This past weekend, Nate and I traveled to the tiny landlocked country within South Africa called Lesotho (pronounced Le-soo-too). The trip was nothing less than a real African adventure!
Called “The Kingdom in the Sky,” Lesotho is a spectacularly rugged, mountainous country populated by a hardy people, the Basotho, who live in isolated communities too small to be called villages. Having never been colonized, Lesotho boasts a culture mostly free of Western influence. Even in the more urban areas, of which there are very few, the Basotho wear traditional heavy wool blankets tied at the neck, muck boots and funny-looking Basotho hats worn by tribesmen in the more remote regions of the country.
We stayed at Malealea Lodge, a unique model of guest accommodation in that it helps the locals in many social projects. Among the ways that it has had an impact on the community, the lodge helps raise money for the local school; hires and educates local guides for treks; runs an HIV/AIDS project, an irrigation project and a soil erosion project; offers skills development training and an adult education program; and more. There are numerous walks, drives, four-wheel-drive trails and horse treks from the lodge, which take guests to scenic waterfalls, lovely mountain expanses, ancient cave paintings and isolated villages.
We stayed overnight at the lodge one night before heading on a two-day adventure on horseback. Early Friday morning, we saddled up and, along with our guide Tsepho, rode six or seven hours deep into the mountains, crossing beautiful rivers, passing through tiny villages and stopping a few times to stretch our legs and take in the stunning scenery and expansive sky on what was a gloriously sunny day. It took us both a while to adjust to riding and to learn our horses—and to trust our horses, as some of the descents were hair-raising for sure. I wasn’t so sure about my horse, with a name like Judas…
Our journey ended at a remote village where we deposited our things in a traditional Basotho hut and were taken on foot by another local guide to the base of Ribeneng Falls. That night, we satisfied our trekker’s appetite over candlelight with a portion of the camping food we had packed and climbed into our sleeping bags at 7:30 p.m., as it was already pitch-black dark. Among the sounds interrupting our sleep during the night was a majestic thunderstorm rolling through the mountains, with thunder cracks lasting several solid minutes in length.
Staying in the village was definitely the real deal in terms of experiencing Africa! The villagers at Ribeneng share life with pigs, chickens, newborn puppies and a donkey roaming around, all of which have to be shooed out of the huts from time to time! There is only one outhouse for the whole village, we had to purify the water we collected from a nearby spring and, no joke, we smashed a couple of pretty big spiders in our hut that night! Proudly, the village rooster announced the morning at first break of dawn, right as we had finally managed deep sleep.
We awoke to a drizzly morning and saddled up, heading home on a different route requiring our horses to navigate treacherous trails and steep ascents and descents down to riverbeds. It rained on us for a few hours, and there were moments of true excitement (or rather fright!) when our horses encountered and had to calculate their steps though particularly muddy or slippery patches. The scenery became even more lush and beautiful with the rain, so the feeling of being chilled to the bone by the wetness was something that didn’t discourage us too much.
After stopping to see San Bushman cave paintings, we arrived back at the lodge where we enjoyed hot showers, the nightly performance by the choir and band formed by the locals to entertain lodge guests, a home-cooked dinner by the fireplace and hours of conversation with a couple we met from the Czech Republic.
Overall, our adventure in Lesotho was a great getaway of a trip. We highly recommend Malealea Lodge to anyone and the overnight horse trek and stay in the village to the adventurous among you! We promise you’ll have fun either way.
We hope you enjoy a taste of the sights and sounds we enjoyed in this beautiful, special place. 3D panos of the village, our hut and the local band performing at the lodge are forthcoming.