Most December holiday goers would be found in one of the many popular attractions along South Africa’s’ beautiful coastline and why not, what a gorgeous coastline it is. However on the 27th of December I found myself slap-bang in the middle of the country – in another country. Myself and three friends were keen on the possibility of mountain streams, waterfalls and true culture for our December break (And I’m not referring to beer and boerewors culture here) and we found it in one of the most unlikely places. We spent 5 days at Malealea lodge, trekking to thundering waterfalls, laughing in the large powerful rivers, discussing this thing called life with international guests, eating like kings and fueling up with the remote and infectious spirit that is the Basotho Kingdom. Don’t be fooled, this place has a magic you can’t conjure up anywhere else.
The large gouges of land missing from the emerald carpeted earth seem to have been scooped up and eaten by greedy giants stomping the jagged plains. The timeless landscape and dominating mountain ranges almost surpass the big open sky above. Figures ploughing their livelihood glow in the afternoon sun, which blesses not only its people and livestock but the crazy land it shines upon. Here is a land which hasn’t been scarred by large multiple air-conditioned malls and sky rise office buildings. A true homeland. They call it Lesotho.
With the idea of having a culturally rich experience in Lesotho, we found only one option. It seemed all roads lead to Malealea lodge. Malealea holds tons of unique experiences along with gorgeous, untouched scenery and a special charm. Nestled in-between the majestic Maluti mountain range and surrounded by quaint villages, lies this community friendly gem in the heart of Basotho land.
Michael Deutschmann, the manager of the lodge greeted us on our arrival with a number of ideas on how we could spend our time in and around Malealea. “There are no waiting lists here, so if you wake up at midday and decide you would like to go on an overnight pony trek, just let us know and we’ll set everything up for you on the spot.” Michael allows guests to feel right at home from the word go and allows minimal stress when it comes to itineraries – a crucial part of getting away from all the planning which can so easily plague a holiday breakaway.
Michael suggested some of the many things we could do during our holiday and led our group of four into exploring the quiet surroundings. We were introduced to David, a short man dressed in the common Basotho blanket and darkened chinos who resides in the nearby village. Armed with a mischievous grin and some interesting facts of his land, he was set to be our guide for the famous pony trek offered by Malealea. The ponies and horses used all belonged to locals from the nearby villages and the money paid towards the trip goes directly to them, as long as their animals are in good condition.
David took us out over the rolling hills of Lesotho, past far away villages blasting their music from only the chief knows where and over the hairiest mountain passes you’ve seen since Lord of the Rings. “If you want to buy land here, you must speak to the chief and if he likes you, he’ll give you land to build your home” David remarks whilst passing many man-made huts in the most arbitrary locations on the never-ending landscapes. I wondered how this concept would work in places such as Camps Bay or Sandton back home. The chiefs of those lands are sure to not be as accommodating.
We galloped towards our lodge after a long day on horseback, crossing rivers and streams littered with lazy trees hanging their branches in the passing water as if drinking their share. The school children were waving at us with their bright, smiling faces and running alongside our now tired ponies, which were sensing the proximity of home. This school is yet another initiative installed by Malealea and maintains the literary needs of many children attending each year. David wastes no time in taking us to the guest book after we de-saddled ourselves to rate his service. One of the many ways Malealea monitors the quality of their tours. “Sala hantle, David”, we said in our best Lesotho accent and made our way to the lounging area where the smell of meat and hot fire was resonating through the crisp pre-evening air.
The choir starts their chorus at 6pm every night. Bongo drums, guitars made out of Castrol Oil cans and melodic voices fill the otherwise deafening quiet surroundings of the heartland. We set up close to the fire and begin having drinks and discussions with fellow guests. Two of which were Mark and Jenny, a travelling English couple with a palpable jovial energy. After sharing some niceties with Mark, the reason for their holiday came to the front.“I’ve been planning this trip since I was 20 years old, mapping out routes in my dormitory room at University. Here I am 18 years later with my wife and 10-year-old daughter living that dream”, Mark told us as the fire glinted in his excited eyes. “I quit my job, booked the tickets to Cape Town and here we are, 2 weeks into our 8 month scheduled trip around Southern Africa”.
What a blessing it was to see a dream being realized. It stirs a reviving hope inside yourself and to see the effect of it on another, in the flesh and blood – people with a weight off their relaxed shoulders, a sparkle in their eyes and a lust for life renewed – what a great energy this was to be around.
The warm night carried on with delicious fire-cooked meat fit for a Chief and the local Basotho cuisine of warm pap and beans. This followed by some acoustic sessions and small-talk lit up by the dancing flames of a warm fire. Just as the night was coming to a close, the electricity shuts down, as it does at 10pm every night, and another show begins upstairs – the stars came out in their millions. With the star-studded sky above and the open plains of dark, sleeping Lesotho encompassing you, the realization of being somewhere truly special seeps over you and the worries of everyday life drift away along with the grey smoke into the black night sky above.
For more information on bookings: http://www.malealea.co.ls/