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).

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