Tour4life Africa Edition: Swaziland

So, finally being in another country it was like a big step for me. Siyinqaba, Swaziland! (We are the fortress, a fmous exclamation in siswati, the local language). To get the feeling, ok, you've really been doing something. Having no real imagination of the places is a nice thing because then i always have the feeling to discover myself and I don't already have an idea of a country or city in my head.

We both knew that bert would leave me that day since he already had his mozambique visa but i had to go to mbabane to apply there. Which is a 120km detour to the west. And i also had the contacts of a preschool in the mountains that i wanted to visit. That day I wasn't feeling really good, it was terribly hot and Bert was speeding as usual. That's when it can be quite annoying being on two bikes: When the other person is just much faster and you are having a hard time. But it is a mindgame and Bert never told me i was too slow. We both are only going our own speed. But till Big Bend where Bert would leave me i was completely done and low on sugar. I also couldn't tell him to wait to have a longer break. So when Bert continued north in big bend-he wanted to do more than 100km that day- i stayed there, feeling totally broken. I still managed to do another 20km but that was it for the day. I ended up talking to a group of people staying at a bottle store of a petrol station. Usually i try to avoid the drinking people because you can be sure out of 10 there will be one or two guys you rather not meet. What strikes me is that there's usually only men at the bars. Later on, having stayed with more people in the rural areas, when i wake up at 6 or 6.30 theres already a group of men sitting around doing nothing. The women do all the work while men relax, beg or wait for a job opportunity to come to them. Of course its not always the case but usually the women wake up early, fetch water, go to collect firewood, do the cooking, laundry, cleaning and sometimes even the field work. The men sit in groups, chat and drink at night. Quite strange role model. And the drunk guys are usually the annoying ones that don't care if they get ignored or you tell them you don't want to talk. Loud, annoying and sometimes a bit aggressive thats the guys i don't need around me.

But this time it works out and after a beer one of them offers me a place at his second home as he calls it. It's in the same village where his family lives he's just got another place, fully equipped. To hang out with friends and drink. The place in a small hut he's showing me, there's already a boy sleeping in the bed so I close the door again not to wake him up. Thinking it is probably someone of his family i go and tell him. Judging by his reaction it is clear that it is most likely a homeless boy but when we open the door of the hut the boy is gone. Im totally surprised since there is no other way out but i realize he must be hiding under the bed and that he'll probably get beaten up if he is found. The oldest trick in the world. I tell David that i must have been wrong and he accepts it, thinking i must be drunk or something, so when he leaves i can tell the boy to get out and before i can tell him to stay and that i will pitch my tent he's already been sneaking away. The place is quite dirty and the matress is really horrible, still I appreciate having a roof over my head.

Next day I'm leaving, i get some of David's water but something is wrong with it. There's way too much chlorine in it, it is degassing like crazy. I'm quite sure i shouldn't drink too much of it, i can barely stand the smell. Luckily my other bottle was still full.

I continue towards manzini and Mbabane, knowing it will be a hell of a ride. My map is telling me it is a thousand meters uphill till Mbabane, which is 120km. David told me his daughter is working at the police in manzini and that i should give her a call, she would probably have a place for me. On the way i speed past a huge snake on the road that was killed by a car. I stop and turn around to give a closer look and there's already someone that wants to take it away, probably for the skin. The snake is 2 or 2.50m long and he's got a tiny plastic bag he wants to fit it in. He hands me the bag and starts squeezing it in there, but its just too big. Also it smells horrible and I'm not too happy about squeezing a half rotten, probably deadly huge animal into a small plastic bag. Really i wonder how i always end up in these situations (Remembers me of the expression "why always me" written in big letters across the windshield of a truck here in mozambique a couple of days ago). So he's got to find another solution for his snake problem.

Knowing i have a safe spot in Manzini i run it out till night and arrive there really late. The hills just never stop. Just imagine cycling 100 km and it is never flat. That's how it is, cycling in western Swaziland. And some of the hills are something like 50m height and just far enough from each other that i can't use the momentum to make it up the next hill. And once i am at the top - which from down below always looks like the last hill till ethiopia (or maybe thats what my mind makes out of it) - , heart pounding, i realize the next one is even bigger. But it is a beautiful country and the people make up for the hard cycling.

Right from when we entered, everyone repeatedly told us how safe and nice Swaziland is, in contrary to South Africa where people might tell you their wife was shot yesterday. And of course all the uphills give nice views. It is some sort of trade you got to do: The more there is to see, the nicer the landscape is, the harder it is to cycle.
So it's already dark when i get to manzini and calling David's daughter it turns out she couldn't manage to give me a place. It is dark long time now and i need to rest and sleep. So i decide to take the option which is fastest: go to the police station. After a lot of explaining they allow me to sleep in the entrance hall on the floor, but it is more a tiny room. So i even decide to try and find a place which is marked on my map as a backpackers but i end up in a strange area where i can't find any backpacker, there's almost no people on the road but the ones that are tell me it is a bad area. So i need to go back to the police station.

Getting all my luggage in there and my bike in the backyard i soon realize i don't feel hungry at all. Not good. After sleeping maybe two hours i feel the nausea coming and next thing i know I'm throwing up all night and get diarrhea heading to the horrible police toilet every other hour. Great. I need to get to mbabane as soon as possible for my visa and now this. All night long it is really loud inside the police station and at one point there are loud shouts from outdoors and something that sounds like gunshooting. Policemen are running out there but I don't even care anymore, i feel like shit.
As expected, the next day is horrible. I feel too weak to move but get woken up at 6, after maybe 2 hours of sleep, by the day shift head officer kicking my feet commanding me to move for the cleaners. You got to be kidding me. But ok, the police station Manzini is not a homeless shelter for the beaten up Rastaman. Babylon.

So i pack and move myself into town and to force down some breakfast. I'm that weak, i can just barely make it across the street into the park where i sleep all day in the grass, in the evening i force myself to to go to caritas where i am more than happy to get a cheap room with: a bathtub. Best bath i had in my life (maybe second after bathroom party with max back home)

So, luckily next morning I am able to move again. Constantly fixing flat tires on the back wheel which is now equipped with the shitty asian mountainbiketire I bough in St. Lucia. So i ride towards Mbabane which i know i have to reach as soon as possible so I don't have to wait for ages for my mozambican visa. It's a truly wonderful landscape, riding towards the western Swazi mountains, into a valley where i know, at the end of it it will be 600 hm uphill into Mbabane. I am late - as usual - and ask a truck driver at the bottom of the climb if he could give me a lift. As he's calling his boss to discuss this i realize the back tire is flat again. Eish. But i am lucky - as usual - and a pickup stops to give me a lift after the truck driver talked to him. On top of the long climb i put as much pressure as possible in the tire and try to make it into the city trying to find the place of a contact I made in Manzini. But I just reach him once, after that he doesn't pick up anymore. Those big swazi cities really turn into trouble for me. I end up at a petrol station to have light fixing the tire. I find a small wire pierced through the tire that will just pierce every tube I put in there. Removing it i decide to put on the better spare tire I bought in Manzini. But doing do i realize it is too wide and there is no profile i can just cut off with the knive. Eiiish ok same procedure again while chatting to sll those people showing up, trying to find out what is going on. Thats actually what a lot of people are shouting when i pass by on the streets:"What's happenkng here?" they shout.

So i am on the way to the policestation again. A much bigger one than the one in Manzini. I can sleep on the floor and charge some devices. While I am cooking outdoors a small boy, maybe 8 - 10 years old appears and is waiting indoors. All the time i think he's waiting for his mum or something, but apparently he's also here to sleep. He's got something very shy and disturbed in his behaving. Unfortunately i have already eaten up when i realize he is a homeless or runaway child, but i can't ask him, he only speaks SiSwati. He's lying sideways on the bench, shirt over his knees. When i prepare my matress and sleeping bag he approaches me and is signaling he's cold, so i fold up the matress and we both sleep under Timo's sleeping bag keeping each other warm. Proper hobos. Middle of the night a mentally challenged guy that is blind is showing up in the police station where there's only me, the kid and two police officers. He's shouting, singing and arguing with the police officers. At first I was really scared how the policemen would deal with this situation but one of them is a really nice guy, he sits the man down and just talks to him, there's no shouting or beating, luckily. He even prepares him some food until the man falls asleep in the middle of the giant entrance hall. And i can sleep too.

Next morning i prepare us a nice breakfast while trying to find out through the police officers what is going on with the kid. If his parents are looking for him. They keep telling me he must be a bad kid although he doesn't answer their questions and just looks at the floor. To me it seems like either a family tragedy or his parents aren't exactly the best parents in the world. So he ran.

I take him on a ride with the bike around the parking lot in front of the police station and he enjoys it a lot. But after round two the day's big boss stops us, shouting it is a policestation and not a bikecourse. Moron, let the kid have some fun. The big boss number two next to him asks me if I am a rastaman, if i smoke and want to buy some weed. Yeah absolutely, from the policeman standing next to the chief. How stupid do they think I am. I make sure to get rid of them and me and the kid are making fun of the big policemen.

So i set out to deal with all the visa stuff which means go to the mozambican high comission on the outskirts of town, deal with all the paperwork, find out they don't have water for the toilet, search for a toilet at some workshop, go to town, get some copies and fotos for the visa, back to embassy, finish the papers, get the money transaction blanco, speed to town and wait in line at the bank for 45 minutes to pay in my money into the embassy's account. And get back till 2 to hand them the receipt for the payment.

In town I meet the boy again and it looks like he's just aimlessly walking around. I give him some snacks and bananas and he joins me on my visa endeavours. Maybe he's begging here and there. But at one point he's just giving an old woman who's begging on the streets some of his 1 or 2 € that he owns when we walk by. I'm stunned. The "bad" kid that ran away from home. I want to take him around but also i just can't tell him he should leave. Neither through language nor do i want to signal him to walk off. But then when we are on the way out of the city center i suddenly realize that, if his parents are really looking for him, i might get into big trouble maybe for child kidnapping or something crazy. And i bet the police is not to be fucked around with in this part of the world. So even though i don't want to, i have to loose the kid. It feels quite sad to tell him to get off, i don't know his situation, i don't know how he will go on with his life, but i feel connected to him, we're both lost somehow in this town. We've been sleeping under the same blanket on the floor of the police station and policemen have shouted at us for "almost causing a commotion" by riding a bike. I am sad to see him leave but i don't know what to do. Live goes on and i hope so does his for the better.

In the afternoon i rush to the north, out of town. I heard about a big rockface called Sibebe Rock just 10 km north of Mbabane and it seems it is really spectacular. Mbabane itself is already a beautiful city, quite small and calm, surrounded by mountains and forests and with beautiful views of the lowlands surrounding it.

It is a very mountaineous area in western swaziland but this also makes it incredibly hard to cycle. Especially because it is usually not one uphill until you reach the altitude of a place, it is all the time up and downhill with bigger uphills. So you have to climb 2 times the altitude to do a 500 m height difference. But of course the views are spectacular and it is really rewarding standing on top of a hill thinking, wow i did this with my own muscles, i pushed up all this luggage up this hill.

So, leaving Mbabane to the north it is a 2km crazy steep downhill into beautiful Pine Valley and to the left and right rising out of mountainforest there are more and more rockfaces showing up. I heard about the area before, through a bouldering video with Nalle Hukkataival and Jimmy Webb and it really is a beautiful place. Villages clustered in the valleys and the slopes of the mountains. And then Sibebe rock rises to the right. It really looks like out of this world. Like a ball cut in half and the top half is lying on the ground, but it is 500m high. The biggest slab in the world, it has got to be. They say it's the second biggest granite monolithe in the world but i feel like, yeah all over the world they are claiming this and then you still don't know how they are measuring it. I doubt it can compete with the 1000m of El Capitan or this crazy mountain in Nigeria i found out about. Maybe they measured the plutone as a whole. Still it is crazy big and i came to climb it. So for some 10s of minutes i just stand there, staring at this crazy thing in front of me, it is quite overwhelming and intimidating. Especially if you have sworn to yourself you are going to climb it. So i find a safe place to put the bike with a white guy who is living his retirement there. I stare some more, trying to find the easiest route and pack my stuff. Then i move to the rock, hoping no snake will get me in the deep grass before I even started climbing. The backpack is quite heavy with all the sleeping stuff, a beer and enough water and i can't look upwards. The rock is just steep enough so it is climbing but still it is quite flat so it is more like stepping up the face, leaning against it with your hands stretched out. Only until some parts where it gets steeper and i get to realize, if i slip now, i will slip some 100s of meters down the face of this giant dome before i can stop myself. Not the way i want to end the tour4life. Especially with the sometimes doubtable hardness of the tiny footholds i have to use on friction. If one breaks it is a long slip 'n' slide down to the valley floor. But I make it safe to the top with shaking legs of exhaustion. But very happy that i did it.

The top of Sibebe is another world. Loads of huge granite boulders and surrounding hills and mountains. Grassland as far as you can see and the african villages down in the valley. A view to die for. I find my place to sleep on top of the biggest boulder on top of sibebe, meditate in the sunset, have a sundowner with Sibebe beer and go to bed. Not exactly the flattest and nicest surface to sleep on an inflatable matress with a hole.

Next morning i wake up with the sun and a weatherfront changes the game. Strong winds almost throw me off the rock and I am in the middle of the clouds. As it starts raining i quickly pack my stuff trying to find Sibebe cave to hide. And then i do an amazing hike on the flank of the mountain, through forests with screaming monkeys and down into the mazes of the mountain villages. Sometimes it pays off to wait for a visa.

I end up staying in Mbabane for 5 days, camping on a slope in the rich people's area close to the embassy and roam around the city, fixing stuff on the bike, eating at local places, experiencing the spirit of this town. One day i climb up one of the hills surrounding Mbabane. I have to get there through the poorer areas on the slope of the hill and man, i love those places. All those huts and a giant maze of small unpaved streets that get smaller and smaller until there's only a network of small footpaths that seem to connect the huts and houses. All the streets and paths are coloured in typical african orange-brown laterite dust. From the flank of the hill I can see that most of the cities living areas look like this. For a european it is hard to understand, like a mysterious maze of hundreds of paths and even harder to navigate. There is no system, no signs, just a path and you're asking the women in the yard you're passing through, how to get to the top of this hill. So they show you a path that runs through their backyard and then past or sometimes even through other houses. Imagine you are going to the city, lets say to market, but you have to pass through the living room of your neighbours. That's how it feels. Really weird but somehow amazing. People here are living very close to each other.

On top of the hill i relax, have a sundownder and then decide to move down on the northern side of the mountain which is a gentle slope. But reaching the next houses on this side, I am stuck in the next maze and it is pitch black. The road on the eastern side connecting to the city apparently doesn't exist so i have to walk all around the mountain to the western connection to the city. Pitch black and then it starts raining. Within minutes I am soaking wet and it is about 10 km to walk. So i manage to get some lifts into town and proceed to the hotel where i have stored the bike. Drying in a clean and incredibly expensive luxury hotel with all their ac's I am freezing and shaking, but their food is quite cheap and i need to dry before i go and pitch the tent like 500m away in the most posh area of town. All of that after walking and being lost in the poor people's areas for 3 hours and walking the flooded streets barefoot in heavy rainfall at night. Some parts of the street are so polished that i constantly slip and almost fall with the flipflops that I am wearing now all the time. (Since Garden Route I think I haven't been wearing shoes, not even on the bike). So i walk barefoot hoping not to step into any of the thousands of broken glass. It is a very strange feeling and while I'm sitting there waiting for my food, even now, over thirty days later, I remember i was quite close to bursting into tears watching the colours of the mountains change during sunset all on my own somewhere on this crazy big planet and in this strange strange world where rich and poor is so close to each other. Like two worlds, but well separated. And sometimes it can be emotionally really demanding, dealing with all those things you see and experience on such a trip. The beauty of nature or a place and the nice people that have settled to live there, but also the harsh living conditions and situations people are in. And I am jumping from one world to the other all the time.

When i finally leave Mbabane it is basically downhill for 60 km, to the foot of Kaphunga mountains. In one day you can cross half of Swaziland on a bicycle and see hundreds of wonders. I can't make it to Kaphunga that day, which doesn't matter because it is saturday and at the preschool there will only be people on sunday evening. But as usual -i get lucky- and a nice guy, Shawn, I met at the supermarket offers me a place to pitch my tent at his house. He's an expad from the US, working there in the villages for some years now, together with his wife and two kids. He's there to show people how to improve their farming and how to have a small garden to grow vegetables to get a proper diet without having to pay the insanely high prices at supermarkets. I have been talking to a lot of people and I was never shy to ask how their money situation is. Swaziland seems to be out of control considering the costs of food (which at supermarkets is german prices) put into comparison with how much people earn. I met people basically on the streets or people that helped me and they just said: I have a job, i am working every day, still i can barely afford a place and food is even harder. And those are the lucky people that have a job, just think about it. Crazy world.
Next day i am off towards Kaphunga, up into the mountains, which i already wrote down in the other blog article so I am skipping those days now.

Descending from Kaphunga was a hell of a ride. First it is one of the worst roads i ever rode on, downhill for 600hm full of crevasses, bumps, potholes and worst: cobbles as big as a fist. The brakes are doing a hell of a job to get me down safely. After this it is another 20 km to the tar road at Siphofaneni, the town close to the place where I stayed with David at his rondavels. 20 km of dirtroad, lots of sand and the annoying african washboard streets. If you're in a car and you can go fast it is not as bad because at a certain speed you're flying on top of the "washboard hills" and it is a quite calm ride. Something i can't do. 80 km/h is not in my range. So i have to go really really slow not to shake myself and the bike like crazy. It feels like being thrown into a washing machine and takes two times the power. Plus, of course it is insanely hot because I'm in the lowfeld again. That day I make it till the Big Bend turnoff, beautiful sunset and I am really tired. I pitch my tent next to a sugarcane field and cook.

Next day i first thought it is going to be an easy ride, quite flat and then 300hm up to Siteki. But when i start i don't have any water left and can only fill up 20 km later. It's already crazy hot and strong headwinds. I think until i got the water i must already have gotten a heatstroke. Pumping brain in my head, mouth always dry, wind slowing me down to 6-7 km an hour and sun trying to fry the thoughts out of my brain. Easy day. Another 20 km later I am tired as if i already did 100 km. And the big climb is about to come. Loads of these huge old us american trucks going up the hill, not much faster than me. I think they load these things with 40 to 60 tons, as much as they can. Some truck drivers told me they sometimes need to modify the trucks because downhill the original engine and brakes cant brake down those monsters. What am i sharing the road with? One of them is doing like 1 to 2 km an hour all the way up, smoking and squeaking like a dying pig. I have to overtake these things before i die in the clouds of the unfiltered diesel exhausts. A really smart boy that strangely speaks perfect english joins me on the last climb and into Siteki. But i am done. Head is a mess and legs don't want to do their thing any more. Food at a hotel, beer, swimming at the pool helps me to regain energies to move to what turns out to be one of the nicest campsites of the trip so far: Mabuda Guest Farm. Situated in the mountains a colonial style South African farm with lots of places to discover. But i can only do it next day, today i am too tired to do anything except eating and sleeping.

So next day luckily I am better and able to continue towards mozambique. It's a lot of up and down but not too far. As usual lots of white people crossing the border but no problems. One of the officers has a picture of me on his phone that he took a long time ago. It's crazy, i have met people that told me: yeah i have seen you on the bike two months ago in Cape Town. The world is a small place sometimes, but it's cool to spread the message. Crazy bike for peace is on its way! Take a look and a seat!

So the next big step is done, off into mozambique and its 1600km on the same road, N1 into malawi.