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Published: November 6th 2015
According to Wikipedia, people in Swaziland have a higher probability of being struck by lightning than people anywhere else in the world. This unverified factoid became the subject of our thoughts in a very meaningful way when we got stuck on top of a mountain in a thunderstorm. This is what happened...
We left Hlane around lunch-time after we had done another unguided drive, this time with absolutely no sightings. I had spotted a hot spring marked on one of our tourist maps and was keen to explore. It only required a small detour from our route back so we thought it was doable. Unfortunately the map we had in the car didn't have it marked. We took a 60km detour through some stunningly beautiful countryside and reasonably heavy traffic to find the springs but didn't see them sign-posted at all. Bored of driving, tired and hungry we felt quite dejected as we continued going back to Ezulwini without a dip in the hot springs to make us feel better.
At Ezulwini our spirits lifted as we found a Mugg and Bean coffee shop and managed to get reviving coffee and internet access. This was the first time we'd
Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
been online all week so it was good to catch up with people back home. We had passed a place in Ezulwini called the Cuddle Puddle which also had hot springs so we decided to explore. In the setting sun we eased our aching bodies into the naturally warm waters of a swimming pool constructed from the spring. With purple jacarandas cast against an orange sky and silhouetted palm trees in the background we had a delightful time at the pool, in which we were the only occupants. Feeling much better we embarked on our drive back to the farm.
We got to Malkerns and spotted a man selling roasted mealie by the side of the road. For those who don't know, mealie is like corn on the cob but is larger and is white rather than yellow. We had been really keen to try this African delicacy but hadn't yet had the opportunity. We pulled over and the stall-holder regarded us suspiciously. He grew a bit friendlier when we asked for two mealies and friendlier still when we gave him R20 and told him to keep the change. The mealies were hot from the fire so we had
to let them cool down. Eating them as we drove along, we must have been quite a sight to the locals, who were already staring at us as they don't tend to see white people in their area. We really enjoyed it. The kernels tasted very strongly like popcorn, though the texture was more like eating corn on the cob.
As the last rays of the sun disappeared and darkness descended we started to hear thunder in the distance. We got part way up the remote hill and came across a taxi parked by the side of the road with its hazard lights on. The driver flagged us down and we stopped. As we did so someone climbed on the back of the bakkie. A bit scared and wondering what was happening, I locked the doors and Lindsey wound her window down a little. The taxi driver spoke to us in siSwati and then called someone over to speak in English. He told us that the man needed a lift up the hill. We tried to protest that we didn't know where we were going but he was adamant. There was no getting out of this and in such
a remote place it was the right thing to do, we just weren't pleased at how it was thrust upon us. We drove on with our hitchhiker on the back. After about 1km he banged on the window and jumped off. He thanked us, grateful for sparing him the hill. We pulled away into the darkness.
By this time the thunder and lightning were not a distant phenomenon but were crashing against the hill we were on. We had been praying for rain since learning about how dry the farm was and here it was in the most awesome way possible. I have never been so close to lightning - the air literally crackled with it. We were sitting in a metal car, gradually working our way up to being the highest thing on the mountain. We were about to become the best possible lightning conductor in a fearsome storm.
The flashes were getting brighter and the booming thunder louder. I realised with a jolt of fear that Lindsey would have to get out at the top of the hill to open the metal gate to the farm.
Before this could happen though we had a more
immediate problem... We weren't quite sure where we were. We knew the road forked at one point with the right-hand fork dropping down into an impassible canyon. We came to a point where the road appeared to fork so we took the left-hand track. Very quickly we discovered that this wasn't a fork at all. The road got very rough and suddenly the four-wheel drive lost traction. We were stuck in a deep rut with the wheels spinning uselessly. I tried going forwards, I tried going backwards, the car was not budging. Lindsey tried to give it a push down the hill - to no avail. We weren't going anywhere. Starting to smell hot metal I turned off the engine. We were making a lot of noise but the occupant of the nearby homestead didn't come out. Their dogs did though and were furiously barking at us.
There was nothing for it, we would have to walk through the storm.
We packed everything we needed into our rucksacks and left anything unnecessary behind. Fortunately we had packed our head-torches which were now invaluable as there was no light at all except the intermittent lightning flashes. We had about
2km to walk, mainly over broken terrain. The second half of this was along the edge of the forest. We walked, with our hearts pounding every time there was a flash of lightning. We prayed that God would bring us safely through this trial. On the way we disturbed a giant frog on the road as well as several large songololos (think millipede but ten times the size).
Eventually we came to Muzi's house and knocked on the door, relieved to be there. I think we woke him but he greeted us in a friendly way. We got into his bakkie and dropped Lindsey at the farm before I went back with him. Muzi knew a trick to get the bakkie unstuck and soon I was driving behind him back to the farm.
It had been a long and eventful day and we were tired. Thankful to God for answering our prayers for safety, and for rain, we settled in for the night with a good meal of sausages and potatoes and an excellent dessert wine we'd bought in South Africa. Never has food tasted so good!
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