Before I had even entered the country I was being asked for money.
“30 Rand!” the man at the gate was telling me. “For this bicycle… 30 Rand.”
It wasn’t a lot of money, and I would have gladly paid it if I had had to, but the woman who had stamped my passport just moments before had said nothing about having to pay the man at the gate to enter Lesotho. I knew I was being asked for a bribe.
“Let me go back inside and ask the woman,” I told the guard at the gate. “She didn’t say anything about having to pay for my bicycle.”
It was at this point that I saw the man’s failed attempt at bribery fall away. He knew he had been caught and the last thing he wanted me to do was go inside and tell the customs officials there that he had been trying to con me out of some of my money. I could see the expression of defeat on his face, and so rather that returning to the building from which I had just come, I grabbed my bike by the handlebars and pushed it underneath the gate that the man was working.
The first person I met in Lesotho had asked me for money… and he certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Despite the rough start to my bicycle touring adventures in Lesotho, I was in good spirits. I was excited about making it to another country and I was looking forward to the people, the roads and the change in scenery.
Before I could enjoy any of the paved roads in Lesotho, however, I first needed to cycle about 10-15 kilometers on a rocky, dirt road. The asphalt ended at the border and according to my map, it was a short, but windy 10-15 km before I reached the main road that would take me from the south-western most corner of the country into the capital city of Maseru and beyond.
For the first few kilometers, I really enjoyed cycling on that dirt road. The pace was slow, but I enjoy navigating a fully-loaded bicycle through technical terrain. In many ways, I think going slow and having to decide which part of the road to ride on is more fun than going really fast on a perfectly smooth asphalt road. Maybe that’s just me?
My first hour in Lesotho was probably the most enjoyable of the entire time I was in the country. The people were friendly, they’d wave at me from the road or from their grass and dirt homes up on the hillside, and children would scream to their parents whenever they saw me drawing near.
The two people you see in the photo above were the first individuals I spoke with in Lesotho. They were walking toward me on the road with a small herd of cattle. I snapped their photo from a distance and then as we drew closer to one another, they asked to see the picture I had taken of them. I did so, and used the opportunity to snap a much better picture of them (which is the image you see here). I forget the man’s name (because it was a long, weird name that I was totally unfamiliar with), but I do remember that the woman’s name was Elizabeth. After taking their photo, the man immediately asked me what my phone number was. He had a cell phone in his hand and was ready to type my number into his phone. He hadn’t asked me my name yet and I hadn’t introduced myself. I had simply taken their photo and asked them their names. I was kind of startled by the fact that this man was already prepared to input me into his phone.
I told to the couple that I didn’t even have a cell phone. I went on to explain that because I was traveling so much, carrying a cell phone simply didn’t make sense. That story was partially true, but not entirely. It is true that I was traveling without a cell phone. But I do have a cell phone back home. It’s just sitting in a drawer, not being used at the moment. It’s waiting for me to return from my travels.
So I didn’t give the man my number. Instead, I simply said, “It was nice meeting you,” and then continued on my way.
Further down the road I passed three women (and a friend) dressed in bright blue garbs. I don’t know what the garbs were for, but I assumed they were some kind of religious get-up.
When I cycled past the women, one of them called out to me, “Where are you from?”
I had wanted to take a photo of the women before I passed them, but I was too scared to do so, so I saw the fact that they wanted to talk to me as my opportunity. I slammed on my brakes and turned around to address the women. I explained that I was from California in the United States and that I was riding my bicycle from Cape Town, South Africa to Swaziland. They were shocked (in a good way)… and then I asked them if I could take their photo.
Further down the road, just before the dirt road ended and the paved road began, I entered a small village where a group of four men standing at a small roadside shack called out to me. At this point I was beginning to realize that most of the people in Lesotho had at least some English in their vocabulary. The English most of them addressed me with was usually far from perfect, but overall it was surprisingly good. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this!
A little intimidated speaking to four large men on my own, I kept my distance at first, but then realized I had nothing to fear. The men were simply curious about my travels. It wasn’t every day, I imagined, that they saw a loaded touring bicycle pass through their village.
To the right of the men was a larger brick or adobe building. I think it was a tavern. And outside the tavern were two uniformed police officers drinking large mugs of beer. When I pointed my camera in the direction of the two officers, one stood up, hid his face from me and ran inside the tavern, while the other lifted his glass of beer proudly to the sky and took a big drink.
Moments later I left the dirt road, turned left, and began the long, two-day ride into Lesotho’s capital city.
The photo above is a good example of what most of Lesotho looked like. It reminded me a lot of Peru’s high Altiplano plains – except with black people. The style of homes, the combi vans driving people from one village to the next, and the fact that there were people just about everywhere.
During my bike ride in Lesotho, I must have come across thousands of young school kids. Some of the kids would just stare at me as I cycled past, but most of them would wave, shout and even chase after me as I cycled on by. Some were better behaved that others – like this group of boys who were sitting by the side of the road, waiting for a van to pick them up and take them home.
This group of girls seemed curious about my bicycle ride too. Like many of the young women in Lesotho, their heads were shaved and they wore colorful school uniforms.
In the photo above the girl with her finger in her mouth is holding a cell phone that obviously doesn’t work. I spent a few moments thinking about that cell phone as I pedaled away from the group. Maybe she was carrying the cell phone just to look cool? Maybe she was carrying the phone as an aspirational sort of device? (She didn’t have a working cell phone right now, but hopefully one day she would.) Or maybe she had simply found the phone on her way home from school and was hoping she could find someone to repair it for her? I spent a lot of time in Lesotho thinking about strange things like this.
The group of boys (in the photo below) were the first to chase after me on my bicycle. The little one in the orange sweatshirt starting chasing after me first… and the others soon followed. I have a great 10-second video of these boys running behind my bicycle. It was one of my favorite moments from my time in Lesotho. It took place just before everything started to head downhill.
After several hours of cycling, I reached my first major city in Lesotho – Mohales Hoek. I was almost entirely out of water at this point in time, so my one and only goal in town was to fill up my water bottles.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find bottled water at any of the local stores. Like so many small markets in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, the only drinks on offer were Coca-Cola products. I don’t normally drink soda, but faced with no other option, I purchased a 2.5 liter bottle of Sprite and returned to my bicycle to fill up my water bottles with the bubbly liquid.
Outside the shop I found four young high school students staring at my bicycle. I spoke to them and they asked some basic questions about my travels. “Where are you from? How much does your bicycle weight? Where are you going?” Etc.
I’m pretty sure they thought I was nuts to be riding a bicycle of any kind – not to mention the fact that I was riding it for months at a time and covering thousands and thousands of kilometers. They also found it hard to believe that I was sleeping on the ground, in a tent, by myself. I got the feeling that they thought white people would never do such a thing. When we got to talking about the cold nights in Lesotho, I let them know that just like them, I too was freezing my butt off at night.
Now well into the afternoon, I began looking for a place to camp for the evening. I could tell, however, that finding a place to sleep for the night was not going to be easy. There were people everywhere. Even though the land in the distance of some of my photos looks vacant, it was not. If there weren’t actual houses in an area, there were surely sheep, cows, and most importantly, shepherds.
All across Lesotho were young, poor shepherds walking the land with either a small or large herd of sheep, goats or cows.
No matter how far away the shepherds were from the road, if they saw me cycling their way, they’d stop what they were doing, turn toward me and stare. Some of them would wave. Others would whistle. And many of them would shout at me for annoyingly long periods of time. They’d only seem to stop their cat calls once I had raised my hand and waved in their direction.
Many of these roadside shepherds, upon seeing me, would abandon the herd that was in their care and run after me. This was what happened with the 16-year-old shepherd in the photo below.
This young man saw me cycling up the road, ran about 100 meters through a field, climbed down a deep gully, jumped over a small stream, and then ran up the other side to meet me on the road. As he was running toward me, the young shepherd was jumping and waving and screaming for me to stop. He was not the first person in Lesotho to react this way and he certainly wasn’t the last. But because of the effort he had just put in to meet me, I felt like I had to stop.
When the young boy finally reached me, I shook his hand and asked him his name. I don’t remember what it was. It was incredibly long and there is no way I could have remembered it, let alone spelled it out in writing. Then I asked the boy his age, which is how I learned that he was only 16 years old, despite the fact that he looked much older.
It was at this point that the young boy asked me for money in a less than polite way. “I want to buy cigarettes,” he told me, as I pushed off on my bicycle and started cycling up the small hill in front of me – trying to get away from him.
“No!” I told the boy. “You shouldn’t be smoking… and I’m not giving you any money!”
At this point in time I had been in Lesotho for less than 8 hours and I had already been asked for money more than 100 times. It wasn’t so bad the first 99 times, but that young shepherd boy asking me for money so he could buy cigarettes pushed me over the edge.
Up the road a short ways, three young men standing near the side of the road called out to me. Like most of the people in Lesotho, they called out to me not as I was approaching, but after I had passed. So in order for me to hear what they had said or respond in any way, I’d have to slam on my brakes, turn the bike around, and address them. This too was becoming quite annoying. Especially after it had happened more than 100 times.
I rode for another couple hours, and while I was blown away by some of the scenery in Lesotho, I was becoming increasingly agitated with the people. What had at first been kind of fun, quirky conversations with the locals was now turning into slightly more aggressive confrontations. Many of the locals would see me coming and would call out, “Give me sweets! Give me money!”
I felt like the locals saw me as a pinata filled with money and food – even though I had very little money on me… and very little food.
As the sun began to grow nearer to the horizon, I tried to push those thoughts out of my mind. Instead, I started focusing on trying to find a place to camp for the night.
Grant’s mother in Lady Grey had told me that if I wanted to camp in Lesotho I needed to get the permission of “the chief” of the local town or village. But I didn’t want to ask for permission to camp in or near a local village. I didn’t want locals bugging me all night, watching me set up my camp, eat dinner, and try to go to sleep. I have done that plenty of other times before in order countries and while it can be fun, it’s also really exhausting. The people in Lesotho had already begun to wear me out with their constant demands for attention, sweets and money, so all I wanted to do was find a place to camp for the night where I wouldn’t be bothered. But this was not going to be easy! Like I said before, there were people everywhere.
Shortly after cycling through a small hillside village I passed a large open field dotted with trees and for whatever reason, I could tell that this was going to be the place I would need to spend the night. It wasn’t entirely perfect. There was a chance I might be discovered by one of the local villagers. But it was the best potential campsite I had seen all day.
When no one was looking, I pedaled my bicycle off the road and onto a long dirt and grass-covered trail that took me about 1 kilometers east from the highway. I followed the treeline until the very end, threw down my bicycle, and waited. It looked like a good place to camp, but before I went about pitching my tent I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being watched.
After several minutes of observing my surroundings I realized that I was in the center of a large, round valley. To my left was the road from which I came. I could hear cars and trucks buzzing past every few minutes. In front of me was a small village and I could see women walking from their homes to the fields on my right. Behind me was a field of corn and another small village. There were men tending the corn fields directly behind me and one man walking a goat in the grass just over 100 meters away.
Despite all this action around me, I felt safe setting up my tent under the very last tree in the center of this large, warm valley.
As the sun set over the trees and ridge in front of me, I sat outside my tent and observed my surroundings, making sure I hadn’t been spotted while my tent was being erected.
I sat and waited for the sun to go down. I was sure that once the sun had set, the people in the villages surrounding me would go to bed and I’d be able to sleep soundly throughout the night. But that’s not exactly how it went.
Once it got dark, I climbed inside my tent and tried to go to bed. It had been a long day and I had a lot on my mind. I was thinking about the border patrol man who had tried to bribe me, about the police officers drinking beer on duty, about the school children without shoes, about the hundreds of people who had asked me for money – begged me for money – chased after me, screaming for money. I had enjoyed my first few hours in Lesotho, but I wasn’t sure how much more of this constant interaction with the locals I could take. The fact that I was always being watched, always waving to the locals, and always being asked for sweets and money was taking a toll on my mental attitude.
Just as I was about to fall asleep, I bunch of large, noisy birds landed in the tree top above me. They squawked and called to one another for hours. At one point the birds flew down to the door of my tent and made the most horrific noises I have ever heard coming from an animal. At one point I jumped outside the tent and tried to scare the birds off, but it did little good. By the time I got out of the tent, the birds had flown back up into the tree tops and I was unable to get them to go away.
Still nervous about being discovered by one of the locals, I eventually fell asleep. But it was difficult to sleep with all the soda in my system. At this point in time, I had gone for more than a day drinking nothing but soda. For someone who does not normally drink soda, the amount of sugar and caffeine in my system was having obvious negative affects on my body. I was shaking and nervous. I couldn’t sleep even though I wanted nothing more.
I did eventually fall asleep though. After several hours of nervously tossing and turning inside my tent, struggling to stay warm, my eyes closed and I drifted off.
Around 2 PM, I was woken by the sound of feeding sheep. I knew the sound, because of my previous nights of camping in South Africa. But sheep in Lesotho are different. While the sheep in South Africa are left largely unattended, the sheep in Lesotho are always followed around by a dedicated shepherd. So when I heard the feeding sheep coming my way, I knew that there was a good chance I’d be discovered – not by the sheep, but by their shepherd. Many of these shepherds walked with knifes on them…. and that made me nervous. But what made me even more nervous was the thought that if this shepherd discovered me camping on his village’s land, he might go and wake up the locals, and I could find myself surrounded in the early morning hours by dozens of angry (or at the very least, bored, curious, hungry and needy) people.
As the sheep drew nearer, I tried not to move. I kept my ear to the ground and did nothing but listen. I was trying to tell which direction they were coming from, how far away they were from my tent, and where their shepherd might me walking amongst them.
At one point I could tell that the sheep were no more than twenty feet away from the door of my tent. But they soon turned toward the road and started walking in that direction. They remained within earshot for about 10 more minutes and then they disappeared.
Some time after 4 PM, I was awoken again – this time to the sound of human footsteps. There was one person, approaching my campsite from the north. I couldn’t see him, but I could tell that he was wearing sandals. Just as he way about on top of me, he jumped and called out, “Whoah!” It was at this point that I’m guessing he saw my tent. That’s when he jumped, yelled, and then took off running.
I was sure I was in trouble at this point. The footprints ran off toward the village behind me and I was sure that whoever the man was, he would be coming back soon.
I didn’t sleep much after that. I considered getting out of bed, packing up my tent, and jumping back on my bike. But it was pitch black outside, I was tired, and there were still at least two more hours available to sleep before the people in the local villages emerged from their huts and were likely to find me camping in their valley. So I tried to go back to sleep. But I was nervous, tired cold and upset at this point.
“I don’t like Lesotho anymore,” I told myself as I tried to go back to sleep. “I just want to be left alone.”
Once the sun came up, I jumped out of my tent, packed up my bike and returned to the main road. Whoever had run across my campsite just a few hours before had not returned to the village with a lynching party, so I was happy about that. But I had slept for less than three total hours in the last 24 hours, and I had a long day of cycling ahead of me.
When I reached the next city, I again went about trying to find water. Luckily, I was able to find one single bottle of water at a dumpy old market run by an Asian family. After two days of drinking nothing but Sprite, water never tasted so good!
I cycled through a large city (or large for Lesotho) and didn’t take many photos while I was there. Although I could have stayed their for a week and taken thousands of photos. The buildings, the people and everything in the area was extremely interesting and photographic. But riding into town on my red and white touring bike, I was getting a lot of attention… and I really didn’t like that. At one point I had at least 200 people stopped in their tracks and just staring at me. It was extremely uncomfortable. So rather than drawing any more attention to myself, I just kept moving down the road.
Just outside of town I passed through the first of five or six police check-points that I would have to pass through in Lesotho. The police paid little attention to me however. There were much more interested in the cars and trucks that were passing through the area. I’m not sure what they were looking for, but I’m guessing it was a little bit of everything. Proper registration, licenses, drugs, etc.
At the turn off to one of Lesotho’s most famous lakes, I stopped to check my map and was instantly surrounded by some of the locals. They asked me the standard two or three questions about my bicycle and where I had come from and then they began asking me for money.
The young woman in these two photos was the only one that did not ask me for anything. She was simply curious about my travels and wanted to say hello. The others (all of whom were men) were aggressive and manipulative. When I failed to give them any money, they refused to let me take their photo. I was trying to be nice to everyone I met at this point, but the constant nagging was really starting to get on my nerves. The men I met at this street corner, however, pushed me over the edge and made me realize that as friendly as I wanted to be to the Lesotho locals, people like that (the ones who wanted nothing from me but money or food) were making it increasingly difficult.
That was the probably the most difficult thing about cycling in Lesotho. Some people would scream and yell and want me to stop riding my bike so that they could ask me about my trip and learn where I was going. Others, however, would scream and yell and want me to stop just so they could ask me for money. And it was impossible to tell the two apart at first glance. The only way to find out who was who was to stop and talk to the people. But every time I’d stop and get burned (in other words, every time I’d stop and then encounter a person who wanted nothing from me but the chance to beg for money), I would grow increasingly upset.
By the time I met the shepherd in the photo below, I was fuming!
This young man, like so many others in Lesotho, saw me cycling past and called out for me, demanding that I stop.
“Take my picture!” the young man told me before saying anything else…. and I was happy to oblige.
But as I was pulling out my camera, the boy started picking up rocks and throwing them at the cows in his care. One large rock, about the size of grapefruit, hit one of the cows directly above its right eye, and I yelled at the boy to stop.
“Stop it! What are you doing?”
He didn’t respond. I snapped his photo (which you can see below) and then he threw the rock that was in his hand, hitting another cow directly in its side.
At this point another shepherd boy in the area ran over and began begging me for money.
I was super upset. I had barely slept in the last 48 hours, I had a caffeine high due to the fact I had been drinking nothing but soda for the last several days, I was upset at this young shepherd for abusing his cows and thinking it was okay to chuck massive rocks into the eyes/sides of an animal, and I was beyond fed up with people asking me for money. I was ready to punch someone in the face!
But I didn’t do that… and I never would. Instead, I placed my feet back on the pedals of my bicycle and continued down the road as the boys called after me, asking for money, and sweets and more money.
There were a lot of nice, kind people in Lesotho. Most of the children would simply stare and wave.
Children in the schools I would cycle past, however, would often cause such a scene that I imagined their teachers fuming with rage at me.
It was mainly the adult males who were the worst behaved and most annoying people I met in Lesotho. Of all the bad experiences I had in Lesotho (of which there were close to 1,000 (SERIOUSLY!)), only two of those negative experiences came from women. All the rest were from men.
In one small village I saw a man kicking a goat in its side. The goat was obviously sick, or tired, or on the verge of death. But the man didn’t seem to care. He just wanted the goat to move. So he kicked it… and then kicked it again.
After a couple hours on the road, I realized that if I cycled hard, I could reach the capital city of Maseru by nightfall. I wasn’t sure what Maseru would be like, but I was sure that there would be a hotel that I could stay in for the night. I needed some privacy, and in a poor national like Lesotho, I was sure that a hotel room (even in the capital city) wouldn’t be very inexpensive.
So I pushed hard and before I knew it, I was cycling through the outskirts of Maseru. The place was a shit hole!
There were some areas on the outskirts of Maseru that were downright scary. I didn’t take many photos (even though I wanted to) because I was always being watched and I was somewhat fearful of what might happen if the people in the area saw I was carrying a high-end camera on my bicycle. When I did pull out my camera to take these few photos, I was almost immediately approached by some individual asking me if he could have my camera, have some money, or have some sweets. Apparently, the people of Lesotho have been trained to beg for these very things… and it must work at some level, because otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing it.
In fact, I had been told by some of the locals that other white people coming through the area would indeed hand out candies, money, and more to the locals. This, I imagine, is why I encountered such an overwhelming number of people on the streets of Lesotho who saw me as nothing more than a chance for a free handout.
Much of the time I was in Lesotho I felt a bit like Miss America during the Macy’s Day Parade. The only difference being that if I were Miss America in Lesotho, I wouldn’t have showered in several days, I’d be sunburned, tired, sore, and totally pissed off. And the people of Lesotho would be the people in the crowd. Me as Miss America, would have to wave at everyone in the crowd… and if I didn’t wave at them, they’d become extremely upset. Sometimes even hostile. And even though I was tired, dirty, smelly, sore, and extremely pissed off, I had to keep waving, keep a smile on my face, and keep moving forward. And I had to do this for 16+ hours each day, for days on end. It was exhausting and far from fun. I hated it actually. And by the time I reached the city center of Maseru, I looked and felt like a mad man.
The worst part was, no one in Lesotho knew or cared how I was feeling at the time. People would see me and for them it was an entirely new experience. “Wow!” I imagined them thinking to themselves, “A white man on a bicycle. Here’s my chance to go and ask him for some money.”
But to me, that person waving and yelling and running over to me was the thousandth person to wave, yell and run at me that day. It was fun the first couple times, but after the first 100 people, it was nothing but aggravating. I cycled into the center of Maseru with only one goal: Find a cheap hotel and get myself some privacy!
As I turned the corner on a busy street where an overpriced hotel was located, a man walking past jumped in front of my bicycle and stopped me from moving forward. I was still half-way out into the street and I was in a terrible mood. I knew what the man wanted, but I was still trying to be nice to people.
“Let me get out of the street,” I told the man, as he placed his hands on my bicycle’s handlebar bag, and I quickly pried his fingers off my bike. I don’t let anyone touch my bike and it makes me extremely upset when anyone touches any of my things without first asking. This man was not off to a good start.
As soon as I pulled my bike over to the side of the road (still not entirely out of the street), the man began his request.
“I am very poor and I need money,” he began. But I didn’t let him go any further.
“Get out of my way!” I shouted. (But inside I was thinking, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!”) “I’m not going to give you any money.”
The man seemed almost shocked. As I pushed my way past the man, the called out to me, “Maybe next time you and I can talk?”
I quickly responded, “Yeah, I wish that is what we had done. Talked.”
I cycled down the road, my eyes burning with hate. “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” I thought to myself.
It took me more than two hours to find a hotel for the night. The first two hotels I encountered were more than three times the price of any hotel in South Africa I had paid for. I wasn’t going to stay there.
And the people in Maseru were terrible with directions. I asked several people in the area where I could find a cheap place to sleep for the night, but no one was able to help me or even point me in the right direction. Even when people did try and give me directions, the directions they gave were always incorrect. They didn’t know the names of the streets, they couldn’t count properly, and they could not communicate distances of any kind.
“Go down here. Then you will see a garage. At the garage, go right.” A woman told me while pointing with her hand to the left. “The go a long way and there is a hotel.”
“How far is a long way?” I would ask her.
“A long way,” she responded, as though that were the only way to respond to such a question.
Finally I found a hotel in a bad part of town that was in my price range, but still majorly overpriced for what it was. It was a shitty hotel in a shitty part of town with shitty staff and shitty run-down rooms. I hotel room cost 350 Rand for the night, which was more than I had paid for any night of lodging in Africa. But I was dead tired, completely upset, and all I wanted at this point in time was my own private room where no one could bother me.
But my frustrations of the day were far from over.
As I was checking into my hotel room, I handed the shady man behind the counter four 100 Rand notes. But as I looked away, turning to watch my bicycle outside, the man pocketed one of the 100 Rand notes I had handed him and said, “You only gave me 300 Rand.”
“No,” I told the man, “I gave you 400.”
“Well, I’ve only got 300 Rand here.” He waved the bills in front of my face.
“No, I gave you 400. Where did you put the other 100 Rand? I just gave you 400.”
It was at this point that I knew I was being hustled. It was the last thing I wanted. I was beyond upset at this point already, and now this man was fucking with me.
Without asking, I jumped over the reception desk counter and began looking for the 100 Rand behind the desk, but I couldn’t find it before the man pushed me back to the other side of the desk and demanded that I pay him the remaining 50 Rand.
We fought back and forth for several minutes, but the man didn’t budge. Finally, because I was so tired and just wanted to get up to my room and take a shower, I said, “I’m going to give you another 50 Rand. But I know you pocketed the other 100 Rand I gave you and I think you’re a fucking asshole.”
I handed the man another 100 Rand and he thanked me. He didn’t respond in the slightest way to my allegations against him. As I was waiting for my change (50 Rand) he said, “I don’t have 50 Rand. I’ll give you it to you later.”
I couldn’t believe it! This guy had to be kidding! I just about head butted him when he said that.
“Look!” I said, “I’m going to go up to my room. But I’m going to come back down here in 5 minutes and you better have my money.”
It was at this moment that I was grabbed by the hand by an old, dirty man standing at my side. I quickly pushed the man away from me. “Don’t touch me!” I said. That’s when I realized that this old man was carrying a dirty white town and a bar of soap. He was trying to show me to my room.
“That’s okay,” I tried to tell the old man. “I can find the room myself.” But he didn’t understand. The old man wouldn’t give me the towel and he followed me to my room. Once I had unlocked the door, the man showed me around the old, dirty, poorly decorated room and then attempted to show me how the television worked. Of course, I could care less how the television worked and I tried to tell the man this as he struggled to get the channels to change.
“It’s okay,” I told the man. “I don’t watch television. I don’t care. It’s okay. I just want to take a shower and go to sleep. It doesn’t matter.”
But the man failed to leave before he figured out how to change the channels on the TV set.
After he had managed to change from one channel to another (both of which were more static than actual programming), he asked me for money. I knew that this was coming too. That’s why I had tried to go to the room by myself… and why I was trying so hard to get him to leave while he fiddled with the television.
I was in a shitty, overpriced hotel where I had been conned out of 100 Rand by the man checking me into my room and now I was being asked for more money by an old man who had done nothing more than follow me to my room and annoy me for five minutes while he played with my television set, when I wanted nothing more than to just close the door and take a shower.
“I don’t have any money,” I told the man. “The guy at the desk down there stole all my money. Ask him for my money when you get back down there.”
At this point the man began to whimper like a little girl. He was actually whining… and he refused to leave.
I was pissed! Beyond pissed! Super pissed. I was furious!!!
I eventually grabbed the man by his shoulders and pushed him backward out of my room, closing the door and locking it just as soon as he stepped out into the hallway.
Finally, I was on my own! I had been in Lesotho for less than 36 hours, but I was more than ready to leave.
After showering, I locked up my bicycle inside the hotel room. I didn’t really want to go back out on the street, but I was hungry and I had no food in my possession. So I filled my backpack up with every single one of my valuable items (laptop, cameras, passport, wallet, iPod, etc) and took those things with me. The rest of my things I locked to the wall in my hotel room.
In all my years of travel, I had never been more afraid of having my things stolen out of my hotel room than in this shady hotel in Maseru, Lesotho.
When I returned to the front desk, I demanded my 50 Rand in charge from the man who had conned me at reception. He didn’t have it. But he ran into the other room and returned a few minutes later with a 50 Rand note. I checked it over to make sure it was real.
Then he said, “Are you going out? If you are going out you need to leave your key here.”
“No way!” I told the man, “I’m not giving you the key to my room. I don’t trust you. I’m taking the key with me.” And then I thought to myself once more, “Fuck you!” I stormed out of the hotel, slamming the glass door behind me, the key to my room still in my hand.
Out on the streets of Maseru I was instantly assaulted. I wasn’t getting as much attention walking around on foot as I was when I was on my bicycle, but I will still the only white person I had seen (or would see) the entire time I was in the country, and so I naturally received some attention just for that.
I walked up the street and found a KFC fast food restaurant. It was shit food, but I didn’t care. I just wanted someplace relatively safe and clean and quiet to eat, and KFC fit all those requirements at that particular moment.
I ordered french fries and a milkshake and then sat down at a table to eat. While eating, I realized that the restaurant had wireless Internet. Other people in the building were surfing the web on their phones and/or laptops… and because I had decided to bring my laptop with me rather than leave it in the hotel room, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to log onto the world wide web and vent some of my frustrations with Lesotho to my friends and family back home.
Part of the reason I think traveling in Lesotho (Swaziland and South Africa as well) were so difficult for me is because I was cut off from my friends and family for so long while I was in these areas. Due to the lack of Internet access in these three countries, I ended up spending a lot of time by myself, and when difficult things happened to me, I had no one to talk to. This was probably why I was so upset at the time… so I was looking forward to logging onto the Internet and getting out some of my frustrations.
But after just a few minutes of sitting there with my laptop open, a man dressed in a dirty brown security guard uniform came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. “No good!” the man said, “That’s no good.”
“Huh?” I responded. “I can’t use my laptop in here?”
The man shook his head. He was either bullshitting me, or he wanted money. I was guessing the latter. There were other people in the KFC using the Internet, but he had chosen to pick on me – once again, probably because I was white.
I argued with the man for just a minute before sliding my laptop back into my backpack and walking out.
“You’re an asshole,” I said to the man as I slammed past him and made my way out the door. Sadly, I don’t think he understood what I had said. I could tell that he didn’t really speak any English.
I had been thrown out of KFC. It had been a terrible day. More than 1,000 people had asked me for money. I had 100 Rand stolen from me at my hotel. I had been unable to talk to any of my friends or family back home. And I wanted nothing more than to get out of Lesotho. But I knew I had another day of cycling in the country in front of me.
I had originally planned to spend much longer in Lesotho. It had been the place I had been looking forward to visiting most during this particular bicycle tour across southern Africa. But I knew that I wouldn’t last another day in the country. I needed to get out… and soon!
I returned to my hotel that night, went to bed and woke up the next morning knowing that I had a difficult day in front of me. But I also knew that if I rode hard and kept my wits about me, I would sleeping in South Africa by the end of the night.
After carrying my bicycle down a flight of stairs, I pushed the bicycle out into the hotel’s main reception area, threw my key down on the counter and said to the woman now working the front desk, “The shower doesn’t work. I assume you know that, but just don’t care.” I walked out and didn’t say another thing.
At the hotel gate I was instantly surrounded by men asking for money. One of the men, after I told him I had to go and that I would not be giving him any money said, “Do you want to take my picture?”
“No!” I told the man. I had learned that this was one of the ways people in Lesotho try and get money out of tourists, so I wasn’t going to play this game. “I don’t want to take your photo… and I’m not going to give you any money”
“Then maybe you can tell your friends about me when you get back home,” he called out to me as I pedaled out into the busy street.
“Oh, I’ll tell them about you,” I thought to myself. “I will certainly tell them about you!”
No more than 30 meters away I was forced to stop at a red light. A man standing in the center of the road approached me and said, “I like your bicycle, can I have it?”
“No!” I almost screamed at the man… and thought to myself, “Leave me the fuck alone!”
But the man continued. “You give me your bicycle and you can come back for it later. I will be here. You will see me again.”
I didn’t respond. I wasn’t going to play this man’s games. As the man realized I wasn’t going to talk to him anymore, the light turned green and I stepped up on the pedals.
The man called out to me, “Or maybe you will never see me again?”
I laughed. Kind if crying, kind of laughing… I pedaled on.
A few kilometers up the road I saw a tall, thin man wearing nothing but a dirty, red blanket thrown over his shoulders running down the road, directly toward me, with a small book in his hand. A religious book of some kind – I could tell.
I wasn’t sure if the man was running toward me, or if he was just crazily running down the road. But he was in fact running toward me. As we approached one another, he spread out his arms and forced me to stop. I was incredibly upset at this point in time, and also a little afraid.
I tried to push my bicycle past the man, but he wouldn’t let me past. He pushed the religious book he was carrying in my face, said some things I couldn’t understand in a language that I don’t speak, spit on my the entire time he was talking, and held out his hand, asking for a handout. I imagined he was saying, “This book says you should give to the poor. I am poor, so give me money!”
Finally the man grew tired of me not responding to his strange actions, so he eventually let me pass. I jumped back on the pedals and continued down the road, only to encounter a similar scenario several more times before making it out of the main city.
At one point I was stopped by another scantily clad man in a rag. His nipples popped out of the top of his garb and I could tell that he was not entirely sane. He mumbled in broken English as he spoke to me. I tried to be nice and give the man a chance.
“Father,” he said. “Master. Light. There. Father. Truth. Reveal. Master.”
Speaking in one word phrases, I had no idea what he was saying. But the words he was using seemed oddly religious.
Eventually the man gave up talking and then asked me for some money. I pushed him out of the way and continued down the road.
After passing a small bicycle shop, I noticed that I was soon being followed by a man on a bike. At first I thought that this was just a coincidence, but then I realized that the man was actually chasing me. I slowed to let him catch up. I’d rather confront someone than have them follow me.
I was incredibly upset at the moment, but I was still trying to give every person I met a chance – even if the person I met just minutes before them had left me fuming.
The man on the bike turned out to be one of the good people I met in Lesotho. He was the owner of the little bicycle shack I had passed a few minutes before. Upon seeing me, he grabbed a bicycle and began chasing after me – anxious to hear my story. I told him that I had been cycling from Cape Town and that I had been bicycle touring in Europe for 10+ months before that. We exchanged contact details and then he turned around cycled back to his shop.
Once I got out of the city, I put my headphones in and tried to shut out my surroundings. My goal for the day was to cycle some 70+ kilometers and cross out of Lesotho at the Ficksburg, South Africa border crossing. Part of me wanted to stay in Lesotho much longer (because it was an interesting place), but I knew that my mental attitude would not survive in this environment much longer.
After about three hours of cycling out of the Maseru city center, I began wondering if I had taken the wrong road. There had been no street signs all day long, as I was afraid that I had maybe gone off in the wrong direction. But just as I began to doubt myself, I reached the hillside city of Teyateyaneng – located at the top of a steep mountain pass.
The town ran in a long line, mainly consisting of just one long road. I stopped at the first traffic circle to take a couple photos of this small, yet bustling city. As I began taking some pictures, who men (seen in the photo below) began fighting with one another. Yet more people stared at me on my bicycle than the men why were punching, kicking and wrestling with one another just a few meters away.
Because the city was perched at the top of a large hill, I did not want to make a wrong turn and then have to climb back up the steep mountain again, so I began asking the locals which road I needed to take to get to the Ficksburg border crossing.
The first few people I asked either didn’t speak English, didn’t know where Ficksburg was (even though it was only 30+ kilometers away), or were simply unable to give me directions of any kind.
Finally, I saw a man standing off to the left of the road… and for whatever reason, I could tell that this man was in charge.
I rode my bicycle right up to him and asked, “Excuse me, do you speak English?”
The man turned toward me, as did two other men standing right beside him, and it was at this point that I realized they were all carrying guns! The man I had addressed had a small silver pistol tucked into the front of his pants and another, larger gun hanging from the left inside pocket of his vest. The man behind him had a large automatic rifle of some kind slung over his shoulder, and the third man was carrying a rifle.
I tried to ignore the guns completely.
“I’m looking for the road to Ficksburg,” I told the men. “Do you know which road I need to take?”
The man didn’t answer my question right away. Instead, they asked me the standard three questions I was asked time and time again while I was in Lesotho. “Where are you coming from? How long did it take you to get here? And where do you sleep at night?”
I answered the questions, the whole time glancing back and forth between the men in front of me and the guns they had in their possession. While the were talking to me, I could see their eyes darting back and forth between me, my bicycle and something down the road.
After the men gave me the directions I was looking for, I shook their hands and continued on my way. Before pedaling off I considered for just a moment asking them what the guns were for, but eventually decided against it.
However, just down the road, I saw what I believed to be the answer to my own question!
At several points on this long, narrow road leading out of town were pickup trucks filled with four to six young men carrying weapons of all sorts – rifles, machine guns, pistols and more! While everyone else on the street was busy shopping, talking or roaming about, there were at least three of these pickup trucks positioned throughout the street and filled with young men in regular clothes carrying all kinds of weapons.
I’m not sure who these men were, why they were carrying guns, or why they had positioned themselves so strategically throughout the city, but I got the feeling that these men might be local gangsters of some kind. Because they were in street clothes, I imagined that they were either feuding with one another, or were some kind of citizens enforcement group, supposedly there to protect the people of the city, either from outsiders, the police, or who know what.
I never stopped to ask anyone about these men, however, so I guess I’ll never really know.
At the end of the road I approached three young police officers and before turning left on the road I believed would take me to Ficksburg. I asked them to confirm that this was the correct road to take… and afterwards asked them if I could take their photo. The lighting was perfect at the time and they were positioned in such a way that it would have made for a truly amazing photo.
But the young police officers had their eyed peeled on one of the trucks across the street filled with young men carrying guns. The officers rarely ever looked at me, spending most of their attention watching those armed men in the truck.
“No, I don’t think it is a good idea,” one of the officers told me.
“That’s okay,” I said. “No problem. Thank you!” And then I continued on my way.
On the outskirts of town I passed through yet another police road block. Then I cycled hard for another couple hours before reaching the final stretch of road that would lead me out of Lesotho and back into South Africa.
Just as I was about 10 kilometers from the border, I passed three young black men on bicycles. They were obviously locals, but the first people on bikes I had seen in the entire country (if you did not count the bike shop owner in Maseru who had chased after me earlier in the day). While two of the young men continued down the road in the direction they were going, one of the men circled around and started following me. I stopped to talk to him for a moment, but he didn’t speak any English. However, even with the obvious language barrier, I could tell that the man wanted to follow me to the border.
So I cycled on and the deadlocked young man followed behind me on his bike. I was a little anxious with him following behind me. I received even more strange looks from the locals now that there were two of us. But the ride to the border was a short one. The last few kilometers were through a dirty, yet incredibly active stretch of road, but it was almost entirely downhill, so before I knew it I was standing at the border.
I stopped to take a photo of the busy border town, and when I turned around to snap a photo of my cycling partner, he was gone.
Just as I was about to step up to the border gate and exit the country that I had loved and hated all at the same time (the most interesting, yet most stressful and annoying country I had ever had the chance to visit), I was approached by one final man.
“Take my photo!” the man asked me.
Ignorning the fact that he would likely ask me for money after I snapped his photo, I took out my camera, removed the lens cap, shut out the entire world around me and… CLICK!