Monday, October 5th, we woke up early, headed to the nursery for a few hours, finished packing, and then Heleen, Marian and myself took an uber to the airport to pick up our rental car from Hertz (the only one I found that didn’t require an international licence) and start our Swaziland adventure. The drive there went pretty well, no real issues remembering which side of the road to drive on (the wrong side, lol), it took about 5 hours, with some stops for food, etc… The beginning of the drive was pretty boring scenery wise, but it picked up the closer we got to Swaziland, lots of hills and stuff, very beautiful. We finally made it to the border, and got our stamps (so exciting!), then went to drive across, only to be informed that we had only been approved to exit South Africa, we still had to go through immigration to enter Swaziland. So we went through immigration, then we tried again, and were told we had to pay the road fee, so back we went. The third time was the charm, we finally made it into Swaziland. The border thing was really confusing for us! The other girls are from Belgium, so they don’t have to deal with borders, and for the Canada-USA border, there is only one border control, you don’t have to exit one and then enter the other. Canada doesn’t care if you’re leaving, and neither does the US, they only care if you’re coming in, lol. But it wasn’t all bad, it did mean we got TWO stamps in our passports instead of just one, so that was cool.
We finally made it to our hostel (Sondzela Backpackers) in the evening. It is situated in the middle of Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, so once you turn off the main road, the road to get to the hostel is not the best, it’s a dirt road and lots of bumps and rocks, so you have to drive really slow. Otherwise, it was a pretty great hostel. The view was beautiful, our dorm room was decent, there was a nice pool, they offered breakfast and dinner (for a fee) and you eat it outside by the campfire, which was really nice (and the food was good). There was also a bar with a pool table and ping pong table, which we had a lot of fun playing, turns out we’re not that great, lol. There was a lot of chasing after the ball, but we definitely laughed a lot.
That first night, I slept really horribly. I’d had a sore throat all day, but I thought it was because I hadn’t really had a lot to drink, and from talking/singing too much on the drive to Swazi. But I woke up in the middle of the night and I could barely swallow, my throat was so swollen and it was incredibly painful. So first thing that morning I told the girls that I needed to go to see a doctor. But I checked my insurance policy and I had to call them first to get an okay before I could actually go see the doctor, or else they might not pay. But I had no service on my cell, and the ladies who worked at the hostel didn’t know how to reach the operator to make a reverse charge call, so I ended up trekking to these offices that I think were actually for the park itself, not the hostel and asking them if I could make a call. They took pity on me, and helped me make the call, and we reached the operator, who informed us that Swaziland no longer makes collect calls!?!? I’m not sure exactly why, cause it’s super inconvenient, and the office lady couldn’t believe it either, so in the end she let me call them even though it would cost the company. I finally got the okay from the insurance, and off we went to the clinic.
We entered the clinic into the GPS, and it ended up taking us on the most random “road” imaginable. It was a dirt track that led to a crazy steep valley. There was a sort of wooden bridge, but it didn’t seem safe for a car, and I really wasn’t sure about driving down the hill, as I had visions of the three of us plunging to our deaths. Then this local started running towards us, waving his arms in the interational sign of NO! He didn’t speak any English, but managed to confirm that we couldn’t drive any further. It was a road, but not one meant for cars. He helped us turn around and then he kept talking to us, although we didn’t understand anything he was saying. We thanked him and apologized for not understanding and started driving away, then we kind of realized that he had been wanting a ride. We felt kind of bad since he had helped us out, but there was no way we were picking up a male hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere. So off we went, retracing our steps until we got back on the main road and deciding to forgo the GPS, since it hadn’t been the first time it had misled us.
All was well…. Until we hit a big rock, and got a flat tire! Lucky us! And none of us really knew how to change it. We sort of tried, but it wasn’t looking good, until this really nice guy stopped and helped us, turns out he’s a mechanic, so he had no issues changing the tire. And then we were on our way! Again! I finally made it to the medical clinic, where they took my name and maybe 10 minutes later I was in to see the doctor. She was really nice, checked me out and told me I had tonsillitis and gave me a prescription for penicillin and also a shot of penicillin to start me off. Yeah, so getting a shot of penicillin is NOT fun. I have no problem with getting a shot, but turns out this one has to be in your butt, and also, it REALLY hurts! And then she had to massage the injection area, which is also REALLY painful. Luckily I only had to get the one and the rest would be pills, because I would hate to have to do that more than once.
From there we had to go back to the hostel, because the rental company said we couldn’t drive the car anymore, and that they would be by the next day to come and fix it. So it was kind of a waste or our first day, but it was also nice to just chill and relax. I spent most of the afternoon sleeping, since I hadn’t slept much the night before; Heleen spent most of it in the pool or by the pool suntanning and Marian also spent most of it sleeping. It was a nice, lazy day and I needed it. After dinner at the hostel (cooked on an outdoor fire and eaten around the campfire), we went to the main camp to see a free performance of traditional dances which was pretty good.
Wednesday we got up and hung out around the hostel. The Hertz guy was supposed to come around 9 or 10am, but didn’t show up until 11am, and when he did, it was not with a new tire as we thought, but with a whole new car for us. So we switched our stuff over, and finally we were able to get moving again. We headed to Mantenga Cultural Village which was only a short drive from the hostel. It’s a traditional Swazi village that you can visit, which was really cool. We had already done something similar when we visited Lesedi Cultural Village, but that one was really commercialized and geared to tourists. This village is an actual working village, with people living there and doing traditional work as well as the tourist stuff. We had lunch in the restaurant, which was really good, then had a tour of the village, which was really interesting. Our guide was super informative about village life and Swazi culture and traditions, and he was so friendly and answered all of our questions.
From there we had a bit of time until the traditional dances, so we went to check out the waterfall which was really beautiful. We sat on the rocks and dipped our feet in the water until another tourist reminded me about the crocodile and anyway it was time to head back for the dance! The song and dances were really good, the best we’ve seen yet and we really enjoyed the performance. You could tell the villagers really love performing and they really put their all in the show. If you’re ever in Swaziland, I would really recommend a visit to the village, it was such a great experience, we really loved it.
Afterwards we went to visit this really great local market, but it was closing time, so we didn’t get to see much unfortunately. But on our way back we stopped at what we thought was an internet cafe, and which turned out to be Malandela’s B&B. We ended up paying to use the wifi and stayed for dinner. The B&B looked really nice, the grounds were really beautiful, the food was good and we had the most amazing view of the sunset. We watched the South Africa vs USA rugby game for the Rugby World Cup, where South Africa kicked USA’s butt 62-0, it was pretty brutal. Now, I’ve never watched rugby before or really knew much about it, but it turns out it’s kind of fun.
Sadly Thursday was our last day in Swazi, so we headed back to the market so we could properly shop, and then made our way to the town where we could access Sibebe Rock, which is 3 billion years old and is the largest exposed granite pluton in the world. We got to the village and decided to hire a guide and started our 3-4 hour hike. Unfortunately we didn’t arrive as early as we meant to, so it was so incredibly hot on our climb and the beginning is also pretty steep, so we had to make a lot of stops to catch our breath and to rest. Once we got to the top part it was more flat and much more pleasant, and we finally made it to the rock. What a beautiful sight and totally worth the effort. And luck was on our side, as we could hear thunder and see rain clouds when we arrived at the rock, but we managed to make it almost the entire way back before it started pouring down. It was a gruelling hike (mostly because of the sun and the heat), but it was also totally worth it, the views are breathtaking, and it’s so peaceful up there (we barely saw any other tourists). I would definitely recommend a guide unless you’re an experienced hiker, because the path is not necessarily that well marked. And so we came to the end of our time in Swaziland, but what a way to end it!
The drive back to Joburg was relatively easy. We had no problems at the border this time, however, right after crossing back into South Africa there was a crazy forest fire along the highway and the road was completely covered in thick smoke and I could barely make out the road. I’ve never seen anything like it! Heleen ended up getting ash in her eye and we eventually stopped in a town to get her some eye medication, get gas and grab something to eat. The only hard part was driving when it got dark. For some reason there are no lights on the highway and the headlights on the rental weren’t very bright (and because there is so much traffic both ways I couldn’t use my brights) and it was really hard to see the road. So that was kind of sketchy, but we made it back to Joburg airport safe and sound, turned in our rental, ordered an uber and headed home. And what a nice homecoming it was! Francesca had made a lovely pasta dinner for all of us and done all the cleaning, and even though Kim and Magda had arrived home from Durban about an hour before we did, they waited to eat until we were all there. So we caught up over dinner and exchanged travel stories then headed to bed.
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