At the end of March, I took my first vacation in Lesotho! My friend Hanna and I took a tour of the south, hitting the districts of Mafeteng, Quthing, and Qacha’s Nek. As is to be expected when traveling in Lesotho, we encountered some fantastic luck, some terrible luck, some uncomfortable taxis, and some beautiful landscapes.
This trip took me pretty much as far from home as possible, and I also took most every form of transportation available in Lesotho: taxis (18-person minibuses), kombis (bigger taxis), buses, 4+1s (what Americans call taxis), and hitches (don’t freak out, it’s safe here). We saw a sheep on a taxi, took a dog on multiple forms of transport, and squished ourselves and our camping bags into seats not even a small child would find comfortable.
Our main destination was Sehlabathebe, a national park in the southeastern corner of Lesotho, along the South African border. After trekking to the park, I’m never calling my site remote again! To get there, there’s one bus a day that leaves from Qacha’s Nek, and it winds for almost four hours along mountain roads.
We missed the bus the first day, which was a blessing in disguise – we stayed that night with our friend Tyler, who gave us a great tour of Qacha’s Nek, including the best pork braai (barbecue) I could ever imagine.
When we finally arrived in the park, we had our first spate of bad luck. I chewed out a man for harassing us, but I hadn’t understood his Sesotho, and he was actually trying to help us. We arrived at dark with Hanna’s puppy in tow, only to be told that dogs weren’t allowed in the park. We found out that the bus didn’t run on Sunday, meaning I’d have to miss a day of school on the way home. Our borrowed tent was broken.
These instances of bad luck were met with just as many lucky moments, and that’s just how traveling seems to be here – frustrating, but worth it. We convinced the park workers to let the dog in on the sly, and everyone camping near us was (I’m serious) deaf, so they couldn’t even hear her bark. We somehow got the tent to stand up and it didn’t rain on us. We met a couple of UN workers driving in our direction on Sunday who agreed to give us a lift.
That left us free to hike and explore. The park is gorgeous. We learned that it was considered as the filming location for Lord of the Rings, and it has that kind of sweeping fantasy beauty. We clambered up rocks, admired rock paintings left thousands of years ago by the San (the people who pre-date the Basotho in Lesotho), and sat with our feet in a cold stream.
On the way home, we hit another transport roadblock. To get to Hanna’s site in Quthing, the taxis have to drive over a river. When the river is too high after a rainstorm, transport to her village stops. Our ride got stuck in the river, and his engine flooded. It sounds funny, and I’m definitely laughing in hindsight, but it was a disaster. We worried that the driver had destroyed his livelihood while carrying us, though we later learned he got the car up and running the next day. This episode happened at sunset, so soon we were stuck in the dark with no way to get to her house. A car of drunk men happened upon us, so we were left feeling even more vulnerable. We eventually got a ride back to her house, but it took travel difficulties to the next level.
From there, it was relatively smooth sailing for me. I stopped in Mafeteng district to visit a few friends and stock up on cheese (they don’t sell it in the highlands!), and then it was on to home.