Swaziland is a tiny Kingdom surrounded on all sides by South Africa. Ostensibly independent from South Africa, it relies heavily on its neighbor for tourism, interchangeably uses the Rand as its currency and, last week when it ran out of money (after the King purchased himself a new airplane of course), government loans. Last week’s cash infusion from South Africa totaled $21,000,000 Rand
The Kingdom is ruled by absolute authority by the King, depicted in art and sculpture as the Lion, and his Mother, depicted as the Elephant. The current King of Swaziland has 8 wives, all of whom have their own royal residences, so it makes perfect sense that rather than having to choose between 8 wives, he rules with his mother. The ultimate mama’s boy, really. Think Cersi from Game of Thrones.
We only spend one night in Swaziland, and spend it at the Mlilwane Wildlife Reserve. The first reserve to be established in the county (there are now several), we are led on a bird and wildlife walk by Sonnyboy. Yes, that’s his name and not a mistake.
Turns out birding is not my thing. Especially difficult without binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens, Sonnyboy spots birds at every turn, encouraging us to identify the colours of their heads, backs, throat and eyes (!), as well as the shape of the beak or tail until he identifies them by name and then shows us the photo in his well-worn ornithology book. The first 30 minutes of the walk covers less than 400 meters. I begin to think this will be a very long 3 hours indeed.
It shortly becomes clear to Sonnyboy that our group is not made up of keen birders – he just doesn’t get the enthusiasm from us that he’s expecting – and he begins to veer off into identifying trees and large animals.
Clearly we’re all here for the zebras because when we finally spot a harem of zebra, we begin to show the enthusiasm Sonnyboy has been searching for all along. Our group of 3 Brits, 2 Germans, 2 New Zealanders and we 2 Canadians take about a million photographs between us.
Crocodiles lazing in the sun, impala (identifiable by the “M” shaped markings on their bottoms – Lion McDonalds, says Sonnyboy and laughs), springboks, and warthogs are amazingly all around us. In fact, a family of warthogs joins us later by the fire and bury in close to the glowing embers. This is no typical Canadian campsite where the biggest invader is a chipmunk. Chipmunks steal your snacks but they rarely sink a tusk into your leg…
Termite mound. 1/3 of the mound is above ground, 2/3 of the mound is below.
As a result of the warthog invasion, the evening’s entertainment is moved to a spot farther away from the fire. It’s a traditional dance of some sort, but the performers don’t really seem into it…perhaps it’s because their costumes are sparse (one poor guy has only a springbok hide around his waist) and it’s really, really cold. We watch politely for a while, but when it becomes obvious they basically have one signature move – a clap behind a raised, outstretched leg, we drift away from the dancing and back to the fire and the sleeping warthog family, who are infinitely more interesting. It’s not a terribly good review of the performance.
All the fresh air and walking has made us tired so we return to our accommodations and turn in for the night. Because there are no windows in our hut, it is surprisingly, and welcomingly warm inside.
And although we don’t actually see them from our cozy Swazi hut, we fall asleep to the sounds of hippos snuffling outside our door.