Pony trekking guides & horses hired from the local Basotho people
A Pony Trekking Association was formed in Malealea Village and a committee was elected. Malealea Lodge buys equipment like saddles, bridles and saddle blankets for the association. Initially, the horse owners used their own saddles until stocks built up over the years. Malealea Lodge hands the bookings to the association every week and they organize the horses and guides for the treks. Horse owners have realized the importance of strong and healthy horses. One day a German tour operator wanted to have a look at the horses used for the trekking. We asked a Basotho Guide to bring his best horse. Well when we went to have a look at it, to us it was the scruffiest, untidiest looking horse. On questioning the guide, he informed us that "Sister" was their best and strongest horse for getting up the mountain passes. We have since had reports from clients that "Sister" is indeed the best horse they have ridden.
Guides are learning to communicate and speak broken English with their visitors. One particular bright young guide often asks the clients the meanings of words he does not understand and immediately tries to use the words in further conversations. One couple were so pleased with their trek, they took their guide to the Lesotho Sun for lunch. This was an experience of a lifetime for someone who had previously only been herding cattle & sheep. There are a quite a few young & older guides who have managed to build their own houses from income received for guiding and hiring out their horses. Horses arrive from all directions and eventually, almost on time, the treks set off - clients, packhorses and guides disappear into the distant mountains. "Amongst this confusion of horses there seems to be some sort of organized chaos," mused a client.
Within the first half hour of the pony trek, nerves are tested by going down the gorge to the Makhaleng River. One way of doing it, it is said, is to "Close your eyes, hold tightly onto your horse and pretend not to hear the rocks rolling down the mountainside." But you needn’t be worried, the guides are excellent in the way they coax the horses and nervous clients down the gorge and across river.
En route to remote villages you come across magnificent scenery and are often lucky enough to come across various activities, like boys preparing for initiation school, Bali Girls and a Sangoma throwing her bones.
It is etiquette for the guides to introduce the visitors the chiefs of the various villages and to inform them of their destination. As the areas are really remote, the children are curious to see the visitors. It is as if the circus has come to town!!!
Local traditions are explained to visitors as they pass by villages. When passing a certain place, (generally between two hills) where there is a heap of small stones piled together, one should pick up another stone alongside the path, spit on it and throw it on the heap. This is an omen of good luck and good eating along the journey and at the destination. Common mountains of Sefikeng and Sefikaneng derived their names from such big heaps made there in olden times.
Basotho huts hired from the villages
Basotho huts are rented from the villagers in really remote areas of Lesotho. Half the accommodation fee is paid to the owner of the hut and the balance is kept in a fund for buying equipment for old and new huts opening as the trekking gets busier. The huts at this stage are equipped with mattresses on the floor, gas cookers, very basic pots & pans and a bucket of water.
Arriving at the hut in the late afternoon, in time to see the herd boys returning with the cattle & sheep, which are kept in the kraal nearby the huts where you stay. Firewood is scarce on the high mountain ranges, so fire is made from scrub and dried out cow-dung. The meals are prepared in large three-legged black pots.
The children often sing for visitors in the evenings and are rewarded. This is still spontaneous and just seems to happen without any rehearsals. Come morning, the sounds of the cocks crowing, donkeys braying, cows mooing and pigs grunting gently wakes you up. No chance of a late morning sleep, but the spectacular sunrise is more than enough compensation for this sacrifice.
There are many stories of delightful experiences in the villages. There is the story of the hen sitting on her eggs in the windowsill of a hut. Another group later reported that the chicks and hen still occupied the windowsill. Another group told with great relish of the chief who offered them homemade beer from a large black drum. Suddenly the donkey came along and also had a drink of beer from the same drum!!!
Basotho children encouraged to take clients on hikes
There are many places of interest at the various villages and for a small fee, visitors will be guided by the local villagers to these sights. Back at base camp, Basotho children are encouraged to take clients on short hikes to Gorges, Bushman Paintings Etc, so gaining experience to be future overnight trekking guides. Staying at the different villages affords an extra income for the villagers and we have feedback that they enjoy hosting the visitors.
Basotho people grow and cook their own food for resale to visitors
Different coloured plastic bags attached to a pole outside the huts indicate various products for sale. Catering for tourism is developing as the Basotho people have the opportunity of growing and cooking their own food for resale to visitors.
Ad hoc experiences in remote areas
For guests not wanting to pony trek, there are various other forms of encouraging local tourism by making use of local transport:
A particularly pleasant experience is the friendliness and helpfulness of the Basotho people. There is the story of the family whose car broke down in a remote area. A Basotho man took them into their village and then gave them a lift to Maseru in his "Clapped out Bakkie". He was most informative about daily happenings and culture in the villages and turned out to be a talented tour guide. This was actually the highlight of the family’s stay in Lesotho. From Maseru they then hired a local taxi back to the lodge late that night and again found the taxi owner to be a natural tour operator.
The Keg Group tells of their delightful and unexpected pleasure when doing a pub-crawl in the village shebeens. The Basotho Shebeens were so welcoming and honoured that our guests were visiting them, they wanted to kill a sheep there and then and great cultural interaction took place. The bar was then named "The Keg & Pere", which is the Sesotho name for Horse.
I was once photographing a herd boy with his sheep & goats. I jokingly said to him, "Please make your goats move to another area." With that he took out his "Basotho Leseba" (kind of a flute), whistled and played a tune. The goats were directed to where we wanted them to go.
While I was on the original 6-day recce trip with two friends and a Basotho Guide, Tseliso, we must have set off in one of the highest rainfall seasons in Lesotho. On the third day, while riding in three hours of solid rain to our next hut destination, we all decided we had had enough and asked Tseliso if we could get back a day earlier. He shook his head and said there was no way and the horses plodded along. I then said to Tseliso " How about if we pay you for a 6 day trek, but we get home in 5 days!!!" Well from that moment the horses just took off and we got home a day earlier. On the trek Chief Puli sent us a tray of tea in his best enamel teapot and mugs, decorated with flowers. His village is called "Sekoting sa lifarike" (which means, "The trough which the pigs dug," as this valley is surrounded by a magnificent ring of mountains,)
Linking conferences with cultural tourism
Why do organizations arrange conferences in foreign environments?
The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho may be rough and tough, but it is at the same time as gentle as a spring flower, soft as the summer grass covering the undulating hills, refreshing as a sparkling mountain stream in autumn and awesome and austere as a winter landscape. Whatever your choice of climate may be, Lesotho can provide. Of particular value is the quiet nearness of nature offering the overworked and over stressed tranquillity nowhere else to be equalled. This makes Lesotho the ideal venue for conferences, because it forces people to leave behind their day-to-day routines so restricting for creative and innovative thinking. People caught in ruts are so busy fighting for their daily survival in competitive environments that they can’t afford to risk replacing old ideas with new ones for fear of failure. Trekking in Lesotho restores those long forgotten feelings of daring and adventure.
What makes Lesotho so different?
Well take those same life weary people and throw them into the cultural environments and experiences of a Lesotho Trek and they cannot but open their eyes and minds to the people around them, who behave differently, have different needs, priorities and goals in completely different circumstances. Yet the observer is surprised to find that the challenges are the same: survival, profit, competition and quality of life.
The discovery of this awareness inadvertently opens the eyes and suddenly, standing the clear crisp dawn you find that you are beginning to think differently. While you marvel at the quaintness of the people around you, you find that you are actually learning from them. Of course, facing the adventures of a trek is excellent for team building. All in all, there will be times when a pony trek in Lesotho, may force you to close your eyes and there will be times when it will open your eyes. Either way you return to your own environment with a greater energy and a new outlook on life.
The responsibility the guides have on treks
An extract of a trek report, October 1991
Rough, tough and very, very different is this "Roof of Africa" trek into the Lesotho mountains. It must be hiking as it was many years ago - no detailed trail maps, no laid out trails with markers. no log cabins with toilet and braai facilities. Instead your guide (on pony) obtains the frequent help of the villagers as to the best way up the mountainsides, or across the many river crossings, and then negotiates, on your behalf, with the local chief for a suitable hut for that particular overnight stay!!! Plenty of drinking water is supplied, and even cleaning the mud off your hiking boots is included in the princely sum of R15.00 per person!!!! Rough, tough and very, very different is this "Roof of Africa" trek into the Lesotho mountains. It must be hiking as it was many years ago - no detailed trail maps, no laid out trails with markers. no log cabins with toilet and braai facilities. Instead your guide (on pony) obtains the frequent help of the villagers as to the best way up the mountainsides, or across the many river crossings, and then negotiates, on your behalf, with the local chief for a suitable hut for that particular overnight stay!!! Plenty of drinking water is supplied, and even cleaning the mud off your hiking boots is included in the princely sum of R15.00 per person !!!!
There is no need to cater down to the last dehydrated pea, as the other Basotho Bay that accompanied the group is our packhorse. It carries huge leather panniers into which are packed your food supplies, clothing and all other "MEDICINAL" requirements for the trek. The packhorse amazes all by the remarkable feats it performs in defying the laws of gravity on the many treacherous ascents and descents.
The "Glamour" of the trek lies in the innumerable mountain peaks, valleys, waterfalls, streams and rivers that are relatively unspoilt by mankind and mot least of all the very friendly locals. Lesotho is truly a country of water which is evident everywhere. We were unfortunate to be there during the highest rainfall recorded in the past 100 years !!! The last two days were a race to beat the fast rising rivers. Our crossing of the Makhaleng River could only be achieved by boat. Not so lucky for the horses who had to swim across the raging river. After a hard swim they arrived on the other side apparently no worse for wear as they began grazing almost immediately!!! We safely made our way to the comfort of the Malealea Lodge, which was our base, and left our rural guide in wonderment as to why these crazy hikers pushed on through the pouring rain, rather than rest up in a mountain hut and take another week or two to complete the trek when the weather cleared!!! At the end of it all the question is - Is it worth it? The answer is a very definite YES!!! The long treks are not recommended for the faint-hearted - but then the trail can be tailored for your individual requirements.