How to get into one of the unique countries in the world in style!
04.12.2019 - 09.12.2019 12 °C
People travelling a lot tend to look for the unique. Places and countries that don’t resemble anywhere we have been before. It sounds spoiled, but it’s easy to get numb visiting numerous cathedrals or waterfalls. Not that it doesn’t continue to be fun, exciting and insightful, but some of the excitement dies down when you’ve been visiting ten waterfalls in twenty days. Or when every single town thinks their church is a glories landmark, but you have just been to the region’s most elegant cathedral. I think you get what I’m getting at.
Lesotho is one of those unique places on the globe. A mountainous highland that by historical coincidences happens to be independent of South Africa that otherwise wholly surrounds it. Lesotho is a place full of African cowboys (and sheepboys) with scenery more at home in the Himalayas than Africa. The fact that Lesotho has the highest lowest point in the world, at 1,400 metres above sea-level should help drive home the point that the country is the Roof of Africa.
The fact that I’ve found Lesotho cold, wet and miserable for most of my time here isn’t enough to dissuade me from absolute adore the place. Driving through the rain clouds, stopping in random villages to warm myself in front of the dong-fired stoves and the locals’ hospitality if probably my favourite way of being uncomfortable. Especially, when the local herders, wrapped in their characteristic blankets, Seana Marena, and their faces covered from the cold, regularly send greetings my way from the roadside.
The fact that I’m actually driving my bike around Lesotho wasn’t a given, however. Coming from the South African east coast, the only way into the country was through the Sani Pass. This is an overland’s dream challenge, and the pass is justifiable famous for its impossible assent. It’s about 30 km of decent dirt road to the foot of the pass, which beings as the South African border post. From there it’s just 8 km to Lesotho’s border post on top of the pass. However, in those 8 km, the road climbs 900 metres, making an average incline on 11 percent. That’s more than any mountain in the Tour de France – just for reference.
On top of that (pun not intended), there’s no road to the top. There’s a washed-out dirt mess of large rocks and loose gravel. This is no road for my little scooter. Regardless, up we went. A guy on a big overlander motorbike, filmed me grinning as he was driving down the pass (he and his buddies hadn’t dared driving up). A, seemingly, local white guy – also driving down – just stared at me with a disapproving, almost angry, look while shaking his head. “You’re no fun” was my only comment as I struggled past him. Luckily, the times I struggled the most getting up the pass, no witnesses were around to see my almost fall down, almost drive over the edge, and almost having to get off the bike and push. Somehow, I manage without having to get off the bike once.
Having driven the glorified scooter this far south of Tanzania, the most frequent reaction I receive is surprise and disbelief. I got the same reaction when I bumbled over the last rocks and around the last switchbacks just below the top of the pass. Not from the Basotho border officers and one of the guides making regular tours up the pass. People have done crazier shit than me, apparently. A couple of years ago a group of Italians drover there Vespas up the pass after having driven the down here from Italy. But for everybody else, the feat and the bike seemed utterly incomparable. To the degree that members of various online fora for overlanders and bikes wanted to take my photo. Seemingly to have at hand every time someone bragged that they had gotten their purpose-built dirt-bike up the pass.
The best thing about Sani Pass? Someone had the insane idea to build a pub on top. Claiming to be Africa’s highest pub, I could conveniently celebrate with my first taste of Basotho beer once I got up to the 2,874 m summit. And that is the way I prefer to enter a new country!