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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Turano

Swaziland: a kingdom full of adventures!

Like many places I visited, Swaziland (currently known as Essuatini) was not in my plans to visit. Not for lack of interest, but simply because I had never read anything about the small landlocked country located in southern Africa.

Through the mountains of Swaziland

The country is a kingdom ruled by a monarchy that has held power for over a century. A former British colony, it gained independence in the 1960s. Like many other African countries, it struggles to combat poverty and lack of access to basic services. Swaziland has a population of just over 1 million inhabitants and, unfortunately, has the highest HIV rate on the continent and in the world, with almost 30% of HIV-positive people, that is, for every 10 people, 3 are infected with the virus.


During my journey through South Africa, I crossed the country as a way to shorten the path to the Indian Ocean, instead of going around it, which would take me a lot of time. Although I enjoyed the country and enjoyed the kindness of its people, my stay was far too short. With my visa expiring in Mozambique (if you haven't read this story yet, I suggest checking before continuing here), I had two viable options: head straight to South Africa along paths I already knew, or take advantage of the border post with Swaziland and explore a little more of the country that had caught my attention on my last visit.


I crossed the border on the day my visa expired in Mozambique and used the Namaacha border, through the N2. My goal was to visit the coveted Hlane National Park, famous for its success in preserving rhinos. Just to give some context, several animals on the continent are threatened for various reasons, such as population growth, climate change and especially illegal hunting. Two specific animals have suffered greatly for the last reason cited: elephants and rhinos.


In relation to rhinos specifically, illegal hunting has been encouraged by false Asian beliefs that use recipes based on the animal's horn.

White rhino

There are high demands coming from countries like Vietnam and China. Today, unfortunately, there are less than 6000 animals (black rhinos) in the entire continent and protection and preservation has challenged all specialists. It is estimated, for example, that in the Kruger National Park (one of the largest national parks on the continent), located in South Africa, an animal is slaughtered daily.


As price becomes a commodity - the smaller the number of animals (and the scarcer they become), the higher the price charged by traffickers, and the more people risk illegal hunting, motivated by the money -, it has become an immense challenge to combat this illicit and destructive act.


Returning to my experience, my motivation for visiting Hlane National Park was precisely the possibility of admiring these beautiful animals while it is still possible. The road from Mozambique to the border, which was not yet finished, was quite challenging, and once again, I was grateful for the choice of motorcycle I made (light, with good suspension and economical).

Hlane National Park

I arrived at the park at the end of the afternoon and decided to set up camp to go out the next morning with a guide in search of rhinos.

In contrast to the very pleasant climate I experienced in Mozambique, Swaziland was already experiencing low temperatures as winter approached.


At 6 am, I was already at the reception waiting for the guide who would be responsible for taking me through the savannah. We leave in a safari Toyota and start the tour of the park at sunrise. The guide, with a lot of experience and knowledge, soon managed to track the animals' footprints and we headed towards the meeting.

Camping in the National Park

The interesting thing about this experience is the possibility to get out of the car and go on a walk, providing a very different experience for those who are used to safaris by car across the continent. In a few minutes, we saw a mother with her calf feeding near the trees.

A group of white rhinos

These were white rhinos, which are generally more sociable than black rhinos, as black rhinos prefer to live alone rather than in groups. Rhinos are animals that have high sensitivity to identify danger, despite the poor eyesight they have. We hid behind bushes and there I had a magical moment with both animals passing a few meters away. The feeling of being in the presence of beings that have inhabited this planet for more than 30 million years is indescribable, but who, unfortunately, have their existence threatened by the futilities of homo sapiens.


Without any arrogance, I am already used to going on safaris in search of encounters with the animals of the kingdom, and despite having had several experiences, until that moment, I had not been as close to a rhinoceros as I was at that moment.

The mother and her calf (White Rhinoceros)

Swaziland's success in preserving animals is due to the strict laws imposed by the kingdom. During Mozambique's civil war, Swaziland had over 80% of the animals wiped out on its land. Concerned about preservation, the kingdom decided to rescue the animals that survived and place them in preserved and protected areas, such as the Hlane.


A life behind bars is expected if anyone is found hunting or transporting rhino horn.


I continued my trip to Lobamba, close to the capital Mebabane. In this region, also part of the national parks administered by the kingdom, there is the sanctuary of Mlilwane.

Mlilwane Sanctuary

In the absence of the BIG5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo), as well as other predators, it is possible to walk alone in search of animals such as zebra, impala, wildebeest, kudu and others.

zebras

I stayed inside the sanctuary and walked daily with the animals.


The experience at Hlane was so special that I decided to return to try a bush walk (walk in the savannah, without using a vehicle), to once again be in the presence of rhinos. As Swaziland is a small country, the distances it needed to travel were small and therefore possible to do without major challenges.


I was introduced to guide Bull, a local completely passionate about his craft. We started the hike at 3pm and this time we found a large group of rhinos sharing time together.

bull the guide

We stayed for long minutes in the presence of these beautiful creatures, simply admiring them. For me, the tour was already complete, but on the way we had another beautiful encounter with giraffes. They are shy animals, which makes it very difficult to approach. Evolution has made them very cautious animals and, when they feel any threat, they run and shoot across the savannah.

Bull led us through the woods and, with luck, we managed to get closer.

We lay down on the ground and remained silent, hoping to demonstrate to the giraffes that we were not a threat. Incredibly, they didn't run away, but remained curious, also staring at us.

admiring the giraffes

There we had another magical moment in the presence of one of the most elegant animals in the kingdom. We return to the starting point walking through the golden lights of the sunset.


Those who followed the story from Mozambique know that my health was not in the best condition, which is why my trip across the continent was cut short. I spent the remaining days trying to recover in Lobamba before facing the long journey back to Johannesburg.


When we know that a certain cycle is coming to an end, we gain an incredible capacity to appreciate every remaining second.


I am passionate about Africa and being aware of the transience of my journey made my experience even more intense. Swaziland (Swatini) surprised me every minute I was in the country. It is, yes, a small country, but it is full of activities that can consume long weeks.



Happy adventures!


Gabriel Turano


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