Tag Archives: Lesotho

Journey into the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho: Katse Dam to Calendonspoort

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Journey into the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho: Katse Dam to Calendonspoort

After our intriguing buffet breakfast and a heartfelt farewell to our hosts at the Buffalo hotel, we headed through to Thaba Tseka proper. We were grateful to find a petrol station selling diesel just in the town – hadn’t seen any of those en route yet – but there was not much else to hold our attention.

The Thaba Tseka petrol station

After leaving Thaba Tseka we made took the road towards one of the most spectacular spots in Lesotho – Katse Dam. The scenery en route continued to fascinate us. From the rolling valleys beneath the road to the freindly Basothos wrapped up in their blankets. We also had a chance to admire a form of art I had not yet seen – rondawel roof art. I particularly liked the metal rooster.

Typical Lesotho scene

Typical Lesotho scene

Rondawel art

Rondawel art

Katse Dam

A note on terminology: In South Africa “dam” is used to describe both the wall and the the water behind it. Chris, with his British and science background, is more particular and uses the word dam only in reference to the wall. The water is strictly called a resevoir. So, I apologise in advance if I use the word dam in the South African sense and cause any confusion.

Katse Dam, the highest in Africa, was completed in 2009 and is known as the heart of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. It is a real thing of beauty. It stretches far beyond your line of vision, nestled high in the Maluti mountains. The striking blue water is very captivating and inviting – although I’m sure the water would have been freezing at this time of year!

We took in the view of the dam from the Katse Lodge. They have a lovely balcony with a tremendous view so its a great place to stop for a drink. (The view more than compensating for the rather average cup of coffee.) It is also apparently a lovely place to stay and had they not been fully booked we would definitely have spent the night.

We were disappointed not to have timed our visit better to be able to do the tour of the dam. There is a sweet little visitors center but if you arrive between tours there is not much information. The tour is a self-drive one and all we could do was look down jealously at those better prepared visitors driving their cars into the entrance in the dam wall. The tours are at 9am and 2pm on Mondays – Fridays and 9am and 11am on Saturdays, Sundays and Lesotho public holidays.

The first view

The first view

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Part of the view from the Katse Lodge

A local boy at the dam

A local boy at the dam

Searching for the Lesothosaurus

We left Katse Dam thinking we had seen the best that Lesotho had to offer us in our short trip. Little did we know that, just a little distance from the South African border, we would discover something unbelievable.

We were just outside Hlotse in the Northwest of Lesotho when we saw a tiny sign pointing to a dirt track that said ‘dinosaur footprints’. It was too intriguing to ignore. About 500m down the road we found the reception – a little hut with a very friendly attendant. I can’t remember his name but his enthusiasm for his country and the conservation of the dinorsaur prints will stay with me forever.

The office

The reception

As we set off from reception for our short walk to the prints I must admit I was not very hopeful. What sort of prints would we see in a place like this? Chris was so uninspired he didnt even get out of the car. We dutifully followed down the bank and across to a little stream.

As we got to the spot, our guide started sweeping away some of the water and revealed clear, large and fascinating dinosaur footprints. There were a several different prints and each of the walking patterns of the of the relevant dinosaur was enthusiastically demonstrated to us by our guide – hopping from print to print in a very animated manner. We could then all follow suit and have our turn to pretend to be the dinosaurs. This was a totally unique experience. There were no fences, demarcated areas, signs, people stopping you touching things. Nothing. Just a piece of ancient history for you to enjoy. So different from our other dinosaur footprint experience in Bolivia.

Our guide at the site of the prints

Our guide at the site of the prints

Some prints

Some prints

There are obviously big questions about conservation of these and similar prints around Lesotho. Our guide explained that there is no funding and they do their best with the intake from tourists. The water (and probably the tourist dinosaur re-enactments) are all contributing the the erosion of the prints. Our guide spoke about how they need help diverting the water so that the prints can be protected. It seems like an obvious thing to support but a real dilemma about how he can raise the money. We left a donation and hopefully if you are reading this you will also stop by and show support.

A local boy selling clay animals to dinosaur tourists. My mom  paid R1 for a little cow but one cant help think the children should be making clay dinosaurs.

A local boy selling clay animals to dinosaur tourists. My mom paid R1 for a little cow but one cant help think the children should be making clay dinosaurs.

Our guide proudly showed us this picture of the lesothosaurus.

Our guide proudly showed us this picture of the lesothosaurus.

(Em)

Journey into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho: Sani Pass to Thaba Tseka

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Journey into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho: Sani Pass to Thaba Tseka

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.

The route up Sani Pass

The route up Sani Pass

Sharing the winding pass with some livestock

Sharing the winding pass with some livestock

Frozen waterfall on the road

Frozen waterfall on 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.

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The border curio shop

The border curio shop

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.

A drink at the top of the world

A drink at the top of the world

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.

A view from the road

A view from the road

Baby lambs (or kids?) on the roadside

Baby lambs (or kids?) on the roadside

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 Buffalo Hotel

The Buffalo Hotel

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.

My little sister in an empty pink dining room

My little sister in an empty pink dining room

Breakfast with a twist

Breakfast with a twist

(Em)