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Published: April 21st 2010
Yesterday was Joke's birthday so we'd all retired to the bar last night, listening to African music and celebrating her 21st birthday (again).
This morning I was woken at 07h30 by the sounds of ululation coming from the village followed by the voices of children singing. It was very magical to wake up to what is imagined to be traditional African sounds. After washing and taking breakfast, we looked at the weather and, donning warm jackets and waterproofs, waited for our ponies to arrive for today was intended to be a long walk into the Lesotho mountains with a Basotho guide..
Paul (not his real name?) sauntered down the path at the relaxed pace of the Basotho, blanket wrapped about him and hat sitting jauntily on his head. In his arms, he carried two waterproof bags in which we were to place our belongings for the walk.
Camera bag, water and food disappeared into the greens bags which were then strapped to one of the ponies, hanging like wild-west saddlebags. Paul ensured they were all tight and firmly shut and we waited. Our softly spoken guide arrived a few minutes later, minus his blanket but wearing his woolly
hat and several warm layers.
We set off down the hill towards the village, the chill morning air nipping at our ears but the promise of warmer weather to come in the sky. Walking along the red, muddy path we passed herdsmen coming up the hill, huddled in their blankets, their cattle's bells ringing across the valley. Dumela dadi
, we shouted. Dumela dadi
, they replied.
As we walked, the sun climbed higher and we began to feel its heat, although there was a bitter chill blowing off the mountains into which we were heading. Passing through fields of wild herbs, the aromas being released with every footstep, we descended across slabs of bronze rock down to the valley bottom, removing layers as we went. Above us, the blue sky was splashed with brilliant white clouds, made all the more spectacular against the golden rocks reaching up towards them.
On reaching the bottom, we followed the cold river, walking along the rocky river bank, occasionally, having to wade through 6 inches of ice cold water to continue our route. Behind us, the cattle on the hill by the village saluted us with their clanging bells, herdsmen calling
down to us and our guide from the sides of the valley above us..
Nearing the end of the valley, we began to climb steeply and after some 30 minutes of effort, reached a small plateau. The path continued through a deserted village, dilapidated round houses looking very lonely against the darkening sky.
Passing herdsmen coming towards us, we eventually reached a track. As we were about to head to our first destination, a waterfall, the heavens opened and the sound of thunder echoed around the head of the valley. A herdsman took pity on us and guided us, at a speed which is not customary in Lesotho, towards some uninhabited buildings where we could shelter. Wet, we huddled under the grass roofs whilst the rain lashed down and the thunder crashed about us.
After 5 minutes or so, the rain was chased away by the sun and blue sky, but not enough to make a pair of sailor's trousers, began to reign. Deciding that it would not be good to visit the waterfalls, we headed back down the path to the valley bottom, all the time, the sun getting stronger and our clothes beginning to dry.
Our Basotho guide picked some leaves and gave us all a bunch, informing us that it would traditionally protect against lightening.
We crossed the river, taking the opportunity to clean our boots in the water and began the long, slow climb up to the top of the ridge. Behind us, the clouds were again gathering to reassert their dominance on the day's weather. Prudence ruled and we decided not to visit the San Rock Paintings, instead, continuing our slow climb to the summit.
The final slog up the path to the village was made much worse by the recent rain. Water flowed down the incline forming very muddy deposits which happened to coincide with the location of the next footfall. Jerry, one of our guides, decided at this point, that he would opt to ride one of the ponies. Sitting astride his pony, he looked down on us and stretched out his right arm. Taking my leather hat, he held it as a salute, his big white smile beaming from his black face, announcing that he was Mel Brookes' sheriff!
We shortly arrived back at the camp from our 5 hour walk whilst the sun was still
winning and, collecting our bags and bidding farewell to our guides, we went off in search of coffee. Sitting in the sun, we enjoyed a couple of mugs of the strong stuff, our boots continuing to dry in the now hot sun. Next to us, a Welsh gentleman was enjoying a slightly extended holiday as flights to the UK were still delayed (a further two days?) due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
On returning to our camp, we gathered under the corrugated iron roof just as the heaven's opened again. It didn't matter this time, we were safe, sitting with another drink, enjoying a relaxing afternoon.
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