Molumong – Wool Trading Station

We stayed at an old sheep shearing station in Lesotho one winter – 2001. The innkeeper welcomed us on a chilly night with a deep bath full of hot water, a hot coal stove burning in the kitchen and warm friendliness.

We had taken our time on the way, so it was dark when we arrived.

The main lodge was the residence of successive traders who ran the Molumong Trading Station, the first of whom was apparently a Scotsman, John White-Smith, in 1926. He got permission from Chief Rafolatsane – after whom Sane Pass was named. Just look at the thickness of the walls of the old stone house in that open window.

We ate well by candle-light and slept warmly. The next morning I braved the outdoor chill. Overcast with a Drakensberg wind blowing. Sheep shit everywhere, from the front door step to as far as the eye could see, the grass munched down to within a millimetre of the dry brown soil. No fences, the sheep have to have access to everything growing.

I wandered over to the shed below the homestead where a Bata shoe sign announced:

“Give Your Feet A Treat Man!”

Soft Strong Smart

An elderly gentleman sat on a chair behind the counter, his small stock on the shelves behind him. I greeted him, taking care not to slip into isiZulu here in seSotho country. “Dumela” I said. “Good morning, lovely day!” he answered in an impeccable English accent.

He was the last trader at Molumong before it closed down, Ndate (Mr) Gilbert Tsekoa, who was retired and instead of trading wool and arranging the shearing, was now running a little shop in the shed, where locals and lodge guests could buy sweets, soap, headache powders, cooking oil, salt, rice and other basic necessities.

Molimong Trader touched up

WHAT an interesting man. He told me a bit about his life and the days of the wool trade. I wish I had recorded him speaking! Here he is with good friend Bruce Soutar on another visit. Ndate Tsekoa is the younger-looking one with hair. Bruce and his optometrist wife Heather kindly arranged for Ndate Gilbert to have his cataracts removed in Durban, which made his last years better and clearer. He passed away in 2009. Bruce tells me he sent his sons to study at Oxford University in faraway England.

Later, when the sun warmed up, I gave three year-old Jess a warm bath alfresco on the lodge front lawn. We’d put her straight to bed the night before when the hot water was available.

Magnificently isolated on the gravel road between Sani Pass and Katse Dam, surrounded by the hills on the high plateau between the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains, the lodge offers self-catering rooms and rondawels, serenely electricity-free  and cellphone-free: Truly ‘Off the Grid’! Three-day pony treks to southern Africa’s highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana (3482 m) can be arranged with a local moSotho guide.

– Jess and I explore the grounds –

The house can accommodate twelve guests, the backpackers another eight and the rondawel sleeps two in a double bed. You can also camp in the grounds.

molumong lodge older

Contact them: Noma – Phone: (+266) 2700 9843 / 5399 9843  molumonglodge@mail.com –

I found two websites for Molumong Lodge: https://molumong.wordpress.com/ and https://molumongecolodge.wordpress.com/ – It seems one you’d book through a South African, the other direct with Noma who lives at the lodge.

~~~oo0oo~~~

We loved Molumong. So much so that we went again later that same year, meeting good friends Dizzi and Jon Taylor there. October, a lot greener.

~~~oo0oo~~~


Afriski: Next Gen

The niece and the nephew took a husband, a wife, and two kids each and took over the St Moritz snow week at Afriski in Lesotho. The next generation!

They went up Sani Pass. Thank goodness for the snow machines as there was no ‘free snow from heaven’ on the ground!

– Afriski 2019 – Emma, Matthew, Mary-Kate & Dawie –
– Mary-Kate and Dad Dawie –
– Linda & Dawie – first go at the slope! –

Afriski Over The Years

First Afriski Trip 2007 - with YoungsAfriski Infrastructure

Skiing became sad, you had to snowboard.

Afriski with Naudes 2011

Afriski with Ogilvies 2010

Friends joined us to fill up the 11-bed chalet over the years. Youngs, du Toits, Naudes, Chriches and Ogilvies.

Afriski Chalet Indoors Collage

The instructors were great to the kids. Bronwyn, Brad & Wynand were special faves!

Afriski Instructors - So Good to the Kids

Some years there was free snow, some years only the machine snow.

Afriski with Naudes & Lungelo 2014Afriski 2010 SnapShots Collage

The older the kids got the more popular the pubs became!

Afriski blizzard

Afriski 2014 - All Grown Up

Afriski in Lesotho

In the featured pic above the heading our ‘Estonia-type’ chalet is off to the far right. It’s the middle one in the picture below. It sleeps 11 people and is wonderfully comfy and warm as toast – very well insulated, double-glazed. Its called ‘St Moritz’ for some reason. It used to be called Estonia No.5. I’d have preferred a Sesotho name! Anyway, a rose by any other name . . . Maybe Mahae – ‘rural home’ or ‘rustic home’.

The new chalets they’re selling are smaller, modern, square, lots of glass. They’re OK. They call them ‘edgy’. But they’re nothing like our old “Estonian Wooden Chalet”!

Afriski new huts

We bought one week of winter skiing (plus three weeks in summer) and we have used it seven winters in the ten years we’ve had it. Now I would sell if I got a buyer. Someone could get a bargain for the last five years, especially if two families shared it.

Jazz at Oxbow

Stayed at Oxbow Lodge one cold winter night. Can’t remember if we were childful yet or child-free. The whole lodge is tightly squeezed in a narrow space between the road and the river. Our little rondawel was icy: Concrete walls, thin iron windows with flimsy curtains, a slate floor. The bed looked and felt like an ice cream tub. We fired up the gas heater and went off to find supper.

The bar / dining room / lounge area was big and bleak but warmer than our room. Supper was delicious: a big hot filling stew. Maybe oxbone? With sherry.

Plus we had one more great reason to settle down and stay: Lovely jazz music was playing over the speakers perched on the cornices. After a while I went to enquire at the pub. The lovely lady at reception showed me the CD cover below. We have listened to it ever since. *Click Play* and hear it y’self:

Back in the rondawel it was still cold but Oxbow back then was an oasis in the frigid winter Lesotho highlands. There was nowhere else to go for miles. Anyway, we were young and soon heated up the bed knowhatimean.

The rocky, waterfall-strewn river right outside was frozen solid the next morning, miles of ice and beauty in bright sunshine. Still freezing though.

Oxbow snow.PNG

These pics are of a more recent, revamped oxbow.

Afriski 2014

*** publishing now, but a story I wrote six years ago after our annual winter trip to Lesotho – just ‘parking it’ for the archives! ***

The resort has taken another leap forward this year under PIN management since they got 51% share and with that, management control. Most noticeable was the parking, the roads and the walkways are neater and better paved. This makes getting around easier and safer. In an earlier year, Aitch once slipped on ice and got a big fright. The whole complex is tidy, too, where before material and equipment would be left lying around.

Much of the accommodation has been upgraded – notably the two big units which have been completely re-done and their outside staircases enclosed in glass (red arrows);

– two original triple-story accom units – the ‘PIN’ lodges –

Two completely new staff quarters have been built below the dams which frees up more accommodation next to the restaurant. I think its up to 240 beds. Up to 800 day visitors can arrive on a busy weekend day in school holidays!

The restaurant is terrific now. They have expanded to upstairs and down, take two sittings and were fully booked Sunday night. Professional chef, lovely grub.

– pisten bully –

Weather was two perfect days – midday saw ladies skiing in skimpy tops! One day was too windy for the skilift to run, so the slope people used the Pisten Bully to take people to the top instead. With us was the Naude family Michelle and Craig and their three boys, and Tom’s mate Lungelo.

Not moving forward this year was the kids enthusiasm! Jess didn’t ski / snowboard at all – sore knee & wrist. Tom spent about half his snowboarding time doing other things, including sleeping! Three of the five boys who went with us were out on the slope early until they got kicked off when it closed – keen as mouseturd, like Jess & Tom used to be – so it was fun seeing their newby enthusiasm. Times change!

So come next January my two will have to convince me we should go – or we’ll hire out our week for the first time after eight years! Ons sal sien . . !

~~~oo0oo~~~

Die Donkie is n Wonderlike Ding

I was going too fast, but we were late and I could see miles ahead along the sweeping roads on the hillsides of Lesotho. A speck of dust would show up then disappear as we rounded a hill, then reappear later a bit nearer, but still far away. Eventually a car would materialise, turn into a white bakkie and sweep past in a cloud of dust.

We were hastening to get to Sani Top after entering Lesotho near Ficksburg, and zooming over Khatse Dam after waiting a while for the brakes to cool so they’d work again after too much sight-seeing braking down the steep decline to the dam. Little Jessie and Tom strapped in the back and me and Aitch in front. The Dizzis were waiting for us and Aitch hates keeping anyone waiting and especially the Dizzis, so I was putting foot, it’s true.

As I rounded one more bend at dusk my eyes widened and the donkey’s eyes widened much more. Huge, in fact as he stared at his impending doom. The look in his eyes was quite fatalistic, and he was rooted to the spot, massive bundle of sticks and bushes loaded on his back and sticking out more than his body width on both sides. On the left a high bank, on the right a cliff plummeting down to the river valley far below. Swerving was out of the question, as was hard braking, so I manual-ABS’d, slowing down as much as I could without endangering us.

As we hit the poor ass I probably closed my eyes. WHACK! A sickening bang. Dead, I’m sure. Kombi messed up. I stopped and hopped out thinking: You don’t stop and get out. For safety you keep moving. Like hell.

.

I walked into a wall of cussing and swearing and remonstrating in high seSotho. What the hell did I think I was doing and Who the hell was going to pay and Where the hell was I headed in such a hurry and How the hell was he going to . . . I hardly heard him. I was staring past him at the donkey walking away minus its load, seemingly none the worse for wear! I was so relieved I actually giggled and had to bite my lip.

I immediately launched into a sincere and abject apology oft-repeated and completely ignored. I apologised for speeding, endangering, carelessness, being younger than him, and for breathing. I was sorry that he’d have to catch his donkey and I regretted that he’d have to do all the loading all over again. I was getting nowhere and the tirade was warming up and getting more creative. I saw I wasn’t getting through, so I returned to the kombi and fetched R200 and pressed it into my fully-justified tormentor’s hand.

It was like switching off a radio. He was COMPLETELY satisfied and what were we talking about a minute ago again? A last apology and off we went. We still had a long way to go. Phew!

– near Sani Top in earlier days –

There was a sequel the next morning as we headed back into Lesotho on the same road. There was my man again, so I gave him a cheery wave. He was with a mate and he pointed at us jabbering away, grinning excitedly. We had fun imagining what he was saying. All complimentary, we agreed.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Back from Afriski

Afriski Savanna 2013

James gets First Prize – takes after Ma!

Just got back last evening.
Nine slow hours there on Thursday, and nine hours back today. Dawdled through the Oos Vrystaat. Saw jackal (Tommy spotted him just outside Clarens), mongoose, springbok, blesbok, hartebeest, white-tailed gnu, zebra, grey rhebok, and lotsa birds. Sterkfontein full to the brim and looking blue as the sky. Fascinating to think beneath those clear waters is Nuwejaarsvlei, the farm my Mom was born on in 1928. Lived there till she was eight.

The air was crystal clear, we could see every detail of the Malutis and the ‘Berg. Here’s the whole High Berg from Sentinel to Giants Castle (click on the pic).

The Full High 'Berg Panorama
– all of the High Berg – seen from the top of Oliviershoek Pass –

Kids were a pleasure. Jess took a friend Savanna, and they giggled and ogled the ski instructors non-stop. The Naudes joined us again, so Tom had Joshua and we had James and Michael, old-time skiers all, now – *yawn*!

Ma Michelle took to skiing like a duck to water and won all the bum boarding races hands-down. Must be technique, as I thought my superior attraction to gravity would beat her, but no.

Car Trouble! Craig had car trouble and spent two nights in Ficksburg after we’d all left!! He took his new black Jeep CherryOkie and burnt out the starter motor trying to ignite frozen diesel. Ernest the resident Afriski diesel mech (he keeps the Pisten Bullys going) tried, but no go, so a flatbed truck was summoned from Ficksburg, land of the Cherry Cherry beauty contest.

Before the flatbed arrived, he borrowed my bakkie and took his vrou Michelle and three boys to the Free State Holy City by the River Jordan (OK, Bethlehem). Hired a car for them, so they got back to Westville one night before we did (Monday night). He got back to Afriski late Monday, just before Braam arrived wif ve flatbed. R3600 later the Jeep was dropped on (or off) a jack at the Ficksburg auto-electrician’s, cracking the sump.
So Craig is still in F’burg, two nights later. F*ckit, I think he said . . .

The Resort: Afriski is MUCH more organised now that PIN (the guys I bought thru) have 51% and management control.

This was our seventh trip, so I’m happy we’ve made good use of it. The kids still look forward to it all year – they’re already plotting next year! And they always ask, “Can we go again in the holidays?” and I have to explain how it costs a stack if you go out of your allocated week.

I paid R125 000, so still expensive, but getting less each year! The big question will come when we decide to sell! (update 2020: Well, COVID lockdown played havoc with the resort’s finances; if it survives – it’s touch and go – it’ll be a while before we’ll be able to sell ).

Our chalet is very comfy, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a big lounge, 12 beds. Lovely kitchen, well-equipped. About 500m from the slope, so we get plenty of exercise in the thin air!

Eye Candy: On our last day six gorgeous shapely models arrived for a photo shoot and had a ski lesson. It was a glorious bright sunny day so they all wore skimpy tops and I had to check up on the kids wif me binocs.

~~~oo0oo~~~