Lesotho | How green was my valley
You don’t need a vehicle to explore the back roads of Lesotho. In March this year the 29 members of the Nua Quad Bike Club tackled the southeastern part of the mountain kingdom. Frans Grotius tells more.
Customs officials somehow have the knack of spoiling an outing, or at least seem to try hard to do so. Even on a Sunday.
The official at the Maseru Bridge border post between Lesotho and South Africa was no exception. Here’s what he focused on on our way out of Lesotho: One person in our convoy of 11 vehicles and trailers had borrowed a trailer to transport his quad, and brought along the necessary letter of authorisation from the owner.
In the letter the owner had given permission for the trailer to leave South Africa, but had not mentioned when it should be back. According to the official this was enough reason not to allow the trailer across the border. The only way we could get the trailer back into South Africa, was to offer him a “gift” of R200.
When we’d hooked up this and the other trailers in Brakpan the previous Wednesday, before heading towards two guest farms just outside Ladybrand for the start of our “Roof of Africa” adventure, we had no idea that money under the counter would also work in Lesotho.
After seven hours’ drive from Brakpan, our group (all between the ages of 8 and 65) arrived on the farms, quickly unpacked and began exploring the region on our quads. For two full days we covered every nook and cranny of the mountainous terrain, complete with massive rocks and ravines; we even paid a visit to a lion farm in the district.
Sure, such explorations were fun, but we knew all along that the true test would await us on the other side of the border.
Hey, where’s the road?
Luckily for us, everything went without a hitch when we arrived at the Maseru Bridge border post early that Friday morning. Within an hour we – along with vehicles, trailers, quads and all – had crossed the border and were on our way to the Roma Trading Post, about 30 km further.
The reason was that Elmo Eksteen, our guide, had given us the necessary documents to fill in beforehand (and perhaps also because the pernickety
official was not on duty that day).
A short distance beyond the border members of our group missed a turn-off and totally lost their way. A lot of time was wasted in the process but finally the group was reunited and could travel on together.
At the Roma Trading Post, which is the start of the route, we off-loaded the quads and left the vehicles and trailers behind. (There are more than enough guards to ensure that none of your valuables go missing.)
Our luggage was loaded onto a bakkie and taken to our base for the weekend, the Ramabanta Trading Post Lodge. At last we were able kick-start the Bear Trackers, Raptors and Grizzlys and speed off!
The 65 km through the valleys and rivers of the Maluti mountains to Ramabanta gave us and the quads a taste of what was to come. The scenic beauty was awesome: One moment you’d be zigzagging up a pass to arrive at the top – from where you are able to see into the distant future, or so it seemed – yet the very next moment you’d have to make your way down yet another winding pass again.
Usually it takes about four to five hours to complete the 65 km between Roma and Ramabanta, but ours was not a normal day. Apart from the members who got lost, one of the two-wheel motorbikes broke down.
For a while Fred Sprenzel managed to tow him with his Yamaha Grizzly 660-4×4. All went well until the bike caused Fred’s Grizzly to keel over.
Needless to say, Fred and Gabrielle du Toit (his eight-year-old passenger) got intimately acquainted with the Lesotho soil. Fred was left with a grazed cheekbone and Gabrielle with a big blue bruise on the hip. Despite the accident both of them persevered to the end of the trip.
Due to these delays we had to travel the last 10 km in the dark and arrived at the lodge long after sunset.
This was where I learnt how vital it is to have a guide who knows his stuff and the territory. At one point I remarked to Elmo: “Fortunately you have GPS, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have found the place as easily.” To my amazement it turned out that he actually doesn’t own one.
GPS or not, we all arrived safely at the lodge, thoroughly tired and hungry. After a delicious supper and a hot bath we began to feel ready for the challenges of the next day.
Those who have visited the Grand Canyon in America will know how such natural formations can simply take one’s breath away. The Maletsunyane Waterfall (also called “The Place of Smoke”) is equally splendid, but on a much smaller scale.
This waterfall, one of the highest single waterfalls in Southern Africa, was where
we were heading to after a large breakfast at the lodge.
The 120 km route to and from the waterfall consists of a good dirt road, but has lots of very sharp bends where it’s wise not to drive too fast. Prepare to travel for about two to three hours before reaching the waterfall to the east of Ramabanta.
Elmo had suggested that we take along warm jackets and balaclavas, which had seemed unnecessary because the weather was so warm, yet the higher we climbed, the colder it became – eventually we reached 3 100 m above sea level.
Once at the waterfall we could barely believe the spectacle before us. Apart from the water plunging a full 192 m, one somehow has the sense of seeing forever. This was literally and figuratively the high point of our tour.
We took some welcome refreshments right on top of the mountain before tackling the return journey. Back at the lodge we concluded the day around a huge campfire with plenty of singing and chatting.
For the last time
We’d left the best (but most difficult part) for last, I realised that Sunday when we once again ascended the mountains to a height of 3 000 m above sea level. And from that point above the clouds we started the slow journey down the Jockstrap Pass.
This notorious pass is about 20 minutes’ drive north of Rama-banta. The plan was to drive over the pass to Roma, where we’d left our vehicles and trailers.
Perhaps “mountain pass” is not the right word. It was more of a footpath created by the local inhabitants and their pack animals over many years – ideal for quads, precisely because it is so narrow.
Jockstrap turned out to be an unforgettable experience. But remember, vertigo is not a good travel companion. Make sure you get rid of it before tackling the pass.
Much later we stopped at one of the distant hamlets between here and nowhere.
It’s so far from the nearest school that the children have to start walking at 5 am in the morning, only to get home again at 6 pm in the evening.
Here we handed the kids some pencils, pens and books because the chief had specifically requested that we don’t give them sweets but rather something that they could use for schoolwork.
After a quick lunch at the side of the road we continued along the last 60 km to Roma where we loaded the quads back onto the trailers. By 3 pm we were through the border post (after having duly paid the “gift” of R200, of course) and by 9 pm we were all home safely.
Pg 2: Quick facts
I WANT TO GO TOO!
How many kilometres did you cover on the quads in Lesotho?
About 250 km
What were the highlights?
The natural beauty and how very unspoilt it is – something which no photograph can adequately portray; the freedom; the challenging route; and witnessing an 11-year-old girl handling the same challenges as the grown-ups.
How difficult was the terrain you covered?
The first and last days were tough and definitely required a little experience.
Advice to readers who’d like to attempt something similar?
- Be prepared to handle a route that demands that you leave your vertigo at home – it’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s like an endurance ride with a panoramic difference.
- Take warm clothes.
- Rest for a day or two before attempting the route It took us about five hours non-stop driving from Brakpan, and if one were to tackle the tour immediately afterwards, it could become too taxing.
- Remember to take a copy of your vehicle registration documents – also for your trailer and quad – otherwise your tour could well end right there at the border post.
Take tyre repair kit, a towing rope and perhaps a winch or two.
Elmo Eksteen 082 940 6050
|DO_Lesotho Extra.pdf||259.6 KB|