Monday 26 May 2014

Ha Baroane

Saving the best for last: perhaps the most extraordinary thing we did/saw while in Lesotho was to visit Ha Baroane.  It's not the easiest place to get to and eventually we abandoned the car and walked ... but luckily the way was scenic.

Here is my archaeologist sister getting very excited at the sign for Ha Baroane.

To our surprise (because nothing about the road in led us to expect it), just beyond the sign was a very picturesque interpretive centre - with car park, but (understandably) no cars.

But where was the rock art?  To get to it, we followed a guide down a hill, through the fields,

over a narrow bridge across a gorge,

to our first view of some rock art.  This being an example of the contemporary rock painting scene.

We then walked along the river for a few minutes, passing lots of wattle bushes on the way.

And finally we reached an overhanging slab and there, on the underside, were colourful animals,

not to mention people.

The art might be thousands of years old or hundreds of years old or simply decades old (or a combination of all of the above) - but it was wonderful.  Detailed, vivid, witty - absolutely worth the effort to get to it.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Dinosaur Hunters

In which LTLS and I walked in the footsteps of dinosaurs.

The museum and archive at Morija introduced us to the story of dinosaurs in Lesotho:

Inspired, we decided to hike up the nearby mountain where, we were told, you could see dinosaur footprints.  Directions were a little on the hazy side though, and we had a few false starts just in finding the start of the track, though eventually we did.  We had been told to follow the red arrows.  And to begin with they took us along a pretty woodland path, leading to even prettier clearings like this one.

The lake proved to be a bit of an obstacle because this is where we lost the red arrows - for the first time.  After slipping and sliding halfway up one mountain and slipping and sliding back down again when we realised we were well on our way to being lost, we finally refound the arrows on the other side of the lake.

We continued, up a steep path, pushing our way through trees, bushes and brambles.  The views kept our spirits up ...

... right until the point where we lost the red arrows for the second time.  The trail just stopped dead.  We tried going straight - nothing.  Tried going up - nothing.  Tried going down - still no sign of dinosaurs.  Eventually we retraced our route to the point where the arrows stopped.

Hey, wouldn't it be funny if the arrows stopped here because this is where the dinosaur footprints are - but we didn't notice?


I have to say that putting my hands into dinosaur footprints - which look as though Lesothosaurus had just run up the side of the cliff in a recent mudslide - was a real thrill.

So our scrambling was not in vain.  Though by the time we lost the red arrows for the third time, we were ready to retire from dinosaur hunting.

Monday 12 May 2014

On the Road

Lesotho is a very beautiful place.  When you fly in, you see exactly why this mountain kingdom remained unplundered by outsiders for so long: it's like an island, except that it's encircled by mountains rather than sea.  The tagline for Lesotho tourism has been 'the Switzerland of Africa', but Lady Traveller's Little Sister and I decided it's more like Arizona (think mesas and buttes) crossed with Donegal (winding roads and scattered settlements) with just a dash of the Alpine.  

(I'm now going to take a slight detour for a small vocabulary hint, as passed on by LTLS:
Lesotho is the country; Sesotho is the language; Basotho is how you describe people and things from Lesotho; Mosotho is one Basotho person.  Got it?  Then let us proceed.)

Lesotho is a very beautiful place and the government hopes to attract more tourists to come and discover its beauty for themselves.  But here's a gentle hint: this endeavour would be helped IMMENSELY if it were possible to hire four wheel drives in Lesotho.  Currently it is not possible (despite what car rental websites may tell you).  In fact LTLS and I are pretty sure that there's only a handful of cars available to rent and they included this specimen, our mode of transport for a week, a bright white Ford Figo.  Perfect for city driving.

Less perfect for this kind of terrain.

Not to mention this.

Madonna of the Dirt Roads (as she was christened) held up valiantly.  She survived the first, hair-raising trip to Maseru and Roma (hidden speed bumps! minibus taxis overtaking on both sides! potholes! in the dark!).  She made it up many hills and boulder strewn tracks.  She proved to be surprisingly economical on fuel - oh, and here's another hint.  If a petrol station has crime scene tape around it, it means they're out of petrol, not that a crime has taken place.  Luckily there are plenty of petrol stations and LTLS and I even received proposals of marriage at this one, which is nice.

However, when it came to driving up a hair-pin-bending mountain road, with sheer drops on either side, no road surface, and a JCB coming towards me, I'm afraid my nerve failed.  Madonna was giving it her all, but I could feel the wheels losing grip and decided that I couldn't risk it.  Which is a real shame, because we missed getting up into the high mountains where we had planned to camp out.  

Still, we did have many interesting road trips, not least when we went to find the rock art at Ha Baroana.  This was reached via yet another dirt track but since this one was on a plateau, I decided to risk it.  To a point.  About 2km shy of our destination we parked Madonna outside the house of a friendly village headman and walked the rest of the way.  

Driving in Lesotho is perhaps not for the faint-hearted and I was usually in need of a stiff gin after a day's driving - but looking back, I wouldn't have missed our adventures with Madonna.

One last hint: Basotho villages have a unique version of signposting.  Different coloured flags (or plastic bags) hoisted aloft advertise different wares for sale.  White for bread, green for vegetables, red for meat, yellow for beer (I think).

Saturday 10 May 2014

Camera Actress, Meet Lady Traveller

One Lady Traveller meets another: this is me in the library of the wonderful museum and archive at Morija, Lesotho - and the book is 'A Camera Actress in the Wilds of Togoland' by Meg Gehrts, first published in 1915.  Oh yes.  I did resist the urge to run off with the book (not least because there were witnesses) plus I discovered that you could find it on Project Gutenberg.

In honour of Miss Gehrts I present you with a useful hint for travelling in the wilds of Lesotho: never, never, never travel in warm countries without mosquito repellent and anti-histamines.  Lesotho is not a malarial area (say that ten times fast) but my little sister and I proved to be a rare delicacy for the local mosquito population.  Despite our best efforts in swathing ourselves in layers of clothes, dousing our clothes with citronella and wielding the local, industrial strength bug spray, we were both bitten everywhere.  I spent my flight home enduring that unique form of torture known as 'scratch and be damned': is a moment's relief worth even worse itching than before?

I could have used a good book on that flight, to take my mind of the itching.  Especially one that starts off like this:
In the beginning, when I first went out to West Africa, it had never entered into my head for a single instant that my experiences there might form the subject of a book. But I fell into the habit of keeping a diary of my journeyings, and afterwards many of my friends, as also other people in a position to judge, seemed to think it almost a pity that the adventures and impressions of the first white woman to travel through Togoland from the sea to the northern border and back again, should go unrecorded. 

Miss Gehrts and I lead very different lives, but it's true that we are united by our habit of keeping a diary of our journeyings.  

Wednesday 7 May 2014

The Trading Post

Home for our week in Lesotho was The Trading Post, Ha Baseane ('Ha' being the Sesotho word for 'place of', and 'Baseane' being a corruption of 'baas' (boss) John - after John Thorn who settled here in 1903) just outside Roma, where the national university is.  (And for my non-African correspondents you should get out of your head any concept of what a university town looks like: Roma is a collection of small houses, a handful of shops and some makeshift stalls.)

Here is the original Thorn homestead.  I spent many happy hours reading on the verandah, drinking coffee or gin, depending on the time of day.

Beyond the house is a series of rondavels: mud walled, thatched roofed, and retro-fabulously furnished.

Waking up at dawn every morning and hearing the birds singing was one of the most beautiful and joyful experiences of the trip.

Tuesday 6 May 2014


Maseru is the capital of Lesotho, about a twenty minute drive from the airport (if you take the right turn from the airport, which we didn't, which is why road signs are an excellent idea) and just beyond the main border crossing with South Africa.  

Maseru is pretty much where it's at.  Here you'll find the Pioneer Mall (hooray for Pick 'n' Pay supermarket and off licence!); the Royal Palace;  the most charming fire station I've ever seen,

a handful of embassies including this one,

and the cafe at the Alliance Francaise, where, rumour has it, the croissants are flown in from Paris.  Or Senegal.  Or somewhere.  I can testify that they are very good, as is the coffee.

In the spirit of cooperation, the Alliance Francaise and the German Consulate share a building.

There is also the Besotho Hat Shop which a) is shaped like a Besotho hat and b) sells Besotho hats - but (and I'm kicking myself) I don't seem to have taken any photos.

I'll be honest: Maseru is not beautiful.  Lesotho is a poor country and the fact that (happily) there is no legacy of colonisation means that there are no grand buildings erected to evoke some far away European city, nor (also happily) have the country's leaders chosen to invest in vanity building projects.    But there is definitely a buzz about the place - don't be surprised if, in years to come, Maseru becomes a sought after place to be.

Monday 5 May 2014

Welcome to Lesotho

Let's just draw a veil over my absence in April, shall we?  If I had an excuse it would go something like:  Lesotho!  Plane!  Deadline! Work! Plane! Deadline! Deadline! Plane! Plane!


So, Lesotho.  Extraordinary country - nothing about it was quite what I expected.  I knew it was small, and I knew it was remote, but it wasn't until we touched down at Moshoeshoe I International Airport that I realised that this was a whole 'nother adventure.

Adventures including, but not limited to: Mountains! Driving*! Cows! Cowherds! Dinosaurs! Rondavels! Rock art!

Stay tuned.

*My driving experiences in Lesotho will form the subject of a dedicated post.