September 26, 2006

LesothoSouth AfricaBreakfast was at 7 am, the usual South African breakfast we have become used to. There was muesli, toast, tea and coffee, various juices, muffins, and scrambled eggs. We sat with one of the British couples, Peter and Brenda. We found that he worked in “anti-corruption” and that they had two daughters aged 31 and 33. During breakfast we were told that the missing British woman’s flight had been delayed for two hours, so that we wouldn’t be leaving until at least 10 am. This meant that we wouldn’t be getting to Malealea until dark.

So, we went over to De Riebeeck Street, Edenvale’s main street, and walked up and down it to see what was there. Basically nothing of interest! On the way back we stopped in at the Pick ’n Pay and bought 2 litres of bottled water, some Vaseline, and a package of peppermints. We wanted to buy some raisin scones but they were not ready yet. We checked out the bookstore but they didn’t have “Where to Watch Wildlife in Kruger Park”, so we headed back to the lodge.

Finally at about 10:15 the latecomer, Heather, arrived looking terribly embarrassed, although the delays hadn’t really been her fault. We all jumped into the trucks and off we went to Lesotho. We followed the same route down the N1 that we had taken yesterday on the Soweto tour. Eventually we got away from the built-up area and passed the last squatters’ camp (known as “informal housing developments” in official South African jargon) into a landscape of farming and ranching, with former gold-mining areas.

The N1 travelled on across the Vaal River and south towards Bloemfontein. It was interesting to see all the people along the way and their various houses. Most seemed to be the square four-room buildings and many still had outdoor plumbing. The countryside was rolling and open, with sheep and cattle and various crops. About 12:30 we stopped at the Shell highway stop near Kroonstad for lunch. Craig and Charl took off to do some shopping while we ate our apples, cookies, and some mints, and tried to photograph the resident Masked Weaver bird. Next door was a “wildlife” park with some gemsboks and some smaller animals that we couldn’t identify.

After about an hour the leaders returned and we continued southwards, first on the N1 and then along smaller roads until we reached the Maseru Bridge border post. This was the most informal border crossing we had ever experienced in Africa. No paperwork, no questions asked, one exit stamp from South Africa and one entrance stamp from Lesotho.

Travelling along the Lesotho roads we went up and down hills as we gained elevation. Lesotho is quite a contrast to South Africa; almost everyone seems to be poor, and the stores are almost all little cinder-block shacks. There were a lot of people driving their little herds of cattle home, and some girls in school uniforms walking along the road. It seemed that most of the men were wearing Basotho blankets for warmth.

After an hour or so the sun was going down. Our truck drove up the dirt road and stopped at the Gates of Paradise Pass, from where we could see new snow on the Drakensberg mountains and the last rays of the sun shining down on a vast open valley. Malealea Lodge was in this valley, and shortly we arrived there.

It was getting dark and was quite cold. However it wasn’t completely dark, so we found our hut (#11) without too much difficulty. We only had half an hour before dinner, so we put our gear into the hut, which didn’t seem to have any heating system but was still warmer than outdoors. Dinner was at 7 pm at the lodge and consisted of mealie pap, roasted potatoes, beans, stewed spinach, and braai chicken and sirloin steak. Dessert was orange raisin cake with custard sauce. Everything was really tasty.

We sat around chatting for a while, then headed back to organize our gear for our four-day trek. We needed to bring warm clothes and wet-weather gear plus, of course, sleeping bags. The horses would be carrying most of it but in our day packs we needed to carry rain gear plus our lunches and two litres of water. Everything else would be stored in a locked room in the lodge until we returned. After organizing everything we both had showers, then finished up our journals before 10 pm, when the power was scheduled to be turned off.

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