The other weekend, David and I made an overnight trip to the small country of Swaziland. All of Swaziland’s borders are surrounded by South Africa. It is about a 4 hour drive from Johannesburg to the border. This country has always been ruled by a king, from the same lineage, dating as far back as 1550. Today Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III. He was educated in England and in 1986, at the young age of 18, he became king. Throughout the years, King Mswati has worked diligently to combine the ancient traditions and culture; which is so familiar to the tribes of Swaziland, with today’s modern technology and economics that is so important for a developing country.
It was a nice day for a ride. The drive was mostly on the interstate, which is very good here in South Africa…it is the secondary roads that are really neglected outside of the major cities. You have to love those GPS….we are cruising along and all of a sudden the GPS voice say, “In 300 ft, turn right. We did and found ourselves on a dirt road.” Unfortunately, we don’t have a map of South Africa so we continued along this road for about 10 miles.
For a dirt road, it was in relatively good condition but we questioned if we really needed to go on this particular road. Returning from Swaziland, the GPS had us stay on a paved secondary road until we reached the interstate. It is always an adventure!
We arrived at the Oshoek border post around 1:30 PM and it took about an hour to get through both of the border crossings. It was mass confusion at both borders. There were no signs instructing a person what to do or where to go.
At the South African border, we were standing at the truck-driver’s window behind a group of them. Fortunately, a kind fellow traveler, who had been through the process before, pointed us in the right direction. With the car paperwork and our passports stamped, it was onto the Swaziland border.
In Swaziland, we fared no better. We drove right past the person handing out the car paperwork. We were in the passport line before we realized that we didn’t have the correct paperwork for the car. Back outside, we got the paperwork, had it properly stamped inside the customs building and then got our passports stamped to enter Swaziland. Before entering, we were charged a $5.00 tariff to drive our car into the country.
It was not any easier navigating customs leaving the country, although we did remember to get the car paper. It was just as confusing and again, people were most helpful.
From the border, we continued along the MR3 toward the capital of Mbabane on our way to the Ezulwini Valley where our hotel was. Mbabane is only a 15 minute drive from the border. The capital city is situated at the top of Malagwane Hill. Well, goodness….I just looked up Malagwane Hill to make certain I was giving you the correct information. In my research, I discovered that the Malagwane Hill road; which we drove to get to our destination in the Ezulwini Valley, was once in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most dangerous road. Evidently, it is still considered a very dangerous road with the hairpin turns, steep grade and the many mining trucks that use it on a regular basis. In January of 2012, there were four mining trucks that crashed when they lost their brakes. Thankfully, the only injury was a broken arm on one of the truck drivers. The news wasn’t as fortunate with another accident caused by a truck losing his brakes this past April, 2014. The truck plunged into cars traveling on the road, 20 of them caught fire and an estimated 10 people were killed. It is said to have been one of the worse accidents on the Malagwane Hill.
Ignorance is bliss…..as we rode along this road, going down, down, down, toward the Eluzwini Valley, I never thought about any danger. I was so busy admiring the beauty of the mountains and valley that was unfolding before us. It was about 2:30 on Saturday afternoon and traffic was light. I don’t remember seeing any mining trucks on Saturday but we did on Sunday as we climbed back up the hill towards the border.
During our short stay there, David and I were impressed with the quality of roads compared to those of South Africa. They do, however, love speed bumps. Those buggers were everywhere and not very well-marked. Many times, we had to slam on the brakes so we wouldn’t cause any damage to the car going over one. Also, we really appreciated the excellent tourist signs that pointed way to the various attractions.
The Eluzwini Valley is also known as Valley of the Heavens. The scenery of the dignified Mdzimba Mountains was indeed heavenly! Unfortunately it is one of the fastest developing areas in the country and I don’t think they have many zoning laws or development plans in place.
We arrived at our hotel – The Royal Villas and checked in. Our room was the King suite and goodness, it was larger than some of the apartments we have inhabited over the years!
It was late but we wanted to try to see some of the area before calling it a day. We just hopped in the car and headed out with no destination in mind. We saw sign to the Swazi Candle Factory and had read it was one of the popular tourist attractions, so we turned in. It was definitely a tourist spot but offered a look at the beautiful crafts from the locals.
The candle shop is said to be one of Swaziland’s top tourist attractions. There was a variety to choose from in animal and geometric shapes of all variety of colors from African prints, bright variegated and for the less whimsical person, the more traditional colors.
Another store in the compounds was Gone Rural that had exquisitely hand-woven scarfs, purses, placemats and baskets. This store supports 750 women weaving their wares in their homes. This allows them to stay at home with their children and at the same time earn a living to support them. It reminded me much of the Harris Tweed that is woven by home-workers on the Isle of Harris. The sales lady in the store said that the women who created the products had a weaving loom in their home, much like the Scottish tradition.
David and I had an early dinner at the Sambane Coffee Shop. I had a sun-dried tomato salad that was delicious. I think that a salad taste better whenever I don’t have to make it! Seriously, this salad had sunflower seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, tasty fresh veggies and halloumi cheese….it was yummy! David had a veggie sandwich but my salad was by far, the better choice. As we were paying our bill we noticed the invitingly large and fluffy biscuits next to the cakes and cookies on the counter. Thank goodness they were closing or I would have been really tempted to have one of each!
Before leaving, we took a walk through the rest of the craft area where there were tables of carved tribe members and animals, baskets, vibrant colored batik fabric. I bought a small batik to have framed to put on the wall with my miniature prints that I have collected in my travels.
By this time, it was 5:00 and everything was closing down. David and I made our way back to the hotel for the night. While he was resting, I went out to see if I could capture the valley in the light of the setting sun. It was just so beautiful.
Some local sites:
The person to the right is a man. He was dressed as I picture a tribesman would be. Honestly, I thought it was a woman until his daughters ran to him shouting “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy”. Also, all the photos that we saw of the King of Swaziland he was in similar attire.
I am writing the following in bold print because if you scan over this posting and you read nothing else I have written; please, please read the following. This event had such a profound effect on me.
Her name is Mpile, which means “gift”. Meeting her was truly a gift to me.
Beside the hotel was a dirt road that I observed people walking down and some brave cars attempting to navigate. It looked like I could get a good picture if I wandered about halfway down the road, which I did. As I was walking, I passed a lady and she said, “hello.” I smiled and said hello back. This was my introduction to an amazing and unassuming woman. I have met many people in my life but few have left such an impact.
She was so unassuming and probably, had she not spoken to me first, I would not have said anything to her. Her dark face was a pleasant, round shape and her eyes closed to small, half-moons when she would share her brilliant smile. She had long, dark hair that had a reddish tint and was braided in small, neat braids down her back. Her yellow and green Adidas shirt appeared brighter next to her smooth, ebony skin. She had on a denim skirt and carried a pink floral umbrella to protect against the heat of the sun or the threat of rain. Mpile radiates a beauty from within.
You would never guess meeting and talking with her what a difficult life she has endured. I thought she was in her early twenties and asked if she was a student. She tilted her head downward, hesitating before answering me as if to contemplate how much to tell me. Then, she shared her bright smile and asked me how old I thought she was. I told her and again she tilted her head stifling a laugh.
“I am 32 years old,” Mpile said, “and an orphan.”
I was stunned. How do you reply to that except for what I said, “I am so sorry.”
She said that it was all right and gradually, she shared the rest of her story. When Mpile was 20 years old, her mother deserted her and her five siblings ranging from the ages of 4 to 14 years old. There was no mention of a father figure. Mpile stepped in and for the past 12 years has been raising her siblings.
If I was stunned when she shared she was an orphan. There are no adequate words to describe my emotions at that point….speechless, anger at the mother, amazement that this woman was so “matter-of-fact” and accepting of her fate.
Immediately, I wanted to “fix it” or at least, somehow, make it better for her but how? I did the only thing I thought I could do to and gave her some money. I realize that it is like a “band-aid” but maybe for a brief moment, she wouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for next week’s groceries or an unexpected bill. I didn’t want to offend her in anyway but felt that I needed to make the offer.
Mpile said that she didn’t share her story with me to make me feel that I had to do something for her. I told her that I didn’t get that impression at all but that I wanted and needed to help in some small way. I shared with her that everyday, I say prayers. I have a prayer that I say daily. I start by giving thanks, then I ask for a pyramid of protection for David, my family, friends and myself. I ask for a cocoon of healing and comfort for friends and family who are suffering from a physical or emotional malady. Most importantly, I say thank you for all of the blessings that I experience on a daily basis. I open my heart to receiving more and I ask to be shown how I can “pay it forward.” If this wasn’t a “smack in the head,” I don’t know what was! I had to do something and asked her to please take the money. She finally did but asked if I would come by her booth at the nearby craft market so she could give me something as a thank-you. I told her that it certainly wasn’t necessary but that I would definitely make it a point to stop by before she left for church at 10:00 AM.
David and I discussed Mpile at great lengths that night. She made a profound impression on me. She was so accepting of her life’s journey. Mpile’s life forever changed when her mother left. Yet, there was absolutely no bitterness or anger towards her mother. There was no self-pity or “why me?” questions. She just accepted, forgave and moved on with had to be done. Would I be so accepting, forgiving and take over such responsibilities at 20 years of age? Of course, I would hope so but honestly, I don’t think I would do it as graciously as Mpile did and continues to do so.
I am/was trying very hard not to judge her mother. I am not a mother but from all that I have heard and observed, there is a maternal instinct that makes mother protect their offsprings even if it means giving up their life. What happened in this mother’s life for her to walk away from six children? How on earth could she walk away? Where is she today? Is she even alive? I will never have those answers and apparently, neither will her children.
David and I decided that we needed to give her another gift of money. Again, it is a “band-aid” but again, if it can alleviate some worry for a few hours or hopefully, a few days then it served the purpose. Plus, we hoped that she would take a little of the money and buy something special for herself.
Sunday, we checked out and went to the craft market. We arrived at 9:30 and Mpile was worried that we were not coming. We gave her our gift and asked that she spend a little on something for her. She said that she would buy some shoes. That made me happy. A woman can never have enough shoes! I looked at her booth and picked out a lovely wooden, painted platter that she had painted. Also, in her friend’s booth, I bought a pretty basket. It was so sad to say good-bye to Mpile. I felt like I would never hear from her again. I gave her my card with my email on it and told her if she could to send me a note once in a while. I didn’t know if she had access to a computer, the internet but thought that if, one day, she did it would be nice to hear from her. She had shared earlier that one of her siblings had a scholarship to the university and was studying there. So maybe it would be possible.
I am so pleased to say that week after our meeting, I received a lovely email from Mpile and I am so very, very grateful. I have a favor to ask, if you are reading this now, please lift Mpile and her family up in prayer. Ask that God will continue to watch over them, provide for them and keep them all safe. Thank you.
It is my hope that I am gently reminded of Mpile every time I am out of sorts because something doesn’t go the way I think it should. I hope that in my “fit of madness” I remember how special and graceful Mpile took on the responsibilities of her siblings, even though it wasn’t her life’s dream.
After our good-byes were said, David and I headed back up the mountain towards Mbabane. Mbabane is in the Hhohho Region which is rich with nature in the Malolotja and Phophonyane Nature Reserves that cover a total of 44,478 acres (18,000 hectares). This region is also the home of the Ngwenya hematite mine, the world’s oldest mine. Over 27,000 years ago, bushmen would extract pieces of ore from the Ngwenya Mountain. Ngwenya in SiSwati means crocodile. The mountain is so named because it resembles a sleeping crocodile.
The guide book said that the tour took 2 hours. We didn’t think that we would have time to take the tour but we hoped to at least see a part of the mine. We never did get to the mine. I told David to take the wrong exit and we drove along the MR 1 route towards Pigg’s Peak.
The scenery was more majestic mountains that had small homes, fields of crops or cattle nestled throughout.
Along the road, there wasn’t much traffic but people were walking in their “Sunday best”, holding their Bibles on their way to church. I particularly love the vibrant uniforms that some church goers wear. They have to same tradition here in South Africa. The women wear a robe of vibrant red or turquoise or yellow or whatever color that their congregation has decided on, over their dresses. The men will have the same color in a shirt with white pants. It really looks impressive when they are all walking or standing together.
It was a nice ride but when I saw the sign that said Pigg’s Peak was about 10 miles away, I knew that we had missed the road to the mine. I asked directions and not only did we miss the road, we were not on the correct road.
We backtracked and took the next exit, which had a sign clearly pointing the way to the Ngwenya Mine. I asked David if he wanted to go but he said that we didn’t have enough time. We did stop at Ngwenya Glass factory and store before heading for the border. This glass blowers use 100% recycled glass to make beautiful creations of glasses, bowls and animals. It is the only factor of this kind in Southern Africa and has won awards for their product. It was difficult to pick something small for a souvenir. The bowls were exquisite. I love bowls and would have loved to have one. David and I decided on a small hippopotamus figurine for our living room shelf.
There are other shops on the compound that offer Belgium chocolate, hand-made wooden toys and African crafts. The yard had peacocks strolling around and picnic tables under shade trees, decorated with large glass bulbs, for those who wanted to have a picnic or light snack. I am sorry we didn’t get to see the mine but I did enjoy the glass factory.
This is what a Swaziland speeding ticket looks like!
Yes, I was driving. I was clocked going 81 kph in a 60 kph zone! Oh, I was a “bubble bee in a jar” mad, mad, mad! First of all, the compact, Hyundai rental car we have has the zero power, especially with the air conditioning on. We were going up a steep hill, air conditioning was on full blast and I had the gas pedal down to the floor so we wouldn’t lose any speed. I never saw the sign that said 60!
As we peaked the hill, we saw the police car, a policeman with the radar detector and another policemen flagging people over. We got pulled over along with several other cars…..it was definitely a “speed trap”.
David looked at me and said, “You weren’t speeding.” Well, I was doing something wrong because I got pulled over. I got out of the car and asked the policeman why I was pulled over and he told me 81 in a 60!!!! I couldn’t believe it. I asked to see the proof and was directed over to the radar detector. Yep, that was my little “wind-up” car clocked at 81 coming up over the crest of the hill. Dang and I was less than 2 minutes from the border.
To say that David was loving it all, is a total understatement. I have never gotten a speeding ticket in my 44 years of driving. Plus, I am forever telling him to slow down as he cruises along at 60 mph in a 45 mph zone. He never sees to speed limit signs, ever…..and I am the one who got the ticket!
I felt like I was in a “Kangaroo Court” when it came to paying my fine. I had to go to the policeman sitting in the car with a receipt book. At least it was an honest transaction and not someone pocketing the money. I was nervous as I didn’t have much cash left since I had given most of it to Mpile. My fine….60 South African Rand…$6.00…..phew!
Just another Swaziland souvenir and way to help the economy. Thank goodness, if I was to have to get a speeding ticket, it was in a country that my US insurance rates won’t be affected!
I wished that we had more time to spend in Swaziland. We both don’t feel that we got to experience the true culture of the region. What we saw was highly geared toward tourist. It isn’t what we seek when we visit a new country. Time was indeed a factor on this trip. We are grateful that we got to see the beauty of Swaziland and some of the country’s people.