Driving to then entering Swaziland and exploring the major sights including the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Swazi Candles, Mantenga Nature Reserve, National Museum, King Sobhuza II Memorial Park, and seeing the beginning of the annual Incwala Ceremony on The South of Africa Tour.
The small African country of Swaziland is landlocked between Mozambique and South Africa. The name comes from King Mswati II and symbolizes its commitment to culture and history.
Coming from Nelspruit after a tour of Maputo, I drove through the Barberton Greenbelt in the mountains. Not over were the views amazing, but they had interesting geological displays along the side of the road showcasing the different types of rock the mountain is made of.
The road was paved and well maintained all the way to the border, which happened to be closed. The rest of the way to the main border was a rough drive on small rocky dirt roads passing through forests, villages, and industrial areas. The mini Datsun vehicle was having a tough time…
Eventually I arrived at the border just at dusk, paid a 50 Rand tax and got my entry stamp. Country 110 complete!
I drove directly to my hotel, the Mantenga Lodge located in the tourist town of Ezulwini and had a relaxed night after dinner.
The following morning I started a tour of the sights.
This candle factory and shop is off the main road set in a dirt parking lot with a couple of higher end shops and craft markets. They are famous for using the “millefiore” technique (the same used by the glassmakers of Venice) to create their colorful candles.
There is also a workshop where you can watch these artists create candles right in front of you.
The National Museum is quite small but does have a few interesting displays of the culture and history of Swaziland. There is also an example of traditional huts outside the museum building.
King Sobhuza II Memorial Park
This memorial area is dedicated to the late King Sobhuza II, the Chief and later King of Swaziland once they achieved independence, with a rule of 82 years. The park is laid out in a rectangular shape, with the entrance, a royal residence, the mausoleum, and a small museum set on the corners. An eternal flame is in the center along with a statue of the King near the residence.
The residence seemed to be used as a storage room when I took a look. The mausoleum is guarded by a soldier and no pictures are allowed here. The small museum mostly displays the three vehicles owned by the King which all seem to be in good shape.
The ticket from the National Museum includes entrance into this park.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
From there I continued my trip towards the most visited and first protected area of Swaziland.
After paying an entrance fee, you can enter with your own car on decent roads and explore the park at will. They don’t have big game but I did spot several monkeys, hippos, crocodile, impalas, kudos, warthogs and plenty of birdlife. There are also options to stay overnight in lodges at the park.
Off the main road is a large market with all sorts of souvenirs, such as paintings, carvings, and even tourist T-shirts. I bought mine here.
Mantenga Nature Reserve
This park has a Swazi Cultural Village, a traditional dance show and the Mantenga Falls. Entrance is E50.
Only 1 km from Mantenga Lodge, I arrived just in time for their the sibhaca dance show at 3:15 PM. I ordered a beer, sat back and watched the women and men stomp their feet and perform their traditional Swazi dance in full costume. The men were full of motion and powerfully stomped to a drum beat, while the women sang softly with smooth movements. It was interesting and entertaining.
The dance was followed by a tour of the living village. A guide took us through the culture, architecture, and living habits of the villagers. The huts we saw were actually inhabited by staff from the park.
I found the examples of the male dominated culture to be interesting. A man can remarry many times but if he dies his wives go to his brother to take care of. Men also exclusively eat the head and feet of a cow because if women did, they will get smarter by eating the head and run away by eating the feet.
Our guide also pointed out the cliff in the distance where people who committed crimes or witchcraft are forced to jump from. Talk about swift justice.
After the tour I had a look at the waterfall which apparently has crocodiles now, so swimming is prohibited.
Incwala is a ritual for the King of Swaziland. Men come from around the country and even internationally to show their respect to the king with dance in traditional costume. The King also dances at this event.
I stopped by the royal palace grounds because I heard rumors that the Incwala Ceremony would take place today. When I arrived at the gate, a police officer wielding an AK-47 told me to come back tomorrow at 10 a.m. As I drove away, truck after truck carrying men dressed in traditional costume were arriving.
The next morning I returned at the suggested time and found the place to be quite empty. I parked in an empty grass lot and walked up to the gates only to be denied entry because I didn’t have a permit for my camera. So I returned it to my car.
I walked up to the event area which was very heavily guarded with military and police officers all armed with rifles and automatic weapons. On the walk up I chatted with two men in traditional dress. One was from South Africa and it was his first time attending.
In the main area there were many different camp areas set up for different groups such as the military, paramedics, police, and even a tourist information section.
While I stood there, a random person came up to me and shook my hand. He then took me for a tour of the areas including the kitchen where crowds of people were waiting for food. He pointed out where they slaughter the cow for dinner. The food line was quite disorganized but somehow people managed to get their bowls of pap, chicken and beans. In the corner was a deep 10 ft hole dug out, used as a garbage pit.
Young boys, old men and teenagers all came up to me with a smile and wanted to shake my hand. They asked where I was from and laughed that I wasn’t wearing their traditional clothing.
I walked around the area and saw the fenced off grounds where the King’s quarters are. Then my impromptu guide sat with some friends to eat lunch. I took the opportunity to head out as I had a long drive ahead of me.
Unfortunately I would not be able to witness the famed dance on this visit.
On the way to the border I made a quick stop in the capital city. Mbabane is named after a chief that lived in the area when the British arrived. It is the largest city of the country, but quite small and slow paced. Not a main tourist city, there wasn’t too much of interest.
A quick drive from Mbabane and I arrived at the border, entering South Africa for the third time this trip. I was headed to Lesotho.