16.03.2011 - 23.03.2011
We headed South from the Kruger and entered Swaziland from Jeppe's Reef Border Post. We drove through stunning scenery to the capital, Mbabane, where we braved the early evening rush hour traffic in search of a supermarket to stock up on supplies. It was quite an experience! We stayed at a backpackers' hostel in the Ezulwini Valley, which is Swaziland's most touristy area.
In the morning, we visited the National Museum in Lobamba, the royal district, and learnt a great deal about the country's history and rich culture. Swaziland's king, Mswati III, is the last remaining absoulte monarch in Africa and has 13 wives as polygamy is still commonplace. Each year, girls and young woman take part in the Umhlanga or Reed Dance. They travel from all over the country to Lobamba for a week of celebrations. They collect reeds from the countryside and dance as they carry the reeds to the Queen Mother, traditionally to help repair her home. They also dance before the king who can choose a new wife if he likes the look of any of the girls!!
The previous king, Sobhuza II, is highly revered throughout the country and we visited his Memorial Park. He was chosen as king when he was a few months old and ruled for over 80 years. He helped achieve independence for Swaziland in 1968 and when he died he left 120 official wives, and almost as many unofficial ones!
We spent the rest of the day browsing craft shops, and in the evening went to a multimedia theatrical performance at a local venue, House on Fire, well-known for it's slighly off the wall decor. The show was the story of Charles Bosman, a South African writer, and Patrick Maynardt, a South African Actor who brought to life Bosman's main character, Oom Skunk. We didn't understand a lot of the 'in' jokes, but it was an interesting evening.
Saturday / Sunday
On Friday evening, we arrived in the Central Drakensberg, and stayed for 3 nights with Su (Nick's cousins' cousin) and her husband Iain, who run the Mountain Splendour Eco Camping Resort, near Champagne Castle. They kindly put us up in a luxury tent equipped with proper beds and a fridge, and completely spoilt us.
On Saturday afternoon, we went for a hike from Monk's Cowl, and were once again stunned by the beautiful mountain scenery.
On Sunday morning, we visited a church held at a local campsite where the congregation is transient and changes every week, and in the afternoon, we went with Su and some of her friends to see some bushmen's paintings on their neighbour's land.
We really enjoyed spending some time with Su, Iain and their family and friends, and particularly loved experiencing proper South African braais on two of the evenings we were there!
We headed South from Champagne Castle to Underberg, and after bumping along 10km of untarred road, arrived at the Sani Lodge, a backpackers' in the middle of nowhere.
We left early in our 4x4 landrover and bumped our way up the road to the Sani Pass, a zigzagging track which leads to the Lesotho border. The lowest point in the whole country is at 1400 metres, and we were in the Eastern Highlands, the remotest, least populated part of the country, where all there is to see are mountain views and a few shepherds with sheep and goats. The people we met seemed very happy, but they have a tough life. Standard clothing is a blanket and wellies as it gets very cold in the winter but it can snow in any month of the year. We visited a traditional village which offers hospitality to shepherds, sheep shearers and tourists, and tasted bread cooked in the traditional manner on hot coals. We also smelt the local beer which looks a bit like cold coffee, but the sour smell didn't entice us to actually taste it! Last stop was the Sani Top Chalet, the highest pub in Africa, where we had a glass of dutch courage before winding our way back down the Sani Pass!