A Travellerspoint blog

November 2019

The Kingdom of Eswatini

A one-page summary cannot do a country justice – regardless, here it is

overcast 25 °C
View Kurdistan Summer & Dar to Cape Town on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Barberton Drive

Barberton Drive

Driving up through the Barberton Mountains on the border between South Africa and Eswatini—formerly known as Swaziland—was a humbling experience. The mountains are some of the oldest in the World, standing at 3.2 billion years of age (Earth is 4.5 billion years old). I ended up having lunch next to a piece of ocean floor, 1.600 metres above sea level. It was also brilliant in both a traveller’s and a driver’s perspective; panorama galore all the way.

Pastel Houses

Pastel Houses

These mountains are excellent hiking spots, with small colourful villages dotting the landscape. Someone had apparently decided that the village houses here should be in pastel colours. Clouds, however, drifted in on my days here, so I didn’t get to take advantage of the hiking possibilities. Instead, I opted for a visit to the World’s oldest known mine, where San people excavated an iron ore paint as early as 43,000 years ago. The mist again obscured the views but did give the whole excursion a rather Silent Hill kind of feel to it.

King at Incwala

King at Incwala

Eswatini is as intriguing as an African kingdom sounds. The Barberton Mountains in the west gives way to valleys surrounded by mist-covered peaks. Home of the royal family, of which the Queen Mother and King are the two most influential figures. These valleys are the most important cultural and spiritual part of the country. It’s also where the country gathers twice a year for the massive traditional dance festivals, the Incwala and Umhlanga. And once a year for the more modern Bushfire Music Festival.

Sibebe Rock

Sibebe Rock

For travellers, one of these valley-framing mountains, Sibebe Rock, is of particular interest. It’s the World’s largest granite rock. A massive builder, formed in a prehistoric volcanic eruption. It’s also the World’s second-largest monolith after Uluru (Ares Rock) in Australia. The Eswatini version is a lot less visited, though also less spectacular as other, more ordinary, mountains surround it. That didn’t stop me from climbing it. I good hour’s scramble up the steep cliff. The way down on the backside was a lot more relaxing.

Further to the east, the country’s sloping continues downwards into more traditional African Savannah and grassland before turning completely flat towards the South African coastlines. This is the usual scenes associated with Africa. Zebras, Rhinos, Hippos, et cetera. Except the rains running down from the mountains make everything pleasantly green, rather than dry Savannah-yellow found further to the north.

Zebra Family

Zebra Family

A few of the parks here allow you to stroll around on your own. Probably because there are no large predators. Crocodiles, hippos and half a dozen poisonous snakes are around, so tread carefully. For a city-boy like me, unfamiliar with any animal larger than medium-sized dogs, this is still pretty wild. I feel an urge to remind all the rural folk currently laughing at me that buffaloes, antelopes and cows have sharp weapons sticking out of their faces (casually referred to as horns, as if that should make them less deadly). And zebras injure more American zookeepers on an annual basis than tigers do. Just saying!

Silent Hill

Silent Hill

I did survive my park walks though, and a very short sniff to Eswatini was finalised with a rather uneventful drive to the South African coast. Returning me to the Indian Ocean that I haven’t seen since I left Dar es Salaam two months ago. As a little side note – while Eswatini is a Kingdom, it doesn’t avoid the usual problems associated with too many African leaders. Shortly before my arrival, the King bought 120 BMWs and 19 Rolls-Royces for more than 17 million USD. He blew another 25 million USD on his 15 wives. That at a time where both bread and fuel prices have risen for ordinary citizens. And public servants haven’t had their salaries price-regulated in the past three years, despite substantial inflation. Bro, if you’re trying to create a republic, this is how you create a republic.

Posted by askgudmundsen 11:05 Archived in Swaziland Tagged hiking travel mountain overland king safari mining motorbike southern_africa swaziland monolith eswatini incwala walking_safari sibebe Comments (0)

The Michelin Guide of Travelling

Travel inspiration can come from anywhere – some of mine come from the UN

sunny 35 °C
View Kurdistan Summer & Dar to Cape Town on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Mask dancing

Mask dancing

Whether you mean to or not, travelling is a learning experience. About foreign lands and cultures, and about oneself. Even the laziest of package tour tourists, regardless of how much of their time they spent at the pool or beach, will have some new experiences. If for nothing else, because their tour company will inevitably have arranged some kind of cultural night with local food and some sort of cultural entertainment. Probably a local dance show. A big part of my love for travelling is my enjoyment of learning about and getting to know the world.

Mapungubwe

Mapungubwe

Earlier on this trip, I almost took a 2,000 km detour to visit the Island of Mozambique, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Had I had a week or ten days more to complete this trip, I would probably have done it. Instead, a couple of days ago, I settled on a mere 140 km detour to visit the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in the far north of South Africa another World Heritage Site. I somewhat happily paid 15 US$ to enter a national park I wasn’t allowed to drive around in on my motorcycle, only to spend another 5 US$ to visit a museum with a viewpoint. Just because this place is on some fancy list?

Mozambique

Mozambique

Most seasoned travellers have an idea about how many countries they have visited. Many keep count vigorously. And just about everybody who’ve visited more than 50 countries like to brag about it. However, the utmost travel-nerds, people such as myself, counts more than countries. One friend of mine needs to visit one more Federal State in Germany before he has visited them all. I, and quite a few other travellers, count UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I use it as my personal Michelin Guide.

To be clear, the real Michelin Guide is essentially an effort by a tire manufacturer, to go out of their way to visit restaurants. Go figure, a company selling tires want people to drive longer and use up their tires quicker. The definition of Michelin Stars awarded to a restaurant is, for two stars, “excellent cooking, worth a detour,” while three Stars are for “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” UNESCO doesn’t offer starts to their sites, though.

Cave Paintings

Cave Paintings

What United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage Committee does do, is to pick-out already-classified landmarks for their unique geographically or historically significance. Places that in some way or another constitutes a remarkable accomplishment of humanity serve as evidence of our intellectual history or are worth conservation for posterity. Thus the sites vary hugely. All those you would expect are there: The Pyramids, Acropolis, Great Barrier Reef, Galapagos, even the Statue of Liberty. Then there are the obscure ones: A Scottish bridge, Dutch pumping stations, unknown cave paintings in the middle nowhere and a seemingly random house in Buenos Aires.

Vic Fall's on the List

Vic Fall's on the List

Nobody needs a random UN-list to travel out of their way to visit the Pyramids or Great Barrier Reef. Like most people, I’d happily take a long detour to visit the Galapagos Islands, cost and time allowing it of course. But why would some of us, weird people, go out of our way to see a bridge in Scotland? I even dragged my friends along. UNESCO Sites, especially the obscure ones, is a chance for me to learn something new about the world that I would not have discovered otherwise. How the Dutch reclaimed prodigious sways of their country from the sea with the pumping stations.

Tiny rhino

Tiny rhino

The random plains and cliffs of Mapungubwe turned out to have been the home of what is largely thought to be Southern Africa’s first organised polity – that is, its first proper kingdom – trading gold and ivory as far afield as China. It’s one of the first evidence on the continent of hunter-gathers and farmers living side-by-side. They also produced adorable tiny rhinoceroses of gold. The World Heritage Sites, particularly the lesser-known, are fantastic opportunities for anyone travelling to emerge themselves in what travelling is inevitably about. Learning about those bits and pieces of our world and history that we never knew we didn’t know.

And let’s not forget that it gives me a niche bragging opportunity towards my fellow travellers. By Christmas, I’ll have mapped 108 countries and 210 UNESCO sites. Then again, the World Heritage Committee adds around 20 new sites every year, and with the current number standing a 1,121, I won’t run out anytime soon.

Posted by askgudmundsen 09:38 Archived in South Africa Tagged culture history travel overland unesco motorbike world_heritage south_africa southern_africa learn list learning lists reasons Comments (0)

Rafting the Victoria Falls

White-water rafting below one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

sunny 32 °C
View Kurdistan Summer & Dar to Cape Town on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Rafting the Zambezi

Rafting the Zambezi

I paused and looked around. Everything was a green mess of fast-flowing river water. I was pitted up against a corner of an underwater rock formation. Or more precisely in a corner underneath a rock formation as a rock above kept me below the waves despite the best efforts of my lifejacket. The water flow was too strong for me to make my way back out to the middle of the river. I was pretty well stuck. As I paused, I estimated that the one breath of air I’d gotten just before being sucked under, would last me another 30-40 seconds of hard work getting myself free.

The Zambezi Gorge

The Zambezi Gorge

Victoria Falls is not only one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It’s also the adventure capital of Southern Africa. Helicopter rides, lion walks, crocodile cage diving, bungee jumping, white-water kayaking and a whole range of wilder-than-normal safaris. I opted for river rafting, one of the things on the list that I had yet to try. Particularly, as Vic Falls allegedly has some of the world’s best river rafting during the dry season. This might be a good time, to let everybody know that the raft doesn’t actually go over the falls – the rafting starts just below, in the Zambezi River Gorge.

Flipped

Flipped

Navigating 32 km of the Zambezi River, our raft would make it through 19 rapids. That is, we would make it through the first 17 without incidents. Throwing caution to the wind, I, despite my rookie-status, had picked one of the two front seats in the raft. Because why the hell not. It worked out perfectly well. I stayed upright, paddled when paddling was needed, and did rather well with all the massive waves rolling over the boat. Until rapid number 18, where our raft flipped 90 degrees, throwing just about all of us into the river. Everybody except an American girl, who was thrown straight up into the air, only to come straight back down into the raft, from where she laughingly asked what all the rest of us were doing down in the water.

Waves

Waves

I paid too much attention to the snarly remarks instead of making sure I stayed in the middle of the river. Thus I quickly was sucked into the fast-flowing water next to the rocks on the one side, sucked under, popped up again to get a single breath of air in before being sucked under some rather large rocks, bumping my helmet on them a few times. Fast-forward a few seconds, and we’re back where this blog entry started. I’m getting pushed into an underwater rock formation and trapped in a corner.

Having scuba dived a lot, including working for a short while as a divemaster, I’m pretty comfortable underwater. Back when doing my training we, the instructors and divemasters, would regularly turn off each other’s air at 30 metres depth as a kind of practical joke. So once I got stuck in the rocks, the most natural instinct was to pause and estimate the situation. 30 to 40 seconds of air might not sound like much, but try timing it. It’s possible to do quite a lot in 30 seconds.

Flying High

Flying High

Given that I couldn’t get back into the middle of the river with the open water, my best option seemed to backtrack by pushing myself off the rocks. This, I only had to do for about 30 centimetres before I was free from the worst overhanging rocks, and my lifejacket did its part and shot me to the surface. Gripping a couple of stones not to go down again, I could reasonably easy make it to a small side-pool where our rescue kayaker had parked himself looking for me. “I thought you went under,” he said. “I did,” I replied with a grin, “where did our boat go?”. He shook his head at me. All-in-all, I’d probably not spent more than 10-20 seconds underwater, most of them before having to been caught.

The raft, it turned out, was several hundred metres down the river, and we still had some pretty hairy part of the rapid to get through before we got there. I lodged myself on the front tip of the kayak and hoped that the guy wouldn’t crash into any big rocks on the way back to the boat, which he, luckily, didn’t do. Back with the group, it turned out that everybody else had simply been washed down to a quiet bit of the river and crawled back into the boat. Apparently, I was the only one who’d been sucked out to the side. Probably fair enough, given that I had been all cocky about us making it through the rapid as we approached it.

Also, the Victoria Falls are really pretty and should definitely be on most travellers’ bucket list.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Posted by askgudmundsen 08:49 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged travel overland zambia rafting zimbabwe motorbike southern_africa victoria_falls zambezi white_water river_rafting Comments (0)

Among Hippos and Crocs; Canoeing the Zambezi River

Spending four days with just a small canoe separating me from some of the world’s most dangerous animals

sunny 37 °C
View Kurdistan Summer & Dar to Cape Town on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Posing hippos

Posing hippos

The hippo suddenly appeared about ten metres in front of our canoe. It lazily yawned and showed off its four big canine teeth. It looked like it could swallow the first half of the dugout in one gulp. That half of the canoe I was occupying. “Hippo, straight ahead!” I yelled, with me and our lead guide in the seat behind starting to paddle backwards frantically. We’d clearly awoken it, to a lot of discontents. Snorted angrily at us, water spraying from its nostrils like it was a small whale. We slowly took a wide bend around the morning grumpy animal, and it stayed put.

Giant crocodile

Giant crocodile

Following in the footsteps of Livingstone, a couple of other white silly explorers and generations of local fishers, my sister and I have decided to brave some of Africa’s wildlife in its element by booking a four-day canoeing adventure on Africa’s fourth-largest river. Probably mostly my idea, but by this point, borderline crazy ideas constitute a badge of honour I happily wear on my travels. It did feel full-on crazy when we stopped our canoes mid-river on a shallow spot to take a quick bath just minutes after being chased by a hippo. That, however, was the guides’ idea, not mine.
The crocodiles turned out to be surprisingly timid. They are sliding down into the water and under its surface before our canoes got close. They are opportunistic animals, so they don’t bother much with the big canoes. However, better watch the water closely when walking down to the shoreline from camp to wash hands or clothes. The last thing you want is a croc snapping out against you without warning. So we made sure to stay well away from the water’s edge after dark.

Hippo City

Hippo City

The hundreds of hippos we passed turned out to be a little trickier. Hippos are the animal in the world responsibly for killing the largest number of humans on an annual basis. They’re very territorial and short-tempered. Not only can they pop out the water without warning—they like to rest on the river button—they also rush around in the water at the sight of a canoe to get to the securest possible position. Hippos don’t like being exposed, standing on land or in shallow waters, but prefer the deeper bit of river, for a place to hide and defend. Knowing this, and which parts were the shallow river we could stick to, we could zigzag our way through the dozens of ‘hippo islands’ and lonely, aggressive singles that dot the entirety of the Zambezi.

Close encounter

Close encounter

But not everything on the river is so heart-in-mouth – through the adrenaline of being chased by an angry hippo is a rush of the wilder. Antelopes, elephants and buffaloes are relatively untroubled by the silent, slow-moving canoes make for close wildlife encounters that are more relaxing than those with the hippos. Granted, sitting in a canoe on the water’s surface, elephants look very big when they are standing towering over the dugout to get a sip of water. Such encounters are possibly as thrilling, and a lot nicer, than those with the hippos.

Stuck Buffalo, Waiting Vultures

Stuck Buffalo, Waiting Vultures

Nature being nature; not everything is rosy. We didn’t see any predators other than the crocs, though we heard plenty of rows from lions, hyenas and spotted dogs during the nights. It was making falling asleep somewhat of an exciting experience. The vultures, however, did still have a feast. Extremely high temperatures and droughts hit the area around the river. As our visit coincided with the end of the dry season, everything but the river was dry to its bones, and plenty of weaker animals had succumbed to the harsh conditions. The most notable sight on our trip was a buffalo that had gotten itself stuck in the mud on the river bank. Unable to get out of its sticky grave, it was left to die of thirst and hunger, just metres from the river. While it was still alive, a handful of vultures were already sitting above it, waiting for its demise and a feast — the situation straight out of the cartoons I used to read as a kid.
Such were just a few of the impressions after four highly recommendable days on the water, should you ever find yourself in this part of the world. There're more photos in the gallery on the right side for more inspiration.

Posted by askgudmundsen 22:06 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged river adventure africa safari zambia zimbabwe travelling roadtrip canoe southern_africa zambezi Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]