Saturday, August 2, 2014

Swaziland: Everything the Light Touches

Following our adventures in Kruger, we spent three days in the Kingdom of Swaziland, which we were intrigued to learn is the only absolute monarchy remaining in Africa.  King Mswati III is the nation’s supreme monarch and has 13 wives, a small number compared to his father’s 70 wives.  Swaziland is a small, mountainous kingdom and, as Giorgio likes to point out, "everything the light touches" is King Mswati’s.

Although we saw the king’s picture everywhere, we did not learn what citizens actually think of the Swazi government as it is considered an act of terrorism to speak against the king.  However, we understand that there has been a fair amount of political unrest recently.  If you’re interested in learning more, we suggest these articles:

We thoroughly enjoyed our three days in Swaziland – highlights below!

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

We spent the majority of our time in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, one of three game reserves in Swaziland.  Unlike Kruger, Mlilwane doesn’t have any predators, so we were able to explore on foot and horseback. Hiking through the park, we climbed and traversed a few precarious sections of the trail.


On horseback, we climbed to the top of “Execution Rock” – where prisoners used to be thrown to their deaths. 

Riding allowed us even closer to the zebras, antelopes, and other animals roaming Mlilwane.  (Wild animals are significantly less scared of humans on horseback than on foot.)  The highlight for both of us was galloping across plains.

We were also lucky enough to stay at Reilly’s Rock, situated on a hilltop in the center of the reserve.  A change of pace from the rustic camps in Kruger, the hotel is located in the former home of Ted Reilly, who donated his farmland to start the park several decades ago.  Gin & tonics on the terrace (still trying to make sure we get lots of quinine), feeding the resident bushbabies, and dinners around the fire were a perfect way to end our two days at Mlilwane.

Exciting Driving

Driving from the northwest corner to the southeast corner of Swaziland, we had the chance to see a large swath of the small kingdom on narrow roads that kept climbing up over the mountains. Driving in Africa, and Swaziland in particular, is never dull.  We both need to be constantly on the alert for the cows and goats that graze along the side of the road and often decide they need to cross without any warning.

At 2 or 3 every day, school gets out and hordes of schoolchildren start walking home, adding further obstacles.  Stephanie was most impressed with the Swazi women carrying heavy loads balanced carefully on their heads.  (No men seen carrying anything.) 

Unusual Border Crossings

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from our first border crossing, except that our rental car company was quite adamant that we needed to pay R700 (about $70) for two special border crossing letters (one for entry and one for exit).  Entering the country in the northwestern corner at the Jeppe’s Reef border post, we came across a chaotic scene.  Told to leave our car amidst a crowd of people, we spent quite some time standing in line for arrivals to South Africa before ascertaining that we were in the wrong location.  Switching lines, we finally obtained our exit stamp and proceeded through the gates to customs in Swaziland.  Leaving our Nissan once again, we joined the line that snaked out the door of a small customs building.   Various other people (and farm animals) were simply milling about the area.  We eventually made it to the front, where stamping our passport and paying the small fee was amazingly simple – no one ever asked us for that border letter.  Paperwork in hand, we were allowed to pass into Swaziland through the “gate” (really just a manually operated pole raised and lowered by a customs agent). 

Three days later, when we left Swaziland via a different border crossing in the southeast, we quickly followed clear signs from one ticket counter to another in two different modern buildings, without the need to wait in any lines.  However, the final South African customs agent seemed confused by Giorgio’s passport and called in our license plate number repeatedly, finally asking to see the mysterious border letter.  However, instead of keeping the letter as evidence of our legal crossing, he just made Giorgio read the letter out loud to him.  We still aren’t sure how one small country can have two such diametrically opposed entry points and are wondering what the other border posts are like.  Further adventures to come crossing the border to Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe!

(Note: There are no photos of any of this, because Giorgio says you shouldn't take photos at border crossings and/or customs.)


PS: We also learned there are apparently 9 different types of water on the planet (according to Swaziland) and something might happen if you expose water to direct sunlight - our experiments yielded no results.  

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