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Tue Feb 20 2018: Robes, Roundels and Rondavels

We prowl the summit during the late afternoon like lions after a feast, proud AF of scaling the cliff walls of the Sani Pass.

After a satisfactory amount of basking in the warm after-glow of moto glory, we check into the Sani Mountain Lodge to book a place to sleep the night.

I really wanted to stay in these cool-looking rondavels!

Unfortunately they were all booked up. The Sani Pass gets very busy with tourists, especially this time of year! I did glance at the fee schedule. At $150, we couldn't have afforded a night in one of these tiny cottages anyway. Instead, we opted for bunk-bed accommodations in the backpacker's lodge, about 500m away from the main lodge.

The ride to the lower-rent lodge is an adventure in itself, over a very rocky and bumpy "road"

We unpack the bikes and dump our stuff in one of the rooms - a rustic affair with a 4-bunkbed setup. There were quite a few rooms in the building, so it doesn't look like we'll be sharing the room with anyone else. Cool.

While we were unloading our bikes outside, we nod and say hi to a Spanish couple who were setting up a tent outside the Backpacker Lodge. They're going super-economy!

The backpacker building only has a rudimentary kitchen and a few benches for eating, so we ride back to the main lodge to grab dinner and hang out a bit more in more comfortable surroundings. Plus we can sit on the patio at dusk, taking in the wonderful view over the lip of the Sani Pass!

Bunk beds and kitchen in the backpacker building (pics taken from the Sani Mountain Lodge web site)

We stayed out till after the sun set and we're caught off guard by how quickly the temperature plummets at this altitude. We're almost 3000m (10,000 ft) above sea level! It's a cold and pitch-dark ride back to the Backpackers Lodge, our headlights barely illuminating the now-treacherous terrain! Over the intercom, I hear Neda wincing out loud as her front tire skips over unexpected boulders!

Our breaths hang in the night air illuminated by the floodlights outside of the backpacker lodge, as we hastily rush in to get out of the cold. Brrr! It must be single digits and it's almost as cold inside as it is outside! I peer into the kitchen and smile when I see that the Spanish backpackers have abandoned their tent outside and have set up their sleeping bags on the floor next to the dining benches. They glance at us guiltily, but I smile broadly and give them the thumbs up. Good for them!

Totally reminds me of when we took over the communal room at a campsite in Norway, and the time we set up our tent in the laundry room of an RV park in wet and rainy Ireland. :)

You do what you gotta do to stay warm and dry!

Speaking of which, our bunk bed room is freezing! There's a stack of thick and colourful wool blankets piled high on each bed. Also there's some kind of propane heater in the corner, which when lit, spews not only warmth out into the room, but also a really bad, noxious smell. We're both a little scared that the heater will poison us in our sleep. Yeah yeah, I know carbon monoxide is odorless... Still, we turn off the heater and grab the blankets from all four of the bunkbeds to pile on top of us. It feels like we each have 10 lbs and 4 inches of blankets on us.

It's not entirely uncomfortable. After such an exhausting day, we succumb to sleep in seconds, swaddled in these heavy African-patterned blankets. Later, I learned these are called Basotho blankets, which the Lesotho tribesmen wear outside as well.

In the morning, we are greeted with warm porridge for breakfast in the main lodge

This is called pap, and it's a traditional South African dish, similar to cornmeal. It's kind of tasteless, but at least it's warm and filling.

We notice it has rained overnight, and from our perch out on the patio, we note that there are fewer vehicles coming up the now-mucky roads of the Sani Pass. So glad we made the ascent a day earlier than we had planned!

Today is a rest day, so we just hang out at the lodge taking pictures around the top of the Sani Pass

This is a Sentinel Rock Thrush, a high altitude grassland bird, endemic only to Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland.

Their diet includes various insects, fruits, seeds and tourists' pap.

I felt the tiny weight of his steely gaze on the back of my neck, and I instinctively crowded over my breakfast, arms circled protectively around my plate...

In addition to bird-watching, hiking is also a very popular activity up here

Malachite Sunbird. So beautiful! Found pretty much all over Africa, from Ethiopia all the way to the southern coast of South Africa

Sunbirds are nectarivorous, so they can be found hanging around flowers, like these pretty Torch Lilies (Red Hot Pokers) which provide plenty of nectar for the birds and bees in the area. Everything is so colourful in Africa!

We spend the entire day just relaxing at the main lodge. Neda went for a short bird-watching hike around the area. I pretended to work on the blog. We then got together in the evening to figure out our route through Lesotho. It's such a small country, there's not a lot of decision-making to be done.

A couple of weeks ago, while we had lunch at the shores of the Kei River in the Transkei, we met a German couple who were overlanding in their huge Unimog camper. They had just come down through Lesotho and they shared some maps of the route they took, which we captured on our phone. So now we have a pretty good idea which were the scenic routes and which roads to avoid, based on their recommendations.

So nice exchanging information with fellow travelers while on the road!

After another cold night in the bunk beds of the backpacker building, we wave goodbye to the Sani Pass and head out the next day

We don't have a long day ahead of us, only around 150 kms of tarmac, so we dawdle in the morning over another lazy breakfast bowl of pap, waiting patiently for the sun to warm the earth and air up here. So cold in the AM!

Alright! All packed up and ready to go! Super excited to explore Lesotho!

So curious to see what the difference is between South Africa and this new country.

Once we're off the rocky road from backpacker lodge, the pavement turns super-smooth, as if it was just freshly laid down. Wow! What a difference from the Sani Pass.

This effortless ride on asphalt gives us an opportunity to look up and take in the scenery around us. The country is situated entirely on top of this high-altitude plateau, and grassland plains dominate the landscape, with gentle hills rolling upwards to the blue sky in the distant background.

We wave to some Basotho riders

The Sotho or Basotho people are native to Lesotho and parts of South Africa. Lesotho was originally named Basutoland. Rural Basotho people are typically cattle and sheep farmers, relying on the natural grasslands to raise their herds.

They wear the Basotho blankets to protect themselves from the cold

More Basotho herders in the distance, the colorful blankets are more traditional garb

The pristine ribbon of tarmac cuts cleanly through the grassy highlands of Lesotho and we make very good time northwards on the main A1 highway through the eastern section of the country. Temps are in the low 20s, very comfortable riding weather!

Someone musta have tipped off the Basothans that Neda was heading this way,
because they set up a Croatian checkerboard sign on the side of the road

The arrow is pointing to the Croatian. LOL!

Glamour shot of my bike. We're on the same road as the one snaking upwards in the background!

So many entertaining twists and turns to make climbing up this mountain a less vertical trek than the Sani Pass!

This dog sitting outside the straw hut and stone walls has the best view!

Proof that I was there

Young Basotho men taking a break from herding. I love their blankets!

Dodging roadside hazards, falling rocks and sheep!

OMG, the mountains ahead look so gorgeous. Neda and I were both ooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the scenery. Lesotho is beautiful!

You can see someone's built a little hut just off Neda's right shoulder. Such an idyllic place to set up a home!

More rondavels on the side of the road. Every time I see a rondavel, we have to stop and take a picture.

We stop often.

Basotho Farmer

Meeting the locals

Little house by the river

We've been in Africa for over three months now, and most of what we've seen and experienced so far is very modern and westernized. However, like Transkei, rural Lesotho is giving us a glimpse into history: of how people used to live, what they used to wear and how they subsist off the land. On one hand, I'm excited to see this in person, but on the other hand, I'm sad that these people have to live without electricity and other modern conveniences because of the lack of infrastructure.

More blanket-clad herders by the side of the road

Letseng Diamond Mine, the highest mine in the world. Also 5 of the 20 largest diamonds were discovered here!

Top exports from Lesotho: garments, diamonds, water, electricity, wool and mohair.

Video of the pristine pavement we were riding on. Sped up a bit because we were going slow

From what we've seen so far, Lesotho is such a beautiful place. People are friendly and wave to us as we ride by. We're loving it!

There are two dramatic mountain passes north of the Letseng Diamond Mine, Tlaeng Pass reaches a height of 3225m

Approaching the summit of the pass, rain clouds sweep in quickly and we get a bit wet before we are able to pull over the side of the road to don our rainsuits. So cold up here, so we would have done it anyway!

As if to underscore the point, we pass a sign for the Afriski Resort, the only ski hill in Lesotho! Feels like it's cold enough to snow right now and it's the middle of summer!

There's only one other ski hill in Southern Africa, which is in Tiffendell, South Africa. And we passed by that one while we were riding through in Rhodes. This bears out our theory that the best motorcycle roads are always situated around ski resorts.

Bit of a gloomy, wet ride down the Mahlasela Pass to our lodge for the evening

Of course the rain stops just as soon as we pull into the Oxbow Lodge, where we're booked in for the night.

Guess what? We finally get to stay in a rondavel! Bucket list item crossed off. Yay!

Broke out the wide-angle lens to capture the interior of our rondavel

I relax in our little round hut and pretend to work on the blog, while Neda went out for a hike to find more interesting things to see and do.

Cuckoo weavers nests just outside our window

This is the little waterfall behind our lodge. Pretty!

While we were waiting for dinner, the owner's son entertained us

We were told by the manager that to conserve power, the lodge's generator shuts down every evening after 8PM. Our rondavel is equipped with solar-powered lanterns and we were warned to get all our devices charged up before the electricity goes out. This is standard operating procedure in these remote places that are too far away from the power grid.

Well, it's getting close to 8 o'clock. I better finish this blog ent

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