Bike Touring Lesotho (part 3): Magic Carpet Ride
The final days of our Lesotho dirt road odyssey concluded with a magic carpet ride across the highlands and a descent down the legendary Sani Pass.
We left our new friends in Ha Pone and spent the morning traversing a spectacular and difficult track that crested and flowed over ridges and rolled us through countless villages. Later that afternoon as we were closing in on evidence of more established civilization (ironically, that means fast food wrappers and broken glass), in effort to dodge a massive thunderstorm, we ducked under a tin roof lean-to trash incinerator. Within moments a small band of shy children quietly approached and gave odd but direct orders to report to the principal’s office in the cinder-block ruin of a school next door. Gin instinctively felt that she had gotten herself into some sort of trouble. As we chatted with the lively principal of the local school that served 200 children from the surrounding villages, the rain became torrential and the ‘road’ became a mudslide. We realized that we weren’t going to make it much further. As this thought crossed our skulls, she was already showing us where to sleep in a small office building for the night. There was no electricity, running water or en-suite bathroom for that matter, but it would do. After everyone else left, we proceeded to make a dinner of pasta with a mysterious ‘mince’ sauce. For “desert” Gin whipped up a very imaginative pasta custard which we shared with the night watchman who really seemed to enjoy it.
The following sunny morning uniformed children showed up two by two and peered around corners to catch a glimpse of the odd travellers staying in their school. After a frenzied photo shoot, the children gave us the most heart wrenching goodbye that turned into to giggles and laughs as we rolled out in the thick mud only to get stuck about 20 meters away.
Our Lesotho dirt road odyssey concluded with two more days of wonderful riding broken up by the usual small talk with villagers that always started by explaining where we were from and where we were going. It is pretty amazing to be in a place where you find a few people who have never even heard of the USA or America. The final ~40km was the spectacular Sani Pass, a legendary narrow and rocky descent through countless switchbacks that provide a viewing platform for the many waterfalls, bizarre vegetation and the unique, lush, and breathtaking Drakensberg Mountains.
Travel Tips for Bike Touring in Lesotho
- Lodging: There are a couple of backpacker lodges scattered throughout the country. Try the Trading Post in Roma, or the Semonkong Lodge. Also, you can camp anywhere… as long as you ask the local chief.
- Terrain: Prepare from some significant climbing, there are countless passes.
- Roads and Tracks: A lot of the main roads are undergoing construction and even, unfortunately for us, paving. The A3 which crosses cross the middle section of the Kingdom, used to be gravel/dirt. It is now all paved except for the last bit from Thaba Teska to the intersection with Sani road. However, there are tons of village to village routes and even the superb route we did from Thaba Tseka North to then move East across a great dirt track. Get the latest version of Tracks4Africa for suggestions, or look at the Lesotho Sky routes for some ideas (or these guys also offer mountain bike tours).
- Food: There are usually small (by small I mean a couple of chairs and a counter) eateries in little towns, just ask. Most of the time you can get a heaping plate of chicken, greens and pap for a dollar. Also, there are a lot of little stores that are in villages, but be prepared to eat canned meat (as well as DIY cheese puffs) and other basics.
- Interwebs: There is not really much here. You can either get a USP modem that can be used in several of the main towns, or the Trading Post has wifi if you ask.