The Kingdom of Swaziland! - my thoughts around it ;)
It sometimes seems quite arbitrary what is a country and what isn't?
I've had amazing feedback from people regarding my portrayal of Lesotho last week. And that makes me happy. Next up was another kingdom: Swaziland. But in order to reach Swaziland I had to return to South Africa and spend the night in Johannesburg.
Now what? Is this where they will murder me? You know...South Africa doesn't deserve the terrible reputation which has been laid on its cities. Every large city in the world has a bad street you should stay away from. Some cities have more than one... But just travel with your head attached to your body and you'll be fine!
Johannesburg turned out to be a another great city with unlimited access to almost anything. It's a really hip kind of city where you walk for 5 minutes in any direction and you get something completely different from where you started. I found a "too cool for me" backpacker joint, where I might have been the oldest person throughout? (But it was cheap) And nearby I found a fantastic Argentinian restaurant called "CHE". Also very chic. I got to sit at the bar and stare into a fireplace while they served me beer and meat. Jo'burg...I'll be back some day!!
The road from Johannesburg to Swaziland presented a lot of varied landscape which made me think that nearly every movie I've ever seen could have been filmed somewhere in South Africa? And of course it was beautiful.
I'm intrigued by how the planet in some ways mirrors itself from north to south across the Equator. And why wouldn't it? Both regarding landscape and temperatures...so Swaziland became another surprise...
The Kingdom of Swaziland
Let's get right to it! Yes it's a kingdom (all the best countries are, you know? - wink wink). The king is his royal highness MsSwati III. I have heard that he has 17 wives and 25 children...but looking at Wikipedia I see that it is 15 wives and 30 children? In either case he is keeping the world population in balance...although I also meet several princesses during my 6 days stay in the country? I don't know...a bit confusing for an outsider. In any case Swaziland is classified as a "Unitary Parliamentary" and "Absolute Monarchy".
If I wasn't reading about stuff like that then I wouldn't know it. Because when I arrived I saw a beautiful country with modern buildings and good roads. I went straight to a nearby mall where everyone was dressed and behaving as people are in the western world. The surrounding mountains and green hills looked like Austria to me. I sat down and had lunch outside a steakhouse...and had a beer. Something which I should really cut down on (beer), but it's kind of just become customary here in the southern part of Africa for some reason? And beer is quite good down here - so that could explain it?
Free wifi led me to a backpacker place 20 kilometers away called Sundowners. On their webpage it said: "This house was built with luxury in mind! It's a millionaire's mansion, with a huge garden, barbecue area and swimming pool". So I was sold. It was a great pick and at low cost...besides I was nearly the only guest so I felt like it was all mine! :)
Paula from Mozambique and Sergio from Portugal run the place. They've been there for around 40 years. Great people. But no wifi? These days I can't work out if that is a blessing or a curse? I've always got so much online stuff to do in preparation...but being online comes with a lot of procrastination too. I guess it was mostly a blessing. I found wifi 6 kilometers from there and getting around in Swaziland is easy! You step out to the side of the road and wait for a few minutes. Then a "combi" arrives (minibus) and you get in. If it's not going where you want to go then it will certainly pass by a hub where you can find another one. And it's low cost.
At Sundowners I also met Quentin who happens to be the owner of: Promotional Printing. I asked how much he needed if he had to make 100 simple business cards for me? He replied he would do it for free. How do I keep meeting all these great people? Thank you, Quentin. And thank you world for being nothing near what modern day perception portraits. You truly are a far better place than we all perceive.
Another very interesting character at Sundowners was Ben from Germany. I think at this point I should add that Sundowners also had a guesthouse and a popular restaurant, at which I met all these people.
So, Ben arrived to South Africa on his bicycle! Say whaaaat?!? Yes sir, 30 year old Ben is quite the adventurer, but he isn't even on Facebook so you would never hear about his extraordinary adventures. Ben dropped out of school early and later on he decided that the military wasn't for him either which ended him up in prison. His parents would send him books and Ben would read up to 3 per day!
This one time he bought a cheap kayak and had a 2,400 kilometer adventure (with his dog) down the European river Danube. Because that's the kind of person Ben is.
He lived in Cyprus for a while until he decided to go on an epic bike trip. Back in September 2014, after about 1,000 kilometers in Cyprus, he took a boat to Turkey and did another 1,000 kilometers on his bike there. A ferry got him to Egypt and then he cycled south through: Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and ended in Johannesburg, South Africa, in July 2015. Months later he found himself in charge of Paula and Sergio's restaurant in Swaziland.
Actually I shouldn't say that Bens journey has ended. Because he doesn't see it like that at all! He's just in Swaziland right now and that bicycle has plenty of life left in it. It's a very basic bike and he did the entire ride wearing beach sandals (thongs). You can just imagine the stories he can tell! ;)
The Kings birthday was during my stay. I wanted to go, but they moved the celebration to the day I wanted to leave for Mozambique. And I'm on a bit of a schedule as always so I lost out on that. I thought a lot about it though. I also wanted to see the National museum...but it's in a town near the capital and not inside Mbabane. Not a big deal with all the easy transport...but I skipped that too.
Then one evening around sunset I wanted to climb up on a wall to get a better picture of the sun setting. The wall was much taller than me so I had to jump up in order to get a solid grip and then pull myself up. But I couldn't pull myself up?!? It used to be easy to do stuff like that? How old am I now? Is it the beer? Oh darn...my girlfriend is showing up to meet me in Zimbabwe soon!! So the next day I went for a run ;)
The following day I walked 6 kilometers out to a tourism center and afterwards I walked back again. The center was nice and quite an experience if you're on a vacation. But I'm not looking for souvenirs, so it didn't make the walk worth while for me. But the walk itself was well worth it!!
Swaziland is an amazingly beautiful country and the part of it I saw could easily have been Austria. It's a clean, friendly and safe country and while I was there, it looked green because the rains had recently nourished the country. ALTHOUGH: Swaziland is currently undergoing its worst drought in 35 years! It's a disaster for the country and more than 84,000 cows have died.
Do you ever wonder about facts like that? 84,000 dead cows? Well, there wasn't enough grass for them to eat and not enough water to drink. So slowly they became immobile and simply sat down in the shade. And over several days they started dying. And no one could do anything about it. Because humans where/are suffering too. Crops have failed and there is food scarcity. Food, however, is available if you can pay for it. But with crops and cattle dead and gone - who can afford it?
Red Cross to the rescue!! In Swaziland the Red Cross is also known as "Baphalali" which means 'the one that helps'. How cool is that? I met with the Red Cross in country 107, which was the 105th Red Cross on route so far. Pretty impressive. I helped them get more visibility through the national press (radio and newspaper) and they are arranging for cash transfers so that the beneficiaries can buy food. That is followed by long term sustainability program... So that all seems to work out well. Especially as long as people keep volunteering their time and donating money. Do they? - do you?
Swaziland really is a small country and its strange to me to sit at a café and drink a beer among local people, who are checking their smartphones, while I know that families are going hungry to bed not far away. We can't save everyone and there will always be pain and suffering...but this is just so odd? As I have said a few times: It's a small, green beautiful country. People drive around in modern cars on good roads. How would we react to something like this if it took place in Austria?
Well, it wouldn't happen in Austria, because Austria is a strong and well organized country which could take care of itself. I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here...I guess I'm saying that this could easily be solved. But will it be? And why is there no world media on this?
By complete chance I got to sit in on a meeting with the CEO of the National Disaster Management Agency. He seems to be a highly motivated and very capable man! And he is well aware of how quickly this drought can turn into a major disaster. But he is also well aware of how fragile the governments economy is and how little he has to do with. So it's his job to secure funds from foreign nations and implement solutions that last.
It's so surreal to sit in his office and hear the Secretary General of the Swaziland Red Cross along with other important people debate this...all while well dressed children are crossing traffic among modern cars between green mountains, malls and stores? Where is the kid with the big round tummy and all the flies?
Have you updated your mindset recently in terms of which planet you are orbiting the sun on? ;) Africa is a continent with 54 countries. The strongest economies will blow your mind, universities, nightclubs, fashion, music, movies, sports...but Swaziland is not ready to handle the worst drought in 35 years? However the drought doesn't close the nightclubs...and life goes on for most. That's the world we live in now. And EVERYONE HAS A SMARTPHONE. Even the less privileged look at my old Nokia 1100. Sometimes I hear stuff like: "Wow, I haven't seen one of those in 8 years!".
Swaziland looks small in size, but it's grand in so many ways. And do to the mountains the roads are sometimes long from A to B. But like New Zealand next to Australia, Swaziland is just a dot next to South Africa. But set a little extra time aside for a longer visit...this little Kingdom will surely surprise you ;)
On my last day in Swaziland I got into a minibus with 14 seats and 25 passengers! But it was only for 10 minutes and many of the passengers where babies on the laps of their mothers ;) From the terminal in nearby Manzini I boarded another bus and took off on the 3 hours ride to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique and country number 108.
Thank you dear Kingdom of Swaziland and all which I have met within you!
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - how many countries are there?
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga