Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for Swaziland

Click here to read the latest newsThe diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.

Countries visited so far: UK Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovak Republic Hungary Romania Bulgaria Greece Egypt Tanzania Malawi Mozambique South Africa Swaziland South Africa (again) Argentina Bolivia Peru Ecuador Vietnam China Mongolia Russia England

18th-19th Jan Swaziland
Mlilwane Nature Reserve
Lindsay and the Ostrich - Click to enlarge

On Sunday 18th January we travelled from Nelspruit into the Kingdom of Swaziland. We had decided to head for Sondzela, a backpackers' hostel in a nature reserve, where we had heard you could see hippos. The journey took five buses, but was actually surprisingly easy and comfortable by comparison with other journeys! Our journey ended with a walk of two or three kilometres along a dirt track to the entrance to the nature reserve.

Sondzela was amazing. We camped in the grounds of the hostel, and it was incredibly peaceful. Entertainment came in the form of a group (collective noun?? - suggestions welcome!) of ostriches. They were huge, prehistoric-looking and highly amusing. As we set up camp they came over to see what was going on and whether we had any food. They stalked up to us, looking at us with their huge, beady eyes and peering inside the tent. Esther kept her distance and laughed at them, while Tom fed them mangoes from a nearby tree, which they swallowed whole. They could have been cartoon animals as the huge fruits moved slowly down their long necks, creating a bulge like a massive swollen adams apple! There were warthogs there too, which were also fun to watch, although one gave me quite a fright when I foolishly poked my head into its hole to see if it was at home!

We spent a happy few hours walking around the 'Hippo Trail'. The countryside was beautiful, rolling and green, and there were hundreds of animals to see, just roaming free in the park. As we looked at a herd of impala close by, I notice through my binoculars a small herd of zebras in the distance. We saw several more groups of them, as well as nyala, kudu, wildebeest and another type of antelope which Tom thinks were sable antelope! At the lake we stopped talking and walked quietly, hoping to see hippos. It was a big lake and we knew we would be lucky to see them. Then we heard one! It was unmistakably a hippo noise; a sort of grunt, followed by the sound of the animal blowing water out of its nostrils. We were excited and a bit nervous. We carried on tentatively. At the end of the lake, where we had a good view of the whole lake, we stopped for our picnic lunch. Nick was scanning the surface of the water with his binoculars, and he said he could see something. Three hippos were wallowing in the shallow water 100m or so from us. We saw them surface several times while we ate. Although it was not a close-up view, and I'm not sure the children saw them properly, it was still very exciting!

21st January Swaziland
Myxo´s Cultural Village Tour
Meeting our hosts at the village - Click to enlargeOur experience of Swazi culture began on the night we arrived at Myxo´s Place, with a lesson in basic siSwati. We were quite excited to find that it is one of those intriguing languages which involves some clicking sounds made between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. Some words are pretty hard to say!

We left for the village at 7.30 from Myxo´s Backpackers. Sibali drove us and the three other people who were going with us (including Kirsty, from Scotland!) First we stopped at Manzini market where we had breakfast, our first taste of 'incwancwa' (both c's pronounces as clicks). It is a kind of porridge made of fermented sorghum or maize meal. It was rather sour tasting, but lots of sugar made it slightly more palatable, and we all ate some!

After breakfast we drove to the village, some 70km away. The place really was isolated, and high in the mountains. The views in all directions were spectacular, as though Swaziland was laid out in front of us. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful and, at night, totally dark. We stayed in traditional Swazi houses, like bee-hives made entirely out of grass.

First we were given an introduction to Swazi culture, given in 'grandmother's house' by Sibali. He explained various customs and answered our questions. Grandmother´s house is the central meeting point in any homestead, where meetings happen, disputes are settled and children take refuge from angry parents. Marriages are celebrated there. (On the subject of marriage, men can have as many wives as they like - or can afford, as for each he has to pay the family seventeen cows) In the house the women sat on the left and the men on the right, ready to fend off any marauding invaders, right hand first! Left-handed people (like me!) are considered defective. Many are forced to use their right hands, and left-handed girls are not worth as many cows as their right-handed sisters. I was glad I was leaving the following day!

We went for a walk around a nearby homestead. It was surprisingly authentic! We had expected some kind of show to be put on as is often the case on "cultural" excursions, but it was not like that at all. We just saw real people going about their daily lives. We were introduced to two old men, George (Titus) and Jerome. We were greeted and responded in siSwati, and were invited to sit with them. Men sat on wooden benches and women on the floor, on reed mats. We tried some home-brew, made from sorghum. It was a bit strange, and looked even stranger, but, as we found out later, is better if you drink it in the dark!

The children of the homestead were lovely. Obviously used to visitors to their home they were happy to interact with us and to play with Esther and Tom. They also showed us some impromptu traditional dancing, and even made up a dance "on the spot" for us!

Back at our homestead the fire was lit and the meal being prepared when we returned. It took hours! First, pumpkin leaves were cooked in a big pot on a tripod over the fire. Then the woman put that to one side and cooked some beans. There was also a pot of tomato and onion - a sort of sauce. By the time she was ready to cook the pap (maize meal porridge, the staple of their diet) it was dark, and several more people had arrived from the village. Maize was being cooked (corn-on-the-cob) by the fire, and we all shared it as a starter. It was an incredibly friendly and sociable environment, which we really enjoyed. We all had a go at stirring the pap as it thickened, which was very hard work. Then the men moved the biggest logs aside and barbecued steak and onions over the hot embers.

The meal was fantastic, eaten with fingers in the dark!

When the children had gone to bed the sorghum beer came out. Nick had ordered this and bought it from the men in the village. There was a small bucketful! In the dark it was somewhat more appetising, and everyone had at least a mug-full!

We slept well in our bee-hive house, although the cockerell woke us up at 5-ish! In the morning we dutifully ate our incwancwa for breakfast. Actually this time it was less sour and a bit nicer. Tom had three bowlfulls!

The best thing about the cultural tour was the authenticity of the experience. It was fantastic to meet people in such a genuine way. We shared food with them and chatted to them about their lives and ours. The older people didn´t speak English and the little bit of siSwati we knew was really necessary to greet them / say thank you etc. And the setting was so peaceful. We looked out over the African landscape knowing that we were at the home of an African tribe and clan who have lived there for generations. Home comforts were few, but the experience, priceless!

July 03August 03September 03October 03November 03
December 03January 04February 04March 04April 04
May 04June 04July 04August 04September 04

About Us | Diary | Maps | Photos | Email