This week we celebrate the one-month-in-Swaziland milestone and while our routine means daily life has grown fairly familiar, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the activities and adventures to discover here in Eswatini. Since the sun sets early, the majority of our adventuring is packed into our free days and weekend – luckily for us, September was a milestone month here in Eswatini with three work holidays, meaning a little more time to explore.
And it’s good thing too because there’s a learning curve to exploring here, particularly for two calculated planners like Jon and me. In Seattle, when the weekend approaches, we have countless resources to keep us apprised of current festivals, events and activities. To go on a new hike, we each have at least one app on our phone that will tell us exactly what trails are nearby, where the trailhead is, a map of the route, reviews from other hikers and even show photos. If friends come to town, it’s a quick search to pull up a list of tourist attractions to visit (and sites all include their business hours, fees, and directions) and restaurants to try. Not so much here.
Fortunately, our hosts have been great tour guides and have shown us some cool spots in our first month! We haven’t been good about keeping regular updates as we see things, but here’s a recap of our first month of weekends:
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary:
Our first full weekend in Swaziland we trekked 25 minutes down the road to visit the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, a +11,000-acre farm-turned-conservation-area that’s home to an extensive list of mammals, reptiles/amphibians, birdlife and vegetation. Within the park, there are guided game drives, horseback trails, mountain biking trails and hiking trails. There is also the self-drive option which is exactly as it sounds and is exactly what we did.
Driving around, taking in the landscape, we got our first glimpses of African wildlife including crocodile, monkey, warthog, zebra, and deer-like creatures too numerous in species to name. We stopped for lunch at the central camp and ate overlooking a small lake plentiful with turtles in the water, and ibis in the tree above. We were even treated to seeing a gigantic African fish eagle make a number of passes as he sought out his lunch was well.
In our 4×4, driven by our seasoned host, we also took the opportunity to venture up some of the steeper roads and were rewarded with beautiful, sweeping views of the Swazi landscape before descending back into the valley and heading home with the sun setting behind us.
Exploring Our Own Backyard:
A piece of advice Jon received before we left was to be sure to find time to recharge. When traveling there is the temptation to see everything right away – don’t stop! See it all! But if you’re burnt out, you can’t fully appreciate the new experiences. So after almost two full work weeks, we decided to decompress with a weekend at home. Fortunately, we live on a property with quite a bit to see and we ventured out to explore around the river a little more. Every time we go down there I’m amazed by the way the water has carved out gaps and holes in the rock, and smoothed the edges until soft curves replace jagged edges. We hopped around and climbed the rocks along the river, until finally reaching a point where the rocks were quite high and quite steep, with a small but aggressive waterfall rushing between them.
Mantenga Nature Reserve & Cultural Village:
Refreshed from a weekend of R&R, and with another national holiday on Friday, the following weekend was the perfect time to venture out again. On Friday, our hosts organized a lunch with some visiting family and our colleague, Katrina, where we were treated to an incredible authentic Italian feast (I kid you not!), which we enjoyed dining al fresco under two staggeringly large trees in the courtyard of craft market. As we concluded our meal, we were entertained by a band of small monkeys that traipsed across the rooftops and patio umbrellas, chasing each other and feasting on their scavenges from the market’s rubbish bins across the parking lot.
That same weekend, Jon and I returned to the Mantenga area on our own, our first solo venture out, to visit the Mantenga Nature Reserve and Cultural Village. As I mentioned before, finding information on hikes around here is no easy feat but we had read a few reviews that the reserve had some small hiking trails and thought it would be worth a try. We weren’t disappointed and find ourselves with two smaller hikes that lead to beautiful views of Mantenga Falls, as well as two much larger hiking loops we weren’t equipped for on a 95° day. We also visited the cultural village and took a tour of a traditional Swazi homestead, where we learned how the homestead communities were organized, how their beehive huts were built, and the traditional roles of different family members. After the tour we were treated to a review of traditional singing and dancing as well – which was an impressive showing of very high, very fast kicking and rhythmic stomping. All in all, it was a lovely day of nature and culture, and of getting used to driving on our own on the wrong side of the road.
It’s so hard to believe we’re already a month into our 3.5 month adventure and it seems like we’ve done so much and so little at the same time. We’ve started a list of the weekend trips we want to make and the sights we want to see – our calendar is quickly filling. December will be here before we know it.