Since we will stay here in Mozambique for a limited number of years, we will try to take every chance to explore the region. We have realized that there is so much we want to see and to do. Now it was a free Tuesday (Dia dos Heróis, in memory of those who died in the liberation war against Portugal), so in addition we also took Friday and Monday off to get a really long weekend. The goal this time was Lesotho, a small mountainous kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa, of which we have heard so many good things. Unlike Swaziland, their monarch, Letsie III, has no formal powers, and pretty much functions as our Swedish king Carl-Gustaf, i.e. just a symbolic figure doing purely ceremonial tasks.
The distance to Lesotho is around 1000 km’s so we had to split up the drive in two days. The first night our initial plan was to stay in Johannesburg, but we arrived there in such good time that we continued a couple of more hours to get a shorter drive the following day. We ended up in the small town of Kroonstad, where we used the GPS to help us navigate to a randomly chosen hotel. We arrived at a guesthouse called Arcadia, which turned out to be really sympathetic… a place where all the decor, statues, fountains, etc, were designed in some kind of faux ancient Greek style which felt a bit bizarre.
After a good night’s sleep we headed on to Lesotho, and crossed into the country through the border post in the capital Maseru. It was a quite long line to immigration control, but by showing our diplomatic passports we could move up front. We tried to ignore the grumbles we heard from the end of the queue. In Maseru we started by buying lunch pizzas that we ate in the car as we drove on to our first stop 130 km’s right up the mountains, deep into the heart of Lesotho. The entire country is located like on a high plateau where even the low-lying areas are at least at an altitude of 1500 m. The mountainous parts (= most of the country) reach as high as almost 4000 meters. Our goal, the little village of Semonkong (”the place of smoke”), was at about 2200 meters, but along the way we passed by mountain passes much higher than that. Unfortunately, it was rainy and foggy then, but the day after when we drove back the same way we had better luck with the weather and were able to see the fantastic panoramic vistas.
Once there we took in at Semonkong Lodge, which felt more like a ranch doubling as a lodge. We stayed in a cosy house build the traditional way with stone walls and thatched roof. Bashoto (the people constituting 99,7% of the inhabitants) are horsemen, so I guess it was only natural that we had horses grazing just outside of our house. What we hadn’t really realized, though, is how chilly this time of the year is, especially when the sun went behind clouds. Like a crispy clear Swedish day in the autumn. Then it was great to be able to light up a crackling fire in our own fireplace.
The reason in the first place for going here, was the nearby waterfall Maletsunyane Falls (192 m), one of Africa’s highest. The smoke from the falls gave the village its name. Early the next morning we set out on a hike there, together with Julius, a young local guide, which took 1,5 hours in each direction.
The walk there was almost supernaturally magic; over hills and across streams, along corn and wheat fields, through a small village without road connections. Meanwhile, you saw a backdrop of mountain ranges in whatever direction you looked. We greeted passing shepherds going by foot or by horse. In the distance we could see the smoke of mist rising from the gorge containing the waterfall. We stopped close to the edge of the cliff on the opposite side and just marveled at the view. The Victoria Falls are surely spectacular, but the entire experience was even more intense here, with the surroundings and everything. It felt tough to have to leave the place, but we had to move on that same day.
I can just mention that what’s quite unique with Semonkong is that the lodge is run by locals and not by foreign entrepreneurs, which is oh so common otherwise. They are also involved in various projects to improve conditions for the local community.
Then we sailed down the same road as the previous day (nicely tarred only a couple of years before) back to Maseru, where we turned north. On our way to the next stop we passed a place where there were dinosaur tracks to see. This is certainly not unique, it can be found a little here and there in the world. I’ve seen it before in Spain and Karin in Nicaragua, but it was great to show it to the kids, especially since Leo – like most boys – had gone through a heavy dinosaur phase.
The best part was that this particular species had not been found anywhere else in the world but in this region. Thus it was called Lesothosaurus. These tracks had been preserved on rocks in a stream. Unfortunately, since it had been raining a lot the day before, most of the tracks were now submerged by water, but there was one to see at least.
Eventually we reached the Maliba Lodge, the only five star lodge in Lesotho at the time of writing this. Sure we’ve stayed at some cracking places before, but chances are this takes the prize. Not as high up as Semonkong, but wonderfully located deep into a lush valley in the Ts’ehlanyane National Park. Not any flamboyant luxury, just a tasteful attention to details in all respects, as well as food prepared by star chefs. A glass of sherry was offered as a welcome, a good start!
Those of you that follow Karin on Facebook have already seen some of these pictures, but I can contribute a couple of my own too. And, in all fairness, I have to mention that although Maliba was founded and is still managed by some Australian guys, they too are involved in various social projects for the benefit of the local people. Sadly, we had only one night here as well before the long trip home was about to start.
After leaving Lesotho behind, we had lunch in the small town of Clarens, famous for being a kind of colony for bohemians and artists. And sure, along the main street and around the town square every other building was a gallery. Consequently we ate at a place called The Artist’s Café. We had then planned to take a different, more southern route back to Mozambique, via Durban where we stayed the last night. On our way there we passed through a tiny national park called the Golden Gate. We were certainly quite full already in terms of visual impressions, but were still struck by how special this national park was … like a Grand Canyon in miniature. In Durban, we had a late dinner at McDonalds, which we hadn’t had in six months.
Then it was straight back to Maputo, a day trip that took us through Swaziland as well. In total, there were five border crossings… five exits from countries and five entries, a total of ten stamps in the passport. Wonder how long the pages will last? Just over 2500 km’s after the start we came back home again, a bit tender after all the hours in our faithful Land Cruiser, but bursting with impressions. Finally, I can not help but pointing out that these days when the Swedish krona is losing value against most other currencies, it still goes a long way in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland (unfortunately not in expensive Mozambique). Just a little good intentioned travel tip.