Monday, 17 January 2011

Cows and Horses

Just got back from another weekend in the interior of Lesotho. If I thought last weekend was spectacular, this one was even better.

Our group set out for Maliba (mah-DEE-bah), a luxury lodge in the North of Lesotho described as the country’s “most exclusive hotel” by Lonely Planet (admittedly, one of the least exclusive guidebooks around). The lodge is located in the middle of nowhere, overlooking a picturesque valley so isolated that it gets no visitors other than the hotel guests.

The fancy folks at Maliba allow commoners like us to stay on their grounds, as long as we rent the less fancy river houses down by the water. Even those houses were pretty incredible, two-story thatched cottages with both a porch and a balcony overlooking flood-widened rivers, green mountains and herds of wild elands. We did self-catering instead of restaurant food, so I stuffed my face with good food (and semi-authentic marshmallows) for the weekend.

On Saturday, I went horseback riding again. (Aside: I decided some time ago that I will learn a number of manly, useful things that will make me cooler and more James Bond-like. These include: knowing how to shoot a gun, operating a manual transmission, surfing, etc. James Bond knows how to ride a horse, so it’s on the list too. Can’t pass up a chance to learn when it comes by.) My horse last weekend was pretty nice, but this time I got the luxury version – a large, glossy, espresso-colored horse called Josephine who followed my commands perfectly.

It was a good thing, too, since our trek involving some very steep switchbacks along cliffs and some trotting and cantering along said cliffs. A bit hair-raising at times but fantastic views of the famous “Three Waterfalls” at the end of the trek:

Whenever I visit new countries, I always think about their tourism sector and the way that tourism affects the development of the local economy. From my time spent in Africa, Lesotho strikes me as a country with great untapped potential for tourism. The scenery is spectacular, it’s safe, fairly cheap, and the local culture is interesting and accessible (think blankets, a language with clicks, horse-back riding). I think it would be a great candidate for backpacker-style “community-based tourism” (where tourists essentially pay to live with locals and take part in the more interesting aspects of traditional culture). Yet tourism doesn’t seem to be flourishing here as much as I would have thought. There are tourists here, but they aren’t common, and those that come are generally from South Africa or Holland (countries more likely to know about Lesotho in the first place because of historical ties). Someone needs to put this place back on the (touristic) map.

On the way home from Maliba, our driver, Topollo, took us to a district capital, Teyateyaneng, or “TY” for short. The idea was that we could pay his uncle a visit. His uncle runs a local bar that was as lively as it was cheap. Highlights included a wide range of cheap “quarts” (giant beers with 660 mL), well-sauced locals, and a jukebox with traditional Basotho music. I picked a song at random from the machine and it seemed to be a hit; a somewhat tipsy woman gave me a rand coin and told me to play it again.

Before we left, the owner’s brother invited us out back for a game of “cattle.” We went around the back and saw a small group of six or seven cows being herded by three young men with sticks while a carload of young guys were watching in the background. I was nervous that the game was going to involve at least one of the cows getting killed (à la bullfighting) but it ended being something else altogether. The “game,” from what I gathered, involved the cowboys rubbing the cows’ backs so that they sit down quickly in an orderly line. The more cows you can get to lie down quickly, the better. I have to give it points for uniqueness and lack of harm to the bovine participants. Although probably not a major draw for the tourism sector.


  1. Jealous of all this Lesotho and untapped tourism talk. And the ponies. Looks amazing!

  2. Did Josephine know you were raised by wolves? If she did, she might have been less tractable.