Khotso

I love walking, but I am not that keen on carrying a backpack – especially up a mountain.

My lovely friend Christeen Grant convinced me that I simply had to join her for an adventure in the Drakensberg Wilderness this summer.  Oh my! It was Wonderland and definitely worth the trek.

We had our passports stamped early at the border post. There were Basotho folk ahead of us – heaven knows what time they left their villages to be all the way down the mountain already at 8am! Then we sploshed across a few rivers to remind us that we were venturing into the water factories of South Africa.  Water simply oozed from the hillsides.

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There were more flowers than I could ever imagine in one place, almost every one with an attendant insect.

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One often hears phrase ‘a carpet of flowers’ – it must have been invented here.

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Apparently, there are over 2000 plants here with hundreds of species endemic to the area. Especially at the higher altitudes, there were many flowers I had never even heard about, let alone seen. I find the alpine vegetation fascinating.

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The reptiles were equally spectacular.

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Just as our phones predicted, it began raining about 1o’clock, so we donned our water proof gear and trudged on through the fairyland of flowers towards Tarn Cave.

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The sun came out to greet us there!

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In celebration I wrote this poem.

High Tea

I carried my cup to a cave with a tarn on top

Drip

Positioned it on a rock to capture the feral falling drops

Plop

Soon it overflows with wild, mineral drenched mountain water

Spark

The camp stove adds star bubbles and welcome warmth

Sip

I drink in the silence-soaked views as the liquid seeps into my limbs

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When the sun came out we explored the surrounds. What a joy to be with someone who also spends most of the time bent double or crouched beside a tiny bloom!

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We savoured our supper of pre-cooked Lesotho wheat (which Christeen had carried home from a previous trip) and pesto from my garden. It is astonishing how comfortable cave dwelling can be.  During the night we listened to some thunderous storms from the snug safety of our rock rooms.

The next day we set out to explore Sehlabathebe which adjoins uKhahlamba and forms the Maloti Drakensberg Transfronteir Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sehlabathebe means The Shield of the Plateau.  The silence is exceptional.

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This is natural beauty unlike anything else – with incredible rock formations in the basalt and sandstone – caves, arches, buttresses and rock pools.

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Sehlabathebe hosts 23 percent of the plant species in the whole of Maluti Drakensberg area. Wow! Easy to believe. How adorable is this little yellow Schizochilus bulbinella?

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The Rock Garden was a delight, with treasures around every corner. Orchids in every imaginable shape and colour.

I particularly loved the tarns – shallow pools filled with water.

a IMG_2822My friend Bridget Ringdahl had mentioned a plant that looked like ‘popcorn’ floating on the water, so I was thrilled to find Aponogetum ranuculiflorus which only occurs in this area. Thin copper stems attach the flowers to the bottom of the pool.

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There was dainty Limosella inflata and Lindernia conferta (pic below) in the tarns as well – absolutely fascinating.

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As I rounded a rocky corner – a real treat awaited.  A Motibo.  This beautifully constructed rock shelter was used in the past by shepherds when they brought their flock to graze on the higher ground during summer. No grazing allowed now.

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Before we were drenched by an afternoon storm again, we headed back to Tarn Cave. Watching the mist roll up the valley, it was easy to understand why people believed in dragons in times past.

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In the morning, I followed Christeen up the mountain, drawn by the clank of cow bells.

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As we crested Bushmans Nek Pass a grinning shepherd bounded down the hillside to welcome us to Lesotho. He manfully ate the raw, gluten free, sugar free, dairy free, palm oil free Superbar we shared, and we had a little conversation – tossing random Sotho, Zulu and English words around in the mist.

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We walked down to Thamathu village where we were staying in the homestead of Ntate Tello and M’e Masehleko Ramaqoma. That’s our room with the washing in front of it.  The corrugated iron loo under the trees.

t IMG_3159 - CopyWhat a wonderful place – with the friendliest people.

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Nthabiseng Lerotholi (who also runs a homestay even though she walks two hours to school each morning and two hours home!) showed us around the village.

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I particularly loved the architecture. Stone houses, beautifully crafted from local materials, are perfect for the area – resilient, warm and weather proof.

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There were gardens everywhere – filled with pumpkins, maize and beans. As well as fields on the hillside where wheat is planted in winter.

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Of course, I loved the dogs, but only one came for a cuddle. The rest very diligently doing their jobs as guards.

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All the men wore gumboots and blankets. They are proud, stand tall, speak directly, smile lots and clearly are happy with their lives.

t IMG_3178We ate maroho (wild greens) with papa (phutu) for supper after admiring and tasting all the weeds on our village tour – sepaile, seruoe, qhila and leputsi.

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The animals all looked in great condition. While the rains had arrived late this year, Thamathu village gets more moisture than other parts of Lesotho, so is much sought after for its green pastures.

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In the morning the children milked the cow for our breakfast tea, gently shooing the calf from its mother until they had finished.

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This was served with steamed bread made from their own ground wheat and very yellow eggs collected in the yard. Slow Food heaven.

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We headed off across the hills past goats, sheep, donkeys, cows and shepherds back to South Africa.

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The landscape changed dramatically as we began to descend and as soon as we were beyond the reach of sheep and goats, the flowers were spectacular again.

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We lunched beside a stream on remnants of our breakfast eggs, served on crackers with foraged sepaile.

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While Christeen pointed out our astonishing route up the mountains from the Thamathu Ridge, a Beaded Vulture swooped low, circled and then glided along the cliffs with us watching in awe.

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This is how the world was before we made a mess of everything.

This area is a treasure that cannot be underestimated. Pristine Wilderness is defined as untouched by modern man, where humans are only visitors – areas with an intrinsic wild appearance and character.  It was not difficult to imagine that San people roamed in this area not long ago.

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I am astonished that I managed to make it all the way up there and back.  Thank you especially to Carlos Gonzales for suggesting that two hiking poles were essential equipment. They make SUCH a difference and I don’t think I would have managed without them.

If you possibly can – do go – the pictures simply cannot capture the experience.  There are more images in these albums: Drakensberg and Lesotho. Naturally, I believe you should engage Southern Secrets to take you there.

Peace.

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28 Comments Add yours

  1. naturebackin says:

    Nikki I am revisiting this post. I read it quickly when it first came out and my intention was to come back and comment and say how much I liked it and how inspiring it is. Sorry it has taken so long! I so enjoyed revisiting it and must plan to visit the mountains when I can.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Carol – it is a treat to be reminded that I wrote this by your comment! Yes, we should all be visiting the mountains a lot more often.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Miss Billie says:

    These photos are so beautiful! What a wonderful adventure 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. nikodemis says:

    Soooooo beautiful my mouth waters with each word u put to paper and my eyes fill with fabulous eye candy as your pics are just beyond magnificent. Thank u!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why thank you! High praise from someone who loves the earth as much as you do.

      Like

  4. Mrs. C. J. King says:

    Dear Nikki, I loved this! I envied you the trip! Love from, Chris >

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    1. Thank you Chris – this certainly was a special one. X

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  5. Barry Downard says:

    Beauty.

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  6. Tinks Fowler says:

    Ah Nikki…thanks so much for sharing this adventure. Is it an actual trail that one books?
    Looked just beautiful!

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    1. Hello Tinks – it really is beautiful. It is the cross cultural tour of http://www.southernsecrets.co.za So you just set it up with them. easy peasy. Or you could try and find your own way and accommodation, some people do I am sure. But then you miss all the amazing information and insights.

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  7. Christeen says:

    Dear friend, it was an adventure of time out of time, immersing ourselves in the magic of mountain wilderness and the incredibly welcoming and friendly people of Lesotho! Our journey was spinkled with light, love and colour.

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    1. A time out of time…. love that! Thanks so much for the encouragement to venture out my dear Christeen.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. freetheemind says:

    Love your photos, especially the tin cup under water. Not sure why it moves me so much.

    I was surprised a chicken can be magnified to look so magistic. I just wish I understood what is behind the chicken, looks like a puzzle.

    Lovely to see Christeen,

    Thank you for relaying your experience, enjoyed reading about the residents along the route. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s Chicken Kong of the Kingdom in the Sky! Glad you enjoyed the read. How about you come along on our next adventure?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. freetheemind says:

        It is on our cards to do a cave hike with Christeen! X

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Christeen says:

          Maybe we should all go to Whyte’s Cave Maps and Nikki!?

          Liked by 2 people

      2. freetheemind says:

        Christeen, I will discuss with K and the ladies then let you know.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Alison says:

    Wow! What a life-changing experience this must have been for both of you ~ definitely ‘a road less travelled’. Thank you for taking us with you. Wonderful text, Nikki, and truly stunning photographs.

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    1. Thank you Alison. Everyone needs to do this, they really do. New perspectives and all that.

      Like

  10. juliebraby says:

    I just looove d your article….your writing is brilliant and your photos superb…. Julie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Julie, thank you. Mentioned you and your man a lot on our wanderings as we were knee deep in orchids! PS I am thinking about driving in next time….

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  11. Nikki B – you are a special human being and I count myself very lucky to have done a “walk” with you! This is again an amazing account of your walk with Christeen. The way you write and describe, and photograph makes one want to get out and walk!! Utterly beautiful ….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Go go go! Phil, you would just love this and you are strong and fit so it would be a doddle. It’s essential for humans to experience the Wilderness.

      Like

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