Swaziland – experience the real Africa

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the "real" Africa

the “real” Africa

To enjoy the real Africa, Swaziland is an ideal add-on to a holiday in the area. The country is landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, and remains unspoilt. A bonus is that everyone speaks English.

The country, located in the Southern Hemisphere, is smaller than Wales. In some areas the land is quite mountainous, and has three different climates from temperate to subtropical.

My companion and I were welcomed to the Kingdom,  by Mandla, who was to be our guide and chauffeur. He was dressed in mahiya, the traditional costume, which included a feather at the back of his head.

There are several game reserves including a wildlife sanctuary. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is a really exciting experience. For me the high spot of the trip was a visit to the Mkhaya Game Reserve which is a sanctuary for endangered species. I joined a group of visitors being ferried around some of its 25,000 acres in an open 4 x 4. The gamekeepers never know exactly where the animals are, and half the fun is trying to spot an animal or bird. There is lots to see – elephants, rhinoceros, antelopes, zebras, and even a couple of crocodiles taking a snooze on the banks of a pond. Birdlife is also in abundance.

nyala

nyala

Lunch was served at the Stone Camp located in the middle of the reserve. It was only when I saw animals, particularly nyala, a form of antelope, wander in and out of the place where I was sitting that I could really appreciate where I was. Stylish accommodation is open to the elements, but there is no electricity. Lighting provided by lanterns, makes it incredibly romantic. I wonder how bitten I would have been by the mosquitoes, if I had slept there! A bonus however is that anyone who stays for a minimum of 24-hours can also join their walking safaris.

Near Mbabane, in the Ezulwini Valley, a Cultural Village has been recreated to show visitors how Swazi people used to live. A performance of traditional singing and dancing by a team of boys and girls wearing brightly coloured costume is included in the visit. The grounds are quite large, and a day can easily be spent there. Within the complex, which is quite large, is a picturesque waterfall, and natural pool area, which is great for swimming. Nature is everywhere, with wild monkeys swinging in the trees. The buildings are of conical shaped straw, and we were able to go into one, and watch a demonstration of how the people used to cook on a stove in its centre. A typical family usually had several huts with the main one for the male, and various smaller ones for his wives and children. Polygamy is part of their culture, and still practised today – their current king has thirteen wives! Mandla explained to us that there is always a granny house within the boundaries of a person’s home.

inside a hut

inside a hut

The building is always of a conical shape with a thatched roof, and is built for the mother and ancestors of the male head of the family. This building, which is still quite common in the countryside, and which we were able to spot as we travelled around, is now also used for accommodating visitors.

Ezulwini is also home to the Royal Swazi Spa Resort and Country Club which has a par 72-championship golf course, designed by Gary Player.

In the higher and middle veld, the scenery is spectacular with a backdrop of mountains, and lots of greenery. One of the country’s main source of income is forestry, mainly fir and eucalyptus trees. Hotels with any character appear to be out of town.

Towards the north of the country at Nsangwini, drawings by bush men estimated to date back 4,000 years, have been discovered. To see them necessitates a twenty-minute scramble down a fairly steep track. You need a guide or you would never be able to find the spot.

bush men drawings

bush men drawings

I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for, but it was worth the effort. In the middle of no-where is a shelter with the most comprehensive display of San art in the country, with some of the original colours surviving. Here, bushmen recorded their lives on granite rock.

Handmade arts and crafts are everywhere – glass ornaments, candles in different shapes, mats and bowls made from dried grasses. Factories welcome visitors, with tours to see how items are made. We visited a glass one where we were able to look onto the furnace area where glass ornaments were being shaped; a shop where we saw candles being moulded into figurines; and ladies weaving dried grasses to make mats and bowls.

Along the side of what was a dusty road, we stopped to watch a man carving animals from soapstone. A very cheap way of buying handcrafted souvenirs, and a way of supporting both the man and his family. Certainly the work we saw was of a very high standard.

on the way to the

on the way to the Umhlanga

Swaziland’s main cultural event, Umhlanga takes place towards the end of August/beginning of September (the date varies each year) at the Queen Mother’s royal village in the Ezulwini Valley. In 2014, the festival this year will start on August 26th, with the main day of the event (day 7) to happen on September 1st. This is when the main ceremony occurs, with the dancing attended by the King. This will be a public holiday in Swaziland.In this eight day ceremony, up to 40,000 unmarried or childless females cut reeds, and present them to the Queen Mother, and then dance in celebration. A mainly private event, visitors are allowed to watch the spectacular on the last two days.

Having my own guide and car is definitely the best way of maximising on a visit to the country. Hitchhiking is an acceptable way of getting around the country, and so we occasionally gave a lift to hitchhikers which is quite fun as it’s a chance to learn about other people’s experience of the country.

Unfortunately, mosquitoes are always present. Depending on where you visit and the time of the year, there is the risk of malaria in the Low Veld area.

carving at the roadside

carving at the roadside

A bonus for me was the use of incognito, a range of products including a 100% natural protection spray that actually works!

For more informtion, click here.

Images ©  www.thekingdomofswaziland.com

 

 

 

 

 

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