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Basutoland was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho after it was granted independence from the UK in 1966. It is a pretty small country of only 30,355 sq km and there is no natural surface water in the form of lakes or rivers which also makes life more challenging for the population. The entire country is pretty high at an average of three thousand feet and the highest point is Thabana Ntlenyana at 3,482 m.
The population is mainly Basotho (97%) and the total population was estimated to be 1,930,493 in 2012 so it is not heavily populated and most people are scattered in smaller settlements and even Maseru isn't a huge city population wise at 220,000. Think what is so sad is when you look at the average age and that is as low as 23 which is quite shocking. I have taken the following statistics from the CIA website:
"0-14 years: 33.4% (male 323,142/ female 320,752)
15-64 years: 61.3% (male 577,239/ female 605,887)
65 years and over: 5.4% (male 51,568/ female 51,905)
in 2012 estimated"
Lesotho is a land-locked country completely surrounded by South Africa. We entered through the Van Rooyen's Gate and drove to our home for the night in Malealea Lodge mostly on tarred rounds but the last 7 km were a pretty rough ride on mud roads with large holes and a lot of water damage but we made it after a 5 hour drive from Colesberg in South Africa. There are five main border posts between Lesotho and South Africa and we came in through Van Royen's and left through Maputsoe and both were no hassle at all for us but we didn't try taking anything in that was not allowed.
As we entered the country we did have to go through border control and using our trusty satnav with extra maps updated for Southern Africa we set off for our lodge. The sat nav said turn to the right and my husband said 'I'm not going down that road' and so we headed out of town,. About twenty minutes later we began to feel that we were heading in the wrong direction and asked a group of school girls for some directions. They slapped their thighs and roared with laughter and told us to go back to the previous town and follow the road from there this was exactly where we should have turned before.
Our boys were quite distressed as they girls asked us for some biscuits and we had nothing and the boys showed them that we only had rubbish in the car with apple cores in a paper bag. They grabbed this and ate our apple cores which really upset the boys, I just wish we had had something better to give them.
My husband lived here around thirty years ago for around five years and was teaching in a local school and that is why we stayed in Lesotho on our trip to South Africa. We stayed at a mountain lodge called Malealea and I have written a review about that too.
After we spent the night in our eco friendly Basotho huts we set off for St Monica's where my husband had lived. We found his old house and the school and while we were there the students came out and started to talk to my husband about the teachers and nuns who had been there in his day. They were so friendly and really excited to meet my husband as he had lived there in years gone by.
When my husband worked in Lesotho they had tree planting days encouraging the planting of trees which had been cut down for firewood as it gets really cold there in winter. This time we were impressed as in the twenty years the trees had grown and the country looked far less bare he said. I thought it was a beautiful country with mountains and lots of open space and lots of trees now.
Maseru is the capital city and nearest the border on the north and we drove through the city to have a little look and then went to a Nandos for lunch before leaving the country through the northern border and then we went on to Kruger National Park.
I am so pleased we didn't stay in Maseru as really there was nothing much there to attract a tourist and the charm of this country is in its mountains and countryside. If you do fancy a look at this little land locked country then stay in the countryside at one of the beautiful lodges like Malealea Lodge sin the mountains and make sure you have a four wheel drive car as the roads are awful.
Although there is a huge problem with poverty and it does get very cold in winter so to be poor and cold is hard. Lesotho regularly gets snow in the winter so the Christmas song we know 'There won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time' may be accurate as Christmas is their summer but many people do not realize that Africa is a huge continent and in fact some countries do get snow in their winter.
Lesotho is heavily dependent for jobs on the surrounding South Africa as Lesotho has few natural resources. Poverty is deep and widespread and according to the UN describing 40% of the population are classified as "ultra-poor". The small amount of food cultivation has been hit by the many deaths of farmers from Aids.
Lesotho sadly has one of the world's highest rates of HIV-Aids infection and the former Prime Minister Mosisili encouraged a bug push for the population to get tested and indeed he was tested in public in 2004 to help the push.
If you are interested in seeing a different African country while visiting South Africa then I would suggest a trip into Lesotho where you will find very friendly people and if you are in to scenery, mountains, hiking and horse riding then I really recommend a trip into Lesotho and to stay at Malealea Mountain Lodge.
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Getting in from the south, it's a short car trip (a couple of hours including border posts crossing) into the mountains. The ride, although a little rough (always better than walking) offers an exquisite scenery as you get closer into Lesotho. From South Africa, transportation can be organized quite easily by agencies offering this type of service. Horseback riding is the thing to do there - there are several opportunities to organize a few days' excursions - most are organized from South Africa in Johannesburg or Durban for example. Definitely plan ahead since they are quite popular. Once in Lesotho, there are lots of "on the spot" opportunities to spend some time with the locals who are very friendly and eager to show you around. It seems to be fairly harsh living in these highlands since not grows there (let us not dwell on the poor economic shape of the country as a whole) because of the altitude and the permanent brush of cold winds. Here and there some horses and goats graze. Sipping a beer at the local inn (in the village by the border) offers a fine place to relax, enjoy the view and feel utterly retranched from the rest of the world...