Saturday, 5 November 2016

Swaziland (on a whim)

After deciding the day before to spend a couple of days in Swaziland we hadn't done a lot of research! We knew the border was about 60km from Nelspruit but that was about it! The drive up to the border was stunning, climbing up hills and driving along misty, cloudy mountain passes made for a very interesting journey! The weather was cold, probably the coldest it has been so far with a constant British drizzle! The border was simple, everyone was friendly and helpful - I wanted to know about my South African visa coming out of Swaziland and whether I will still get till the 28th (it was a yes!), and on the Swazi side it was a case of a stamp and 50 rand tax for the car.. no TIPs, which made things very simple - we were through in under 20 minutes! Being in Swaziland was like being back in Cameroon or Congo, so much green and red clay lining the roads! The roads got worse, slippery and with lots of pot holes.. every time we went through one I could just see more £ signs coming up. Since having the car serviced in South Africa it seems like we have opened a can of worms.. we are just now hoping the lid holds until the end of the trip! We drove through the capital, Mbabane, and into the Ezuleini Valley, another beautiful place surrounded by green mountains. We stayed at Legends Backpackers which felt like something out of a fairy tale.. the camp side was in the middle of a heavily tree populated area covered in the purple flowers from the jacaranda trees. It was very pretty, and you expected to see fairy tale animals and characters popping up every so often!

That afternoon we visited the Mantenga cultural village and national park. We paid our entrance fee and first walked up to the waterfall about a kilometre away. It was very peaceful, a small pool with the waterfall cascading in. Lots of fish and lizards around and it was nice to just sit and enjoy the silence! Arriving back at the 'village' we were met by a Trevor, our guide, who would show us around. It was very interesting, we got to see traditional Swazi houses and learn about their early culture. The housing village was set up for a man with two wives (this isn't a lot of wives, the current King has 56, and the previous had 78 with 249 children!), we soon learnt the wives got a rather rough deal, their job was to be subservient to the husband. Each wife did however have three houses, one for cooking, one for sleeping and one for beer making! The customs and rules were quite complicated but it was interesting to hear about them! After the tour we were treated to traditional dancing and singing, I often find these events quite awkward but it was good fun! They showed us a male and female dance, a wedding song and a warriors prowess dance. A good first day in Swaziland was topped off by a small craft market, where I did manage to buy some bits and pieces..on a roll now with the souvenirs! We are going to have to ship the car home just so I can bring them all back!

On the way into Swaziland, as I said above, we realised the car was making some funny sounds.. I say we, Charles did, I'm afraid all I can hear is engine noise! The second day Charles was desperate to sort out the car, whilst we knew this would impact on our time in the country it was something worth doing. Staying at Ledgends another day allowed him to take off the wheels and try to work out where the noises were coming from. If you have read Mandy's blog you will know they had a jingle for a while.. well in true discovery fashion ours a few months after their diff went, we now had a jingle too... I could already see the money draining out of our account! We decided to tackle the things we (Charles) could do first, before paying someone to do the rest.. A few trips to auto parts, which was very cheap, for lock tight, brake cleaner and a certain spanner head we were back in the campsite and the wheels were off (NB There was a slight interlude which I will explain below after the car stuff). After tightening some bits and pieces which hadn't been done properly when serviced, Charles changed the wheel bearings on both front tyres as they were loose, he hadn't done this yet and luckily had spares in the back (yay finally using up the spares that take up space and weight!). He had watched Rob a few times, but we still nervous doing it by himself especially as we had no internet and no contact with our 24/7 mechanic himself! Well not being at all mechanical I was impressed with his work.. we had yet to see if we could drive but it all looked above board! I understand why Charles gets nervous and feels under pressure.. it's a big thing to get right when you aren't 100% confident.. I am so useless with all that stuff, probably because I have never had to do it, so anyone that can I totally respect (it is very interesting watching, I loved watching Rob take apart their engine in the Congo!). As it got dark and Charles was still working on the second wheel we were joined by Dave and Tasha, a couple who were coming to the end of their travels. Chatting to them, swapping stories and experiences helped pass the evening away as Charles worked on. He was finally finished at 9pm, it took 7 hours!

Any way the slight interlude between getting the parts and taking the car apart involved going to (another) craft place! In my previous blog I mentioned how we are finally and frantically picking up souvenirs to take home, now we are 99% sure we will be shipping it makes it a lot easier to say yes to buying! The craft place was great despite the bus loads of tourists coming in and out (yes I know we are tourists but that doesn't stop me being snobby about busses!). There were the usual African crafts where we bought some jewellery, a soap stone rhino and a guinefowl (whilst they are numerous here they are good looking especially when made out of wood). There were also some enterprise shops including a Swazi candle shop which was just the most amazing and original souvenir shop we have seen so far! Their factory was on site so you could see them making these amazing candles (even Charles was impressed and he HATES candles!). I wish I had taken photos! They had normal ones with African print around them, and then holders with the African skyline pained on them, but the crowning glory were African animals in swirling, trippy colours. They were just spectacular.. we may have spent a little bit of money in there also!! 

 Our visit to Swaziland was going to be short and sweet and on our final day we travelled an astounding 10km to get to Mlilwane National Park. It was boiling hot as we used our wild cards to get in (South African park cards) so the entrance was free, and paid for the camping. Because the park had no predators you could hike on specially marked trails around the nature reserve so we set off on the 'hippo trail', a 6.5km walk up mountains, down valleys, across rivers and through fields. The scenery was green, a proper green.. full of plants and birds. We walked past herds of wilderbeest, zebra, blesboks (antelope) and nyalas, an animal cross between a kudu and bush buck. It was amazing to be so close to them on foot - walking along the river we saw crocs, and a group of sunbathing turtles, was pretty special! We went out again in the afternoon but across the rolling hills, you could see the thunder storms in the distance over the mountains which made us move a little quicker! It was nice to be able to walk around a reserve, something we hadn't been able to do so far.. it also got my daily step count to 28,000 which I was hoping would count nicely towards my 'work week hustle' on Fitbit which I normally seem to loose! 

 (bee eaters .. prize for anyone who knows which one! Answer below)
 (all the snares - there were hundreds more - collected in the Swaziland National Parks)


Sadly our time in Swaziland was short but sweet, so glad we went, it was like being back in Central Africa again.. rough and rural. The people were unbelievably friendly, from people in car parks, waving at us in the car to those on road side stalls - there was also a sense of safety, even in the more busy places. As I keep repeating the scenery was beautiful, so green much like we were back in the Congo - I would describe it as a rain forest set in the Alps! We would have liked to spend more time here, however I feel we did get to see a good slither of what the country has to offer so whilst leaving was hard I didn't feel we had missed anything major!

(some of the beautiful scenery back up to the border)

Answer: white fronted  bee eater