Afriski, Lesotho (July 4th 2017)

by jayhayman

Last weekend we travelled to Afriski in Lesotho. It’s one of only 2 ski resorts in sub-saharan Africa. The other one — Tiffindell — was too far away.

Usually, it’s impossible to secure accommodation, but there was a last minute cancellation to a chalet.  Friends (Anna and Rex) booked it and we were off. Since it takes 8 hours driving and around an hour to get a visa at the land border we decided to stop off for a night in Clarens on the way.

Contrary to expectations, the journey to Clarens turned out to be the worst part of the journey.  Most of it our own fault. The previous weekend Anna and Rex had invited us over for dinner to discuss the trip. And more importantly to offer some advice. Unfortunately, we forgot the crucial part: to avoid the direct route to Clarens at all costs and divert through Harrismith and Golden Gate national park.

On the day, everything had been going according to plan, until we turned off the motorway and hit the back road to Clarens midway through. Of course, I had to be driving. It quickly became apparent that this pot-holed nightmare of a road was only used by people with little regard for anyone else. Several hundred metres in we encountered a pickup carrying a bed. Normally, I would have overtaken it, but the huge potholes made this an impossibility. We stayed behind. Suddenly, Cath let out a huge shriek. I looked up to see the bed sailing into the air towards us. I swerved violently and lost control of the car, which careered all over the road. Thankfully, there were no other cars around, and we avoided the bed. Disaster averted we continued along the road, carefully. Frankly, I was the only driver on the road bothering. Huge 4x4s were charging past at crazy speeds on the wrong side of the road. In the midst of this mayhem a nutter driving a combine harvester cruised into view. The blades covered three-quarters of the road, but the driver somehow thought he would be able to avoid hitting oncoming cars if he drove slightly off the road. I was forced to move off the road and drive straight over the churned-up edge. Somehow, I managed to avoid damaging the car.

After a further hour of the road from hell, we were in Clarens. Honestly, the place is beautiful, but I wasn’t in the mood to enjoy it. It used to be a hamlet, mainly populated by artists attracted to it’s amazing scenery. Now, it is a big tourist attraction. There were galleries everywhere.

After staying the night in a self-catering place just down from the town centre, we set off to the border and Lesotho. Beautiful scenery. Somehow it didn’t feel quite right though. Driving a 4×4 at speed through poor communities.

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The lowlands of Lesotho, beautiful. The tukul huts just blend into the landscape.

Soon we had left the lowlands of Lesotho and we were driving up through the Maluti mountains. The temperature dropped significantly and vegetation became sparse the higher we climbed. We had been warned about the climb– numerous potholes and sheer drops — but it turned out to go relatively smoothly. The reality is the route would be a deathtrap to drive up with snow/ ice, but the weather had been mild for the past week, so the route was completely free.

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Route up through the Maluti mountains.

 

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Mapholaneng pass at 3200 metres.

 

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Afriski in the distance.

 

At about just after midday we arrived at the resort. While it was a lot colder than the lowlands, it was still rather warm for a ski resort. All the snow they had had a few days ago had melted away. Apart from the artificial snow. The temperatures persisted for the rest of the week. To such an extent that it wasn’t cold enough to run the snow machines.

The other aspect was the debilitating effect of the altitude. At least on me. Our chalet situated at over 3000 metres was more than a kilometre higher than most high altitude ski resorts. If we had been still staying in Ethiopia it wouldn’t have mattered, but we weren’t. Putting on skis, doing any kind of physical activity proved to be exhausting. And the air was so dry, that everyone developed hacking coughs. Alex became unwell literally on arrival, so I was forced to avoid skiing and watch the cricket instead. Was a tough life. Everyone else did take to the slopes, however.

We all had a great time, but the resort needs to work on it’s ski instructors. On the first day, Lena got dumped in the baby class. Probably because she was 4 years old. No-one actually asked whether she had skiied before. After Cath complained, the following day she was put on a beginner slope with a group instructor. By the end, we were treated to the sight of Lena skiing down a baby slope (no instructor in sight) apparently having forgotten how to turn. We pulled her before her skiing regressed any further.

 

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Cath and Anna at the top of the ski slope.

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All the kids on the last day.

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Anna and Rex at the bar.

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