZulu province of South Africa, a tourist attraction in the Drakensberg Mountain range. There is lodge at the top that can boast of having the highest bar in Africa. That’s where I planned to have a drink.
I can now tick off another box on my bucket list: the highest pub in Africa. Located at an elevation of 2,874 metres above sea level Sani Lodge bar lies on the border of Lesotho and South Africa in the Drakensberg Mountains.
The pass is famous for its horrible road down towards the South African border, with its steep gradients and poor traction surfaces. Caution must be exercised as the pass has claimed many lives. Remains of vehicles that did not succeed in navigating the pass can be seen. But that’s on the South African side. On the Lesotho side there’s a brand-new road of high international standard that climbs above 3,240 metres, passing through some stunning mountain landscape. It took me less than hour to drive the 50 kilometres from Mokhotlong. This time I even beat the Google calculations.
I arrived at the pub quite early (before noon), and some tourists were there already enjoying a beer or two as well as the grand view into South Africa and the steep road going down towards the town of Underberg some 40 kilometres away. As my intention was to drive back to Mokhotlong I stuck to a can of Coca Cola with my light lunch.
At the top of the mountains the winds can get quite strong, and there’s a wind warning recommending people to reverse parking and hold on to the doors.
On my way back I stopped at the mountain pass to take a picture, and out of nowhere a boy turned and posed for a picture. I gave him five rand.
Today was the last leg of my Lesotho road trip. The journey took me over the mountains from Mokhotlong to the town of Butha-Buthe near the border crossing point to Fouriesburg in South Africa. Butha-Buthe is a boring market town full of cheap Chinese merchandise and has nothing to offer other than a bed for the night.
The 165 kilometres that separate Butha-Buthe and Mokhotlong was a tarred road of good quality but with very few settlements in between. However, across the mountains shepherds were tending their herds and cows were grazing in the fields. Just after the peak at Mahlasela Pass at 3,225 metres I arrived at Afriski, the only skiing resort in Lesotho. It is one of only two ski resorts in southern Africa. The resort can accommodate about 320 people and offers a 1 km ski slope, beginners’ slope and operates during the winter months (June–August). For the rest of the year the resort offers a variety of activities, from mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and more, I was told.
The first settlement of any size after leaving Mokhotlong is Mapholaneng. It’s a small settlement with a population of less than 10,000, and apparently a centre for diamond mining.
Lesotho is known for producing high-quality diamonds, and the country is considered to be one of the most important diamond-producing countries in Africa. From my car window I could see several open surface pits around the mountain landscape.
Around 30 kilometres before reaching my destination I passed through Moteng—a settlement in a beautiful valley, whose purple peach trees are bathing in the spring sun. The trees are scattered around the fields and the hill side, with locals still riding on their donkeys.
Arriving at the reception of Crocodile Inn a guy got excited knowing where I’m from and wondered if I was a Haaland fan!