The dirt road is an orangey–red clay, full of potholes, rocks, and big puddles. I am lurching around the car as Chris tries to find the best path down the road and into Swaziland. During the planning phase of this five week adventure, Chris suggested we go to Swaziland for New Years Eve – and of course, after a bit of research, I went right along with the idea.
Along the way through South Africa, Swaziland did not get rave reviews – I began to get a little nervous….One person told us “all there is in Swaziland is bananas and marijuana” (all I can say is we never saw one banana). I am trying to keep an open mind because I realize most people have different ideas about “fun” travel than ours.
As we get to the South Africa/Swaziland border, we pay our 50 Rand (about $3.50) road tax to the unsmiling woman and get our passports stamped by the smiling man. As we are going into the customs office I see a young woman carrying her baby son on her back walking across the border; I cannot get that little boy to respond as hard as I try, but the mommy lights up and says “Safe journeys!” (“I hope so”, I think to myself).
To Chris’ relief, the roads immediately become paved, smooth, and easy to drive. We drive through beautifully green hilly mountains. There are frequent brick enclosures for bus stops. We encounter third-world towns where, by the roadside for sale, are chickens, butternut squash, mangoes, fire wood, haircuts, and rudimentary car washes. We see clusters of small homes – often with laundry hanging to dry; some look quite neat, others look very, very poor. There are no white people that we can see. Some people use the small white “van/bus” means of transportation, others hitchhike, many walk – some with umbrellas to protect from the sun, various items on top of some of their heads; the people are all ages and all have dark skin. We do not feel threatened. To be honest, it is not a whole lot different than areas of South Africa.
As we get closer to the Guest House where we will be staying for three nights, the area becomes more….hmmm…not touristy, but less rural – more cultivated for visitors. The Mogi Guest House has 8 rooms and is beautifully landscaped around the natural growth, rocks, and boulders, has a great view of the valley; it is very comfortable. There is a small pool nestled among the boulders that I take a few cooling laps in.
One of the highlights was visiting the fascinating Ngwenya Glass Factory. In 1979 Swiss Aid brought in factory equipment and trained a handful of Swazi’s to blow glass. The factory has been successfully running since 1987 where each exquisite piece is hand crafted and made of 100 percent recycled glass. Ngwenya is also dedicated to conservation, supporting endangered wildlife funds, and other local charities. We watched from the hot observation area (getting lots of smiles when the camera came out!) as the sweaty men faced the red-hot ovens making the glass pliable to be blown and formed. We were happy to do our share to support this conscientious business.
After we have stuffed our “boot” full of wine glasses (and other goodies) to somehow transport through the rest of the trip and across the ocean to home shatter free, we are driving on the highway happily and Chris says to me, “Beth, what’s the speed limit here?” Of course I have no idea because I have been busy navigating with the phone GPS. About two minutes later, as we crest the hill, we see a dude in a fluorescent yellow vest with the word “POLICE” across his chest, and he’s waving Chris over. Oh boy. “Hello, friends! The speed limit is 80 and you were doing 95 (kilometers per hour). Please step out of the car and go see the officer in the police car”. The woman asks Chris, “How are you, sir?”,“Much better before I was pulled over for speeding”. The fine ended up being only 60 Rand (about $4) and she gives him change from her glove box stuffed with money. When I get my requisite photo, the police people ask me how Trump – “the man who hates blacks”(one of them says) is becoming president.
We decide to slow down, explore the many African craft markets, some restaurants, go for a massage, and just poke around. We ring in 2017 (after a festive outdoor dinner) from our pillows.
Here’s to a happy and healthy 2017! The Kingdom of Swaziland was a success!!!