The western part of small kingdom of Swaziland is known to have the world’s oldest mine, cultural attractions of ancient peoples, elaborate crafts and protected nature. It currently includes modernities as shopping malls, resorts and casinos.
Leaving Lesotho and crossing through South Africa, I, Beto and Rafa crossed the border in Oshoek at dusk. We had to pay 50 South African rand (~4 US dollars) to get inside Swaziland with a car rented in Johannesburg. We did not even change or took out the local currency, the lilangeni, because here the money from South Africa is also accepted universally and with the same quotation, as we saw in Lesotho and Namibia before.
A fast route through the region called Hhohho took us to the accommodation situated in the Ezulwini Valley, which is between the two largest cities of the country, the capital Mbabane and Manzini. This valley concentrates the most touristic and modern part of the country. As incredible as it sounds, we stayed in a casino in Swaziland, called Happy Valley. Across the street is the Gables shopping mall, where we had burgers on the South African chain Spur.
Close by is the Mantenga Nature Reserve, where we went in the morning. The entrance fee is 100 rand. First we walked to the waterfall – it is beautiful, but the view is not the best and you can not take a dip.
The second attraction of the reserve is the Swazi Cultural Village. The guided tour takes us to a real size replica of a typical Swaziland village in the Dutch and English pre-colonization period. They are huts and fences of straw and wood where the polygamous families lived next to their cows, praying to their ancestors and brewing marula (the yellow African fruit used in the famous liquor Amarula).
The tour ends with a 45 minute presentation of music and typical dances. Very interesting.
We had lunch there and, as it was raining, we followed to the National Museum. For 80 rand (30 for students) you learn textually and graphically about the history, customs and nature of the small country. It is just relatively small.
Then, we passed by a pricey handicraft market, where there is also the factory of the colorful Swazi candles, one of the main forms of Swazi art. The interesting thing is to follow closely the process of elaboration of the candles by the artisans.
In the evening we stayed at the hotel. The casino hall is large, with slot machines and table games, but we did not gamble.
Upon waking up, we ate until we could not anymore, as it was the best breakfast we had on this trip. Then, we headed north, stopping at Ngwenya glass factory and crystal store. On a intense heat, you can see how they learned from the Swedes to make magnificent crystals of various shapes, especially of animals and abstracts. If you do not mind the price, you can take a look at the store later.
A little further on, we climbed the hill leading to the iron mines of Ngwenya. For 30 rand a guide shows you a small museum and tells the story of the oldest mine in the world, explored by the San people more than 40 thousand years ago in search of ochre!
Around the year 450 it began to be exploited for iron ore, and in the 20th century took industrial scale, but in 1979 was abandoned. There remained only a large partially flooded hole, still a little far from fully recovering from the environmental impact.
We had Indian lunch at a mall in the capital Mbabane. The administrative center is much smaller and more organized than you might think.
Despite progress, it is far from beautiful. In addition to the very low HDI, Swaziland is the country with the highest proportional seropositivity rate in the world, where about one-fourth of the adult population is infected with HIV.
In the afternoon we drove to Manzini, another quite big city and the main one in terms of commerce in the country. However, it is ugly and apparently the only attraction is the central market of 1983. The crafts part, located on the second floor of the building, consists of a few aisles with stands of vendors where you can quietly barter many different products such as masks, statues, shirts, necklaces, key chains, drums and containers. In addition, there are the classic and expensive ornaments and costumes of the warriors.
We stayed in a triple room with aircon and fridge in the Valley View Lodge, for 330 rands each. The area is comfortable. At sunset, we had some beers on the terrace which is a viewpoint.
I got up at 5 o’clock in the morning to catch the shuttle to Maputo, while my companions returned to Johannesburg. Like much of Africa, the vehicle only leaves when it is full or almost. As on that rainy morning there was only me and one other passenger on the direct bus that would go to Maputo for 90 rand, we had to board at 6:30 in a bus which for 45 rand would leave us just at the border of Lomahasha-Namaacha.