A pony trek in Lesotho was my top priority for this trip, apart from my friend’s wedding and cage diving with great white sharks, of course. I learned of pony trekking from the Sailing Totem blog, and knew I had to do it, too! (Behan sails around the world with her husband + 3 kids, and they do interesting activities everywhere.) I had recently done some horse trekking in Mongolia, which I absolutely loved!
Reminder: for all Lesotho posts, please use Search function (magnifying lens) at the top of this page and enter “Lesotho”. And, here is the summary of my entire 5-week solo road trip in South Africa + Lesotho.
I arranged my Ketane Waterfall pony trek at Semonkong Lodge intending to spend two nights at villages + three days trekking by horse. Sadly, it became just one night, since my guide became ill. I was upset
super pissed off, but what could I do? At least I was not sick. Anyway, I still loved it and highly recommend the trek for the landscape and cultural experience. If you are horse-averse, it can also be hiked.
My guide met me with three horses (my backpack and guiding gear got its own horse, along with the guides gear, including a 5-gallon gas can (what are we cooking for 2 nights that we need so much gas?). I stood around while everything was packed up. After a while he was ready to have me mount my horse, and we were off!
Another tourist, an Italian, was hiking with his guide. We soon passed them.
Our horses expertly walked narrow mountainside paths, their hooves clacking on the stones. On the steepest part, I leaned forward so my torso was nearly parallel to that of my horses body. He high-stepped to get up and over the tallest rocks, the strength in his rear legs getting both of us to the top of a craggy mountain impressed me. My guide told me a few things about the plants when I asked, but was generally quiet. Occasionally we passed villages, other riders, and sheep. Sometimes a donkey would come running toward us, loaded down with a sack of grain or empty jerry cans. Its owner following close behind on foot or by horse.
It was a comfortably warm day, and at noon I was getting hungry. I asked my guide when we would stop for lunch. In typical guide fashion he nonchalantly told me “soon, we will get to a nice place.” I thought we were in a beautiful place already, on a plateau overlooking vast valleys. The steep hillsides were planted with maize, which like corn, has tall green stalks topped by golden silk. The breeze kept me cool on this blue-sky day as my stomach growled.
Sadly, I could not feel the breeze blowing romantically through my hair, since Semonkong Lodge requires everyone to wear a helmet– even guides. It is good that the Lodge is responsible towards its employees. However, in Mongolia I was helmet-less always. (At one point after galloping across the steppe, I calculated how long it would take to transport me to a good hospital if I fell off my horse and knocked my head. 3 days, was what I figured.)
Descending from the plateau I could see a river below running between the tall hills. And, then, the drama. Drama is good for a trip, since it is what makes it memorable, right? Well, this drama was more humorous than adventurous. We were nearly to the river, when my guide noticed that our packhorse’s pack had slid down a bit to one side.
He easily swung a leg around and dismounted his horse, dropping the reins on the ground, assuming his horse would stand there and munch on the leaves that all our horses had constantly been attempting to nibble off the bushes for the past 10 minutes. The guide loosened the pack on the brown packhorse, so he could reposition it. With the repositioning done, he stood on one leg, and had the other up on the pack for leverage and leaned back pulling the strap. That is when his own horse began strolling down the hillside.
I did not want to distract my guide from his task at hand, but when his horse got 50 feet away, it began trotting down the hill. “Excuse me, should I get your horse?” I asked, pointing downhill where his horse was headed. “Yes, thank you,” he said, and off I went, squeezing my horse through the bushes past the packhorse.
Fortunately, his horse stopped near the river in the marshy, wet land. So, my horse kept it company and I think prevented it going further away. As I was trying to get the reins, my guide came walking down the hill with the packhorse, so I did not have to do much work, actually. He mounted his horse and we crossed the river, our horses first stopping for a happy slurp of a few gallons of water. The slurping sounds horses make are hilarious– I laugh every time. It is like a kid slurping a milkshake as loudly as possible.
Lunchtime: Not What I Expected
Lunchtime was highly disappointing. As soon as we crossed the river, we dismounted and my guide handed me a lunch bag containing a white bread sandwich and a small apple. He walked away and flopped down on the grass for a nap, laying his hat over his face. Left on my own, I found myself in tall grass with the hot sun blazing down on me. With no breeze, it was hot and uncomfortable. I didn’t have anything interesting to photograph, either, as we were essentially in a gully in full midday sun.
I tried getting into the river, thinking I would cool my feet off. However, while the river had a sloping bank on the other side, it was a drop-off on this side. The other side of the river also had a few small trees providing shade. I assume there was some reason we stopped for lunch after crossing the river, but I do not know what it was. How long were we going to stay here? I was ready to move on.
Becoming more frustrated as time went on, I spotted the Italian hiker and his guide hiking down the hill across the river, the same way we had come from. Excited for company, since my guide barely spoke to me, I greeted them heartily when they arrived. My guide woke up and chatted and laughed with the other guide. Maybe I had somehow offended my guide, and that is why he barely spoke to me. I thought about what I might have said, which was probably not more than 10 sentences in the few hours we rode together, since he only spoke in response to questions I asked.
When the Italian and his guide finished their lunch, we all started off again. Were the Italian hiker and I on the same route? Why had we waited for them to finish their lunch in this place, although my guide and I had horses and they were walking? So many questions!
Food + Scenery
The Lodge requires that tourists bring their own food from town, but I really wanted to eat traditional food from Lesotho. I live in a restaurant overloaded city with cuisine from around the world, including South Africa, but no Lesotho food. Having no idea what a Basotho family would eat, apart from pap (ground maize made into a thick porridge), I was intent on trying it. I made my pony trekking reservation to start the next morning, and the Lodge advised me that the village did not have food on offer. However, I pressed, explaining that this might be my only opportunity for eating typical food, and they said they would see what could be done. I never heard anything back, so I assumed they had arranged my meals.
After lunch, we rode uphill and through more green mountains along more rocky paths, passing villages. We could see all the way down the steep hillside to the river and small waterfalls below. The paths we took were sometimes extremely narrow on steep hillsides. Of course, I was never once scared that my horse might slip on the path of loose rocks, and tumbling down the mountainside– because I’m brave like that. No, actually, I just act like there is no way I could die, and so far I have been 100% right!
Arrival in the Village
We had walked our horses rather slowly, and arrived in the village where we would stay the night after about 4 hours of riding (total for the day). The Italian hiker and his guide arrived soon after us, since my guide paused to wait for them all along the way.
In front of the rondavel where we would sleep, there was a big round 3-footed pot over a fire being tended by a few women with small kids. A fresh sheep skin hung over a tree branch a few feet away. After unloading and unsaddling our horses, my guide went into the rondavel and slept.
The Italian’s guide advised us that my guide was feeling ill, so I would join him and the Italian to the Ketane Waterfall overlook, which was scary to reach. We proceeded down a flat path with grass growing on either side, but just near the overlook it was a steep downhill on loose gravel! When I finally got down to the overlook, it was so amazing! The waterfall was quite a distance away, but we had a clear view of the massive stream of water. It is a tall, though not very wide cataract.
The overlook area was very steep, so there was not a good place to launch my drone, and definitely no place to land. I made do, though and got some pretty video. I was a bit tentative flying, since I could not tell the wind speed near the waterfall, and did not want to run out of battery while returning. You definitely cannot walk too close to the edge of the overlook, since it is straight down, if you slip and fall.
We had fun together and upon returning to the tiny community the Italian wanted to know if there was anywhere he could buy a beer. And, so we did a 15-minute hike down the mountain, across a creek, and up another little mountainside to the bar.
Going for a Beer
A Basotho, an Italian, and an American walk into a bar….. haha! We did not go inside, but sat outside on the porch, while the Italian drank his bottle of Maluti beer. That is, after someone called away the gigantic hairy dogs, so we could approach the building with the bar. Note: a lot of dogs in Lesotho seem to have Irish Wolfhound heritage. They are huge and their long fur hangs down all over them.
The bar was great! Music was blaring and the kids and adults were relaxing in the cool evening air. Us tourists were as happy to meet, watch, and hang out with locals as they were with us. It is not as though there are a lot of options for entertainment in a tiny village. The little kids took turns dancing, and we all tried to convince the Italian that he should dance a little, too. He was not having it, though.
After a while, I left the men and kids, and walked over to where the women were sitting around drinking something. They were hanging out chatting and continually refilling little plastic cups with a ladle. They passed a cup to me, and I tried their brew. It was not bad– I assumed it was fermented maize flavor, and happily discovered that it was not carbonated. I had fun sitting and laughing with the women as the sun set beyond the mountains.
My Poor Sick Guide
When we returned to our rondavel, my guide roused himself out of the sole bed. There were no lights in the rondavel, and we lit a lantern. He looked in really bad shape, and the Italian dug some white pills out of his first aid kit. We discussed what he might be ill with, and the Italian’s guide told us that he would make my guide a medicinal hot tea. “Ok, but he should take the pills, also,” the Italian and I strongly advised. My guide sat on the edge of the bed gathering his strength and stood up, rummaged through his bag taking out a full loaf of white bread, and stumbled out the door.
What’s for Dinner?
After a few minutes there was a knock on our door and I answered unquestioningly, since it happened that I was right by it anyway. There wasn’t much point me asking “who is it?”, since the village only had a few families, and it did not really matter who it was. A woman handed me pots, and I took them, setting them on the dining table near the door. The Italian and his guide had brought their own food for dinner, so this was all mine.
I cracked open the lids and peeked inside each pot. Immediately I realized there was absolutely no way I could eat the massive quantity of food– the three pots were full of sheep ribs, pap, and sautéed greens. It smelled so good, and I was ready to eat. Of course, I told the Italian and his guide that they would have to share my supper. They were happy to oblige, and the guide pulled some dishes out of the bags and we sat down to a feast. We grabbed greasy ribs and used the pap to pick up the greens, our oily fingers glowing in the yellow lantern light.
The Second Day
I woke up early, hoping to photograph the animals being released from their pen. They were still in their pen, so I stayed awake listening for them to get let out. They were too quiet, though, and I missed it.
We had a nice slow morning in the village. I flew my drone a little and photographed the landscape. One of the women wanted me to take her photo, and then walk back to the other set of homes and show it to her friend. They loved it, and it was a fun interaction, even if I could only say a few words in Sotho (Lesotho language).
My guide said he felt healthy. However, he still was not speaking much with me, so it was a very quiet ride. After an hour, I decided I would rather not spend another day on this pony trek, since the scenery was going to look much the same, and learning more from my guide seemed unlikely. Additionally, I asked where we would spend the night, and it was only a few hours away and the last day of the ride would only be about 2 hours. However, I would be charged for a full day. So, we returned to Semonkong Lodge.
Lunchtime: Day 2
Similar to the day before, my guide handed me some food out of a saddlebag, dropped our horses reins, and strolled off for a nap beside the path. I was happy with our stopping point, a big plain with a village in the distance. I photographed the various plants and relaxed in the knee-high grass. Our horses wandered, enjoying their lunch, too. The day was warm and wonderful.
I had finished my lunch and was relaxing when a man came walking down the path. I watched him come directly toward us, and glanced at my guide who was snoozing away. The man looked friendly enough, but did not call out hello as he approached us. Instead he brought his fingers to his mouth, indicated I should keep quiet. I figured he was going to sneak up on my guide, and I was happy to let him do so, for my entertainment. Sure enough he did! He didn’t make any sound, but just touched my guide on the shoulder. My guide sat up with a start, grabbing his hat off his face to look around. I laughed!
Although this pony trek in Lesotho did not work out, I would go again in a heartbeat, and suggest you go! It was just a one-off thing that my guide became ill. When I spoke with the Lodge management about it, they told me that he normally gets excellent reviews from tourists and speaks English very well. So, if a trip like this is appealing to you, go! And, send me photos!
Arrange the Ketane Falls Pony Trek in Lesotho through Semonkong Lodge.
Cost $135 USD, including VAT. Includes 1 night village accommodation, 1 village dinner; 2 days of guiding and 3 horses (1 each for guide, me, and packhorse). It is less expensive per person, if you have more people.
Advance Planning for Your Pony Trek in Lesotho I arranged my pony trek 1 day before departure. If you know your schedule, I suggest calling or emailing ahead of time. Weather can be highly changeable, so it is good if you have flexible dates.
Where to Stay Pre-and Post-Pony Trek Semonkong Lodge has a very nice and comfortable dorm rondavel with the biggest bathroom I have ever seen. I shared it one night with the Italian and another night I had it alone. Camping is available, and the private rooms are great! The room and bathroom are spacious. The kitchen available for guest use is far from the best, but you can certainly cook a meal. The Lodge restaurant and bar is probably good. (I did not try the food, since it was expensive for my budget.) Wi-Fi is available in the main lodge building, and is strong enough to download files, Facebook, etc. I did not try streaming video.
Toilet Situation At the Lodge, the toilets are western style flush toilets; showers are also western style with towels provided. In the village, there is an outhouse, and running water from a spring is available for drinking, but I am not sure of the bathing. For one night, I did without a bath.
What to Do While at the Lodge Other people I met at the Lodge were on a guided tour, many of them there for fly fishing. The Lodge has a lot to offer in terms of hiking in the area. There is also rappelling down a huge waterfall. Located on the edge of the town, you can easily walk into town or a nearby village. Check out the supermarket in town and allot extra time in case the exit line is long, since the security person checks every single item against the receipt for every single customer. It is not a fast process. There is also a bar, food stalls, and local life generally. People are friendly and helpful, and I found it easy to ask someone on the street for anything I needed.
Hiking the Route The Italian tourist hiked the exact trail I rode. The lodge made him pay for and take a pony as emergency back-up transportation, if he were to twist an ankle or otherwise become unable to hike. Once we saw the trail, we agreed that it really was not feasible to get a 4-wheeled vehicle where we were. However, we passed villages at least every hour, so if you were injured you could probably get back to the Lodge within 8 hours.