Do we have a good Notes from the Field for you today – this basically made me want to pack up my bags pronto! If adventure is calling your name, it can be yours in Maseru, Lesotho. And if you knew that was in Africa but had no idea where, you’d be in good company. I had to look it up myself. Lesotho is a little kingdom practically in the middle of South Africa, but from the sounds of today’s Notes from the Field, courtesy of Cora Malinak from the blog Global Adventure Seekers, it sounds like it’s very much the little kingdom that could! Mountain air and fresh vegetables and driving distance to safari? Read on for more about life in Maseru, Lesotho…and be sure to stop by Cora’s blog for more on life in Lesotho and some pretty amazing wildlife and landscape photography.
Diplo-mat or Diplo-spouse (or other)?
Three words to describe your current post:
Remote, adventurous, surprising.
Best thing about Lesotho?
Opportunities for outdoor exploration and adventures in a magically remote mountain kingdom that most people have never heard of.
Coming to Lesotho for only a few days is really only possible if you are on a big trip to South Africa which completely surrounds this little mountain kingdom. If you plan to just come to Lesotho, you’d want to spend more than a weekend as getting here can take some time after connecting through Johannesburg, South Africa.
A perfect long weekend itinerary would depend on whether your objective is to see as much as possible of the country or just get out into the mountains for some truly disconnected relax time. If you’re looking for adventure, we’d hop in the car and drive a couple of hours into the middle of the country to a small town called Semonkong. Known for Maletsunyane Falls, a 192 meter single drop waterfall, Semonkong offers plenty of hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing or mountain biking opportunities. If that’s not enough you can do the longest abseil in the world down the waterfall and hike out. After a day of fresh air and stunning scenery, we would finish our day with a good meal by the fire at the local lodge.
If you’re looking for a bit more luxury and relaxing time, then we’d head to Ts’ehlanyane National Park, the largest national park in Lesotho. There we would crash in either a five star chalet or rent a lovely river cottage at Maliba Mountain Lodge. Surrounded by nothing but mountains and a bumbling river, the only thing you can do here is relax and enjoy the stunning environment. We’d go for a hike, hop on a Lesotho ‘pony’ for a little trek, take a dip in the rock pools of the river or simply sit on the balcony and read or catch up. If you’re adventurous enough to come to Lesotho in the winter, we could then drive a few more hours and hit the slopes at Afri-Ski. The only ski resort in Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s quite a novelty to find yourself on skis and finish with a meal in the highest restaurant in Africa!
Because of the remote and mountainous nature of the country, it can take some time to get to other places in Lesotho but they are completely worthwhile! If you fancy enjoying a bit of fresh mountain trout and the most gorgeous mountain lake scenery in sub-Saharan Africa, then head to Katse Dam where you can rent a cottage for the weekend and explore the area by foot, boat or horseback. If you are interested in being as far away from humanity as possible in a beautiful mountain environment, then pack your camping kit and head 7 hours south to Sehlabathebe National Park where you can hike and explore for hours without seeing another soul. Keen 4×4 explorers must make the long 7-8 hour trip across the country to Sani Pass. Nearly 2,900 meters above sea level right on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment, this gravel road climbs down over 1300 meters in only 10km towards South Africa.
Chicken, papa (ground maize meal) and moroho (green vegetables), or Makuenya (fried doughballs) from a local street vendor.
What are your go-to sources for learning about the culture or things to do/experience while you’re at your post city?
Other expats are your best bet for tips about what to do in Lesotho. You can also take a look at the Lesotho: Southbound Pocket Guide by David Fleminger which provides a fairly comprehensive overview of the country, culture and what to do.
Most difficult about living in Lesotho:
Lack of variety of activities and food options in the capital, Maseru, especially for singles or families with young children. The border with South Africa can also be a challenge with frequent long delays on both sides and issues getting visas for more than 7 days.
Biggest adventure at post?
Driving to the little market town of Semonkong in the rain before the road was finished, we came across a large truck that had gotten stuck in the mud and blocked the road. One of the few in an SUV, we drove a construction worker 20km back to their site to get the key to a digger so they could make a new road to allow vehicles to pass the truck. A couple of hours later we carefully navigated a treacherous muddy path they had carved with the digger around the truck and along the edge of the mountain to continue on our way. On the way home we came across a local taxi bus well ensconced in the mud so had fun towing them out so they could continue.
When did you realize you were far from home?
On the flight from Johannesburg to Maseru the day we moved to Lesotho. After a marathon 16 hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, the little plane to Maseru was a welcome respite. The spectacular mountains spread out underneath us for miles and eventually turned into sparsely settled plateaus covered with interesting rock formations, scatterings of cattle and herd boys shrouded in brightly covered blankets.
What’s the most important thing about re-creating your home at post?
Having color, photos and special objects from other places really makes me feel at home. Incorporating cultural fabrics and artifacts from that country and taking advantage of what the house offers also really helps. In Lesotho, we were lucky to have a gorgeous veggie patch, a great outdoor space for the dog and a bonfire pit to snuggle around on cold evenings.
Three things you can’t live without at post?
Hiking boots, layers and a spirit of adventure and flexibility.
One thing you thought you couldn’t live without but have had to?
There were a few things that were hard to find but you could generally track them down or just go without… limes, turkey, tortilla chips and black beans are just a few. Having freshly squeezed orange juice throughout the winter months, beautiful blue and green pumpkins in the fall and a constant supply of perfect avocados and crispy sweet apples usually made up for it.
What’s the best advice someone ever gave you about the diplomatic life?
Be flexible, adventurous and positive.
What’s your daily uniform?
Skirt, tank top and flip flops in the summer and jeans with a few layers on top in the winter. SPF 50 and sunglasses everywhere you go as the sun shines most days and the high altitude takes its toll.
You’re having guests over on Saturday night, what’s on the menu?
A typical Saturday night would involve lighting the braai (South African term for BBQ) and cooking up some wonderfully marinated steaks, chicken and boerwurst sausages. This would be accompanied by some fresh homegrown veggies and salad on the side and a Maluti, the local Lesotho beer. To top it off we’d serve a comforting desert like apple crisp and cuddle under some Basotho blankets around the bonfire.
Dream post for next assignment? Why?
Another post with a vibrant culture, opportunities for outdoor adventures and a variety of options for life with our black lab. We got lucky as Quito, Ecuador is our soon to be home after an 8-month stint of training in DC.
One thing you wished someone had told you before arriving?
Don’t underestimate how cold the houses and offices get during the winter months. Slippers and layers are often not enough and I found myself adopting the Basotho tradition of wearing a blanket around my waist at home. Arriving in the office in the morning you can expect to keep your coat on for the first hour or so, and then spend the rest of the day stripping off your layers as you roast in the sauna environment the Basotho create trying to be warm.
Anyone going to Lesotho must learn some Sesotho. Although many Basotho in urban areas speak English (it was a former British protectorate) and schools are taught in English, those in rural areas have a much more limited grasp of the language. Basotho across the country speak Sesotho to each other, and typically reserve English for communication with expats, so knowing some Sesotho will help you to build a stronger relationship with them. It can take time and effort to be able to reach a level of fluency, so as a minimum being able to greet people several ways and exchange some pleasantries about how cold or hot it is will go an extremely long way. The smiles and warmth you will experience when you do make any attempt will be worthwhile!
Anything else I forgot or special instructions?
Being posted in Lesotho you are also in a prime location to explore gorgeous South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique. Drive 14 hours west and you’re in Cape Town and the vineyards, or head 14 hours northeast to Kosi Bay and/or the southernmost point of Mozambique to explore the beaches and marine life. Go a bit further northwest of Cape Town and you’ll find yourself in Namibia with a million adventure opportunities, or venture north into Botswana for stunning scenery and wildlife. National parks are abundant in the whole region so there is no shortage of amazing up close experiences with African wildlife. There are some great safaris just 4-6 hours from the capital of Lesotho so a weekend with the lions and giraffes is a popular getaway option and really makes you feel like you’ve escaped.
If you want a taste of Lesotho, check out the beautifully made movie The Forgotten Kingdom, now available on DVD and showing in cinemas around the world.