Cruising in a pick-up truck

Trip Start Sep 10, 2008
Trip End Sep 03, 2009

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Swaziland Backpackers

Flag of Swaziland  ,
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A hot, stuffy, loaded to full capacity Baz Bus delivered us to Swaziland after a 9 hour and not totally uneventful journey. As well as them thankfully returning my camera case containing my spare batteries that I'd manage to lose on a previous journey, we headed through a huge storm. Lightning hit the landscape around us dramatically and rain ran down the roads forming fast flowing rivers. As our driver told us that Swaziland has the 2nd worst lightning storms in the world due to the high iron content in the soil, we think even our bus was hit as the whole thing lit up and one person got a small shock off the metal that she was touching. Every year many people, mainly children herding cattle, are hit and killed.

Retrieving our wet bags from the trailer, we were glad to get inside and hoped for a break in the weather. The hostel itself was really nice with huge rooms and plenty of comfortable places to sit. And thankfully the day after was a fantastic day for our trip round Swaziland. In another overloaded bus and with high spirits we visited a candle making factory, where warm wax is hand manipulated into all sorts of shapes and patterns, mainly into animals. The candles from the small factory are sold all over the world and provide a stable income for many people from the local community. Starting with a ball of wax, we watched as the the man pushed and pulled the wax into an elephant.

Stopping off at a few other craft factories via a pineapple plantation we took in "gone rural". The scheme was set up to create employment for local women using skills they already have and has been incredibly successful. The women collect specific types of grass which grow on the steep hills and bring it to the dying factory. They can then choose to collect their money for the grass or stay and work dying the grass. The multicolored grass can then be collected to be tightly plaited and woven into many forms of baskets and bowls. The women choose what hours they work, allowing them to look after farms and children at the same time, and get paid a decent wage for the amount of work they do. In this way the project supports thousands of people, the women and their families, and has received international recognition.

Our next stop was the Swazi Cultural Village. We watched some traditional dancing, which included the even more traditional bit where they drag all the tourists on the floor to dance, whether they want to or not. Looking round the village afterwards, our guide tried to buy all the women for some cows, and then assigned most of us with a position in the family from Grandmother to son. I was the 2nd wife and had to take my place next to the 1st wife, but could get the sons to do things for me. The village itself is a reconstruction of traditional beehive huts. The main function of the village is actually for education, so that Swazi children can see how their ancestors lived and cultural identity is remembered in a more modern world. I'm sure that it generates a fairly healthy revenue from tourism as well though!

During lunch we watched the monkeys try to break into our van. After a while they gave up and moved onto the next bus who had unwisely left all the windows open. Shaun  - our guide, chased them out and closed all the windows, but I don't think the group had much lunch left.  Later we went for a swim underneath two big waterfalls. It was one of the most exhilarating things I've ever done. The waterfalls were beautiful, but looked even more amazing looking up from the water. They could only be viewed from this angle if you swam. I wish I had a waterproof camera!

Swimming under the actual waterfall was hard work. Working against the strong current, water filled all my senses. I couldn't see, and I could hardly breathe. All I could hear was the noise from the waterfall. We managed to position ourselves on a small ledge under the flow where we could just about hold on and catch our breath. It really was a fantastic experience, and goes to prove that the best things in life are free. On the way back we visited "The house on fire". It's not actually a house on fire, (which was the only thing I could picture in my head when he told us that we were going there) but an arts venue, with weird and wonderful sculptures built into the architecture.

On our last day in Swaziland, our guide took eleven of us out for what he called a free day, as we'd bonded so well as a group. The day started with three of us heading into town of the local minibus taxi, on which of course they ripped us off, charging us 7 Rand each instead of 4. As it actually works out to be about 20p difference, we decided it really wasn't worth the hassle and paid the inflated rate!

We were about to get a taxi back, negotiating with the several touts who had crowded round us, and as we were about to get on, Shaun pulled up on his bike. He was on his way to pick up our transport for the day and said he could give us a lift back in 5 minutes. He gave us directions to where we would meet him and as we were in a group of three, none of us listened properly as we thought the other people were. As soon as we drove off, we realised we didn't really know where we were going and so spread ourselves out in the approximate area. When he said 5 minutes, we also forgot to ask if that was in English or African time.  Turns out it was African time, so 20 minutes later, we were still waiting and wondering if we were in the right place at all. Just as we were about to give up, and had fended off a few over-friendly passerbys, (who inevitably always want something) he turned up in a pick-up truck, and we all hopped in the back.

Once back at the hostel, we crammed in the rest of the 8 people into the small vehicle and travelled in true African style, wind through our hair and bumping along dirt tracks to a series of waterfalls, nearly falling out at one point as we hit a trough in the road too fast. After a paddle and swim, and with many of us looking pretty dirty from falling over several times we went for lunch at the local butchery.

Luckily we had picked up some more comfortable transport on the way, complete with a roof, and just in time to shelter us from the storm. Butchers in Swaziland have an area at the back with a big braai (BBQ) and seats where you can cook your meat and eat it. Woman also work there making salads, which you can buy to add to your meal. The food was fantastic, and we ate shared plates and ate the meat and salad, including coleslaw and potato salad with our hands, as we had no cutlery and watched the lightening hit the landscape only a few meters from us. It was a great experience and very liberating, as we huddled into the open building, which was not particularly weather-proof.

We were the last ones to leave the place and the owners actually left us with the padlock to shut up shop. When we got back we spent much of the evening reminiscing about experiences in SA, remembering home and singing along to the likes of Queen and Michael Jackson.
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starlagurl on

I'm jealous
Those waterfalls sound amazing. What an incredible experience for you. Hope there are lots more where that came from.

Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager

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