Being born and raised in West Virginia followed by two years living in Swaziland has shaped my perspective and passions immensely. Rural life, mountains, and solo travel are my comforts. I find that even when traveling “alone”, it is easy for me to turn strangers into friends along the way. I reckon that’s one perk of being an extroverted white American.
My desire to explore Lesotho became a mandatory trip when I realized I had plenty of vacation days and the end of my service was quickly approaching. So, I packed a bag and hopped on public transport that took me to Johannesburg (A.K.A., “Jozi”), then spent a few days exploring the city. After a weekend reveling in the urban sprawl, I boarded a bus to Lesotho. The ride was about 5 hours. I could tell we were getting close as the language of the radio station changed from the fast-paced melodic sounds of Zulu, with which I’m well acquainted, to SeSotho (which is familiar sounding because a Bantu language, but still mostly indecipherable to me).
The guidance (over WhatsApp) of a few very helpful currently serving Lesotho PCVs made navigating the public transportation system as easy as lemon meringue pie.
So… Not the easiest, but definitely possible with good directions and the right tools. These good directions included relying heavily on the kindness of strangers, and useful tools would have been a functioning Lesotho SIM card (that I did not have…). Thankfully, I found plenty of kindness, which made up for my lack of a working phone.
Once in the capital of Maseru, I took another minibus taxi to Ramabanta, in the east. We arrived well after dark, and the driver went out of his way to secure my incolumity (word of the day!) by driving up the drive-way all the way to the door of the Ramabanta Trading Post Lodge & Backpackers… Where I was the only tenant. Exploring Lesotho in the middle of winter is fabulous if you can stand the cold! You’ll find lower prices, empty lodges, and plenty of hot water in the showers (unless the pipes are frozen, then forget about showering at all).
Upon waking the following morning, I opened the curtains and was greeted by the very thing I was seeking- majestic mountains!
The scenery surrounding Ramabanta is truly gorgeous.
But, I had to move on. Ramabanta was just a stopover on the way to my destination further east: Semonkong. I found my way down to the main road, while munching on tasty locally made bread that I picked up at the border the day before. It was easy to wait at the bus stop, my surroundings and snacks kept my eyes and mouth busy. I followed the lead of the men pictured below, and waited for my minibus taxi with the warmth of the sun on my back. These fellas also helped me hail the correct taxi, because of course it didn’t just say “Semonkong” on the front. Kindness continually abounds.
I enjoyed a beautiful ride through a windy mountain pass that led myself and a minibus full of passengers to the edge of the Maseru district. I alighted the minibus, and again was accompanied by a hospitable stranger who spoke basically no English until he was confident I could find my way to the lodge. The Semonkong Lodge is nestled snugly beside the river that eventually flows to the Maletsunyane Falls, the natural wonder I sought to behold with my own eyes. I walked down a very steep and rocky path to get to the lodge, a road that only the most skillful drivers could navigate without bottoming-out… Basotho men on their ponies rode the path with grace and ease. Ponies and donkeys are all over Lesotho, equine are an important element to the culture as well as useful for hauling water and goods up the steep mountains. Soon, I was introduced to a drove of donkeys with which I would become very familiar. Check out this adorable jenny and her foal!
Myself and several other travelers staying at the lodge decided to participate in a Donkey Pub Crawl. We hopped atop our ultra fuel efficient equine vehicles and rode to four different local drinking spots, also called “shebeens”. It was a blast.
The natural wonders of Lesotho exceeded my expectations. I’ve encountered a wide breadth of aloe varieties in southern Africa, and Lesotho did not disappoint in that respect. This large spiral aloe below is one of my favorites.
After a pleasant walk through a neighboring village, I found Maletsunyane Falls. Because I visited during the winter, the flow was minimal and the walls surrounding the fall were covered with snowy ice. It was gorgeous.
I sat next to a pine tree, dotted with funny-shaped cones, and enjoyed the views and sounds of the the canyon and the busy river below.
When I felt the scenery was sufficiently burned into my brain, I walked back to the lodge along the road pictured below. It is basically a pedestrian highway, I passed many men atop their ponies and women carrying a variety of bags and items on their heads.
In my travels, I had not yet seen a woman carrying a glass bottle on her head. This was a first for me. I was stopped in the road, taking in the view and sipping on water from my large nalgene silo. She approached me and asked for some water. I get immense pleasure from sharing water with thirsty people, it is one of the reasons I carry around a water bottle that is so large. Then she let me take her picture.
The following day, I got a lift back to Maseru with a few friendly Germans who also did the donkey pub crawl. Then I hitch hiked from the capital up north to another smaller town, making my way toward the Bokong Nature Reserve where I would meet up with a group of Lesotho PCVs and spend the rest of my days in the country. I had lots of luck with transport, finding some of the volunteers along the way, and together we arrived at the Bokong chalets just in time for the sun set. I took the picture below on the following day, from the opposite side of the gorge where the lodge is perched. The buildings on the left side are where we stayed.
Here’s another angle of the gorge in front of our lodge.
And this is the beautiful frozen waterfall that took my breath away!
It was strange and new to me to see snow and ice in Africa, and it was a good reminder of just how diverse this continent is.
I felt at home there, and embraced the serene silence. It was a perfect refresh before the last push of my service in Swaziland.
Visiting Lesotho was an amazing experience that I would easily recommend to anyone who isn’t afraid of heights or interacting with local folks. Very early in the morning, myself and a few new friends awoke to hitch hike back into town. We caught a lift and had the best seats- the back of a truck. My eyes were awash in the dramatic mountains one last time as we descended from the district back to the capital.
In one day, I was able to travel from the rural mountain peaks of Lesotho, to the city center of Johannesburg to catch another minibus taxi, then late in the evening I arrived back in Swaziland. It was a welcome reprieve to be back in the sub tropical climate of this beautiful country, I didn’t realize it at the time.. but a piece of my heart will always be in Swaziland.