Welcome to Swaziland!

Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
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Trip End Nov 11, 2011


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Flag of South Africa  , Gauteng,
Saturday, May 14, 2011

Swaziland is a tiny, 17 000kmē, monarchy located in the eastern part of South Africa. It maintains a a dual system of governance, with a government lead by cabinet ministers who report to a partially elected, partially appointed parliament, while the actual political power lies in the hand of the elders "labazdala”. Many people in Swaziland seem rather uninterested in their political system including what the King is up to, except for students having enough of money being spent wrongly amongst other things. A good example of this is when Swaziland's current king, King Mswati III, celebrated his 40th birthday along with Swaziland's 40th independence from Britain in 2008 by sending 8 of his 13 wives with entourage on a overseas shopping trip. At this time 10 000 people participated in a march against this ridiculous spending. A few weeks before we crossed the border into Swaziland new manifestations broke out. One can easily understand the students rage about the public spending especially as Swaziland has one of the world's highest HIV infection rates; 30% of the population is HIV positive. Having said that, Swaziland was by far our favorite place so far on our journey.

Sometimes one just likes someone, something or a place just because. It can be hard to explain exactly why except that it just felt that way. Well, that's the way we both felt about Swaziland. It had that magical African touch with a slower pace and wonderfully pleasant people combined with the simplicity of having all bigger South African supermarkets and such, if needed. The only thing  lacking, for us, was water. Back in time, Swaziland used to have a coastline but after a few fights here and there Swaziland is nowadays landlocked. We could definitely see ourselves live in Swaziland if it had a sea so that Faycal could teach tourists how to dive, which is part of our "settle down in Africa” plan.

We unfortunately didn't have many days before heading back to Jo'burg so for the first night we decided to head east, to the town of Siteki. As the country is tiny and we started the day just at the border we were there by noon. We found a farm where one could camp, that was well maintained and had a bunch of lovely dogs. We decided to head for a longish walk around the area and were very rapidly joined by 5 eager dogs. The next day we headed towards Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary where we spent a few hours driving around, enjoying the scenery and a rocky 4x4 trail up a hill. In the park itself there was a backpackers “Sondzela Backpackers” with very friendly staff but it turned out to be impossible to camp with Toro as the campsites where behind the building. We didn't mind continuing as it also felt a bit silly to visit Swaziland and stay in a National Park, as then you might as well be anywhere in Southern Africa. On our way to Ezulwini Valley we saw a bunch of school children playing football, with a rather tired looking ball, so we stopped. The reason we stopped is that we had a few balls to be donated. Bryan and Lani that previously got engaged up at Table Mountain decided to donate footballs while touring Southern Africa and managed to get quite a lot people interested in donating balls. So here we had the perfect opportunity to donate one of these balls that they had kindly left us. The kids were of course thrilled and were quick to decide who would be in charge of the ball, in other words being the team captain. After a few pictures and many hand shakes later we kept on driving until we reached Ezulwini Valley as it offers plenty of sleeping options, being the tourist hotspot of the area. We managed to park the car in a good place at Lidwala Backpackers which turned out to be a nice place to stay.

It also turned out to be a base for many passing by volunteers, which can be nice or not so nice... You always meet the few super interesting passionate volunteers, but then you also meet the ones that come and work with children for two weeks to feel like a better person, but how much do the children really get out of it having new people passing by every two weeks? I'm maybe cynical but I truly think that volunteers working with children should have a minimum stay of 3 or 6 months. Most of the people we talked to were involved in health, for the obvious reasons. I also heard that there were a bunch of Finnish people not far away, also working in the health section. On the third day after many discussions and a few walks we had to leave the volunteers behind and head for Jo'burg. Crossing the border was like buying an ice-cream. Simple, quick and rather enjoyable. After less than a week in Swaziland we know that we'll definitely be back.

After a long journey to Jo'burg we were hosted by Ivan and Linsey, that we had met 3 months prior in Pilanesberg National Park. They live in a cute little house on Ivan's family farm just outside busy Johannesburg. It's amazing how one can sit in their garden watching plants grow while horses run by and still be in busy life and traffic jams in less than 15minutes. Wouldn't we all need a little piece of nature in our busy city lives? The week that we have now spent at their place has been very successful. Successful both company-wise and car-wise. We have truly enjoyed our time with our hosts and we have done plenty on the car.

We had managed to get our hands on the traffic register certificate paper in Durban, so now we only had to register the car in our name, or so we thought. We drove to Rob's place, the guy that had kept Toro for us, picked up all the essential papers and happily drove to the Motor Vehicle Register Office. We queued for a good while, the guys looked at our papers and said: “But you vehicle register number is in Durban, so we can't do it here. You have to go back to Durban, coz that's where you “live”!” Again our spirits just dropped. But yet again we managed to remain calm and ask how, in any case possible, we would be able to get it sorted in Jo'burg. He starts by explaining that we need a proof of residence in Jo'burg, with the persons ID, utilities bill and get it all certified by the police, which our friends in Durban had provided us with. So is that all we need? Yes! We went out, realizing that we had all this in the car. When we for the first time tried to get the vehicle register number in Jo'burg 3 months ago, Rob had provided us with all this, and we still had the papers. Faycal smoked a cigarette and in we went again. When it was our turn the guy looked at us strangely: Do you have all the papers? Yes! Also the ID and everything certified by the police? Yes! He must have thought we were up to no good as no one would be able to present all these papers 10 minutes later. Probably so used to corruption and strangeness he just told us to sit down and wait for our number to be called out. So when it was our turn again, we got to another guy, who looked at his watch as it was getting close to lunch time and started typing away. I was so nervous that I could feel butterflies in my stomach while Faycal just kept his innocent look. The guy typed it all without a word and that was it. Toro is now officially in our name and we didn't have to bribe a single person on the way ! What a relief, to say the least.

After that, we were ready to give Toro a little make over but also a last check before Mozambique as we have already covered 9 870 km. Now a few days later Toro sounds smooth and has the fridge installed between the backseats. In the beginning we had it in the back, which turned out to be super frustrating. In order to get anything out of the fridge we had to unpack several boxes and what not. Lately we have had it on the backseat, which works fine when Faycal drives as he has longer legs, but when I drive I pull the seat forward and then the fridge is wobbling around. So now the fridge is properly installed between the seats and as I'm speaking the gas bottles, for cooking, are being installed. Two on the roof and one on the side. This liberates a lot of space so we could now even have someone traveling with us.

In a few days we should have everything sorted and be ready for more adventures. While waiting to receive mail from France we are heading for two nights to Soweto, which is the most famous township just 15 km from Jo'burg. Soweto is known for being the center of resistance during the apartheid era. I'm sure it will be a quite interesting two days. After Soweto we'll come back to farm paradise to pack the car and then we'll be ready to hit the road. From Jo'burg we'll head straight to Kruger for a good five days after which we'll cross over to Mozambique.

I'm  excited to get into pidgin Portuguese and learn all the cool ways to talk. I have previously learned to say “Howz da body?” when talking to a Nigerian and wondering how they are doing. I'll keep you posted how it goes with the Portuguese!
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