Thursday, April 1st
Our trip began around 2:00pm on Thursday afternoon when I got picked up by Don, Matt, Kadi and Joe. Our primary goal of the trip was to make it to Lesotho for a couple days to camp and just hike around what we have heard to be a beautiful country. Other than that, our plans were very open ended and made to be spontaneous. Our first drive took us on the N1 away from Cape Town going northeast. We drove through the Hugenot tunnel in the surrounding mountains, which is probably 2-3 kms long. Kadi and Joe drove through the night (since the car was a manual and they are the only ones who know how to drive stick) and stopped at a gas station around midnight to take a quick nap in the car. That quick nap turned into a 5 hour rest with all of us waking up with neck cramps and completely sore from being so stuffed in the car. Don and I spent some time walking around the gas station around 3am and it seemed like there was a party going on there. There were so many cars just blasting their music and dancing and having a good time. Needless to say, this was not the highlight of the trip.
Friday, April 2nd
We drove from the gas station to Blomfontein, which is about 150 kms from Lesotho. After filling up petrol and grabbing some snacks, we drove around Blomfontein and found the 2010 World Cup stadium. It was pretty cool looking, but not a new stadium so it definitely lacked the contemporary design that Green Point has. From Blomfontein, we drove straight to the capital of Lesotho, Maseru. Customs took about an hour through the Maseru Bridge entrance and finally we had made it to Lesotho! Border control was much more lax than I first thought it was going to be. We could have easily made our way into the country without having passports. The man checking our car didn’t even open the trunk to look around and only looked at Kadi’s passport with all of us sitting in the back. Maseru was a pretty typical African city, except there were next to no white people except for us. It was definitely different than Cape Town, but still was fun to see the area. We kept driving through Maseru because there wasn’t much camping to be done there and worked our way into the center of Lesotho. The terrain becomes more mountainous as you drive towards the center and eventually it is driving on the side of what could be cliffs, but there was a solid guardrail on the main freeway. The hills were filled with cattle, sheep and donkeys and herders driving them around the area. I suppose I should say that the roads were not only for cars either, people and cattle are always wandering in the middle of the road, which makes the drive slow going. There were also quite a few police stops where they would actually check driver’s licenses and look through the trunks. They were pretty helpful though if we had any questions about where we were going.
We found a creek to eat lunch (PB&J) about 50 kms into the drive. Matt ended up slipping on the rocks and soaking his sandwich, an unfortunate case for the lad. Getting the car moving again was a task, as we had to push uphill to get it started. The car had many problems that I will talk about later. Our driving ended at Mohale Dam about another hour away. Lesotho has a huge freshwater industry created from all of their mountain streams. South Africa pays around 26 million rand per month to get water to the surrounding dry areas of the frontier. We stopped on the side of a hill that overlooked the entire water reserve and the dam and just decided to pitch our tent on the top of it. We really didn’t know if anyone would stop us or be concerned about some random car parked at the bottom without people in it, but it seemed to work out fine. After a delicious dinner of cold baked beans and corn (because it rained we couldn’t make a fire) we played some cards. We fell asleep pretty early around 7:30 because it was dark out and we were all exhausted from the long drive. Five people in a four-person tent seemed to work out well! It was nice to have the car to keep most of our stuff inside and dry. We could hear the nearby village across the mountains and it sounded like they were having a good time.
Saturday, April 3rd
We woke up around 6:30am to a couple cattle herders around our tent. We weren’t too alarmed since we just assumed they were working, and probably pretty curious to see some random blue tent in the middle of their fields. We opened up the tent and said good morning and they seemed pretty excited to see people, ha. The first thing they said was, “we are hungry!” We, ourselves, didn’t have too much food so we couldn’t really give them any. I stepped out of the tent and shook their hands and tried talking, but they didn’t really know English. Lesotho is a kingdom comprised of the Sotho people (including the Sotho languages). Since we couldn’t really talk, I just kind of hung out with them for a couple minutes before we started packing up the tent.
We drove to the Besotho Pony Trekking Center and arrived there around 8:00am. We were really excited to ride horses since all of the guidebooks and people who have been there said good things. Thabang was our guide and we set off for a 4-hour horseback ride through the mountains. This was one of the most spectacular things I have done thus far in South Africa (now Lesotho). My horses name was Muhale and I definitely think we had a bond going through the trip. The mountains were just phenomenal with perfect blue skies and puffy white clouds. After going through many mountain passes, we emerged on a beautiful waterfall, the Quihlore waterfall. It was by far the largest waterfall I have seen before. It was so loud and powerful, but seemed to be so peaceful. It took about 2 hours to get to the falls and we then made our way back along a more prairie-like route. Imagine the Windows XP background on the high school computers, with the green prairie and the blue sky with white clouds and you have what we were horse riding through. It was so fantastic! With all of my horse riding knowledge, I tried to get Muhale to run. I tried doing the spur kick and rein slap while yelling “yehaw,” and to my surprise, Muhale started running! Ok, ok, it was more of a trot, but it was still a fantastic feeling to have this huge animal finally break free from walking and move in a more comfortable speed with lots of space. Muhale was the man. Horse. I must say, my thighs and legs and tailbone were not feeling so hot after 4 hours of riding a horse. Our trek ended around 2:00pm and we drove to a city called Marakabei to fill up on petrol. Thus beginning the epic saga of our car turning into a piece of shit.
To our complete surprise, stopping at the petrol station was somehow, more difficult than first expected. The station was off some dirt road and over a rocky creek where a random guy was waiting next to a sketchy looking gas pump that said “Petrol – Premium.” Other than the fact that this petrol was probably not “premium,” this was the least of our worries. We couldn’t stop the car as easily as normal and eventually figured out that our brakes gave out at the bottom of the hill. Yes. You read correctly. Our BRAKES gave out in one of the most mountainous countries in the world. Me being the handy car mechanic along with everyone else, we were stumped and at a loss of what to do. We were too far from Cape Town to have a new car delivered to us and the closest car mechanic was in Maseru, about 3 hours away through the mountains. What to do!?
Emerging from the brightness of his character and radiance of his stride, God made his way… I mean Jason, the Marakabei local, came to our rescue. Over the course of the next two hours and after testing the brakes more and more, we had some decent working brakes. We had lost pressure in the brake tubes because of too much downhill braking through the mountains. With the help of other local guys and the peanut gallery of Marakabei gazing upon these lost Americans, our car was able to stop with about three pumps of the brakes. We are still eternally grateful for the helpfulness of Jason and the rest of Marakabei, if it wasn’t for them, I might be using Muhale to get back to Cape Town. We spent the night in Marakabei next to the river, which ended up turning into a very nice evening in camping spot we wouldn’t have found without losing our brakes.
Sunday, April 4th
We left Marakabei and headed back to Maseru, instead of our planned circle route through Lesotho, to get the brakes fixed by a mechanic with the right tools. The ride back was much more safe than expected and we managed to have a mechanic fix our brakes, but there was still a broken CV Boot (?) that needed to be fixed, but driving back to Cape Town was possible. Before leaving, I really wanted to buy a Makarabei traditional Lesotho hat from a market, which I did, and am very happy I got one! We left Maseru and Lesotho a little earlier than expected, but decided to go south towards the N2 and Port Elizabeth, instead of taking the N1 back home. This day wasn’t too exciting since we were mostly pissed off that we had to pay for the car repairs (which might get reimbursed, but they couldn’t print receipts for us).
We decided that camping or sleeping in the car wouldn’t help the situation, so we called a backpacker (hostel) in a town called Cathcart to spend the night there. The Eagle Mountain Backpacker was our savior in this situation. This quaint place, located in the hills of Cathcart, was owned by a lovely older couple that had our beds prepared and chocolates ready for us since it was Easter. They lady and her family are trying to become 100% sustainable and are well on their way. They have a ton of chickens and garden vegetables with rainwater collectors. They are investing in some solar panels too. They are also working on an education program in the city of Cathcart to find better, more motivated teachers for the children. She said the teachers now don’t even bother showing up to the school till 10am when the children show up at 7am every day. She has also started a bunch of community gardens around the churches and schools that feed some 4000 children daily. Everything she said was very humbling and made me very happy to hear of people doing this out of their own fee will and moral to help others. We had a nice fire under a solid roof with some tea. I started reading “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman. The book looks into what will happen to the manmade construction of earth if humans were to instantly disappear from existence. I am only a little ways into it, but it has some really credible people that work in specific areas saying what will happen to structures and if the earth can re-balance itself. It also looks into seeing if the earth would actually “miss” humankind, which is really backwards and interesting to me!
Monday, April 5th
We left the backpacker around 7:30am and made our way southward to Port Elizabeth. Our goal was to spend some time hiking around Tsitsikama National Park, which is along the Garden Route of South Africa. We stopped at the storms river, which eventually empties into the Indian Ocean to create one of the world’s most diverse estuaries. The weather was a bit rainy and cloudy, but we still paid to get into the park. We managed to convince the entrance that we were South African with our student IDs and got in for way cheaper than normal. Our first hike was the “difficult” hike to a waterfall emptying into the ocean. It said that the hike takes about 3.5 hours and should not be started after 1:30pm. We started the route around 3:00pm and made it back by 4:30 to do another hike. The hike was long the rocky coast and had some incredible waves rolling in. They actually had some pipelines that you see in surfing magazines. We made it to a pretty anticlimactic waterfall that would be pretty awesome if there was a lot of water coming down, but it was only a mere trickle. There was a spooky, natural pool beneath the waterfall that I had to swim in. I was on the only one to jump in, but it was totally worth it since it was raining anyways. The water made all of my skin look orange/red underwater because of the iron content from the rocks. Our second hike was the main attraction of the park. We took a short 1km hike to the Storm River estuary, which had a suspension bridge spanning across the river. It was really cool to have a swinging bridge over a huge river mouth and the waves crashing into the river moving out. We finished the hike and then it was time to make our way back to Cape Town by midnight or 1am.
Storms River Bridge
Around 10pm, in the middle of nowhere, the car seemed to completely fail and there was a loud sound coming from the back left wheel. We stopped on the shoulder and were amazed to see that the bumper came off on the left side and completely shredded the wheel. We were able to make our way to a gas station to fix everything, thankfully. The tire was changed and my shoelaces were used to tie the bumper back to the car. Somehow, this got us all the way home (Asics shoelaces are really strong). The car troubles were now just a joke and it actually made us laugh about the trip. We managed to make it home by 1am and I was dropped off and quickly made my way to bed.
Although we had car trouble throughout the trip, going to Lesotho was one of the most magnificent trips I have been on. Now back to school though, many papers to write and class exams to take. My family will be arriving in couple weeks (!), which will be fantastic! I am running low on money and will be spending the next weeks on a budget. Maybe this will allow me to get some homework done.
Thanks for reading,