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Published: August 24th 2010
Leaving Maputo I get to experience travel like an African lady. After I offer a little bit of my Coke to a thirsty looking young boy, around five years old, he decides that I am a preferable travel companion to his mother and insists on standing between my legs as we are about to leave. This can't be very comfortable so I pick him up and drop him on my lap and for the next four hours do what women do all day every day across Africa; travel with at least one child on top of them. I doubt I provide as much pillowy comfort, but he seems happy nevertheless. Of course back in England, should I offer some sugary drink to a small child then proceed to sit him on my lap for a number of hours I'd get stoned for being a paedophile. But here the kid’s mum turns around from a couple of rows ahead and gives me a disbelieving look, as if to say, "Are you mad?" then turns away with a satisfied sigh, relieved for the peace and quiet: "It's your funeral white boy."
Yet the child is a paragon of good behaviour. I
Marking out the path up Sheba's Breast
never cease to be impressed by the endurance of African infants, who are capable of undergoing immense journeys with the stoicism of a Greek philosopher. Stick a baby on your lap and it WILL piss, poo or puke on you. However, once they reign in control of their bodily functions, even the smallest children are of negligible trouble to look after when travelling. My newly adopted son asks for food from his mother before sharing it with me unprompted, even considerately brushing away the breadcrumbs that fall on my leg. As the journey continues he gets progressively more confident. After taking a drink of juice, without turning round he lifts the bottle up and backwards, imperiously motioning for me to hold it for him, eliciting some raised eyebrows and a hearty chuckle from the elderly lady next to me.
Y and I arrive in Manzini, the larger of Swaziland's only two significant towns (though not the capital) as the sun is going down. The country is so small however, that it's no trouble to take another minibus for barely half an hour before we arrive at a backpacker’s hostel in the nearby touristed Ezulwini region. My first impressions
View from on top of Sheba's Breast mountain
of Swaziland are a little troubling. At the border they have computers - on which the staff casually occupy themselves with some variation of Tetris - and immigration is a breeze. As we arrive in Manzini we join a dual carriageway. There are zebra crossings and plenty of traffic lights in this town of only 60,000 people. We pass numerous car sales lots, shopping centres and KFCs (the hallmark of advanced civilisation). Around are rolling hills and green fields. Were it not for the indigo-pink sunset over a few distant rocky mountains this could be Surrey. I find it all rather disorientating. The minibus driver asks me which stop we will be getting off at. Which stop?! How sophisticated. I thought in Africa you just got off where they dropped you in town and hoped. We pass a bus shelter with KORN (sorry people, I can't do the backwards R) scrawled on it in spray paint. This is NOT Africa!
There's not a great deal to say about my time in Swaziland; Africa's only remaining absolute monarchy. Most of it is spent in and around Ezulwini. There are a few trips to Mazini with its endless cheap clothing stores,
in which I manage to purchase some presentable garments for staying in South Africa. We also manage to hike up one of the nearby mountains, Sheba's Breast(s) on one enjoyable afternoon, which affords fantastic views of the surrounding area, although why we are obliged to pay an entirely negligible fee for "trail maintenance" baffles me - there isn't much maintaining going on I can assure you. I also visit the 'Royal Kraal' of Swaziland's enormous royal family - the previous King, who lived into his 80s, had over 100 wives and more than 600 children (not bad going in a country of barely one million inhabitants)!! However, it's essentially just a large gazeebo surrounded by some unkempt garden, and the royals don't actually live here. On the plus side I do get in for free. There's nobody at the front desk and when a women comes out the office calling after me, she hesitates when I turn (now at a distance) to say hello. "Oh, it's you," drifts lazily out of her mouth and she ambles off back to her chair, clearly mistaking me for someone else, even though I couldn't look much more like a tourist with a backpack,
shorts and cap on, camera conspicuously in hand. I have no idea who I'm meant to be impersonating, so on the way out I exit through a side entrance which has been left open by the two security guards who just walked through it - doing a good job there lads!
At the end of my thoroughly uneventful week of relaxation in Swaziland is Bushfire festival. Each year it hosts 5,000 people and some of the best and most well known music acts in the region, including a number of local groups and big names from South Africa. In 2010 this includes Freshly Ground (played to death all week by the hostel staff in preparation for the festival), who sing on the World Cup anthem with Shakira. Of course this is no Glastonbury but is still a good excuse for a massive party, an exciting and atypically active end to my time here, and the perfect final warm up for my impending visit to South Africa and the World Cup.
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