Navigating around Lesotho isn’t rocket science. There is a road in front of you. And one behind you. As long as you’re not backtracking you must be going in the right direction! Later that day I found this wasn’t the case at all. We followed that road, wherever it took us. Up the mountain, down the mountain. Around that hill, through the corn fields and beyond. I kind of felt as If I was in the Hobbit movie, where we were aiming to cross several mountain ranges before the trilogy was over.
At one point I turned a corner in the road just to see the road drop down into the valley at an alarming angle. I put the engine into second gear and tried to ride down the hill using the engine to control my speed. But as soon as I felt the bike tip forward and my face now pointing directly downwards onto the dirt. I panicked. Pressing the rear brake, I sent my bike and myself into a rear wheel slide and we both slid to the bottom. I was just proud that despite the slide, I managed to keep my bike up right the entire time! I stopped at the bottom, to let out a nervous giggle and turned just in time to watch Mike follow my technique.
It went by unnoticed at first but then the dirt road had deteriorated to the point, it was only two tyre tracks in the grass. We stopped for a breather and to try and get our bearings. I worried about the direction we were heading in. My map was showing me, we should have turned more towards the south and be quite close to the border by now. But yet, there never had been a turn, and we were still following a road towards the west. Knowing the map can be wrong, Mike and I compared GPS with it. The GPS was off as well, nothing made sense and to top it off, it was getting late. There was no way we would be able to cross the border into South Africa today.
With nightfall less than an hour away and with rain clouds pouring over the mountain ranges. I suggested we forget about making it to the border today and just look for a nice place to camp. Tired, hungry and confused about our location, we continued in the direction of the storm clouds hoping a camping spot would reveal itself soon.
We crossed a small stream at a small bend in the road. We stopped to fill up our water bottles in case we didn’t find water later. I looked around us and noticed a small grassy area next to the river. It was small, but just enough for our tent. Hardly romantic, almost on the road, but it was possible. Judging the sky and the time we had left, we carried on looking for a better spot. I’m glad we did because several corners later, we spotted the most beautiful camping spot.
There was a large section of flat land at the curve of the river, just below the road. I guess that at spring time, it would be completely covered in water from the snow melts but right now, heading into winter we should be ok. Our piece of paradise even had half a dozen trees that we can use for shelter from the looming storm. We eased our bikes over the lip of the road and rolled them down the narrow sheep track.
We parked under the tree and hurried to get our gear off. We raced to set up our tent, cooked spaghetti and soya mince* for dinner. We tucked ourselves up in our sleeping bags less than 30 minutes later with full bellies as the storm hit. Not long after that, we were asleep. I woke several times in the night, when I heard cars creep past us on the road above. What was strange was that I never saw lights! Lesotho people seem to drive in darkness. I’m glad now, we never decided to set up camp on the bend of the road.
I woke in the morning to the sound of sheep, goats and horse hoofs passing our tent. It reminded me of camping in Mongolia on my first motorcycle trip in 2008, when the locals would drive their herds past your tent to see who you were. I dragged my stiff body out of the tent to relieve myself behind a tree before the next group of spectators walked past.
We packed our stuff, with a couple of Lesotho women standing around watching us. We had enough fuel and had decided to follow the road still west and to see what happens. There was no other road to take after all! As soon as we got back on the road, I was glad we stopped when we did. The road took a turn for the worse and we bounced from one rock to another as we climbed up the mountain inch by inch. When the road was flat enough to park the bikes I stopped to let my bike cool down and give my arms a break from holding on for dear life!
We arrived at the top, with clear skies we looked out over the next set of mountain ranges and smiled. It’s moments like this, you know why you packed up and hit the road. Suffer through motorcycle issues, visa problems and missing your friends and family. Its moments like this, I look over to Mike, glad I could share it with him.
Now we were at the top, the next 20 kilometers would be all downhill. We twisted and turned and made our way to the bottom of the valley. The valley was full of people living their life in their round stone huts. A few children waved out to us and we waved when we could as we needed both hands to handle the rock based road. As I bounced over one rock, I hit the next one as my shock bottomed out. I heard the rock scrape the bottom of my bash plate. Then I heard a horrendous noise coming from below me. Looking down, I saw the hit had unhooked my center stand. Letting my bike roll down the rest of the rock, I came to a stop and put everything back together.
Further on we rode into a larger town, where we found a petrol station to fill up at. We had no idea of the quality of fuel we were getting but at least it was something. It was surprising to find a Chinese family owned it. At the supermarket, another Chinese family ran that! It seemed as if the whole town was Chinese. We know they were building the roads in Lesotho but those were nowhere near this village. I couldn’t help but wonder what they were doing here in the middle of nowhere. We asked about the road and how far the border was. They just said bad and couldn’t give a us a distance nor expected time of arrival.
We rode on, climbing up yet another mountain range and into the low lying mist. Mike stopped his bike and told me his bike was playing up again with the same symptoms as before. Now, the pressure was on. Not only to get out of this terrible weather but to cross the border today and get somewhere where we can fix the bike. We both didn’t want to be stuck on top of a mountain, somewhere in Lesotho. Since we still hadn’t worked out where we were!
Riding along, I could tell Mike’s bike was deteriorating faster than before. Worried it might stop completely. And one of us might have to stay with the broken bike and camp next to it, with little food while the other would seek help on my bike. Then, just as a stroke of luck we rolled into a village and a huge sign welcomed us with “Lesotho / South Africa border”. We were in luck, I drove through the mud and into the immigration car park of Lesotho. Mike carried on past me and up the hill through the border and into South Africa side. I knew, he had made the right decision because If he stopped on the Lesotho side we would have had to push the bike through the mud and up the hill. I already had Mike’s passport in my tank bag, knowing this is Africa, you only need the passport to get stamped out or in a country. Immigration never cared if you are there or not! Just as I finished with the Lesotho side, Mike made an appearance just in case they made things awkward for me.
After we dealt with South Africa immigration, had a couple of biscuits we were ready to carry on. Mike’s bike had no battery left and the regulator wasn’t charging his bike anymore. We got the border guards to help push start his bike. It coughed and started. We rolled down the hill and further into South Africa, inching our way closer to a mechanic.
When we got to the bottom of the mountain, Mike’s bike was even worse than before. He had to use every downhill wisely just to make it up the other side. Thirty kilometers to our destination, just as we hit the asphalt road, Mike’s bike stopped and wouldn’t start again. We flagged down a bakkie and Mike and his bike hitched a ride into town.
Exhausted, lacking food and a shower, we had to pull apart Mikes bike to get the battery on the charger. Just to make more problems, we discovered Mike’s multimeter had broke. It was Sunday and nothing was open, and we had to check out of the guest house at 10 am in the morning as they had a booking.
Forced to do nothing but think out our problems. We ate microwave lasagna for dinner and were looking forward to going to sleep that night. The owner of the Bed and Breakfast came out to visit us later that night. He offered to take Mike and his bike down to a mechanic he trusted early the next morning. It was a godsend to have some help and kick off the day to a good start.
Soya Mince is a vegetable based product that looks and feels like mince. Here in South Africa it comes in a variety of flavors and is easy to carry with you. Think spaghetti bolognese without the the hassle of carrying raw mince around.
I thought I should also include a map of our route taken through Lesotho during this blog post.