After our amazing visit to Kruger National Park (see previous post), Mathieu and I headed south. Since we were already so close, we decided on a whim to cross the border into the Kingdom of Eswatini (aka Swaziland). We spent 6 days exploring the western portion of this small, mountainous country from north to south.
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Eswatini, bordered by South Africa and Mozambique, is one of the smallest countries in Africa. The majority of Eswatini’s population (about 1,093,238) is ethnically Swazi, mixed with a small number of Zulu and White Africans who speak siSwati and English (both official languages).
After crossing the border, we immediately drove through the tiny village of Bulembu and up a rough dirt road to the trailhead for Emlembe Peak, the highest peak in Eswatini at 6,109 ft (1,862 m). At the trailhead, we met Brian, a 15-year old local kid who accompanied us to the peak where we looked out over the tree plantations, farm lands, and natural lands covering the distant mountains and valleys. Brian was a wealth of information and stories about the area, and even provided the soundtrack for our hike back down. Spending time with him really made our first day in Eswatini very memorable.
During the rest of our visit, we mostly drove through small communities and towns, visited several beautiful reserves along the way. At Malolotja Nature Reserve, we hiked to a gorgeous waterfall and spent a day relaxing at the rustic campground, which we had almost entirely to ourselves. Well, except for the blesbok and zebra! At the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, I hiked and Mathieu mountain biked through the wide, grassy valley, the dense forest, and up the rocky mountains overlooking the beautiful reserve. It was amazing to pass grazing zebra and warthogs on my hike!
Along with hiking, we visited the Mantenga Cultural Village where we learned about the ancient Swazi way of life via a guided-tour through a 16-hut homestead and by watching a wonderful performance. It was captivating to watch the large troop of dancers/musicians clad in traditional clothing, singing beautiful, melodic traditional songs. While in the area, we also visited a large market where vendors sold handicrafts, my favorite being the brightly colored, patterned fabrics, and stopped at Ngwenya Glass, where we watched master glass blowers turn old bottles into new, beautiful vases and elegant wine glasses.
On our last day, we visited the Mahamba Gorge created by the Makondo River. The area is protected and managed by the local community. Despite the gray, cloudy day, the view over the deep, rocky gorge was stunning. Afterwards, we shared the drone videos of the gorge with Themba, the friendly caretaker of the natural area. It was his first time to see his beloved gorge from the sky. So cool.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story of our fabulous visit. Enjoy!