Tuesday, June 29
Roma - Ramabanta - Semonkong - Roma
We are on the road by 7am for the tough mountainous drive south to Semonkong. Leaving Roma we pass through a truly spectacular mountain gorge. The temperature is barely above zero at this time of the day in Lesotho and the Besotho people are up early dressed in blankets, riding their ponnies, leading their donkeys, herding their sheep.
It's a feast of stunning, desolate mountain scenery, which is best described as a cross between Georgia, Bolivia, Scotland and the Faroe Islands. This country feels like one of those few remaining places that the rest of the outside world, particularly tourism, is still yet to discover. I am not sure of the reason. I guess it is negative perceptions of the political instability of past years, the almost 50% unemployment rate and the world's highest AIDS rate at over 30% of the general population. Or, more likely, the country is simply overshadowed by its neighbour, South Africa, and consequently overlooked. As Robin put it, "I thought Leotho was just going to be one great big township surrounded by barbed-wire fence so that its population can't get in to South Africa. But it's not. It's actually an amazing country."
We stop off at the Trading Post in Ramabanta for the exquisite views, great hospitality and a full English buffet breakfast for five quid each.
Then the gravel and occasionally pot holed-tarmac road south takes us past remote Besotho villages where shepardry appears to be the only job going. The wild valleys mostly top 2000 metres.
At Semonkong we drive off road and hike down the mountain to the sheer mounatin cliffs opposite to the Maletsunyane waterfall. Maletsuyane tumbles 192 metres making it the highest waterfall in southern africa. This is also home to the world's longest single-drop abseil at 204m. The dimensions of the canyon and the vertical drop of the waterfall are bewildering, almost dizzying.
It is a perfect photo opportunity: time to don the silly wig and wave the flag that we found lying on the terrace floor after the England v Germany match.
As we climb back up the mountain to the van a crowd of small kids can be spotted peering over rocks at the top of the rockface. They are more than happy to pose for some (I must say) brilliant photos of us all together waving the English flag up in the peaks of Leotho. You get the sense that this is where England's World Cup really ended - probably as we speak the English team have touched down at Heathrow; the World Cup is not over, but England's Silly World Cup is.
we stop off on the way back to Roma for a scrummy dinner, inspiring sunset views of the nearby mountains turning red and Japan v Paraguay at the Trading Post in Ramabanta.
Lesotho is an amazing country. If you want to experience somewhere completely different from the norm then consider coming here. As the tourism slogan so rightly boasts:
Real people, real mountains, real culture.