As if to prove our point, the waterfalls that we passed leaving Sehlabathebe National Park had actually iced up, forming frozen stalactites in their mountain crevices. After such bone chilling nights, we decided to make for a village called St. Theresa which we heard had a campsite and at a lower altitude, we hoped would require slightly less layers.
Our GPS calculated that we would be there in just three hours, but it failed to take into account the poor quality of the single track road that we would be driving on. Even local donkeys must struggle up these steep inclines as loose rocks become mighty boulders and with corners so tight, at times, we had to reverse in order to squeeze round and avoid plummeting to our deaths. Lachlan did incredibly well driving in these conditions with not only crummy roads to contend with but also a petrified passenger. At one point I threatened to get out and walk when we had to back down a mountain to allow an oncoming truck to get past. Over six hours later and grateful to get off this life-threatening roller coaster ride, we arrived safely at St. Theresa.
The village consisted of just a dozen little homes with puffing chimneys, one small shop and absolutely no campsite. Lachlan was mobbed by curious villagers when he went into the shop to stock up on supplies and ask if they knew of anywhere that we could stay. He lapped up the attention until a frisky old lady with blood shot eyes, an afro goatee and more than a faint whiff of beer on her breath cornered him and told him that he was very welcome to camp at her house, but only if he promised to ditch me and choose a local girl to marry. Lachlan considered the proposition before fleeing the store with only two bottles of Black Label beer and, luckily for me, minus a Basotho bride in tow.
Darkness was descending and we needed to find somewhere to stay and fast. We back tracked to a small farm ten kilometres away and they allowed us to set up camp there. As the farm workers left, once again we were camping on our lonesome and very thankful to have our watch dog with us.
With only a few films on our laptop, we are saving them accordingly. That evening we planned on watching our first movie since being away. However, when we tried to turn on our less-than-a-year-old-practically-spanking-new Mac Book, a maddening question mark flashed across the screen and all of the keys refused to work. Totally perplexed we wondered if it had somehow caught a cold or worse still a fatal dose of pneumonia. I was upset, foolishly and couldn’t sleep for worrying about unrecoverable photographs, how we would ever upload posts now and whether we were covered by our insurance.
I was still awake late into the night when I was alerted by Bow Wow’s growl and then heard the crunching of gravel under foot. When I turned my torch light off the intruder banged into something close by and Bow Wow went berserk doing his best impersonation of Scrappy Doo. Lachlan woke furious; it’s a brave soul who interrupts this Ozzie’s beauty sleep. He sat bolt upright and in his nasal twang yelled something along the lines of “Wrack off will ya! Are ya gonna make me come down there? I’m trying to get some kip!” Whoever it was got the message loud and clear and shuffled off into the night.
As we packed to go the following morning, I was washing the dishes when Lachlan appeared and said that he couldn’t find Bow Wow but could hear his high pitched muffled yelps. Bow Wow was clearly in trouble somewhere. We dropped everything, leaving all of our belongings unlocked and searched in the surrounding rondavels, calling Bow Wow’s name while the farm workers looked on as though we were quite mad.
The buildings were filled with old farming tools and rusting wire that now looked like snares. There was a well that was blocked off but we could hear water running inside, had Bow Wow somehow fallen in? The barking stopped and we panicked, worrying that we would not locate him in time. It had only been a couple of minutes but each desperate second felt like hours as our minds went into over drive and we imagined worst case scenarios. Now that we really had something to worry about, the insignificance of a broken laptop came crashing into perspective. Nothing mattered except finding Bow Wow.
By the time one of the bewildered farm workers gestured to Bow Wow in the rondavel right next to our camp, standing on his hind legs and watching us through the glass as if to say, “What are you running around for, I’m in here, silly!” I was actually hyperventilating. We were so relieved and resolved there and then that opening doors that have slammed shut behind him should be Bow Wow’s next and most useful trick.
The heightened emotions of the morning’s events forced us to reflect on the truly important things in life. With no communications since arriving in Lesotho, we hoped that our families were not too worried about us. We agreed to head for civilisation and the Katse Dam (Africa’s second largest) in the hope of using a public telephone and calling off any search parties.
It was Saturday when we left which in Lesotho is laundry day; tribal blankets dry out, brightening great patches of the hills while the rivers are abuzz with nattering women washing clothes. In stark contrast to the anonymity of city life, the sense of community in these rural villages was so inspiring. However, as we neared the Katse Dam and the roads got better, electricity pylons came into view and the passing childrens’ waves turned into outstretched hands and the screech of, “Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeets!” The innocence of the simpler way of life that we had witnessed up until now was shattered and we were humbled by it all the more.
The Katse Dam truly is spectacular to look at and the water flowing from it forms Lesotho’s greatest export. A wee town has built up beside the dam presumably housing employees and includes a small hotel where we were finally able to use a telephone. Unfortunately it did not allow us to call Australia and anyone who knows my mother will not be surprised to hear that the Westridge line was engaged. At least we were able to leave a message and have a drink on the terrace while Bow Wow snoozed at our feet. Having not stood on concrete for days, it was wonderfully civilised and as we sat looking out over the water, Lachlan passed me a Savanna Dry and in his best Scots accent said “Wrap yer kisser roond that, hen.” I have taught him well.
We spent the following two nights camping at the information centre overlooking the dam. It was luxurious to have hot water to wash our clothes in, 24 hour security, one of the most unique views in the World and all for 20 Rand a night (that’s less than £2). We took a day off from driving and planned our route, deciding to skip the city of Meseru on the recommendation of a local and make a beeline for the Sani Pass. Thank goodness we followed this advice as it was to lead us to our next chance encounter, reminding us of how truly extraordinary life is and that we couldn’t make it up…