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Maseru - As first-time visitors to the fabled mountain kingdom, my husband and I were not quite sure what to expect of Lesotho or the much celebrated Maliba Mountain Lodge.
But what an unexpected and pleasurable surprise when we arrived at the beautiful lodge set in the pristine Tsehlanyane National Park. It holds the title of being the first and only five-star accommodation in the country.
Getting there was a six-hour drive from Durban. At the end was the lodge, framed by the majestic Maluti mountain range that epitomises Lesotho’s claim of being the roof of Africa
The lodge’s setting amid lush and natural vegetation belied it’s star status, but it is a luxury hotel with all the bells and whistles.
We were greeted by friendly staff bearing refresher towels and welcome drinks before being taken to our deluxe suite.
Our three-night stay was in one of the chalets designed to integrate with the natural surroundings. Our patio door opened on to a veranda with a staircase that led to another porch, allowing us to decide how close to nature we wanted to be.
Our chalet included the option of a shower or a giant bath, a fireplace, well-stocked fridge, a comfortable bed and DStv.
But with our extraordinary surroundings, the telly was the last thing on our minds. Instead, that first night we ventured off into the area surrounding the lodge, looking out for the creatures of the night.
We were accompanied on our first outing the next day by a charming guide, Daniel Tsosi, who is also the guest relations manager at Maliba Mountain Lodge. He was going to take us to a traditional healer who lived in the community.
Maliba Mountain Lodge contributes to the locals through its Community Development Trust. Guests are offered guides to the local villages, Hamo Hale and Ha Mali, and proceeds from the visits are returned to the community – a novel way of offering visitors an opportunity to interact with locals and understand their culture.
Our first stop was Malebohana Sekonyela’s humble dwelling, a thatched and mud-plastered rondavel. Children playing in the yard greeted us with excitement, offering welcoming hugs. Sekonyela led us into her consulting room adorned with animal skins and bones and various concoctions in bottles.
Tsosi explained the locals preferred going to people like her for medicine rather than to the clinic. She offered to throw the bones to give us a reading of our future – but we politely declined.
Our next stop was to St Felix Primary School. The pupils seemed fascinated by us and were friendly, greeting us with waving hands. Tsosi introduced us to Elisa Moshoeshoe, the vice-principal, who apologised for not being able to take us on a tour of the school because of another commitment.
Tsosi then took us to a shebeen where we found a group of men enjoying sorghum beer in the midday sun. They were eager to have their photos taken.
The scenic villages make for breathtaking postcards, but the real highlight was the warm and friendly people who let us into their world and captured our hearts. Having spent the day with the locals, we headed back to our chalet, enlightened and enriched.
Our next day was adventurous. We went horse riding.
The horse is a source of pride to the people of Lesotho and the Basotho are renowned for their horsemanship. Clearly not as skilled as they are, we decided on a leisurely three-hour ride through the rugged mountainside. The crisp clean air and unspoilt landscape made the trip most enjoyable.
Intrigued by what lay further ahead, we decided to go back after lunch – but this time on foot.
Our mission was to walk to the Black Pool, about 3km from the lodge. I insisted we take the lower trail as the information guide listed “few climbs making enjoyable for all age groups”. And that it was. But it was a long walk, a round trip of about four hours.
The Black Pool gets its name from the formation of dark coloured rocks that the crystal clear water flows over. For hikers, there is the option of the upper trail. The routes are clearly marked, and show the distance covered.
Pleased with ourselves for taking on horse riding and walking, we were, nevertheless, exhausted by our efforts. Happily a massage treatment was a perfect way to end a long day.
Our last night was unforgettable. Tsosi and the staff sang, danced and entertained us – the Basotho way.
And just when we thought their hospitality couldn’t get any better, it did. There was a trail of tealights from our front door to a bubble-filled bathtub.
They had gone the extra mile even though they had already won our hearts with their amazing service, exquisite meals and fascinating stories. - Sunday Tribune