Thursday, June 10, 2010


Back in April, Kathy and I spent a wonderfully romantic weekend at Malealea Lodge. The route from Maseru to the Lodge is mostly paved, though the last little bit is best driven in a vehicle with high clearance. Along the way, we went through the Gates of Heaven Pass:

And, of course, generally encountered spectacular views... I know, I know - my descriptions of the views are getting redundant. But it is like that here. Each time my wife and I go out to explore Lesotho, we are taken again by how strikingly gorgeous this country is. Quite telling, I think, is that the Peace Corps Volunteers here argue regularly about whose site is the most beautiful!

The Lodge itself was comfortable and quaint, affording us our first opportunity to stay in a rondavel. (I had been looking forward to staying in a rondavel, and I think I could happily settle into one - or at least keep one as a vacation home for my love and myself as an idyllic little getaway residence.)

The view from our rondavel was enough to cause me to pause and breathe a bit more deeply:

The views from all around the lodge grounds were a wondrous reminder of why Lesotho is called the Mountain Kingdom:

While pony-trekking rides and guided hikes are available through the Lodge, we opted to set out on our own. Perhaps not the wisest decision, as you will see… Nonetheless, we wanted to explore, and to go on our first true hike in Lesotho. We chose Botsoela Falls as our destination, and began walking down through Malealea Village:

We passed a cute little school along the way. Most of the schools I have seen in Lesotho are not nearly this well-maintained. They tend to be cinder block walls, windows and ceilings that may or may not be holding their own...

A kind woman ('M'e) allowed me to take this picture of her in a traditional Basotho dress:

This was possibly the first real moment when I felt as if we had stepped out of more modern Lesotho and into rural, village-oriented Lesotho. No cars, no power lines, no sounds of industry or its fallout. Everyone we saw was travelling on foot or by pony, and many waved and greeted us in friendly fashion. Folks were out in their yards, where I could easily imagine admiring the view and the tranquility all day.

Some of the homes have a more modern look and feel about them, but these folks still have no more access to power or water from anywhere other than the local well than do their neighbor sin more traditional structures.

After passing through the village, we found our way down into the valley, at the end of which we expected to find the waterfall that was our intended destination. We mostly followed herd trails, pausing regularly to admire the countryside.

As we entered the valley, we found our trail following the course of a stream so clear and pristine I might not have believed it had we not seen it ourselves. We encountered hardly another soul, though we did see the occasional herd boy (molisana), including one who waved rather vigorously at us from the top of a cliffside as we passed underneath.

You may even be able to see the molisana waving if you look closely, just left of center, on top of the ridge:

Of course, this waterway eventually caused us a bit of trouble. As we hiked along it, our path became less about traversing fields and more about how to stay dry, until... we hit a patch of streamside stone that was covered in water, draining from the surrounding heights, and moss or algae that had grown there as a result. This patch of stone, then, was slick.

In fact, it was impassable. We both fell, and I experienced a brief moment of panic as I thought I was about to slide off and over the edge. This would not have been life-threatening, as we were at most ten feet above the water, but it was still a bit nerve-wracking. Fortunately, while the treads of my shoes were useless, once I fell the fabric of pants held fast. Kathy made a similar discovery.

It was at this point we noticed the aforementioned waving herd boy bounding down the mountainside toward us. As it turns out, he had not been waving at us as a greeting , but as a warning. We were going the wrong way. Pretty funny, in retrospect. We must have struck him as typically clueless tourists. However, he was quite kind to us, rather than reveling in mockery as he might have done. He greeted us graciously, mostly in Sesotho, and offered to guide us to Botsoela Falls. In our humility, we accepted and followed along. When we arrived at the Falls, they proved worth the effort to get there:

In the hollow beneath the falls we met another molisana, apparently familiar to our guide, who was playing a handmade instrument for us and a few other toursists we found there. They had driven around and walked a brief trail down from a parking area near the top of the falls. Theirs had been a simpler and easier route than ours, but they also had two small children with them. The musician and our guide kindly posed for a picture:

The musician asked that we leave a copy of the picture at the Lodge for him to pick up. A week or so later, Kathy was back at Malealea Lodge for a work event, and she did leave the picture there for him. I hope he got it. I like to think that there is a wandering minstrel herd boy somewhere near Malealea Lodge carrying a picture that I took.

We offered our guide payment for his services (he never asked), after which he kindly guided us back to the main trail to the Lodge. He took us past his own home, a small stone rondavel tucked into the mountainside, and eventually bid us farewell when we reached the village proper. here he and I are along the way:

And, of course, some cows (dikhomo) which were apparently having an easier time negotiating than valley than my wife and I had:

Back at the Lodge, dinner was served cafeteria-style in the Lodge itself - and was quite good. On the grounds, there was also a small coffee shop. Why do I need Starbucks when I can sip my coffee in spot like this?

After dinner, we watched the peacocks that grace the grounds for a while:

Then, we were treated to two live presentations of song and dance. A local school chorus and band of musicians each perform daily at Malealea Lodge. Below are videos from those (the full file for the band is just too big for our pay-as-you go internet service here), though the sun had set by the time the band began, so it is difficult to see them. The choir featured one young woman whose voice stands out (as Kathy said, "Girl got pipes"):

The band played only handmade instruments, and the chorus performed a dance during each number. I would love to go back, during the summer when it is light later in the day, to capture a better video. But even more than that, I want to take my audio recording gear out there and get a really good recording of their songs!

So, this is our married life in Lesotho...

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