Sunday, May 04, 2008

Walking the Hills

“It’s not far”, our Basotho guide Jerry assured us. “It’s an easy climb.” Looking up at the imposing peak looming behind the little hut which we were staying in, we expressed grave misgivings about this statement.

We pointed out that while he was young and wiry, we were on the wrong side of 50, overweight and had both recently had surgery. (Max a quadruple bypass and me an arthroscopy on a knee joint which is missing most of its cartilage and will be needing a replacement soon.)

“No no” he promised. “It will be easy and we will go slowly”. With that assurance we set off to climb Mount Moorosi.

It is an important landmark in Southern Lesotho, scene of an historic siege and battle between the Tribe of Chief Moorosi on the one hand and the British on the other. Max is going to be writing about the battle in some detail so I will just say that it is indeed a fascinating and beautiful place and worthy of the exertion it takes to get up there.

Exertion is a slight understatement…. Suffice to say that it took a long time to get to the top, with a huge amount of unseemly huffing and grunting and snorting and wincing along the way. Frequent stops to “admire the view” were called for. But I assure you that Edmund Hilary, upon summiting Mount Everest, could not have felt a greater sense of achievement than these two old farts did on reaching the 1820m high top of Mount Moorosi!

“Right”, said Jerry enthusiastically, as we staggered to the base of the mountain. “Now let’s go and see some Bushman cave paintings”.
“Is it far?” we asked, naively. “No, no, it’s very close, we will drive there, and then take a short easy walk.”

So off we went, through the picturesque if somewhat chaotic little Village of Mount Moorosi. We wound our way through delightful scenes of stone huts perched on hillsides, cattle, angora goats, pigs, donkies and sheep roaming around accompanied by blanket clad herdsmen, and riders on the famous hardy little Basotho ponies, roadside traders selling all sorts of goods from little plastic and metal booths, and friendly people waving at us as we passed.

“Turn right here.” said Jerry. Max looked at him incredulously. “Is the whole road like this?” he asked, surveying the eroded gullies before us. “No no”, said Jerry, “it is not far.” Thus reassured, we set out, and since there was nowhere to turn around, we proceeded to take our little low slung 2 wheel drive Bantam bakkie over terrain that a Land Rover would be proud to traverse. (Tom, you would be in your element here!)

We are told to stop, in the middle of a field of dried Sorghum, awaiting harvesting. “We must walk from here” says Jerry. Looking around at the expanse of tall brown plants, we see no sign of a path, or anything looking remotely like a cave that could contain rock art. However, like two trusting old sheep, we follow our guide through the field, and scramble up a rocky hillside that suddenly looms on the other side. Well, the cave must be here, we think hopefully to ourselves.

However, Jerry strides out in the direction of a forest of Eucalyptus trees that covers a steep slope down to the impressive Senqu river flowing in the distance below.

Upon inquiry, we are assured that it is just down there on the river bank. We follow gamely, but by now my knee feels as if red hot knitting needles are being plunged down my veins, and I am not a happy bunny. So I again enquire exactly where on the river bank it is, and Jerry points out a huge rocky bluff that is jutting out into the river, far below us. “It is around that”, he says. I have images of limping all the way down there, and then having to turn around and retrace agonized footsteps all the way back around the river side, and back up the daunting forested hillside to this point, and then still go back over the ground already covered, and I call a halt.

We had already covered all this distance to beyond the grove of trees and you can see the large bluff to the right...

If you look very closely you can see the tiny dot of the bakkie parked beyond the field of sorgum.

Spotting a fallen tree nearby, I announce that I am going this far and no further… I will sit on the tree and wait for Max and Jerry to get back. Off they go, Max gamely following his cheerful guide. I wait, and wait, all the while feeling growing relief that I stopped when I did, combined with growing concern for Max. Finally, they re-appear coming up through the trees from the river. I can spot Max a mile away because his face is a fluorescent red, glowing with exertion. He slumps speechlessly onto the fallen tree trunk and sucks vigorously on the bottle of water I hand him from the rucksack he left with me.

After a suitable period for recovery, we get back to the car. “Right”, says Jerry enthusiastically, “let’s go and see the graveyard of the British soldiers killed in the Battle of Mount Moorosi. It’s not far……” I know that this is something Max is really keen to do, as he is fascinated by the history of the place, so I don’t say anything, but my heart sinks. I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear him tell Jerry that we would LOVE to go, but not today!

We return to our little hut, and Max is asleep before his head hits the pillow.

We did get to the graveyard the following morning, it turns out it was not far at all!! It was on the bottom of the hillside, right across the road from our hut.
the lone graveyard cypress marks the position of a mass grave for British soldiers who fell during the siege on Mount Moorosi.

As we travelled around the country, no matter how high we got into the mountains, there would be little huts perched in the most unlikely spots on remote peaks,

and herdsmen strolling up and down with their animals on slopes the seemed impossible to traverse.

the tiny white dots are goats being herded along the mountainside!

And it finally sunk in. If you are going anywhere with a Basotho guide, do NOT bother to ask how far or how easy it will be, because his sense of distance will be VERY different to yours!

(Lest you get the wrong impression, let me hasten to assure you that Jerry is a superb and patient guide, and a mine of fascinating information!)


Janet said...

I was immediately struck with how much some of these photos look like areas in our western United States! It looks as if you had quite an adventure.

Rethabile said...

Nice place. I was there last August, and spent a night at the chalets (from where you probably took that photo of the grave site with the lonely tree). I'm from Ha Makoae, and Mt Moorosi was our halfway stop on the way home. I miss the damn place.

sam said...

hi Janet, the mountains were stunning, but what I really fell in love with was the people, they are amazing strong, friendly and warm hearted, and mostly unspoiled by our Western culture. There is a lot to be said for their simple way of life.

Rethabile, hi, good to meet you! I tried to follow the link back but it says your profile has not been enabled. I adore your country and I am completely in awe of the distances covered by people going about their daily lives, we were so amazed by the cheerful little groups of school children walking miles and miles up mountains to and from school, and of course the herdsmen. The spoilt kids in most of our cities, who complain if mom is 5 minutes late to collect them in the car, could learn a thing or two! No wonder you miss the place!! This was our first visit, and we can't wait to go back and explore more.


Rethabile said...

I hope you do get to go back (and I wish me the same).

Hadn't realised my profile was disabled. I blog at as well as at

Wishing you well,

imac said...

What a beautiful collection of super photos, Looks like you enjoyed yourselves.

One great post here.

My bridge and odd shot are now showing.

Gemma said...

What a great adventure! Thank you for sharing. Since I may never get to your part of the world, I really enjoyed this!!!

Sheila said...

Suze, this is amazing. I am constantly awed by the landscape there.
The sense of distance your guide has reminds me of being in Wales, they seem to have 'longer miles' than we do, as whenever we got directions it was always much further than we had been led to believe.
You and Max did well to walk so far, no wonder you slept well..!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic collection of super photos with a very detailed description of some moments on those certainly magnificent holidays you had.

Cheesy said...

I adore high places and it does feel AWESOME to accomplish the hikes! Lovely pics as usual and it does remind me of the trip I took last fall to the rockies-well minus the wonderful locals....

Jenty said...

What an incredible trip!! and the scenery is just stunning!

Katney said...

How wonderful! Your account complements Max's beautifully. I look forward to the restof the trip from both of you.

Max-e said...

What the picture does not show of me is my bright red face and the difficulty I had breathing from the exertion. I thought I was headed for another heart attack, until I realised that my problem was caused by the high altitude - what a relief :)
Six months ago I would never have coped with the walk - amazing what a by-pass can do for one.

Old Wom Tigley said...

Fantastic post Suzi.. and yes my land rover would have loved such a place... as I would. You guide had me laughing. Peter is like that.. oh! its not far.. he says then ends up miles in front while I am trying to get breath never mind walk.