And so off we went, yet in another tiny, white combi which we spotted waiting on a random street corner in Maputo. We loaded our bags, paid the man and sat cramped in the backseat, watching the street and feeling the morning get hotter and hotter until we started our bumpy ride to the Swazi border.
The minibuses (or combis, if you prefer that) are the single thing that I shall never miss about Africa. My sweaty arm stuck to Rich's- it was impossible to stretch your legs or to sit with your shoulders straight whilst the driver sped down the road, obviously, like every African driver, wanting to break the world record for speed as well as discomfort.
Crossing the border was a breeze; however, after driving down the Swazi side for a few minutes, we got stopped by the border control police. Not unsual in itself, but the items they were looking for was: clothes. The guy looked at my dusty backpack suspiciously, wanting to know what was inside. Usually, in these situations, I have no idea what the correct answer is- I've come across places where they check you for the oddest things, and I always answer wrong. So I said, clothes, thinking it was fairly innocent and normal, and the guy's face became very intent. New clothes? No, not new. You sure? Pretty sure, yes. Hmm. I opened the top of my bag with my old toiletries bag and a manky towel. He moved over to the next person, (possibly because of the towel, deciding it was not worth venturing further inside) who rapidly started unpacking piles of used winter coats from a black binliner, as the border control counted each one. Maybe there's a limit as to how many used winter coats you can bring into Swaziland; it would certainly explain why the man was in a hurry to sell one of the coats to a female passenger just before crossing over.
Three years ago, I spent a week in Swaziland, because I had a cold and decided to sleep it off there. I remember visiting an orphanage where an acquintance was working; I drove down to a waterfall and did some shopping, but that was pretty much it. This time around, I mainly went along because Rich had never been to Swazi, and I also wanted to do some shopping. I really wanted to like Swaziland- even the name sounds far-flung and exotic. The truth is, though, that it really is not that interesting. Most people come out of curiosity, or to get their passports stamped, or, like me, to shop for crafts.
And so we shopped. After a frustrating day of trying to find Manzini market, famous for its cheap prices, we finally found it, and I picked up a few things, but even the market had changed in my mind- it wasn't as big or good as I'd remembered. Interestingly, many of the bracelets had the words "Swazi secret" spelt on them- it's also the name of the tourism advertising campaign. I went for the soapstone carvings instead. After we moved hostels more towards the Ezulwini Valley, we also spotted a huge crafts market along the main road to Mbabane. I got very very excited, and after a day of looking around Mbabane (nothing much there, except more markets) we decided on a day of indulgance- first, I got pizza, and second, I got a proper coffee and a cheesecake, followed by a trip to the markets.
(Cheesecake's a bit of a thing for me. I cannot pass a cheesecake shop without trying one; it's like an addiction. This one, in Mbabane of Swaziland, was, maybe slightly unexceptedly, incredibly good.)
At the hostel that night, I chatted to a few Swazi ladies who worked there, and somewhere along the lines we decided that we should all take part in the tradtional reed dance festival, and try to marry the Swazi king who picks another girl from the bunch each year, and marries her. It's a great honour and a position many girls aspire to. Elaine, the girl working at the hostel, told me how she'd taken part a couple of times in the last few years, but the competition was always fixed- the king would know, or he'd been advised beforehand on who to pick. I asked the girls if they knew how many wives the king had and most of them didn't know, but the guesses ranged between 12 to 100. They were, though, scrutinising the pictures of the most beautiful and prominant princesses, who pretty much made up the gossip column in the local paper. The girls joked that a lot of people were indeed somehow connected to the royal family, perhaps unsurprisingly.
We left Swaziland on an identical minibus to the one that we'd arrived on, and as the driver attempted suicide on the narrow roads to South Africa, I looked at the rolling green hills, dotted with houses and cows, and I had a feeling I hadn't seen the best of the country. However, I can't see myself returning for the third time- despite being told that Swaziland is full of secrets, to my disappointment, I never found a single one.