March 13, 2019
A day in Makhomalong Valley
After breakfast, we hit the trails to explore what lay beyond the lodge at Malealea. Before Lesotho gained independence in 1966, trading posts, now converted into lodges, were prevalent. Malealea used to be a trading station that linked remote mountain communities with the rest of the world. The setting hardly changed – what we saw today I assumed was no different- a clinic, a couple of stores outside the lodge, donkeys on the move surrounded by the Maluti mountains. A doctor visited once a day from the city on an adventurous journey that took a couple of hours via brutal mountain passes and winding valleys.
We walked out of the lodge and met with our guide, a local from Basotho, who walked us through her community. The tour was a part of Malealea’s ethical tourism engagement. Before the tour, we peeped into a cafe that sold yeasty flatbread and deep fried donuts some people were eating for breakfast. We walked past homes with raised yellow flags which meant the beers were ready. We popped in and watched a demo of how locals brew their own beer.
In the heart of the valley, the surrounding mountains burst of various shades of green that shone under the sun. It was dotted with cattle grazing fields and people working hard. The locals were friendly and warm, and among themselves they greeted each other with joyful chatter. We stopped by the Basotho Cultural Museum, an elementary school and finally a souvenir shop across a barn with cows and horses. It was an educational tour. We experienced first hand the impact we made by just being there and contributing to the community. The tour office at Malealea are very transparent about where the proceeds go.
Back at the lodge, we hung out after lunch and asked our guide if he could drive us around the valley. He was was nonchalant about it, seemed like he wanted to stay in, however we insisted. The roads were difficult to maneuver and quite steep. Water flowing through stones and rocks which indicated a waterfall close by. We couldn’t make it down to the caves which required extra navigation skills as it rained the day before which left the route quite slippery and muddy. On the way back, we saw the same students we saw in the class now walking back home, kilometers away, with big smiles.
We pulled in the drive way, sat by the bar and enjoyed the sunset. The sky totally unleashed the fury. Hail storms struck the ground furiously, high winds accelerated dramatically and shook the trees from side to side. For a second I thought it was the apocalypse but then it died down 10 minutes later.
It could have been something I’ve eaten or drunk or the altitude, my heart pounded like banging drums that night and as standard procedure my freak-o-meter shot through the roof, all alone in the hut. Everyone turned in. Outside it was pitch black, camp runs on solar power, except for the starlit sky that occasionally glittered through the moving night cloud cover, winds were still gusty.
I went back to my bed to lie down and thought best I continue reading Orhan Pamuk’s ‘My Name is Red’ since I was on the last chapter instead of texting friends who didn’t take my a’L’titude problem seriously. I didn’t know what my problem was either. The ending of this murder mystery was a total surprise and surely not the kind that tamed the shortness of my breath. If anything, I felt worse. I may have passed out of exhaustion.