When Uta was traveling in Africa she heard about horse trekking in Lesotho. Of course, she put it immediately on her bucket list! After years of waiting for the right moment, she finally makes the leap and travels to Lesotho to ride. Uta shares with us the story about her adventures there. And what an incredible way riding horses in Lesotho is to discover the country and its people!
Author: Uta Paulus
Lesotho is a small enclave, surrounded by the greater South Africa. It’s a country inside of a country, simply put. It is slowly becoming a “travelers’ destination,” but is still unspoiled by mass tourism. Of course, daily jeep trips up the Sani Pass are offered by some companies, but most of them are only day trips and much of the landscape remains untouched.
Traveling in Lesotho
Traveling in Lesotho is not that common. No infrastructure, poverty, barren landscape, no wild animals… I guess it does not sound very tempting at first glance. I still wanted to go anyway. Why? Years ago, on my tour of Namibia, my Canadian roommate showed me some pictures of her African tour. And there was also a picture of her sitting on a small, shaggy pony against rugged slopes, with a friendly laughing man next to it. I asked where it had been taken and she told me it was during a horse trekking trip in Lesotho. And since then I saved it in my heart, committing to myself that one day I would go there.
Getting to Lesotho
Getting to Lesotho is not so easy. There are only a few roads into the country, on the east side there is only the Sani pass, which can only be used with four-wheel drive. We flew from Cape Town to Durban, a city in South Africa which is the nearest place to fly. Since I had initially planned the trip as a solo trip and did not want to drive by myself, I had booked a private taxi shuttle, which turned out to be a private car with driver. It worked well, at first. The driver was very nice and friendly, but I still cannot recommend it because the boss of the company apparently can’t organize and sends his driver on logistically impossible tours, and quite often, to two different places at the same time. We drove three hours to Sanilodge Backpackers near Underberg.
The resort is idyllically situated at the foot of the Drakensberg, the area is almost similar to German countryside. There are several buildings, shared accommodation, but also private Rondavels, one of which I had rented. Very comfortable, but not big. And the bathroom has only a “privacy wall,” so you can hear everything. We checked in and walked a bit over the meadows. There was a nice pool, but it was unfortunately too cold to swim. I made reservations for dinner. There were crackers with egg salad, then mashed potatoes with a sauce and a fruit salad. Simple, but ok. Unfortunately, the staff didn’t take note of my advance payment, which led to discussions. After a bottle of red wine, tired and satisfied I fell into my bed.
Drive to Lesotho
The next morning, after a small breakfast, we waited with small luggage to survive for two days. Two nice French couples joined, and then came our guide Philipp, an English-South African. We all squeezed in the old red jeep of the lodge, I sat down voluntarily on the small bench next to the bags. We started driving, and it got bumpier fast. On the way Philipp explained the geography and nature, such as the milkweed family and the formation of the mountains. We passed the first checkpoint. The Sani Pass is partially a construction site, it probably will be asphalted…someday. I do not know if I would like that, it would also ease the way for the locals, but also open the way to mass tourism.
Higher and steeper, the road, a former trading route, winds up in serpentines. It is getting rugged. The view gets more and more spectacular, as the abyss next to the wheels gets steeper – nothing for my fear of heights. I was glad when we get out at the end and walked a bit, while Philipp drove the last stretch to the actual border.
Lesotho at Last
Here I am, in long-awaited Lesotho. The first impression: There is not much there. A few barracks as shops, the border post, behind it width. Barren, no trees. But I love such landscapes, be it the endless steppe of Mongolia, volcanic lunar landscapes or deserts. We drive past the first Rondavel huts, the “classic” dwelling of Lesotho. The people here live on sheep, wool and agriculture. There is no private land, shepherds move around, cultivation is done on open land for the community. It is Basothos who live here. The population is poor, HIV is a problem. A characteristic I quickly notice among the locals are the blankets with which everyone runs around with for protection against the cold in the high altitude. In addition, many rubber boots.
New Roads, Old Ways
We drive on a new road, tarred by Chinese investors. There are hardly any cars, as there are only a few in the country anyway, so riders with ponies and donkeys are using it. We make a first stop at a sheep shearing station. All shepherds bring their animals there, to get them sheared. The wool price is low, you cannot make a living out of it. The wool is sheared by hand, with scissors. Outside in the sun lies a slaughtered sheep, lunch for the workers. The next stop is in a small shop, where we stock up on beer from Lesotho for the evening.
Then we reach a village, and in a side street we stop at three Rondavels. Here lives Peter, our pony guide. First, we get tea and biscuits, and we notice that in front of the huts clearly too few ponies have been caught for our group, but we stay relaxed. “This is Africa,” after all. (TIA) Time does not matter in Lesotho. After a walk to the outhouse and some tea Peter comes with more ponies. He gets them saddles and bits. A few straps still need to be exchanged and repaired.
Horse Trekking in Lesotho
The ponies are small and thin. I’m a little scared. But winter has just gone here, Peter is still waiting for new fresh grass. The equipment is poor and mixed up, I get a dark pony with a German old Stübben saddle. I know that by no means can I set our “western” standards in countries such as this one. I’ve thought similar thoughts while riding in Mongolia and I think it’s not fair to judge another culture which clearly respects and loves their horses (though differently than we do in the West). It also becomes clear here that Peter cares so well for the animals. They are his capital and he has built up a small existence in this country. No horse is lame or has open wounds so I decide to keep an open mind.
I swing into the saddle with my backpack on because there are no panniers (saddlebags). This is unfamiliar, but doable. We start riding, on small trails, and with great views. It is getting dark and we reach the village where we spend the night. There the English teacher is our hostess. She has a Rondavel, a square cabin and a kind of house that is still under construction – she is one of the wealthier people from the village, though it’s still very simple for our standards. Electricity comes only from solar panels, light only sparkly from a light bulb, two beds are next to the table and the gas stove in the corner, on which she cooks us a really lush and delicious meal. She cooks for us some corn porridge and chicken with various vegetables.
Sleeping All Together in a Rondavel
With a bowl and a jug, she makes sure that we also wash our hands, running water is only available at a tap in the middle of the village. The village chief lives nearby. On the mountain behind the house we watch the sunset and have fun with a few children. We all sleep together in the Rondavel on mattresses on the floor under mountains of thick blankets. I’m not cold in the night. The kerosene lamp and the warmth cause me a headache. The next morning breakfast is served with warm porridge. Then the horses come and with them a few children. We say goodbye and set off.
The trail is again uphill and downhill. My friend and I can also enjoy a fun gallop sometimes, because Peter realizes that we can ride. We have a break with a view and then before we know it, we are back to Peters hut. Again, we enjoy tea and rest. We sit in front of the Rondavels and enjoy the stillness.
A Different World – Far From Home
I feel very happy and grateful to be here. My impressions of the place and the hospitality of the people makes me feel like we are in a very different world, far from home. We eat and then have to say goodbye, which we do with the Lesotho “triple handshake” with arm and hands hooked. The meaning behind the triple handshake represents: peace, rain and prosperity.
As I climb back into the Land Rover, on top of the bags, I notice a burning of tears in my eyes. We wave and honk and roll away. It was only 24 hours, but it moved us all. The immersion in a country that is possible on such a trip, is indescribable. Philip has then something in store for us, which lifts the mood instantly. We head to a pub.
Funnily, just like in Peru, on the other side of the world, it’s a private house or lodge where fresh corn beer is brewed. When it’s done, a white flag is hoisted (or a bag or sack). In Peru it’s usually something red, but otherwise it’s the same principle.
Our “pub” in Lesotho was really just a corrugated iron barracks. There are some shepherds in rubber boots inside, who probably had a few laps, the woman who brewed it… and us. A filled plastic cup goes around for us to drink from. I did not like it, but it was really an experience. Then we drive to the real Pub on Sani Pass, the highest pub in Africa right on the border with a view down the Pass street.
A little later we drive down there, Philipp has the serpentines and the gear shift under control, but I am once again a little sad. It was good that I saw the photo years ago and I could not forget Lesotho. It’s definitely an insider tip for anyone looking to experience something different and less traveled. It has been an incredible experience for me, and I will always carry it in my heart.
Africa is a special place which offers endless opportunities for unique experiences. Find out about other Adventuresses and their horse riding stories in our Africa section. We’re sure you’ll find inspiration for your very own equestrian adventure!