This tiny sovereign state in Southern Africa is ONE OF THE SMALLEST ON THE CONTINENT. 200 km north to south and 130 east to west it is easily discovered in a short period of time, but even though it is small, it is still diverse. I have to admit, we visited it because we were on our South African trip and in the near anyway, so we thought lets drive through, not knowing what to expect really. The small developing country is an absolute monarchy, ruled by the KING MSWATI III. The local population are struggling with major health issues, mostly HIV/AIDS, so that the life expectancy is at 50 years of age.
When: August 2004
Visited: Mbabane, Manzini, Malkerns, Mantenga, Ezulvini
How: with a rented car
Stayed in: small hotel
DRIVING & TRANSPORTATION
Driving is same as in the SAR, as long as you don´t drive in the night, it´s no problem. We saw those typical small buses which collect passengers along the way, but didn´t really see any tourist buses. It seemed as if everyone came with a rented car.
You can drive around the country stopping at a few sights in 2-3 days, it´s enough to get some impressions and most of the tourists do it like we did it – COMBINE THE VISIT WITH VISITING SOUTH AFRICA.
If you have time, it´s not a bad idea to first visit a museum to get more information about the CULTURE and HISTORY of the country.
WHAT WE SAW AND DID
We were lucky enough to witness somekind of OFFICIAL PROCESSION. Although the most famous yearly event is for sure the one where THE KING GETS TO PICK HIS NEW WIFE – he has 15 wives at the moment. They all come from different parts of the country to dance for him and he gets to pick a new one, EVERY YEAR.
The landscape is amazing – green hills with red sand paths, here and there a pond and a patch of woods. Very versatile and never boring!
Only a few kilometres from the main road, the MANTENGA FALLS are the best known falls in the country and the surroundings offer great picnic possibilities. You can explore the Mantenga protected area in EZULVINI VALLEY either on foot, by bike or by car. If you discover the area further you might also see some animals like monkeys, birds, butterflies, bush pigs, porcupines and dassies. Larger animals are rarely to be seen.
In the reserve you will also find the MANTENGA CULTURAL VILL AGE – an OPEN AIR MUSEUM of old traditions, which represent traditional Swazi lifestyle. There are 16 CLASSICAL HUTS and area for the cattle (kraals and byres). Visitors can try out their skills at GRINDING MAZE maize and DANCE along with the locals. Even though it is made for the tourists, it´s still a nice cultural experience. The Mantenga Cultural Group has achieved also some international acknowledgement and were invited to a series of festivals in Europe and the US in the past years. There are two performances each day, so once you are there, you should definitely go and see them.
A rounded frame of the TRADITIONAL HOUSES is made of poles and covered with thatch, everything is tied together with ropes. The shapes of the roofs vary and some are even detachable. If they are more modern they also have windows and doors, the walls are usually done with MUD. Houses have fences for protection.
Some have fire place in front of the entrance, the INSIDE is often simple – they sleep on the floor and use a special wooden piece to put under the NECK, the clothes hang from the roof, so do the kitchen tools.
You can buy HANDICRAFT PRODUCTS directly from the woman living in the area and support them by doing that.
In the shops you can find typical African products… We stuck to the delicious nuts and bought some obligatory postcards 😉
One of the most known Swazi products are the CANDLES. Yup, you heard it right. They are done by using the age-old technique “MILLEFIORE” (thousand flowers), which also appears in the great glass-making production in Murano and Venice. The beautiful glass beads were so special that they were of great value since the old times and were used in Venetian trades on the African coast. Out of this, the African trade bead was born and this is what reflects in the Swazi candles still today. Instead of glass, the candle makers use a SPECIAL HARD WAX to create beautiful designs.
What an awesome relaxing place, the HOUSE ON FIRE complex in MALKERNS– there are shops, restaurant, bar, shows, art gallery, amazing architecture of the whole place with lots of interesting details.
A typical African COURTYARD. Washed clothes drying in the sun and litlte kids running around 😉
A few last views on the countryside before CROSSING THE BORDER back to South Africa. If you have time to drive through Swaziland and stay there a couple of nights, you should definitely do so! It´s a great experience.