May 2015: I love visiting unique countries and Swaziland is as unique as they come. Swaziland has been ruled by King Mswati III, Ingwenyama since he turned 18 in 1986. It is the last absolute monarchy in Africa and the King has 15 wives and 36 children. Every year during an annual ceremony, the king is obligated to take a new virgin bride and thousands of young topless girls adorned in miniskirts clamor for a chance to betroth the king.  Swaziland steeped in its African traditions with its opulent king is the closest country to the Eddie Murphy’s movie “Coming to America.”  Swaziland also has its problems.  The king is worth hundreds of millions while 70 percent of the population is impoverished. Additionally, a whopping 40 percent of the population has HIV.   To better understand Swaziland and to see the last absolute monarchy in Africa while it still is one, Paula and I traveled to Swaziland. This is the story of our trip of our 3-day trip which included staying in a mountain village and spelunking in the wild Gobholo cave.

 

Billboard of the King

Location of Swaziland

Home Stay in a Mountain Village

To get to Swaziland, Paula and I rented a car i Kruger national park, in South Africa and from there drove into Swaziland. After a long day of driving, we finally arrived at the chaotic capitol of Mbabane, where I almost got into an accident in a massive, disorganized round about circle. We were following our GPS to a small mountain village named kaphunga Village where we planned to stay the night in a village homestay. Our GPS was confused and sent us driving in circles. By the time we pulled over to a mechanic shop and asked directions from a family it was already dark. We were close to just getting hotel in town, but we didn’t want to give up on the idea of staying in a village. Luckily the family running the mechanic shop knew where the village was and wrote down directions for us. But because it was dark and the family was concerned about our safety, they decided to show us the way in their car, and they drove ahead of us. The drive was not short either and the road not easy. In some parts the road 4WD was almost required. We followed the family for over an hour before finally arriving at the small village without electricity in the mountains. Once we arrived, I got out to thank and offer money to the family, who drove this entire distance which was out of their way just to help us, but they refused. This was one of those moments in my travels where the kindness of stranger’s kind of restores your faith in humanity.

Once we arrived in kaphunga Village, our host was waiting for us. Since the village didn’t have electricity, I had to organize the homestay via a South African homestay website that organizes homestays to assist local village people in earning income through tourism. Our host was a friendly young man who built a few beehive huts in the traditional manner of very intricate weaving and craftmanship. Most modern-day homes are no longer as intricately made. It was late so we only had time for dinner, which our host cooked over a large fire. We shared a traditional meal together before Paula and I crawled off to bed on a mattress on the floor of our hut.

 

 

 

Dinner time

Our hut

Paula in our hut

Traditional beehive huts

In the morning we woke up to a view of the surrounding mountains and hilltop villages around us and we had a traditional breakfast with coffee and together with our host explored the village where we stayed and visited the village school.

 

 

Village

Paula taking photos

Meeting the villagers

Friendly village lady

Village chief who informed us he has multiple wives

Village school

School kid

Gobholo Cave

The highlight of our trip was spelunking in Gobholo cave, one of the largest granite caves in the world. Instead of being formed by acidic water slowly eating away at the rock like in limestone caves, Gobholo is an erosional cave, carved out by a flowing stream of water. The water carries small rocks and sand.

I booked the trip via a local caving organization and Paula, and I met our guide at night and hiked through the forest in the darkness up the side of a mountain until we reached the small entrance of the cave. We had the whole cave to ourselves, and I discovered that there wasn’t room for anyone else anyways. The granite cave was the smallest I have ever explored, and it didn’t take long before we were squeezing into small cave chutes. The experience was insanely claustrophobia. Most tunnels were barely big enough to walk through but others required crawling.

For Paula it was easy because she is a lot smaller than me but for me, I would routinely get stuck and would find myself unable to move. At first, I felt overwhelmed by panic, but the cave guide would urge me to remain calm and walk me through the movements and breathing techniques to get loose and wiggle forward. The worst chute was one that was approx. 30 feet long called the nut breaker because of the sharp rock jutting out in the middle that you have to crawl over. true to the name, it hurt in that particular anatomy. We also saw some cave life. In one chute a bat was nesting near our head, and we came across a few cave spiders. The cave ended at a waterfall that disappeared into a dark hole and from there we circled back to the entrance. The whole trip was approx. 5 hours round trip and by the time we emerged from the cave we were exhausted. The best was yet to come, when our guide drove us to a natural hot spring called the cuddle puddle. The hot springs is usually visited by topless Swazi women, but it was night and we had it to ourselves. Our guide pre-ordered hot pizza and cold beers for us to enjoy our victor over the cave while soaking our tired muscles in the hot springs.

 

Me in Gobholo cave in the nut cracker chute

Paula and I

Paula in her element

 Gobholo Cave  

Paula and I in Gobholo cave 

Paula and I stayed one night in hotel Manzini and the next day we flew to Namibia to continue our trip. 

 

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