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Published: October 11th 2016
Alarm goes off at 05:03 (I never set it for round numbers), it’s still a bit dark. I’ll have five more minutes I think. Wake up five minutes later, check my phone, it’s 5:45. Quickly jump up and put shorts on, t-shirt on, socks and shoes on that had been left at hand as this was my last chance. I’d promised myself to do it yesterday too but couldn’t bring myself to venture out of the sleeping bag at such an ungodly hour. Tent zipped open and there are actually a few people about which takes the edge off my premature sense of achievement. Chloe is there, licking fat off the braai (Chloe is a nyala – a pretty spiral horned antelope). Stopwatch is fastened to wrist as I stumble stiffly to the bathroom for rapid ablutions. Amble past the reception and shop (both still closed), salute the warthogs which still slumber around the campfire. Then start running.
A few zebras trot out of the way as the camp opens up to a large grassy plain; one of those from the wildlife documentaries with long straw coloured grass and the odd acacia tree silhouetted against the rising sun. Groups of
impala add to the scene as they stop chewing for a moment to stare at me bemusedly. There are still no hippos in hippo lake, which looks lovely and peaceful in the early morning light, and the big crocodiles we saw on the banks yesterday have moved on. The monkeys don’t watch peacefully; they jump shrieking out of the tree as if they want a race before disappearing into the woods far enough for the silence to return. I’m not really a morning runner but this is glorious. I want to run up the mountain at the back but I have to be back for breakfast in 45-minutes and it would take more than that just to get to the top. I now regret not getting up at 05:03.
I soon realised that when running in an African national park it’s perhaps a good idea to make some noise so you don’t come around a corner and stumble into some wildlife. When running in the hills of Northumberland, I often pleasantly encounter wildlife that hasn’t heard me coming, such as a hare or a weasel or a herd of deer, all about as harmless as imaginable. In Mlilwane you
might bump into a black mamba, a pod of hippos or a crocodile. That rustle in the long grass doesn’t half make you run faster.
There are no big cats, elephants or buffalo in Mlilwane, hence the camping in an area with no fences and the option to go on hikes (or runs) without a ranger. It’s great to have the animals wandering around when you are eating your breakfast and was lovely to see the warthogs coming and having a drink out of the pool (the coldest swimming pool in the world).
PhD research had brought me to South Africa, proximity to Swaziland had brought me to Swaziland. As always with work trips, I try and get a holiday out of the visit as well – this time planned for the beginning of the trip rather than the end.
I was flying in to Johannesburg and looked for public transport options to Swaziland and could only find quite expensive shuttles. It also seemed that it wasn’t straightforward to get from Swaziland’s cities (which I read were a bit dull) to its national parks. It then seemed tricky to get from there to South Africa’s
Impalas and Nyalas
This was the view from my tent upon waking up
coast. Everything is set up for having your own vehicle. It would be nice to have a rental car but a bit pricey and boring to do alone.
I had a miraculous idea: what about a tour? I often google tours for itinerary ideas but what about actually being on a tour? I hadn’t done that for quite some time. There were plenty of tours going where I wanted to go and when I wanted to go so why not? Well, the small group tours were expensive and the cheaper tours were on overland trucks with potentially twenty-odd people. Most trips spent too much time in Kruger National Park doing safaris for my liking with minimal time in Swaziland – more or less just driving through. One tour had more time in Swaziland than the others, and visited the South African coast, started on precisely the day I wanted, was the cheapest on offer, but it was an overland truck. Would there be twenty-odd people squeezed into a big tin can? Would they all be nineteen-year-old with the intention of getting smashed every night? Would I have to share a tent with a snoring smelly-footed sleepwalker? Yet, my first
White fronted bee eaters
The cliff behind is full of their homes.
ever trip outside Europe when I was twenty-one was initially on an overland truck from Kenya to Zimbabwe, I then carried on independently through Namibia into South Africa. I remember that trip very fondly and am still friends with some of the people who I met on that truck a frightening fifteen years ago. So I booked it: even if it was horrific, it was only for a week. In the end there were only six people, all great, the two crew were also great, being knowledgeable about wherever we went, and were very good cooks – the food was plentiful and delicious.
The first few days were travelling past Blyde River Canyon and into Kruger National Park. However, I’m not going to talk about that because that’s South Africa and this blog is supposed to be about Swaziland. The reason for the Swaziland blog coming first is because after Swaziland I went on to spend four and a bit weeks working in South Africa so the subsequent blog will (probably) be about that.
The first thing to note about Swaziland was the efficiency and general cleanliness of the border crossing. This was nothing like many
Southern masked weaver building his nest
It's all carefuly constructed to get the ladies. If she doesn't approve, she'll pull it apart and go looking for someone else.
of the land borders I’ve crossed further north in East Africa or West Africa.
We did visit another couple of places but most of the time in Swaziland was spent in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. As well as watching the wildlife as you stroll around, swim in the pool, eat your breakfast – pretty much anything as there is no getting away from the animals, you can visit a “traditional” Swazi village at the edge of the sanctuary. I wasn’t sure about doing this as I thought it would be a show put on for tourists and then we would be pressured into buying carved wooden souvenirs. That pretty much was what it was but I still enjoyed it. And the money went towards the orphanage at the site so I don’t mind contributing a few pennies to that. We had to wait a minute at the gate of the pretty modern buildings while they got permission from the chief for us to enter (and while they switched off their TV and they changed from jeans to traditional garb that no one has actually worn in years). The chief was a big jolly old lady and first gave us a
Swazi language lesson. We were taught the Swazi words for fence, string, and the piece of wood that holds up a house’s roof. Hello, thank you and how are you may have been more useful. We were then taught songs, had a dance, and were told we were perfectly welcome to become Swazi citizens. If Brexit actually happens, fingers crossed it never will, I may take them up on that.
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