Lesotho

19th – 28th of May 2024:

After we reached the summit of the pass, we saw the border post shortly after. Here, we got the entry stamp from the border officials, who looked like inuits in their thick layers of clothes. Additionally, we had to pay each 100 Rand for a tourism fee, which was introduced only in April of this year. A few hundred meters away was the highest pub of Africa. Of course, we visited the pub and drank our fist beer in Lesotho.

Afterwards, we cycled a few kilometers through the surreal lunar landscape. Interestingly, the landscape in Lesotho was completely different to the one in South Africa. One could think to be in a rock desert. We were on a plateau and there were a few abandoned houses and a few shepherds next to the road. In the first village, we asked a few women if we could pitch our tent next to their round hut. This was not a problem for them and we were even invited to the hut, which was heated using cow dung, since it was very cold outside. A bit later, the husband arrived, who just slaughtered a sheep and had still bloody hands. Like that we crossed the highest pass since we started our journey in North Cape, slept higher than ever before and drank a beer in the highest pub of the continent, all in one day.

In the morning, we realized that our water in the bottles war completely frozen. Luckily, we could warm up in the hut, before we started our day. Vitalin prepared hot water for tea and offered her homemade bread. This was much better compared to the toast we ate almost daily since Namibia.

Afterwards, we packed our backpacks and started walking in the direction of the highest mountain in Lesotho. The trail led us along a valley where we saw a few huts along a stream. Then, we crossed a rocky pass and walked down on the other side until we reached a stream. From there, we had still a few kilometers and 400 m uphill to cover, before we reached the peak of Thabana Ntlenyana (3482m). The hike to this peak is not difficult and the last part to the summit is not imposing at all, but for us it was still exiting to explore this scarce mountain landscape by foot. Therefore, we summited the highest peak in southern Africa and the highest mountain south of Mount Meru, which is located only a bit more south than Kilimanjaro. On the way back, we were a bit faster and were surprised about the monotonous and scarce landscape surrounding us. After almost six hours and about 22 km, we were back in the small village.

Before we said farewell to Viatlin, she showed us her self-made souvenirs. She sells the traditional hat and earrings to tourists in the summer time. Then, we started cycling and after only 1 km, a mountain pass expected us. During 6 km, we climbed more than 400 m. We hardly managed to cycle the steepest sections, since we used the whole road. On the highest tarred pass in Lesotho on 3240 m, we put jackets and gloves on for the long downhill. The other side of the pass was as steep and again and again, there were sheep on the road, which reacted in a irrational way to our arrival.

For the first time, we started cycled with long pants, several jackets and gloves. These clothes were in our bags since Windhuk, but this was the first time we really needed them. In about one hour, the sun heated up the ambient air, so that we changed our outfit to short-short. After not even 10 km, we turned away onto a gravel road. Surprisingly, there were more cars on the bumpy road than on the newly tarred road. There, we saw more men on their horses than vehicles.

The gravel road led us from 2100 m again up to more than 3000 m to the next pass. Before the steep section at the end of the pass, we bought bread and beans out of the can. The two young women which sold us the food, were happy about our visit.

The descent from the pass was very steep and we had to be careful not to fall off our bicycles. However, we were rewarded with phantastic views of the valleys and villages below us. Already after two days in Lesotho we knew why the country is called the kingdom in the sky. It is the only independent country in the world, where the whole country is located higher than 1000 m and even around 80% of the area is higher than 1800 m.

The mountain villages are full of beautiful round huts, but the people live a simple life without electricity an access to water. The majority of people in the mountains live from agriculture.

On the way to school, several group of kids passed our camping spot with a perfect view. They greeted friendly, stopped for a moment and then continued their hour-long way to school. Right in the beginning oft he day, the road led us down into another valley. We were wearing many layers of clothing, but shortly after the sun was so strong that we had to remove them again, since the next climb waited for us. The temperature differences during one day can be more than 30 degrees.

In the first restaurants since the border, we could eat the common maize meal with chicken and cabbage. The prices are much higher compared to South Africa, since everything is imported from their neighbor. The small shops has a surprisingly large choice in comparison to Mozambique.

Due to the snake-like shape of the rivers, the road did a detour, before we crossed the bridge. The natural route of the rivers was astonishing to see, since we are not used to see that anymore in Europe. Afterwards, we gained 500 meters of altitude while cycling 7 km and therefore accumulated already 1000 m of ascent in about 40 km.

While we took a break, we talked to an development worker from the local government. He supports villagers with food and medical aid. Apparently, many families do not have enough food available. In addition, HIV-infections are the third highest in the World after Eswatini and Botswana with more than 20%.

Earlier than usual, we found a wild camping spot next to a stream and could therefore wash ourselves. Until sunset, many shepherds with their sheep, cows and horses walked passed us. Currently, people collect the remains of the maize harvest with their wagon, so they can feed it to their animals in the wintertime.

The remaining 15 kilometers on the gravel road were probably the last for a while. This section was challenging, since the quality of the road decreased. Thaba-Tseka was the first town we reached in Lesotho. There, we took a break and bought a SIM-card. After a tasty meal and charging of our electronics in a pretty restaurant, the next mountain pass waited for us. Thanks to the tarred road, we reached the pass at around 2900 m easier compared to the last days. After the highest point, the road followed the ridge for a few kilometers, before a steep and imposing downhill awaited us. As a change, we could enjoy the descent, since our fingers did not hurt anymore from breaking, like on the gravel roads.

Many people in Lesotho hardly speak English, even though it is an official language. However, all people speak Sesotho, the second official language. Almost all inhabitants belong to the tribe of the Basotho. Lesotho is one of few countries in Africa with such a homogenous population and therefore mutual culture, identify and tradition.

Due to a cold night with frost, we had ice-cold water during the first hours of cycling. What a luxury! The day started, who else could it be, with another mountain pass. After a steep descent, the next long ascent started. After the second downhill next to a deep gorge, we reached for the second time an altitude lower than 2000 m.

All pieces of land, which are not too steep, are used for the cultivation of maize. Everywhere, one can see the yellow terrasses of the famers. Regularly, we see young men with their animals in the most remote regions of the country. They wear old clothing, a blanket as a cloak, rubber boots, jewelry and a balaclava. Often, they ask us for money, food or sweets. The unemployment rate is around 45% and therefore one of the highest worldwide. Many men worked in the south African mines, but many people lost their job because they closed them down. That is why agriculture and livestock farming is still the most common job in the remote mountain regions.

While we cycled through a small village, we saw a reservoir far away. The surrounding regions can profit from the produced electricity. However, the majority of it is exported to South Africa, since the need is much higher. In addition, thick water pipes were constructed all the way to Johannesburg, several hundred kilometers away.

Shortly before we entered a small restaurant, Adrian was approached by two 15-years old school kids. They needed help with their homework. When Adrian told them that he is a chemistry high school teacher, they quickly took out the corresponding exercise sheet. They were happy about the help and asked other interesting questions. For example: “How can a non-educated person in Lesotho without financial resources improve their future or pay the school fees for their kids?” Unbelievable, right?

Due to the exposition of our camping spot, we were woken up by the rising sun. Since more than a week, we have not seen clouds. This is not surprising, because Lesotho has on average 300 days of sunshine.

After we cycled over two passes higher than 2000 m, we enjoyed a long descent until we reached a plateau. On the way, we witnessed a situation which can not be seen in many places around the globe. A man on top of his horse was talking to a man in a car on the side of the road.

The last days, we were practically alone on the wide gravel or tarred roads. Mostly less than 10 vehicles passed us within an hour. Many roads in the country were only tarre due to the construction of the reservoirs. Most of the 2.3 million inhabitants live in the capital Maseru or on the high laying plateau in the west of Lesotho. The country has a similar size like Belgium.

After the long downhill, the landscape got less hilly, the traffic increased and the population density increased significantly.

After all the strenuous days in the mountains, a rest day was planned. However, we first had to earn it and cycle around 45 km to Mafeteng. The landscape was rather flat, but it was still a constant up and down. Probably it was because it was Sunday, since not many people were around. A few kids waved at us anyway and screamed “sweets, some sweets”. This shouts started already after we entered Lesotho, but are not always meant to beg. Many kids and adults do not know what these words mean or just repeat after other people.

Besides many cows, sheep and horses, we see often herds of different kinds of goat. Lesotho has the second highest production of mohair (hairs of the angora goat), which are used for example for ski skins.

When we arrived in town, we found a small restaurant to eat something. Next to it was a bar and many young men were drinking beer and cheap wine from South Africa to get drunk. Shortly after, we met Grithth at the main road and he showed us the way to his home. His brother Thsepo is a passionate cyclist and has a profile at Warmshowers. Currently, he is on his way to the US for a cycling project. In addition, he sensibilizes teenagers for cycling and helps them to understand the risk of getting HIV.

The family received us warmly and tried to organize that we could have a hot shower. Unfortunately, the hot water boiler did not work, so the water was warmed up in the kitchen. Like that, we could wash our clothes as well. For dinner, we were treated with a diverse meal cooked by the mother. With lots of digital effort, we could even watch most of the final game of the ice hockey world championship between Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, the Swiss team could not win the game, like in 2018, when we watched the final game in the tent in Norway.

Together with Grithth, we drove to the center of the small town, to buy provisions for the continuation and find a public Wi-Fi. In the KFC, we got 400 MB for each device, which was enough to update the blog. Then we visited the mom of Grithth, who works in a restaurant. After a tasty meal, we took a cab back to the home of the family to relax for the rest of the day.

During dinner, we had interesting conversations. The father of the family experienced the independence of Lesotho in 1966. Since this time, many things have changed in the small state, which is surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho is a kingdom and was called Basutoland from 1868-1966. Since 1966 the country is independent from the United Kingdom, but still a member of the Commonwealth.

To go to the toilet in the morning, Fabian had to open the door using a screwdriver, since the door knob did not work anymore. After saying farewell to the hospitable and friendly family, Grithth accompanied us until we left town.

We decided to change the planned route, so we would cross the border to South Africa earlier. Like this, we saved ourselves a few hundred meters of uphill and shortened our route a bit. After around 10 km, we took a turn from the main road and entered a gravel road to cycle the remaining 6 km until the border post. The gravel road was worse than expected. Despite that, we reached the border and the friendly officials stamped our passports quickly.

Cycling more than 8000 meters uphill in only eight days was a record on our journey and therefore belongs Lesotho to one of the hilliest countries in the world. The calm, mostly tarred roads are ideal for cyclists and the landscape was unique and partly breathtaking. People in Lesotho are curious and always up for a chat. In addition, it was great to see that there is still a country in southern Africa with a lot of culture and traditions.