Lesotho: the Kingdom in the Sky

Updated: Jan 1, 2019

During the two weeks of wild-camping I did in Lesotho, I learnt that baby food is tasty only in absolute moderation, that doing a "number two" in the outdoors is undeniably liberating, and that Google Maps isn’t accurate everywhere. At all. However, the most valuable thing I discovered is also the simplest: shouting at the top of your lungs from the peak of a mountain is soul-food. Raw, free, empowering soul-food. And I’ve developed an insatiable hunger for it.

Last moments of sunlight at the incredible Katse Dam.

Southern hemispherical summer of 2017/2018 was coming up and I was keen for an adventure. I was to spend 10 weeks back home in Cape Town, South Africa, but I had recently caught the proverbial travel bug. So I called up two of my good mates, Tannan and Camy, to ask if they were interested in spending a couple of weeks in Lesotho first thing after New Years. Little did we know that we were going to have a life-altering experience in one of the planet’s most beautiful regions.

“Where’s Lesotho?” is a probable, and forgivable, question you might be asking. For those not from southern Africa, chances are you’ve never heard of it. Lesotho is a tiny Kingdom completely surrounded and landlocked by South Africa. It’s also the highest nation on planet Earth, its entirety elevated 1500m (5000ft) above sea level. I’ll spare other Geography class-type facts, but what is worth knowing is that if the mountains are calling you, Lesotho is a place to answer.

Our trip to the African kingdom kicked off in a classic fashion: camping in the pouring rain of a thunderstorm. Of course our first trek to a what would-be beautiful waterfall was interrupted by bipolar weather patterns. However, being drenched and stranded in our hastily set-up tents beneath a thunderous downpour was not the dismal affair one would expect it to be. Nay, it was actually quite the opposite. The mountains before us were lush, peaceful and lit up magically by the dying sun. Hues of red, orange and pink flooded the mighty valley below and we started to feel something nostalgic stir within us - a familiar, yet half-forgotten sense of a profound reverence for the surrounding nature.

A gap in the rain allowed us to creep out from the tents to witness this amazing sight.

This rekindling respect grew into a permanent flame in our hearts over the following two weeks. Valley after valley, river after river, the majestic scenery we encountered blessed our eyes and nurtured our souls. I felt my mindset and behaviour start to alter, too. “What’s the rush? Why is it important to take dozens of photos for my instagram feed? Why can’t I sit and observe this waterfall for the sake of admiring it, why do I need to capture it?” My personal perception of reality started shifting away from the conditioning of humanity’s false ideals of success and progression. Our belief is that happiness is attained through financial stability and job security. But it became clear to me that unless that job is also your passion, it won’t give you the fulfilment you deserve and are inherently on the hunt for.

Back to Lesotho. Having begun our travels in the northern regions, we snaked our way through the country southwards in our 4x4 over the following days. We made sure to see all the top attractions, such as Afriski Ski Resort, the expansive Katse Dam and the breathtaking Maletsunyane Waterfall. Every day we were on the move and every late afternoon was spent in search for a secluded area to call home for the night. Usually, we would find a beautiful spot just in time to take photos of the sunset (never a disappointing sight in Lesotho), then set up our tents and cook some simple food. Couscous with spiced and semi-boiled veggies was our go-to staple at night, while peanut butter sandwiches and baby food sustained us during the day. Yes, baby food. In theory, it made logical sense: nutrient-dense, tasty and inexpensive - in other words, a traveller’s perfect meal. Realistically, however, there’s only so much mushy and overly sweet jarred food one can tolerate and we soon grew sick of it - half of our stock made it back home to Cape Town.

We had some extremely meaningful encounters with the nomadic shepherds belonging to the kingdom’s rolling hills. Their friendliness and calmness always surprised me, making me realise that kindness is not usually the default demeanour us Westerners embody when we deal with strangers. Some of the shepherds danced for us and many were keen to pose for the camera, laughing and joking all the while. Though I cannot pretend to understand the intricacies of a shepherd’s life, it did seem to me that they all carried within them a definite sense of peace. Perhaps it’s because the serene Maluti Mountain range is their home, or maybe it’s due to living life at the pace of nature that affords them that inner tranquility. What I’m fairly certain of, however, is that the absence of societal pressures allows them a great measure of calmness. Do they get caught up in “Blanket Fashion” or a “Shepherd of the Year Award”? I don’t think so.

We spent our last two nights in the most amazing area we’d visited so far, as if fate had planned a perfect “best for last” scenario for us. Sehlabathebe National Park (good luck pronouncing that one) is a wild and raw region in the Drakensberg mountains. The peaks towered over us and the system of valleys ran seemingly forever towards the horizon. The air was electric and the presence of Mother Nature tangible.

An amusing, yet meaningful, realisation came over us on the final evening. While gazing out at the final traces the fading sun was painting on the dramatic scenery, I said: “Guys, I think we’re in South Africa.” It had taken a few hours to hike to our camping spot and at one point a little barbed wire fence unsuccessfully attempted to bar our path. We climbed over it and continued our trek, not knowing that we had just illegally hopped the border back into South Africa. Once I explained this to my friends we laughed at the futile efforts of separating the two nations.

We divide the planet into rugged slices of territory that somehow ‘belong’ to some and not to others. We split people into cultures and ethnicities and treat them accordingly and harshly. We define our state of existence in terms of material possessions and the lie of a social hierarchy. But just as Lesotho and South Africa flow into one another, so too do all the countries of our planet. Earth is one sole nation, baring a home for us all without discrimination. And as we stood at the top of the world screaming our joy out at the vast landscape below us, we remembered just how beautiful a home it is.