Experiencing life as a Basotho: 1 week in Lesotho

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Africa » Lesotho
January 14th 2014
Published: January 16th 2014
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I was supposed to spend 3-4 days in Lesotho, as my flight was arriving in Durban and it was close by, but in the end I spent more than one week there. It’s not because I wanted to, it’s more because transportation and infrastructures for tourists in that country are really underdeveloped. Therefore, for a week, I really travelled and experienced life as a local. However, don’t get me wrong, this country is just amazing with very friendly people, awesome scenery and nature everywhere. I would advise anyone, who loves nature, hiking, and who wants to visit a not touristy place, to go there. However, just be advised that the roads in the South and the East are bumpy so it will take hours to go from one place to another. If you are comfortable, driving on such bumpy and mountains road, then it’s better that you rent your own vehicle to go to remote national parks or other places more easily. However, I took all the local minibuses (called taxis here) and I was fine, it just takes much more time.

Let me know explain you how is life in Lesotho:

Firstly, I arrived to Lesotho from Sani Pass – the almost highest point in Southern Africa-, it was a dangerous road and we were often driving close to the edge of the cliff. I was thus not confident there, even though the girl next to me told me “don’t worry, they are taking that road every day, they know how to drive here”. Arriving at the Lesotho border, I was surprised by how rural it is: a guy was in the middle of the road on his donkey wearing a big woolen dress and a winter hat with only his eyes not covered. When I saw that, I started laughing because he looked like a security guard but not very trusty on her small donkey :p. Moreover, all around they were sheep, horses, donkeys and everyone was wearing those woolen dress and winter hats. After a while, I saw that it’s the local clothing here for men to protect themselves from cold.

Then, not even one hour after crossing the border, we had to stop because the “road needed to be done”. When I heard that I laughed so much but yes, that’s it, that life in Lesotho on that side of the country: no good roads… For information, guess which country is responsible for building those roads here in Lesotho? … China! I knew about “Chinafrique” but you can clearly experience it here: Chinese people are taking over small shops, building roads and thriving from it :s I love China but it’s not nice to hear that some people got broke and lost their business because of them. Anyway, after one hour the road was “done” and we could continue our trip.

In the bus, the girl next to me told me I would never make today to the National Park in time and as we talked a lot during the journey she invited me to her place so I could experience the life in a Basotho family J I was touched by her hospitality! So, after 8 hours and changing 4 times of minibus, we arrived to her family’s home at 6pm. And, yes, changing 4 times of minibuses to go to a “main town” is pretty normal here 😉

At her place, I indeed experienced the Basotho life, meaning “no running water and no electricity”. So, they live with the sun and boil water for bathing. They wake up at 5am and go to bed around 8pm. You bath in a small basin- or a big one when you are lucky enough…-. I challenge anyone, not used to it, to bath in a small basin like theirs and not put water all around… Anyway, when I camp I cannot even bath or shower, so it’s better than nothing. Other experience: no toilet inside the house, so at daytime, you go outside to the latrine and at night, you just use a bucket inside your room… I was sick on the 2nd evening there and I can assure you, I was praying to not feel sick during the night because of that point! However, those are small details, I really didn’t care about them, when I was there. I loved my time with that family. They were all so welcoming and seemed happy to have me at their place.

We hiked one morning together and it was nice as we went so high up in the mountains facing the village, we could have a whole view of the villages and valleys around. It was a hard hike as we climbed rocks a lot but I had a great time there, even though it rained so much on our way down, making the path really slippery…

After some time there, I left their home and was heading to the National Park early in the morning. Unfortunately, I could then experience the real transportation issues of Lesotho! Meaning, when in other places, you can go quickly from one city to another, here it takes you days to do it because it’s mountain roads everywhere and because they don’t have a lot of minibuses… So, what was supposed to take me one day took me 3 days. Also because of the heavy rains, which made the river being too high for any vehicle to cross it. That’s why, after 4 hours in the 1st minibus on that day, I got stucked in a very small village for 4 hours and then, I had to go on the back of a 4WD vehicle to go to a town on the way and sleep there! This was an experience in its own: on the back of the vehicle were so many things (mattresses, basins, luggage,…) that we had to sit on them and try not to fall from the car, once we were jumping off because of the bumpy roads L I was pretty scared at that moment.

Fortunately, my other rides at the back of such a vehicle were better and I got used to such rides 😉 To come back on the amount of things that were at the back of the vehicle, you have to know that people there travel with tons of luggage and stuff and that they put everything inside the small minibus… So, at that time, there was a woman, taking the minibus with a whole shop with her!!). She didn’t even get annoyed by the bumpy roads as she sat in the front of the car…

Next experience in Lesotho on that day:

- sleep on the floor in a clinic - when the driver of the 4WD vehicle drop you off in a village where there is nothing else

- wake up at 5am in the next morning to hike for 5 hours in the mountains –as no car can cross the river and you have to hike to the next minibus stop kilometers away-!

Sleeping at the clinic was actually not that bad, as I had my sleeping bag and warm clothes with me but the hike was pretty tough with my 12-kg backpack with me… Not even mentioning the fact, that I hadn’t eaten the day before as I was sick and that I ran out of water after 3 hours thinking the hike was finished… However, I have to say that I was amazed by how brave the Basotho women are: they hiked, crossed rivers, jumped between cliff edges carrying their luggage on their head, or with children!

After all those adventures, I could finally arrive in a town, which was the last stop before the National Park. This town was just amazing. So quiet and relaxing, with mountains all around, horses and donkeys walking around, green everywhere. That’s the town I loved the most in Lesotho –called Sehonghong-. It was so nice to spend the night there to just take some time off! By the way, I slept there in a guest house for 1,5€ a night!!

In the next morning, I could take the minibus to the National Park – with 1,5 hours delay but here that’s pretty normal 😉-. Then, when I arrived there, a guy told me to walk 1 hour
Sunset in the Sehlabathebe National ParkSunset in the Sehlabathebe National ParkSunset in the Sehlabathebe National Park

When trying to not get caught by the dark ;)
to get to the National Park entrance. However, here in Lesotho, National Park aren’t very well delimited so there was no visitor center, where I could get a map from or could tell me where accommodations are… I entered thus the National Park like that and when I saw a set of buildings, I thought “great, that must be the dormitories at the entrance of the park they are talking about in my guide book”. However, the guy there told me that it wasn’t opened and that I couldn’t sleep there as he didn’t have the keys of the rooms. And with his little English, he just told me “no, no key, lodges, that way” showing me the mountains… I was so tired but I had to go to find the place to stay, so I went there to find those lodges. After another hour of walk, I saw far away another set of buildings. “That should be the lodges”, I thought. However, getting there, I couldn’t find anyone and from the broken windows, I thought the place was abandoned… It was very foggy and it was already 6pm, so I chose to go back to the entrance of the park, hoping getting there before dark. I got to the entrance of the park when it was getting dark but I still had to go to the village and it was far away… I met people at the gate though, so I asked them how long I needed to walked to go to the village. Their English wasn’t good, so we couldn’t communicate that well together. However, they took me to a warm place where I thought I would sleep; but it was in fact it was just to wait for their friends, whose English was supposed to be better. Those people were working at the lodge inside the national park, so they drove me to the place, where I could sleep for the night. It turned out well in the end but I wasn’t feeling well at all, when I thought I would be stuck alone in the park at dark and not find a place to sleep. At the end, the lodge they took me to, was the place I was at 6pm and I thought was an abandoned place!!

However, like most of my adventures in Lesotho until now, what could be a bad experience turned
Saint Francis ChurchSaint Francis ChurchSaint Francis Church

Village where Malea teaches
out to be good as well. On the next morning, I went with an employee from the lodge hiking to see the waterfalls. Even though, I wasn’t feeling well yesterday and wanted to go out of this place, I really saw that morning how amazing this National Park was: with birds, nice flowers, different plants, mountains, river, waterfalls and butterflies everywhere :D

Then, I met Michelle, with whom I stayed for the night. She is a Peace Corps volunteer there near the park and the girl from Couchsurfing, I was going to meet afterwards, told me I could stay at her place, after my experience the night before. Meeting Michelle was exactly what I needed at that time! This girl is so enthusiastic and nice, that the time I spent there was perfect and I would have even loved staying there longer. Hopefully, I will meet again somewhere J

Another experience in Lesotho after the minibus: the bus! I thought “nice, I will finally take a bus, have enough place and it will be a quiet ride”. However, it was not. I should have known that in Lesotho, nothing happens as planned! So, when I thought that the bus was full, it wasn’t at all: they let people get on all the time and the bus was thus so full with people standing in the middle line. The bus was so full that it couldn’t go up the mountains and that men working for the bus company had to get off, put rocks behing the back wheels to prevent it to go down… At that time, I really wondered, whether we will make it to our destination or not! Hopefully, after 4 hours, I arrived at the village and could spend the day with Malea from Couchsurfing, going with her to class and hiking around.

Regarding the classes there, I got a bit chocked by how they got their lunch. Employees came inside the classroom during the lesson with 2 big buckets –one with rice, the second with red beans- and pupils put their Tupperware on the floor around them to get served. It’s a lot different from our canteen, but well that’s what they are used to here. Then, they go outside to eat. Another point about classes there: it seemed to me that, even though classes were taught in English, pupils of 4th, grade couldn’t understand well what the teacher was explaining them in English… On one side, it’s good to teach in English, so that they get fluent more quickly. But on the other side, if they don’t understand at all the Maths lesson, not because of the subject but because of the language, I am not sure it’s really helful as well…

By the way, at Malea’s place, that was the 1st house in Lesotho, where I saw electricity!

To conclude on this one-week trip, as I said, Lesotho is such a beautiful place that I am happy I could visit and where I met great people, willing to help me at any time. This morning, I was on one side happy to leave this place as well, as it was really a struggle to travel from one place to another, but on the other side, I am sad to leave such a quiet and remote place. Anyway, I am now in South Africa, where I am looking forward for new adventures :D Don’t hesitate to comment and tell me your insights about the blogs 😉


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