This was a fantastic trip with challenging driving to get away from the maddening crowd and just enjoy great camaraderie. Unfortunately Marsha had family ‘over’ from Jo’Burg and could not join us, and so Jacky came along with Gerald. We met at 9am at the Himeville Arms, 8 people and 4 Land Cruisers. We stocked up on firewood and headed for Sani Pass. The weather was perfect and we drove up Sani on a clear day, blue, blue skies, snow capped peaks with magnificent views into the valleys. The road was in good condition and we were only held up once while a back hoe was working compacting stone. It was a little rough at the top and difficult to negotiate the sharp corners going from bright sunlight into shadow and losing sight of the track. We paid R 60 each at the Lesotho border and were on our way until the McKenzie’s had a puncture. Luckily Gerald had issued us all with radios and we brought the convoy to a stop, off came the high lift jack from Dan’s roof rack and with help from Gerald, Gary and Dan the tyre was changed and off we went. We stopped at the top of Black Mountain, the highest peak in Southern Africa for a photo shoot and of course a snow ball fight, instigated by Gerald. Gary and Cheryldene couldn’t help but to join in. We passed the shearing sheds and herds of sheep and Angora goats, hearing the tinkling of the bells around their necks and seeing the herd boys wrapped in their blankets on their little ponies.
The Chinese are busy building a highway from there to Mokhotlong using local labour to do the drilling and blasting of the mountain side. We didn’t go into Mokhotlong but stayed on the main road and stopped for lunch after crossing the Khubelu River. Gerald was hoping that we could take a route to the camp site via the river but it was too deep and fast flowing to risk it. We continued on the main road to the Litseng Diamond Mine and waited at the gate for Gerald to go and collect the key, and while we waited yet another snow ball fight broke out. Soon we were on our way on a single track down to the river, it got worse as we progressed, very wet and then very rocky. The locals, having seen us crawling down the mountain side, had come to our aid after we found our way blocked by a massive boulder. With great excitement 10 men were already waiting, one with a crowbar, and each telling the other what to do. There was much laughter until the bolder was dropped on some toes. Eventually the boulder was tipped over the edge and Gerald was able to get through. This provided such fun that the men had already decided to move another bolder out of the way before we could even follow. Eventually we were on our way, rough road, slow going, magnificent scenery,and passing clean isolated villages, everyone waving and very friendly. It was still light when we reached the camp site and put up our tents. Frank, the caretaker, lit the donkey but we were too tired to shower. The camp site consisted of a large stone building with gas heating in case of bad weather, 10 camp sites along the Khubelu River each with a built in braai and a tap and 4 showers and 4 long drops funded by the mine and left to the locals to run. It was cold once the sun went down but we were prepared, we had warm jackets, plenty of blankets and soon had a fire going. We thought we were alone until Dan discovered his biltong and a loaf of bread had gone missing. Later we saw the culprits, 3 cunning dogs so we were very careful not to leave food unattended.
On Saturday we were up at first light for coffee and rusks and to stoke the fire. We showered and dressed once we had thawed out. The men worked on fixing the McKenzie puncture, and endured the process of cleaning the gravel out between the tyre and the rim. This worked but the hole was too jagged and the despite of putting in 3 plugs it still leaked. Alice, a local girl who spoke perfect English, came to do our washing up and said that there was going to be a celebration in the village and we were invited. It started at midday so Gerald drove Gary, Cheryldene, Jackie and Eyvete up the mountain and Dan, Gavin and I stayed in camp and just chilled. We watched the locals coming from far and wide on their horses or by foot throughout the afternoon and thought this is African time, who cares when the celebration starts! The reason for the celebration, as we later found out, was the victory of the local soccer team and the netball team who had won R 3 000 in a tournament. The mine supplied their uniforms and the players looked very smart. A sheep had been killed and there was plenty of pineapple grog. Cheryldene writes; The 5 of us arrived up at the “stadium” early. The stadium is just a flat piece of land that has been made to take both soccer posts on one side and netball on the other. You could see the excitement mounting as everyone started to arrive all dressed in their Sunday best.
The soccer players went off to get dressed into their uniforms along with the netball girls. We were given a soccer display from the winning team and what amazing players – watch out Bafana Bafana. Both teams got in line to have photos and videos taken. Then there were plenty of speeches and thank yous and prayers for our benefit. Apparently it is a great honour to be invited to such an event and not taken well if one refuses to go. After much dancing and singing by the teams and some of the locals we had a display by 3 traditional dancers all splendidly attired. More photos taken and finally food. They dished up for us first which was a great honour as everyone sat back and waited for us to finish. We had to tell the cook not to give us so much as our plates were bursting with the most amazing mutton, rice and gravy. We didn’t want to offend them so we just told them that we had food waiting for us back at our camp and to rather give us smaller portions and give more to the people. All the choicest pieces were taken out for us and I was shocked to see some of the folk eating the fatty and bony pieces whilst we had the best cuts – but again you cannot refuse so we just ate what was put in front of us. We then went and said our goodbyes to everyone including the chief and all the speakers. In a speech given by Gerald thanking them for their hospitality, he made mention of the fact that the club would endeavour to return in the summer with proper goal and netball posts. A small gesture in light of the harsh living conditions (see photos of existing soccer and netball posts). I’m sure as a club we could all do something to make their lives a little easier. They are such friendly and welcoming people.
The party-goers got back to camp at 4pm before it got too cold, they had been treated as VIPs, Alice sat with them translating the speeches and they were served with mutton and rice before the chief, the food was delicious. Gary decided that they needed decent goal posts and netball posts, a definite project for the club. We spent another magical, clear evening around the camp fire, the Milky Way resplendent above.
On Sunday we needed to thaw out around the restoked fire and then Gerald offered to take us on a drive, we jumped in with him and Jackie and Dan and Eyvete joined Gary and Cheryldene and we crossed the river at the camp, water seeped in and our feet were slightly wet, but it wasn’t to bad. We climbed up the other side and enjoyed a view of the camp site and river and continued on up to the local school. The children were there playing hop scotch blindfolded, we just peeped in through the windows, a lot were broken and there weren’t enough desks. We saw their school books on a silland were impressed with their maths and writing and command of the English language. If Gary had his way the club would be fund raising to supply them with desks, stationary and more teachers, unfortunately we can only do so much! From the school we looked down onto the lodge and the road following the river that we could take home. We winded our way down to the river but it was too deep and fast flowing to cross so we headed back to camp. On the way Gary radios for help, he was bogged down in thick black mud, too busy talking and not concentrating, he’s such a chop, this was the second time he’s had to be rescued and winched out in a month. Back at camp we had a fry up and then Jackie and Gerald walked up stream to throw in a line. The water was so clear they could see the fish, plenty of them but didn’t catch any. We had 2 birthdays to celebrate around the camp fire, Gerald and Gavin’s, and Eyvete cooked a delicious chicken curry.
Monday: We packed and waited for the ice to melt on our tents before dropping them. We left at 09:30 am and made our way slowly up the mountain side climbing over very rocky terrain and through wet mud patches as the snow was still melting. We made it back to the gate without incident and from there it was smooth sailing. We stopped for lunch just below Black Mountain to stay out of the wind and stopped for a pit stop at the Highest Pub in Africa. This time the top of Sani was covered in cloud but we dropped out of it and again enjoyed the view while descending the pass. We got through the SA border at 16:30 pm, said our goodbyes and headed for home arriving in Durban at 18:30 pm, happy and exhausted. Ideally we needed another day there to hike to the hot springs, but that’s something to look forward to on the next trip. Thanks Gerald for making it happen, we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.