How green was my valley

How green was my valley
You don’t need a vehicle to explore the back roads of Lesotho. In March this
year the 29 members of the Nua Quad Bike Club tackled the southeastern part
of the mountain kingdom. Frans Grotius tells more.
ustoms officials
somehow have the
knack of spoiling an
outing, or at least
seem to try hard to
do so. Even on a Sunday.
The official at the Maseru
Bridge border post between
Lesotho and South Africa was
no exception. Here’s what he
focused on on our way out of
Lesotho: One person in our
convoy of 11 vehicles and
trailers had borrowed a trailer to
transport his quad, and brought
along the necessary letter of
authorisation from the owner.
In the letter the owner had
given permission for the trailer
to leave South Africa, but had
not mentioned when it should
be back. According to the official
this was enough reason not to
allow the trailer across the
border. The only way we could
get the trailer back into South
Africa, was to offer him a
“gift” of R200.
When we’d hooked up this
and the other trailers in Brakpan
the previous Wednesday, before
heading towards two guest
farms just outside Ladybrand for
the start of our “Roof of Africa”
adventure, we had no idea that
money under the counter would
also work in Lesotho.
After seven hours’ drive from
Brakpan, our group (all between
the ages of 8 and 65) arrived on
the farms, quickly unpacked and
began exploring the region on
our quads. For two full days we
covered every nook and cranny
of the mountainous terrain, complete with massive rocks and
ravines; we even paid a visit to a
lion farm in the district.
Sure, such explorations were
fun, but we knew all along that
the true test would await us on
the other side of the border. >
Hey, where’s the road?
Luckily for us, everything went
without a hitch when we arrived
at the Maseru Bridge border
post early that Friday morning.
Within an hour we – along with
vehicles, trailers, quads and
all – had crossed the border
and were on our way to the
Roma Trading Post, about
30 km further.
The reason was that Elmo
Eksteen, our guide, had given us
the necessary documents to fill
in beforehand (and perhaps also
because the pernickety
official was not on duty that day).
A short distance beyond the
border members of our group
missed a turn-off and totally
lost their way. A lot of time was
wasted in the process but finally
the group was reunited and
could travel on together.
At the Roma Trading Post,
which is the start of the route,
we off-loaded the quads and left
the vehicles and trailers behind.
(There are more than enough
guards to ensure that none of
your valuables go missing.)
Our luggage was loaded
onto a bakkie and taken to
our base for the weekend, the
Ramabanta Trading Post Lodge.
At last we were able kick-start
the Bear Trackers, Raptors and
Grizzlys and speed off!
The 65 km through the
valleys and rivers of the Maluti
mountains to Ramabanta gave
us and the quads a taste of
what was to come. The scenic
beauty was awesome: One
moment you’d be zigzagging
up a pass to arrive at the top
– from where you are able to
see into the distant future, or
so it seemed – yet the very next
moment you’d have to make
your way down yet another
winding pass again.
Usually it takes about four
to five hours to complete the
65 km between Roma and
Ramabanta, but ours was
not a normal day. Apart from
the members who got lost, one
of the two-wheel motorbikes
broke down.
For a while Fred Sprenzel
managed to tow him with his
Yamaha Grizzly 660-4x4. All
went well until the bike caused
Fred’s Grizzly to keel over.
Needless to say, Fred and
Gabrielle du Toit (his eight-yearold passenger) got intimately
acquainted with the Lesotho
soil. Fred was left with a grazed
cheekbone and Gabrielle with
a big blue bruise on the hip.
Despite the accident both of
them persevered to the end of
the trip.
Due to these delays we had
to travel the last 10 km in the
dark and arrived at the lodge
long after sunset.
This was where I learnt how
vital it is to have a guide who
knows his stuff and the territory. At one point I remarked
to Elmo: “Fortunately you have
GPS, otherwise we probably
wouldn’t have found the place
as easily.” To my amazement
it turned out that he actually
doesn’t own one.
GPS or not, we all arrived
safely at the lodge, thoroughly
tired and hungry. After a delicious supper and a hot bath
we began to feel ready for the
challenges of the next day.
previous page (clockwise
from above). On their way
through the Makhaleng River
near Ramabanta. At their
guest house at Ramabanta,
and the riders can’t wait
to start the trip. One of the
highest single waterfalls
in Southern Africa, the
Maletsunyane Falls near
Semonkong. Main picture:
Taking a well-deserved break
nearly 3 000 m above sea
level and 20 km from the
Maletsunyane Falls.
never mind, it’s only a
little dust (right). One of
the many passes the group
tackled on their way to the
Maletsunyane Falls.
iN the heart of the
mountain kingdom
(below). On their way to the
infamous Jockstrap Pass
north of Ramabanta – a route
best avoided by people with
DAY 2 Smoking allowed
Those who have visited the
Grand Canyon in America will
know how such natural formations can simply take one’s
breath away. The Maletsunyane
Waterfall (also called “The Place
of Smoke”) is equally splendid,
but on a much smaller scale.
This waterfall, one of the
highest single waterfalls in
Southern Africa, was where
we were heading to after a
large breakfast at the lodge.
The 120 km route to and
from the waterfall consists of a
good dirt road, but has lots of
very sharp bends where it’s wise
not to drive too fast. Prepare
to travel for about two to three
hours before reaching the waterfall to the east of Ramabanta.
Elmo had suggested that we
take along warm jackets and
balaclavas, which had seemed
unnecessary because the
weather was so warm, yet the
higher we climbed, the colder it
became – eventually we reached
3 100 m above sea level.
Once at the waterfall we
could barely believe the spectacle before us. Apart from the
water plunging a full 192 m,
one somehow has the sense of
seeing forever. This was literally
and figuratively the high point of
our tour.
We took some welcome
refreshments right on top of
the mountain before tackling
the return journey. Back at the
lodge we concluded the day
around a huge campfire with
plenty of singing and chatting.
DAY 3 For the last time
We’d left the best (but most
difficult part) for last, I realised
that Sunday when we once
again ascended the mountains
to a height of 3 000 m above
sea level. And from that point
above the clouds we started
the slow journey down the
Jockstrap Pass.
This notorious pass is about
20 minutes’ drive north of Ramabanta. The plan was to drive over
the pass to Roma, where we’d
left our vehicles and trailers.
Perhaps “mountain pass” is
not the right word. It was more
of a footpath created by the
local inhabitants and their pack
animals over many years – ideal
for quads, precisely because it
is so narrow.
Jockstrap turned out to be
an unforgettable experience. But
remember, vertigo is not a good
travel companion. Make sure
you get rid of it before tackling
the pass.
Much later we stopped
at one of the distant hamlets
between here and nowhere. It’s
so far from the nearest school
that the children have to start
walking at 5 am in the morning,
only to get home again at 6 pm
in the evening.
Here we handed the kids
some pencils, pens and
books because the chief had
specifically requested that we
don’t give them sweets but
rather something that they could
use for schoolwork.
After a quick lunch at the
side of the road we continued
along the last 60 km to Roma
where we loaded the quads
back onto the trailers. By 3 pm
we were through the border
post (after having duly paid the
“gift” of R200, of course) and by
9 pm we were all home safely.
I want to go too!
How many kilometres did
you cover on the quads in
Lesotho? About 250 km
What were the highlights?
The natural beauty and how
very unspoilt it is – something
which no photograph can
adequately portray; the freedom; the challenging route;
and witnessing an 11-yearold girl handling the same
challenges as the grown-ups.
How difficult was the terrain you covered? The
first and last days were
tough and definitely required
a little experience.
Advice to readers who’d
like to attempt something
• Be prepared to handle a
route that demands that
you leave your vertigo at
home – it’s not for the
faint-hearted. It’s like an
endurance ride with a
panoramic difference.
• Take warm clothes.
• Rest for a day or two
before attempting the
route It took us about five
hours’ non-stop driving
from Brakpan, and if one
were to tackle the tour
immediately afterwards, it
could become too taxing.
• Remember to take a copy
of your vehicle registration
documents – also for your
trailer and quad – other wise your tour could well
end right there at the
border post.
Special parts? Take tyre
repair kit, a towing rope and
perhaps a winch or two.
Contact? Elmo Eksteen
082 940 6050