6am rise and today we are making our way to Swaziland, an independent country, so we need to pass through Passport Control. Our route is via the Kruger National Park, but this time in our coach, as opposed to a jeep. It's not quite the same experience, so I decide just to leave the camera in the rucksack, and sit back and enjoy the ride.
Well did that damned leopard not decide to put in an appearance! Just as we were crossing a bridge, out he popped and crossed the road! Despite my best attempts to get the camera out and get a photo of him, I pretty much failed. Well I managed one very poor quality photo that only served to prove that I actually saw him, but nothing more. And certainly not a photo that I would publish! But do you know what? It doesn't matter - I saw Mr Leopard and I can now tick off the Big Five! Job Done!
We reach the Kruger Gate on the other side of the Reserve and make a quick convenience stop. As it happens a few buses of school children have also made a stop. I say 'children' but they were of high school age, and incredibly excited to see us. It was all a little surreal because they were treating us like we were famous - young girls telling us that 'they loved us', and wanting photos taken with us on their mobile phones. I can only presume it was because we were white tourists, but I'm not sure. And they were far from camera shy! Most were practically climbing out the school bus when I went back with my camera for a couple of proper photos. And why should they be shy when they are as photogenic as this young lady?
Before climbing back onto the bus, we make a quite scout of Croc River. Mr Croc here was just lolling about, having a daytime rest, albeit his positioning and camouflage at the river bank makes me think that it wouldn't take much for an unfortunate soul to wake him back up!
As we head away from Kruger, the landscape becomes more mountainous and green. We drive by banana plantations and farmland that all seems to be heralding a nice crop. And of course, at the sides of the road, are the (now to be expected) cows and hens!
We then cross the border from South Africa into Swaziland...........
Swaziland is a small country, no more than 120 miles north to south and 81 miles east to west. It is a landlocked, bordered to the north, south and west by South Africa, and to the east by Mozambique. 75% of the population are employed in subsistence farming, and 60% of the population live on less than the equivalent of US$1.25 per day. Many of Swaziland's peasants make their living by growing marijuiana, which is sold to South Africa.
HIV is a disastrous epidemic in Swaziland, with the infection rate the highest in the world. 26.1% of all adults have HIV, and a staggering 50% of adults in their 20's. The United Nations Development Program has stated that if the rates of infection continue unabated, "the longer term existence of Swaziland as a country will be seriously threatened". Swaziland has the lowest life expectancy in the world, at an average 31.88 years.
As we walk through the Passport Control Office, boxes of free condoms sit on shelves, with signs encouraging you to 'help yourself'. And as we drive along in the bus, roadside billboards paint the picture;
"A man knows that to be the best, he has to test."
"Be Wise. Condomise."
These slogans might be worthy of a joke if the situation wasn't so serious. Which it is. So they're not.
As we make our way through one of the poorer towns, the roadside shacks are prevalent once again, selling everything from a bunch of bananas to a hair cut. The image below was taken from our fast moving bus, which I generally don't like to do, but these weren't the types of places for stopping and taking tourist pictures, and I wanted to capture the bread and butter of Swazi living.
Children are seen walking the road to and from school, and I can't help but wonder what, if any, opportunities will be available to them as they grow up, if they continue to live in a place like this. But 'Big Things Begin Small' according to this school. I certainly hope so. (Image again had to be taken from the moving bus).
We make a quick stop at a roadside market - really only a couple of stalls selling handmade souvenirs, and a couple of stalls that hadn't yet been set up for the day. There was beautiful views to be had over a poverty stricken country, fighting for its existence.
I purchase a carved elephant and barter with the seller to pay 50 Rand, down from 65 Rand. Bartering is part and parcel of life in Africa, and sellers start their prices higher than they should, in the knowledge that you'll haggle them down. One of our Group tells me that I should have paid far lower than I did, but these people have so very little that I was happy at the time with the price I paid. It's only afterwards, and on reflection, that I wish I had just given him 65 Rands (approx. £5 in the UK).
A mother and her children come along to help set up the empty stall photographed above, and she kindly agrees to have her photograph taken.
She's a very young mum and, as well as carrying a young infant, she also has with her a boy and a girl (possibly twins) who I would guesstimate to be about 3 years old. The children sit themselves down on the grass and quite happily play to the cameras that are click-clicking away. The little girl clearly has a mischievious streak running through her, as she decides to close her eyes deliberately for the photos, and then encourages her brother to do the same! Her brother found it a tiny bit more difficult not to try and check out what our reaction was!!
As you can see from the photos our tour director had given each of the children an orange, and trust me when I say they were absolutely delighted. Something so simple that we take for granted in the UK. These children will have none of the privileges of children we know, but they appeared to be genuinely happy little souls. I have no doubt that day-to-day living conditions are difficult for them, but it was lovely to see their smiles.
Onwards to our Swaziland hotel - the Lagogo Sun - one of only two tourist hotels in Swaziland. It is set in some beautiful grounds with some lovely little walks, but beyond that there it little in the vicinity, the capital being 16km away. I suppose with this country being so poor, tourist hotels have to be carefully placed, but it does feel a little 'confined'. The best photo I get is of this Swazi porter, who posed for me in full Swazi dress, in exchange for 20 Rand!
I spend the rest of the day relaxing, buy myself a wifi voucher, and catch up with family and friends from home. Then off to bed in readiness for yet another early start..........(nothing like relaxing on your holidays!).
Thank you for reading.