Africa’s Mountain Kingdom (1 of 2)
“Is that hail?” I inquired as the raindrops beating against the hood of our CRV suddenly started to sound like a stream of pebbles. “Since when does it hail in Africa?” Within hours of landing in Maseru, it became apparent that Lesotho was unlike any other African country I have visited. It is aptly called “Africa’s mountain kingdom” and is the only country in the world that lies entirely above 4,500 feet.
We were on our way to Semonkong, a small village in the mountains (elevation: 7,464 ft). My host, Jenny, was a good friend and former roommate from Dallas who was completing part of her pediatrics residency in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital. Our goal was to complete the world’s longest abseil, a harrowing plunge down the side of Maletsunyane Falls.
We woke up at 6:30am for practice 75 ft abseil. Few things in life would have motivated me to remain awake after a 35 hour flight and 10 hour time change, but the prospect of free fall down the side of a cliff was decidedly one of them.
The drive to the gorge was stunning: a verdant landscape, shepherds and herdboys tending their flocks, and the usual African massage from the “roads” out to the valley. Things became real once we walked out to the edge of the waterfall. It really set in during the eight minutes it took Jenny to make it 670 feet down the side of the waterfall.
A few hundred years ago having the gene(s) that would makes one willingly walk off a 670 ft cliff would definitely have put one at the shallow end of the gene pull. Clearly what is considered desirable or adaptable from an evolutionary perspective has changed over time.
After completing the rappel (faster than most, supposedly), our guides took a liking to us and offered to take us rock climbing. I asked if they had climbing shoes I could borrow; not surprisingly the answer was not affirmative. “No problem, use your hiking boots.” Not one to turn down an adventure, I acquiesced.
After climbing out of the valley, we went to another series of cliffs to climb. Our lead guide went first. Suffice it to say it was not pretty. My grasp of Sesotho is poor, but I am quite sure the one syllable four letter word that punctuated our guide’s laborious ascent translated universally. After about ten minutes he reached the top. At this point, I was willing to call it a day, but relented to the guides’ peer pressure. I somehow managed to make it to the top (“He’s winning!” our guide screamed from below; I did not realize we were in competition), but not without a solid set of war wounds.
Semonkong served as an excellent introduction to both the beauty and adventure of Lesotho. Next up, we were to head into the capital (Maseru) for a night and then off into the Free State, essentially the West Virginia of South Africa. More on both in the second post.