Print this out in draft form, on scrap paper, and use it for some
bedtime, bathroom or weekend reading. Our journals are more like
a chapter of a book so don't fry your eyes on the computer screen
Quick Update: Peace Pedalers is pleased
to welcome Panasonic to our epic team of world class corporate sponsors.
They are our official technology sponsor and will be providing world
class camcorders, digital cameras, toughbook computers and other
electronics to share the magic of Peace Pedalers with the world.
We are a few weeks from returning to Africa to continue the expedtion. But this time we'll be filming in HiDef with Panasonic's HVX-200 camera to bring the action and magic to millions around the world.
Lovin it in Lesotho
by: Jamie Bianchini
Number of Text Pages: 8 pages single spaced
Quick Link to Cultural Education Page: Click
If you are like most people, you are new to the country of Lesotho.
I didn’t even know the country existed until I started planning
the African expedition. It’s a tiny, mostly undiscovered country
in relation to its landlocked neighbor of South Africa and you could
drive from one side to the other in a day if you really wanted to.
But trust me, you would not want to. Lesotho is the “Mountain
Kingdom”, with some of the highest and most dramatic mountains
on the entire African continent. And, unlike South Africa, the region
did not suffer the brutal history of
Apartheid. For more detailed information about the history and culture
of Lesotho, check out our new cultural education page.
My first guest rider on the tandem was none other than Vanessa
Lurie, the native of South African who adventured with me previously
in South Africa. Vanessa was born in Johannesburg and raised in
South Africa until the age 14 when her family emigrated to Canada
just before the crazy Apartheid years. Vanessa and I had been traveling
together for over a month already and the next few days in Lesotho
were going to be our last together for a few weeks.
The first night of our adventure to Lesotho was nothing short of
amazing. We took a bus to the city of Bethlehem, South Africa just
north of the border of Lesotho and had no clue where we were going
to sleep that night. While I was assembling the bike at a gas station
several very hungry looking street kids came by to lend a hand.
They were quite likely orphans living on the streets with no parents
since so many have died of AIDS. After we got the bike was up and
running, Vanessa bought some food for the kids in the store, which
they were extremely thankful for. We pedaled away feeling grateful
for our safe arrival and h
We rolled up to what appeared to be a guest house and knocked on
the door. A woman came to the door and informed us that it was no
longer a business since she had bought the house and was living
in it with her son and daughter. But when she saw our bike and heard
a bit about our plans to cycle up to the border of Lesotho she invited
us to stay the night with her charming family and eat dinner with
them. Talk about good Karma, eh? Best of all, it turns our that
her teenage son is a huge cyclist and he was honored to give up
his room to call our own, including life size posters of Lance Armstrong
and mountain bikers hucking huge air on his wall.
The family was very humble and the house was a little run down,
but loaded with character. Their adorable dog could not get enough
of the rubs and tickles and their pet bird walked around like he
owned the place. They prepared a huge dinner for us with bread,
pasta and salad so we were all fueled up for the next days climb
to the border. We felt as “at home” as a stranger could
feel and it was an excellent last night in South Africa indeed.
The ride to the Lesotho border the next morning consisted of a
gentle but consistent climb of about 60KM. Vanessa and I were feeling
strong and within a few hours we were approaching the border of
Lesotho. The foothills on the way into the Lesotho highlands were
nothing short of breathtaking with endless deep canyons with rich
brown soil contrasted by bright green hues that made me feel like
a kid seeing green for the first time.
When rode up to the border we were greeted by big smiling faces
and a warm welcome from officials and straggling locals alike. Immediately
the slight racial tension felt in South Africa faded as we made
our first pedal strokes in country #20 of the Peace Pedalers adventure—Lesotho!
We were soon escorted by a young boy on his own bike who rode with
us up the first hill of dozens I would encounter. No conversation
was really needed or attempted; we just smiled and let the mixed
sound of our spinning chains be our soundtrack as we all admired
the astonishing views of red canyon rock, a clear rushing river
and cute families waving from their humble rondovals.
Our first town we would stay in Lesotho is called Butha-Buthe,
about 10KM past the border. We arrived with no guidebook or real
idea of where we were going to eat or stay and trusted that local
knowledge would be our best bet. The bustling town of Butha-Buthe
is enough to immediately overwhelm your senses as markets compete
for new customers by blasting sales pitches or hip-hop music from
massive speakers at almost lethal volumes. Add the noise to the
hot and dusty streets, hundreds of vendors, random roaming animals
and our exhausted bodies after a day of climbing into the mountain
kingdom and you can bet our patience was tested. Luckily we met
a few friendly locals who were able to point us to some affordable
lodging for the night.
Our spirits were high the next morning as we left the busy border
town and began our ride into the empty, awe-inspiring countryside.
Vanessa and I pedaled out through the rolling hills waving at friendly
locals and stopped often to tickle cute babies, laugh with the kids
at school and admire the unique homes made with mud, cow dung and
painted in warm natural colors. Vanessa was especially delighted
with the fact that the serious climbs she was dreading did not show
up that day of riding and we were able to effortlessly find a gem
of a guesthouse called “Mamahase” in the middle of a
rural Besotho village.
This was going to be the end of the line for Vanessa as she had
no desire to climb the 19% grades that were just up the road. Her
plan was to carry on solo via bus and horseback back to South Africa’s
Transkei region. My plan was to find a local guy or gal from the
village to charge the wild hills with me and learn all I could about
the people and culture of Lesotho.
It turns out that Mamahase was the perfect place to start a “Guest
Rider Search” as it was loaded with friendly people. On our
first day I met the owners and the youngest of 7 boys Maruti. I
met Maruti up at the local well where I was pumping water to cool
off and do some washing. After a few minutes of sharing the Peace
Pedalers mission and project Maruti was on board and as excited
as ever to join me into the highlands. Maruti needed a few days
to get his chores done around the house before escaping for 3 days
so Vanessa and I took an awesome all day horseback ride through
The guided horseback ride took us though half dozen small villages
where huge smiles from the locals were in every direction. This
region of Lesotho is very fertile and every home had bright green
gardens. My favorite were the village stores that consist of different
houses that raise various colors of flags above their huts. Each
color flag represents a different product that they may have for
sale from their homes. For example a red flag means they sell meat,
yellow is milk, blue is homemade beer, etc. There was no electricity,
no phones, and no roads in these villages. But the simple life of
the Besotho people clearly brought a sense of peace, contentment
and pride as people lived one moment at a time, one day at a time.
Family and farm was clearly the focus and the energy was peaceful
and welcoming. I highly recommend a pony trek in Lesotho.
The day finally arrived when Vanessa would catch a bus towards
South Africa and Maruti and I would begin pedaling our way into
the wild highlands. I knew I was going to see Vanessa again back
in Durban and travel more with her, but we were both sad to say
goodbye. Maruti was beyond excited the morning of departure and
showed up for the ride with long pants, a fluffy jacket and a small
bag of personal belongings. He took my advice and put on the Assos
riding shorts and a cycling jersey but insisted he keep his legs
covered with long pants. We put his bag in the Ortlieb panniers
to keep them dry as it was starting to rain. We hit the road about
9AM after a super breakfast of fresh steamed bread, porridge and
Only one kilometer from the guesthouse the steep climbing began
and I could tell Maruti was not quite ready for the sudden and drastic
increase in heart rate. It was hard enough pedaling a bike solo
up these hills. Now I had a tall, heavy, tandem-virgin on the bike
which made the going extremely challenging. But after some rest
stops and lessons on pedaling in circular motions Maruti finally
got in the groove. He also finally took off his jacket to cool down,
but he still insisted keeping his long pants on even with sweat
dripping off his shiny black face and body. Gotta love the subtle
We were really starting to enjoy the climb and making great time
up the famous Moteng Pass when I noticed that the rear hub was acting
up. When we finally hit a rare flat section of the road and tried
to coast the chain got sucked up into the wheel and clearly the
freewheel was not functioning. After a closer look I had to break
the bad news to Maruti—we were done, at least until we could
get the Phil Wood hub opened up. The bad news is that I took a very
limited amount of tools on this trip to the mountain region and
I was missing a crucial tool to remove the cassette. We were officially
Dozens of locals came to try to help and it felt nice to see so
much support from total strangers. But I knew there was nothing
that they would have in these small villages to remove the SRAM
cassette and get inside the hub. We were both determined to find
a solution and carry on with our adventure and I assured the significantly
bummed out Maruti that I would do everything in my power to get
this wheel fixed, and fast, as he only had a few days off work.
With our shared positive intention we began to hitch a ride back
down to the guesthouse. And the 3rd car that came turned out to
be one of the owners of the ski resort that we were riding to called
Afri-Ski! He gave us a lift in his truck and told me that the best
bet was to cross the border back to South Africa to a town called
Ficksburg where there might be a bike shop with the tool we needed.
So we made it back to the Mamahase guesthouse where everyone was
surprised to see our return.
As our luck would have it there was a delightful group of Israeli
travelers who had their own car staying at the guesthouse. After
hearing our dilemma they agreed to take me and the wheel to the
border THAT SECOND! Shaul is a huge world traveler and did not hesitate
to help out and we were soon heading to the border in the pouring
rain, hoping we would make it there before closing time. It was
almost a two hour drive and after a few suspenseful wrong turns
we finally made it to the South African border town of Ficksburg.
The guards whisked us through and we made our first stop an automobile
garage to explain our predicament. What made the situation even
more challenging was the fact that it was 4PM by the time we arrived
and in small South African towns things close at five, period. But
our magical angels continued to follow us as one of the mechanics
at the garage left his job and led us with his motorcycle to the
nearest store that sold bikes, but gave us a reality check saying
that it was not a bike shop and that they don’t have a full
Upon our arrival we met the store owner Marie who dealt us the
first blow of news and confirmed that not only did she not have
a full time mechanic on staff but that there was no bike shop in
the entire town. However, she was willing to help and did make a
call to a guy she knew who was good at fixing bikes. Within minutes
a man named Nathan arrived, a super fit black guy who was ready
and willing to help us get rolling again and was equipped with the
exact tool we needed! We split up our tasks with total focus and
within a few minutes the hub was in pieces on the sidewalk in front
of Marie’s store as she was closing.
My mission was to find grease and paraffin and it was after 5PM
so I was told my mission was going to be tricky. Cranking Israeli
music in Shaul’s truck I scanned the mysterious streets and
miraculously stumbled upon an auto parts store that appeared to
have some bodies moving. I shared our predicament and they were
so moved they gave me a free bottle of paraffin and a ½ tub
of grease to get us rolling! It was a crazy mission but we managed
to get the hub fixed by 8PM in the dark, pouring rain, working via
a headlamp on the sidewalk under the awning of the “store
that sells bikes without a mechanic”. Mission accomplished!
The power of intention demonstrated.
The next morning Maruti was jumping for joy when he discovered
that we were able to fix the wheel in less than 24 hours and he
was ready to make our assault back up into the highlands. We got
a late start, which gave me a slight uneasy feeling intuitively,
but we finally hit the road at about 11AM and began re-riding the
same road we were on just 24 hours ago. Maruti was pedaling hard
and steady and we were both feeling strong. We passed our breakdown
point and waved hello to all the nice people who were there to try
to help the day before and soon began the serious climbing we had
heard all about.
Our goal for the day was the Afri-Ski lodge where we were promised
a free place to stay by our friend Jonathan. According to the map
it was only 50KM, only 30 miles or so which, under normal circumstances,
is an easy distance to cover in a day. But there is nothing normal
about the highlands of Lesotho, as we were soon to discover. The
first pass we had to climb had the steepest climbs in all of Africa
with 16-19% grades for most of the ride. If you know grades, you
know that is brutal. The main part of Moteng pass climbs 4,000 feet
in about 12KM or 8 miles. Our pace was slow, very slow.
By the time we reached the summit we were soaking wet from the
relentless rain and totally exhausted. On the long decent down to
the town of Oxbow we found it difficult to stay warm so we took
an hour break to dry off our clothes by the fire in Oxbow before
continuing our journey up to the Afri-Ski lodge. We left Oxbow at
about 5PM and were assured by the locals that we would be able to
reach the lodge before nightfall. “It’s just up the
hill. You’ll be there in an hour or so”, we were assured
by several locals.
I have yet to learn my lesson for some reason when it comes to
trusting the locals when seeking advice about riding in mountainous
areas. We have had near disasters in China, Australia and now Lesotho
when locals forget that we are fully loaded human powered machine
and not motor vehicle, and underestimate the grades and distance
of the hills. It’s my own fault, but this experience turned
out to be one of the scariest missions of all, especially due our
We left Oxbow hungry, tired, and about ½ dry from the previous
summit. “Just up the hill” was the Afri-Ski lodge. Our
map had no topographic features so we just started pedaling away.
The hills stated relatively gentle compared to the 18% grades of
Moteng Pass and our spirits were high. But then we made a turn around
a “false summit”, an optical illusion of sorts, and
realized we had at least another 2,000 feet to climb and it was
getting dark, fast. Then it started to rain. Then the winds picked
up—headwinds no less!
By the time nightfall hit, we had been riding over 7 hours and
climbed about 6,000 steep vertical feet. We pedaled as hard as we
could and could barely manage a 5KM/hour pace, which is just about
3 miles per hour in granny gear. The grades started to mirror those
on Moteng Pass grades at times and we were both out of water and
had no food.
Then it happened—the “Super Bonk”. A “Bonk”
is when you reach the point that there is just no more energy in
your body and things start to get really weird and uncomfortable
as you do your best to stay upright and keep on pumping the pedals.
Both of us were in horrible shape.
My butt was so sore it felt like someone was sticking knives in
there. I asked Maruti to walk as I kept pedaling since I could barely
keep the bike upright. To make matters worse, the heavy rain kept
visibility down to about 5 feet and cars could not see us until
we were almost ready to make impact. This was not fun.
We put all our layers on and we were both shivering hard. My hands
were frozen and I could barely hold the brakes or shift gears. It
was pitch black and I only had my small light, which proved to be
almost useless in finding the small, unlit sign to the lodge in
the thick clouds and fog. We finally stopped a car and asked where
the lodge was and were told we passed it about 2 miles back!
We finally rolled into the lodge at 8PM and we were a mess indeed—shivering,
stumbling, pale (well, I was pale. Maruti was still black as night)
and hungry enough to eat the bartender. We were so happy to have
finally arrived safe and sound and we got out of our wet clothes
in the restaurant bathroom making a pretty serious mess on the floor
of mud and water.
Other guests at the lodge were soon buying us beverages to calm
our nerves and warm us up as we shared the wild journey over two
huge passes in one day. The host of Afri-Ski treated us to a huge
steak dinner which practically evaporated from our plates and broke
the chill immediately. After we had some food by the fire we both
could appreciate and even celebrate the adventure we just shared
together. I loved seeing Maruti’s proud smile as he explained
to me that this was by far the most challenging thing he had ever
done in his life. His mojo must have really picked up as a really
pretty Besotho woman gave him her phone number after dinner. We
hit the pillow hard that night and slept in the next day until about
9AM and woke up to partly sunny skies and no rain.
After a huge breakfast we bid farewell to our friends at Afri-Ski
and continued our highland adventure. It was wonderful to finally
be able to see some of the magical surroundings as the clouds had
lifted a bit. We rode through another two passes between 10,000
and 12,000 feet and it was beyond breathtaking. The bright green
mountains, lakes, rivers and rock blended together and offered a
perfect backdrop to our cross cultural adventure.
Like Tibet, the life at this altitude is more or less limited to
livestock and cattle herders. And the cattle herders were a sight
to be seen indeed! The outfits consisted of tall gum boots to protect
them from the snakes, the skins of animals to keep them warm, and
all sorts of sticks and bones to decorate themselves. They loved
the tandem and ran at full speed from their cattle posts to come
check us out as we rode by.
We made our way through numerous spectacular mountain villages
where we stopped to meet the locals and discover their fascinating
ways of living. Most of them lived in stone, mud, cow dung and thatch
houses with no electricity, no furniture, and no running water.
We were invited to eat our lunch and have tea with a family about
30KM from Tlokoeng who ran a small store out of their home selling
warm bottles of beer, candles and bags of bright orange, home-made
corn chips that resembled “Cheetos”.
We were their only customer that day, and the Lesotho version of
Cheetos were, well, interesting. More fascinating was sitting with
the family on a lumpy, smelly blanket that covered a bunch of rocks
and cow dung and learning that it serves as their bed, couch and
storage of old beer crates. It was better than sitting on the bike
saddle, which was continuing to bother the sores on my bum that
evolved after the 8 hour session of pedaling in the rain the day
After several steep climbs, short fast descents and stops to check
out the scenery we finally saw what we knew was coming—the
decent down to Tlokoeng. It also meant that our time together was
coming to an end. We had enjoyed 3 awesome days together, and Maruti
had to make his way back to his village, but not before having the
wildest decent of his life! What goes up must go down, and it was
time to reap the rewards of our hard work by ripping down thousands
of vertical feet down to the valley while following the picturesque
Seate River to the midlands. The road was smooth, fast, curvy and
tons of fun. We had to stop several times to let the Avid disc brakes
cool down as the weight of two people and the loaded bike was heating
up the rotors to the point you could literally fry eggs on them.
As we left the high mountains the sun came out, the temperature
grew warmer and warmer, the colors grew more vivid and the vegetation
more fertile. The villages become more and more frequent, with lush
crops of corn, kids out playing and waving to us alongside the river
and festive weekend energy filled the air as we moved towards the
city. Dozens of people ran behind Maruti and me as we weaved through
the crowds of people near the bus station, laughing and chatting
with Maruti in Sesotho, the local language. I had no clue what they
were saying, but I felt totally safe and comfortable surrounded
by dozens of strange black men with huge smiles and relatively harmless
beer buzzes. It was a perfect day of touring, minus my sore butt
that continued to plague me as the day grew longer.
The time finally came to bid farewell to my good friend Maruti
and we were both feeling a bit sad and uneasy. I was feeling a mix
of excitement and fear as I was now solo for the first time in Lesotho.
I knew Maruti wanted to keep riding and take me all the way to Mokhotlong,
but it was time to let some other folks ride the tandem and let
him get back to work. We embraced in a long and stinky hug (Maruti
reeked worse than anyone I have every hugged), I gave him a few
dollars to cover his bus trip back to his village, and off he went.
There were new guest riders eagerly waiting to hop on the bike but
I was in the mood for some solitude after 3 days of riding with
Maruti. I threw on the Ipod and pedaled down the road feeling a
bit gloomy, but also excited about the thought of warm weather,
no rain, new people and fresh scenery.
It was not long before I rode down a hill into a small 7-house
village that I felt compelled to call home for the night. There
were cute kids playing with a donkey, a beautiful river, 360 degree
mountain views, cute stone homes and a peaceful energy that made
me feel welcome. So I pedaled my bike down a steep hill into the
village and, of course, every head turned, dogs barked like mad,
kids ran after me screaming and laughing while the parents gave
looks of curiosity without a hint of hostility.
I found the only somewhat flat area in the village and let my bike
just flop on the ground. I was home. I walked over to the closest
adult, a lovely woman named Makena, who was holding her infant child
in a thick blanket. She spoke no English and I spoke no Sesotho.
But the global language of warm hearts and a genuine curiosity overcame
that language barrier quickly as I used my best sign language to
motion my request to pitch my tent in front of her house. A huge
smile and a firm “Ehh” (yes in Sesotho) gave me the
green light to settle in and relax.
I began pitching my Baku tent and each time I gazed over at Makena
a new villager had joined her until the entire village was there.
Before I knew it there a few dozen people watching me pitch my tent
and a few of them came up close to help drive some curiously blue
colored Sierra Designs stakes into the ground with some rocks. Simple
acts like this immediately bond men for some reason and I felt accepted
and respected with my new “home” built with the hands
of me and the Bosotho villagers. I was clearly the first person
who ever came onto their land and pitched a tent, and possibly the
first white person many of these people had ever personally met.
I kept the company of most of the villagers through my dinner,
tea and sunset gazing session and, although we could not communicate
much with words, there was a mutual respect, understanding and appreciation
for our uniting. I slept like a baby in my tent until about 1AM
when, for no apparent reason, two of the local dogs decided they
did not like me camping there. They barked, and barked, and barked
until 5AM just a few feet from the door of my tent. Needless to
say, I woke up a bit groggy and grouchy, but ready to ride. “That’s
life cycling in Africa”, I told myself. “Better than
a day in the office”.
Makena brought me some fresh steamed bread in the morning and I
ate that with my porridge and biscuits before heading out on the
road towards Mokhotlong. The steamed bread in Lesotho is awesome.
It’s steamed with water and is at dense as a rock and great
with some honey and butter.
I knew I could make it to Mokhotlong with ease that day, but when
I sat on my saddle the sharp pain in my bum that usually subsides
after a good night sleep was barely tolerable. I was beginning to
worry I might have an infection down there and Lesotho was no place
to be trying to deal with that, at least in the highlands.
There is no such thing as a flat road in Lesotho and my ride to
Mokhotlong was loaded with more grueling steep climbs and fast curvy
descents. Luckily it was the weekend and all the kids were out in
the street so I was able to either find guest riders or kids to
literally push me and my bike up the hills and allow me to float
a bit off the saddle to save my bum.
My last 10K to Mokhotlong was with a cool guest rider Dimpokente
who had strong legs and loved to pedal hard and fast, especially
downhill. He had almost no fear as we took the turns at a fun and
exhilarating pace. He just stayed centered and giggled. He had never
met an American in his 18 years on Earth and he was just as happy
as I was to meet a new friend. He spoke a few words of English and
we had some very basic conversations about his family, school, work
and weather as we huffed and puffed our way up the hill.
By the time we finished the climb up to Mokhotlong I was done being
on the bike. In fact, I vowed to find a way to stay off the bike
for the next several days to let my bum heal up. I found the first
restaurant and changed out of my cycling clothes and grabbed a cold
beer at the bar. And just as I took my first victory sip of an ice
cold Maluti I looked up and was stunned to see Shaul, my Israeli
buddy with his Toyota Land Cruiser that saved the day back in Butha-Buthe
by driving me and my blown wheel to South Africa! It was great to
see them and it was no coincidence that we met up again in such
Although I had planned to ride to the border of South Africa from
Mokhotlong, I was truly in pain and worried about the sores on the
old bum. Rather than push an already painful situation I was offered
a plush ride to the border and down to civilization with my delightful
group of fellow travelers and we had a blast. It was tough to watch
all the beautiful scenery pass by in a car when the ride would have
been so much more enjoyable. But it was meant to be as it turns
out a massive 2-day storm came in and snowed on the pass during
the time I would have been riding! It would have been a dangerous
proposition doing the wild Sani Pass in the snow and mud. As I said,
there was no accident that I ran into Shaul and my Israeli Angles!
So off we drove down to the holiday town of Underberg, South Africa
where I would get some much needed days out of the saddle, have
a hot shower, shave and haircut, and a nice massage. I spent 3 days
fishing, golfing, reading, sleeping and planning the second half
of my South African adventure from Pietermaritzburg to the border
My sweet days in Lesotho still bring a warm smile to my face. I’ll
never forget the open people, diverse landscapes, simple lifestyles
and rich culture. Next time I’ll bring a better map though
to avoid 8-10 hour days of riding steep hills in the pouring rain—the
ingredients for a sore bum. I give Lesotho two huge thumbs up all
around, but if you go remember to be prepared for challenging terrain
and truly wonderful people!
Over and out from San Diego, California where I’m doing some
final preparations before returning to Africa and continue the expedition
Live Big. Give Big.
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