A couple of weeks ago, we were sitting around with our Canadian friends at a party trying to figure out what to do with the long weekend (this past weekend), when somebody suggested Swaziland. I’d been wanting to go for a while to see Dave & Tessa but thought it would be too far/expensive to be feasible. But the simple fact that somebody else was willing to do it really got me excited, and I went into planning mode.  With only a couple days before we were planning to leave, Rachel, our 2 Canadian friends, and I had a lot to do! Luckily, Dave and Tessa let us stay at their place, and public transportation was available from Gabs to Joburg and Joburg to Mbabane.

Rachel and I decided to take a combi to Joburg, which meant a 7-hour drive in a cramped minibus (more like a big van). I usually love combis because they’re so convenient and it’s a great way to meet people because you’re so squished. On the other hand, a 7-hr drive is not so fun. Also, I’m not a fan of the system of seating. There are 3 rows of 3 seats each, with the left seft in each row being able to fold up so people can get by, and a back row with 4 people.  Rachel and I got to the bus rank at 6:30am to catch this combi, which didn’t leave until it finally filled up around 7:30am. We had staked out our seats in one of the 3-person rows with another skinny woman, and we were quite comfortable. The last people on were 4 quite large and had to go to the back row, but only 3 of them could fit–there was literally 3 inches of space when they squished together to make room for the last person. Seeing that this wasn’t going to work and not wanting to lose a passenger’s fare, the driver grabbed me from the front rows and told me to go to the back. I looked at him, and the 3 inches of available space, and didn’t know what to say. I know I’m small, but there was no way I could fit back there (with my backpack!). I had paid about $25 US for the ride, a lot for a combi, and didn’t want to spend the trip sitting on somebody’s lap. He seemed really agitated when I told him no and was very insistent that I comply with his demand, not even listening to my request for a fare reduction. So much for customer service. It worked out fine in the end, after we took another average-sized person into our 3-person row, making it a 4-person. Kinda squished, but a whole lot better than the alternative!

After that fun-ness, we were dropped at Park Station, the bus rank in Joburg notorious for pickpocketing/mugging/ anything bad you can think of. Given the dire warnings showered upon us before we arrived, our experience wasn’t bad at all. The station was quite nice (on the inside) and not many people bothered us. We did have to wait 3 hours for a bus to Mbabane, Swaziland, but we just talked with the people in line with us. The Canadians had taken another bus to get to Joburg, and luckily we were able to meet up with them at the station.


When we finally hopped on the minibus to Mbabane, it was even more crowded than the combi. We all had to sit squished in the back (again, the being little thing) with our backpacks on our laps. For 5 hours. Not fun. When we finally hit Mbabane, we caught a cab to the COE (where Dave & Tessa live) and crashed for the night.

We got up bright and early the next morning for a “walk” through the hills of Swaziland. Basically, a group of expats gather at 7am every Saturday morning and hike on any trail they can find. Tessa had gone with them before and offerred to take us with her. When we met up with the group, they didn’t look too intimidating–2 middle-aged men, 4 or 5 women, and us.  However, as we learned just before we headed out, that the 2 guys had climbed Kilimanjaro and that people before us had collapsed on the trail we were about to do. The “walk” ended up being a 7-hr trek over 3 big hills and several smaller ones. Needless to say, we didn’t have enough water or food or anything, but we still had an absolutely amazing time! The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and we got to know the people we were hiking with.



We met a couple of groups of kids along our hike. Chris, one of the guys leading the hike (seen above), was lamenting the poor conditions these kids live in. “They have nothing, just nothing,” he kept saying. But from the way these kids were acting, you never would have guessed. Before we approached this second group of kids along the trail, we could see them in the distance dancing and playing together like they didn’t have a care in the world.  They didn’t even ask us for sweets, as is the norm–Chris had to go over to them to ask if they wanted any. And despite their young ages, there was no parent or adult in sight. Chris was telling us about the sources of sustenance for these families, and he had several interesting viewpoints. Many of these families have small plots of land where they grow whatever crops they can, and when we passed a group of men sitting behind a house next to their small plot, Chris commented that one of the reasons they were in the economic position they were in was laziness, a theme I have heard several times both in Botswana and Swaziland. They could increase the size of their plot of land, given all the fertile land and the time they spend sitting around. But instead, they just continue with what they have. Chris’s musings seem a bit harsh, but it is very frustrating when somebody doesn’t value productivity and efficiency when it would greatly benefit them to do so.

After this crazy hike and our first experience with the Swazi people, we headed home around 3:30, cleaned up, and then headed out for a night on the town. Dave suggested this amazing Swazi restaurant which served way more food than necessary for 6 people. It was a family-style dinner with bowls of food all up and down the table: ox tail, chicken, some more meat I don’t know, rice and beans, pap, raipe, vegetable concoctions, potatoes, bread, and others. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much in my life, and we still had leftovers for the next 3 days! The chocolate cake was a nice way to finish it off. We met up there with Justin, the son of one of the guys leading the hike, and his friend Roland, who drove us over to the concert at House on Fire. We didn’t know until we got there, but the concert was billed as an HIV/AIDS Awareness concert, and the admission fee was our tickets (which we had) plus 2 empty boxes of condoms (which we didn’t). Luckily, there were people selling condoms outside for cheap. I’m not sure that I understand why the concert organizers did this, because the result was a huge crowd of dancing, intoxicated people in a club each with six condoms in his or her pocket. But the concert was great–a South African pop group, Malaika, was the headliner and took the stage around midnight. Their theme for the night was “Condomize!”, and they repeated these safe sex messages all during their set.  It was something new to see a Swazi club, but it actually wasn’t that different from one in the States, except that half of it was outside. Although there was a surprising number of expats, there was still a good number of Swazis.

After a late rise the next morning, Justin and Roland came to pick us up for a day of craft-shopping and Mantenga. There was an unbelievably long row of stalls along the side of the road to Mantenga. The crafts were slightly different from the ones in Botswana, in that weavings (like placemats and coasters) were more popular, colors were a bit more prevalent, and woven baskets weren’t as popular. Prices were a little better, but not much!

Mantenga is a village in the Ezulnini Valley that has a small cultural village and amazing waterfalls. Haiving missed the first tour around the cultural village, we drove up to the waterfalls to waste some time and enjoy the scenery.


The Rock of Execution can be seen the picture above–it’s the top of that huge mountain. Criminals and witches used to be thrown to their deaths from the top.

At the cultural village, there was a traditional performance and then a short tour around the village. There was even a medicine man who was telling fortunes in his hut for a small fee. Completely unexpectedly, he also offered some certain “herbs” as part of the consulting fee to one of our friends who talked with him.


That night, we had our first Swazi cooking experience, and we invited Justin and Roland over to enjoy our “wonderful” cooking. We had Rachel’s (in)famous version of Chakalaka (if you can get over the fact that it’s half cabbage and beets, it’s really good!), burnt pasta (we had only 1 pot and an entire box of spaghetti was dumped into it, so it couldn’t be stirred despite my best efforts), and chicken. Despite this culinary adventure, we really enjoyed it! Below is our Canadian friend, Talia.

The next morning, despite Justin’s warnings, he drove Rachel, Chris, Talia, and me to Manzini, a city east of Mbabane. He said the crafts were great but the pickpocketers were everywhere, and showed us where to go and how to act before he left us there alone. We were told to walk quickly (run) everywhere, keep our bags close, and watch for people following us. He left a small tip with 2 men who were vending near his car so that they would help us if we had any problems. Even while Justin was with us, 2 guys were following us for a while, despite our speed. So we were on our toes the entire time we were looking around, but the crafts definitely made it worth the trip. Everything was cheap and of good quality–I bought more crafts that day than I had in the month we’d been in Gabs. Talia and I even bought an mp3 CD of about 200 songs from Mozambique/South Africa/Swaziland for about $3 US, for which Justin was very proud of us–we’d apparently ripped off the vender because $3 was the price for a regular CD with about 16 songs.

We were under strict orders from Justin not to take our cameras out in the stalls, so there are no pics! I took this one as we were in a moving bus on our way out of the Manzini bus rank going to Mlilwane Game Reserve. We were hoping to do a horse trail once we got there, but had to settle with mountain bikes because everything was booked. But good lord, we had fun with those mountain bikes–there were insane trails all over the park with steep hills, and we were able to jump off our bikes whenever to go photograph/chase any herds we saw. The park itself was gorgeous as well, surrounded by mountains.




That night, we decided to try our hand at cooking again and have a braii (basically a barbecue)! Dave’s favorite taxi, Taxi Sam, stopped for us at Spar on the way home to pick up food. Justin and Roland volunteered to bring the braii grill, but actually ended up bringing a whole lot of meat and amazing cheese potatoes Justin’s mom had made! We basically had more meat than we knew what to do with. Rachel made another chakalaka batch, Roland brought pap, and we broke out some leftovers and cheap wine to create a great dinner.

We headed back to Gabs the next morning, which really desereves its own blog, given what we went through. But on a happier note, the scenery was great!


All in all, this weekend was a great time. And for anyone who is even thinking about going to South Africa or Swaziland: it’s definitely worth it.

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