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Published: December 28th 2009
I awoke this morning to the woven arch of my ceiling and the early morning light filtering through the crack under the door. I squatted by the front door, grasped the antelope horn and slid the door sideways. The cool morning air hit me and I looked at the circle of beehive huts that are to be my home village for the next couple of days. I soon retreated into the warmth of my hut and wondered whether my companions were yet up for the day. I busied myself with making tea and taking a shower and dosing my now truly awful flu bug with the African equivalent of lemsips. I couldn't hear any noises coming from the neighbouring hut and pondered whether I could go for breakfast alone. I decided everyone here seems to speak good enough English and I'd be able to explain my guide would be settling the food bills. I set off across the campsite and decided to first enquire about horse riding trails as the quad biking trip will definitely not be running. I signed up for a two hour ride starting at about 9am and that organised, settled into the restaurant, choosing a table on
the upper level that overlooked the lake. I helped myself to the buffet and tucked into fruit and toast with the impressive sight of a large crocodile and a couple of hippos dozing in the early morning sun while a few adrenaline junkie birds hopped about casually beside the sleeping forms.
I was soon joined by my companions who were surprised to find I was already organised for the day. I left them at the breakfast table and went to get ready for my trip. I was glad there were available places on one of the early rides as I was feeling so awful I thought if I didn't go out this morning I wouldn't make it later. Usually when I'm ill I'm told to wrap up warm and stay in bed. I decided I could at least follow half of this advice and managed to layer myself in three t-shirts and two fleeces and wrap my new Swazi shawl around my neck. By the time I walked up to the reception I was already feeling rather warm. The horses were late getting back so I wandered around the reception again featuring large posters of the royal family in all
their tribal finery, and several posters of African birds and animals. I spent a while trying to identify some of the birds I've seen over the last couple of weeks and eavesdropped on my guide having a heated discussion with the staff over the price of our rooms. When she saw me she immediately smiled and wished me a good trip. (I am beginning to suspect I have really got a bargain with this trip as my part of the money has already been paid and all but my activities is included in the price.)
The horses soon trotted up the path and myself and a family took the discarded riding hats and fitted various sizes to our heads until we found a match. The horses who weren't needed for the ride were unsaddled and took off across the campsite, some dropping to the ground to roll in the dust, and all of them disappearing as they trotted behind the beehive villages. The five of us mounted our horses. The mother and little girl were apparently experienced riders while the men of the family were on horseback for the first time. I was quite happy with what I was told
was an average ride and we were promised sightings of different animals along the way. We rode off along the path and soon turned onto rough terrain. We saw a few antelope in the first field we passed through, but I soon realised taking photographs on horseback was no easy task, and my horse took full advantage of my distracted attention to graze, holding up the party as I tried to pull his head back up and urged him to move again.
The ride was very pleasant. Milwane is a beautiful area. Swaziland’s pioneer conservation area, Mlilwane is situated in Swaziland’s “Valley of Heaven”, the Ezulwini Valley, between Mbabane and Manzini. The Sanctuary covers 4,560 hectares, the south predominately open grassland plains and stretches up to the Nyonyane Mountain. Mlilwane means Little Fire, and the name is derivedderived from the numerous fires started by lightning strikes on the Mlilwane Hill. It is Swaziland's oldest protected area, and serves as a headquarters for the Big Game Parks including its sister reserves Hlane and Mkhaya.
Our guide led us on a large circluar route and I certainly got more horse riding experience than I've had in a long while. We had to
take the horses through the river and I enjoyed going down the steep embankment and up the other side. I did however discover one problem with riding horses while ill. Every time I coughed or sneezed my horse took it as a signal to trot. I'm not adverse to being on a trotting horse but when one moment we're ambling along gently and then the next moment I have my face buried in my sleeve and the horse has lunged forward beneath me it's quite startling! We saw several zebra and a herd of wildebeest at one point. The horses seemed not the slightest bit interested in their stripy cousins and the zebras simply stared at us until we moved on. We had to cross through the river again further on and then we followed the trail through the woodland and back to the campsite. I was feeling very warm by the time we returned and was quite glad to finally get off the horse. I said thank you to the horse and guide, and goodbye to my fellow riders and then walked back to Nyala village. I was amused to find myself face to face with an actual nyala.
The antelope, and a family of warthogs, were roaming peacefully around the central grassy area of the campsite.
I returned to my hut and had a slight surprise. As I crawled in I found myself confronted with two beds where only one had been that morning. I backed out thinking for a moment that I had somehow got into the wrong hut, then realised that my bags and everything else was still there. As I stood in confusion a tiny Swazi women asked me 'You are going now?' It turned out everyone apart from us left the village today and she was trying to prepare the hut for new visitors not realising we're here for another night!
I jumped into a hot shower again and curled up with a book before falling asleep. I felt a lot better on waking and relaxed in my little tribal home until my companions called me for the sunset drive. I was really touched they'd both agreed to join me. The biggest disadvantage of travelling alone is that trips won't run for single people and the sunset drive required a minimum of three people.
We met the driver at the reception and he took
our drink orders, gathered our provided packed tea, and showed us to the safari truck. The truck was a large one with different level seats, and since there were only three of us we each took a different level and stretched out. We drove through the reserve and I mostly tuned out our drivers confusing tour in broken English and just enjoyed the views as we bumped along the tracks in the cool evening air. We stopped by the lake and our driver offered to show us a crocodile. We gamely followed him through the trees and I, having swapped my horse-riding outfit for something more comfortable, found myself picking my way over fallen twigs in flipflops and skirt. We found a snoozing croc by the waterside and crept a little closer. My friends were soon muttering about being too close to a crocodile and actually had to tell the driver not to go any nearer. We went back to the truck and continued onwards. We saw impala by a stream, some kind of kingfisher catching insects over in the grasslands and various other kinds of antelope. I was particularly excited to see an avacado tree with fruit hanging from
the branches although it must be a more common sight for the rest of the party as they seemed none too interested.
We began to drive up the mountain as it got darker and I decided this evening's trip has been one of the most enjoyable. It isn't the most exciting thing I've done this trip, it's not the most unusual, or exotic; but sitting in the truck, my feet tucked under me, drawing my shawl around my shoulders while the cool mountain air blew about me, and antelope darted through the trees in the twilight was a rather perfect way to spend an evening. We reached the top of the mountain just in time to watch the sun set. We could see the reserve and the surrounding villages stretching out for miles beneath us. Our driver pointed out some things of interest including a large rock formation which looks like a crocodile and the famous Execution Rock, an exposed granite outcrop where criminals were thrown to their deaths. We pulled our drinks and snacks out of the truck and sat together in the dim light. We soon began to wind our way back down the trail. As we bumped
down the rough paths in the dark a warthog suddenly shot out in front of us and instead of darting to one side the stupid thing ran directly in front of our vehicle. I was surprised when instead of slowing down and letting the warthog get out of our way our driver put his foot down and caused the frantic animal to race in front of us while we chased him. I soon discovered what our driver was trying to show us. The pig charged down the road ahead and then suddenly leapt from the road, twisted and dropped into a hole backwards. Our driver explained that warthogs alwasy know where their hole is and they go in backwards so anything coming after them is met with a set of tusks! I still feel mean for terrorising the poor pig though.
As we drove back into rest camp it was completely dark. The headlights caught a harem of zebra in their beam so we stopped to watch them for a while. Back at camp we walked straight to the restaurant for our meal. We were given a table right at the back. I was glad of my shawl as the
night air was cold, but it was nice to sit so close to the lake and listen to the sounds of the night birds, and watch bats flitting gently over the surface of the water. It was spoilt somewhat when my companions casually observed that a crocodile could easily jump as high as the barrier, and they wouldn't sit with their backs so close to a lake, especially in the dark! I shifted my chair forward and ignored the comment as my food arrived.
We returned to Nyala Village, looking up at the clear bright stars above us, before crawling into our respective huts. I will be very sorry to leave my little tribal home tomorrow. It is so wonderfully snug and cosy... maybe I should have one in the garden at home!
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