Lesotho – The Kingdom in The Sky

It turned out that we would have two things to celebrate on the 7th October. Firstly and most importantly it was Lucy's seventh birthday. Not that we were going to be able to forget that. Lucy had been counting down the days for weeks. On the morning of her birthday we had told her she could not get up until 7am. She was awake before 6 and kept asking her sister how long it was until 7! On a trip like this it is difficult to think what to get the kids for birthdays, Christmas etc. We have space restrictions and often don't have access to all the normal shops. So for Lucy we decided to buy lots of little things and give her a treasure hunt to do to find all the presents in the truck. She loved this and with Alisha's help had soon found all her presents.    After all the excitement we headed out. First to the lovely artsy town of Clarens. Unfortunately we only made a quick stop for fuel and money because we were heading across the border. The border crossing into Lesotho was quick, easy and very friendly. We loved that the customs officer was wearing a sweatshirt with "Dope Sh*t" across the front. As soon as we were across the border we could see the difference from South Africa. The people were dressed differently with their Lesotho blankets, white wellies and the ladies wearing conical straw hats. At first in the lowlands it was fairly busy but as we turned away from the border we started to climb into the peaceful grand mountains.    About halfway up the first pass we stopped for our second celebration. The spot below marked the exact point we had driven 100,000kms since we set off from Halifax, Canada well over 2 years ago. Not a bad point to celebrate. The scenery was beautiful.     We continued to wind our way up to the pass at 3090m on a great tar road. From the top we got some spectacular views back down the valley.      We had hoped to stay on the top and camp in the Bokong Nature Reserve but when we arrived at the entrance the gate keeper said it was closed! So we had no choice but to continue down the valley and wind our way around the Katse reservoir. We camped that night looking down onto the Katse Dam, supposedly the highest dam wall in Africa.    The next morning we thought we would continue our dam education by taking a tour of the dam. The dam had been built to supply water to Johannesburg and effectively reversed the course of a river so that the water was pumped North rather than naturally flowing South. It was certainly an impressive engineering feat and with all the cement needed for the dam explained why the road to it had been so good. The tour was also very good. We were given an explanation of the dam and then we followed the tour guide down to the bottom of the dam wall. Here we were given a tour inside the dam before jumping in the truck again and following the guide up over the top of the dam. It was a an interesting way to spend an hour and a half and good value at less than a dollar each!       As we headed away from the dam the road turned from tar to gravel but it was still ok for a while. Then it deteriorated big time. And this is the A3 one of the main roads in the country. It took us over 2 hours to do the last 50kms to our camp that night at a lodge at the mission station of St James. Mind you the views along the way as we wound our way over mountain passes and into valleys were pretty good. You could tell it was spring as all the available arable land was freshly ploughed.                   The next morning we headed the short distance to the famous Sani Top. We thought that the 50km drive would take some time but as a new dam was going to be built, after just a couple of Kms a brand new tar road was been built by the Chinese. It was a fantastic road that was near to completion. Whilst the road was great, the roadworks were complete chaos. It was not clear which way you needed to drive down some of them. At one point I had to reverse 500m uphill to change sides. I hope they appreciated me rearranging the signing so it was obvious for other drivers following me. There were also long stretches of one lane only and no one operating a stop go system so traffic could arrive from both directions. Fortunately we could see a truck coming up before we entered the section and the only car we met only had to reverse a couple of hundred metres. It's a good job traffic was light.    Sani Pass sits at nearly 2900m and is a border post between Lesotho and South Africa. There is a lovely lodge there and some fantastic views from it. We did a lovely walk to admire the views and I managed to climb up to the top of one of the small peaks that was about 3100m. As our supplies were running low we decided that rather than cobbling together something pretty unappetising we would eat at the lodge at "The Highest Pub in Africa". We were really glad we did as we had a lovely meal and a few drinks while chatting with the friendly manager of the lodge.                   The next morning we had to tackle the descent of the Sani Pass. This pass is famous in South African 4x4 circles and you have to have a 4x4 to be allowed to drive up the pass. The tar road finished at the border and the road then twisted its way down through a series of tight hairpins. I think the road probably dropped a thousand metres in just over 3Kms so it was pretty steep. The truck coped well keeping it in low gear and there was only one corner where we needed to perform a small three point turn to get round. After driving in the Andes I thought maybe the pass was over hyped but it is steep and certainly matched some of the drives in the Andes although it probably was not as long as some of the steepest drives we have done.       Here is what the journey down looked like: When we could look up the views were fantastic as we could see all the way down the valley.    We were heading back towards Durban as Gilly's mum and her friend Rosemary are coming to visit us before we ship out of Africa. We stopped off for the night by another dam near Howick West where we camped for the night. This one though was not as scenic as the beautiful one in stunning Lesotho.