|22/8/07||Wed||Newcastle 3.33pm to Sydney 6.09 train|
|23/8/07||Thurs||Sydney 10am to Jo’burg 4.10pm 14 hr flight Qantas|
|24/8/07||Fri||Johannesburg (day trip to Soweto)|
|25/8/07||Sat||Johannesburg to Kruger National Park (Orpen Gate)|
|26/8/07||Sun||Kruger National Park|
|27/8/07||Mon||Kruger National Park|
|28/8/07||Tues||Kruger to Nelsprit|
|29/8/07||Wed||Nelsprit to Swaziland|
|31/8/07||Fri||Swaziland to Maputo, Mozambique|
|2/9/2007||Sun||Maputo to Swaziland|
|6/9/2007||Thurs||Swaziland to Jo’burg (fly 1hr) Jo’burg 6.10pm to|
|7/9/2007||Fri||Sydney 2pm 12 hr flight Qantas|
Wednesday 22nd August, 2007
Newcastle to Sydney
Lauren picks us up from home and waves us off at Hamilton Station at 4.30pm. We arrive at Central at seven o’clock and walk up to the Royal Exhibition Hotel. We stayed here lots of times many years ago so we’re shocked at the change in it – been ‘done up’, all very tasteful but lost its soul. We have a few drinks downstairs, I have an emotional meltdown, then we go to bed – poor Mark is so kind to me.
Thursday 23rd August, 2007
Sydney to Johannesburg
Up at 5.30am, pack, walk to station and catch train to airport. We book in at 7am, have McDonalds, then buy perfume and Bacardi when we go through immigration. Our Qantas flight leaves a bit late at 10.40am for the 14 hours to Johannesburg. We share three seats – I get about four hours sleep while Mark gets ten minutes. The best part of the flight is when we see ice floating in the sea below us as we fly way down south towards Antarctica.
As soon as we land in Johannesburg at 4.30pm South Africa time, I ring Mum and Dad even though it’s just after midnight at home. Making our way through the airport we notice that it’s only black South Africans doing the menial jobs – a taste of things to come.
After getting through immigration we sit on a seat to read the Lonely Planet to look up somewhere to stay. In seconds we’re approached by a scruffy looking woman called Stella who runs Eastgate Backpackers – we say ‘why not?’ and off we go in her battered old car. The guesthouse is only fifteen minutes from the airport and Stella never draws breath as she keeps up a running commentary on the safety situation, why she lives here (she’s a Pommie) and what we can see in Johannesburg. She’s definitely a freak (could be on speed) and we think one of her eyes is glass because it doesn’t move.
It’s a surreal ride really – what with Stella as well as seeing the sky scrapers of downtown Johannesburg in the distance and ironically looking quite peaceful and lovely at this dusky time of day. Then we’re here. Like all the places we’ve noticed on the drive in, Eastgate Backpackers is surrounded by high walls with rows of electrified wires strung for a few feet above. Unlocking the padlocked gates we pull into the yard – a bit shabby but we like it. The inside is much the same but we like it too.
Now we meet Mike, Stella’s business partner or husband, we’re not sure, but he’s also a freak. I don’t like him. For a start his eyes are too close together and has a face like a bum, as Mum would say. Besides that he’s lazy and lets Stella run around doing all the work while he sits on his fat arse – probably stoned.
If Mike pales into significance next to Stella, her pets don’t. First there’s Tommy the cat – a huge tom who’s so fat he looks like he’s about to explode. Then there’s the cutest of puppies called Two Toes who we steal away to our room whenever Stella isn’t looking. And lastly is Squawker, the parrot, who at the moment is banished to his cage for chasing a screaming Japanese backpacker around the outside of the pool.
Anyway before all this happens Stella is still being hyper and in ten minutes has booked us a day trip to Soweto tomorrow, a four day trip to Kruger the day after and given us our room – a bit threadbare but big and a huge bathroom with a spa!
Even though Stella has told us that central Jo’burg (notice that – a local already) is pretty dangerous, it’s okay to walk around here. She gives us directions for some cafes which are a fifteen minute walk in the dark along a busy road. Not at all interesting here – very suburban except for the weird security. Even the café area is in a sort of gated complex with armed guards at the entrance – who’d live here? What we do like, though, is that we find a bar where we order calamari, chicken and Castle beers – and you can smoke! Walk home and bed by 8pm.
Friday 24th August, 2007
Johannesburg to Soweto to Johannesburg
We wake at two o’clock, then three o’clock then fall back to sleep till seven – internal time clocks totally out of whack. We’re getting picked up at nine o’clock for our Soweto tour so we’ve got a few hours to have a spa, play with Two Toes and walk down to Eastgate Shopping Mall to find some breakfast – apparently Stella doesn’t cook. Again we’re amazed at the way people live here – every house and business has tall electrified fences topped with razor wire and the Chubb Security signs say ‘Armed Response’. Besides that there aren’t any white people walking the streets at all – except us. Apparently they drive out of their gated home to a gated school, gated work place or gated shopping centre – horrible.
We really don’t want to have breakfast in a shopping centre but there isn’t anything else around here and we’re running late. We have eggs benedict in a posh restaurant – all the staff are black except for the young white couple on the till (I suppose black people can’t be trusted with money – what the?). Strangely the white couple light up a cigarette each! Looks like you can smoke anywhere in South Africa.
We scoff down breakfast because we’re running late then make a dash back to our room to get our day pack ready. At 9.15am the minivan arrives with a fat, jolly black man called Jabu as our guide – very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and lots of jokes. The rest of the gang is a nice Indian family and Japanese girl who doesn’t say a word all day.
Driving first through downtown Jo’burg we can see just what a stagnant, scary place it really is. Even though it’s all black, Jabu says even he wouldn’t walk around here. I heard someone once describe it as ‘dirty, dangerous and dilapidated’ which really does sum it up. The buildings are broken, rundown and vacant. What happened was that after apartheid, the crime rate was so high that businesses just left – moved out to Sandton, Rosebank and Benoni. The financialheart of the city virtually disappeared so no-one needs to come here except the poor blacks running a few businesses and squatting in the empty buildings.
From here we drive about ten kilometres south west to Soweto (South Western Townships – get it?). This isn’t a whole lot better. The poverty in some areas is incredible and it’s not hard to see why Johannesburg has one of the highest crime rates in the world – such a huge difference between the rich whites and the poor blacks.
Even though there are some relatively well-off areas with nice houses and tree-lined streets, a lot of Soweto is barren and very poor. We visit a settlement of shacks made of corrugated iron sheets and with only one tap to do a whole street. It’s strange but despite the poverty we like the feel of it here. All the homes are neat with little dry gardens and the people are friendly. There seems to be a sense of pride here compared to the despair of the city.
Jabu takes us to visit a dignified lady called Muriel – she has the tiniest tin shack but it’s so clean and homey. Further on up the laneway we visit a day care centre. All the little ones come out to see us and then sing us a song – incredibly cute. We also see the fattest woman we’ve ever seen.
In Old Diepkloof we see the “matchbox houses” which were the original homes built for the first black migrants to the city. The migrants had been attracted by work in the gold mines in the late 1890’s and because the whites didn’t want them in the city they created these black-only townships which were later to be called Soweto.
Jabu also takes us to Regina Mundi, Soweto’s largest Catholic Church. Before going inside we talk to some ladies selling handicrafts. I buy a tiled mosaic spelling out “SOWETO” – beautiful. Inside Jabu gives us a tour and explains its importance to black South Africans. It still bears the bullet-hole scars from the Soweto student uprisings on June 16 1976, when police stormed through its doors, firing live ammunition at students trying to escape. The protest started as a peaceful demonstration against the imposition of the Afrikaan language as the method of teaching in schools. I guess it was the final insult because Afrikaans was introduced by Dutch settlers who’d imposed apartheid over black South Africans in the first place.
On that day in 1976 twelve year old Hector Pieterson was shot dead by police during the student protests which quickly spread throughout the country and changed the course of history for South Africa. The famous picture of his lifeless body being carried by his grieving friends has come to symbolise the 1976 Uprisings and the hundreds of other children who gave their lives for freedom. We spend an hour in the Hector Pieterson Museum reading about this amazing historical time.
Outside the museum we wander along the street looking at colourful market stalls and buy ice-creams in the local shop. Even here the black shopkeepers are kept safe from thieves and you have to stick your hand through iron bars to give them your money.
For us the highlight of coming to Soweto is to visit Nelson Mandela’s house – everyone’s hero. Amazingly, two of the most famous anti-apartheid activists and Nobel Peace Prize winners lived in the same street. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both lived just a stone’s throw from each other in Vilakazi Street.
We stop outside Nelson Mandela’s house which is now a museum and obviously very popular with the tourists. This was his first house where he lived with Winnie before he was sent to jail in 1961 for 27 years. It’s a tiny house in a small yard with a spreading tree shading the front. It’s a happy atmosphere outside with people milling around and a busker doing contortionist things with his body. We have a short tour led by a proud black lady called Jane then back in the van to look at Desmond Tutu’s house and later where Winnie Mandela’s lives.
At 2 o’clock the tour is over so we hightail it back to Eastgate and I’m so tired I go straight to bed. We’re both also starving so Mark walks down to the shopping centre to buy food and drinks – also comes back with a couple of t-shirts.
I get up at six o’clock and we sit in the comfy big lounge room with Stella and Mike and the other backpackers. Mark makes up a platter of cheese and salamis to share while we have a few drinks. Bed at 8.30pm because we still have jetlag as well as having an early start for our four day trip to Kruger National Park.
Saturday 25th August, 2007
Johannesburg to Kruger National Park
We’re getting picked up at 6.30am so we wake at six o’clock for a bath and a last minute pack. Our minibus is waiting at the side gate where we’re met by our guide, Douglas, a trendy black guy with dreadlocks. We also have two black drivers (they take turns on the long trip) and five passengers. These include a sour-faced German woman and her black husband, two nice Chinese girls called Xian and Catherine and a strange looking French woman who’s huddled up in a corner on the back seat.
After quick introductions we drive to the Airport Backpackers and pick up a young American guy called Brian and a middle aged man from Estonia. Fifty kilometres north we arrive in the pretty town of Pretoria which is the actual administrative capital of South Africa – not Johannesburg or even Cape Town as most people think (I did anyway). Here we pick up a nerdy little Eastern European man who’s been to an Applied Mathematics conference in Durban – fascinating, mate. A mixed group as usual.
An hour later we stop for breakfast in a service station then drive another four hours to Nelspruit – a long, boring drive with nothing much to look at until we come to the outskirts of town. Nelspruit is the trading centre for the surrounding fruit growing area of Mpumalanga so we see lots of orchards and market gardens on the way in – citrus and tropical fruits like mangos, bananas, avocados as well as macadamia and pecan nuts.
Nelspruit is also a major stopover point for tourists going to Swaziland and Mozambique and particularly Kruger National Park and the Blyde River Canyon where we’re heading today. Hopefully the scenery should really improve from here.
Before setting off for the Canyon, we stop at Nelspruit Backpackers to pick up Anna, an Italian/American girl who chews gum. She seems nice. We also like the look of the Backpackers and plan to get dropped off here in a few days time and head for Swaziland instead of going back to Jo’burg.
So from Nelspruit we drive upwards to the small timber town of Graskop which we’re told means grassy peak in Afrikaans (a bit of useless information). The weather is cold and very misty but this creates an unexpectedly interesting atmosphere. We all pile into a café to warm up and order lunch. Mark and I pick typically South African food – Boerewors (a sausage made with a combination of pork and beef) and vetkoek (a deep-fried bread shaped like a bun) – don’t think we’ll rush out to eat it again.
From Graskop we stop at God’s Window for “a breathtaking view from the escarpment of the Lowveld below” – except that it’s so foggy we can’t see a bloody thing and keep driving. Another thirty five kilometers later, though, we visit Bourke’s Luck Potholes. These are a fifteen minute walk (they’d better be good) from the car park. Actually they’re really cool. They actually mark the beginning of the Blyde River Canyon and consist of three very deep cylindrical potholes in the bedrock that have been ground out by swirling sand and rocks over millions of years (guide book info).
Before the steep drive down to the Lower Veld we make one more stop at the Klein Drakensberg escarpment on the edge of the Blyde River Canyon. Lookouts usually bore us to tears but this is really spectacular. More guide book info is that it’s the third largest canyon in the world so it’s huuuuge and from here we can see deep green canyons, the spectacular Three Rondavels and the Swadini Dam far in the distance.
Now we’re all tired of sightseeing and just want to get to the village where we’re staying tonight. But we still have a few hours to go – firstly winding down down down and then across the Lowerveld. It’s dark by the time we arrive. Douglas gave us all a choice of staying in a traditional village or in a lodge nearby. Only the Germans are staying in the lodge so we chuck them out first then stop at the village gates just down the road. The traditional village is actually a Cultural Village (in other words a fake village) but it looks fun anyway. Our group is the only one staying here which makes it even better. The village is surrounded by a fence made from tall thin tree trunks strapped together to keep out the wild animals – what the ?!!
For some reason we’re two hours late arriving, so the poor village people who act out the cultural thing are tired and obviously just want to get it over and go home. As we jump out of the van we get a speeded up version of a dance by a group of young men and boys wearing animal skins and feathers then we’re quickly shown to our huts. Mark and I have our own – actually the ‘inferior wife’s hut’ – a huge rondavel (a round hut) with a ten metre thatched roof coming to a point in the middle. The floor is a mixture of beaten earth and dung and the only furnishings are two thin foam mattresses – excellent. The ‘door’ is just a bunch of sticks tied together and you just pick it up and move it aside when you want to go in or out.
After dumping our gear, we all meet outside where we have another fast forward version of weaving and grain crushing and sorting. Next is dinner in a communal rondavel – Mark and I can’t stop laughing for some reason. We spoon out blobs of something from a circular pottery bowl then get a couple of dishes of maize, cabbage, onions, tomato and some tiny chicken wings – all eaten with our fingers.
Next is the dance around the fire near the tree-trunk fence. While beautiful young boys dance for us, fat ladies sing, clap and sway to the rhythm. We join in then they dress Mark in the feathers and skins (he’s the chief, apparently) and he dances like the boys.
Now it’s time for bed and we’re having so much fun sleeping in our own rondavel. During the night, though, I wake for a toilet visit and get a heart-stopping scare when I venture outside into the dark yard. With very little moonlight I can see huge shapes moving around in the darkness – horses of all things! The villagers must put them in here at night to be safe from the wild animals. I’m relieved but I don’t even like horses and I’m scared one will bite me. I make the quickest dash to the loo and back.
Sunday 26th August, 2007
After a good night’s sleep, except for the horse scare, we’re up at 5.30am. Mark has a cold shower – not me – then jump into the van with the rest of the crew. The Estonian man actually gives me the chat for sitting in the seat he was in yesterday. The thing is we were never given allocated seats and it’s not a great seat anyway – so fuck off weirdo.
From the village we drive next door to pick up the horrible Germans then head straight for Kruger. According to the guide book, ‘Kruger National Park was established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African Lowveld. At over two million hectares, it’s the biggest national park in the world and home to some of the world’s most amazing animals.’ So now you know. It also has the world’s largest three animals – the African elephant first, the white rhino second and the hippopotamus third.
Kruger is actually only a couple of kilometres away so we’re there in minutes. A long row of cars and jeeps are lined up at the gate for the 6am opening. This is Orpen Gate, one of two gates in the western region of the central area of the Kruger and leads straight to Satara camp inside the Park. In all, eleven gates lead into Kruger and this is one of the best for seeing the predators.
Inside the gate all the vehicles have to pull into a pretty area surrounded by a shop and offices with lots of flowering trees. Like all visitors to the Park, Douglas has to register our names before we go in. Then tonight we’ll have to check out again – just in case someone gets eaten, I suppose. Meanwhile the rest of us wander around the shop buying wild animal postcards and junk food for our ‘safari’.
Now it’s time to enter the park which looks very beautiful with the sun just starting to peep above the horizon. Immediately we see impala and wildebeest. We’re all very excited to see our first real African animals in the wild. Douglas tells us that we’ll see thousands of these over the next couple of days but what we really want to get to see is the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. Mark and I are determined that we’re going to see them all. Douglas says that seeing a leopard will be the hardest because there aren’t many of them left.
Two kilometres inside the gate we pull into Orpen Camp where we’ll be staying for the next two nights. It’s surrounded by a tall man-eating-animal-proof fence and we’re staying in tents. After chucking our gear, we all congregate in the big communal eating tent where we make ourselves a quick breakfast of cornflakes and tea.
Now we all jump into a couple of open-sided trucks (yes, I said open-sided) with a canvas roof and room for eight of us. The seats are higher at the back so everyone gets a good view no matter where you sit. Douglas is in the front seat with our driver – both very experienced guides who can spot an animal long before anyone else does. Douglas tells us we must never get out of the truck – no arguments there – and then lots of interesting info about the Park and its animals. We drive out of the camp about seven o’clock.
Bumping along dirt tracks we drive past more impala and wildebeest then see the first of The Big Five – buffalo. Very ugly and scary looking but not too interesting. But then we come across a group of zebra – so beautiful in the early morning light and so amazing to see them here in the wild.
Around a sharp bend there are three giraffe on the road just in front of us and more in the trees – you can’t hide when you’re a giraffe – more amazement – just spectacular.
And then, of course, there are the elephants – heaps of them – families, bubbas and an angry one stamping its feet and flapping its ears. Later as we drive alongside a river, Douglas quickly spies a lioness lying in the grass on the opposite bank. I wish she was closer but maybe we’ll see more later. We stop for ages just staring at her while other trucks come flying towards us – the word is out.
At 11.30 we pull into a picnic area surrounded by a tall fence made from rough tree trunks. Another truck carrying the rest of our gang has been with us all morning and we’re now all going to have lunch together. The drivers and Douglas and the other guide start getting lunch ready but we all give a hand. We peel onions and chop tomatoes and mushrooms while Mark does most of the cooking on the barbeque – bacon, eggs and sausages.
Back in the van we continue on all afternoon in search of the Big Five – so far we’ve seen buffalo, elephants and a lion – two to go – the rhino and the leopard. And naturally these are the rarest and hardest to find. We do see lots and lots more zebra and giraffes and elephants and buffalo and millions of impala. At a toilet stop I make friends with a cute impala then in the late afternoon we see hippopotamuses in a dam as well as crocodiles, warthogs (poor hideous creatures), wildebeest, vultures and a family of baboons making their way down to a pretty river bed. They’re quite creepy making a horrible screeching sound.
I can’t believe how much I’ve loved this day. I thought I’d be bored but never for a second. It’s so thrilling to see these majestic animals and always hoping there’ll be something better around the next corner. This is also despite the weather being not that great. The sky has been a bit cloudy all day and the temperature has been cool especially when we’re driving along which is all day virtually.
As the sun drops towards the horizon we’re flying back to Orpen Gate as everyone has to be out of the Park by six o’clock. At the shop we have to check in so they know no-one has been left behind/eaten. We all check out the shop again and Mark and I buy beanies for tomorrow. Now Mark and a few of the others go off in another truck for a two hour night safari but I’m ready for a shower and a nap so I go back to the camp with the Asian girls.
The camp is very dark and very quiet and our tent faces the fence only about a metre away. It’s peaceful sitting in the doorway until a huge spotted hyena slinks along the fence line right in front of me – hideous. Mark and the others come back about eight o’clock so we all have a late dinner of a chilli meat stew sitting in the open air. After a couple of drinks we’re in bed by 9.30pm and fall asleep to the roaring of lions – really amazing!
Monday 27th August, 2007
This morning we wake to more roaring lions as well as to a beautiful clear sunny day. We’re up at 5.15am to shower and have breakfast of cornflakes, tea and coffee. Still chilly but we can tell it’s really going to warm up later on. We drive again all day but now going right up to the border with Mozambique. We must literally drive hundreds of kilometers each day.
We stop for a toilet break at nine o’clock and then lunch at 11am. This is a lovely place with shady trees full of blue birds and monkeys. Mark cooks again and most of us help cut up tomatoes and onions – same food as yesterday but really good.
Our group is nice except for the Estonian. He’s still being a weirdo and now Anna and Stephen (who seemed to have become friends) hate him as well. We never bother to find out his name but just call him ‘the Estonian’ in a deep scary voice – childish but funny. The little French lady chain smokes every time we stop and the Asian girls are lots of fun with tiny Xian dragging two huge cameras around her little neck.
Another toilet stop in the afternoon – toilets in little stone rondavels with pointy thatched roofs – then later we stop at a hide (a low wooden building where you ‘hide’ to watch animals) overlooking a pond. Here we get a close-up view of a family of hippos and a few crocodiles lazing in the sun on the banks.
Not long after Stephen calls out, “STOP !!!” – he’s seen a leopard in the undergrowth! We back up and there she is – so lucky! Now all we have left to see of the Big Five is the rhino. And late in the afternoon we find one right on the side of the track lying under a tree. We can’t get too close but I think we’re close enough thank you very much. Then not long after this we see three more in the distance. The Big Five – yes!
And besides all this excitement we also see ostriches, honey badgers, gnu, steinbucks, wildebeest, emus and, of course, more impala, elephants, zebra, and a male lion in exactly the same spot that we saw the lioness yesterday – Douglas says they’ve probably been bonking in the bushes nearby.
By 6pm we’re at Orpen Gate to check in and to buy beers for tonight. Back at camp we shower then have dinner of maize, sausage, meat and tomatoes sitting under the stars. We sit up drinking and talking with the others for a couple of hours while the lions roar in the distance and a hyena walks past us five times.
Tuesday 28th August, 2007
Kruger to Nelspruit
Happy Birthday, my darling. Today Mark turns 40!! What a special place to have a special birthday. He wakes me early to hear the lions really close to us. At 5.30am we have a quick breakfast then pack ready to leave in the van at 6.30am. We have a one hour drive through the park for a last look at Kruger. It’s definitely worth it because at the last minute we see a group of cheetahs not far from Orpen Gate.
From here we set off for the three hour drive to Nelspruit but this time on a different route. We stop at Hazyview for a Wimpy Hamburger then Mark and I are dropped off at Nelspruit Backpackers while the others have to go all the way back to Johannesburg. We want to go to Swaziland tomorrow so we need to work out how to get there.
Unfortunately all the rooms are booked out but we can have a tent already pitched in the yard. It’s a bit dusty but it might be fun. Also we do have the beautiful house cat, George, hanging around us so I steal him and lock him in with us while we have a rest. We also sit around the pool and inside the orange painted bar – we love the look of this place but besides that it’s a bit of a dump.
The inside toilet is filthy, the two showers just dribble, the computer is broken and so is the washing machine. This means we have to walk all the way to the Laundromat. While we’re waiting we try the internet place nearby but I lose it all then we have lunch at the pub – horrible food – Mark not having a great birthday so far.
Back at the Backpackers we talk to a guy about getting to Swaziland and end up booking Baz Bus tickets for tomorrow afternoon. The Baz Bus is one of those hop-on-hop-off deals for independent travelers and is the easiest way for us to get to Swaziland. The only trouble is the bus won’t get here till 2 o’clock which means we have to hang out in this shit-hole nearly all day tomorrow. Now we sleep in our hot tent till six o’clock then have dinner in a Chinese restaurant – the only place besides the pub where we can find to eat around here. The food is okay but the atmosphere is non-existent and everyone is smoking – bizarre.
So the only thing to do is get drunk at the pub.
Wednesday 29th August, 2007
Nelspruit to Swaziland
Today we sleep till nine o’clock and wake to a warm sunny day without a cloud in the sky. After a breakfast of cornflakes sitting in the sun outside our tent, we just hang around all morning reading and playing with George. Around lunch time Mark walks down to the shops and comes back with pizza. By the time the Baz Bus arrives at two o’clock we’re both raring to go. After some confusion of other people needing to be picked up, we finally leave at 2.30pm – thank God. There are only about ten of us on the bus – a young couple, a few attractive blonde girls, a dreadlocked hippie who’s too cool to make eye contact and a poor Mr Bean-type man who’s seems to be very excited.
For the next two and a half hours we cross a mountain range then a barren landscape of rolling hills. We pass through a few sad little black settlements where the houses straggle over dry stark hillsides instead of being laid out in streets.
At the border we fall in love with Swaziland. The building is colourful and so are the ladies at the desk. Outside there are tiny fruit stalls selling bananas, avocados, pears, apples and oranges and a small shop selling Swazi curios. Meanwhile Mr Bean is trying to make friends with the dreadlocked hippie and is asking him where to stay in Swaziland but Dreadlocks is just ignoring him – arse-hole!
From the border it’s only half an hour to Mbabane, the capital. On the outskirts we stop at a guesthouse where Dreadlocks jumps out followed hurriedly by Mr. Bean. As we drive off we see Dreadlocks striding confidently towards the office totally unaware that Mr Bean is scurrying after him like an anxious puppy – I hope he drives you insane, you stuck up hippie!
Coming into Mbabane itself we see that it’s fairly modern but not huge for a capital city. It sits on the Mbabane River in the Mdimba Mountains– we’re actually 3,800 feet above sea level. And by the way, you pronounce the “m” first and then say the rest of the word – so say ‘m-bar-bane’ and ‘m-dim-ba’.
No-one gets out in town and it seems that we’re all headed for Sonzelas Backpacker Lodge in the Ezulwini Valley which apparently is one of the most picturesque parts of Swaziland. Leaving Mbabane we wind our way down into the valley with beautiful views far ahead of us. After only fifteen minutes we pull into the Mahlanya Fresh Produce Market on the Malkerns main road. It’s a busy dusty place with lots of rubbish lying around and most of the market stalls closed up for the day.
A jeep from Sonzelas is there to meet the bus to pick up any backpackers. One of the Sonzela guys helps with our bag and about six of us squash into the jeep for the ten minute drive.
At this point I must mention our luggage situation. Every other trip we’ve been on, we’ve always taken a big backpack each and a small backpack each but because I’m such a weakling, Mark ends up carrying both big backpacks. So to save both our backs, this trip we decided to bring one big bag on wheels that Lauren had taken to Europe with her. Big mistake because it’s not just big, it’s ginormous and we can see it’s going to be a real pain in the arse. So far it really hasn’t been a problem because we’ve been in the van to Kruger and then the on the Baz Bus both of which had plenty of room for luggage. We know it’ll be a different matter now that we’re on our own and will have to use local transport. Anyway we’ll have to manage – we’ve also christened it The Behemoth.
Now back to Sonzelas. It’s set in the beautiful Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary but it’s almost dark by now so we’ll have to see the scenery tomorrow. We bump along a dusty track then in through the gates which are guarded by a man who lives there in a beehive hut. We can see him sitting inside cooking something over an open fire dug into the earthen floor – cool! Sonzelas itself looks so welcoming – a golden glow shining through the thick gardens surrounding it.
We book in at reception which is in a bright orange and purple painted room with lots of mismatched colourful lounges and a huge television. The walls are covered in posters, framed pictures and notice boards – we love it. We have the choice of staying in the main house or in a rondavel – of course we opt for the more adventurous and expensive option. We’re given our key and pick our way through the dark to our hut. And because we’re in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary we come across impala, ostriches and warthogs wandering around the gardens.
Our hut is gorgeous and feels so big because of the soaring ceiling. We have a bed, side tables, a couch and a wash basin. The showers and toilets are in a block half way back to the house – no problem. After quick showers we meet for dinner. This is a fixed meal of chicken, maize, coleslaw, pumpkin and tossed salad – not great but okay for only $5 AUD each. There are about thirty of us here, some sitting around the fire (it’s cool at night) and some at the wooden picnic tables. We don’t hang around after dinner and head back for an early night.
Thursday 30th August, 2007
It’s a wonderful surprise this morning to see just what our surroundings are like. The skies are a clear brilliant blue once again and we have uninterrupted views of open grassland plains stretching up to Nyonyane Mountain. Our rondavel is so cute – tan mud brick with a pointed thatched roof like a little furry hat sitting on the top. Through the multi-paned windows and the doorway we look out towards the hills and the Mlilwane National Park which is right on our front doorstep. Here are a family of zebra only a stone’s throw away and warthogs, impala and emus are scratching around outside our hut.
Breakfast is around the fireplace again and in the daylight we can also see how really nice it is here. Tall shady trees surround the area that’s separated from the gardens by a low stone wall. Mark has a Swazi porridge while I have cornflakes then we both have two fried eggs on toast. Over breakfast we decide that we’ll try to get to Mozambique tomorrow which means getting visas from the Mozambique Embassy in Mbabane today. We’re too late to get a lift with Sonzelas jeep to Mahlanya Market on Malkerns Road where we were dropped off by Baz Bus yesterday. The not-very-helpful lady at the desk reluctantly tells us that we’ll have to walk two kilometres to the main road, flag down a local minivan, get out at Mahlanya Market, flag down another minivan to take us to Mbabane then catch a taxi to the Mozambique Embassy. Sounds like a lot but it’ll be fun.
The red dirt track back to the road passes through pineapple fields and nothing much else – it’s hot. We’re glad to see that the main road is tarred and we soon wave down a silver grey minivan. We crawl inside and up the back which is good as we can watch the other passengers. It’s a lovely atmosphere and reminds us of local buses in Samoa – lots of loud happy music – often something to do with God. A lady with a baby in a papoose is sitting near us so I stare at the baby and wish I could have a nurse. I must say though that the people aren’t terribly friendly but maybe things will change.
At the Market we jump into another minivan and head for Mbabane fifteen minutes away. We crawl up the mountain stopping every now and then to pick up passengers until we’re totally full. We all pile out at Mbabane Bus Station which is a frantic mess of people, taxis, buses and minivans. We want to check out Mbabane but want to get our visas first so we jump into a taxi to take us to the Embassy. Apparently we have to fill in some forms and then come back this afternoon to see if we’ve been accepted. So now we have to walk back to the main road and hail down a minivan to get back to Mbabane. The problem is that because we’re pretty close to the city, all the minivans are full and it takes ages till one stops for us.
Back at the Bus Station we catch yet another minivan north out of town for a few kilometres as we want to visit The Ngwenya Glass Factory. From the drop off point we have a long dry walk uphill to the factory which sits alone on a bare hillside. We watch the glass makers at work and look in the showroom. Mark buys a t-shirt and apron then we have toasted sandwiches and cakes in the café.
Back down the hill to the road to wait for another minibus to take us to Mbabane where we visit a local market set up in a few old buildings. One room sells traditional medicines with lots of weird things in bottles and jars and lots of dried plants hanging around.
Nearby is the swish Swazi Plaza – a small modern shopping complex with dress shops and supermarkets. While we eat Kentucky Chicken we realise that these people really aren’t friendly – nothing like in Asia but we don’t know the history behind it all so we don’t judge. I feel a bit sad for the ladies – most of them wear awful nylon wigs to cover their tight frizzy black hair. I think they’d look very beautiful if they just cut their own hair short – but I guess we women are the same everywhere – never happy with what we’ve got.
Now it’s time to get our visas so it means a taxi to the Embassy. Crowds of people are waiting outside the gates which are now locked. It looks like we’ll be here for hours but we’re soon waved inside and proudly presented with our Mozambique visas. The lady at the desk tells us “You soooooo lucky”.
Now we have to make the long trek back to Sonzelas. We can’t flag down a minivan from here because they’ll all be full for sure so we have to get one back to Mbabane first and then another south – I’m getting confused just writing this. At last we’re speeding down the mountain headed for the Mahlanya Market. We’re absolutely flying but no-one else but Mark and I seems to be worried. We even happily roar past police in a patrol car. They don’t seem to care that we’re doing double the speed limit but they probably couldn’t catch us even if they wanted to.
So glad to reach the Market in one piece where we catch our final and eighth minivan of the day. Getting dropped off at the turnoff to Sonzelas we walk the two kilometres back through the pineapple fields stopping off at Boabab Batik on the way. Finally we’re back in our room and it’s time for a rest. Later we have dinner around the fire then strangely watch Dirty Dancing on television in the lounge. An early night.
Friday 31st August, 2007
Swaziland to Maputo, Mozambique
Wake early to find an ostrich at our front door – “hello there”. Also wake to find we have another gorgeous day without a cloud in the sky. Today we’re off to Mozambique which is quite an adventure because we’re not sure how to get there or how long it will take or what to do when we get there. Anyway we know we have to get to the town of Manzini about half an hour away in the opposite direction to Mbabane.
We want as early a start as possible but we have to wait to get the Sonzelas’ jeep to the Mahlanya Market which doesn’t leave till 8am. So we enjoy a leisurely breakfast around the fireplace before having showers and packing.
We leave Sonzelas on time with other backpackers going who knows where. The Behemoth is taking up so much room that we’re all squashed in like sardines and everyone is giving us death stares – don’t blame them. At the Market we swap to a minivan to take us to Manzini. Embarrassingly, the Behemoth is so big it has to have a seat of its own.
Manzini is Swaziland’s second largest town but still not huge with only 73,000 people. It’s a busy market town and the country’s commercial and industrial centre. The streets are chaotic as we make our way to the bus station. This is even more frantic than the one in Mbabane and very exciting – just what we’d imagined a local African bus station to be like – colourful, noisy, smelly and hectic.
From here we have to catch a taxi to another bus station on the other side of town which is where the minivans to Mozambique leave from. This only takes a couple of minutes when we’re dropped at a small much quieter and prettier place where a few minivans are waiting to fill up. There aren’t any real timetables here – when the van or the bus fills up then you go. Until then we have sit sweltering inside the van with a handful of locals. Luckily we’re towing a trailer for the luggage so for once the Behemoth doesn’t embarrass us.
At last we’re full so we pay the 60Rand each (about $10AUD) fare and set off for the two hundred kilometre trip to Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. It’s a pleasant hour and a half to the Swazi/Mozambique border with the windows open to cool us down. We pass through a few small settlements but mostly all we see is dry open spaces. The people in these poor rural areas don’t get much of a choice on making a living – it’s either subsistence farming or livestock herding.
We share the road with goats and cows while local people sell firewood and coal on the dusty embankments. At the Goba border post it takes half an hour to get through then we’re on our way to Maputo. As we near the coast the vegetation becomes greener and thicker and, I must say, a lot more appealing. That doesn’t include the huts that some people are living in, though – spindly, unkept grass huts that scream terrible poverty.
Closer to the city things look less dejected and we find that Maputo is a busy city of modern buildings as well as lots of beautiful old Portuguese buildings. Maputo was actually founded by the Portuguese in the late 18th century and was originally called Lourenço Marques. After independence in 1975, its name was changed to Maputo and most of the city’s large Portuguese population took off (back to Portugal maybe?).
Beneath these tall buildings, though, there still seems to be a lot of poverty down on the ground. It also looks war torn (bullet holes in buildings) even though it’s almost fifteen years since the civil war ended. The place is a bit of a mess really – physically and economically. The economy really suffered when Mozambique broke ties with South Africa in the 1970s and 80s then the whole country became the scene of a horrible civil war that lasted from 1977 to 1992.
Finally we pull into the bus station which is crowded with people, food stalls, carts, taxis and buses of all sizes. It’s a grubby mess of red dirt sidewalks littered with rubbish and lots of big rocks for some reason. We ring Fatima’s Guesthouse to see if they have a room for tonight. Luckily they have and they send a friendly young guy called Matthew to pick us up.
He soon arrives in a battered old car then takes us on a mini tour of Maputo on the way to the guesthouse, driving along the coastline. Apparently most of the Mozambique economy is dominated by the port here on Maputo Bay exporting coal, cotton, sugar, chrome, ore, sisal, copra, and hardwood.
At last we’re in Mao Tse Tung Avenida and Fatimas. It’s a big old Portuguese house in a wide tree-lined street not far from the city centre. It has two floors with a trendy hanging out area at the back – this is also the reception area. We love the look of it straight away. You can sleep on the roof for next to nothing but we book into a cheap room on the bottom floor. It’s big and airy with lots of light coming in from the tall windows overlooking the side garden. We have a double bed and a single bed, vivid blue mosquito nets, a pink tribal wall hanging and a yellow ethnic bedspread. The bathroom is shared but clean. A hand written sign on the wall reminds us to “Don’t Take Any Kind of Knives With You On the Streets. The Police Confiscate Them.”
Leaving our ‘knives’ behind, we set out to explore the area and look for somewhere to get out money and for somewhere to eat. But because this was a quick decision to come here, we haven’t read up anything at all about Mozambique nor do we have our usual travel bible, the Lonely Planet. We don’t even know what the currency is, let alone the exchange rate. Down in a busy street Mark manages to get money out of a cash machine. At least now we know that the currency is called the Metical and that the exchange rate is about $1 AUD to 32 Mozambique Metical. We also manage to eat in a restaurant with an English menu – hard to find. We seem to be the only white people out here on the streets.
By the time we head back, it’s getting dark and there seems to be a lot of women setting up stalls on the pavements. Back at Fatimas we sit outside on an old leather lounge and get out our duty free grog. I find a gorgeous grey and white cat who loves me passionately so I’m very happy. We talk for ages to an English guy called Brian, who we’d met this afternoon, and a pretty Dutch girl – a fun night.
Saturday 1st September, 2007
After a good night’s sleep and waking to a beautiful hot sunny day, we’re more than ready to see more of Maputo. Fatima’s doesn’t provide breakfast so we set out very early. Outside the tall fence a man sits guarding the gate and checking everyone who wants to go in. There’s also an Armed Response sign so I guess Maputo is still a fairly dangerous city.
Outside we run into a man selling beautiful batik wall hangings so we buy two for us and one each for Angie and Lauren. We find an interesting café for breakfast and order egg sandwiches and egg hamburgers.
From here we walk along broad leafy avenues, past gorgeous Portuguese villas – all painted a brilliant white and set in beautiful gardens behind tall ironwork fences. If we had the Lonely Planet we’d know what all these buildings are but I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
We head towards the port where we find a lively art market. We buy more batik paintings, a wooden bowl, marackers and earrings. Soon running out of money we wander around the streets looking for an ATM – this is guarded by guys in uniform and carrying rifles. I don’t know if it’s the guns but it feels a bit creepy around here so we jump in a taxi to take us to the fish market.
Driving north along the coast we’re soon at a cheerful little market selling all sorts of seafood from prawns and clams to kingfish and even shark. The people are friendly and help us choose prawns and fish.
Next door are little bars and restaurants where they’ll cook what you’ve just bought. They’re all built around a massive shady tree with tables and chairs set up in every available space and shaded by colourful umbrellas. All the cafes are very basic and all painted in the brightest colours – we choose a very green coloured café and watch all the locals while we wait for our prawns and fish cooked in garlic. They call Maputo a cultural melting pot – Bantu, Portuguese, Arab, Indian and Chinese – and we see an odd mix of people here. Before leaving, we buy bags of peanuts and cashews from a young boy walking around the tables.
Now we decide to head back to Fatima’s but can’t find a taxi outside. We walk back along the beach road hoping to find some sort of transport. The sun is so hot that I tie my scarf around my face so I won’t get sunburnt. We see a very elaborate wedding party getting photos done on the beach – the bride, bridesmaids and flower girls all in white with the men in dark waistcoats.
Finally we flag down a passing minivan (‘chapa’) that looks like it might be some sort of public transport and get dropped off near Mao Tse Tung Avenida then catch a taxi to our guesthouse. Sooo glad to lie down in our lovely cool room for a rest. On dark we walk down to the main road to an outdoor café for dinner and drinks. A woman pulls up in a car and gets out to abuse her embarrassed husband sitting at a table near us – must have been expected home earlier.
Afterwards we walk back in the dark to Fatimas and spend another good night talking to Brian. He tells us that he’s going back to Swaziland tomorrow because he’s heard that there’s to be a big celebration (probably the Reed Festival) there in the next few days. We make another snap decision and decide to head back there tomorrow ourselves instead of going further up the coast here in Mozambique. From what we’ve been able to find out, it’s a long hard trip up to where the good beach spots are and then we’d have to backtrack to Maputo to get a flight to Johannesburg.
Sunday 2nd September, 2007
Maputo, Mozambique to Swaziland
So this morning we’re up early so we can hightail it back to Swaziland to see if we can catch the Reed Festival which is happening either today or tomorrow. At 8am we catch a taxi to the bus station but we don’t leave till 10.38am when the bus finally fills up.
This isn’t a problem in these circumstances – there’s so much to look at and keep us amused. People sell long freshly baked bread sticks, cakes, chicken, cigarettes and lots of food we don’t recognize. Small makeshift stalls are set up on the dusty sidewalk under faded umbrellas or trees if they’re lucky.
Others sell bread straight from rough hand-pulled carts. It’s a lively mix of waiting passengers, sellers, beggars and probably a few thieves. Again we’re the only white people around. Mark buys some chicken but it’s not cooked right through so I give it to an old beggar lady – is that a good or a bad thing to do?
Getting to the bus station early also means that Mark and I have the front seat so we get to see a lot more than we could two days ago when we were jammed in up the back of the minivan. So, it’s an enjoyable one and a half hours to the border then another one and a half hours to Manzini. About three o’clock we pull into the crazy bus station and drag the Behemoth uphill through the market crowds to KFC – air-conditioned in here and we pig out on ice creams, chicken, chips and coke. Outside the streets are packed with people and the bus station is chaos. We’re shoved into one bus then dragged out and shoved into another bus. Buses and vans inch their way in between each other and everyone is blowing their horn – it’s madness and we’ve both got headaches.
Finally we take off towards Mbabane and get dropped off on the road near Legends Guesthouse. We know it’s just up the hill but we can’t seem to get there. We walk up and down then ask a white guy on a quadbike. At last we find the famous Legends – very picturesque with big trees all around and a huge deep pink bougainvillea overhanging the entrance.
A joyous local lady called Leni greets us with a huge smile and shows us our room. This is a strange set-up – it seems to be a sort of flat with three bedrooms, a big lounge room, a bathroom and kitchen. A young English couple who introduce themselves as Emily and Rob are lying around on the lounges and are staying in one of the other bedrooms. The whole place is incredibly shabby but our room is big and sunny with a painted silhouette on the wall of an African guy playing a guitar – very cool.
We go back to the hanging out area to ask Leni where we can get something to drink (as in alcohol). Whenever she answers ‘yes’, it’s a very enthusiastic “a-yay-ya”. It’s so adorable but hard not to laugh. Anyway she tells us to walk down to the main road to the Happy Valley which is close as the crow flies but it takes us ages in the dark especially backtracking after trying to find shortcuts. At last we get our beers then wander back to Legends for dinner in the old dining room – cashews, oranges and biscuits – a bit strange but cheap. After dinner we watch Brokeback Mountain on the communal tele then an early night.
Monday 3rd September, 2007
Today is the Reed Festival. It’s held only once a year so we can’t believe our luck.
The Reed Dance is also called Umhlanga when all the unmarried maidens from all over the Kingdom come to pay homage to the king and his mother. They cut reeds (The Reed Dance – get it?) which they present to the Queen Mother and then later use to repair her home. It’s also the time when the King chooses a new wife (he’s got fifteen already, for God sake!). Traditionally all men in Swaziland can have more than one wife so it’s not just a king thing.
What’s so lovely about Swaziland is that it’s one of the only three monarchies left in Africa. Led by His Majesty, King Mswati III, the country is steeped in tradition and committed to protecting its culture. According to Swazi law and custom, the king holds supreme executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Most Swazis even see him as having a special spiritual role.
Anyway we’ve arranged with Leni for a driver to take some of us over to the festival at twelve o’clock. Now after showers we have breakfast of cornflakes, rice bubbles, tea and toast in the sunny dining room. We also have plenty of time to wander up the laneway to look through a group of little craft shops.
They’re all in tiny rondavels all painted white and with their ubiquitous pointy thatched roofs. It’s so lovely here – tranquil and pretty with lots of trees, flowering bougainvillea, rustic fencing and red dirt paths. We buy some wooden jewellery for Angie and Lauren and a sisal bowl before walking over to Swazi Trails to organize a hire car for tomorrow.
At noon we jump into a van with Emily and Rob (our room mates), Tim (a crazy old American with long grey hair) and Lucky, our guide. Lucky drives us first to the village of Labamba where we stop on an old wooden bridge to watch hundreds of naked girls bathing themselves in the river. They’re having a great time and give us big smiles and waves. One of the strange ‘dance’ rules is that all the maidens have to wash themselves in one of the nearby streams on the day.
Now we drive the Labamba village market which is buzzing with excitement as people prepare for the festival. Tents have been set up as well as lots of makeshift stalls selling drinks and snacks cooked on the spot. Cows wander amongst the crowds and people are using anything to try and create some shade.
Next we do a drive-by past the museum and a few other sad looking buildings before heading out to see some hot springs and lots more girls doing the naked bathing thing in other streams. On the way back we stop to pick up six young maidens headed for the festival – they giggle the whole way.
The Reed Dance itself takes place just outside the Queen Mother’s royal village so about one o’clock we’re in a line up of cars waiting to find a park. Policewomen are directing traffic as truckloads of bare breasted girls are streaming into the royal area.
It’s so exciting as we can see huge groups of girls walking towards us from all directions and from way into the distance – most of them are singing and dancing. We’re amazed to hear that there will be about five thousand young girls dancing before the king! But hang on, we heard wrong, it’s not five thousand but fifty thousand!! Oh my God! This will be incredible!
Lucky manages to talk his way into the VIP Parking Area so we’re right on top of things. Mark and I deliberately lose the others and go off to buy sausages, chicken, salad and chips from a table set up on the side of the road. By now there are thousands of girls pouring in and lots of them want their photos taken with us.
They all wear a skirt, a sash, bead necklaces, rattling anklets as well as coloured tassels and woolen streamers that show whether they’re betrothed or not. Apparently the King doesn’t care one way or the other. A lot of them also carry the bush knife they used to cut the reeds as a symbol of their virginity. The Princesses stand out from the rest by wearing red feathers in their hair.
All fifty thousand girls finally gather outside the Queen Mothers kraal to pay her respect. The palace itself is behind a reed fence but we can see the top of the buildings which all appear to be either the traditional beehive style or thatched rondavels – no airs and graces here.
Now it’s time for the festival to start so we head off to find seats – long wooden benches are set up facing a huge dry grassy field – no shade at all and it’s sweltering but at least we’ve brought our hats. We even see Brian from Mozambique in the crowd and give him a wave. Beyond the field are dry savannah plains with the stark, rocky mountains rising up steeply behind – very spectacular and a perfect setting for the festival.
The girls come in from the right and circle the whole field before passing before the King and the other officials. They dance and sing the whole way according to the tradition of their particular village.
There is so much joy here and the girls are obviously having a ball. Fat brown bums wobble to the music while bare bulbous breasts fly in all directions. Of course, it takes a couple of hours for fifty thousand girls to enter the field but it’s impossible to get bored. Once all the maidens have congregated facing the King, men and boys perform as well. They wear animal skins and brandish long sticks with a club on the end.
Now the King makes an appearance. He’s very handsome and surprisingly young – probably in his thirties. He’s engulfed by the crowd but he stands out a mile. He’s tall and bare-chested wearing a beaded head-dress and a pale blue beaded necklace. Mark and I sneak into a small covered grandstand for VIPs right behind the King’s seat to get a closer look – talk about high security.
Back in the van about six o’clock we stop at Happy Valley again for a drink with Emily and Rob then order pizzas to share back in our room. An early night.
Tuesday 4th September, 2007
This morning we’re leaving Legends and heading to Mbabane to pick up a hire car. After breakfast we bid Leni a warm goodbye – “a-yay-ya” she says. Dragging The Behemoth behind us we walk down to the main road to wait for a minivan. We don’t have to wait long as usual and we’re soon speeding north to the capital once more.
Leaving the bus station we walk to Swazi Plaza to find a travel agent where we book a flight to Johannesburg on Thursday – can’t be bothered getting a bus and it’s fairly cheap anyway. Next we find an internet place to check in with home then walk up onto the main street to look for Pado Cars. Apparently we can’t just take the car. Because we’re not Swazis, the “boss” has to come and look at us to see if she thinks we’re okay. We must pass the test because we’re soon in our little blue car headed for Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is huge and covers 4,500 hectares. Last week we spent our first two days in Swaziland at Sonzelas which is also in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary but tonight we plan to stay at the main camp which is a bit further away.
Driving back down into the Ezulwini Valley we see lots of people heading back home after yesterday’s Reed Festival. Most of them are walking with suitcases balanced on their heads. The last five kilometres to the Sanctuary is a dirt track where we pull over to buy sweets from some enterprising local kids who’ve set up a stall. We also pass lots of beehive huts and small mud brick homes not much bigger than a single room.
At the gate to the Park we pay an entrance fee at some touristy beehive huts (getting a beehive overload here) then it’s only another couple of kilometers to the camp. This is incredibly lovely, shaded by tall spreading trees and a small lake at the entrance. Impala, gnu and warthogs are peacefully roaming around the huts and the main office area.
The office is very African – lots of cane, wood, exposed beams, sisal baskets, overhead fans, local pottery and batik wall hangings. The lady at the counter shows us the different huts and we choose a really cute wooden one with a tall gabled roof and multi-paned windows – like a doll’s house. It’s completely lined with warm, rough wood and we also have our own bathroom. The only downside is single beds.
After unpacking (chucking our things on the floor) I try to get up close to a warthog but it’s too quick and runs off. The impala are friendlier with such beautiful eyes.
Later we have lunch in the Hippo Haunt Restaurant that overlooks the lake – there really are hippos in there. We sit out on the verandah in the sun to eat and to be on hippo watch. Afterwards we have our usual afternoon nap in our dear little hut. It’s so peaceful here and lovely to look outside our window and see the animals roaming around.
About five o’clock we set out on our own ‘safari’ through the park. On the way we see, you guessed it, more beehive huts. These ones we could have stayed in but they look pretty awful.
The park itself mainly consists of open grassland plains with middleveld vegetation and stretches up onto the striking Nyonyane Mountain. Up and down rough dirt tracks Mark gives our poor little car hell but it is a hire car after all. We see wildebeest, zebra, gnu, warthogs and, of course, impala. On the edge of a dam we also see a huge crocodile basking in the sun but we don’t get too close.
Dinner is again at the Hippo Haunt Restaurant seeing that it’s the only place to eat. Tonight we sit inside to enjoy the very rustic atmosphere. A buffet includes impala stir fry and impala everything else – Mark tries it all. Afterwards we’re entertained by the Sibhaca dancing team. We all sit outside around a fireplace while the dancers perform to drum beats and clapping. A nice way to end the day.
Wednesday 5th September, 2007
After a good night’s sleep, we decide to go for another drive before breakfast. We see the same animals as yesterday but also some hippos in the water at a small dam. There are a lot more crocodiles here today as well. Breakfast back at the Hippo Haunt then check out as we’ve decided to move on today.
We stop at the Pick & Pay to buy some junk food and run into Leni from Legends Guesthouse – more hugs and more “a-yay-ya”s – so sweet. From here we drive to the Swazi Cultural Village – needing a beehive hut hit. And yes, here they are – heaps of them. This is another cultural village but people actually live here. They show us around and we get to see inside the huts – we have to crawl on our hands and knees to get inside. Later we listen to a group of men and women singing traditional songs and then dancing – I get pulled up to dance, too.
From here we drive to Mandelas which is an odd combination of a bed & breakfast, restaurant, art gallery and shop with a popular music venue called House on Fire attached. Again we’re lucky to get a room and it’s in the cutest thatched cottage – like a fairytale. We’ve got a huge airy bedroom opening onto a verandah and a pretty garden. We also have a kitchen, a bathroom and a swimming pool.
It’s time to eat so we order roast chicken and fillet steak in the restaurant called Mandelas Farmhouse. It’s set inside a traditional thatched building with dark wooden furniture and a fireplace. We sit out on the covered terrace that overlooks sugar cane fields and the mountains beyond. The restaurant is very popular and there are lots of people here for lunch. We’re told that the kitchen uses local produce wherever possible, mainly home-grown vegetables and dairy products from the dairy farm next door.
In the afternoon we drive to a local market – very basic with dirt floors and friendly people. We buy a colourful painting and a wooden hippo.
Back to Mandelas for a rest then dinner at the restaurant and drinks in the cosy bar. We get talking to a tall black Swazi man called Manzi who’s a doctor. He’s so interesting and tells us lots about the politics and Swazi life. Stay up later than usual.
Thursday 6th September, 2007
Swaziland to Johannesburg
Our last day. We’re up at 7.30am to shower, have breakfast, pack and drive back to Mbabane. We fill the car with petrol before taking it back to “the boss”. She’s very glamorous with long painted nails and obviously has a lot of money – for Swazi standards anyway. When she finds out that we need to get to Matsapha Airport she offers to drive us. It’s near Manzini so it’s a generous offer. She talks all the way and couldn’t be nicer. A great way to finish our time here.
At 11.20am we fly to Johannesburg in a small bumpy plane making us feel sick. We have a long, boring six hour wait before we fly out to Sydney. We’ve had a wonderful but strange holiday really. We never expected to spend so much of our time in Swaziland let alone go to Mozambique – the best type of holiday we think.
And our final impression – fuck off The Behemoth!
Friday 7th September, 2007
Home by train.