Eswatini

2nd – 6th of May 2024:

At the Mozambique side of the border, there were free condoms available for travelers. This might be due to the incredibly high HIV-rate in Eswatini. At the moment it is the highest in the World. In the year 2005, 42% of the population was infected with the disease. Excluding kids and old people, even 63% were infected. After that, the infection rate decreased a bit, but was still at 27% for the people between 15-49. For a while in 2005, the life expectancy was at 42.5 years and there the lowest worldwide.

To enter Eswatini, it took not even five minutes and when we played the national anthem using our speaker, we started to chat with two police women. Proudly, they sang the national anthem and flirted with us at the same time. After a few pictures together, we cycled a few kilometers and found a flat spot directly next to the road, despite the steep terrain around us.

Already in the night, fog covered the hills around us and the humidity transformed our tent into a dripstone cave. In the morning, everything was wet and water dropped down on us. In the first village, we met a German couple, which travels around southern Africa by car. It was a nice surprise, since they travelled around the World by bicycle as well some years ago. We enjoyed the long descent until we reached a plane, where sugar cane fields covered a huge area. Far away, we saw a production facility for ethanol and sugar.

Shortly after, we cycled through Hlane-Royal-national park. This is one of six national parks in the small country. The territory used to be a private hunting ground for the kings of Eswatini. From some distance, we even saw a giraffe.

During our lunch break, we dried the completely wet tent and other things. We realized that in comparison to our time in Mozambique, we could talk to most people and ask questions when they come up. People in Eswatini are called Swazi and speak siSwati. English is the second official language and widely spoken.

Then we passed the international airport, which was named after the current king Mswati III. Eswatini is the only country in Africa with an absolute monarchy. The country has high depts and is almost broke due to the wastefulness of the king. There is a 2-lane highway from the airport to the largest town Manzini. Since there is not much traffic, we could use the highway and skip the hilly main road. At a fuel station, we bought dinner and wanted to find a spot for the night. In this moment, Fabian was approached by an older lady, which owns a farm nearby. She invited us to stay with them. Peter, her son even picked us up. We could stay in the beautiful guest house. After a shower and a beer at the pool, Lee showed us the cattle, the poultry production and the settlement for the more than 100 employees. In a cooled box, we were given groceries, so we could cook ourselves. We enjoyed the great surprise and the hospitality.

After a calory-rich breakfast with lots of bacon and egg, we said goodbye to the family and were driven back to the fuel station. From there, we continued cycling on the highway, so the hills were less steep than on the main road.

Then, we left the highway and the region was suddenly dominated by agriculture. There were fields of pineapple and sugar cane. Before we entered a gravel road, we bought groceries. A few minutes later, we checked in at the Sondzela Backpackers. This accommodation offers a campground directly next to the Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Already when we cycled to the accommodation, we saw wild boar, a blue wildebeest and many bunt bocks.

After a plate of spaghetti, prepared in the common kitchen, we walked the “Hippo trail” in the Game Reserve. In the beginning, we were exposed to the sun. Afterwards, the trail led us along a stream and then into a gorge. At the end of the 7 km long hike, we arrived at a lake. Suddenly, we saw several crocodiles in the water. From above, we could perfectly see the up to 3 meters long reptiles. In addition, we saw a dead cow in the water and a few large turtles.

Before breakfast, we started a conversation with tour guides of a travel group. The men lead a group of 20 handicapped tourists through southern Africa. In total, they offer this tours in 12 different countries and make it possible for them to travel. There was even a scientific study about the non-profit project, which showed positive and long-lasting effects for the participants. Despite that, it is challenging to raise funds for this awesome project. After this interesting exchange, we were invited for breakfast by the lovely group.

In the morning, we enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere around the hostel. In the early afternoon, we continued cycling into the mountains of the small country. Eswatini is about half the size of Switzerland and after the Gambia the second smallest country on the African continent. Only 1.2 million people live in Eswatini and a quarter of them live in cities.

Due to the size of the country and the many climbs until the south African border, we started cycling in the afternoon on purpose. After a few kilometers, the landscape got hillier. When we finished a long climb, we already cycled up to 1000 meters above sea level and a long descent followed. Therefore, we accumulated around 900 meters of ascent during only 30 km. In a small village, we were surprised about the many shops and for unusually large supermarket. In the previous countries, the choice of groceries would have been completely different.

Our last night in Eswatini or Swaziland was one of the coolest so far. Eswatini changed its name from Swaziland in 2018. The was changed besides other reasons due to the similarity with Switzerland. Close to over wild camping spot, farmers met in the early morning to remove ticks from their livestock. On the way back, some of the famers visited us. They were interested in what we are doing and were surprised that we are not scared alone like this.

The landscape was still hilly up to the border and like that, we collected many more meters of ascent. The border was very quiet. Luckily, we found a woman who sold boiled sweet potatoes, peanuts and bananas. Therefore, we could get rid of our last local coins. The currency in Eswatini is called Lilangeni. Eswatini is part of the Common Monetary Area together with South Africa, Namibia and Lesotho. All currencies are coupled 1:1 to each other. In addition, the South African Rand can be used in Eswatini but not vice versa.

While we ate the snacks, we had a pleasant conversation with the woman, a taxi driver and his friend. Afterwards, we got our exit stamp in record time. The border police was very friendly and interested in our journey.

Before we entered Eswatini we read that Eswatini is one of the poorest countries in the world and many people need international food supplies to survive. During our short stay of not even four days, we had a completely different picture. In comparison to Mozambique, the infrastructure was way better and the education seemed to be on a good level. People were interested, friendly and in a good mood. Therefore, we are going to keep this short stay in very good memory.

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