Shortly after our arrival we were lucky enough to be hit with a four day Easter weekend. Unfortunately we hadn't actually taken into consideration that pretty much everyone in the country was planning a holiday that weekend too. Four days before the big hols, I managed to book us into one of the last available places in a guesthouse all the way down in Ladybrand on the border with Lesotho. Yes, at last - road trip!
Somehow we had the idea that Ladybrand would be about 3.5hours drive away. Not quite. As it turned out it was 5 hours straight across the whole Free State. And so we arrived in the dark once again, luckily at least the Chinese takeaway was still open.
After a good solid sleep in the Top House B and B, followed by an excellent breakfast we inquired about getting to Lesotho. Again we were slightly mis-advised, 'there's a beautiful waterfall near the dam, you can drive there in 2hours'. Yeah right, try more like 4 hours. We never did get to that waterfall.
So back to Lesotho. After a week in Sandton (probably Africa's wealthiest suburb), Lesotho's capital Maseru was a complete contrast. This is a very poor country. About 40% of the people here live below the international poverty line and the majority of the population live in rural communities with few amenities. The border is very straight-forward though (just bring your own pen!) and South African Rand are happily accepted everywhere, so from that angle this is very easy African travel.
Maseru is not worth stopping by for tourists so we just drove straight through and headed for the mountains. For at least the first half an hour on the winding roads up the mountains I was convinced something was going to go wrong and it would all suddenly turn to dirt track. But it didn't. Lesotho in fact has some of the best roads in Africa. They were built by the Highlands Dam Project to help access the huge dams built up in the mountains which provide neighbouring South Africa with water and power.
Unfortunately it was raining during our trip to Lesotho, so we missed the full extent of the beautiful mountains here, but certainly this is a real 'wow' place. The 'Roof of Southern Africa' as our guesthouse owner called it. Just 2 million people populate the 'mountain kingdom' and 80% of the land is over 1,800metres high up. Towns and villages here consist largely of small round thatched roof huts and there's a genuine sense of unspoilt beauty.
Back in Ladybrand we spend the evening at the local Italian restaurant and bar which happily enough was populated by a very mixed clientèle of friendly black and white youngsters hanging out together. Free State has a reputation for being a bit red neck so here was some great stereotype busting going on. We were also going to investigate further and head for the incredibly loud nightclub in the back of the chicken shop, but in the end we thought better of it.
On Easter Sunday we thought it would be a good idea to go catch the Easter service. We went to the local Anglican church and again the congregation was very mixed with an even smattering of young, old, black and white.
|St James's Anglican Church, Ladybrand|
Now I'm not a particularly religious person and I still consider myself as a bit of an agnostic, however, this service really genuinely moved me into floods of tears. The music was modern Christian stuff and people were all singing and praying as they wished (hands in the air, holding hands, hands on hearts, heads down in prayer, on their knees etc). The priest was an incredibly charismatic man who told some very moving stories and put a magical spin on the Easter story. I loved it. Nothing like a spiritual experience to add something special to a weekend away.
With the rain gone and the sun out we spent the rest of the day clambering up a nearby rocky boulder hill and lying on the plateau on top chilling. Unfortunately pretty much all the photos I took of Ladybrand and it's strange wandering horses, colourfully dressed church-goers and the nightclub in the back of a chicken shop, got destroyed when a few days later wine was spilled all over the laptop. Doh!
Verdict: Top House gets full marks. The owners were lovely and accommodation was very comfortable. Ladybrand is no destination in itself but much preferable to staying in Maseru. If you want to drive down and really see Lesotho, you would do well to give it a week. And come when it is not raining.