The Reason Why I Was Stuck at the Lesotho Border Crossing For Almost Four Hours
A s my stay concluded at the Katse Lodge, I asked the woman at the front desk where I can purchase a small souvenir which was made in Lesotho.
“You probably will not find a place that is open today,” she advised. Is it because that day was a Saturday?
No. The reason why is because February 28, 2015 was Election Day where the people of the nation of Lesotho were to vote on who should be elected prime minister going forward.
That was not a problem for me, as I wound up purchasing a souvenir from a woman who was selling handmade items right outside the front of Katse Lodge. I did not even attempt to bargain with her when she quoted a price of 20 South African rand for what I wanted, which sounds like a lot of money but turned out to be fewer than two dollars — plus, the transaction was convenient and quick. I purchased the item shortly before checking out of Katse Lodge.
Because my next destination was Durban, I wanted to try to leave Lesotho at the Sani Pass border crossing. The problem with that was that there were no paved roads anywhere near that border crossing. In fact, most of the roads in southern and eastern Lesotho are either dirt or gravel; so Sani Pass was not an option for me — especially driving a rental car.
I had no choice but to backtrack to the northwestern part of Lesotho and go around it to get to Durban. I chose to take a detour and go through Maseru, as it was not all that much out of my way anyway — plus, I was not sure that the Ficksburg Bridge border crossing would be open at the hour of the night that I expected to arrive at it anyway. Maseru is the capital city — and also the largest city — in Lesotho; so I figured that the Maseru Bridge border crossing would more likely be open to traffic and hoping that the wait to cross the border would be far shorter than when I was stuck at the Lesotho border crossing for almost four hours at Ficksburg Bridge.
When I arrived, I went through the entire process: gate pass, customs, you name it — but there was not much of a wait.
An officer stopped me during the border crossing and advised me what I needed to do. Once I was done, I thanked him for his help; and then we started chatting. He wanted to know where I was from; and I told him the United States. His face lit up. I asked if it is rare for Americans to visit Lesotho.
“Oh, no — we get many American visitors. They visit South Africa and come here on a side trip.”
I was disappointed. The person whom I met when I visited Katse Dam — a short trip report will be posted at The Gate in a future article with photographs — told me he rarely sees Americans there. I suppose that American visitors must go to Maseru but not to Katse Dam — but I digress, as usual.
Anyway, we had a good conversation with some laughs — officers seem to like to chat with me for some reason — and then after commenting on how easy it was crossing the border back into South Africa than it was coming into Lesotho, I asked him why I was stuck at the Ficksburg Bridge border crossing for almost four hours.
“Four hours?!?” he asked with a perplexed look on his face. “When did you arrive?”
“Yesterday afternoon into last night,” I replied.
“Oooooohhhh…I know why. It was Election Day. The border crossing here was worse.”
…and it was at that point I did a forehead palm slap, which is like a “facepalm”, but — ah…I do not have to explain it to you.
The officer told me that a term of office is typically five years; whereas in the United States it is four years. He did think that it was odd that Election Day is held on a Tuesday in the United States.
By the way, the officer got his wish: Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili — who served as prime minister of Lesotho from May of 1998 to June of 2012 — will return as the new prime minister of Lesotho, replacing Tom Thabane, who is the current prime minister.
This simply proved that timing is everything — especially when it comes to travel. I would have never known to look up Election Day in Lesotho on February 28; and even if I did, I would have never expected to wait almost four hours to cross the border from South Africa into Lesotho.
I had no idea that I would be purchasing something from the woman at the center of the photograph at the top of this article. In fact, I did not even know who was this woman walking slowly in front of the Katse Lodge, which is in the background. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.