Last night, I had dry bread for my tea, whilst the others supped their white wine and ate Porterhouse Steaks. However, it was my decision to have the bread. During the meal, lightening provided a backdrop and, shortly afterwards, the rain started.
We retired rather quickly to our tents where, for the next 9 hours, heavy rain and strong winds rocked the canvas. However, I believe we all slept.
The 05h30 call came as a surprise, as I'd clearly slept well. On hearing the wind and rain though, I decided it best to pack what I could before venturing out. Thus it was that my sleeping mat, rucksack, sleeping bag and pillow were all piled against the tent door before I went for a wash, ready to load into the bus.
Feeling much better, I carried my bags to the bus and stowed them away. As it was raining, breakfast had been laid out in the bus.
Afterwards, we packed the tents away and by 07h00, were leaving the camp site. Heading around the Amphitheatre, lit beautifully by the early morning sun, we joined the R712 and drove along the Highlands Route, which skirts the Lesotho border
and offers one of South Africa's most scenic drives.
We passed through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, which is renowned more for its scenery rather than its wildlife. The beautiful golden outcrops stood out against the clear blue sky whilst local Basotho herdsmen tended there 5 or 6 cattle on the savannah at their feet. As we climbed, maize and sunflowers filled the fields although the yield did not look very high.
Fouriesburg came and went and, although technically still the state capital, had very little to offer. Its only proper
claim to fame is that there originally a large proportion of the population called Fourie!
The landscape became more and more beautiful as we continued through Ficksburg to Clocolan where there was time to scan the front pages of the newspapers whilst the bus was refuelled before continuing through the pink and white flowers planted in the fields along the side the roads.
Finally, we came to the main road into Lesotho. Another border crossing and two more stamps in the passport, but this time, some documentation to complete before we were allowed in. Once through, the difference between Swaziland and Lesotho was apparent,
with the latter being visibly much poorer, although the environment appeared much better tended with less rubbish discarded along the way.
We bypassed the capital, Maseru, and headed south through even more stunning country, climbing all the time. Every now and again, a rather odd system of roadworks caused everything to grind to a halt whilst we waited up to 20 minutes for the road to be opened. Occasionally though, some vehicles seemed to have permission to pass although the reason was unclear.
Traditional dress is very apparent in Lesotho with many people wearing their Basotho conical hat and blanket and carrying their walking stick, even when riding a horse.
Continuing to climb, we eventually ran out of tarmac road and resorted to the mud track. Some 5km down the track we reached the summit of the Gate of Paradise Pass and looked down on our destination, Malealea. An early explorer's words adorn a plaque at the summit simply stating Wayfarer, pause and look upon the gateway to Paradise
. Bosworth-Smith certainly wasn't wrong as we, like countless before us, paused and looked - and took photographs of the magnificent view.
Reaching our camp site, it was
almost lunch time. Around the central camp fire, a number of round huts provided our accommodation. I chose one at random, as did the others, put my sleeping bag on one of the beds and went off for lunch. I then discovered that the lock on the door was very stiff so everyone could here my comings and goings.
Afterwards, we wandered into the little village, looking at some dubious looking craft before stumbling upon what must be the highest and most picturesque game of football I've ever seen. Not being a football fan, I mean that as a complement.
The view from the village was absolutely amazing. I cannot imagine a more delightful setting for a village, even though the locals are very, very poor.
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