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Published: August 8th 2007
Sondzela backpackers, Mlilwane nature reserve
This superb backpackers is in a nature reserve teeming with wildlife, and is that the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the photo?!
The kingdom of Swaziland is a little jewel in the crown of southern Africa. This small country has a long tradition of kings ruling the country from the Ezulwini valley, and gained independence from Britain in 1968. The original constitution was largely modeled on the English system, however it has subsequently been abolished, and the king now rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch. The famous reed dance is an annual ceremony where the king chooses a new young bride from the naked girls who dance before him. Swaziland is surrounded by South Africa, and the border with Mozambique to the east. A visit to the kingdom provides a relaxed and modern stopover for visitors to southern Africa, where travellers enjoy a warm welcome from the friendly locals.
The last journal left off in Maputo, dear reader, from where I checked out of the hostel to an unusual send off from my dorm mate. This French Canadian guy has been travelling for eight years, and is a bit, shall we say ... alternative! He opened the door to the hostel as I was leaving with my packs on; when suddenly he pointed dramatically to the gate, took a flying kick at
my backpack and then turned the hose on me, which triggered even the placid hostel dog to start barking. The security guard had a shocked look on his face, but as I was laughing he understood the crazy mzungu's antics were hilarious. I caught a chapa to Swaziland and was the only foreign traveller in a busload of friendly Mozambicans. They were delighted that I was visiting their country, and proved to be helpful travel companions.
We crossed the border into Swaziland and arrived in Manzini around lunchtime. This is the largest city in the country, and the city centre is impressive and clean. When I got off the bus a guy touted for taxi business straight off the bat. I told him I was going to stay in a nature reserve between Manzini and the capital Mbabane, and was planning to take the minibus. However, after the rigours of travel in Mozambique during the last three weeks I changed my mind, and although my cabbie charged like a black rhino for the ride I didn't even bargain with him on this occasion. I told him I wanted to duck out to buy a pie for lunch, and shared
it with him in the African way.
My taxi friend dropped my off at the superb Sondzela's backpackers in the heart of the Mlilwane nature reserve, and the idyllic hostel is one of the finest I've experienced in my years of travelling. The views from the balcony hammocks look out over the Ezulwini valley, and the hostel features a large common area and a swimming pool. They also offer huge meals cooked around the fire at competitive prices. There are warthogs on the grounds, and an ostrich who tends to stick his beak in your face as you are reading, or having a snooze on the hammocks. Of course there's heaps of wildlife throughout the reserve, and visitors can explore the valley on the marked trails. The hostel is a little piece of paradise in Swaziland, and I fell in with a great group of people to commence a very enjoyable stay in the kingdom.
We spend the first night around the campfire after a big meal; where we relaxed while telling travel yarns, downing a few beers, and watching bush telly ie staring at the fire! We had a good night and I teamed up with an
Chilling out, Mlilwane nature reserve
Zebras and a wildebeest basking in the morning sun.
American guy with a similar itinerary, and we made plans for our next week of travelling. The next morning we walked down to the main camp along the trail, signed in with the park rangers and then headed out on a three hour walk within the reserve. There are no predators in the park; but it's teeming with antelope, zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, and also crocodiles and hippos at the watering holes. The Ezulwini valley is a beautiful part of the kingdom; and features scenic mountains, lakes and glorious views down the valley. We had a great walk that day, and it was a wonderful experience being so close to African game walking along the trail. We finished our morning with lunch at the main camp restaurant overlooking a lake, which is home to a huge crocodile who looks very well fed. We joked that non paying customers might be the reason the croc looked so content!
In the afternoon we headed out of the reserve in my friend's hire car, and drove around the area for a general explore of the valley. We wandered around a superb arts and crafts market packed with stalls, and featuring outstanding African craftsmanship.
Our plan was to head off to South Africa the next morning, and I woke up in the dorm room to what seemed like a Victoria Secret's fashion parade, featuring three Dutch girls who were also getting ready to leave. Sometimes European girls in shared rooms are anything but shy! We said goodbye to the girls after breakfast, piled all our gear into the trusty Nissan, and headed north via the capital Mbabane. The city is a little smaller than Manzini, but seemed to be quite modern and clean. Swaziland is a breath of fresh air in southern Africa, with friendly locals and less security concerns than in neighbouring countries. The kingdom is an accessible destination from Mozambique or South Africa and a place where, basically all of you should be here now!
"Common sense is not so common." Voltaire
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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