October 16, 2006

SwazilandSouth AfricaWe were up with the sun again today, although the sky was hazy this morning. After our breakfast of Corn Flakes and tea, we carried our bags up to the car and settled our bill with Julianne. By 7 am we were on our way to Swaziland.

We repeated yesterday morning’s drive down the R40 to Hazyview, stopping there briefly to do a bit of shopping and get more cash from the ATM. Then we carried on south to White River. From there the R538 was supposed to be a shortcut to the N4, bypassing Nelspruit. After some casting around we found an R538 and followed it south. But at some point we took a wrong turn without noticing, and after a while we noticed we were driving through township streets with no names and no signs. We reasoned that if we just kept going we must eventually meet a main road, so we kept following the road we were on. Eventually we did come out at a main road—the R40 north of White River! So we had managed to waste almost an hour. This time we decided to just follow the R40 to Nelspruit, and we had no problem with that.

We had decided to enter Swaziland via the Jeppe’s Reef crossing, so we went west on the N4 to Malelane just as we had done a week ago, and then turned south to Swaziland, through fields of sugar cane and mangoes and bananas. The South African border post was a bit confusing, but once we found the right building the formalities went quickly. They were quick on the Swazi side too, where we had to pay a road tax of R50. Finally the guard raised the wooden bar for us and away we went.

The highway was good to drive on and the scenery was still mostly agricultural. But soon we started to climb the slopes of Pigg’s Peak and that changed to forestry, and we passed a lumber mill using a familiar-looking beehive burner. By now we were both hungry, so we looked for a suitable place to stop. We found nothing until we came to a crafts centre near the top of Pigg’s Peak. Luckily there were picnic tables by the restaurant, so we carried our lunch fixings there. And when the lady from the restaurant asked if we needed anything else, we felt we should order something, so we ordered tea to go with our lunch. It was a pleasant surprise to have the tea served in blue willow-pattern cups!

After finishing our lunch we went into the weavers’ shop but didn’t see anything that interested us. Next to that was Tintsaba Crafts, which is a cooperative that helps women in the surrounding villages earn money. The baskets were really well-made and in nice patterns, so we bought one that had a lion motif woven into the sides.

Onwards on our journey, we followed the main roads to the place where it meets the brand new four-lane freeway that starts at the Oshoek border crossing and will eventually reach Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland. Driving east on it looking for the Ngwenya Glass factory was a strange experience, as there were no other cars visible in either direction for as far as we could see. And once again we managed to lose our way. We had got off the correct exit, but the sign posts were not all that clear. Eventually we found the place and, dodging rain drops, we hurried into the shop.

All the items here are made on-site from recycled glass collected from all over Swaziland, and you can go up to a mezzanine and look down on the glassworkers as they make more. We were looking for warthogs and birds; most of the sculptures were of the Big 5 animals but after much searching we did find glass warthogs. We also bought a really nice stylized owl with blue glass swirled in the centre.

Lightning had been flashing for a while, and as we were in the glass factory a clap of thunder shook the building. The power went out, but nobody paid any attention and it came back on after just a few minutes. We went out into the rain showers and drove down the freeway towards Mbabane. But soon the freeway ended and we crawled through the construction site behind two fully-loaded dump trucks. On the other side of Mbabane, the freeway started up again. By now the thundershowers were close by, and we found ourselves going down a hill in a blinding rain shower at 100 km/h while being passed by a 60-passenger bus. They did tell us that driving in Swaziland was dangerous!

Marilyn at Sondzela Backpackers had sent us very explicit instructions on how to get to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. We followed them closely, and this time we had no problem, arriving at the park gate about 4:30 pm. Here we registered and paid our entrance fee. The lady at the desk gave us instructions on how to get to the backpackers place, so off we went on the red dirt road. Almost immediately we came across zebras, wildebeest, impalas, and waterbuck in the grasslands. When we got to Mlilwane’s main rest camp we missed one of the signs, so we stopped and asked for more directions, and within five minutes we were at Sondzela Backpackers.

The power was out, so we filled in the registration book by candlelight. We had a rondavel, hut #4, which was quite large and nicely situated looking out over the grasslands. It had no plumbing or cooking facilities, but the toilets and showers were not far away and the cooking facilities were in the main building. We carried our bags to the rondavel then looked around a bit. From our front door we could see the resident warthog (the emblem of Mlilwane) grazing out front, and outside the fence four zebras.

We had the option of paying for the group dinner or making our own dinner, so we opted to make our own. By now the power was back on, so we went into the kitchen with our food. The kitchen was a little busy, but we negotiated the use of a stove burner and a pot and cooked up our potatoes, onions, beans, zucchini, and carrots with lemon butter sauce. After dinner we wrote our journals, and Rosemary got a Swaziland tourist newspaper and did some research into craft shops in the area.

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