Ahh Lesotho – home of mountains, goats, mud huts, breathtaking views and possibly the most delightfully weird hotel experience of my life.
Heading up Sani Pass
We started our journey into Lesotho at the base of Sani Pass. After a quick stop at the Himeville hotel for a drink and a flushing toilet (would we find many of these on the road?) we were ready to ascend into the mountain kingdom. You start the drive around 1500m above sea level and finish at the summit (and the Lesotho border post) at 2873m. The road is narrow and windy and steep. It may also be scattered with the odd herd of sheep or goats just for the extra bit of adrenalin. The views along the pass are spectacular. Sadly, the day we drove it there was a heavy and persistent mist which meant no views for us. On the plus side it gave a beautiful eerie atmosphere to the ice alongside the road.
We arrived at the top of the pass around mid morning and discovered the friendliest border officials in the world. The border post is nothing more than a little concrete block. Despite the freezing temperatures everything seems to take place outside the office – the border officials they were kind enough to help us fill out forms to save some of our party from even getting out of the car. For those of you who love a souvenier (Em cant help herself, justifying it with a ‘helping the community’ speech) there is a little shop at the border. We didnt see anymore on our journey through Lesotho so we are glad we took the chance to get a novelty hat here.
Just around the corner from the border is a lovely little hotel, the Sani Mountain Lodge. If you have the time, it is definitely worth stopping here for a delicious hot chocolate. This hotel is billed as ‘The Highest Pub in Africa’. I have since read that it is actually the highest licenced pub in southern Africa but it is still great fun to have a photo by the sign (even if mist ruined what we understand is usually a spectacular view). Just a word of warning, there are several day trips up the pass from South Africa so try and have an early hot chocolate/lunch to avoid fighting for service or a table when the crowds move in.
Driving across Lesotho is a wonderful experience. The roads are gracefully perched alongisde the mountains, winding around the top of the country. There are beautiful views of valleys, villages and many chances to see the local poeple getting on with their day in their signature blanket attire. Be warned that the driving is slow. Many of the roads are not tarred and even in the best 4×4 expect to spend the whole day on the road. Plan your route carefully to ensure that you get to your destination by nightfall.
Staying in Thaba Tseke
Accomodation in Lesotho is not plentiful. Usually this is not a problem but if you plan to visit over a South African holiday (like we did) it just might be! We planned this trip late but eventually found a website for a lovely looking hotel in Thabe Tseka called the Buffalo Hotel so we made a booking.
When we were approaching Thaba Tseka we saw a sign for Buffalo Hotel so, although a bit earlier than expected, we stopped, hoping this would be the end of the days driving. We were met by very blank faces at reception who had no recollection of a booking anywhere. There was definitely a moment of panic because we knew everything else was fully booked before we left. However, when we asked whether they, by any chance, had a spare room for us we were told that they had no bookings for that night. They were a new hotel and this was their opening night. If we wanted, we could be the first guests.
The whole experience from there just got stranger and stranger. They were obviously all nervous and trying to do everything as perfectly as possible for us but sometimes it all just seemed a bit bizaar.
Although there were only 5 of us, we were told that dinner would be a buffet. This buffet was driven across from another Buffalo hotel (presumably where we had booked although this was never confirmed?) and served to us on a large plate – mini individual buffets? We sat alone in a large dining room watched closely by the chef who checked constantly that we were happy with the food. The next morning, the chef drove back to our hotel to serve us a large breakfast – again under his watchful eye. I loved the warm beans but the cold french toast and fish fingers were a bit too much for me!
The rooms were lovely, clean and warm and provided us with an excellent stop over. The people were beaming with friendliness and the quirkiness of the whole experience will stay with us for a long time.