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krisek Mbabane - A travel report by Krys
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Mbabane,  Swaziland - flag Swaziland
10775 readers

krisek's travel reports

The Kingdom of Love and Respect

  11 votes
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The country is small, so I tagged this report to its capital city, although you will find description of places in the capital’s vicinity. I went to Swaziland in the winter, and it was cold. But it was a great discovery.

Swazi village of Mantenga
Swazi village of Mantenga
The only second surviving kingdom on the African continent is looking like it will actually last forever. The last king Sobhuza II, had been until his death in 1982, the longest reigning monarch in the world, and was the one, who secured Swaziland’s independence without a single drop of blood shed in the process. His incomparable charisma and respect of his people made the monarchy ever strong in Swaziland, at least that was my impression. Now, the reigning monarch, one of the Sobhuza II’s six hundred children, formerly known as Prince Makhosetive, who became King Mswati III in 1986 at the age of 18 years, continues with the long standing tradition of peace and love.

Mbabane is the kingdom’s official capital city because the government sits here, however the parliament and the king’s village are located in different places. I only had a quick drive through the city and, apart from it being modern place without any particularly distinguishing features, it has nothing to offer. Not even in tourist terms. The governmental office blocs were grotty, ugly and looked like underinvested and long forgotten hospital buildings erected in the seventies of the last century. I was out of there in no time.

Lobamba with the Parliament building and the King Sobhuza II Memorial is the true capital of Swaziland. At least this is what it is spiritually, I was being told. There, the nation’s history is depicted in the national museum, which also shows stuffed animals from the country and three motor vehicles, which were used by Sobhuza II. I truly hate museums, but since I wanted to see the traditional beehive-like houses, I got in and did not regret a thing. The King Sobhuza II Memorial, which was still being completed, had additional expositions, as it was too challenging to fit them in the museum. And the Swazi people believe that these things are magical and should not be exposed to a mass public eye. Photography of the memorial was forbidden when I visited.

Favourite spots:
Mlilwane's giraffe
Mlilwane's giraffe
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, near Mbabane, is a small natural reserve created in 1950's by Ted Reilly. The game in the park is not large or plentiful but one can get very close to the animals.

I went on a game drive. My favourite find was a five meter tall giraffe. It was gorgeous and not afraid of the camera. It was the first time that I saw a giraffe dark like that. It was such a pity that weather was not good and the pictures were a bit dark and grey.

I loved a viewpoint near the reserve. From the top of the mountains, I could see a large part of the Valley of Hotels, the Mantenga Falls, and the Mantenga Village. As a bonus, I could also have a closer look at the execution mountain, which was used in the past to punish criminals, mostly murderers. They were escorted to the top and asked to jump. The escorting party carried spires with them just in case the criminals needed an extra encouragement to jump from the top.

What's really great:
Swazi girls
Swazi girls
The village of Mantenga is a very tourists orientated piece of art, or semi-art, with a singing and dancing show performed with an effort and a very short tour around a few traditional beehive shape reed houses. I must have spent an hour there, watching some traditional dancing, which, as I later found out, was delivered by a team of people who do such performance on official occasions. That included events organised by the royal family or the kingdom’s government.

It was a fine spectacle of girls shooting their legs high in the air followed by half naked men doing the same thing, but holding a twig in their hands at the same time. I could see some emotion in it, as well. Although it was very artificial, I did fully appreciate this cultural showpiece. I think it is important there are tourist who want to see this. It makes the locals learn all the cultural and traditional singing and dancing, and as an award it provides them with some income as well.

Mantenga Falls
Mantenga Falls
The name Mantenga is associated with many things in Swaziland and they are all located next to each other. It is a lodge, a village, a mountain and a waterfall. I went there to see the waterfall, but ended seeing the village, which was a good thing in fact.

The Mantenga Falls are so overrated. The fall is only average and the location is not hugely picturesque. For a small country like Swaziland, however I am sure it is a big deal, and had I come in a rainy season, it might have been more dramatic. The descent to the falls was more interesting because of the bushes and a small forest, which many monkeys inhabited making all the noise of the world, but did not want to be photographed. I guess they were a little vulnerable, because they had offsprings around. Anyway, it was a good hike, and since I enjoy the outdoors so much, I will remember this is as a very good day.

King's Memorial
King's Memorial
There were two accommodation options in the sanctuary - Sondzela Backpackers and Mlilwane Rest Camp. The latter was more luxurious and had a restaurant. Both places have very friendly staff, who could arrange the whole range of activities in the reserve and beyond.

Ezulwini Valley means the Valley of Heaven, but in reality, it means the Valley of Hotels. It is filled with top range hotels and casinos. I struggled to see anything else there but commerce, commerce, commerce. There are so many of the hotels. I will not quote any of them. Just beyond the valley there were a number of backpackers lodges. I had a list when I came, but noted that some had either closed or moved locations. Taxi drivers do not always know how to find them, but once you get to one of them, they will happily assist you in finding the others, and even will call to find out if there are spaces available!

At night, the lodges get lively and fire is made. It is used for cooking food and keeping warm. On Friday, when it got really cold and weather did not let any sunshine in, it was a great idea. I sat at the campfire and relaxed. It felt like the old times when I was spending chilly summer nights in the mountains in Poland when I was a kid. The difference was that in Swaziland they were burning whole tree trunks!

Staying at backpackers unmistakably means meeting travellers who are often globetrotters. They have magnificent stories to tell and most importantly the hints where to travel so one can have some more stories to tell of their own. In Africa, those backpackers places, I mean their bars, are often the best places to socialise with both locals and the travellers. This was the case in South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and here - in Swaziland.

There are few real hangouts in Swaziland or near Mbabane to be precise. Again, I would claim that the best places to spend time in the country and meet people is in the wildlife reserves and around backpackers lodges. Contrary to general belief, many locals come and visit these - not only for work, but also to socialise with the visitors. Also, Swaziland is for trekking in the mountains and seeing wildlife, so apart from modern shopping malls and similar commercial centres, there aren't any classical hangouts around. Unless one would like to practice golf - there is a reportedly good course in the Elzuwini Valley.

Swazi village
Swazi village
The Mlilwane rest camp restaurant, The Hippo Haunt, was very great. People from around the country would come to dine there. Often, they would order a special bonfire night to be organised for special occasions. The food was freshly prepared and delicious. The staff was eager and really, genuinely friendly. And talkative!

At a shopping complex in the Ezulwini Valley I spotted the Quatermain's Restaurant & Pub. They had an entire range of things on the menu, and the only game-like food was the ostrich steak. How lucky was that?! I was looking for a restaurant where I could have the ostrich steak. Although, I debated a little over the menu and asked a few questions about what I could potentially order, but in the end, it was the ostrich! It was good, but I had better before. It was of a good size and the service was prompt, so I would recommend the place. I cannot remember the prices, but it was not cheap - slightly above average.

Published on Wednesday February 13th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:53 PM rating by alfonsovasco

now i know about this tiny country

Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 05:26 AM rating by magsalex

Beautiful report!

Wed, Feb 13 2008 - 11:14 AM rating by rangutan

Well and beautifully described, similar to my memories of this little kingdom and it's uncomplicated peaceful people.

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