Between the border of South Africa and Swaziland there is a very apparent change in the atmosphere. The people become more vibrant and colourful and the countryside develops into a more rugged and wild landscape. The beautiful green rolling hills that are un-spoilt by Western cultures simply ooze with a calming nature.
We were staying at Sondzela Youth Hostel, which is situated in the middle of a national park, surrounded by amazingly dramatic countryside. From our tent site we gained a perfect view of the surrounding hills, mountains and green valley’s, which became a pleasure to wake up to.
At six o’clock the following morning we arose from our sleeping bags in order to catch a lift to the fruit markets. Once there we took the opportunity to jump into one of their minibus taxis and head to Mbabane, the capital. Minibus taxis are the most interesting vehicles I have seen on the road for a long time. You wait by the side of the road and flag one down. Then attempt to squeeze in with the other twenty passengers, bearing in mind that they actually only hold ten people and are generally at least fifty years old. The drivers then attempt to put their foot down and accelerate as fast as possible. However they very rarely make it past 40kmph.
Mbabane seemed just like any industrial city with people shouting at you left, right and center, “you want bananas, you want taxi or felt pens, I sell you them for 10 Rand.” Once you leave the hustle and bustle of the market centre it suddenly transforms into a city that is much the same as any other. There are enough fast food restaurants to cause a whole population to become obese.
Despite this, the poverty of the nation was extremely apparent with people lying on the streets and others trying to desperately get money out of you. There were very few white people walking around and those that were, were quite obviously well off in African terms.
We headed to the fruit markets to divulge in glorious tropical fruits and then decided to progress on to find a bottle store. The only bottle store around was in a small wooden hut with a bench. On this bench sat a variety of local men with large buckets that they were using as beer glasses. As soon as we walked in they greeted us with an irresistible welcome “We like it when you people come to visit us. Here, you must have a drink with us.” He handed me his bucket, which held an interesting, thick and gloopy, yellow concoction. With this I decided the only polite thing to do was to take a large gulp. I managed very well to keep it down and pretend I enjoyed the drink. To act any other way may have insulted them. I am sure after a couple of more sips I wouldn’t even have noticed the acidic taste.
Unfortunately we were unable to stay for another drink as we had to hitch a ride home. We had found out that this was the only way for people to get around but for white people it was a lot harder because the black population did not see white people walk very often and were inclined not to offer a ride. Consequently it could take a while.
We had only planned to stay in Swaziland for a couple of days because our money was desperately running out. However, once the couple of days had expired the charm and character that Swaziland oozed with kept me from leaving. I didn’t even decide to stay, it simply happened.