Getting High in Africa via the Sani Pass to Lesotho
In the foothills of the southern Drakensberg Mountains, I cook ostrich burgers while Mare books a four-wheel tour up the Sani Pass. Our little Honda cannot do this “road.”
From Sani Lodge Backpackers, in Underberg, SA we climb into a 1975 Land Cruiser with six other tourists from northern Holland. “Speak English to me!” Matthew the driver shouts. Land Cruiser takes two hours to drive thirteen miles on this exhilarating ride.
Bang, bump scrape and twist over boulders and through streams up the Sani Pass. Hairpin turns raise the hair on those who are not bald. Our destination is the country of Lesotho, which has the highest low point of any nation on earth, as well as the second highest point in Africa, after Kilimanjaro.
Rain, mud, and hail greet us at the Sani Top. One passport stamp and we enter into a different world.
Chinese workers construct a road, while shepherds tend their flocks. Matthew explains that the Chinese want to colonize the country, where the British and Dutch have failed. He’s originally from Lesotho, and speaks the language.
Teenage boys tend sheep here in the summer for three or four years as a rite of passage into adulthood. Each shepherd has a pack of dogs, mixes of Bernard/Border Collie/Lab who protect the flock from jackals at night. One dog serves as a pet, to keep shepherd warm at night.
To pass the time, one shepherd makes music from a homemade guitar, which also serves as a wind instrument.
Driving through deep mud, and over boulders next to sheer drops, some tourists are tense. But Matthew has a wide smile on his face. This 74 year old guide loves his job. He’s driven this pass over 3,000 times.
Through tundra that never freezes, we stop for a box lunch at about 10,000 feet. Mare befriends Lerotholi Hamotangoaner, a typical teenage shepherd.
Matthew takes us into a hut. The circular stone wall is crafted like a jigsaw puzzle without mortar. Flat stones under the mud floor absorb heat from the fire. “Think they’re backwards?” Matthew asks. “They have heated flooring.”
Dung, mud and clay line the floor and walls. Dried dung provides fuel for fires, where smoke meanders through the thatched roof and doorway. Our gracious host shares bread and home brew made from millet/sorghum. Take a small sip simply to be polite (nasty stuff). Drakensberg Adventures shares tour revenues with the locals, a positive reoccurring theme that we’re noticing.
Time for a real beer at the Sani Top Chalet, the highest pub in all of Africa. Locals love Maluki beer so much than none is left for export.
The descent down Sani Pass has changed, due to the constant rain forming new streams. Finally, under the fog a green valley reveals a taste of the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains. We’re still high. What an excellent adventure!