Mathubathuba & Suzy go to the Snow.

 

I suppose that it all started here, sort of; ~  The 19th of June 1995.

We all wanted to do a Great Off Road Trek. We were comfortable in Mathubathuba and the girls Gaëlle and Gwendolyne, were less so in their SJ410 Suzuki. Lesotho was the original idea for this groot trek but at the time the Basotho Government was full of diplomatic shit and we could not get a visa to go into the mountain kingdom. So we planned to go all around it. And we did, off the tar where ever possible.

Suzuki SJ410
Suzuki ready for the next trek

But before all that we had to complete the first leg of our trip: The Fika Patso week-end with loads of friends and the  Sentinel Mountain Drive. Well you can see the weather that awaited us on the first morning. Land Rovers and Suzukis went up through 1m of snow without flinching. The same cannot be said for other more macho brands. On the higher stretches the snow was as high as my wheels but the Suzy just never seemed to have a problem.  Climbing up a very slippery slope just past the Overhang Krantz, most the cars slipped over to the side of the road, scrambling for chains and pick-axes. The girls in their Suzuki, unaware of the unofficial stop-over, took the gap and flew past everyone to take the lead position. There were some very red faced Toyota and G-Wagon drivers. Especially as Gaëlle only passed her driving license the previous month!

Vehicle Convoy in the snow in Qwa Qwa
Vehicle Convoy in the snow in Qwa Qwa

After that, a complete tour of the enclosed country, driving as close to the border as possible. Very close in some areas… and always a ball of fun.

From Golden Gate the going is mostly tar until Fouriesburg where, from the Caledon Poort road you can find the gravel border road. This comes out halfway to Ficksburg. There are now military roads going through to Ficksburg but you are supposed to have permission to use these. After Ficksburg at Peka you can follow the border on gravel all the way to Maseru Bridge. Turn right there. There is a dirt road from just outside Maseru Bridge that takes you all the way to Hobhouse via De Bruyn Siding and with great views of the Qeme Plateau in Lesotho. From Hobhouse we found it necessary to keep on the tar until Wepener from where great gravel roads lead all the way down to Zastron or even further down to Sterkspruit.

It was here that in 1901 Deneys Reitz and his small band of friends met up fortuitously with the commando of General Smuts who was also heading for a dangerous adventure into the Cape. They were all very lucky to come across a Mnr. Louis Wessels, a local personality and Commandant of a hundred local burgers who lead them through some tricky passages between the English Camps. The Wessels family still farm in the area.

From there on we took to the road towards the border, (which is now a great wide tar road) and turned off right a few yards from the Telle Bridge Border Post towards the Telle River.

Telle River
Telle River Eastern Cape

This exquisite road takes you along the border with Lesotho for some kilometres and you really feel the life of the Basotho with one foot in each country. Villagers wander across the river and herdboys play on either side without concern. The road then climbs up over Lundeans Nek (2226m) not forgetting to salute the most curious Greek  Architecture on the way up:

Bebeza Church
Bebeza Church in the Telle River Valley

it’s 64 km down this magnificent pass to Mosheshe’s Ford, on the Kraai River,where King Mosheshoe was supposed to have driven back the herds of cattle that he re-captured from the marauding Baphuti from the Stormberg in the Eastern Cape.  Keeping left at this junction takes one onto the 27km gravel road to Rhodes.

Moshesh's Ford
Moshesh’s Ford on the Kraai River

A stop over at Rhodes is really unavoidable as the village is so far from each end of the dirt roads that all lead there. However for some reason, our little group decided to push on up and over the highest road pass in South Africa; Naudesnek (2499m) and on to Maclear. Somehow our (my) navigation was off by a couple of hours and we drove to whole pass in the night, freezing and quite full of concern. Not an advisable exercise. Pot River Pass (1755m) follows on from Naudenek and takes you down past King’s Kop to the back end of Maclear.

At that time, the worst road in  Southern Africa, according to all those who dared to drive it was the road from Maclear to  Mount Fletcher. Every few kilometres, the girls called on the radio for a stop as the din in their plastic topped Suzuki was just too much. After a while we gave them the Land Rover and took the wheel of the little red devil. After 20 minutes we called them and said “That’s enough! ~ Never again!” A terrible piece of road in those day but quite a pleasure to drive today, with well designed curves and plenty of width. You can still see many pieces of the old road as you cruise along this new highway.

The following sections of the trek are just as picturesque but quiet long uneventful and good roads: Matatiele to Swartberg on good gravel and then tar to Himeville. There on my excellent favourite gravel road via Taylors Ridge turning right into the Kamberg Nature Reserve and exiting between Draycott and The Nest on the Bergville Road. You can go around the back of the Woodstock Dam on Gravel but we elected to head straight up to Olivierhoekpass (1740m) passing the great Sterkfontein Dam and then left up to Golden Gate and so closing the circuit.

If you do go around the Woodstock Dam, you might meet this creature:

Strange Machine
Woodstock Dam Alien

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Door Latch

Mathubathuba

 

My landrover was fitted with a new driver’s door latch today.

Her Name is Mathubathuba, after the first son of the second wife of King Setswayo, who was also “bashed in” by a forceps birth.

We have explored four hundred thousand kilometers together, it was the least that I could do, her door was rattling poor girl. They say that this type of vehicle tends to be a little on the dodgy side, unreliable, things break and jokes about them flow freely. I fitted a door latch today, not a head gasket, crankshaft, alternator, axle spider, half-shaft or cigar lighter, nothing visceral. No it was a R40 part and I drove 50 kms there and back to get it. Such is the respect that reigns between us. I scratch her back and she gets me home.

She got me home from the Magalliesburg with a broken half-shaft. Not her fault poor lass, I must have changed gear badly. She brought me home from Lesotho with TWO broken half shafts. Only a disgustingly bad driver could do that even if we crossed a 16 km mountain pass that took three days and sixteen river crossings.
She drove home from The Roof Of Africa Race with no clutch at all. Border crossings and all! What a darling. Last month we made it back from The Lesotho Sky MTB Race with no steering hydraulics. Home. Not stuck in a ditch somewhere far from an expresso coffee. Land Rovers do that. (Although mine has her own expresso coffee on board).

A door latch was a little luxury that she deserved. So of course was the rebuilt (to race level 1 specifications) engine at 200,000 km, the new stainless steel, free flow racing exhaust, the rebuilt gearbox at 150,000 km and at 350,000 km, the new half-shafts all around, the new hand wound custom made alternator, the new steering box and all hydraulics at 250,000 and at 390,000, the new bonnet at 395,000, wheels at 300,000, the new pneumatic locking differentials on both axles, with twin air compressors, the twin Delco 105 amp hour batteries and the 80w solar panel and on board charger. New suspension bushes everywhere, twice, new shock- absorbers and springs and new wheel bearings and seals. Upgraded head lights, Cibie spot lights and a bull bar to match with a hydraulic winch and especially imported 150 psi auxiliary pump to drive it.
Who would not disburse such minor expenses on such a reliable lady of the road?
And they say that Land Rovers are unreliable. Poppycock! All you have to do is to spoil them a little and they will always return your love. My Mathubathuba loves me.

Basotho People at Work ~ The Story of the Book

There was no great plan or ‘skeleton’ of my book. In about the year 2004 I began to collect images and categorised them into various aspects of life in Lesotho; Transport, agriculture, industry etc.

These themes were all put together into a very rough mock-up.The software for this cost 12 quid in London. Being a trader at heart, my first thought was for sales material to help sell the project.

One miserable winter day in June 2009, having nothing better to do, I went to the book launch of “Then and Now”. This is an anthology of images taken before and after 1992 by South Africa’s top photographers. There I met the editor Riaan De Villiers, of Highveld Press. He edited that book and of course he knows all the contributing photographers. When I showed him my mock-up, he said that we must publish. We did, in November of that year. The skeleton may have appeared somewhere between these two events but it must still be locked in a cupboard.

We spent three months working on the layout of the book. A large amount of time and thought was spent on the format! The 2 dimensional proportions were discussed and thrashed around more that you would think is possible. Then the weight, the number of pages and therefore the number of images. After weeks of cross-thinking we were able to look at the selection of images. I think this was only in September and we had to be on the shelves in November! Riaan re-designed his office, juggled around his staff and installed special daylight balanced lighting so that we could re-grade all the “RAW” files of the images together and not farm out. He did most of it at night, un-disturbed by staff and the nuisance of light filtering in though special blinds had been installed for the project.

At last we could begin the final selection of images. We still had 200 (out of thousands) and needed to reduce the number to about 80. Pages, weight, rhythm, tedium attention span; I had no idea that these things were so important in a book of pictures. We took two weeks working with one of the top book designers in South Africa, Tim Sheasby, to put the book together and find it’s “handle”. Difficult to describe the feeling on that last day of October when the final Pdf file was set via FTP to Lawprint in Midrand. The excitement did not abate as Riaan and I visited the printer daily. We were to check each batch of “pulls”; the eight page – A1 sheets pulled from the giant off-set litho Leidenburg 12 station printing press. Each pull was carefully scrutinised by the master printer and checked in great detail. It appeared that Riaan grading of the images had been precise; only very slight adjustment of the “blacks” was required before the presses were set in motion for the main run.

A week later the first books were in our hands with that unmistakeable ‘fresh-off-the-press smell’.

Basotho People at Work was in the shops in November 2009, as planned.

Basotho People at Work
Basotho People at Work

A bunch of lonesome heroes.

 

 

Gaelle,David, Ben and Jo are in Malealea this week-end. Tomorrow all four ride out in a possie for a whole days ride up to a village in the mountains. They will eat and drink and talk with with the shepherd village and Chief Khotso. You can see Ntate’s Khotso’s Merino goats in my book. Sleep in a goatsherd hut with mice and little chickens running around inside that hut. Pigs snorting outside! When you get back to the lodge after another full day’s ride with the lovely smell and sweat of the ponies and their leathery tack and the aromas from the pastures, cattle and oxen which envelope you as you pass, you will not like the smell of the tourists!!!

A bunch of lonesome and very quarrelsome heros….

Hunter/Gatherer/Tourist

My sister has an Art Gallery ~ Shop in the Island of Jersey. She sells only genuine local and regional art and products. The shop is called  Rococo Art and Gifts.

In a recent interview with BBC Radio Jersey, my sister Chantal raised an interesting issue, which has actually been with we ‘aware touristico’s’ for a long time.  Why do tourists want to buy local products?

There is of course the obvious ” wish you were here” sentiment of the postcard. Then the more serious thought of “by what will I remember this ‘quite-expensive-never-to-be-repeated-chance-of-a-life-time’ event. So many complex ideas may pass through the mind of a time strapped tourist.

The answer that springs to settle the anguish of the travelling mind is usually: LOCAL STUFF.  ~ We are not really looking for exotic parrots with arabic and Andean languages on it’s CV to take home ‘en souvenir de’ our visit to Brighton. Not if we are honest.   A real swirly stick of  uneatable sticky stuff will do the trick. And I would suggest even more so framed rather than digested.

So where to from here? Well the “BUY LOCAL” is the way to go. Especially if the Jersey Cabbage stick, from my 2002 trip, sits nicely in my 12′ x 12′ studio alongside my ‘Malamu’ shepherds stick from my  1972 Lesotho adventure.

Many artists are finding their way out of the cities and unemployment and taking up the ‘career they should always have pursued’ and in so doing are making a suppliers market. Their ingenuity, creativity and volumes are literally making markets and creating a new potential “Souvenir” trade. As it were and as it used to be.

How many of us travel south to buy the Calissons of Aix en Provence or north for the Betises de Cambrai? Or West to Marina Grande for their pure cobalt designs on porcelain tiles and glorious flowing forms of hand-made glass. No. We are all too aware of our “Carbon Foot Print” although I still cannot find a souvenir shop with one for sale.

I think that the cost of petrol is passant in this issue. If you visit the sacred caves of the sangomas of Mautse Valley, who have been practising their cult and craft there since before the Israelites did the Nile Cruise, do you want to find plastic korean Dagga pipes in the souvenir shop? So, the enlightened everyone wants to take home a fragment of the real local energy that will remain with them forever. It’s part of our primitive “adventurer ~ no-one has been here before” ~ hunter-gatherer thing. Good for basic us.

Rene Paul Gosselin
Johannesburg
2012
Sand Painting ~ The Grinder
The Daily Grind Of Tourism

water moving me

I have just had 5 ~ 35mm negs printed by someone who is probably one of the worlds best hand print (silver nitrate) artisans; Dennis Da Silva. 45 years in the dark room. It has taken 3 years of experimentation and hestitation for me to have the courage to present some of my work to him. I suppose you could compare this to preparing a visit to the Delai Lama and your philosophy is still “unconcerned, but thinking about it”. Pending.
When I captured the images of water moving through Lions River in the Natal Midlands I had a sort of funny feeling. Electric, emotional and palpitations over-ridden by my energy to just make more and more images whilest the light was good. When the negatives came from the lab and looked at some of them on the soft-box – the same feelings came back.

But when the final prints ~ 16″x 20″ came out of Dennis’s dark room, I nearly fainted, so strong was the electricity. Hydro-electricity.

Water.

Water movement
Lions River

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Malutis on a Horse 4

The last two hours of the passage of this mountain range is downhill and end with the infamous ‘Slide-your-ass-pass’ – known to the Basotho as Lekhalo-la-Seli (The pass of Wisdom) and it is wise to heed this name. The decent is long and tiring and mistakes come easily, especially at the end of the day. The last part of the pass is steep and winding, every corner presents a new challenge for the horse and rider. But Oh the reward is great for those who make this effort; The Ribaneng River and its’ winding and well treed valley greet the weary traveller with promises of lush camp sites and sweet water. The horses smell the grass and water and hurry on to a large copse of giant white poplars, tightly planted to shield from the sun but carefully arranging themselves around a small clearing, prompted by the trek gods to make space for a dozen campers. Tea is required.

The days work is not done ‘though. It needs a 45 minute hike with all the camera gear on my back, (the horses are out to graze), to see the Ribaneng River flying over the escarpment in it four high steps down to the valley floor. The herders have blocked the path nearer to the falls, on this side of the river, but the views here from 300 meters are good. Too close to the cliffs and you cannot see the full extent of the fall. Even from here only one drop is visible. To get closer would require returning to camp and starting another hour long walk on the other side of the river or bashing madly about in the cheche bush and the sun is about to set.

We are camped ‘tlase’ again, the lowest since we last crossed water at Ha Joelle and the mosquitoes make an appearance.

The next morning is as dry as a bone and the valley is the same. The closer we get to crossing our path at the Makhaleng River, the more dust and dry grass we see. There has been a break in the rainy season and the herds will have to up to the mountain grazing soon. Our animals on the contrary are keen to go the other way. Smelling the oats at 20 kilometres, they pick up the pace. I want Phakané to shoot a few frames from the far side of the river but Matla does not want to wait. The stables are close and Matla shows off with a fast triple through the villages and up to the lodge. Just for fun we race back out of the main gate and down the road again, full of beans, then triple quickly back through the gates.

René Paul Gosselin – Fouriesburg January 2010

Basotho People at Work

About the Book ~ Basotho People at Work

Basotho People at Work Front Page the book
Basotho People at Work

 

FOR THE best part of a decade, businessman turned photographer René Paul Gosselin has been increasingly drawn to the remote mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

Gradually, he has learnt that, rather than chasing people and scenes, he should ‘wait quietly by the roadside’, and his subjects will eventually arrive by themselves.

This approach has resulted in a stunning set of photographs depicting the lives of a people who, while fundamentally at peace with themselves and their environment, are constantly at work: ploughing, reaping, threshing, winnowing, milling, weaving, and tending their livestock.

They include images of a gathering of hundreds of Basotho horsemen in the remote central highlands, held under the auspices of their paramount chief, to discuss grazing rights and other vital land use issues – the first ever taken of this spectacular annual event.