TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT! HIGH WINDS AND A SMWASHED ANKLE
Lesotho has the highest average altitude in Africa and tonight it's minus-five degrees - cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey! "Anyone for glühwein " shouts Jonathan Aldous, the flamboyant owner of the highest pub in Africa, as, with the wind howling across the Malutis, perched on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment at 2,874 metres, we huddle around the fire at the Sani Top Lodge. The tough mountain bike team pull in. I can't believe they've pedalled every inch of the way, up the 3,030-metre Matabeng Pass, camped for the night in the Senqu Valley, and then ridden the yo-yo of Maluti mountain passes to meet us here.
"What's for grub " we ask Jonathan eagerly as he races between pub and kitchen. The altitude and the wind have clearly made him a bit crazy. "Only two things on the menu,' he shouts back, 'It's called Take it or Leave it!" He raises a jug of Sani Top glühwein and we line up for great expedition grub - bowls of hot soup, freshly-baked, traditional Basotho bread, hot ring-sting curry, and enough lasagne to carbo-load Mike and his cycling team. In the morning, they will escort the Landies down to the bottom of Sani Pass - one of the most historic mountain passes in Africa and then back up again - a symbolic ride with a vision of the entire escarpment becoming a transfrontier conservation area.
Next morning, the wind is still howling. The mountain bike team gives us a thumbs-up as they pedal off from the Lesotho border post. First in line is the tall ex-Springbok downhill cycling champion Shaun Forster. His record, Sani Top to the bottom of the pass, is a death-defying, stone-dodging nine minutes. But today the wind is too strong and it threatens to blow them off their bikes.
"Kingsley - for Bertus - there's been an accident," comes a call over the Landy radio. We find Leith Stewart lying on his back at the side of the track, his ankle smashed to pieces by a rock. Bertus - the expedition's tough and experienced medic - stabilises him and big Neels Meyer rushes Leith to Pietermaritzburg for urgent medical attention, before putting him on a plane for Cape Town. What a blow! Leith's journey to complete the Lesotho leg of the expedition is over. "Fortunately he is one of Cape Town's leading orthopaedic surgeons," says Mike, 'He'll know how to fix it."