While our flat tire adventure was exciting and ultimately cheap, it was time-consuming. My father was being cryptic as usual and I had no idea where we were bound until I saw us traveling in a new direction altogether. On we rode through townships and backroads until there was nothing but nature in all directions and tar in front of us. The roads were somewhat confusing but we made it through the border into Swaziland. Rolling into the Kingdom felt like a return to organized life. The roads were, as my father said, in better shape than those in Mozambique. The border crossing actually took us through a nature reserve, but not for long. Soon we were out and back into civilization.
The Kingdom of Swaziland, also known as Ngwane or Swatini, is a small land-locked country. It is only 120 miles from north to south, but boasts the rich cultural heritage of the Swazi people. Most know this land for two things, one good and one bad. The first is sugarcane, which seems to grow in every nook and cranny of the country; the other is HIV. Over 25% of its residents are infected with HIV, which has cut the nation’s life expectancy to a poor 49 years old.
The tires were looking good on the tar roads and I was enjoying the sweet smell of sugarcane in the air. The sun as out and with the occasional game reserve along the roads, we were able to spot ostriches, giraffe and other animals about. We continued to ride on into the afternoon and hit the city of Manzini. Somewhere along the road after that my dad realized that something was amiss since the GPS was telling us to go in a strange direction. As we pulled a U-turn back into Manzini I took a gander at the paper map. My dad said we should be pretty close to the southern border but I couldn’t find the major town anywhere near. Then I saw it: we had taken a wrong turn and were some 50kms off-course, dead center in the country.
We passed a couple of spots to stay, but my father was determined to find the correct road and once we were on it we had no intent to turn around. Yet again we found ourselves riding through rural lands devoid of accommodation or camping grounds and the sun was setting. Undeterred we road into the darkness and for what seemed like forever there was nothing all around us. Eventually we saw a sign for a lodge. Eager to find anywhere we stopped by a B&B, but they refused to house us saying they were full. We didn’t quite buy it but didn’t push our luck, either. We rode on toward the outskirts of a town called Big Bend. Finally we found a gas station with an adjacent motel. Pulling up the gate, I hopped off and looked around. There was no office and very few lights aside from some flickering by a small wall. Talk about creepy. I walked down closer to the petrol pumps and saw a reception sign.
Up the stairs I went and met a very kind, shy girl who was very kind and much to our joy stated there were rooms available. The room was spacious (well vertically anyway, but there was a problem with the lights. Beggars can’t be choosers though and I was getting a great vibe from the casual country hospitality. I waved my dad on in and a young, friendly man helped us take our things inside. He had a great sense of humor and seemed to be the first person genuinely interested in learning about us and our homeland.
We sorted out logistics and just as the electricity seemed to be improving the whole place was engulfed in darkness. There were no lights in our room, the hallway, the entire motel, or even the gas station. Most people abhor blackouts but I was ecstatic. Our cozy little place had just become that much more adventurous in spirit, and when I looked up at the immense sky all I could see was stars. Very few places in my life have had such an exquisite view of the night sky.
My father and I walked into the bar to have some drinks while they were still cold and to order up our dinner. Lucky for us they had a gas grill! We dined on curry in faint candlelight with some locals. For atmosphere the bartender had top hits playing from his cellphone. Eventually we made it back to the room and the lights came back on in full swing. We charged our goodies and went to bed, eager to return to darkness.