Tag Archives: Lesotho

Walking Across Lesotho II

The second part of our epic Trans-Lesotho Trek ~ 300kms across the entire Kingdom.

A group of Basotho children watching the passerby from the top of a hill in Lesotho
Children watching the walkers

The Second Leg.

Then day four; Our first great river crossing over the Makhaleng River (The place of the aloes), fortunately with a high level bridge supplied, a good pull up the other side to Ha Griffith (the 19c Acheif Magistrate) and over the first hills and dales towards the looming Maluti Mountains. The Ribaneng River Camp, reached with a healthy 6 hour hike was a pleasant shady glen well watered and good grazing for the horses. It was here that Mick was washed away downstream in a raging torrent on his last Trans-Lesotho Trek. Tonight we bathe in the river’s gurgling tranquility and tomorrow we attack the formidable “Slide Your Arse Pass”, difficult for both horses and humans.

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The going is tough the very beginning at 07.00 in the first cool hours of the day we begin the ascent from 1807m already breathing heavily after the first 100m to Ha Khotso, the little village at the foot of the pass. The path is a ‘bridal path’ and maintenance has been typically abandoned for too long. Climbing the 500m over rocks, loose gravel and giants steps is exhausting, then on reaching the top, there is another 5 kms to go with another 300m to climb! Near the crest of the first ascent a pack horse stumbles and looses it’s load. There is great concern amongst us until Konono helps the animal up and inspect him carefully; he is fit and well, just scared.

Our compensation for this climb; a magnificent view down across the Ribaneng Falls and back across the valleys with a line-of-sight to Malealea Lodge the we see of ‘home’ for the next two weeks. The horses find their heaven in grazing the special long sweet grasses of the highlands. The word ‘horse’ is an anagram for ‘heros’ and they show this throughout the trek.

That night, yet another beautiful camp site on the Ketanyane River at 2352m and it is getting colder.

Mojalefa has the tea ready and is already celebrating his son’s birthday. We join him for tea and warm up. Early nights from now on to escape the cold and the fatigue.

The fifth day dawns early, from this height we see the sun at 5 o’clock. At seven the walkers are on the path. The guides and horses have their daily routine of finishing the packing and catching up with us in an hour or so. We leave the very pretty village of Ha Pontšo to the south and climb again away from the sentinel geese and the waving hands of the villagers.

Only another 6 hours or so to the next little rest-over at Semonkong Lodge; The Place of Smoke.

The lodge (2195m) which snuggles at the foot of a ravine cut in the eons of time by the Maletsunyane River (The place of little deer), was established by men of the Fraser Trading period as a convenient fly-fishing cabin. It has become an internationally known place for adventure travel and especially for the highest commercial abseil in the world at 205m. The Maletsunyane Falls must surely be the most photographed feature in Lesotho and is a must-visit if you travel through this magnificient mountain kingdom. Access is so easy today by tarred road but we have walked our first 100km to get here!

Departure from Semonkong
Departure from Semonkong

The Third Long Leg.

Back on the trail after some pleasant respite, the team heads off on day 7 towards the next great barrier; the Senqunyane River Valley. We look up at the looming mountains but our first stop is just outside the town and sets the pattern for the next week; buying up the local spinach “morogo”. Then the usual series of ups and downs: Likorolo Ha Elia, a great steep climb to 2500m then down 100m and up 100m to Ha Tanielle and then the long slog down treacherous gravel and wet slippery rocky paths, 890m to the great river at 1648m. The rain, welcomed in the hot afternoon cooling our blistering feet but also our nerves and thirsts. This was our longest day so far; 25km covered in 8,5 hours.

Day 8 starts with a ‘pleasant’ 600m climb; we are now beginning to get a little fit, up the well marked vehicle track that our friends have tested last year; the locals remember the 4×4 vividly. We walk the ‘road’ easily in the pleasant company of another traveller, a shepherd who tells of all the latest news in the area. The guides and horses catch up with us soon and we check the route. All is well after our first 6,5km but we soon have to quit the easy going, off the path again and down what my previous guides have described “only for Basotho and not for beginners”.

Difficult Bridal Paths
Difficult Bridal Paths

From this first summit of 2200m we will slip and slide 547m down the hottest and most uncomfortable descent of the trek, to the Mansonyane River Valley and finally all jump into the chilled waters in this acadian landscape. It impossible to leave and we snatch a power sleep in the rare shade of the Cheche bushes (Leucosidia Sericea), and then swim again. Even the guides jump in the river this time. It’s very hot and we know what awaits; ~ the hardest climb of the adventure, the longest and the hottest. We leave under the afternoon sun from 1721m and begin the 7km pull up 600m to the 2250m Camp above the Methalaneng River. The slope is 67% in places. Another 25km covered.From our windy camp site the views are powerful to the west and south even before the setting sun throws a mantle of red and orange glows over the Maluti mountains. But the evening solar wind picks-up and hurries two of us into a large tent, made ready for the cooks. An intricate but not delicate dish emerges half and hour later and everyone leans against the blasts and gusts, no chance of a table.

It is the 9th day. Another range to cross (2568m) and another very steep run down into the next river. Each new valley opens up a new adventure and a new sense of excitement. We really are beginning to conquer these slopes and have time and energy to eat up the landscapes with our eyes. Here the Khutlo se Metsi River is crossed on booted foot, the rains have stayed away for more than the farmers would wish. This river is a tributary to the legendary Lesobeng River (The place of the eye) which we now begin to discover from well above the first of it’s magnificent gorges. We search in vain but see no eye; a natural sandstone bridge, well documented by the historian David Ambrose. Slowly around a never ending series of contoured curving paths, and in the soft sleepy heat of the afternoon, the town of Qobacha approaches. A sudden crash of noise from diesel engines, cars, machines and people dashes our walking state of mind into alertness. The change is hard to bear. We loose the guides and horses to shopping and find a quiet path away from the bustle; only a few more kilometres to the school and another camp site with a river but this one comes with a crowd. The school is just finishing and the children are over the moon to see these foreigners walking for fun! They sometimes walk miles just to get to school. The children stay as late as they can until mothers shout for homework to be done and water to be carried, from rondavels above our beckoning river. Any chance of a wash now? Well we can at least wash our socks and hope that the rain stays away and that the farmers don’t hear us hoping aloud. It rains only lightly on the washing so everyone is happy or rinsed and cooking can begin.

We are over half way at 172km from the start and now we will stretch our legs over some long days, but first a pleasant walk along the Lesobeng, still searching for the bridge and none of the locals can help. The path follows the river at a tolerable height for my vertigo. For some reason the old British bridle path stays on the other side going up and down careless of the hiker. We stay more on the level now than ever before and enjoy this most beautiful of river valleys. Until the guides and horses catch up that is. Then it’s over the river and up and up again to finish at an early camp site after only 16,9km ~ an easy day. Although we calculate that the other path could have been an hour quicker! But the guides are on horses so they must know and we gracefully accept and enjoy this extra-ordinary site called Khomo ea Raha (The cow that kicks) as the river makes a hard right turn at this spot, like a dog’s leg. The slow winding river takes the name of an ‘old man walking’ , Khokhoba in sesotho. The old man is cold here at 2484m, rain comes with fireworks after bed-time and we all marvel through our nylon walls at the repertoire of the sky. Big water barrels are being thrown about up there in the clouds and some of it is running under the tents.

And after such a theatrical night another beautiful day awaits on day 11, high altitude fresh air and water and a good breakfast. Our first climb to 3000m awaits. Over easy contoured hillocks and well marked paths we hesitate a little before leaving the “Old Man” and heading away south east up another picturesque little valley. This one has it’s own herd of Grey Rhebock which streak off up into the kranses as soon as they get our wind. The valley becomes a mountain again and the slope stiffens to 40% and then summits at a breath taking 3km above the sea. We almost feel we should have sight of the escarpment of Natal but that will escape us for days yet. For the moment we need to concentrate on our longest knee breaking descent; 17 kilometres and 1200 meters down to the Koma Koma bridge.

At last the great Senqu River, a milestone and landmark on this special hike. The Senqu (a khoi word of unknown origin) is known to most as the Orange River which takes it source high in the Drakensberg/Maluti Mountain near Mont au Sources. On leaving the borders of Lesotho it becomes known also as the !Xariep. We are camping next to this major river, still at 1788m and it has a long way to go to the Atlantic Ocean. A new bridge, built beautifully, in the last year now spans the river and replaces the old low level bridge. It is a token of new levels that will fill the river as far back as the Katse Dam on the Malibamatso River, far upstream, when a new dam is built across the Senqu. This will be the first on this river in Lesotho, but not the last. Respectfully and full of awe we cross the new bridge and begin, on day 12, the slow road climb up to the shops at Makunyapane, then leave the main road and find the track for Pitseng. Our third 25km day takes 7,5 hours and we are exhausted and cold at the 2515m high secondary school. Not too much time cooking and in bed by six thirty. The wind chill must take the temperature down below freezing, a far cry from the 37 degrees of day 2. Tomorrow will be the longest day. We have covered 242km.

Forboding; it is day 13. It is still cold at 07.00 departure and there is a five kilometres contour to follow around the valley before we even loose sight of the school. We climb 300m but it is still cool and the day looks good. Then a contoured path stretches out like a snake along a never ending range of mountains, we can count perhaps 10 or 12 peaks ahead of us. Over which one will be the valley of our camp site. This question burns in our mind all day. Walking above the 2700 contour, the path is moving from the north of the east-west range and then turning back onto the south side. The views of the Mashai River are difficult to behold without dizzy spells, I keep my eyes on the mountain-side and avoid looking down. Taking photographs is a head spinning challenge. We are two, sometimes three hundred meters above the river and if the slopes are vertical in places then the path chooses that spot to become slippery.

At Ha Solomon, one of the only two villages we pass today, the path drops down 300 again. We have a low level lunch in a goats pasture. And as though we had taken some quality from the beasts we climb the rocks again, perhaps a little more agile than yesterday. Soon the only souvenir of the valley is the drinking water, smokey from the generous gentle lady’s hut with a little after taste of plastic. But this is all the water we will find at nearly 3000m altitude . The day seems to go on longer than we could imagine and at every turn of a contour our hopes are raised by the perception of a ‘nek’ where there maybe a way down. Or perhaps it will be the next one. The air is cool but the sun is burning at this altitude. Everyone has ‘hotfoot’, a condition that encourages blisters and misery. Water is going to be a problem soon. At 24km we peak again at 2900m. At 27km we are again at 2956m and then the last nek appears and we at last seem to cross to the north of the range and the image of camp flashes in and out of our hopes. At 30km we go down and peak again at 2928m and then loose sight of the guides and horses in the mist. Not happy, Mick and I have lagged behind and the ladies seem to be well ahead not out of sight of the guides but we cannot see either. Horse spoor is all we have to go on and our gait is tired and unsure as we descend into muddy slopes and slippery paths. We have to go down 380 meters to find at last the ever smiling Ramphe, waiting for us. The ladies were well ahead and almost in the camp. Ten and a half hours and 34 kilometres, this is a killer day even for the under sixties in our group! We could not cook for lack of energy. The guides had the kettle going and tea was all we could handle. (The wine had run out some days ago.) Then an instant soup and the sleeping bags called. We all slept 10 hours, almost as many hours as the walk, and woke incredibly refreshed. The human body has always it’s surprises, we were ready for the next 16km hike and the 14th day.

Climbing another peak amongst the delicious grasses of the highlands
Climbing another peak

What we could now call a ‘good’ climb started the day. Within the first 7km we had risen from 2546m to 2940m and that was nearly the last big one, but there is always another and four more peaks were lined up for us on the 16 kms passage. To help us on our way, a group of herdsmen caught up with our troup and kept us company. They had walked all of our 34 kms yesterday but they had started 12 kilometres before our camp site, at the Makunyapane shops! The old man was on a well kitted donkey, his son on foot and they were driving a few dozen sheep and goats. That is why the Basotho think we are mad to walk for pleasure. They at lest were going to Sani Top in search of a wife!

Sekhokong Mountains
Sekhokong Mountains

This part of the track was the closest we were to come to the cliffs of Natal until we reached Sani Top. From the Majoe Matso to the Pitsaneng we were never more than two kilometers from the border. This is the most photogenic, breath taking part of the 300 kilometre walk and soon the escarpment itself would be unveiled for us. Dropping into the Pitsaneng River, we were greeted by more and more herdboys and some of the largest kraals we have ever seen, with rooms for hundreds of animals. The boys all kept their distances despite the appeal of our other worldly looking goods and food. They seemed to keep watch on our little camp all night aided by their faithful and motley band of hounds. One of these seemed to attract the attention of our Ramphe who was in the market for a canine companion. He casually walked over to the group of lads who were watching our show and the negotiations began, with great circumspection. Eventually a price was announced but it was too much for our friend; 600 Malutis, five times the price in the village. One more attempt was made later in the evening using some enviable garment as bait but it seems that the beautiful little black mongrel puppy was of too much value to his current owner. These dogs are indeed tough and marvellous creatures.

This last camp had us all full of thoughts and emotions. We had been together now for more than 18 days and walking together for 14, our last day ahead of us. We hang onto our sleeping bags, lagged behind with the ablutions and the folding of gear. Endless cups of tea were brewed as though all the thirst of the hundreds of kilometres came upon us in these last hours! It was our last camp! There was no rush to leave it either as the final stage is only 9,5 kilometres. But leave it we did and waved to all the cavorting young herdboys who still could neither understand our cause nor sell us a dog. And up again past the back of Hodgson’s Peaks and up to the top nek of the Sekhokong Mountain Range at 3100m. From there the view was the most exciting one can imagine, for we were above the Natal Escarpment and looking down onto the back of the Garden Castle and to the north we could clearly see the road works on the Kotisephola Pass (Black Mountain) and the fine new wide gravel road down to Sani Top. The end in sight! Well nearly, as there is always another mountain to cross. At a lower level a few more hills and a little mist took us within a few kilometres of Sani. At the 300 km mark some celebration was allowed, briefly though, for the morning was getting on and we knew that the pub was open and four Maluti Beers were waiting. The beers were at 2874m above mean sea level and that is where we were heading; after 302 kilometres, 94 hours of walking, 12000 meters of uphill and 11000 meters of downhill over 15 walking days.

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Walking across Lesotho

Being an account of the complete 300 km crossing of the country, on foot, from west to east of four hardy hikers and their guides.

The First Leg ~  Part 1.

And so the voyage commenced. The Border Post of Sephapo’s Gate at 10.00.
Four hikers, four guides and eight ponies all reached the border from Malealea Lodge at the same time and by different routes, the hikers by car and the guides on horseback. We would all return to the Lodge. It seemed like a futile aller-retour but the whole trip has to be done the right way; on foot from one side of Lesotho to the other. No cheating. Malealea is our first stage rest camp.
Photographs for the sponsors and for fun; the local Deputy Chief of the border police decides to join in the foray, I think he really just wanted a promotional tee-shirt from our sponsors Kameraz and Fujifilm. Good publicity because all the tourists will see him at the border.
The Navworld pony steps up to the camera to let us know that he is looking after the spare Garmin GPS 62. The other two are in our pockets ready to start tracking.

A one hour tedious trek along the hot dirt road from the border and we finally get across the N2 tarred Main Road South, into the Lesotho countryside and find the bridal paths that we will be following for 300 km.

Map Lesotho and Track
The Route Across Lesotho

The pecking order is established for the first day; our two ladies Ansa and Dawn get to know each other and fly off in the lead, chatting away merrily. Mick and I hold back and try to calm the rhythm which at over 5km/h is too fast. The guides soon become accustomed to our speed and synchronise their halts for rest and watering with ours. Ntate Ramphe, the chief guide knows the country well. He has done parts of this trip many times with hikers, usually from Malealea to Sani pass but never the whole route. Ntate Kanono, Michael Motlomelo and Jeff Mojalefa are all experienced guides and horsemen. They are all riding horses and guiding the four packhorses which carry the bulk of our baggage. We are “slack packing”.

Four guides and Four Horses at Malealea Lodge
Four Guides and their Horses

First Camp; Ha Moletsane is a village with primary and high schools and we camp in between the two. The camp site is on the foundations of the old trading post of Danny Bothma, a very well know personality in Lesotho. The local people talk about the Bothma family with endearment but all that remains of the commercial complex are the concrete bases, a grain silo and a few water dams. The long drop toilets which have been taken over by the adjacent local primary school are a good introduction to the local facilities; a new experience.

Day two takes us across the land of dongas. Some of these are 20 metres deep and getting around them extends our route. Ramphe has to take paths that the horses can handle.

The second camp site appears after six hours of marching, around the bend in a river, like an oasis in the desert. The river is still flowing despite a few weeks of drought, past a sweeping bend and sandy beach, perfect for the tents, under the swirling arms of a weeping willow (Salix Babalonica). We are on a small tributary to the Mantekoane River at Ha Moeaneng (The place of Wind). There is not a breeze in the air. Swimming and cooking and a little red wine is lost in eight thirsty companions.

Camp on the Manteqoane River
Camp on the Manteqoane River

The climb, on the third day, up to Ha Tsoete (The White Place) is a small training for the weeks to come. A hard climb for us but not for Mick who arrives at the summit without a bead on his forehead. Konono leads the group now, something we will see often; his cavalier silhouette on the skyline of our next ascent. From there on it is mostly downhill although it never really is in Lesotho. Today was another short day; only 16 km to Malealea lodge. Some treatment for our first blisters.

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The Terrace of Malealea Lodge

The peaceful, organised and well established accommodation at Malealea Lodge, Pony trekking and Mountain Bike Centre, this time felt especially precious. Everyone has sore feet, mainly due to the searing heat of the first three days. Cold water dips, long sleeps, afternoon beers, bandages and bravado about the first days, mixed with some apprehension about the next two weeks in the real mountains. The batteries are charged on the Fujifilm cameras, the Garmins and the hikers.

To be continued….

King Letsie Banquet ~ The whole Story

 

It took six months to get there but I did it.

However I did not expect to be invited to the State Banquet as a guest of His Majesty King Letsie III. Frankly I am not really the banquet type and these formal functions scare and bore me at the same time. This event was different because the people are friendly and two lovely people dragged me in by my ears.

 

In March 2012 some insect must have crawled into my ear and told me to get my book “Basotho People at Work” into the hands of King Letsie. Moreover I knew that there was to be a banquet in November for all of the more important diplomats from Southern Africa. In fact there were to be over 100 ambassadors, high-commissioners and senior VIP’s from as many countries. So it appeared to me, that vision of my book, in the hands of each of them as well as in those of the Basotho High Society.

The path to success was interesting and involved meeting extraordinary people; Mrs. Michele Thoren Bond, the Ambassador to the U.S.A., the most charming, friendly and relaxed ambassador that I have ever met, helped me find the right people to talk to and was so charmingly appreciative of my work. This was despite my dirty boot marks all over her pure white wool carpets. (It was snow and slushy mud time in Maseru!)

Michele’s interest in this project led to Dr. Mathase Nyaphisi, ex Ambassador to many EU countries and for a long time based in Berlin. Ntate Mathase called me several times from Europe and made many long distant calls to assist me in this endeavour.

Eventually after this long haul, I was in touch with another super lady Mrs Itumeleng Rafutho-Labuschagne, Director of the Europe & Americas section of the Ministry of Foreign Affaires and International Relations for the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Thanks to all of the calls and suggestions from all of my friends, I was able to deliver 100 books, personally to the DG on the 23rd of October.

There again the surprises continued; dressed in my safari gear, delivery boy style, I arrived at the government complex in my old landy ‘Mathubathuba’, loaded with the books. Thinking along the lines of “drop off the books and get a receipt and then bugger off quickly” ~ I arrived in the office of ‘Mme Rafutho-Labuschagne. I was charmed and was received like a VIP, despite my lack of protocol and negligent sartorial effort. Even more-so by a colleague from the Protocol Department; Mr. Japan O. Mntambo, Counsellor, Directorate of Protocol. ‘Ntate Japan was enormously helpful with my back-country approach to “society-and meeting-important-people”. Above all Ntate Japan, linguist, expert in Arabic, and fluent in many european languages gave me insights into Sesotho protocol that I could not have found elsewhere.

So when the DG returned and asked if we could take the books upstairs I thought that we going to the store room.

Ntate Japan was making me repeat the phrase~”Mohlompehi Letona Lehabane” and I did so all the while climbing the staircase to the next floor. Entering the large room at the end of the corridor I was greeted not only by the unusual sight of a Cabinet Minister holding the door for me but also by the DG and a T.V. Crew and press photographer. “Mohlompehi Letona Lehabane” I repeated automatically thanks to my Arab speaking friend. “Ke thabile o tseba”… Honorable Minister I am glad to make your acquaintance. Thank the gods for the protocol man.

The T.V. and press thing had been put together in the few minutes that Ntate Japan and I had been whiling away chatting about protocol and having tea. The Minister, Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa was waiting for me and we sat after the formalities and chatted about the Maluti Moutains and equestrian adventures for a good half an hour. From his leather armchair and in his very smart suit he looked at me in my togs and said diplomatically and with no doubt a little humour that he could see that I would have no problem to dress in ‘Black Tie’ so “would I mind if they invited me to the State Banquet?”

Well that was all a very great surprise. Although my sponsor were very jealous as no-one had expected this very formal meeting and handing over of the book ceremony, they were nonetheless envious. I did not care as I had made three new sincere friends.

One month later the real thing is happening. My pictures are on show at the Maseru Sun and they are sitting on the efficient little low-level easels designed by David Randel and laser cut and painted just in time for it all.

The programs are printed and the audience is arriving by the limousine load on the great day.

As this was an ‘evening affair’ and even though my rôle was to be Expo curator to a certain extent, I was sure to be confined to the foyer and not invited to the banquet. Long past were my expectations. After all a month was more than enough time for busy diplomats to forget their promises.

Well that was without counting on my good friends.

Cavalry to the rescue
Cavalry to the rescue

Camille Perdereau, Consul Honoraire and Directrice of the Alliance Francaise of Maseru and Petri Salo, Ambassador of Finland in Pretoria were at my side at the exhibition of my photographs. They were not having this ‘not invited thing’ and went to investigate like two member of the Famous Five. Returning only a few minutes later to embarrass me for my doubting Thomas attitude; ~ “Your name is on the list”!

So as three musketeers, arm in arm we braved the protocolary reception and eventually found our tables for the evening, unfortunately all at separate places.

“No. 23 Ntate Gosselin” said the pretty young Mosotho in the foyer. I was now without my support team and heading into the unknown. I followed the tuxedo suited usher through the maze of tables and found my place. My friends were no-where to be seen and I was un-nerved. I stood behind a chair, fuming that I should let myself into this at all. I could be in the fresh air talking to everyone about my work and not being a rag-doll here. Then the Ex-Prime Minister of Lesotho ‘Ntate Pakalitha Mosisili arrived a sat down at ‘my’ table with several friends and their wives and things began to look less miserable. Professor Teboho Kitleli, Secretary General to the Red Cross and his spouse a long standin W.H.O. Cadre sat on my left and the Director of UNICEF of my right. It was going to be an interesting evening. No one knew who I was or why I was there!

Well I spare you the detail of the delayed arrival of ‘important people’ and the tediously long speeches. Nor shall I mention the half hour prayer in Sesotho which had most foreign guests a little bewildered.

The evening began as the formalities stopped and the senior ambassadors climbed onto the stage to dance with the choir and show their solidarity with the adorable singers. The wine arrived at the table, the delicate euro-centric dishes were delectable and mercifully small. In no-time at all the singing and dancing and eating and meriment moments were over and His Majesty and entourage were making for the door, no doubt as keen as every-one of us to find the evening air. It was 12 O’clock.

All that was left was to plod along the pavement outside the venue and say one’s adieux to the rare visitors to Lesotho and the even rarer real friends amongst the departing crowd, standing there waiting for their shiny Limousines to whisk them away to who knows where.

Fortunately there are always two friends waiting in the cocktail lounge with ready night-cap of Jamesons.

René Paul Gosselin. 28th November 2012

King Letsie State Banquet

 

Once a year, His Royal Highness King Letsie II arranges a substantial state dinner. One hundred ambassadors from all around the world are invited to the Kingdom of Lesotho and enjoy the Royal Hospitality and the kindness of the Basotho. Hopefully they will retain a positive attitude towards this small nation and advice their peers to go and have a look at the investment possibilities. My little book, Basotho People at Work will be popped in to the gift pack arranged for each of the dignitaries  and I hope it will help to give them that extra little ‘feeling’ for Lesotho. Just in case it needs something more visual, I had Amichai Thabor, the well known image processor and amazing print specialist, print 10 ~ 400×600 images from the book.The prints are all on 290 gsm Entrada cotton rag from Mohave Paper in the USA.  Forest Frames made some beautiful 800×600 broad white and deep set frames  with all archival double  mount board and we have sent the lot to Maseru. So on the 23rd of November, remember, remember, the royalty and ambassadorial entourages will alight and enter the foyer of the Maseru Sun and encounter 10 large brilliant images of Basotho People at Work. A small but stunning pop-up exhibition of images of Basotho and their daily activities. I want them all to make the tears of emotion that I did when I met these subjects and land-scapes. The exhibition will run from the 22nd to the 24th only. Maseru Sun and Cabanas, Maseru, Kingdom of Lesotho.

http://www.suninternational.com/destinations/casinos/maserusun/Pages/default.aspx

 

 

 

Maseru vew from above
Maseru developing

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

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

Malutis on a Horse 1

 

The ‘Luti’ is a person from up. The Basotho are the people from down. Hence the Maluti Mountains are full of ‘Baluti’, Mountain People – I would rightly or wrongly presume. These are the kind of discussions that you have time for when riding up (Holimo) from down (Tlase). And when there is such a substantial difference between down there and up here I can understand why the concept is so important.

Climbing away from the great Makhaleng River, forded at Ha Joelle near the confluence of the Ribaneng River, the great towering pyramid of Lekhatje, appears as though directly imported from Egypt. We have already crossed twenty brown lines on my 1:50.000 ordinance survey map. That is five hundred meters by the time we reach Ha Monaheng, the little village perched on the edge of this strangely shaped mountain. This is the gateway to the Thaba Putsoa range, a vast chunk of the highland mass of this very mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho. We are ‘holimo’ and there is more to come. Lesotho has the highest ‘low point’ in the world and the highest peak in Southern Africa; Thabana Ntlenyana at 3481m.  (to be continued……)

Lesotho, Loved from Afar

The essential store of knowledge of the Basotho culture is not only held with the confines of the Kingdom of Lesotho itself.

Since the early days of the 19th century, people from all walks of life and from all parts of the world have visited the country that was first inhabited by the San, before the arrival of the Baroa, the Nguni, the Griqua, the Kora and Barolong, the Asians and the Europeans. Many became attached to the country and those who moved on took with them memories at least.

Sekonyela, the son of Mantatisi, a Tlokoa group from the region, campaigned throughout Southern Africa with his heteroclite horde and changed the lives of the Nations he conquered, all the way up to the Zambesi.

The Amahlubi of Chief Mpangazithi, the Amangwane of Chief Matuoane and the Ndebele of Mazilikazi were neighbours or visitors at one stage or another; some came and some left but none were left indifferent. Except more expedient Boer commandos perhaps; Commandant Louw Wepener, for one, was an aspiring visitor to Thaba Bosiu, hoping to unseat King Moshoeshoe. He was left not only indifferent but quite dead when he attempted to walk up to the Kings’ front door, with impunity.

The culture of the region permeated the travellers and moved on with most of them. Today, Southern Sotho is spoken in lands far distant from Lesotho, because of these adventurers and others.

The first French Missionaries came upon Lesotho almost by accident. They were originally heading for stations further north to bring the gospel and peace to the Batswana who were under the oppression of Mizilikazis’ Ndebele warriors. The appeal of King Moshoeshoe in the year 1833 changed their lives and those of many others, forever. The exchange of culture between the new visitors to Lesotho made differences on both sides of the divide. The missionaries bought modern ideas to the newly forming nation of the Basotho. Then regular reports from the stations at Morija and later at Thaba Bosiu, told the world the news of the Great King Moshoeshoe and his peaceful but invincible people. These reports, the ‘Journal des Missions Evangeliques’ today form a most important resource for historical research and they are housed at the Parisian missionary headquarters and in other private collections.

The British began their visits full of hope and promise, but for them, this was not to be a ‘land of hope and glory’. Early relationships with the Basotho were cordial and exchanges were warm and generally fruitful.

King Moshoeshoe was recognised by the British authorities in place in the Cape of Good Hope, as the legitimate ruler of his territories in 1834. More visitors, some successful, other less so and less respectable came to Lesotho to collect their share of Basotho culture; Governor Napier, Sir Peregrine Maitland and Sir Harry Smith, were early visitors, in body or in mind, to the region and full of promises. Sir George Grey and Lt. Gen. Sir George Cathcart lost their battles but left more enlightened and probably feeling indebted to their Basotho adversary. Then from one emissary to the next for 98 years the British came and went. And so did the lands of King Moshoeshoe, at the whim of one Governor or the other. The consular and ambassadorial letter books are tangible evidence of the birth of the nation and its’ early history. The memories of Lesotho must be most plentiful but certainly the most painful in the Albion.

Some eighty percent of today’s tourists are from overseas and many of them carry home evidence of their return. The eager never cease to lecture to their peers on the beauty and culture of the country. Young people travel to Lesotho to help with development programmes, in aid agencies and n.g.o.s’. They return home with pieces of Lesotho and memories of the Basotho. Dozens of web sites, hosted in many countries show off these experiences and tell the world how to get there and what to do. Thousand of snap- shots are displayed by almost every visitor who cannot wait to share their collection of Basotho happenings.

Great stores of knowledge and empathy have been built up in great repositories of the world; The Library of Congress, The Library of the University of North West, the libraries of other great universities, history museums in London, Paris, New York and Geneva and in private collections around the world. Lesotho is loved and studied from all angles and from all distances, near and afar.