One Friday evening last February, my husband said that he was ‘sick of here’, in no mood to do what he was supposed to be doing that weekend, and needed a break. Since we had bought a 2nd hand Pajero a few months before, he felt strongly that it was time to test its 4×4 capabilities, and of course, where better than Sani Pass.
So early Saturday morning, we flung some stuff into weekend bags, grabbed some padkos (biltong, nuts, dried fruit, peaches, water, breakfast bars) and hit the road to Underberg.
Now, if any of you are familiar with Sani Pass, you’ll know its not for the faint-hearted………….it is an incredibly steep dirt track (not a road) that zigzags up into the clouds and over the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment. The scenery is magnificent, the track appalling, and Andre was thrilled to bits with the car’s 4×4 ability (he spent a lot of time hanging out the window, watching the wheels climb over rocks and through sand).
I felt safe enough, so was quite happy to hang out of the other window, taking photos. The Drakensberg proteas were flowering, how beautiful is this?
As we topped the escarpment, a thunder storm broke – somehow, thunder sounds different when you are right up inside the clouds!
We went through the ramshackle Lesotho border post at lunchtime, and thought to have lunch at the Sani Top Chalet, but it was packed to the ceiling with other 4×4-ers with the same idea, so we pushed on, heading for Katse Dam Lodge, where we planned to stay. Well – the roads in Lesotho have to be experienced to be believed, enough to say it took us 6 1/2 hours to travel 260kms…….6 1/2 hours of non-stop bumping and bouncing, extreme 4×4…….it was incredible! Lesotho is SO beautiful. If you love mountains and mountain passes – then this is the place to come. Lesotho is just one long mountain pass.
The highest point we reached that day was 3000 m above sea level, at 1:30 pm, and the temperature was – wait for it – 11°C. No wonder the Basuto people are always wrapped in a blanket, with a balaclava pulled over their heads. Their homesteads are generally neat and clean, though very poor, especially this far into the interior. They are an agricultural people, and keep horses, donkeys, cows, sheep and goats, and every little bit of suitable land has a crop planted in it. They farm up and down those mountains, and the slopes are not gentle!
The sight of a Basuto man on his horse, with a pack-donkey, and a couple dogs was very common. One sight I will never forget, was that of the donkeys laden with ‘gorse’ bushes (I think they pick gorse to burn), trotting along in front of our car – they looked like they had frilly skirts on, which bounced up and down as the donkeys trotted!
Every Basuto that one passes, though, holds out his hands begging, and yells ‘mashweets, mashweets’, we eventually twigged that they wanted sweets. Next time I will take packets of boiled sweets to hand out.
We made it safely to Katse Dam – truly a magnificent dam – the largest dam wall on the African continent, apparently. Also the stillest water – very deep, and there were no boats at all. It stretches back up multiple gorges for 50kms. We stayed at the Katse Lodge on Saturday night, which was spotlessly clean, well-maintained and the service was great. We ate in their restaurant, and had pleasant meals and good coffee.
On Sunday morning, we needed to find petrol before setting out on unknown roads towards the Free State, and were directed up into the village (everything in Lesotho is either up or down). We were told to look for a red flag, after a asking another 5 people we ended up in the middle of this little village, putting in petrol:
The people in the village were very friendly and chatted away with us – but they also commented on how friendly we were. I think there is a problem with tourists in 4×4’s roaring through their country, never stopping to talk to them, and perhaps even misbehaving, and so there is some animosity towards tourists – we did have stones thrown at us twice the previous day. The biggest problem is the constant begging for “mashweets”. Whilst putting in petrol, a crowd of little ones gathered around the car. Once they accepted that I had nothing to give them, we passed the time pleasantly, pulling faces and laughing at each other. But at every viewpoint, Basuto’s would pop up out of the ground, it almost seemed, with hands held out.
With petrol tank filled, we wound on through Lesotho, on tar roads now, thank goodness, crossing the dam by bridge, where we came across this warning sign: “Avoid washing laundry at areas near steep slopes”.
Everything in Lesotho is steep! From there the road climbed dramatically up mountain sides again. A road off to the side with a sign that said ‘Viewpoint’ caught our attention, so we popped in there, only to see the most breath-taking view on the other side of the mountain we had been driving up……………the world was laid out far below us, and we had a bird’s-eye view of it.
To give you some idea of how high it was, the road then dropped, in the space of 5kms, by over 1200 m – more than a kilometre down, and then we were only half-way down the pass!
From there we pushed on to the border – looking for a loo for me all the way (no standing on mountain tops, peeing to the view like a man can, for me, and with the way people pop up there, I was reluctant to bare my lily-white ass and squat!). There are no petrol stations, and every house, affluent or not, has a long-drop loo, usually right by the road – I did start to look longingly at them eventually!
At last, we found not one, but 2 garages, right beside each other, and joy of joys, one had a loo. I was given the key and marched off, only to be called by the lady key-keeper, who was very kindly holding up loo paper and offering it to me across the busy garage forecourt……..I unlocked and unwrapped the chain on the door, and let myself into a room that cannot be described, it was so ramshackle, a lean-to built onto the end of the garage buildings, with the interior painted a particularly violent shade of blue, and none too clean. Each loo had its own cubicle, and a door that did not close – but the loo was placed on a knee-high pedestal, with a tiny step (I could only get a foot on side-ways). Never mind…..it was a proper flush loo, and so up I climbed, only to find that I was now waist-level with a hole in the wall, which was the window, and it was open to the path behind the garage – full of people, of course! By this stage, I did not care………what a relief!
We then made it to the border post very quickly – it was only 6kms away, and both the Lesotho border and the SA border posts had lovely clean loos, with running water and soap…………..
From there we headed, on beautiful SA roads, to Clarens for an brilliant lunch, and through Golden Gate towards home.
It was an awesome trip, so exciting and it felt like a much longer holiday than only two days. We made some incredible memories, and took marvellous photos, and I have so enjoyed sharing them with you!