Alex and I set off for Swaziland in search of elevation change. After 8 months in Mapinhane, where the most drastic change in elevation is from the sandy ground to the tops of the coconut palms, we were ready to have to crane our necks a bit, ready to feel dwarfed, ready to have to do actual physical work in order to sweat.
After stopping through Namaacha to visit our host mother from training, we travelled about 2 hours to arrive in Mbabane, Swaziland. It was already dusk and after finding a room a few kilometers outside of town, we returned to the town center for dinner. Some time passed with me in a bit of reverse culture shock trance, walking quickly around the extremely clean streets of Mbabane in the shadow of a beautiful mall, wondering where all the trash was, as Alex followed, asking, “Where are you going? Slow down!”
Eventually I snapped out of it.
But really, after 10 months in Mozambique, Mbabane felt like the U.S.
The next day, deciding there wasn’t much to do right in Mbabane, we headed 8 kilometers south the the Ezulwini Valley. With our big travel backpacks, we hiked around yet another beautiful mall, and the American Embassy, up a hill, around a corner, following the signs to the grounds of Legend’s Backpackers. We set up our tent in their large camping area, where we stayed for the next two nights.
The next day we paid 25 Rand to hike Sheba’s Breast, starting the trail out of nearby Ludwala Backpackers. Along with Legend’s, I would recommend Ludwala’s for clean, comfortable, budget lodging in the Ezulwini Valley.
The trail up to Sheba’s Breast climbed and climbed, immediately satisfying our desire for uphillyness and physical exertion. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the top and about an hour to come down.
The next day we set off again on foot toward Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. To get there without a private vehicle meant a lot of walking: we took a local bus, called a Kombi, to the turnoff from the highway, then walked 3 kilometers to the entry gate. Here we paid 40 Rand per person to enter, and then walked another 3 kilometers to the Rest Camp, where all of the hiking trails start from. We bought a hiking map, chatted with the ranger’s, and set off for a few more hours of walking.
From the Rest Camp, we took the Hippo Trail to the turnoff for the Summit Trail and then followed the Summit Trail to a view point on the Machobane Trail, where we enjoyed a sweeping view of the valley. To return, we took the Reilly’s Rock Trail to the road, and turned off the road to follow the Shallow’s Trail back to the Rest Camp. Along the way, we stopped to watch warthog, impala, monkeys, and zebra.
After hiking about 10 kilometers in the park, we ate a popsicle and started our trek back out to the highway, taking the night road this time between the Rest Camp and the entrance to shorten the distance to about 1 kilometer.
Now about halfway through our time in Swaziland, we spent the evening at the Cuddle Puddle Hot Springs, where we rejuvenated our legs, unaccustomed to such hiking by now, and met a friendly Israeli couple that agreed to give us a lift the next day to our final Swazi stop: Malolotja Nature Reserve.