Since Swaziland and Lesotho are two very small countries within South Africa, I decided to combine blog entries. Perhaps it’s a bit insulting to lump the two small countries into one blog post, but to be honest, I didn’t get to spend enough time in each country to warrant stand-alone entries.
Swaziland has beautiful and scenic valleys and mountainous rock outcrops. Like many African countries, adrenaline junkies can get a fix here. From canopy tours to mountaineering to whitewater rafting, there are a whole host of activities that I wish I had been able to do. We stayed at the Lidwala Backpackers, which was a very cute, rustic and secluded in the Ezulweni Valley, the most scenic place in the Kingdom.
We took full advantage of all of the plush chill spots at the lodge and vegged out in front of some DSTV…we were even able to catch some of the NCAA March Madness, which thrilled us two sports fans. Sadly for me though, it was part of the Big East tournament, not my favorite. But NCAA basketball in Swaziland?! Fine by me. We did a bit of hiking around the property but nothing too advantageous.
While in Swaziland, we had one of the best dinners I had in a long time. STEAK. As many of y’all know, I love steak. This was certainly a special treat and I was very happy to get some real meat and veg in my system. I don’t think I had any vegetables and very few fruits since we left Shannon in Ghanzi, so for the better part of two days, it was the standard bus buffet of biscuits, crisps and sweets, which, of course, are all very good for your digestive tract as well as your teeth.
Ben worked for a fair trade shop throughout college and one of the goods the store featured was a line of up-market cosmetics made from marula oil, called Swazi Secrets. I had never heard of Swazi Secrets or marula oil, but Ben really wanted to see the warehouse and workshop since we were in Swaziland after all. Ben got in contact with the owner/director, a charming and silly British fellow, John, and arranged for a private tour on Sunday morning since the factory was closed on Sunday.
The next morning, we checked out and headed toward the factory, which was about 15 kilometers or so away. John picked us on the side of the road and drove us to the factory. Once at the factory, we had a very thorough tour of all aspects of the brand, starting with the basics of what exactly is marula oil.
The Swazi women collect the marula nuts, which grow on trees, and brew a beer from them through a fermentation process. But before they brew the beer, they sell the nuts to Swazi secrets and those working at the factory extract the oil from the nuts. Marula oil has a lot of vitamins and nutrients, like vitamin E, which helps soothe dry skin and lock in moisture. A funny aspect about the marula nut is that elephants eat them and get drunk—seriously, drunk elephants. If you watch a lot of Animal Planet, Discovery Channel or National Geographic, chances are you’ve seen a clip of the drunk elephants.
But back to the tour: Swazi Secrets is very adamant about leaving very little by-product waste, so even once the oil is extracted and pressed from the nut, the leftover gritty bits are used in the exfoliating creams. Some of their products that use marula oil are lip balm, soap and then the oil itself is quite nice. We were able to sample some of the oil and it really penetrates the skin and refreshes it, very hydrating.
The cosmetics are so effective and popular, Elle UK magazine featured them as a winner during their annual “best of the best”-type rankings. Cosmetics that not only make you feel good but do good as well.
After the tour (and purchasing an assorted bundle of products, which was at wholesale price as well as packaged in a hand-woven basket), we asked John what the best way to get to Durban would be; we were already about halfway to Durban, but we had no idea what the public transport would be like. We decided earlier that if we could get to the border, then certainly we would be able to hitch with someone to Durban.
I know, you may think, “Hitchhiking? In Africa?! No. Way.” But Ben has it down to a science—only go with families or women. Sounds easy enough. And of course, always offer to contribute to petrol.
Our luck kept finding us: One of John’s employees at Swazi Secrets was headed toward the border that very afternoon and offered us a lift. Wow, were we in luck! The hour-and-a-half drive through Swaziland to the southeastern border with South Africa was absolutely stunning. Sugar cane plantations, lakes, rivers, escarpments and dramatic cloud formations entertained us throughout the ride. We were very grateful for the kindness we experienced so far in Swaziland.
When we reached the border, our new friend waited until we had secured transport to Durban, and the border patrol people were very helpful in finding us a driver/travel companion. We ended up accompanying a Swazi med school student who studies in Durban, Frances. She actually was very happy to have company because she was a very nervous driver (and told us several times, lolz). We had a lot of good chats and were able to get some tips about where to go and what to see in Durban.
The roads throughout South Africa and Swaziland were impeccable—there were several times when I had to remind myself I wasn’t in Europe or the US—they’re that good.
Sorry to be switching gears and locations rapidly, but the next bit is about Lesotho, another tiny, mountainous country surrounded by South Africa. We figured out how to get to Lesotho by leaving Durban (will blog about Durban in the next post) and heading to Bloemfontein, South Africa. From Bloemfontein, it was about three hours to Lesotho.
The only snag we had in exploring this beautiful little nation was the bus schedule. We left Bloemfontein at 6 a.m. and arrived at the capital, Maseru, around 9 a.m. The problem was that the next bus back to Bloemfontein would be at 11 a.m. We were planning on taking an overnight bus from Bloemfontein to Cape Town that evening, so we couldn’t afford to struggle to get back to Bloemfontein. Unfortunately, we spent all of two hours exploring Maseru.
We were able to see some of the sites and a market before we crossed the border back to South Africa. Two hours for a passport stamp…some may say I’m crazy but I say why not? It was a little bit of a letdown to spend so little time in Lesotho (and the border patrol thought we were pretty nuts as well).
But in hindsight, I do not regret visiting Lesotho. I now know that for both Lesotho and Swaziland, these interesting destinations deserve at least three days to explore thoroughly. Pony trekking is the main draw for Lesotho, and it looks and sounds absolutely splendid. Something to do next time…
Now off for a post about Durban and after that, the many adventures of Cape Town!