Attitude, altitude and access: Out of breath and detained at the Lesotho border

Pothole paradise. A bumpy ride through the Free State - particularly the road between Villiers and Bethlehem – leads you to the Northern Lesotho border. 

Sitting at an altitude of 1400m above sea level at the border, Lesotho is a country of mountains. And heading up the SANI pass, the Maluti Mountains reach heights of up to 3200m.

The air is thin and as you go higher, you feel the oxygen-levels and temperatures drop, fast. But high altitude also has its benefits. Elite endurance athletes train in the mountains, it's better for cardiovascular health, and gaining weight is more difficult. The altitude is one of the main reasons why two ski resorts are situated here, Afriski and Tiffindell – part of only a handful in Africa. 

Lesotho

(PHOTO: Marisa Crous) 

PICS: Lesotho turns into a winter wonderland after heavy snowfall 

You enter at Caledonspoort Border Post in Fouriesburg, you park your car, walk up to the immigration window, say ‘hi’, get your South African passport stamped, jump back into your car, drive two meters until police checks your passport again, you drive five more meters, you stop again to pay R40 or 40 M/L (Loti) to a toll-boom operator, and you are in! Home free. 

Immediately, your Vodacom service is cut. You are across a border. 

That was easy, right? 

Not as much coming back, unfortunately.

Coming back from the mountains, the air fills your lungs and you feel fresher. Arriving at the same border control just past Butha-Buthe – the town is known for selling some of the best heritage blankets in the country – you are soon grateful for that extra helping of oxygen.

You don’t get out of your car when travelling back through, as you just pass by a window where you hand your passport to an officer, and it is checked and stamped.

 “No.” The passport control officer says. “Park”. 

READ: The True Cost of Travel Visas: South Africans weigh visa complications agony, mostly refused for UK and US applications 

Um. Air. I need air. (I figure that being detained in a foreign border prison might be nicer than being detained in a South African prison, but still!)

After a back and forth, back and forth we realise that, we screwed up.

We didn’t get two stamps upon entry. We just got one. The South African one. After getting our first stamp we were supposed to know (there are no signs, and no one tells you this) that you need to get another stamp after paying your R40, after the cross a bridge into Lesotho. 

"There's a building there," he says.

Flustered, we try to remain calm. How can we go back in time and fix this. Why didn't we ask more questions or do our research like we would've done with countries abroad. Probably, because we thought it would just be easy so close to home.

After about 15-20 minutes, the passport control officer goes silent for a moment. He then looks us in the eyes, and speaks with authority: “Next time you come to Lesotho, you stamp twice. This is not South Africa.”

It wasn't just the altitude that went to my head, I've had and have seen other South Africans display an almost-arrogant attitude towards crossing countries that border SA. Like it's easier, or should be for South Africans. The rest of the world makes it so difficult for us to cross borders, surely a country within a country like SA should be easy. Rules are not as set in stone, right?

It's an almost sense of entitlement - these are tog just play-play countries, inferior to our own. Wasn't that the exact thought-process of the imperialists? 

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