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Camel World  



Travel Diary - 2003
5 January | Senegal
22 January |Gambia
18 January |Guinea
9 February | Mali
22 February | Burkina Faso
3 March | Ghana
19 March | Togo
20 March | Benin
25 March | Niger
12 April | Chad
15 April | Cameroon
16 April | Nigeria
30 April | Congo
24 May | RDC
31 May | Angola
5 June | Namibia
27 June | South Africa
30 August | Lesotho
10 September | Swaziland
9 October | Botswana
17 October | Namibia
19 October |
29 October | Malawi
4 November |Mozambique
16 November | Tanzania
12 December | Rwanda
16 December | RDC
18 December | Uganda
24 December | Kenya

Travel Diary - 2004
9 January | Ethiopia
6 February | Sudan
21 February | Saudi Arabia
23 February | Jordan
3 March | Syria
5 March | Turkey
12 March | Greece
21 March | ...And Home


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17 months, 43 countries, and 2 vehicles


Mum and I set out from Kokstadt where we had stayed at Tigerskloof backpackers. The owner, Peter, had spent some time living in Lesotho, and was kind enough to go over a suggested route with me, as well as telling me where I would find accommodation along the way.

Armed with this info we turned off the tarmac and entered real Africa - this was still on the SA side of the border but the trail up to our entry point at Ramats'Eliso's Gate was rough and rocky. At times we were unsure of the piste - at one point we decided to explore a side-track that took us down into a deserted valley before we realised that it was a construction road for some irrigation project.

The views to the top of the pass were spectacular, and the sense of isolation made it hard to believe we were still in SA. All to soon we arrived at the top. and a few minutes later, slipping into low ratio for a tricky descent across bare rock, we pulled up outside an immaculate and well equipped border post manned by smart officials with computers that actually worked. What they were doing there I know not as this was clearly a little travelled route - the border post on the Lesotho office was a get-out-and-hunt-the-immigration-officer type of affair. I was stamped out on the last spare space on my old passport, and entered Lesotho on my new passport.

A night in the King's bed

Our first destination was Sehlabathebe National Park - notable for the unspoiled wilderness more than anything else. Although we hadn't booked we were assured by Peter that we could just turn up - and after following a slow track from the gates for about 15km we arrived at a lodge in a beautifully rugged valley where we were welcomed like royalty by the live-in staff - we found out that this is actually the official summer house of the King.  The lodge was amazingly luxurious considering it's located in the middle of nowhere - it has the shabby grandeur that remind one of a sixties officers' mess of the colonial era - with massive windows overlooking spectacular landscape - and better still it's hardly ever visited - I read half a dozen entries for the month of August in the visitors' book.

The road less travelled

We left late the next morning in warm sunshine and strong winds, and negotiated the track back to the road, finding a route past the stranded tractor (did I mention that?) and exiting for  the run inland. The road, which up to that point had been a pretty good gravel piste, deteriorated into rocks as we began to climb the Matebeng pass. The trail wound its way up and down mountain sides, passing the remains of the winter snows still clinging to the verges. Lesotho is over 1000m above sea level at it's lowest point, and has the highest average altitude for any country in the world, and the fact that there were any roads at all struck me as amazing.

The smart locals were happily getting around on foot, or using the sturdy Basotho ponies favoured for their sure footedness and stamina. Some of them seemed to make better time across the mountains than the camel...

After four hours and forty kilometres (mostly in low ratio) we finally descended to the level of the Orange River which we forded with ease, passing the washed away remains of a substantial concrete bridge. I had thought that we were over the worst, but the road now changed in character.

First there would be an ascent that eschewed the switch backs of the pass behind us in favour of dangerously steep inclines. I'd size this up from the bottom, take a deep breath, then force my way steadily up in high ratio second, at times scrabbling for grip. I reckoned from the traffic that I'd seen that a few dozen Land Cruisers were plying this route every week, and if they could do it, then so could I with my new all-terrain tyres and the thrusting power of the 300TDi that rippled under the bonnet - yeah, yeah...

Mum seemed blissfully unaware of the dangers involved - a loose patch of scree could at any moment have sent us sliding back down the slope - and probably over the edge of a cliff that would have tested the strength of even the Safety Devices roll cage. However I'm delighted to report that the tyres held firm and the only material damage was to my seat covers.

The descents were a reverse of the ascents - except of course that this time if the car slipped we would be facing in the right direction to watch the edge of the precipice approaching with the inevitability of death.

In between these diversions were contour-following pistes with views across the mountain ranges that came straight from the pages of national Geographic - horizons seemed to stretch a long was for such a mountainous country.

Forty minutes to somewhere

We came at last to the beautifully named Sehonghong, and as it was approaching 4pm we decided to start thinking about a place to lay our heads. We decided to try for the next village - "How far to Mashai?" we asked - excepting a reply of several hours. "Forty minutes" was the reply. And then a minibus pulled up, to my utter disbelief. Suddenly the roads were smooth gravel once more, and an hour after sunset we arrived at the rustic comfort of Molumong Guest House.

The guest house was built as the manager's residence - the managing relating to something to do with sheep or wool, or both. It's run by a couple of South African's who love the isolation of Lesotho, and get up whenever they can. Lighting is by candle only, which lends a romantic flavour to your stay, assuming you manage not to burn anything down.

The Return

The following morning we headed back to SA via the Sani pass, which is notable as being the highest point of Southern Africa, and in fact the highest point of Africa South of Kilimanjaro.

A good piste took us to the pass in an hour and a half, and because you follow a valley into the pass you have the strange illusion that you are at a far lower altitude than the 2865m altitude claimed on all the signs.

At the border we met a crowd of shiny SA registered 4x4s - it seems that the pass is a major destination for the hard off roader types, who get to the to of the pass, have a beer in the restaurant (yes really, there is one there but we skipped it) and them return to SA. I suggested to one that they should try the Matebeng pass (but then I'm evil). Border formalities on the Lesotho side involve waking up the official, who then waves you away without a stamp.

The descent to the SA immigration office is via a series of tight switch-backs that challenged the Unimog we met coming up, but were a piece of piss for the Camel. In fact after our gruelling traverse of the Matebeng pass I was tempted just slip into low ration, point the car downhill, and take a nap down to the bottom.