Swaziland: The Final Journey, Peace Corps Party People and the Kindness of Strangers

After spending ages bundled in my room, sweating, feverish and with a general feeling of malaise, I managed to drag my sorry butt up at 3AM to catch a chapas from Inhambane to Maputo a day later than planned. That’s what I get for swimming in a storm and sleeping in wet clothes. Eight hours later in Maputo and feeling somewhat better I try to find the correct chapas to the Swaziland border.

“Swazi? Swazi?”

Fingers keep pointing me ahead until I reach the road.

“Swazi?”

“It’s a different hub. I’ll take you for free.”

Strangers can be so nice. After dropping me off and refusing my money, I am swamped by drivers vying for my attention.

“Manzini? Follow me.”

Excellent. Seat secured. The chapas is almost full so we should be leaving soon.

Four hours and ZERO kilometers later, I’m afraid I won’t make it to Manzini before dark but I’ve already paid and have been waiting FOREVER. A local Swazi cracks jokes with me and for some reason I’m crying and laughing due to exhaustion, heat and general euphoria mixed with frustration at God knows what. He’s sympathetic and lends me his phone to text the backpacker’s in Manzini so they can pick me up from the bus station at 10PM later that night so I won’t get mugged…or worse.

Five PM and we are finally off. Then stopped by a cop.

“Watch his left hand, see he puts the money there. Give them five minutes to play and we’ll be off.”

We all watch intensely as the money slips from hand to hand: A bribe.

Everyone scoffs and shakes their head. Mozambique is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking 130th out of 180 countries in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2009.

At the border, I follow my new friend as he helps me get through customs much quicker than anyone else…and then the rain starts and the only spot that drips is over him. More crying laughter and we are stopped once again to be searched. One look at my giant box shaped backpack and they wave me through.

Finally 700km and 18 hours later, I am at Myxo’s Backpackers all smelly and gross but too tired to bother with a shower and end up sleeping in the same clothes. The next morning I head off to Ezulwini Valley via kombi and end up at Lidwala Backpackers to finally shower.

Up Sheba’s Breast for a view of the great valley, I make friends with some dassis and vervets along the way. Used to tourists, they are super habituated and unafraid which is great for taking photos. At the top, the view to one side is an urban sprawl and the other is like Lord of The Rings.  It’s absolutely breathtaking and lovely to be in the mountains again—although The Ocean will always be my first love.

At the markets I admire all the beautiful homemade crafts and have to stop myself from wasting money on jewelry and other curios. Guilt-ridden by all the Swazis, (“Please, we have no money to eat, we’re so hungry”) I finally settle on a trio of See no evil, Speak no evil, and Hear no evil wooden baboons— the primate nerd in me can’t resist them.

Walking around I get flung careless proposals and expressions of love—something all foreign women are subjected to.

“Hey, I love you!”

“No you don’t! Bye!”

“Don’t you want to marry a Swazi man?”

“I’m already married…see the ring?”

And besides, I hear abuse, rape and incest are huge issues in Swaziland. Talking to a Swazi woman in Inhambane who shared a dorm with me, “I always dreaded the night and loved sunrise. Everyone is always happy and smiling in the day…but at night…”

For a country with a population of 1.2 million, there shouldn’t be so much poverty, disparity of wealth and secretive sadness—many blame the monarchy but saying such out loud would cause personal troubles.

At the backpackers, I meet some Peace Corps people having a braai. I hitch out to try and buy some dinner and beer—stupidly as it gets dark by the time I’m at the Pick ‘n Pay. Only 1 km away, everyone tells me it’s too dangerous to walk back so I stand with some locals on the curb hoping for a kombi to pass. After twenty minutes, I stuff myself into one and finally make it back in one piece. One of the Peace Corps girls warns me that muggings are starting to become more common.

Several beers and hours later, with a deck of cards, we come up with some mischief. Luckily, I’m fairly descent at poker.

The next morning, I catch a kombi out of Manzini to Pretoria—scrunched and head lolling I arrive only with slight aches in my legs and neck and no clue as to where I am. After ten minutes of questioning, I am saved by a Malawian who googles Pretoria Backpackers and offers to walk me there. Hesitant and suspicious at first, I decide if worse comes to worse I can always run into a shop. He offers to carry my backpack but looking at his slight frame, I refuse. Sweating, panting and shoulders bleeding (my backpack is not meant for long distance!), he offers me a frozen drink and refuses any money. Almost an hour later, he drops me off at the gate and I offer him some money for the trouble. Refusing at first (“I didn’t help you for money but because it’s the right thing to do and what God would want me to do”), I tell him it’s for his son’s birthday (turning one years old in a few days) and he accepts.

At the backpacker’s, the staff is extremely nice and offers me a single room for dorm price! I am extremely thankful, having spent the past couple weeks either in a tent or with others. Taking full advantage of the WiFi, I start researching how to apply for my visa to the Democratic Republic of Congo. While in Vilankulo, over Skype I interviewed for a field assistant position working for a PhD student studying bonobos. In Tofo, she sent me an email letting me know I could head out early March! After receiving my letter of invitation, buying a bundle of French books, waiting in line for my visa at the DRC embassy, and purchasing my plane ticket, I finally headed back to Lajuma on the most comfortable bus ever since leaving in early January and thus ending my solo adventure.

Although spending two and half weeks by myself after a week with my favorite Dutch couple (who are now in Tanzania!), I never felt truly alone and actually enjoyed being by myself. There were so many other traveling hearts and friendly locals willing to help me out I never felt in danger or scared. It also helps I was never robbed or pick pocketed. Although for those long minibus rides, it would have been nice to have someone to lean on (Anja told me I could use her shoulder).

With five weeks instead of the planned four months left at Lajuma before delving into the jungle of the DRC, my options for further solo adventures around Africa will sadly have to be postponed for another time. In the meantime, I’ll be taking full advantage of the time left to follow monkeys, further explore the mountain and HOPEFULLY see a leopard!

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2 Responses to Swaziland: The Final Journey, Peace Corps Party People and the Kindness of Strangers

  1. beatnik307 says:

    Wow, I can’t imagine the feelings you must have been…feeling. But at least, amidst all of the fears of violence, mugging, etc., you seem to have found some great people.

  2. Pingback: “I want to go to America” | Musings of a Bush Baby

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