Swaziland is one of the smallest countries in Africa and one of only half a dozen countries in the world which is still an absolute monarchy. An absolute monarchy, is a monarchy where the king or queen has supreme power, not recognised by any laws. Swaziland has some interesting laws and deeply cultural traditions. The current ruler, King Mswati III is said to have at least 13 wives.
Hlane Royal National Park is Swaziland’s largest protected area, so protected that rangers are permitted to shoot and kill anyone suspected of poaching. Hlane, meaning ‘wilderness’ is a great place to see some big game and four of the ‘big five’ can be seen here. I was able to see three of them as the weather was bad and a large group of German tourists had taken all the spaces on the game drives, just like they take all the sun beds at popular holiday resorts.
The Transvaal Lions are easily seen here. These ones seemed quite domesticated, but after half an hour of relentless camera clicking one of them got sick and chased the safari truck. Seriously, how many pictures of a lion can one person take? You’re on safari, enjoy the moment with your own eyes not through the lens. I did get sone awesome shots though.
White Rhinos are in abundance at Hlane and can even be seen taking an afternoon nap just around the safari camp. These beasts were originally intended to be called ‘wide’ rhinos referring to the width of their mouths. The early English speaking settlers in Africa misinterpreted the word ‘wide’ for ‘white’. This led to it being named the white rhino and the other species with a smaller mouth, the black rhino. I can understand how this happened as a lot of African people can’t get their tongues around certain English words, my name being one of them – Jarry, Glary, Caarie, Jeery?
On an evening the staff at the campsite got changed into their traditional clothes to perform a dance for the white people. I personally hate stuff like this, especially when it involves audience participation. Some of the German tourists were so enthusiastic about it they got up and joined in, totally embarrassing themselves in the process. It was cringe worthy, but I was happy to sit and laugh rather than take part in the Swazi conga.
Swaziland has the highest density of people who have been struck by lightening in the world, even one of those early monarchs King Ndvungunye was killed by a lightening bolt. But what are the chances of lightening striking twice? If someone said that I’d see the world’s tallest terrestrial animal while on a training run, then again while trying to hitch a ride away from Hlane. I’d say ‘you’re having a giraffe!’
Just a twenty minute drive away from Swaziland’s capital Mbabane is the Ezulwini Valley. Known as the ‘Valley of Heaven’, it’s not hard to understand why. A lovely hike up to Sheba’s Breast from the valley takes a mere hour and a half. The trail passes through forest and grasslands where I spotted numerous whydahs and widow birds. Once on the nipple of the breast, you’re rewarded with amazing views of the valley.
The Cuddle Puddle is a hot mineral spring where many locals like to come for a day out. It’s quite a rowdy atmosphere, as there’s school parties and groups of drunk young men having diving competitions. When the white man turns up with his big camera, everyone seems to get super exited.
After a heavy night’s rain I still managed to drag myself to Mbabane for the weekly parkrun. At the end of the race I was asked to do an interview with a local sports journalist. The next day I only went and ended up in Times of Swaziland national news paper. With a population of only 1.2 million people, it really isn’t that hard to end up in the news. My feature was just underneath an article about a child’s judo competition and on this day the front page headline read ’12-year-old boy sent to juvenile correction facility after insulting grandmother’, told you Swaziland had some interesting laws.