This trip ended more than a week ago but I still have a few more things to say about it.
Driving to Mokhotlong
The drive from Maseru to Mokhotlong was about 300 kilometers (168 miles). It took six hours.
An hour after leaving Maseru, we reached a police checkpoint. Such checkpoints are common in Africa. Often they serve no apparent purpose – they’re just there. This was one such checkpoint.
Following the car in front of him, Joe rolled about 20 yards past the “Stop: Police” sign and came to rest in front of the policeman.
“Why didn’t you stop back there?” the policeman asked, pointing to the sign. Joe wasn’t sure how to respond. “You ignored the stop sign,” the policeman continued. “I’m afraid I must arrest you.”
I sat quietly in the back seat and wondered what jail was like in Lesotho. Dr. Leo, the EGPAF country director, pleaded with the officer, who remained insistent that arrest was imminent. Joe didn’t say much. This standoff went on for what seemed like an hour but was probably about 90 seconds. Eventually Leo convinced the officer that Joe did not intentionally flout Lesotho’s rule of law and we were allowed to continue.
The temperature began to drop as we drove into the mountains. I glimpsed one or two patches of snow beneath rocky outcroppings. Then we rounded a bend and saw…a ski lodge! In the middle of the brown mountainside was one neat strip of snow, complete with ski lift and quaint chalets. Several skiers swooshed down the hill. It was an odd sight.
The scenery became more dazzling as we climbed. My anxiety levels also increased exponentially. This was a two-lane road with dizzying switchbacks, giant potholes, and no guard rails. The road surface often switched abruptly from pavement to gravel.
When I first decided to move to Africa, I was often asked if I feared for my safety. The truth is that I never did until the day we drove from Maseru to Mokhotlong.
A word of warning to anyone planning to visit rural Lesotho: Bring food.
We stayed at the Senqu Hotel, one of two hotels in Mokhotlong. Our room was spare but comfortable, with a nice view of the village from the balcony. It was also quiet at night – a huge relief after our previous evening at the Queen’s Protea.
The food, on the other hand, was dire. We arrived at the hotel restaurant for dinner, exhausted and ravenous. I ordered the trout. The server looked at me blankly and said they didn’t have it. I ordered the lamb stew – same response. After playing this game for a while, we discovered there were actually only three or four things available.
Joe and I ate the exact same thing both nights: Chicken Maluti. This dish consisted of three dry drumsticks, boiled vegetables, and either rice or soggy chips (fries).
The Senqu Restaurant is one of only two restaurants in Mokhotlong, and reportedly the best.
I could go on at length about Mokhotlong’s culinary misery but you get the idea. Luckily we’d brought a large supply of trail mix.
The drive from Mokhotlong
During the drive back to Maseru, we approached Moteng Pass (elevation 2820 meters, or 9251 feet) and were stopped at another police checkpoint. Joe was prepared. “We’re traveling with these two doctors,” he told the officer. “They help babies with AIDS.”
But we hadn’t done anything wrong. There was an “abnormal vehicle” (African term for wide load) making its way up the mountain. We would have to wait about 30 minutes for it to pass.
We pulled over onto the gravel scenic overlook and admired the view. Cars and trucks began to line up behind us.
Soon, word reached us that the abnormal load would take at least an hour to reach the pass. The road was so steep that the truck was forced to move at walking pace.
A party atmosphere began to develop. Basotho aunties wandered about with boxes of mango juice. Grungy backpackers smoked cigarettes. Lesotho government officials looked huffy. A Basotho shepherd in traditional garb took in the scene from the hillside above. I tried not to think about having to pee.
Ninety minutes later, amid great fanfare, the abnormal load crested the mountaintop. It was carrying a machine for the Letseng Diamond Mine a few miles away.
By this time we had missed our appointment at a health center in Butha-Buthe. Damn diamond miners.
Back in Maseru
We spent one more night in Maseru. We passed on the Queen’s Protea and went with a guest house that Leo recommended. I can’t remember the name and we’ve lost the receipt, but it was comfortable and relatively cheap. We were too tired to notice much else.
We didn’t take chances with dinner and returned to the Regal, the Indian restaurant in the Basotho Hat. Excellent, once again.
We were late the next morning so we ate trail mix. No time to sample the breakfast fare at the nameless guesthouse. But before leaving town we did have a nice lunch and drinkable coffee (i.e., not Nescafé) at the Ouh La La Café, a thatched-hut coffee shop in the center of town. Cappuccino for me, americano for Joe (this took some explaining but they got it right), and a ham and cheese crepe for each of us. We dined al fresco and watched the traffic go by.
Joe and I are going back to Lesotho early next month so stay tuned for more adventures from the Kingdom in the Sky.