There are many wonderful parts of Africa to visit while on a trip to South Africa, but one of the most beautifully unique is Swaziland. It is surrounded by both South Africa and Mozambique, and has a similar shared culture with Zululand, just hours away. The round huts you see as you drive thought the vast Swazi landscapes are identical to the Zulu huts in South Africa, but you are in a distinctly different country.
On my trip with Grand Circle Travel during their Highlights of South Africa trip, we spent two nights in Mbabane, Swaziland’s capitol and largest city. It is one of Africa’s poorest countries, having become independent in 1903 from England, and currently governed by a King. It is one of the last remaining Executive Monarchies in Africa. Not many tours of South Africa include Swaziland, but this trip with its variety of both the cultural and the natural as part of its robust itinerary, had particular appeal because of the two nights in Swaziland, a country I would not have otherwise have visited.
Perhaps it was the June Winter days when I was there, but low hanging clouds wrapped around the scenery of the mountain landscape that Swaziland shares with Mozambique in a mystical fashion. Iron red soil was everywhere. This is not a land where safaris reign supreme although in nearby Hluhluwe in the Kawzulu- Natal province, safaris are abundant. Swaziland is about the people. Women walk with baskets on their heads everywhere, school children line the streats as they walk in uniform, and everyone and everything is surrounded by cloud-drenched mountains. Our hotel in the capital of Mbabane was surrounded with the country’s dramatic mountains, lush vegetation, farm land and uniquely Swazi farm village and huts, and was set amid a backdrop of looming dark clouds with rays of light shining through, and autumn leaves at every turn.
When we left Kruger National Park in South Africa, we were given a large sack lunch to eat on the bus ride to Swaziland, which was several hours in duration and included formal border crossings. The people are terribly impoverished, and the sack lunch had more food than I could possibly eat. The idea was that once we arrived at a particular stop in Swaziland we could give some of the food to the women we met. At first I figured I would save the fruit in case I got hungry myself later, but then I met these women. I have an embarrassment of riches in my life by comparison and these women and truly the entire country has nothing. They needed my food much more than I did. I may not have Africa in my soul as others do, but being there was a transformative experience. I learned to give to these women, and purchased things I did not need without haggling.
Shopping for handicrafts was special in Swaziland, with their unique variety of wooden items and candles in the Mbabane Crafts Market. Our visit also included a meeting with a shaman of sorts, who sold a variety of medical cures for those in need.