This is the seventh post about my trip to South Africa to volunteer with Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) in May/June 2019. The first three covered the volunteer projects I worked on, the rest are about the activities, tours, safaris and places visited. I spent time in three countries – South Africa, Swaziland (now called eSwatini) and Mozambique.
Once we finished our week of volunteer projects we had the opportunity to participate in included and optional activities. I took advantage of everything offered, I don’t expect to get back to that part of the world, so I made sure I saw and did as much as I could while there.
The night before we left Saint Lucia for Swaziland (which is now officially eSwatini as the King changed the country’s name) I had to start taking my anti-malaria pills. As Mozambique is in the malaria zone it seemed the safe thing to do. You have to start the drug I was taking two days prior to arriving and continue a week after you leave. Luckily I didn’t suffer any side-effects – I also do not appear to have malaria so that was a win-win.
We left Saint Lucia and BiBs Backpackers close to 9 a.m. in the morning. It was a three hour drive to the border, then another three hours to our destination. While we were assembling at the buses, and the luggage was being loaded up, one of the VESA leaders was yelling every few minutes to keep your passports on your person as we would be needing them along the way. She kept it up and then came around to each bus to make sure everyone heard her and had their passports (this is called foreshadowing…)
We stopped once for snacks and toilets, then around noon reached the border.
We all had to get off the buses, WITH OUR PASSPORTS, and walk through the customs buildings for both countries. Through the South African Border Control, then through the gate, and walk over to the Swazi customs office and line-up to be processed. All the passport stamps still say Swaziland I noticed; guess bureaucracy takes time to change.
The buses went through separately and were on the other side when we got there. This is where the reason for the foreshadowing becomes clear…
One of the leaders shows up agitated and needs to talk to the others. One of the volunteers packed his passport in his luggage which was loaded in a trailer… the one trailer that wasn’t an enclosed one, it was the one that had the tarp wrapped and tied down over it. Sigh…
So they had to wait for his friend who knew what his stuff looked like to be processed, so he could find the bag. It took a bit of time but we were all relaxing and eating the packed lunch (everyone else was, I had to eat my snacks.)
Then we all got back on the buses and continued on our way. Swaziland is very nice and tidy and more prosperous looking than the part of South Africa we had been in. There were miles and miles and miles of sugar cane, and dozens of trucks full of it heading to the plant. There was also a haze of smoke from the harvesting.
Geologically it appeared to be surrounded by basaltic rock ridges… I asked one of our leaders if it was sitting on a volcanic plateau, they had no idea. I actually was a little disappointed in the complete lack of commentary or information from our VESA guides after we left Saint Lucia.
There was a lot of infrastructure projects going on – highway improvements, etc.
I was very impressed with the country. It appeared relatively prosperous and clean. All the cars and vehicles were spotlessly clean and in excellent condition no matter how old they were. I saw the twin to my first ever car – 1998 model, and it was in absolute mint condition! The cities and towns we passed through were pretty comparable to home to me.
On our itinerary we had a stop at a “traditional craft market.” I was a bit underwhelmed. Not sure what I was expecting but maybe more local colour for the tourists?
As usual with these places, most of them had exactly the same items as the others. You just had to walk around to find the cheapest price and then haggle. I did find a couple hand-carved wooden fridge magnets (I’d also bought a few magnets in Saint Lucia.) That is the only real souvenir that I bother with nowadays, with a few exceptions.
Then once everyone was finished shopping we loaded up to head to our destination.
It was getting dark by then and we actually arrived at the gates to the game reserve in the dark. So we really didn’t get a look at anything until the morning.
We were staying at the Sondzela hostel which was inside the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a predator free game park and runs some programs to breed endangered antelope.
We got assigned to our accommodation and then had to find it… in the dark… That was interesting. We were warned to watch where we stepped as animals roam freely. Okay then, glad it was predator free!
I got up pretty early – was just starting to lighten up, and went outside to look around. As I went out the door a warthog bolted between me and the door! Scared the bejeezus out of me!
This was my “hut”… wow! Pretty cool – except for the no toilet part. There was a sink… I made it work.
I then walked around taking some photos. It was very quiet and peaceful.
There were animals about too!
Warthogs were all over the place! Lots of us sat on the deck by the pool watching them. There was a little one who wouldn’t stop teasing the biggest one! Was really fun to watch them playing.
The main lodge contained a lounge and kitchen as well as more rooms. A lot of the group was housed in there, as well as another house (25 slept there). I got lucky to get the hut for myself. There was some nice art in the main lodge – particularly some batik work. This one really caught my eye.
This shot is looking down the hill from the Lodge gate. That’s the direction I went on my safari later.
There were several optional activities to choose from and all but one were extremely physical – rock climbing, white water rafting, mountain biking, etc. I chose to go on the safari – in a Land Cruiser. I was there to SEE things!
We were picked up at the Lodge gate and headed out. Our guide/driver, Cava, was really knowledgeable and I finally got the answers to my geologic questions! Yes, it is volcanic! We stopped first at the main compound to pay for the safari, then we headed out. There was a display of snares that had been collected hanging by the side of the road.
Cava was great – running commentary about Swaziland, the animals, the park, history, conservation, government, etc. The animals here are not nervous and pretty much ignore the vehicles and people so you can get quite close to them.
These are Burchell’s Zebras – they have that brownish stripe between the black stripes. This is the only species of zebra I saw the whole trip.
Typical equines – put their ears back the second you hit the button!
Here’s a selection of antelope… I honestly tried to get the names of each species but there are so many listed I was having a hard time trying to identify them all, so enjoy the images! What I am sure of is that the centre two photos are of a Wildebeest aka Gnu, and the very bottom right corner are Springboks.
Then we went up to their current breeding program for the Roan Antelope. They were hunted to the edge of extinction as they are one of the largest and meatiest of the species. The program here started with breeding stock they were able to get from a Czechoslovakian zoo and now the species has been reintroduced to its native habitats as well to game parks around the world.
There were lots of termites mounds about. The bright red soil indicates a very high iron content.
We saw a fair number of birds too – song birds, Egyptian geese, grey herons, some water fowl, but I wasn’t able to get photos.
Cava called this tree a “sausage tree” which makes sense as those do look like the meat hanging in an Italian deli!
I saw some very nice vistas as we drove around the park for several hours. This is my favourite. In that body of water however… there are 25-30 Nile Crocodiles. So it is not a swimming hole.
That evening those of us going on the Mozambique trip had to have our luggage out at 9 p.m. to load, and be ready to leave at 11 p.m. So we only got one night in Swaziland. The rest of the group was spending the night and leaving in the morning for Johannesburg to fly home.
There were 15 of us continuing on, plus the VESA group leader, two guides from Mozambique and our driver. It was going to be a 12-hour drive through the night.
My next posts will cover the whole Mozambique experience and trip home.