Published: August 11th 2014
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Pongola, SA to the Kingdom of Swaziland. 216 km (134 miles) Tuesday, March 18th

Rain cleared up this morning, but the ground was soaked underneath the RV. Valerie carefully backed out, but quickly mired down in the muck and we had to be towed out like the rig right beside us, by the mechanic who followed us along.

Drove first about a km into town, to fill up with diesel fuel and get drinks and snacks. I bought some huge avocados from a young boy selling 5 of them in a sack to people at the “garage” (a gas station to the Americans reading this). We paid more than the locals, I am very sure, but they were cheap for us, at the price he asked for them. Unhappily, even after putting them in a brown paper bag, they never ripened before the end of the trip.

We then headed back the way we came for about 25km. Of course, this was the last “straight- down-the-hill-25 km-stretch”; so, back up the twisting road we climbed in our not-a-lot-of-guts, but ok, RV. I guess, I have to admit, it pulled the hills better than my old 1968 VW van.

We then turned toward the town of Golela that sits on the border of the two countries. Crossed out through gates and then in through large gates with a guard handing us a piece of paper that we then gave to the other guard 5 feet away. In front of us, was a new immigration building with lots of parking in front. We parked with everyone else, and went inside to fill out the paperwork. You stood in line to get the form to fill out, and then filled out the form with all kinds of info on the RV as well as yourself, and any goods like cameras, computers etc. that you wished to register. You then stood back in the same line to hand in your completed paper, pay R50 ($5.00) road tax, and get your passports stamped. One person working the one open window---15 units with 30 people, plus all the other travelers crossing at this time. As we were completing our paperwork, a large tour bus pulled into the parking area. At least our timing here was good!

We were now in the Kingdom of Swaziland and the roads were immediately better. If you had asked before we left home which of the two countries would seem better off, I would have said South Africa, with no hesitation. Yes, South Africa is better educated and has more upper-class citizens etc., but Swaziland, it was quickly apparent, was not as 3rd Worldish, as we thought. For one main thing, the people were not suppressed by apartheid and you do not have the huge government ghettos that breed crime and unrest.

We saw a rural landscape with rather neat compounds of huts and gardens dotting the hills and valleys. Much like Central America in look. We didn’t see put-together shacks of cardboard, tin and anything else they could get their hands on, to build shelters. We saw modern construction going on, shopping centers, resorts and casinos, as nice as any anywhere. The small (120 miles N/S by 81 miles E/W) country is ruled by a King with an appointed Prime Minister chosen from the elected members of the 2 houses of Parliament. However, AIDS is a HUGE problem here. Swaziland has the highest HIV infection rate in the world (25.8%!o(MISSING)f all adults; more in other reports) and a life expectancy of only 50 years. Open boxes full of condoms were sitting out on the table we used to fill out the paperwork at the border crossing.

We first rolled along on the MR-8 through a flat plain covered with cane and other crops being irrigated and worked with modern tractors and equipment. Needing a break from driving, we turned left to Matata for about 3km. We then had to drive through guarded gates into a shopping area, really strange and a bit unsettling. Found a Spar grocery store and wandered around in it. Bought a few items but wasn’t impressed with the quality of fresh goods, especially their meat, so didn’t get all we had on our list. Wouldn’t recommend stopping there again, especially since we found newer, nicer grocery stores further down the road.

About 100 km along, we came to a humongous sugar mill in this wide river valley. Went through a number of small communities with multiple speed bumps in each one. Lots of them around any school. The bumps get really annoying after a while, as they are really high and rough and bounce and rock the unit side to side as well as your body, no matter how slow you take them.

Turned onto the MR-3 and went through the congested City of Manzini. The congestion continued on through the Ezulwini Valley that is real touristy with casinos and resort hotels. The historical capital of Swaziland, Lobamba is located in this valley. Just a little past the turn-off for the airport, we exited onto MR 103 toward the town of Malkerns. We both noticed a sign along here for the Taiwan Tech Mission. Googled it and found that it is sponsored by the International Cooperation and Development Fund (Taiwan ICDF) to help, in this instance, to upgrade the quality of the milling of the rice being produced and to help open markets for that rice. Other evidence of foreign investment such as this, was noticed also.

Took a diagonal turn onto the MR-18 and then a right turn for MR-27 still heading for Malkerns. Seeing huge pineapple fields now growing along with the sugar cane. At the T, we turned left for Mlilwani Wildlife Sanctuary. Immediately we were on a terribly rutted, water washed out road and the very poor, poor conditions continued all the way into camp. Some of the worst roads we have been on. We pulled into the reception and then drove through herds of animals up the hills to the top area that is used for the camp. Found a spot alongside another unit, and plugged into an outlet built into the fireplaces.

We found the sanctuary to be just one tiny step up from the Safari-land type places. It was started here because Ted Reilly was concerned that the animals in Swaziland had been virtually wiped out by the 1960's, from over hunting, habitat loss, and the effects of insecticides and herbicides. So, he decided to turn his farm and tin mines into a sanctuary. He fenced, re-planted trees, and then restocked with all kinds of animals–originally indigenous to the area, or not. His family set up a trust in 1969, and the sanctuary has grown 10 times the original land size to 4,560 hectares.

At 6:30 we had a buffet dinner served in their very nice lapa and then watched a dancing/drumming/singing show that started at 8:00. It was a very nice show with a sort of “men’s choir” singing some interesting songs while wearing costumes of bright colored cloth with a picture of the King on the shirt fronts. Some of the dancers, in traditional costumes of skins, blew on whistles while dancing, which was new to us. The men would also jump straight up high (to better see in the distance) and were quite vigorous with kicking their leg over their heads.

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