September 27, 2006

LesothoWe were awakened at 5:15 am by the dawn chorus, which was very impressive. Malealea Lodge is in a small forest so there were numerous species singing. Our bed was very cozy, with a thick duvet covering us.

Breakfast was at 7 am, but we got up a bit after 6 am and finished organizing our gear. The sun had risen so it was a good time for photography. The good thing was, the sky was clear so it looked like a great day to start our trek. Breakfast consisted of yoghurt, muesli, toast, and bacon. Both of us declined the eggs, and we had rooibos tea. After breakfast we wandered about the grounds and took some pictures. The scenery was spectacular, with the mountains still sprinkled with snow.

Before leaving we were informed that we also had to carry a few other items: a set of utensils, a roll of toilet paper, some juice boxes, a packed lunch, and some snack foods. It wasn’t easy fitting all that into our day packs but we finally managed it. The pack horses were ready about 8:30 am, and then we were off on the trail. For the first hour or so we descended through the fields, then steeply down to the Makheleng River, which we crossed on a new-looking green metal pedestrian bridge. Then we began the uphill part by climbing up the opposite bank.

We climbed for another two hours, passing by several Basotho villages. One of the larger ones had about 400 inhabitants. All the areas around the villages were neatly laid out in fields read for planting of maize and potatoes. Along with the crops, the people keep pigs, donkeys, chickens, and sheep. At every village we came to the little children ran out to greet us, and generally the people looked happy and prosperous. We stopped at 11:30 am for lunch, and by 3 pm we were climbing the last hill into Ribaneng, the village which was our destination. The trail had been very up and down, and despite the near-freezing temperatures overnight, it was quite warm, so we were happy to hear we had only another half hour to walk.

Ribaneng village is on the hillside above the river but the falls that we had seen on the way in are not visible from there. We had the option of hiking to the falls, but neither of us wanted to hike for another two hours so we opted out and had tea and coffee instead. There were three rondavels available for our use, one of which was the kitchen. We got two mattresses from the pile and set them up, along with our sleeping bags and the grey bag the horses had carried, in the one higher up the hill.

As it happened there was an initiation ceremony taking place for the teenage boys in the village today. We were warned not to take photographs of anything related to that. After a while we saw about 20 of them wearing cowhide cloaks over their regular clothes; they went up the hill along with some older men and three cows and then disappeared from our sight. One of our guides tried to find out if circumcision was involved, but the men he asked were very hesitant to discuss the topic.

After a while we decided to walk down to the river to wash our legs. The slope was quite steep but it only took us about 10 minutes to scramble down to the river and about 5 minutes to get back up. But the women of the village do this every day, with buckets of water balanced on their heads.

For dinner tonight we had chicken curry (spiciness rating at Indian restaurant: zero stars), butternut squash, and rice, followed by sliced peaches with vanilla custard. After dinner we sat around talking and trying not to go to bed too early. The mattresses were very comfortable, but the rondavel smelled very strongly of wood smoke so sleep did not come easily.

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