May 2007


Country 26.

Swaziland was quite the adventure for CQ and me. After landing on time at the Jo’burg airport, we got our rental car and started heading away from Swaziland—so we lost about 20 minutes there; once oriented we headed the correct direction, stopping in Witbank at a brand spanking new mall where we parked by the “restaurants,” which really were restaurants and not quick service types of places, so we spent a bit longer than expected finding food at the mall. From there it was clear sailing to Swaziland.

One of the most bizarre things about traveling across rural South Africa is the people: they are just walking by the side of the road.

Prior to flying south I was warned that people like to dash across the highway in cities without caring that cars were coming at them. We were able to cope with this in Cape Town—the people seemed to wait for gaps in the traffic and, save for our initial trip from the airport, we tended to drive during the day and in the middle of traffic.

The phenomenon is not just limited to cities. As we drove across vast stretches of rural country side (that vaguely looked like rural Wyoming, save for the nuclear power plants), people would be walking along the side of the road. The most surprising aspect of this was that for as far as CQ and I could see, there was nothing for them to be walking toward.

For that matter, it wasn’t clear where they were coming from.

As far as our untrained eyes could discern there was nothing for miles: neither buildings nor shacks blotted the landscape; yet there they were, walking down the road.

After we passed through the eastern countryside of RSA, we found ourselves at the border to Swaziland. The Footprint Guide had warned that immigration and customs formalities would take about 30 minutes at this busy frontier. We were through in about 15 minutes—and it only took that long because we had to park, do the South African paperwork, drive 15 feet across the border, and then park again to do the Swaziland paperwork.

Unfortunately it was getting dark at this point and we were following the flow of traffic into Swaziland whilst trying to follow the directions to our grass hut. We got lost—and after spending 20 or 30 minutes wandering around the wrong country side, I pulled up along side a tiny grocery store, walked in, and asked for help. The shopkeeper’s boyfriend (I presume) was unable to help me and when the shopkeeper paused to help me, she said that I should go back to Mbabane and ask for help there.

At that point a bus driver noted that we were lost and guided us back to town and then showed us the correct road to Mlilwane Nature Reserve, where our grass hut awaited us. Once pointed onto the correct road, CQ and I made good time to the reserve and even found its entrance on the first try.

It was late and the night-watchman directed us to the camp. We even drew a map on the back of a piece of paper showing us how to find the camp. But we still got lost. We ended up driving all over the nature reserve, at night, in the dark, with our headlights on, seeing lots of wildlife—like Zebras crossing the road. Twenty minutes later we returned to the night-watchman and received further directions that helped up find the camp (he had omitted a critical detail: we were supposed to turn left at the first intersection, not go straight).

We were shown to our grass hut and told that the camp restaurant was about to close, so we got over to the restaurant looked at the menu and ordered Impala Steak—it was clearly a “fancy” restaurant serving local foods with appropriately fancy prices. I had soup as a starter, we had three beers, and dessert. The food was excellent. The total bill for this meal was US$25. If you could find Impala Steak on the menu in Europe or the US, I suspect it would go for $25 per serving.

A few minutes later, as we were wandering back to our grass hut we encountered some Impala feeding on the grasses. They seemed happy that they were not the one served for dinner.

Meanwhile we slept like logs—me in my 26th country, CQ in his seventh.

3 comments to Country 26.

  • Ed

    I’ll guess you guys are having the time of your lives. A grass hut probably covered with cow dung. No TV? LOL. Try not to let CQ get eaten by a lion. Tell him we miss him back here. I’m sure time is going fast for the both of you. Impala steak sounds delicous then to see live ones outside, cool.

  • B.

    Argh! I’m so jealous… it sounds like a wonderful vacation. It also sounds like one I won’t be taking until the kiddos (Syd anyway) are older. I guess until then I’ll have to live vicariously through you…

  • The park was fabulous… I wish we had more time in Swaziland, but… oh well. In their off season (e.g. right now), the prices are really reasonable and they are extra happy to see tourists.