Friday, November 24, 2017


After our St. Lucia adventure, Scott came to meet us there and together we drove north straight into Swaziland. We highly recommend driving there in daylight. The trip up took us much longer than expected and the last hour or so of driving was in the dark. Driving in the dark in Africa is an adventure best avoided as you find all sorts of animals and people on the roads, but there are rarely streetlights or reflectors. So while dodging goats and cows on the road and people hawking dead chickens by holding them high up in the air and running into the road, we did finally arrive in the Ezulwini Valley (aka the Valley of Heaven) at the Buhleni Farm Chalets where we were going to stay for the next couple of days. 

The plan was for Scott, Deb and Brett to drive into the mountains for a fantastic canopy zip-lining tour, unfortunately the temperatures had dropped to about 9 degrees and the skies opened and it poured rain the entire day. 

Our comfortable spot for a few days.

While the three of them were trying to find out about the fate of their adventure I spent some time, wrapped in a blanket, watching the rain from the deck at the chalet and working on my travel journal. 

Everyone had a nap after the news broke that the zip-lining was going to be cancelled and then we visited one of the local craft markets, which was the only time during our visit to Southern Africa that the vendors descended on us like a swarm of hungry vultures. So far our experience with craft markets (and we have been to a lot) has always been quite pleasant. This specific one had probably about 50 vendors if not more and they were all fighting for every small sale. We were told the stories about how we are the first sale of the day, and they need the money to sustain their families, etc. We did buy a few things from the people who actually made some of the items themselves, instead of selling the same as there neighbours.

We finished the evening by visiting the cuddle puddle, a local hot spring. When we arrived we heard lots of people laughing and talking and water splashing. This was coming from over a fence. When we looked it was literally a bunch of locals, mostly in the nude, in a mud puddle. We were quickly informed by a man next to us that this spot was for Swazis only and we need to go inside the gate, and that it's nice. So we looked inside the gate and for E40 each, we were able to go into a very pleasant pool that had the hot spring water pumped into it. Turns out the mud puddle below was the hot spring overflow. We were also informed to lock our belongings in the car; the guy who was supposed to sell us the tickets wasn't there because he was chasing after a man who had stolen the clothes from a customer while that said customer was enjoying the hot springs. 

The next morning the weather was significantly better, at least no more rain and while Deb and Brett where enjoying an all day safari tour at Mkhaya game reserve we went to do a Swazi Trails Mountain Bike Cultural Tour. 

One of the first stops our guide brought us to was the Swazi National Stadium which was built with benches only on three side so that the past swazi kings who are buried by the mountains in the back could partake in the festivities. 

We also stopped by at the Swaziland National Museum, the archives, the national church and a memorial garden for the past king. 

Next stop was in the village at the village brewery. 

Traditional Swazi beer, also called Umcombotsi, is a quickly fermented sorghum beer that sometimes also contains corn. It's low in alcohol and high in protein and the locals think of it more as a nutritious energy drink. The brew in the cauldron gets poured through the large sieve on the right into the barrel. Umcombotsi traditional features at all Swazi family gatherings, especially weddings.

The beer looks kind of like a milky yogurt drink, and tastes a bit more like a very sweet wine than beer. 

Our guide insisted on pouring out one of our water bottles so we could bring the left over beer with us on the ride. Scott had to drink the rest. 

Next stop was an excellent live performance of this group of talented Swazi singers and dancers. They performed easily for an hour, their songs and dances. This was one of the most cohesive and impressive dance shows we have seen since arriving in South Africa. 

After the show, a guide gave us a tour of the traditional Swazi homestead inside Mantenga Nature Reserve. The Swazi family that lives here still abides by the old traditions whereas most of the buildings in the village used more modern day building materials. 

The wood in the background are structures used as corrals for cows and goats, as well as a hut where the boys over the age of 6 who are unmarried stay until they are married. There the father will teach them the traditions and how to build, hunt, etc. 

This is a traditional Swazi beehive hut. It is entirely made of thin young tree branches for the inside "frame" and grass to cover the outside, everything is intricately interwoven. There is no air vent for the smoke, instead the smoke seeps through the tightly woven grass out of the building as you can see in this picture. The architecture of these hives are rain proof.

The marking on these walls tells the visitor which hut is whose sleeping quarter. 

This large hut is the grandmother's. After grandfather is gone, she is the one everyone looks to for guidance, and her word is final. Other than that, traditional Swazi culture is very much male dominant. Men often have more than one wife living on their homestead and grandma gets to keep the peace between the wives. Each wife gets their own three huts (one for sleeping, one for cooking and one as the brewery).

Magnificent structure inside the Grandmother's beehive hut. The man on the left was the guide at the homestead.

Monkeys like to hang out on the huts on cold days, as the smoke from the fire inside of the hut keeps the roof warm. 

That mountain in the back used to be called Execution Rock. The Swazi's back in the day did not have prisons, so they dealt with any severe punishment by forcing the wrongdoers to jump from that rock to their death. The families would not be allowed to collect the bodies either. 

A street lined with the purple Jacaranda trees. So beautiful.

After a lovely lunch at an Italian Restaurant in town, (featuring real Italian family drama),
we visited the Rainbow Angel gallery where the sculptor Acan Masuku carves intricate "African Angels" which are voluptuous women with wings carrying teapots. When I asked him about the tea pots he said "people really like tea." 

That afternoon Scott and I took a stroll around the Buhleni Farm property. One of the things that has fascinated me during my visit in Africa is the plant diversity. Even the leaves on the ground make different patterns than what we are used to in Canada.  

We enjoyed our Swaziland adventure very much despite the uncomfortable weather, and we were pleasantly surprised by how clean the area was that we stayed in. Many areas we have visited in South Africa in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal you encounter a lot of litter, garbage everywhere. So Swaziland felt very different from that, at least where we visited. We also felt like we lived in the woods at that farm and only five minutes drive was the Gables Shopping Centre with restaurants and the only movie theatre in Swaziland. So you felt easily connected to everything. What makes Swaziland even more unique is that you can stay in that central area near the capital and yet be in easy driving distance to all parts of the rest of the country.

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