Friday, June 13, 2008

African Adventure: We're in Lesotho! (Dec 11-13th)

Current Location: Sehlabathebe, South Eastern Lesotho.
Highlights: Some great/scary 4x4 driving, staying in rural Basotho Villages, and generally being in the middle of nowhere.

So much has happened in just the few days we have been on the road, but I just have to tell you about what just happened. Since being in Lesotho, we have been staying with the local people in rural villages only accessible in a 4x4 or on a horse. We were on our way to a tiny National Park and took a wrong turn (missed the mud track off to the left). Just to put this into perspective, where we are, there are no road signs at all, all roads are modified cattle tracks in the rocks, mud, across fields and through villages, the map we have to way out of date and of little use, and we do not have our GPS to use with the QuoVadis software. We carried along the track until it came to an end at the other side of a village we had just gone through. However, it was a beautiful spot right on the hillside over looking an incredible valley, completely unspoiled, and peaceful. Aaron went back into the village to ask the Chief permission to camp there the night. The Chief spoke good English and said we could camp there if we took his son into the next village the next day which of course we agreed. We just started to set up the rooftop tent and enjoy the sunset when a small group of villagers came up to us headed by a lady in a bright purple robe. She told us that it was not safe to camp there as they have had problems with the herd boys (the boys who look after the cattle, goats and sheep) and thought we might not be safe. She insisted that we should camp in the village by the café. Although very disappointed, we could not decline, and went to the café. The café turned out to be located in just about the most ugly and dingy part of the village tucked right down in a small valley. To make it worse, the small field we were shown to did not have a track leading to it, instead we had to traverse some nasty slopes and banks and its also a cow field which was wet, muddy, and loaded with cow pats! But I guess at least it will be safe! As I write, I am sitting in the front passenger seat of the Landy looking at about half a dozen cows in the mud. It’s actually quite funny to be in what must have been one of the most picturesque spots to what must be one of the least.

So what else have we been up to? Well, we ended up leaving Jo’berg at about 11 pm last Friday and drove through the night to Pietermaritzberg arriving at 8 am to get the springs changed. Midway springs did a great job of modifying the horrible springs that Leimer had ordered. While at the spring shop we met a guy called Lois who had a really great Series 1 Landy he used to run tours into Lesotho. He gave us all sorts of advise including some route suggestions. Rather than drive up the Sani Pass then west over Lesotho back to South Africa, he suggested that we head west, then south. It would mean driving along some rough 4x4 tracks, but the scenery would be well worth it. He was right, we followed his directions (the map is not very accurate) and hit some pretty scary 4x4 tracks, often VERY steep and always VERY narrow, but definitely VERY spectacular. Although very sparsely populated, the villages are charming and incredibly picturesque. For the past three nights now we have stayed in rural villages. The kids are great and very curious. We have a blast showing then the digital camera and their which have just taken. Last night we were treated to some music. One kid had a drum made form a large can with a skin stretched over the top and bottle caps on a wire. Another kid had a guitar made from a long piece of wood and 5-liter oil can. They sounded great! We took lots of pictures and video of everyday life in a Basotho village. The last few days have almost been a sensory overload of new and different things. Life here is so different to life in South Africa despite being so close.

I am new to the world of 4x4 driving having done very little, and that which I have done has been in newer 4x4 vehicles. I have had to learn very quickly however, by actually driving off road, as we did not get time to go on a 4x4-driving course before we left South Africa. The Landy has done great so far, but we have not been problem free. The first test of the Landy was the Sani Pass. The only real problem here was how steep the pass road was. We were down to low range in first gear for all of the steep stuff. On a few of the very steepest slopes the engine would hesitate and almost cut out in spurts (this is scary!). Thank goodness we were pre-warned of this by Lois. He said that it’s one or a combination of vapor lock as altitude and heat buildup in the engine bay causes the fuel to vaporize. He also said that on very steep slopes the float chamber of the weber carb can cause fuel delivery problems which will cause short lived power losses. Luckily we did not completely cut out (on this slope at least). I have become quite used to driving on these roads now and how the Landy handles and how to handle the Landy. We did discover one potentially serious problem on a very steep section of road that descended to a river crossing. In low range on very steep descents, it jumps out of first gear. This is not only dangerous as you then have to use the brakes, but very annoying, as Leimer, who just rebuilt the gearbox said "it’s 100% now", is closed for Christmas, so yet again we have to pay someone else to fix his shoddy work. It was ascending the other side of this very steep valley that the engine did cut while going up in first gear low range. We slid back a distance to a less steep section before the brakes held us (and we slid off the hillside). We rested for a while and then managed to pull away in low range first gear and ascended the slope. Most of the driving is now a commination of steep switchbacks, ups and downs through shallow rivers, and some flatter tracks along valley sides. The terrain varies from wash-boarded tracks (on the more traveled tracks), to loose rocks and some mud. Travel is slow, but very enjoyable with so much to see. We have not seen any other white people on these tracks since leaving the Sani Pass area.

We have taken 100s of pictures and its impossible to chose one to post, so we won’t right now. This is the first posting to the site with the satphone and I just want to be sure it will work with a simple message.

Tomorrow we will head back into South Africa en route for the Kalahari Gemsbok Park on the Namibian border.

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