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LESOTHO
                                

INFO and DIARY              2015    

 Map + Plan

 

Photos   Diary 1 + 2

I had an invitation to visit a project in South Africa, I have done some pro-bono work on in the past. Now, it should be launched commercially, and I'm asked to give my input, and hopefully work on it, in the future. Realising how little I actually know about South African highland and tropical plants, I figured I might do a tour around the premises. Lesotho offers some absolutely unique highlands with a flora of its own.

While studding the flora, I will try to sell some assistance to the parks I meet on along the road. I also hope to be able to collect material for DNA-tests for Dr. Tanja Schuster, who is mapping Oxygonum.  I will visit the wild and unspoiled nature scattered around this area. I plan to do a quick tour from South Africa through Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
The Kingdom of Lesotho is a rather small country within South Africa. It covers 30,355 km², measuring roughly 200 times 200 kilometres, although it feels significantly bigger, driving its roads! It is a mountainous country, actually the only country where even the lowest parts are above 1400 meters. Everything is found from 1400m to above 3480 meters above sea level. That is why it is known as Kingdom in the Sky.
With a bit more than two million citizens, here are quite some nature. 80% are different Christians while the rest worship indigenous beliefs. They Sotho-Tswana people originates from a nearby part of South Africa, but fleet there from the Zulus and Voortrekkers. In 1824, King Moeshoeshoe had established himself as king and Thaba Bosiu as his mountain fortress. He allied with the British in the cape to fight of the Dutch.  It was granted independence from the British Empire on October 4th, 1966.

MONEY: The currency is Loti (LSL), fixed to the South African Rand. They do not have much of them! 1DKK= 2 LSL. 1€=14,77LSL.

CLIMATE: Lesotho has 300 days of sunshine. The rainy season extends from October to April in which Lesotho gets 70mm of rainfall, mostly during severe thunderstorms. I'll hit that period, perfect for botanizing. The temperature should be from around 20C to 32C.

ANIMALS and PLANTS:
Here are the familiar animals from highland South Africa; Cape hyrax, Chacma baboon, Cape porcupine, Cape hare, Southern African hedgehog, Forest shrew, quite some bats, several members of the cat family, otters, Black-backed jackal, Brown hyena, Zebras, Antelopes  to name a few.
The vegetation in Lesotho consists largely of grasslands and bushveld. Forests cover only 1% of the land area and are found in some areas in the north and south of the country. Trees that are indigenous to the land include Cape willows, cheche bush, and wild olives. Soil erosion and overutilization have severely changed the grasslands.
About 17 vascular plant species are found nowhere else including the national flower, the Spiral Aloe Aloe polyphylla. Other endemic plants include Glumicalyx lesuticus, Manulea platystigma, Delosperma holzbecherorum, Delosperma parentum , Delosperma adamantinum, Malotigena frantiskae-niederlovae, Hesperantha crocopsis, Hesperantha exiliflora, Rhynchosia dieterlenae, Gnidia singularis, Jamesbrittenia beverlyana, and Jamesbrittenia lesutica.

DIARY
(Hoover over the photos, to enlarge them and see the text)

15/12. From South Africa It  went smooth through the border, and this beautiful country reveals it self. Table mountains with small huts on. Several are rondawels with grass roof. Farmers are walking their three to five cows home, one farmer is pulling his cart with them. Donkeys are everywhere, and here are an relaxed feeling. I think the speed limit is only 50 - at least, that is what people drive. Here are mainly taxis with yellow sides and only a few private cars and trucks.
The sun is in my face most of the time, and I got a distinct feeling of, many motives are in the review mirror - except it is blind.
It is a bit more than 110 kilometres to my first sight, and despite I could make it, I don't go for it. It is in a real remote area, and I rather have something to eat - someone else have made. Here are signs to a few B&B and lodges, and I go for one. Way to nice (meaning expensive), but I had been driving 600 kilometres to day, after have been woken up at 03;00. Further more, I would love to see the landscape I drive through.
They charge 550 LSL, and if I haven't spend a small fortune on the geared out car, I would have gone for it. We talk a bit about it, and I can camp and use the bathroom for one of their rooms for 150 LSL. I offer to buy supper, short ribs from a calf for 70 LSL, and we have a deal. I forgot to include breakfast, but I have five bags of my favourite.
My computer runs out of power, and I don't have the energy to find the 12V charger in the trunk - nor run out of battery on the car. It charges a bit while I shower, and I get the main impressions down.
Quite diner; I'm all by my self. It is nine, and the combination of having nothing to do, and being worn out, makes me go to tent. Some dogs barks, but earplugs silence them.

16/12 After almost nine hours, I feel fresh and ready for adventures. I cook water in  the room, and eat my own breakfast along the truck. The tent is a bid harder to fold back, but at seven, I head out for adventures. A gas up station tempts: You never know when the next turn up. It have manages 11km/l on the rather fast tour from Johannesburg. Pretty good for a heavy loaded truck.
The area is astonishing! One big hill after the other, carefully sprinkled with small huts and herds with their cows, sheep and goats. It is surprisingly dry, but I'm told they suffer from drought. A lady I give a lift ,tell they haven't got their normal summer-rain the last ten years.
The first target for the day is Teya Teyaneng with the Kome Caves. The GPS leads me right to the sign, after an hour of great sights.
Here, I kind of know, I make a bad turn, but the area causes for a further investigation. The locals return my greetings, and I stop numerous time to photo them, their houses, animals and entire area.  Here are some red-headed Ibis, White Crows and a few other birds. The plants are suffering badly from the intensive grassing, and I fail to find anything interesting. Well, the fern is a surprise in this arid area. The "tidsel-looking poppy are numerous in some areas, but is it local at all? Here are numerous blue Agaves and several big cacti which defiantly are not locals.
The rivers are just a few scatted billabongs. Despite I know it will fail, I still make photos of the waste landscapes. The fields in the valleys are red and dusty, and it look like the middle of the dry season.
A marked draws me in, but beside from all the people, here seems to be nothing of interest: There are nothing on the ground. Back in the countryside, I find some women, washing their laundry in an almost dry river, others are collecting water with oxen, donkeys or horses. I return after fifteen kilometres. A couple from the market get a lift back to the sealed road, and have a hard time figuring; I'm turning back.  But I should have followed the sign to Ha Kome, to get to the caves.
They have their own visitor centre. It is five times bigger than the actual site, but only charges 43 LSL for entrance and guide. A couple of Aloe polyphylla grow in their garden - it is indigenous for Lesotho. It is a nice walk, and it offers several great motives. The small "Hobbit-huts" in the huge, rather open cave, are rather disappointing, just as the ancient drawings. It look a bit like a man and two cows.
The cliffs and sky on the other hand are fantastic! The first pigs I have seen in a long time, try to find shadow under a huge bolder, and some other Aloes look interesting. I have to go several pages back in the visitor-book, to find someone not from Lesotho or South Africa. Then there is a American, one from Cuba and one from Singapore.

It is only ten, and I'm up for more adventures and great sights. The next planned, was for to morrow, but it is 130 kilometres away. The sealed road changes fast into a real rough gravelroad. The views make up for that, and I head on.
Then is start to be sealed again, and small villages are scatted along it. The landscape start to raise, and the vegetation changes into Alpine, while the humans disappears. Here are several interesting plants with everlasting flowers, tough grass and some flowering lilies, Asteraceae and others. The key is no animals at all - not even the farmer's, except from a frog. The minerals are interesting too, and I find some fine crystals. On the other side of the pass, small villages are once more found. They have a city-limit sign a five to twenty huts.
I pass through Roma, which best of all can be described as a large village. I don't need anything, and it does not look that entreating. Actually, it seems like only one road leads through - not what I had heard!
At Semonkong, another market with little to sell, takes place. People are gathered round in a circle. Inside a few people are dancing by the self - not that impressive at all, but apparently real entertaining. Here are many horses and donkeys, and a few primitive shops. The General Store causes for a visit, and it is busy. I buy yet another bottle to recycle as drinking container. I have filled the first one 6-8 times today, and it is a task, the stuff locked up in the back.
A fancy lodge is found near by, and I figure, I could use some time sorting out the 350 photos of the day along with some nice food. They have camping - one lot vacant, and for 100 LSL, it is fine with me. Here are the first white people I have seen in Lesotho. Some Frenchmen but the major part South Africans. It is a public day off in South Africa, and many make it a long weekend.
The famous waterfall; 192 meter tall Maletsunyane Fall is said to be dry, but most are here for the bar anyway. After the tent is sorted out, I head for the restaurant for tea and work. The computer is fully charged from the car, and it is needed!
Before it darkens, the temperature drops, and I hurry to the showers. Then supper is served, and I go for the lamb chops. Excellent, but I think they came from a calf though. Warm pudding with ice - who can say no? Bit expensive, but I can always cook when none else will.
Continues the work on the photos, now with external power, which also feed the camera. I plan to go late to bed, and order a pot of tea for the evening. Here are way too many photos, and way to many are actually quite good. The little restaurant is dressed up for Christmas. The tree is a dry branch, painted white and filled with colourful bowls, imported from South Africa. Goes fine with all the old farts, sitting around the restaurant. Guess there must be some posh rooms around the lodge.
Due to the fantastic views through the day, I am  forced to make one slideshow right away; Day 1. The photos don't in any way reflect the awesome views - but that is what I have. At half pass nine, I'm done, but the camera is not, and it is prioritised. I got a bad feeling of, the waterfall - or at least where it use to be - is in the deep shadows tomorrow morning.

17/12 It is a cold morning, and I wished I had brought the other sleeping bag up to the tent. When the sun peeks out, I do it too. That does improve the climate significantly. Breakfast behind the truck, then a small tour down the river. Here are some interesting plants like Asparagaceae, Araceae, Lilies and a Cucurbitaceae.
Then it is time to visit the Maletsunyane Fall. It is a rough path, worn down by numerous donkeys, horses and people on their way from the remote huts to town. Here are many side trails, and I check several of them, just to see what is there. Mainly awesome views, small rondawels with grass roof and partly brown hills. The farmers use their biggest cows to pull the plough in narrow terraces, and a few of them have gambled and planted some corn.
Besides from a few birds, here seems to be no original animals left, and depressing few plants neither. The heavy grassing set its mark. Two hours walking while the temperature rises, and I wished I have brought my heavy boots, sunscreen and water
The gorge with the fall is enormous! It is a big crack through the else smooth hills, and it is hard to see the button. On the side I'm at, several small tax-trees seems to do fine, and I am able to find a few other interesting plants. The fall is, as I expected, in a deep shadow within its own, rather big but narrow gorge. I try desperately to capture it, but besides from it is real narrow due to the drobt, it is also covered in mist and shadow.
I find a few lizards - even a blue male - and plants, but after half an hour, I start on the hour and half tour back. The plough-man is out on his terraces, and I try to get some good pictures.

At ten, I head out for for the southern part of the country. I start with a real rough gravelroad, but the views and plants are so familiar, it don't seems to be worth the difficulties. Back through Semonkong and down the newly opened road towards A4 from Qacha's Nek to Quiting. Despite the village-name signs, the biggest gathering is less than a hundred huts. Most are only a handful rondawels.
Despite the road is from 2014, and it is perfect sealed, it does cause my truck problems. Several times the assent is too steep for second gear. Most of the 50 kilometres towards Seforong is dominated by two high passes. First up is the other end of the enormous gorge the Maletsunyane Fall is found in. It can't be seen from the road, but the gorge is fantastic.
Besides from that, the area looks like most other places, most vegetation have suffered severe. It is only in the highest places I find interesting plants on. A total black grasshopper indicates how high it is. A bit down the next valley, the huts re-appears, and the sides of the road is made of real short grass and herbs.
The next plateau reveals something interesting. At first, I hope for a wild Aloe polyphylla, but is is a slightly bigger, but still stem-less Aloe. Here are a few dry, spear-like flower-stalks, but no flowers. One of the many herds-men, walking the fields and roadside ask, if I am searching for diamonds. I doubt I get him convinced, I'm only looking for plants.
The further south, the more dry. Both high and low - if you can call any of Lesotho that. Seforong lies next to the intersection of this new road and the older A4. Besides from rondawels and huts along with the huge views, here are little of interest. It have taken me more than two hours to drive the 50 kilometres, and I turn around. It seems like here is les and less to see, further down south.
Here are quite some hitch-hikers and real few cars. I think I have seen 5 cars and four trucks in two hours on this perfect road.

A few desperate attempts to capture the landscape on the way back, along with a few plants. Semonkong at two, and a bit too early to call it a day. The next lodge is 138 kilometres away, and I might miss a sight along the way. I choose to drive up north near Roma again, to see the plateau Thaba Bosiu to morrow.
Roma has as little to offer this time, except a sign with camp, lodge and more. It is the old colonial trading post of Roma, and I try. The old sandstone buildings look like hundreds of years old, but well maintained. Camp is 100 LSL, a back-packers rondawel 175. And it is so cosy with own tea kitchen, sink, towels and soap. Not hard to choose, especially not when they tell the nights are cold.
The only other guests are some real great, young Germans. We meet in the common kitchen and living room and chat. I grab a shower before it get too cold, and cook some noodles with some powder. Not gourmet, despite the print on the bag. Here are even internet at the office.
While the kids watch Avatar, I work my way through photos and diary. I rather watch the movie, but I get to stay firm. But; I do shorten some corners, and finish up at ten. Here are just too many motives!

18/12 It is fare from cold at night - at least not in a rondawel. After a good night's sleep, I'm up early to finish the work from last night. The sun is already up, and I ought to start exploring. But the internet caught me, and I upload diary and the first slideshow: Day 1.
The first sight of the day is the Thaba Bosio plateau, not that fare away. Through part of Roma and out in the country side. The area is famous for the tombs of former kings, but I'm here to see the nature. I find a narrow gravelroad, only used by the locals, and head out of it.
A steep hill next to it have the classic volcano-cone top, and I try to get the sun right. To do so, I have to cross a dry riverbed and here are some bulbs. Besides from that, Agaves and Yuccas dominate the area. I walk into the hills, but it have been grasses way too much for revealing anything interesting, but the views are fantastic. Thinking about it, here are not even spiders!
Back on the sealed road, I continue a bit, just to have a look. A bridge over a almost dry, but former big river offers a good view to the locals. Laundry and cattle watering. Further out, the farmed fields are red and barren. A horse is tied up to one of the few tractors I have seen - or at least half of it. When I finally make it to the top of the plateau, it is just farmland! Rather disappointing.

The next sight is Mohale Dam, og at least the road leading to it. Here are several larger villages along the road, and I stop at a little marked in Nazareth. Cloths, kitchen ware and shoes are the main products. People are really dressed up for the occasion. Besides from the marked, here are little to see, and I head on.
It seems like Lesotho is made up by huge hills. The roads leads around one after the other, day after day. Here are still so many breathtaking motives. Hills, canyons, small rondawels, cattle, people and some plants. I try to restrict, and focus on the plants. I stop time and time again, and do walks around the truck. Besides from those plants I previous have found , here are a few now.
When I pass Bushman's Pass at 2263 meters height, the landscape changes a bit to the greener. Almost at the top, a little cousin-forming Euphorbia is found. It look so much like the tiny Opuntias, except from the needles. Further down, it turns even greener. At one stop, some enormous rose bushes dominates. The minerals are interesting, and here are a few new plants as well. As the green improves, the next pass turns up; God help me Pass at 2281 metres.
The rivers have a bit of water in them, and huge willows grow along them. On the other side of the road from the river, I spot I weird looking plant. It turns out to be a flowering terrestrial Orchid. It look so much out of place among the dry bushes and barren soil. Here are also clovers, but not any other interesting vegetation.
Next stop have bulbs, tiny succulents and the strange Apiaceae, looking like a canorous plant. Several ever-lasting flowers indicate the height, and the soft soil too.
The next pass is Blue Mountain Pass with its 2633 meters. Around it is some ruins and a tiny cemetery. The rocks in this area is clearly of volcanic origin. Despite I get around only a few new plants seems to be found here.
Long before I reach the dam, the lake of Mohale suddenly appears. It is significantly reduced in size, but still wet. The dam it self is rather small, and straight. A young guy in perfect ironed 4G uniform greats me. I got a clear feeling of, he is bored to death! (Yes, before I came). Behind it, the river offers some great motives. A road leads pas the dam, and into the heights. A viewing point offer little new, but a great place to try the gas-burner. Tea with a view.

After quite some walking, it is pass noon before I head a bit back, and then towards Katse Dam. It is 150 kilometres through the central Lesotho, and it is slightly greener than the north and south. Two road-signs have to be photoed: One of a cow, one of a sheep. They ought to have one of a donkey as well. The cows tend to stay on their side of the road, so do the sheep, but the donkeys seem to come from fare in the fields, and then cross the road running.
When the road are seen from high above, it look like the perfect motorcycle road to me. One long curve after the other. Here are no straights at all! It is not the same with a overloaded, top-heavy truck - at all! Where the lover parts are filled with villages, although small, the highlands are pleasant vacant. Unfortunately, the grass and other plants have still been grassed, but not as heavy. Time and time again, I either see a great motive or what I hope is a new plant. Either way, I do yet another stop. Now, the hills are smooth and almost green.
When I pass the first "Rocket-flower", and can even stop. Else, there are kilometres between parking possibilities. Well, I only see a car or truck every fifteen minutes, but the narrow road and endless curves make it a bit hazard to just stop. One time, I just stop on the road to make a photo of the black cracks in the almost white grass.
As I take the "scenic route", the GPS leads me into a gravelroad 60 kilometres before Katse. It is fare from smooth, but nor too bad. But 60 kilometres is quite a distance. I hardly see any cars, but the locals are dressed up for Friday evening. The herds have bright coloured cloth on - underneath their usual brown blanket. Some have even dropped their wellingtons. Strange how fun they are of these wellingtons, despite everything are so dry and dusty?
Some white figures way out on a field turns out to be White Storks. Then the big river reveals it self in a broad valley, and with partly clouds over the area, it look out of this world. Unfortunately, it does not work on photo - I have 25 to prove it.
The almost endless gravelroad are surprisingly dense populated. Along most of the road, the fields are farmed, although in small patches. An old bus is bringing the last ones home - and gathering those on their way out again.
My plan was to find a lodge close to the dam, and spend the night there, eating some good food. I have some notes about one close to, and another 20 kilometres from, and I hoped there would be more. It might be caused by the "back-door" entrance to the area I took, but I fail to see a single opportunity.
The GPS, on the other hand, leads me directly to the dam - via coordinates I found on aerial photos from Google. Here, several other groups of white have camped under the supervision of a black 4G security man. Here are toilets and a shower, so why look further?
I start with the shower, and only afterwards figure, there might be a water heater? Then some real basic cooking: Almost boiled rice with butter beans and sweet Soya. It is surprisingly tasty!
I bring up the extra sleeping bag, just in case. Then it start to be a bit cold, and I retire to the car to work. Here, it actually get pretty warm. One more day with 300+ photos - will I ever learn!!!! The computer runs out of power at eight, but I still got a bit energy left, and hook it up with the car. I might have to jumpstart the car with the fritz battery in the morning - if there is anything left on that? At ten, I'm kind of finish. The rest of the camp is surprisingly quiet, considering it is mainly young people, and Friday evening. Well, we are only eight here, along with the security guard.

The Lesotho adventure continues in Diary 2

                    

   Diary 1 + 2  Map + Plan  Photos