Tuesday Begins our long adventure north into the African bush: we pass through Swaziland on our way to Kruger, Mpumalanga province and Victoria Falls before descending to Cape Town. It’s a long drive so Karen and Naftali have arranged for us to layover one night in Swaziland’s Mlilwani Wildlife Sanctuary before pushing on to Kruger.
But first we must cross the border into Swaziland… and Naftali and Karen – both immigrants to South Africa – don’t have their proof of residency, so it takes some polite persistence to get past South Africa’s dour border agent. But our hosts are up to the test and eventually we drive around the corner to Swaziland’s entry point, repeat the passport process and are on our way with the 12th stamp in our shiny new passports.
Swaziland has been inhabited for over 100,000 years, it’s easy to see why as the lovely green hills roll past. As we make our way north on good roads past the Great Usutu River, Malkerns and Ezulwini Valleys to Mlilwane, I have some time to skim the history and politics… tribal wars and migrations pushed the Dlamini king into the Swazi heartland in the 18th century. Resisting Zulu pressures, they consolidated the kingdom and by the 19th century faced the newer challenge of European farmers, hunters, traders and missionaries. British and Boer chipped away until the British vanquished the Boers in the 2nd Boer war in 1902. Some savvy negotiations allowed them to achieve independence in 1968 and form a constitution in 73… but eventually that morphed into a traditional absolute monarchy. The current king Mswati has a bad reputation for being a spendthrift autocrat and for failing to address HIV/Aids, which infects ¼ of the population here.
None of that seems to matter as we enter bucolic Mlilwani Wildlife Sanctuary. Past the gate and into the grassland we’re greeted by wildebeest and warthog, blesbok and zebra, and an 8-foot termite hill. At camp, we settle into our hut – a big, comfortable 2-room rondavel, with a broad porch carved out and large fire pit and enclosure out front. The boys tear off to the very large pool while Sue photographs the warthogs and nyala in our yard. The camp has no firewood for sale “because it rained yesterday” (and apparently, tarps don’t exist here), so I gather damp down wood, scrounge some dry tinder and kindling, find a smoldering log from a nearby camp fire and fashion the mix into a veritable bonfire… hot enough to generate a small mountain of coals that survives the afternoon’s intermittent rain showers. As the sun sets we gather on our porch for dinner then enjoy some wine and smores over by the campfire before bed.