By Natania Tesnar – BLOSS magazine ambassador + That Fat Girl Blogger
“We are leaving Centurion at 2am – will you be awake or should I maybe call you at 1am to check?”
This was the last Whatsapp message I received from a fellow BLOSS magazine ambassador (my now partner in crime) on Friday evening at 8pm.
Bracing an almost 6 hour road trip to a foreign African country at 2am in the morning with a person you do not know at all, is not exactly my ideal situation, but for some reason, this time around, I barely thought about the details at all.
After a 5 hour, pothole-filled-nonstop-talking-getting-lost roadtrip, we arrived at the Caledonspoort Lesotho border. Like two excited teenagers, we stood in the border queue while taking pictures of the beautiful mountains surrounding us. Except for the Lesotho immigration border having no structure, our border experience was a painless 45 minutes of our trip.
The 90 minute (86km) drive to the Afriski resort was aesthetically pleasing as the Maluti Mountains welcomed us to Lesotho. The pink splashes of the cherry blossom trees fascinated me, and I made a note to Google the history of cherry blossom trees in Lesotho as they are actually the national flower of Japan. As we were super excited to arrive at Afriski, we promised each other that we will stop to take photos on our way back on Sunday.
The scenic drive can certainly make up for the fact that the road is not the safest road to drive – as my partner in crime stated “this will be the most beautiful way to die”. In our opinion, it will be better to rather stay over at the border than to drive to Afriski in the dark.
Making our way downhill, around the last corner of the mountain drive, we were greeted by a white slope of snow – it is Afriski! The reception employee at Afriski informed us that the resort’s WiFi is not in a working condition, but he can provide us with a 3 gig loaded sim card for only R100 – worth it! We checked in, found out where our accommodation was and met up with the festival’s event manager for some basic info and requirements.
We stayed in the Whistler camp. Our room was situated in a container, about 800m from the main Afriski resort. When we unlocked our room door we were surprised to see a beautiful, neat and perfectly sized room. Equipped with a gas heater and a small wall heater the room was cosy and perfect for two 25/26 year olds. The room had two single beds, a kettle, a bathroom with a shower and even a TV with DSTV. As we only stayed in this room for 1 night we did not miss a fridge at all, but I can assume if you are staying for 3-4 nights, that a fridge will be a much needed ad on. I was shocked by the burning sensation in my lungs when we walked 100 meters from our room to the accommodation reception area – was I just unfit? No, did I forget to mention that Afriski is 3 222m above sea level? At first we were a bit stressed about the distance to the festival, but the reception at our Whistler camp put our minds at ease by informing us that they have a shuttle running. It was as simple as taking a number and phoning it when you needed them to pick you up. Did Afriski just think of everything? Well done team!
As mentioned, we left Centurion at 2am Saturday morning, so we had to get ourselves ‘Afriski Winter Festival ready’. Hungry as lions, we left our room, all dressed up in 4 layers of clothing, to experience the buffet breakfast in the highest restaurant in Africa, the Sky Restaurant. Entering the restaurant, your body will thank you for surrounding itself with some heat. The restaurant was buzzing with a mix of people – all dressed up in jackets and ski clothing, ready to brace the snow slopes for when the festival gates open at 12pm. We fuelled out bodies with a much needed oily breakfast and a drink to kick things off. Although the breakfast was only R110, it was worth a R1000 with a selection of bacon, sausages, eggs, mushrooms, tomato, porridge, yogurt, juice, toast and fresh croissants.
Not sure what to expect, we made our way to the festival. In this much smaller than we anticipated area, the festival was intimate and the perfect size actually. The main stage was occupied by ‘Jerry and the Bandits’ and we were welcomed by the sounds of stunning folk/indie music. Realizing that we will need to find a spot to sit and buy some drinks, we decided on our action plan: Find a table with two chairs open, make some friends, do social media posting and buy drinks – not just any drinks, drinks to warm up! Once again, the festival organizers did think of everything, as we were beyond grateful for the Old Brown Sherry availability at the bars.
If you enjoy people watching, the Afriski Winter Festival will be the perfect event for you! The crowd who attend this event cannot be summarized in one sentence or even one paragraph. You will find yourself in the middle of every race, all ages and just all round open minded friendly people. The white snow slope was occupied by eager beavers who wanted to ski and show off their skills. I avoided this slope by all times – not because I am a baby, but I tore my ankle ligaments and could not risk injuring myself further (yes, I am using this as an excuse). For the safer thrill seekers, they also have the option to bum-ski down a smaller slope. Yes, you did read that correctly dear reader, bum-ski. So, you receive a big donut shaped tube and you sit on it (just like a slip and slide vibe) where after you freely slide down the twists and turns. From where we were sitting, behind us there was an area set up for the children who was brave enough to learn how to ski. I do not have children myself, but I do believe this is an ad on provided by Afriski that should not go without mentioning. Mentors and ski teachers occupies this area to teach children how to ski – safety first, kids!
Unless you are watching the time to ensure you do not miss a certain band, time is a non-existent factor at the festival. For someone like myself, who is chased by meetings and deadlines on a daily basis, it was a much needed break and change in pace. This festival makes you feel free and without responsibilities. We chatted with so many people – different types of people. We made some local friends and had a chat with them. It was interesting to hear the patriotic tone in which they spoke about Lesotho – the locals really have a deep love for their environment and country.
Before attending the Afriski Winter Festival, I did not know the band called “Tresor”. What a wonderful discovery to have made. Their island vibe set the tone for the festival to just enjoy the moment you are in. At some previous festivals I have attended, there are always sound problems – the sound are either too loud or to soft or the mics have feedback – but at this festival I did not once feel like the music was over powering me. In between the “Tresor” and “GoodLuck” set, a local Rastafarian performed a catchy reggae song. We found ourselves standing on chairs to take a video of this performance as the festival goers thoroughly enjoyed this – as did we. I will never know who that performer was or what song he performed, but I will always have the video.
And then a band called “GoodLuck” took their place on the stage. When the hypnotic sound of the saxophone filled the festival, the crowd went mad. Most of the festival goers ended up in front of the stage and with the mesmerizing voice of the lead singer, Juliette Harding, they allowed the music to take over their bodies. We were lucky enough to have back stage passes, and because of this we could really catch the moment on camera. Matthew O’Connell must be the talented 22 year old saxophone player I have ever seen. After their set, fans surrounded the band, so we could not get close and personal with them this time around.
After the GoodLuck performance we had one of two options: either we stay in the festival area or we go back to our room to freshen up. Our flat phone batteries was a big deciding factor, but as we are problem solvers, we had our phone chargers with us. We decided to stay in the festival area, and to charge our phones at the DJ booth (thanks to the friendly DJs for allowing this). And this is when it happened: we braced the snow. Careful not to slip and break my back, I walked onto the bright white area. For a moment I had to remind myself that I am not dreaming. It was not a dream that I was in Lesotho, at a festival I have wanted to go to for 3 years now, and having the time of my life. My partner in crime and myself played in the snow, took a few photos and made a team decision to get off the snow before we got a frostbite. We were not geared for playing in snow at all!
When the sun went down, the DJ beats filled the air. Most of the festival goers made their way to the upstairs bar area, where others outside at the main stage, found a space on a table to dance. All the wooden tables were occupied by free spirited festival goers who were feeling the dance vibes flow through their bodies – and yes, I was one of them. The last time I found myself dancing on a table, I was singing along to “pour some sugar on me” in Aandklas bar 4 years ago. The DJ embraced the willingness of the festival goers to let their hair down, and started to give out R200 One Day Only vouchers. Thanks to the “Cha Cha Slide”, I now have a R200 One Day Only voucher to spend.
The rest of the evening was filled with more dancing, making friends and making memories. No form of monetary value can ever be linked to the memories I made this past weekend. The Afriski Winter Festival is a festival that should be experienced by everyone. This festival can be enjoyed by friends, couples, families or even be used to celebrate a special occasion. One of the couples who was dancing next to meet, got engaged at Afriski earlier that evening!
When the clock reached 10:30pm, my partner in crime and myself made a team decision to get something to eat and then go to bed. We made our way to the Sky Restaurant only to realize that the kitchen is close already – yes, lessons were learned in this moment. We phoned the shuttle and went back to our room where we were infolded by a warm room and comfortable bed. We could not hear anything in our room – no music from the festival or other people. We had a peaceful and much needed sleep. The wind rocked us to sleep and in this moment I was genuinely happy to be alive.
The same wind that rocked us to sleep, woke us up at 7:30am. Opening the window blinds, I was shocked to see that the window was covered with steam. From where I was sitting enclosed by my warm sheets, I did not realize how cold it was outside. After doing our belongings recon (and guess what, we did not lose anything) we each took a hot shower and geared ourselves with another 4 layers to fight of the cold again. The Sky Restaurant’s heat was once again a welcoming embrace and not to mention the cream topped cappuccino. We enjoyed our last buffet breakfast in Lesotho with happy hearts. After breakfast we did one last round of photo opportunities and the Afriski team assisted us with some fuel. Standing in the Afriski resort, I closed my eyes: I could feel the ice cold wind around my body, with the warm sun kissing my cheeks. When I opened my eyes I saw the clouds move over the mountains – the clouds were so close to us. I took a moment to take in the beauty of the Maluti Mountains and the hills that surrounded me. The untouched nature was undeniably the master piece of Lesotho.
We left Afriski on Sunday morning at 10am. Our 90 minute drive back to the border was more a 120 minute drive as the road was covered in thick mist in some places. As promised, we stopped at some viewpoints to take photos and to photograph the beautiful cherry blossom trees. When I reviewed these photos, I was disappointed as I feel like the beauty of the environment and the beauty we saw in that moment in time is not really visible in a photograph – this is why I will encourage anyone and everyone to start planning your next Afriski Winter Festival trip right away.
The Caledonspoort border is a drive through when leaving Lesotho – no admin, no drama. While standing in the queue to get back into South Africa, we had a few co Afriski festival goers joining us. I have never experienced a feeling of unity with complete strangers before like I did when I was standing in that queue.
It wasn’t until I was smiling while staring at the mountain in front of me, and turning my head just to see other festival goers waving at us, that I realized I have now started an annual tradition for myself to visit the Afriski Winter Festival. Until next year, Lesotho, you were good to us.
Important things to remember when visiting Afriski/Lesotho:
- Stay on the gps and ensure the driver are awake and alert: We ended up on a gravel road just before Bethlehem. The potholes on that road is 9in the words of my partner in crime) ‘worse than the acne on a 13 year old boy’.
- Remember to take cash: The immigration entry fee is R30 per car.
- Take a pen: The border gates have immigration papers to fill in – they do not provide pens at all.
- Do not take on the mountain road to Afriski in the dark: This curvy drive is a beautiful scenic drive and not to be missed. The road is filled with sharp turns and potholes. The cars passing you from the front, do not drive with care at all.
- Petrol: This is a big one and a lesson we had to learn. When entering the border gate, you will NOT pass a petrol station on your way to Afriski. Afriski can provide you with a small amount of petrol for R20/litre.
- Cheap skate tip: Before leaving Lesotho, try and fill up your tank at the closest town that is just 10km from the border. The petrol is only R12/litre. (You are welcome)
- Do not stay in the backpackers: We met girls and groups who did not sleep at all. They were in the backpackers and international guests from the Netherlands kept them awake for 3 days in a row. Afriski did move these girls to another location after they complained. Awesome client service right here!
- Remember to eat: Do not get caught in our situation – remember to eat before the Sky restaurant’s kitchen closes.
- Cash: You will need to pay a refundable R200 for your room keys. They do not take cash for this transaction. You will also need cash for the ground bar at the festival – the upstairs bar do take cards, but it is just a schlep and can be avoided with some personal planning.
- Leave you attitude at home: This is a chilled, go with the flow festival. People will be in your personal space, they will chat with you and take photos and videos with you. Embrace this!
- Snacks: I would recommend that you take some snack with to Afriski – not into the festival as no outside drinks or food are allowed, but just in your room for when you find yourself hungry at 11pm.
- Clothing: If you think you have enough layers, just add one warmer item. Do not take shoes you like at all. Take more than one jacket unless your jacket is water proof. Gloves and a beanie is a must!
- Sunglasses: I am not crazy – the reflection of the sun on the white snow is super bright.