After we managed to put our luggage on the vespa (leaving all the stuff we didn’t need behind) and find some place for ourselves to fit also, we started our trip to Lesotho. We chose not to ride on the big highway and we preferred alternative routes which were narrower and with less traffic and made us feel more comfortable and closer to natural environment (we wouldn’t exceed the speed of 60-70km/h until we were sure it would be safe to do it). We were traveling on the R57 and we stopped at Heilbron the first night. We found there the municipal campsite which was great and really cheap (1.5 euros per person, per night). Our second stop was at Fouriesbourg, a town close to the borders with Lesotho, where the campsite was not that cheap (7 euros per person, per night) and the third day we would be at Lesotho. Everything was working well and Alexandra and I could perfectly communicate and co-operate! I was in charge of the driving and she was the photographer and the “press representative”. Every time we stopped for fuel, food and at every campsite we would spend the night, the people who saw us were asking questions that someone had to answer:
“Where are you coming from?”
“Where are you going?”
“Didn’t you have any problems on your way?”
“How is it possible to travel both on the vespa?”
“Which countries have you visited until now?”
“How many kilometers have you done?”
…and many more…
The “press representative” enjoyed her new task to answer all these questions and she was impressed by the interest and the surprise on everyone’s face when they heard the story. This didn’t last more than 3 days…I already knew that her enthusiasm would end eventually. It is nice when people want to hear your story, when they smile and want to learn more. It’s nice to share what you have experienced, what you have seen with people you don’t know but depending on the circumstances, it can be a bit tiring…Sometimes you just can’t talk to anyone even if you want to: when you are really boiling in the motorcycle clothes and boots, when you are close to a sunstroke having driven for too many kilometers under the African sun, when you can’t move your legs after sitting for too many hours, when you are starving to death trying to find something to eat, when you feel like a shock absorber and all the vibration of the engine is in your hands…Are you convinced now that sometimes it can be difficult?!
Crossing the borders of Lesotho was really easy. We didn’t need to have a visa or buy an insurance. We just got a stamp on our passports with the date of entrance and paid 30ZAR (2 euros) for the vespa. The first thing we noticed when we entered this small country was that there were no fences at all! The fences I hated in Namibia and in South Africa had disappeared!
Lesotho, a country with no fences!
We instantly felt that we were in Africa again! We didn’t visit the capital city, Maseru or any other big city (the 2nd biggest city in Lesotho has a population of 75,000) and the first impression I got from Lesotho was that it was 100% Africa (with a bit of Alps…). It is a poor country, but the difference between Lesotho and other poor African countries is that Lesotho is a very “tidy” one. For example, the land is being cultivated even with primitive means of cultivation and it is not left deserted. There aren’t many cars and people use horses to go from one place to another, or they just walk. The kingdom of Lesotho is a small mountainous piece of land surrounded by the state of South Africa. I knew nothing about Lesotho before I got there (I don’t know why I had missed that!) and I didn’t want to visit it only to say that I have been to one more country.
Tom, a guy who hosted me in South Africa insisted that I should go to Lesotho. He told me stories about its mountains and about Sani Pass, a mountain pass that I had to cross in his opinion. So, he convinced me to make that sacrifice and go there (I would definitely sacrifice something – a shock absorber or a set of clutch disks…). From the first day, we saw what we would go through! We started climbing on the mountains and the altitude was about to get really high. Luckily we were on a tar road but the vespa had different kind of problems: we were two now and we also had a heavy load with all our luggage on. The third gear brought us until 1,500 meters of altitude, then with the second we made it to 2,000m. After that, we put the first gear and started praying! I was now close to God, maybe due to the difficulties or the altitude…we were really close to the clouds! Unfortunately no God was listening at the moment and when we climbed to 2,700m the engine refused to continue. Probably because there was not enough air. We fought for some hundred meters to continue (Alexandra was walking and I was pushing the vespa) but our efforts were in vain.
Our luck didn’t abandon us for long as we saw a 4X4 approaching! Without too much thought, we ran towards it and almost forced the car to stop. Inside it, there were 2 Boers from South Africa who were really surprised to see us and offered us their help. We put all our luggage in their big trunk, Alexandra took the back seat and we went to the next village in 15kms distance. That was the quickest 15kms distance my vespa had ever covered on African soil! The poor vespa was very happy without that heavy load on its back! I also felt that I was riding a 1000ccs motorcycle! The 2 Boers knew the only place we could spend the night at the village they brought us. It was not exactly the type of accommodation we would choose but we didn’t have any choice. So, we spent the night at a…“chalet” – a ski resort which cost us 20 euros per person! We enjoyed a comfortable sleep, we cooked a nice dinner and had the opportunity to dry our clothes. After all, we deserved it! We were already at Katse Dam, the second highest and first in terms of altitude dam in Africa (1,993m altitude). I can’t describe the beauty of the place! A huge artificial lake surrounded by high, green mountains! Gorgeous!
Our third day in Lesotho was the best one! From Ha Lejone (the village where we spent the night) we crossed Katse Dam and we got to Thaba Tseka (a small town) and then to the most beautiful part of our route. The nature was absolutely at its best and it is impossible to find any words to describe the beauty of the landscape…the only thing that we managed to say was “Wow!” or “Oh, wow!”. Our eyes were wide open to see as much as we could and our jaws dropped! That day ended in the best possible way. We found a place to pitch our tent and spend the night and probably it was one of the most beautiful places (if not the most beautiful) I have ever seen in my life: in a remote area, next to a small river and surrounded by the high mountains. Perfect!
The next morning we got up early due to the heat and we realized we had a difficult task: the place we had spent the night was not too far from the road but we had to carry our stuff because it was impossible for the vespa to climb with everything on it. While we were eating our breakfast (bread with olive oil, tomatoes, peppers and cucumber), we noticed someone watching us among the rocks. As usual, we had been discovered. While we were not looking towards the man who was watching us, he took the opportunity to approach (silently and discreetly, like a cat) and every time he thought we were not looking at him, he was approaching more and more. He was very discreet though (he thought). He didn’t want to make us feel uncomfortable, he was just watching. The only problem was that Alexandra couldn’t feel that comfortable to pee knowing that a total stranger was watching, but I didn’t have any problem to take a leak…he chose to see me, it wasn’t my fault!
We picked up our stuff and we were ready to start carrying them. The moment we took the first two bags in our hands, the man who was watching us, ran towards us and took some bags to help us carry them! He didn’t ask for anything in return, he just smiled to us. It seemed that he was not interested in money or anything else. We only had some biscuits with us and we offered them to him to thank him for his help. He thanked us and instead of putting the biscuits in his pocket and leave, he shared them with two other shepherds who were standing on the other side of the road watching! Who is the “civilized” and who is the “uncivilized”? Which is the “underdeveloped” world and which is the “developed”? These are questions with complicated answers…
Our first three days proved to be easy, but on the fourth one, we realized that Lesotho had just been hiding its difficult parts from us until that time! All these difficult dirt roads, with the huge rocks, the steep slopes and the high altitude made the poor vespa seem like a kitten (a pussy!) and not the tiger it used to be! The altitude was 3,300m (according to the GPS) and that wouldn’t be a serious problem if it hadn’t been combined with all the above mentioned factors. Moreover, the carburetor was not properly adjusted to that altitude and the vespa had a really heavy load to carry. And you can imagine who had to be sacrificed in order to climb up the mountains: Alexandra, of course! She had to walk all the way up and in addition to that, she also had to push the Vespa with me and the luggage on it! I had been honest with her! She already knew that it would be difficult and she had signed the contract! She was trapped now! She and the Vespa were ready to collapse, but for me it was another boring day…
Seriously, some parts were really hard for the vespa. All the lower parts of it were hit by the rocks on the road and that couldn’t be good. At some point, even if Alexandra had been walking for 10kms and it was only me on the vespa, we reached a slope which was so steep that it was impossible to continue. And then, one more miracle happened! We heard the sound of a motorcycle approaching! It was a young man on a Yamaha DT, who eagerly stopped to help us! He took Alexandra and all our luggage to the peak of the mountain we were trying to climb (at 3,300m) and I managed to climb on the vespa with no luggage at all for the second time in Lesotho! He was a saint! He had saved us! The man told us that the difficult part was now behind us and from that moment everything would be easy. The information he gave us wasn’t that accurate, though. The difficult part was ahead of us but at that time we didn’t know…
The road ahead of us was under construction by a Chinese company (those who will take this road in some months will drive on tar…you lucky bas***rds!) and even if there weren’t any rocks, the rain made our lives difficult because of the huge amounts of water and mud. The mud was not very deep but enough to cause a fall (we were driving in very low speed). For me it was just another stupid fall but it was the first fall for Alexandra who injured (not seriously) her ankle. She was a bit shocked and as the rain was continuous and the wind was now cold, the scenery had become a bit hostile. We decided not to keep on trying to find a nice place to pitch our tent for the night, but to stay where we were and pitch the tent next to the road where we had fallen. For me, it was from the beginning one unique experience with the heavy rainfall and the cold wind blowing, but for Alexandra, at that time, it wasn’t so pleasant. She didn’t manage to sleep well because of the cold and the pain of her ankle. Of course now when I remind her of that day, she just can’t stop smiling, so I suppose that it was a unique experience for her, too!
That was our trip to Lesotho…The fifth (and last) day was the easiest comparing it to the previous ones. Of course we were still on a dirt road and we walked (Alexandra walked!), and pushed (Alexandra, again!) and crossed the famous Sani Pass. For more information, wait for the 2nd part of the story about South Africa…