While Avital and Eliav went with the lodge children to recruit village kids for the Sunday matinee showing of The Lorax, I engaged in the traditional Basotho activity of working with the lady at the kiosk to carefully cut a sim card so it would fit the micro-sim slot on my phone – such is a typical afternoon in the village of Malealea.Malealea Lodge started as an isolated trading outpost for the surrounding villages run by a South African family with a vision in the 80’s. When the owner’s kids started to bring friends home from school on the weekends they saw an opportunity and setup some rudimentary accommodations for a backpackers lodge, convinced tour groups they met while travelling in Ethiopia to stop by and the rest is history. Today, much more accessible with only the last 8km over an unpaved rocky pass, it is run by the original founder’s daughter, her husband and their three young children. The setting is picturesque surrounded by mountains, farmland and dramatic ravines (many caused by the erosion of topsoil driven by over-cultivation), the hospitality is welcoming and the facilities cater to everything from campers to families. Avital in particular has enjoyed playing with the kids and joining them in their daily lives from foot painting to omelet making and we all enjoyed some pony trekking through the hillside and exploring the villages. The villagers run the pony trekking and rotate whose horses are used and who guides, they also provide daily choir and band entertainment as well as guided hikes and village tours – all nice ways to involve them in the lodge operations and ensure direct benefit from the tourism dollars. In addition to jumping on the trampoline, playing soccer and horsing around with the children who live here the kids continue to demonstrate their adventurous instincts. While taking a walk through the village we came across a steep, narrow ravine cut by a trickle of water down into the valley where the sheep were grazing. The kids insisted they wanted to try to climb down all the way – so we did plotting our route as we went ensuring we saw a theoretical path back up. In stark contrast to the village of Malealea, stands the modern, planned community of Katse Village. These neatly laid rows of peach-washed houses was built to house workers and management for Katse Dam and the Lesotho Highlands Water Projects. Sure, there is the locals’ village scattered up the hillside but it is safely on the other side of the secured gate that defines this area. The dam is an impressive structure and we had a chance to walk inside it and stand on top of it. The entire project seems to be well run and executed and hopefully benefiting both Lesotho and South Africa. The drive down here was through the beautiful Maluti Mountains over a few steep passes which are paved the entire way – though we have some higher passes to cross on a 4×4 track tomorrow. Since it was paved we had time for a few stops along the way hiking to dinosaur footprints in Morija, witnessing a car flip over and helping them get out and get it back up right (miraculously the driver had no serious injuries but the car was a wreck), watching local weavers at work in Teyateyaneng in the middle of school recess and taking in the spectacular views from the under renovation Bokong Nature Reserve information center.
Over the next couple of days we will make our way back into South Africa via Sani Pass. We will be taking 4×4 tracks through the mountains peaking at over 3000 meters. I have heard mixed reports on the condition of the roads, so it could be a long, rough drive tomorrow – or a relatively smooth if bumpy one past a couple of diamond mines.