We are back from three days of pony trekking through Lesotho! Here are a few things we learned along the way.
1. It is not easy to get to Lesotho. There is only one route from where we were staying, up and over the Sani Pass via a 4x4-only road, which climbs 2,000 meters through a series of hairpin turns to an altitude of 2,874 meters.
Halfway up the pass, you need to stop at South African customs. The Lesotho border patrol is 8 km further, at the top of the pass. The only nearby alternate route is a pedestrian-only hiking trail.
2. There are three rules in pony trekking: (a) no giving money to children, (b) no playing with dogs because you might get rabies, and (c) no pictures without asking permission first. Even if you don’t give money to any children, they will still follow you around and shout at you whenever you ride by.
3. Otherwise, there are no rules in pony trekking. Does your horse want to gallop up the mountain into the lead even though you have no idea where you’re going? That’s definitely OK – someone will shout if you take a wrong turn. Do you need a helmet? Definitely not. If your horse doesn’t feel like following the guide up or down the safest route and instead chooses a more precarious (ie: closer to the precipice) scenic route, that’s fine too.
4. Consider bringing your own saddle. Otherwise, you will be using a “saddle” that will most certainly lead to bruises. You do not, however, need to bring your own crop because the guides will give you a long tree branch instead.
5. If you are a man, the guides will be surprised you know how to ride. The assumption is that your wife, who knows how to ride, has dragged you pony trekking.
6. Lesotho (pronounced le-soo-too) is known as the kingdom in the sky. There are mountains absolutely everywhere. We were intrigued to learn that Lesotho boasts the highest lowest point in the world.
7. “Traditional accommodation” means rustic… extremely rustic. We stayed in rural villages with local families, who also provided us with meals. We slept with piles of blankets on the floor of thatched rondavels. None of the villages had electricity or running water and instead of bathrooms each family had a basic outhouse.
8. All distances are measured in mountains. We originally thought our guide was joking when we asked him how far to the next stop and his response was “about three mountains.”
9. Hire a guide. We would never have made it to our destination without our intrepid guide, Ettwell.
10. You should not go outside in the middle of the night – there may or may not be some type of Lesotho zombie roaming during that time. At least that’s what our guide was afraid of.
11. Do not go pony trekking if you are afraid of heights. As the ponies ascend and descend mountains, they are on the edge of some extremely precipitous drops.
12. Basotho ponies are incredibly sure-footed, so you really shouldn’t be afraid of the heights. They easily climb or gallop up rocks that we would have found difficult to traverse on foot and we never saw them slip.
13. Lesotho is very cold (watch out Cynthia!) Steph wore as many layers as possible and it even snowed on our last night.
14. If this all sounds too strenuous, it is not at all. You’ll be rewarded with an amazing experience – we thoroughly enjoyed our time with “Thaba” (meaning “mountain” in Basotho) and “Blackjack” (meaning a highly addictive gambling game). The villages we travelled to aren’t reachable except on foot or horseback and our routes every day were filled with new and incredible vistas. At the end of the trip, there’s the bonus of having a drink in exchange for your efforts at the highest pub in Africa!
PS: Lee Wang, we’ve been researching the Chinese influence in Africa per your request. In Lesotho, they have been contracted to build and maintain all the roads and seem to have cornered the market in neighborhood bodegas.