Travel Day | Morning & Midday departure:
After my routine morning espresso shot, marshalling the duo troops through bath time and breakfast, as well as calmly encouraging Mrs. Mandyu’s suitcase packing and re-packing efforts, we finally set off with the excitement of a 5-year old’s first pre-school adventure. You cannot start any meaningful road trip without a pre-journey stop at one of those Petro Ports and thankfully we have one less than 10 minutes from our home. So, whilst my wife was stocking up on ‘umphako’, known to some as ‘padkos’, I was expertly executing my pre-trip inspection, with an enthusiastic petrol attendant who kept complimenting the “Beast” I was driving.
It’s interesting how different and elevated the service can be when appearances are opulent, some food for thought about superficial human interactions anchored in pre-conceptions about socio-economic status…
Once everything was filled up, with the final destination successfully entered into the Mercedez-Benz Navigation – all the occupants slid on their shades; we queued the Shell R&B Essentials playlist on Spotify, then hopped onto the N1 which ushered us out of the city and so the road trip had now officially begun.
A side note here, as a Husband and Father, it’s your duty to keep everyone calm and reassured (whether it’s just your mildy-anxious better half or over-enthusiastic toddler boys) reminding them that all things will work out eventually, despite excitement or despair. Something about them knowing that someone has things under control, no matter how they feel.
Nonetheless, when you’re driving one of the newer, modern Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with the MBUX infotainment system, you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on your own.
The key travel information, all the expected family space comforts, the pre-emptive safety and intelligent driver assistance features, make you look like a superhero dad, akin to the domesticated Bat-Dad, who is more handsome than the sombre Batman. Given the realities of traveling with a newly potty-trained toddler, we stopped a few times (three to be exact) as I simply did not fully trust the little man’s newly acquired bladder control and therefore, we were not about put it to the test, despite closely monitoring his consumption of liquids.
Travel Day 1| Evening Arrival at AVANI , Maseru:
Naturally, by the time we hit the South African Maseru border crossing into Lesotho, about 4+ hours later, we had to gather passports and the sleeping little heroes to present ourselves to the immigration counter for the customary ink on the “green mamba” as it is affectionately known. Or so I had been informed, by a fellow traveling South African I met on a layover in Munich in 2017.
After some minor delays with immigration due to no printed unabridged birth certificates for the boys, thankfully with some humility and online access to the cloud, the digital copies sufficed with a stern warning to carry them in real paper terms the next time. So, we cleared immigration and about 7 minutes after crossing the border we were rolling into the reclusive and leafy AVANI Maseru hotel, just as the sun was setting for the evening.
It’s amazing how much a little friendly courtesy will get you from fellow humans, the security valet let me park right by the hotel lobby even though he just scolded another driver for apparently staying in the drop off zone too long.
We received a warm welcome from a pleasant Sharlene, the Head of Guest relations at AVANI Maseru, who was ready to help us check-in and show us to our cozy room.
After unloading the luggage and a quick “freshening up” we headed to the in-house Mohokare restaurant for a sumptuous dinner, whose menu included the kids’ favorite Mac ‘n Cheese. Even though they were somewhat sceptical since it was not made by their trusted Chef, Mama.
“Such a tough crowd, these two…” I pondered silently to myself, as I raised a chilled glass of the local premium lager, Maluti.
Following dinner, walking through the quaint hotel with its dark wooden panelled walls and riding the chunky heavy lift, with it’s yellow-tinted reflective steel sheets and then those thick carpeted hallways and dark-wood furniture, there was an old school, familiar charm about it, it felt like kwa-Makhulu… like “home”.
Back in our room, the family settled down and Mrs. Mandyu noted that this is ‘the most amazing mattress she’s ever slept in’, right after she reminded me of how much we needed a new one back at home. Muses of a “tough crowd family” continue…
As I was typing away on my laptop keyboard in the dimly lit room, with the balcony sliding door whispering to us the sounds of the water features outside. I guess the little ones essentially agreed about the quality of mattress also on their bed, as they dozed off, one of them sleepily remarked: “Papa, I like vacations…”
Saturday, Travel Day 2| Exploring Maseru surrounds:
So, any guy who grew up in the township will tell you that you only ever really venture out of your familial hood into another ‘foreign’ one, if you had a “connect” in the other hood, who’s got your back. i-outie e zo dlal’i-five, or as the Yankees say, “I’ll watch your six!”
So after a sunny breakfast at the delightful Mohokare, kitted out in our shorts, caps and those cool sunnies, we headed to the lobby where Sharlene introduced us to our “Connect” the legendary Stephen Morake of www.leselitours.co.za (pronounced “Le-se-di” out here) who courteously ushered us into a comfy air-conditioned Vito to start our adventure, this was welcomed, given the enthusiastic early morning heat.
Accompanied by our hosts from AVANI Guest Relations, the day was spent exploring surrounding Maseru with many insta-worthy moments of the family.
Highlights of our itinerary included:
- Driving through the township a-la-guided tour on route to sightseeing.
- A pit-stop for refreshments and real-life sensory experience on the ground with the locals.
- A scenic drive into outlying rural villages adjacent to the city.
- A delightful lunch at the renovated yet historic Molimo-Nthuse Hotel nestled in the valleys.
- An adventurous horse ride through the surrounding villages.
Overall an epic day full of sunscreen; adventure; Basotho history; delicious food; a couple of toddler tears; fear and overcoming all of those emotions, to end the afternoon with sheer satisfying exhaustion.
Returning to the hotel that late afternoon, we opted for dinner at the grandiose AVANI Lesotho Hotel less than 10 minutes drive from the AVANI Maseru and what a fantastic option it was. Dinner here was awesome and Botha, the Executive Chef for both AVANI sites, treated us to a delightful meal once again, with the boys opting for a burger this time around, which they promptly ploughed through in anticipation of ice-cream desert.
Be weary of the casino here though, if you have kids who love TV games and they don’t understand the difference between those and adult slot machines, so walking past the casino entrance was a source of contention when they insisted it was a games center. Phew!
Sunday, Travel Day 3 | Brunch and Homewards
I woke up early Sunday morning, before the family, so that I could catch up on some reading and do some writing, it was a pleasantly warm Sunday morning in the mountain kingdom so I used this chance to get the GLE washed at the on-premise car wash and what a good decision that was.
By the time I got back to the room just after 9am, it turns out that somehow I was packed an abundance of T-shirts but no shorts besides the ones I had been wearing, naturally, I was confused… like… “Njani..??”
The cavalier response I received was something along the lines of… “We drove past a mall that had a Woolies sign yesterday, I’m sure you’ll find something you like there?”
Since the famous swimming pool at AVANI Maseru was undergoing maintenance, there was no way my kids would let us leave Lesotho without me making good on my promise for some pool time, so we headed up to AVANI Lesotho a few minutes away to indulge my sons in some pool time and boy did they have a blast. With the added bonus of having the kiddies pool all to themselves, whilst Mom basked in the sun poolside.
This was the perfect distraction for me to do a near-complete tour of the hotel, some meetings and a complete viewing of the presidential suite on the pinnacle 6th floor ahead of our President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit that following week.
Once we had a Buffet Braai for Brunch, we were packed up in all ways necessary and ready to hit the road, homewards. I got some ice cubes for the cooler box courtesy of the hotel’s trendy Leifo bar, as we said our goodbyes to all our incredible hosts and I was buckling my youngest into his car seat, he turned to me in a mildly somber face and inquired: “Papa, is our vacation over?”, “Yes, mfana. I’m afraid it is…” I gently responded… “Let’s go home and talk about our next vacation, okay?” I added.
As this cute, 3-year old’s somber baby face turned to joyful demeanor, he cheerfully announced to his elder brother: “Ntsika, we are going on another vacation, Oh yeah!”
Those were the last few words I would hear from the back seat for the next few hours, for within the 10 minutes that we were at the border, they were already down for the count. Immigration control procedures back into South Africa were executed with us carrying both comrades, fast asleep, to the border control windows, so that we could get our ‘green mambas’ tattooed with confirmation of our departure from the majestic mountain kingdom back to the Jo’burg City lights.
We left Lesotho, with a sense of awe, gratitude and eagerness to return and next to see the rest of the numerous attractions we did not get to see, like the Maletsunyane Falls (alleged to be the highest in Africa) or the engineering marvel that is Katse Dam, as well the breathtaking Tsehlanyane National Park.
Nonetheless, our hearts were full, with wonderful family memories and experiences that we will cherish into the future whenever we reflect on our first #Famcation. As the car grew silent with sleeping passengers and I switched up the playlist to a grown-up Marvin’s Room Mix by DJ Sabs, I was overcome by a calm contentment.
The realization hit me, that even though I missed witnessing Luyolo’s first steps and some of Ntsika’s first words in the past few years, wherein my work travels kept me away from home longer than desired, this was a significant step in ending that history by writing a new history for our growing family.
To be a Father, the only way I know matters, being present.