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Cisnecito Around the World

Who: Julie and Chris Mays
Port: Newport, RI
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World's Longest Abseil
12/01/2006, Lesotho

According to Guinness World Records Maletsunyane Falls is the world's longest abseil. It is 204 meters (670 feet) from top to bottom and a wonderful. ride next to a beautiful waterfall.

Abseiling is basically rappelling or lowering yourself on a rope down a vertical distance. You wear a climbing harness which is attached to a friction device that controls the rate of decent down the rope or static line.

Before we decided to do it, I was really concerned about safety so I asked Semonkong Lodge's staff a lot of questions. All of their answers seemed to make sense to me. Before we did the actual the big one we would have to do 3 shorter abseils to simulate all of the conditions we would experience.

On the morning of our first day in Semonkong, we hiked down the canyon to the base of the waterfall and watched a French couple do it. I was hooked immediately and really wanted to try it. Emma said she was also game but Axel and Julie were not as keen. Four days later when we were back from our horse trek, Emma and I did our training abseils for the big one the next morning.

That night at the bar, after a few rounds Axel started to express some interest. Sean, the activity coordinator and chief climber, told Axel that if he really wanted to do it they could get up at 5AM and do the training. Axel agreed and the next morning he completed the training.

While the three of us were sitting at the top of the cliff. Axel and Emma remembered that the John-o, the head of the lodge, had said that if anyone would do it naked they would not have to pay. Although 255 people had done it before us no one had taken him up on the offer. Axel, always keen for a bargain, decided that this was a good idea.

I went first, Emma second and then naked Axel. At the last minute, Sean made Axel wear his underwear for safety reasons. It might be messy if anything got caught in the friction device.

The first few steps were a little intense but the experience was exhilarating and the scenery spectacular!

Pony Trekking in Lesotho
12/01/2006, Lesotho

We decided to do a three day pony trek through the mountains of Lesotho which had been highly recommended to us. They have a special type of horse called the Basaru pony that is bred especially to handle the steep and rocky mountains in the area. Although I've only ridden a horse three times in my life, I was told it was suitable for beginners, so I figured I'd be fine.

We did some rough provisioning in the local grocery and set out on Sunday morning. We had a young guide named Ephram and also a pack horse to carry all of our supplies for the three days. We rode up and out of the gorge and across beautiful green fields, climbing and descending through the mountains and crossing rivers. We kept saying that we could just have easily been in the mountains of Peru or the Alps. We passed dozens of sheepherders, all dressed the same - wrapped in woolen blankets and wearing white rubber galoshes.

Along the way we ran into a group of young girls who apparently were walking home to their village from the boarding school they attend in Semonkong. As it's an extremely long walk, they asked if we could carry their bags for them, which we happily did.

After about five hours of riding we arrived to the village where we would spend the night. It's a relatively small village, with I'd say about 50 villagers. We were given a traditional Lesotho hut - round, made of rocks with a thatched roof. There was nothing inside except four sleeping mats and a trunk of cooking supplies. That afternoon there was a tremendous lightening storm which we watched cozily inside our little hut. In the midst of the storm, the girls showed up to gather their bags and invited them in for tea. Turns out they are sixteen and all were carrying mobile phones which we thought was funny. They spoke good english, but were quite shy, so we didn't learn as much as we would have liked to.

For dinner we made instant mince meat and "chakalaka", a local stew-type food with tomatoes and spices, over pasta. It was surprisingly pretty good. Exhausted, we fell asleep early but were awoken by a rooster crowing at about 4am. He was sitting inside the window seeking shelter from the rain, so was hard to ignore the noise. Soon thereafter, all of the village was stirring, so we got up as well.

The woman who owns the hut had made us some local bread little balls of fried dough, kind of like a not sweet donut. We had that for breakfast and made some sandwiches for the road and headed back out. The second day was long and challenging, not so much for us, but for the horses. There were some very steep parts with very little room for error, so I'll admit I was quite frightened a couple times. It was a nice day though, very sunny and warm and the scenery again was incredible.

After seven hours of riding, we arrived to the next village, where Ephram's aunt and family live. Compared with the night before, we were living in the lapse of luxury. We had a kitchen table and even beds. No electricity or pluming again, but we were used to that. We made the same dinner as the night before (not so good the second time around) and again went to sleep early.

In the morning the local women asked us to take family portraits of them so they got all dressed up and we snapped some photos which we will send to them. We got on the early, as I think we were all anxious to get back. There was an extremely steep climb out of the gorge. Unfortunately Chris's horse was not very good on the trails and after slipping a few times, he stumbled and Chris fell off with his foot in the stirrup. It was a very scary thing to watch, but he was thankfully okay. He decided to walk the horse the rest of the way up the cliff which was a good call. We rode through several small villages and the children would all run alongside us asking for "bon bons" which was sad to see.

Once we got out of the gorge, we were able to trot and cantor for about an hour which was great fun. We made it back to the Lodge just in time for lunch and a cold beer, followed by very long hot showers and a nap! It was an exhausting but exhilarating trip. Although I really enjoyed the ride, I'm not sure I'd do another trip this long, or perhaps this rustic, but am certainly glad to have gotten this experience.

Thanksgiving in South Africa
11/24/2006, Richard's Bay

We had a traditional turkey dinner last night for twelve of our friends. We made a 12lb turkey (the largest that would fit in our oven), stuffing, potatoes, gravy, cranberries, green beans and salad. And for dessert, homemade pumpkin and mince meat pies with whipped cream. Our oven and stove was on from 7am to about 5pm and it was quite an exercise in organization to cook such a meal in our small galley.

None of our friends are from the US, so they had never had a Thanksgiving dinner or really knew what it was about. That gave me a bit of relief as they wouldn't know exactly how things should properly taste. During dinner we went around and had everyone say what they are thankful for, which was a bit corny, but also nice. Although we wish we could have been at home with our families, it was a very fun day and we felt thankful that we had so many friends to share it with.

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