Swaziland: A Country of Rich Culture and Friendly People
Meeting locals and learning about the real Swaziland.
Most Meaningful Experience
Experiencing the “other side” of Swaziland with the Ezulwini Valley locals
• Make some local friends – the Swazis are super friendly people and warm to visitors; they don’t like small talk – politics, philosophy, and religion are top of mind.
• Climb Sibebe Rock- the second-largest monolith in the world.
• Get up close to African wildlife and ride a mountain bike at the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
• Hang out at Legends Backpackers – a comfortable base in the Ezulwini Valley.
• Experience the dancing and traditional arts of the Mantenga Cultural Village
After a French backpacker told me that Swaziland was his favorite destination in Africa, I decided to see for myself. It’s a land of ancient traditions and culture, with the Swazi people a single ethnic group divided into several clans that are united under the one monarch.
While it ranks in the top 10 t GDP per capital on the continent, poverty is still widespread and it has one of the largest percentages of HIV infection in the world. But the current ruler, Prince Makhosetive, is determined to change that, using his English education and foreign ties to spur investment and turn Swaziland into a developed country by 2022. Much like in Lesotho and other parts of Africa, it’s the Chinese that are currently investing in the country’s infrastructure and business.
I headed north from South Africa’s Sodwana Bay through irrigated fields and lush forests dotted with palm trees before arriving at the Swaziland border patrol. Here I was met by friendly guards inquiring where I was from, with one taking the time to guide me through the entire map of the country and offering his recommendations on where to go.
The friendliness of the Swazi people stayed true throughout my entire stay, with a unique greeting of “ye bo” (“I acknowledge you”) the usual response to “sawubona” (“hello”). Sometimes they even skip that and just reply with “ngi ya phila” (“I’m fine okay”). Obviously small talk is not for the Swazis!
As I drove through the night, the mountainsides were beautifully illuminated by the lights of houses and I was surprised by the good condition of the paved roads. Eventually I arrived at the Mvubu Falls Lodge, just a stone’s throw from the Ezulweni Valley, and spent my first full day in Swaziland exploring the Mantenga Cultural Village.
I was impressed by the athletic dancing of the Sibhaca, as men violently kicked to a rhythmic drum beat, then saw where criminals were once made to jump to their death at Execution Rock. I also visited Sibebe Rock – said to be the second largest rock in the world after Australia’s Uluru.
The next morning I work early and rode my mountain bike to the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, a vast open landscape inhabited by elk, impala, hippos and crocodiles. As I got close to to the zebras and kudu, I was surprised by how docile they really are, with most of the animals more scared of me than I was of them.
With an electrical storm looming, I raced back to the Legends Backpackers with some directions from locals, stopping only to buy popcorn from a street-side stall. The backpackers is located next to Swaziland Adventures, which organizes hiking, biking and rafting excursions, as well as being near an Italian restaurant dishing up oven-roasted pizzas.
That evening we were joined by some local guys who shared their experiences about Swazi culture, as well as their insights into American culture. One was a self-proclaimed hustler (his motto was “I treat you right and you do the same”) while the other was getting his masters in economics.
In between their questioning about why the US embassy was so big in Swaziland (“they’re watching everything we do”), we did a supermarket run and met an extremely good Michael Jackson impersonator.
Later in the evening, one of the guys suggested I see the “real Swaziland” and took me to the Ezulweni Mini Market to meet his friends. Sitting on crates drinking Milky Stout (what they claimed was the “Viagra of Lesotho”), they explained that this was where knife fights took place to resolve disputes. One had severe autism and was running around giving everyone high fives and telling them he loved them. I was glad for this opportunity to experience what they described as “the other side”.
On my final morning in Swaziland, I woke early for a photo op at Sibebe Rock before departing in the direction of Kruger National Park. I passed the Malolotja Nature Reserve and the oldest mine in the world before turning left towards Nelspruit at the old gold prospecting town of Piggs Peak. The drive on R40 over the mountains must have been one of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced, although you do need a 4×4. Eventually I arrived at the border town of Bulembu which is famous for old stores that looked like a country western scene. There, I bid farewell to Swaziland and its welcoming people, which was definitely worth the detour if you’re heading to Kruger. The drive down R40 to Balderton was equally fascinating and worth mentioning in another post.