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Published: November 4th 2015
We left the house as early as we could and drove down the hill. Fortunately a bakkie, which is a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a cab for two people and an open back for carrying cargo, had been placed at our disposal, which made the rough roads much more drivable.
We had to drive through the tiny town of Malkerns which is set in a beautiful place and is covered in bright purple jacaranda trees. As we drove through we spotted market stalls and decided to stop to have a look. We were really glad we did. We didn't buy anything from the ramshackle stalls, which were selling snacks we didn't need, endless numbers of browning bananas and children's clothing. However the benefit of this experience was that we had conversations with local people. Lindsey was really impressive, having managed to pick up a few phrases of siSwati (which just wouldn't stick in my head). She started conversations with stall holders, pedestrians and even workmen. The owner of a children's clothing stall emphatically thanked us for visiting her country. A man on a building site, who it turned out spoke five different languages, asked us about what were doing and wished
us happy travels. Two more men in boiler suits had a good chat with us about where we were going. It is a cliché to say that a country has friendly people, but I have never experienced such friendliness from complete strangers as in Swaziland.
Leaving Malkerns, we soon got to Ezulwini where we went to the tourist information. This gave us the opportunity to book accommodation for the evening at the Hlane Royal National Park which is a large game reserve. We also booked tickets for the Mantenga Cultural Village. The tourist info centre was really helpful. It was set amongst some interesting craft shops which we enjoyed a wander around.
We drove down to Mantenga and as we had a few minutes to spare started our visit at the nearby waterfalls. We walked about 200 yards from the car park down to the river. The river ran through a lush valley with forest around. We scrambled over some rocks and could soon see the falls dropping down as two streams into a partially obscured pool. We couldn't get much closer and unfortunately, due to the warnings about crocodiles couldn't swim in the pool. The area was
beautiful and peaceful though and we could have stayed for hours just appreciating it.
We had to rush off as the cultural show started at 11.15 and it was 11.05. The show cost us E100 (~£5) and was absolutely amazing. There were ten men and nine women dancing different types of dance for us. Along with the dancing went singing, with a rich bass sound from the men and a lovely higher register from the women. The men also made all kinds of whistles and clicks which sounded just like local wildlife. The men in particular were very entertaining, especially one very cheeky warrior who kept propositioning the single women in the audience. For forty five minutes the audience was held entranced by the dances which included battle dances with spears set to the beat of four drums, celebration dances and dances for healing, where the 'sangoma' (healer) came from the village and danced at a frenetic pace. The most difficult dancing of all through was left to the virgin girls who had an energetic leg-lifting dance. At the end the dancers all picked 'volunteers' from the audience and Lindsey was pulled up on stage and taught a dance.
I was very proud of her dancing and got lots of photographic evidence.
After the dance we had the opportunity to visit the cultural village, which was swarming with monkeys dashing in and out amongst the huts. Our guide had the unlikely name of Trevor Mamba (his siSwati name was Mangolesi...'Surprise'). This village was a re-creation of the homestead of a man who lived with his two wives, his mother and his children in a traditional wood and straw built dwelling in pre-colonial times. Each woman had three huts on the homestead... A kitchen, a bedroom and a beer-brewing room. The girl's accommodation was at the gate, the least defensible area - the theory being that they could distract marauding warriors whilst the men readied themselves to fight. There was a hut for the man to smoke marajuana before taking his sons hunting. Each hut had a timber frame and then was covered in thatched straw. Inside, the huts were cool, in stark contrast to outside. We learnt about the customs of the traditional Swazi family and how they all co-existed in a polygamous society. It sounded very complex! At the very centre of the homestead was the kraal,
or animal pen, which is at the heart of Swazi culture: wealth and status are measured in cattle; dowries, or 'Lobola', are paid for wives in cattle; debts are paid in cattle; the spirits of the ancestors are believed to live with the cattle. We wandered around listening to Trevor, fascinated by the way of life we were witnessing. He told us about 30% of Swazis still live in this way in rural areas.
By the time we had finished the tour we were hot, tired and hungry. We went to the restaurant on site and had a very indifferent meal, served very well by an attentive waiter.
After that we started the long drive to our accommodation. The road was incredibly rough... Some areas were more pot-hole than flat surface. We found one sign along our whole route for Hlane, which is strange because it is one of the country's biggest tourist attractions and there is not much around it. After 50km without a confirmatory sign we were getting worried. Suddenly, along a road littered with rubbish and the occasional cow carcass, we came to some huge gates. We travelled about 10km along a long straight, grass-lined
road until we saw three warthogs. Just beyond these was a signpost for our camp. Check-in was complex but eventually we got there.
We had just missed the evening game drive so we decided to go for our own drive on the reserve before going to our room. We left the camp and Lindsey got a shock from the electric fence as she closed the gate. It was designed to hold back a rhino so it really knocked her back. Cautiously we drove into the park and drove around the rough roads. Everywhere seemed desolate. The trees and bushes were all dead. We came across a few impala but that was about all we saw. A bit disappointed we came back to the camp and then spotted that at the waterhole there was a pair of huge black rhinos, looking impressive but also quite silly as they slipped down a mud slope towards the water. This was very lucky as these are extremely endangered and rare even in game reserves. Looking closer at the water, we also realised there were at least three hippos in the water. We watched all of these majestic animals until the sun set.
When it was dark we went to the restaurant for dinner. I had a mixed grill of impala steak and wildebeest sausages. Lindsey had an impala potjie (stew). We weren't very impressed with the food and were less impressed with the waitress who just disappeared half-way through our meal.
We then went to our room which had no electricity, just a few gas lamps which were too hot to keep on in the already stuffy rondavel. Fortunately we had torches with us so we managed to find everything. We got an early night as we were exhausted from a full but completely enjoyable day and we had booked on the early game drive next morning, which happened to be Lindsey's birthday.
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