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Surprise trip to ‘Kingdom in the Sky’

Luc Pols
Travel Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail Daily/Luc PolsLocal transportation around Katse Village, Lesotho.
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Because I’ve been told by locals and visitors alike that neither Francistown nor Gaborone, the capital, are really worth spending any time in, the only thing left in Botswana to see are the flamingos around Nate in the Kalahari Desert.

Unfortunately, the hotel there wants around $200 total to take this excursion and because I have seen the flamingos in Ngorongoro, I don’t think it is worth that amount of money just to see more flamingos. So I hoof it straight to Gaborone and spend the night.

Back to my first African country and to Kimberly, my most western point in South Africa, where I visit “the Big Hole,” the largest hand-dug hole in the world, which dates from the diamond mining days. It is owned by De Beers Diamond Company and they have made quite a tourist attraction out if it. It is a cross between Disneyland and Gallico, a famous ghost town in Southern California. I pay my ten bucks and … it is a big hole.

Now, a completely unexpected to one more new country, Lesotho. One of the other “mini-goals” I had set for myself before leaving the U.S. was to visit 10 new countries and this is it. I’ll be spending four days here (couldn’t afford Madagascar at $1,000 plus for a ticket and in retrospect I am thrilled) and am looking forward to traveling through this “Kingdom in the Sky,” reputedly the highest country in the world.

The only thing I know about the country of Lesotho is through stamps. As some of you know, I am a stamp collector and Lesotho is one of the countries which issues stamps, for lack of a better term, willy-nilly and they are worth absolutely nothing. Therefore, my thoughts about this country have always been somewhat on the negative side – until today.

What a surprise. What a country. What stunningly beautiful scenery. The road between Leribe and Takse Dam ranks among the top two or three roads I have ever traveled and by now most of you know that I have traveled a fair amount of roads in my life.

My driver Johnny of Unique Tourism Travel (rametsemj@gmail.com) and I have some great conversations in between admiring the out-of-this-world scenery. I negotiated hard with him yesterday to get a good price for this tour, because “I did not know what to expect.”.

Let me tell you, when you are in southern Africa make absolutely sure you visit Lesotho and take a trip through this relatively small country. In three or four days you can tour all of it and I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

One of my favorite roads in the world is between Jasper and Banff in Canada, but this road comes awfully close. The problem is that nobody knows about this or has even heard about this country. It is one of the best kept secrets in the world and undeservedly so.

People should flock here and visit and they will be more than impressed. Also, use Johnny, and you know I don’t recommend any place or anybody as a rule of thumb, but this guy is great. He is the chairman of the budding tourist association here and extremely knowledgeable.

By the way, I bet you don’t know, as I didn’t, that there actually is snow skiing here, but the season lasts between two and four weeks only – and we complain in Vail? I go over two passes to get to the Katse Dam – one of them at 12,160 feet.

Now, don’t take me wrong. This is not all roses and moonshine. Once again it is relatively expensive – don’t ask me why, Lesotho being one of the poorest countries in Africa. The unemployment rate I am told is around 40 percent and the AIDS population hovers around the mid-20s. This is not counting the people who don’t know or don’t want to know. Scary.

This continent, or at least the part I’ve seen of it, has rather big problems. In my opinion it will be a long time before southern Africa catches up with the rest of the world and we’re talking generations. More about that in my last two articles next week and the week after.

Spending my last full day in Africa relaxing, walking around Maseru and enjoy the last heat this body will feel for a while, because Europe seems to be under a cold spell and of course Vail … is Vail.

The only way I can be sure to catch my flight to Amsterdam on time is to fly, so I’m taking the plane from Maseru and spend a couple of hours at the airport in Johannesburg before a my connecting overnight flight back to Europe. The African part is over.


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