The little kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho

March 31, 2008 - Knysna, South Africa

Heading South again
Leaving Mozambique we managed to cover a fair amount of ground in a short period of time. We left Tofo early in the morning; in fact I would call 3a.m. in the middle of the night, and then spent 16 slow hot and uncomfortable hours on minibuses. The first leg took us back to Maputo where we quickly found our connecting bus that was to take us to Manzini, Swaziland. The only little problem however was that we were the first passengers to sign up at the bus stop and the driver needed 23 other people to get onboard before he would even consider getting into his seat. We spent three stinking hot hours  pacing the busy sidewalk up and down dodging offers to buy everything from soft drinks, to kitchenware to leather shoes and DVDs while the bus  excruciatingly slowly filled up person by person. At 3pm we left Maputo with not a square centimetre of free space left.

A quick and hassle free border crossing into Swazi really made it obvious that we were leaving chaotic Moz for a more organised and structured place. As we drove up the mountains that make up the Eastern part of the little kingdom of Swaziland the air got cooler and fresher and opening the window provided comfort and refreshment rather than hair-drier-hot polluted air making everything black. Only a few hours later we had reached Manzini right in the middle of the country. Our final destination, Ezulwini Valley only a few kms from Manzini, but as it was getting dark we wanted to get on the minibus without any delay. Unfortunately neither the driver nor the conductor ended up knowing where the backpackers we were planning to stay at was located resulting in us passing our turnoff. Despite them having a tight schedule, they dropped off all other passengers at their respective destination along the main road and then turned the van around and drove around on smaller roads asking people for directions until we eventually found the hostel, which ended up being quite a way from where we thought it would be. We paid a few extra rands and thanked them. They could easily just have dropped us off on the main road, but really took their time to help us out. It’s little things like that, people who go out of their way to help you for no benefit of their own, which makes this whole travelling business such a pleasure!

At 7pm having covered a good 600kms we had our shower, downed a smoothie and ice cream for dinner at the hostel and were fast asleep by 9pm. clean sheets, a fan, cool air and a shower never felt so good. Legends backpackers was just a place to stay for one night and in the morning, well-rested and full from a tasty breakfast, we were back on the road again. The end goal was the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swazi’s oldest reserve, and a great place for hiking as there is plenty of wildlife but none of the big cats, hyenas or elephants. We arrived at Sodwela camp, a beautiful hostel located inside the reserve overlooking the valleys and little creeks below. This is where our tent was given its inauguration on African soil. After getting the tent up (without arguing) we had a quick lunch and went out on our first unguided walking safari. We saw impalas, wildebeests, zebras, nyalas, warthogs and a bunch of monkeys. It was great being so close to the animals without the sound of an engine, and it makes you feel so much more part of the nature around you.  It also made it possible to see all the little things that you wouldn’t notice from the car window, like the dung beetle rolling balls of crap up a hill, and the pretty little wild flowers and the colourful mating grasshoppers. We had a great afternoon. Back at Sodwela we cooked our own dinner and went to tent early again.

Waking up to the sun warming up the tent and a bloody annoying bird singing all morning we were up by 7am, had breakfast and headed out on our next little walking adventure. The first part of our trek we were accompanied by Dutch couple, but only a few hours in it was just Mike, me and whatever animals and bugs we could see and hear around us. While we did see a fair amount of wildlife again, this time it was more about the breathtaking landscapes around us. Over 6 hours we hiked up to the top of Nyonyane Mountain, 1250 metres high, and then back again. From the top we had spectacular 360 degree views of the hills and valleys around us. It was a great feeling having found our own way up the little trails and being to be able to sit at the top for a while seeing no one else but a few baboons messing around on the slopes below us, and hearing nothing but the wind around us.

Back in SA
We left Swazi the following morning when the rains had reached us and headed back into Durban, South Africa. We had heard nothing but bad things about Durban before arriving there. As most other large South African cities the crime is soaring, there is virtually no public transport and the city centre is completely deserted after 5pm when businesses close and the informal not-so-legitimate businesses open up for the night shift. We were therefore let off just outside our backpackers, where we stayed for 2 nights to get our selves organised for the next leg of the trip into Lesotho and the Drakensberg where we were planning to head to next to avoid the hordes of South Africans hitting the coast for Easter weekend.



Underberg and Lesotho
We took the “Underberg Express” minibus from Durban inland towards Underberg, on the foot of the Drakensberg Range. As we ascended into the beautiful green mountains, the not-so-beautiful rains started to set in. But soon we arrived to a welcome crackling fire at Khotso Backpackers. In front of the fire, we spotted some lamb (unfortunately for Mike uncooked) sitting next to the fire. This little guy had been abandoned by its mother and had been left out in the cold. Johanna helped to try to nurse the guy back to help.

We spent one night at Khotso Backpackers before setting off on our three day horse ride into and around the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. We were soon introduced to our horses – mine with Tovolax, who was just like me – a bit of a pig and lazy sometimes. Johanna’s horse was Pixie, who was just like her – strong minded, and didn’t want anyone else to take the lead. Our fearless leader and guide Steve gave simple instructions “No matter how much it hurts to stay on, it hurts more to fall off – so don’t”. With that in mind, we jumped on our horses and crossed the border into the Kingdom in the Sky – Lesotho.

Soon after crossing the border we were guiding our horses across babbling creeks and through rolling green hills. Without a sign of civilisation in sight, the scenery was stunning. It was just the mountains, the horses and us. Soon enough, we were trotting and running with the horses. I was amazed that I could feel so invigorated and in pain at the same time as my bum and balls took the full brunt of the saddle. We rode a total of 23km on the first day, and ascended from 1500m to 2700m above sea level, before arriving at Sehlabathebe village. The village in the hills was pretty basic with free-roaming cattle, Basotho people wearing their traditional blankets and kids waving to us on our arrival. Steve cooked up a storm, including some traditional Basotho bread, and some local kids came in to sing to us before we settled in to take refuge from the cold night air.

The second day of riding took us through the cave country – an area dominated by beautiful caves and rock formations. Steve led us to a cave with ancient sani paintings – not unlike the aboriginal paintings back in Oz. As we observed them, a group of 10-15 shepher boys began to emerge from every nook and cranny, and began to surround us. They were seemingly fascinated by what we were doing in their neck of the woods. We moved on before stopping for a quick lunch, where Johanna took a quick, and extremely refreshing dip in the river.

We continued on, past donkeys, sheep and shepherd boys. Amongst the many rivers we crossed, one was particularly hairy. So much so that one of our co-riders, Pangea, ended up going for a short swim with her horse. On one hand, it was quite funny. On the other hand, I still had to cross and had the camera strapped to my belt. As Tovolax entered, he veered into shallower water and also into the trees. I ripped through the branches – quite paintful, and I felt quite silly, but at least I was dry. Johanna also had a hairy moment later that day when her horse Pixie went for a long run, but she managed to hold on tight.

The third day, we left the lodge for the 27km ride back to South Africa. The mountains were covered with mist, and that’s exactly where we were heading – it was going to be a wet day ahead. As we rode through the Valley of the Wild Horses and to a beautiful waterfall, the rain got heavier. Soon, neither the sure-footed horses nor the riders were having much fun. As we led our horses through the rocky terrain, the banter and the singing stopped, and we just trudged forward through the mud.

But after a long, wet day, we were relieved to arrive back at the South African border. We unsaddled our horses and got back into the back of a truck, and pulled down the tarpaulin. But under the muddy tarp, amongst the saddles, and with stream riding from our wet bodies, you could have imagined we were refugees being smuggled into another country. By that evening, we were happy to arrive back to Khotso Backpackers for one of the best hot showers we have ever had.

After a more civilised morning the next day, we set off to the Splashy Fen Festival near Underberg. Splashy Fen was described at South Africa’s version of Woodstock. But rather than peace and love, we soon discovered this festival was more about booze and mud. We spent the rest of the evening checking out some of the bands, warming ourselves by the bonfire and being entertained by all the drunk teenagers falling over in the mud.

After having an amazing time in stunning Lesotho and lovely Underberg, we decided it was now time to get another dose of sun, and made plans to head back to the South African coastline.



As always, our slideshow for Swaziland and Lesotho is on this blogsite – check it out!


Underberg South Africa
Johanna had a little lamb...
A common method of transport...
Reflections in Mike's eyes


March 31, 2008
Very nice, reading all of this.. Nice picture too.. This way, I can at least try to image how you two enjoy yourselfs...
Good luck,

Remi (the tall dutch guy)
March 31, 2008
well i see it was not always fun.... just be carofolo macolo. It will be nice for you to have a break in civilization in Capetown. pictures are great as usual.we all miss you both a lot.
March 31, 2008
I think the flower is lantana . we have it in oz too
April 1, 2008
Hi mike, hi joe,
I just can say: you live the dream! Fantastic to read your reports and to see the fotos. Whenyou have crossed Africa stop over in Frankfurt, Germany. It is al ong time that Mike and I have eaten Frankfurter in Frankfurt.
All the best to you . Enjoy!
April 1, 2008
Mike, I think the trip to Lesotho was good training for you. The weather in Lesotho seems to be like a swedish summer. P...
wonderful pictures!
April 1, 2008
Jo, now we regret that we didn´t take you to the
love again

April 3, 2008
hi mike and joe. greetings from khotso
glad you enjoyed it. tovolux and pixi is ok/ will read more about your traveals. enjoy
April 5, 2008
Mike, Jo,

Just found a quiet saturday afternoon in London to sit down and take a good read through your awesome adventure so far. You both really bring the experiences to life with fun and honest writing styles.

All is good in my world at the moment, i'm running the London Marathon next sunday, just finished my last training run and all set for the big day. I'm running for Alzheimer's Research so if you feel like sponsoring me you can at - I'm pretty sure you'll be the first from the African content. Am also working like a bitch on the PR for the Britsh Olympic team, spending the whole of August working at the Games in Beijing so v excited about that...might be going on to Hong Kong and Borneo for a holiday afterwards. Got some decisions to make about 2009, so much more of the world i'd like to see while i'm still young and free, but loving the job too.

Look forward to the next installment.



p.s. Loved the pic of the 'happy hippo's'!!!!
April 9, 2008
Hej! Again, it is fantastic to see your pictures and read about your adventures. I knew just about nothing about Lesotho before - now I know it is absolutely beautiful, where you've been at least. I also noted (picture from the top of the mountain) that there are quite some muscles on your legs ... you look very fit Johanna. I wonder, however, how you felt after the horse back riding. I bet you both were quite sore (and maybe not only in the legs from what I could read). Unless of course this is something you've been doing all the time in Sydney. (sorry but I some have difficulties picturing you as urban cowboys...maybe I am totally wrong). Must admit I like the 'hairy moments' expression. Heard this for the first time last week, speaking to a colleague from Manchester so I assume this something I'll expect to be hearing again and much more often. It certainly signals to me that the 'things are getting pear shaped' expression has passed expiry date , since long ago. (som ur en pilsnerfilm!) Apologies Mike but now I will switch to Swedish - leave it to Johanna to translate if she wish. Kära Johanna, det är verkligen så otroligt kul att få se bilder på dig och läsa det du skriver. Jag är oerhört imponerad (dock inte förvånad) av dina berättelser och hur väl du uttrycker dig. (det gör givetvis Mike också men han äger ju språket från början). Det ska bli så roligt att träffa dig igen när ni väl kommit hem till Sverige. Det tycker vi alla. Ville bara säga det. Kram från din 'falska' moster
Rosa Peronace:
April 13, 2008
Hi Jo and Mike,

We were at Sonia and Frank's place and I got your website address from your Mum. Looks like your having fun and a very exciting adventure. Missed you, Jo, at the 'washing up'!!!!!

My mum and sisters say hi too!

Hope you continue to enjoy yourselves very much. Have fun and take good care!!!!

Ciao for now
Rosa P.
April 14, 2008
Hey Mike & Jo,

Really enjoyed reading about your adventures - keep the updates coming, you really should write that book you talked about!

Take care and Stay happy like the hippo......

Anneli Karlsson:
April 15, 2008
Wow! You seem to be having a great time! Very happy for you. Not much new is new here, although Sydney is not the same without you! I've booked a trip to Sweden for Christmas and New Years so will see you then! Take care of each other. Miss you both lots!

Anneli xx
October 1, 2008
Wow, what an awesome trip. I came across your blog while searching for info on Lesotho. Now looking forward to a good long read. Enjoy your trip!
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