Hungary to Germany
Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012
Days 7 and 8 - Swaziland
Our trip got just
a little bit more exotic when we left the well developed South Africa
and crossed the border into Swaziland near Bulembu. The border crossing
was easy and straight forward, no more than 10min at the South African
exit point and also no more than 10min to enter Swaziland. The
difference in the road quality though was massive. On the South African
side we rode on perfect tarmac all the way to the border. Once past the
border the road changed to a narrow strip of steep dusty gravel road
with lots of potholes and corrugations. The sort of road requiring 1st
or 2nd gear max. However, the sealed surface started at the first town
again, a town with the beautiful name of Piggs Peak.
close to South Africa in various ways. Many of the South African brand
logos for banks, supermarkets etc. can be found here. The currency is at
a fixed exchange rate of 1:1 to the South African Rand and in fact the
Rand can be used to pay for things just as easily as the Swazi
Emalangeni (beautiful name for money, isn't it?). There are some
significant differences between the two countries though which move
Swaziland more into the corner of the typical african stereotype
country. In Swaziland life seems to take place on the road. There are so
many people on the road just everywhere, in towns and in between towns.
Kids play on the road, people stand on the road chatting. And it's not
just people, it's also their lifestock. On a beautiful winding passroad
we once came across a whole herd of cattle just standing on the road in
one of the tight corners typical for mountain passes. It's quite a
shocking surprise to find them there when zooming around the corner,
enjoying the view down into the valley and suddenly you have to hit the
brakes and stop just a meter away from a very happy and unsurprised cow.
Which then slowly starts to move out of the way.
says that in Swaziland almost all people are Swazi. And sure enough we
did hardly see any white people here. Even in the capital Mbabane we
encountered the same as elsewhere. Lots and lots of people on the
streets, no white people around. It somehow feels more like the 'true'
Africa if compared to it's big neighbour.
also says that Swazilands biggest problem is HIV, a staggering 39% of
people between 15 and 49 years of age are infected which results in an
average life expectancy of just 33 years. Being here in the country this
is quite hard to believe. Swaziland does not appear to be a poor
country. In contrary, you don't see any shabby townships, you see a lot
of good modern western made cars, people appear to be happy, everything
is very clean. But we too did notice that there are only young people
around. An average life expectancy of 33 years seems to be true. But it
is still a scary thought that I am already beyond that age.
interesting observation we made is the layout of the settlements. Apart
from a few towns the map of Swaziland is pretty empty. However, in
reality there are scattered square brick houses everywhere. You cannot
determine which town they belong to but there's always houses, people,
livestock, general stores, 'supermarkets' the size of a cornershop and
handicraft stalls. It makes it pretty hard to find a quiet camping spot.
We tried very hard and rode many km on bone shattering dirt roads to
find one on our first night here. But no success. So we ended up camping
near the geographical centre of the country in a field some 100m off a
dirtroad. It took no more than 15min until we had a group of visitors. A
very friendly bunch of people just as everyone else here, just checking
out what we were doing. We learned that we were supposed to report to a
'chief' before setting up camp. A short mobile phone call from our
guests to the 'assistant chief' quickly sorted out that we were welcome
to stay where we were for one night. They just wanted to make sure we
were not up to something evil or how they expressed it, we were not
'Gaddafies relatives'. Well, we obviously looked nothing like the
Colonel, sitting in the grass and cooking our cheap roibos tea.
In terms of
riding we did some beautiful passroads through Swaziland as well as some
pretty rough dirt roads. Dirt roads of the kind with many rocks
sticking out and corrugations to shake the poor bike to pieces. Which
was another good training session for me. And I must say my confidence
level of riding my little Suzuki has steeply risen. However, we have not
encountered the two things that scare me most yet: sand and mud. So I
guess we're still doing it easy here.
In Swaziland we
also came in contact with the Police for the first time in this journey.
It was pretty funny actually. We had in incredibly hot day. And when I
say hot I mean this sort of hot when you start sweating even before
sunrise. And for the rest of the day you're just boiling in your sweat.
Usually I am wearing my motorbike jacket when riding but today I was
just melting inside and just rode along with my T-shirt. Martin went one
step further and rode topless. Before I am grilled about our attitude
to safety here, I must say it was really really hot and the road quality
made us ride really slowly and our bike jackets would have exhausted us
in this heat to an extent that it would not actually have improved our
safety. We needed full focus for this dirt road. Funny thing is that
Police thought differently and fined Martin 60 Rand (=AU$ 8.50) for
failing to wear protective gear which apparently is compulsory in
Swaziland. I was not fined because a T-shirt is considered sufficiently
protective. Makes total sense, doesn't it?
exciting however was our visit to the Hlane Royal NP near the border to
Mocambique. Usually National Parks where you can see any member of the
'Big 5' (elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard) will not let you in
on motorbikes. At least in the touristy countries like South Africa,
Botswana or Kenya. However, the Lonely Planet said about the Hlane Royal
NP that even mountain bike tours are on offer. So no worries on
motorbikes then. We thought. We thought wrong. They didn't let us in.
Because the elephants would be too aggressive.
But we still had a
Plan B up our sleeves. Leaving our bikes behind at the boom gates and
asking drivers of the cars behind us if they would have room for two
dusty smelly bikies to tag along for a self drive trip through the park.
And amazingly success came with the first car - two Dutch girls in a
tiny Chevrolet rental car, one of those small ones the size of a Toyota
Yaris. But for the chance to see some big animals Martin and me, we were
more than happy to squeeze into the back seat and the girls were happy
to take us along.
And what an
amazing little trip that was. There were rhinos so massive they seemed
to be bigger than our car. Twice we surprised them sleeping on the road,
just a huge mountain of muscles and fat blocking our path and shocking
us just as much as we surprised them for none of us expected to come
that close to each other. And there were elephants and various species
of antelopes - all just metres away from our tiny car. And no fences or
cages around them. It was just unreal and if we didn't feel 100% like it
yet, than this park sure made us feel like we are in Africa. It is a
weird sensation to be there, so close to those animals. It's a bloody
hot day, the midday sun is burning your skin, the sky is blue but there
is still this haze of dust and grass fires in the air, crickets and
strange birds are the only sounds you here and there, just meters away
is this massive rhino. Only moving in tiny slow bits every few minutes
or so. Watching this scenery is so relaxing and exciting at the same
time, I could have watched forever. And good thing is we DID have time
to watch forever. And it was the rhinos who eventually left.
We are now
camping just a few km away from the border to Mocambique which we will
cross tomorrow. According to our information we get our visa at the
border. But our two Dutch friends meant we need to organise it in
advance at the embassy in Mbabane. So we give it a try tomorrow morning
and hope it works out and saves us going back the 150km to Mbabane.
Cross fingers for us!
We also chose a
great spot for our 2nd night camping in Swaziland, again by sheer
coincidence. It was a very quite spot when we got there, just near a
railway line and next to some abandoned houses, a few hundred meters off
a small road. Once it got dark there was suddenly this loud african
music. It sounded like it's coming from right next door to us. So we had
a quick look back to the road to where the music came from. And sure as
hell - the only building up there was a pub. Small and cosy and only
three patrons inside. But african style music playing from the jukebox.
And believe me, after this scorcher of a day an icecold Windhoek Lager
in a big 750ml bottle never tasted better.
What a great last night in friendly Swaziland.
08/09/2011 Swaziland pics
Okay, it's time for some pics again. Hope the upload works. These are some snapshots of our visit to Swaziland
One of the many passroads we took through Swaziland
Moonlight illuminating our camping spot
Swazi kid posing with my helmet
Sunrise at our camping spot where a phone call to the 'assistant chief' the night before secured us a place to sleep
Typical gravel road through Swaziland. A bit rocky and dusty in places but generally good quality.
Beware of lions and elephants on the road! Near Hlane Royal NP.
We saw a lot of rhinos very close in the Hlave Royal NP. I did not recall them being that big but they are just huge.
Impalas can be seen in great numbers in the National Park
This rhino just slept on the road with it's baby. So we had to reverse our way out of there.
elephant did not seen to be bothered by our presence and calmly ate a
few dry branches of a tree just meters away from our car.