Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary & Mbabane

Published: November 25th 2012
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I got very lucky on the day I was leaving Sodwana Bay and South Africa. Curtis, from USA, who was also staying at Natural Moments, was leaving the same day I was for Johannesburg in his rented car. He kindly agreed to drop me close to the Swazi border, but in the end brought me all the way to the Onverwacht border post with Swaziland.

At first, this didn’t look like it would be the best border to cross at. We had to follow a gravel road for a few kilometres before re-joining the tarred road to the border. There wasn’t a much signs of any other vehicles going through, which didn’t bode well for my hopes of getting a lift of some sort to the next town. The Swazi immigration official gave me some grief about not having a visa for South Africa and said he couldn’t stamp me into Swaziland without it. After a few minutes of trying to explain that I didn’t need a visa for South Africa, being an Irish citizen and enquiring as to why this was an issue in Swaziland, he gave up all of a sudden and stamped me in.

Over the border, there was an empty minibus, with one lady waiting outside. I was told that this would be going to the nearest town. However, I had been in Africa long enough at this stage to realise that it would go nowhere until it was full and judging by the lack of traffic, I didn’t fancy my chances of it moving anytime soon. About 15 minutes later, a MAN truck pulled up to the border. I asked them if they could give me a lift and they said they would bring me to a town where I could catch a bus to Mbabane – the capital and my desired destination.

This had worked out great, even though the truck was in pretty poor condition and I didn’t have a seat to sit on. They drove me for about 45 minutes through the beautiful Swazi countryside. All of a sudden, the driver got a phonecall, pulled into a side road so he could turn and told me he had to back somewhere. He mentioned something about a girlfriend. So I was left on the side of the road, somewhere in Swaziland on the way to a town I didn’t know the name of, but that had a bus going to Mbabane. The sun was beating down also, as I tried to catch a lift.

I wasn’t overly worried at first, because I had recently met some Peace Corp volunteers who had been based in Swaziland. They had told me that it was very easy to get around by getting minibuses on the road. After about half an hour, everyone minibus that had passed was full to the brim and as I was in the middle of nowhere, I began to wonder whether any would pass with room for me. This question remained unanswered, as silver Mercedes Benz pulled up and the man inside offered me a lift.

The driver was Mr. Manano who was involved in the sugar cane business. Judging by how well off he appeared to be, I would say he must have owned a business or two. We drove to a town called Nhlangana, which is where I think the truck was going to drop me. Mr. Manano was going as far as Manzini, which is quite close to Mbabane. This was about 100km and without sounding ungrateful for the free lift I was getting from Mr. Manano, he drove painfully slow, despite having the best car on the road, by a distance. The 2 hours it took were made even more excruciating by Mr. Manano’s aversion to any type of conversation.

He dropped at the highway that went to Mbabane and I didn’t have to wait long until I was on a minibus bound for Mbabane. Nothing could work out that simple today though. Some farcical debate broke out between 3 minibuses over which passengers should get in which bus. Our case wasn’t helped by the fact that the conductor was about 12 years old and got bullied out of it by the other. Eventually, I arrived in Mbabane by mid-afternoon and found my way to Bombaso’s hostel, with the help of a woman who insisted on taking the taxi with me right to the gate and even gave me her number in case I had some trouble while I was in town.

This was not going to be a problem in Swaziland. A lot of people had said to me that there wasn’t anything special about Swaziland and that it was just an extension of South Africa. I found this to be completely untrue. The Swazis were amongst the friendliest and probably the most helpful, I had met while in Africa. Mbabane is quite a pleasant town, with some unique granite formations just outside. There is not a whole lot to do, but I had to apply for my Mozambique visa here, as it is $65 cheaper to get it at the consulate in Mbabane than at the border.

The Mozambique Consulate was the opposite end of town to where I was staying. The only public transport options in town are some unreliable minibuses that ply the main routes. To get the visa at the Mozambique Consulate, I had to apply in the morning then collect it in the afternoon. Both times I began to walk towards the Consulate, I was picked up by some local people who offered me a lift to town, then when they found out where I was going, insisted in bringing me all the way to the Consulate. As I arrived on a Friday, I had to wait until Monday to apply for this. Instead of spending the whole time in Mbabane, I went to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary for the weekend.

I managed to get another lift in Mbabane to the town centre, this time from a local white lady called Tish. Tish was a middle aged lady who spoke like she had been taken out straight out of colonial times. About a minute or two after I had got into her car, she had asked me what I was doing in Swaziland. I told her I was there, just before going into Mozambique. After this brief introduction, Tish replied “I am going to sound like your mother here, but whatever you do, don’t have sex in Mzambique, you will get HIV”. There were so many weird and wrong ways at looking at this exchange between myself and Tish, but one of the strangest was that we were in Swaziland, which has the unwanted distinction of having the highest rate of HIV in the world.

Sondzela Backpackers is located inside Mlilwane Wildlife Sancdtuary and was a beautiful place to spend two days and one night. From Mbabane, I took a minibus going towards Malkerns, where a local guy persisted talking to me in Swazi, despite it being pretty obvious I wasn’t a speaker. I got off at Vickery and walked 20 minutes up a dirt track, paid into the Mlilwane Sanctuary and shortly afterwards set up camp at Sondzelas.

I went for a short walk to the main camp, but it was very hot, so I decided I would wait until the next morning to go further into the sanctuary. I hung out at the swimming pool and that night, while having some impala stew and some beers, I met Paul from Dublin also staying there. The next morning, I went for a 2 hour trek through the park on the Hippo Trail. I came across plenty of wildlife such as kudu, zebra, wildebeest and impala. It was incredible how fearless the animals were. Most of them let you walk right up to them without getting spooked. I think this maybe because there are no predators in the park.

Later, I swam for a bit more, then packed up and went back to Mbabane, where I met Eric a Peace Corp Volunteer I had met in Coffee Bay. The next day, I was up to do my visa errand and then got ready to go to Mozambique.

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