(Hello, How are you?) (in siSwathi, one of the official languages of the Swazi Kingdom).
So I have mixed feelings about Swaziland. At first, I was really happy to be there. I took this wonderful TransMagnific shuttle from Joburg to Mbabane (pronounced mm-bah-bah-nee), the capital of Swaziland, and from there, a taxi took me to the Southern Cross Lodge. The owners spent about an hour with me just telling me what there is to see and do in Swaziland. :)
I spent the first day getting used to “the real Africa.” First step: kombi ride to Manzini. A kombi is the most common way for locals to get around. It’s recognized as a collective taxi service and it stops and picks up people on the way. It’s basically a white shuttle van that stops frequently and gets as packed as possible with people going in the same general direction. Music ranging from gospel to ghetto rap blasting from the kombi is also a must. It is similar to a chicken bus and, in fact, on one of my kombi rides, a lady sat down and placed a bag next to her on the floor; there was a (live) chicken in the bag. That day, I got dropped off at the very hectic Manzini bus rank and made my way to an Internet café. I was in Manzini originally to visit the Manzini craft market and chose well in asking a young lady for directions. She ended up accompanying me to the market and helped me buy a necklace and traditional Swazi cloth. We spent the rest of the afternoon together at the mall and at KFC. This was a good day.
(Mantenga Cultural Village)
I was staying in the Ezulwini Valley, a center from which you can access many points of interest in the city. Ezulwini means Heaven so I was in the Valley of Heaven; it was a really beautiful area surrounded by lush, green hills and mountains.
In the days I spent there, I was able to visit the Mantenga cultural village and waterfall, the Swazi candles store (famous for its candle exports), Gone Rural (a shop that makes hand-woven products whose proceeds benefit the 700 women working on these crafts and also some charities of their choosing), House on Fire (a discotec known for its architecture), the Cuddle Puddle Hot Springs, and other not-so-noteworthy places. I liked that Swaziland was safe and that I could even go for a run (before dark of course) if I wanted to. (I did run one of the evenings.)
That was the good, now for the bad: Swaziland was very irritating. Getting to and from Swaziland has become difficult (via public transportation) because as of April 1, the backpacker hop-on-hop-off Baz Bus stopped service into Swaziland. It was difficult to find a way into Swaziland and even more difficult to find a way out. 1st Zulu Safaris was trying to replace the Baz Bus and was supposed to take me from the lodge to another hostel in Durban, South Africa. This was the “safe” option I mentioned in my last post. They are super inconvenient and only run once a week which is why I was stuck waiting for it. I found out part way through my stay though that they would not be running the week I wanted to go because there weren’t enough people signed up. So, I had to take the “less safe” option that I had been talked out of in the first place!
Swaziland is also irritating because I just generally felt stuck. The closest place was 3km away but most places were further than that. Minimum walking anywhere was 1km and then your choices are waiting by the side of the road (for a kombi)--and getting harassed by people you don’t want to talk to--or walking. Normally I don’t mind walking, even if it is 3 miles to get to the next place, but it was raining every day I was there. The roads were wet and there was little-to-no designated walking spaces for pedestrians. So I was getting splashed by cars and basically walking in a road where people were driving 120km/hr past me. I hated it! I would never walk on the side of the freeway in the states so why the hell was I doing it here?! I got so grumpy on Day 3 that I was just fed up with Swaziland. Annoyed about the transport situation… annoyed about having no Internet at the lodge…annoyed about having to walk everywhere… annoyed that every time I stopped for more than one minute, some guy would start talking to me. Ugh! I left as soon as I got confirmation that the “safe” transport wasn’t coming.
(Anyway, I arrived in Durban and it was wonderful! Love that city! I will post about it in a few days. Currently in Southern Drakensburg (just got in a few minutes ago) and going into Lesotho via the Sani Pass.) I meant what I said in the beginning of the post though, Hello, How are you?! Hope everyone is doing well back home and enjoying Easter weekend. Big, big hug to Joanne - I will get started on the cookies :)