Tag Archives | swaziland

On the Road Less Traveled

We took turn after turn on dusty lonely dirt trails, passing thick plantations of tall lush trees and seemingly deserted shanty towns.  The setting sun was casting a red hue on the trees that matched the color of the road.  We finally reached our appointed destination, a small bed and breakfast located on a small rise overlooking forest and meadow.

flat African tree

Beautiful Swaziland

Our travel weariness must have been written on our faces.  The welcoming attendant at the front desk dispatched two young women to mind our luggage and settle us comfortably in our assigned abode.  The service offered by this small establishment rivaled any 5 star hotel.  The proprietors were a lovely Dutch couple and was completely staffed by young women.  Our short stay at this little outpost of hospitality has forever changed Luci and I.  Our hearts were struck by the hospitality, generosity and sheer beauty of the place.  The paradise we have described is Swaziland.

“You are going where??!!”  is usually the typically response we get when we tell friends and family about our next adventure destination.  “Why would you want to go to (insert remote location)?”  The answer is in the paragraph above.  Now the rest of the story from the portrait above.  Swaziland suffers from a number of challenges, poverty, hunger, disease epidemics and numerous social ills.  They don’t tend to put those on the glossy tourist websites. As a traveler, you can choose to let this scare you off, or you can dig deeper and find a treasure as we did in Swaziland.

In addition to Swaziland, we want to introduce you to some off the beaten travel destinations that might change your life.  Strap on your walking shoes, its time for adventure!

Bosnia

We are often asked which has been our favorite location out of the travels, Luci will always say Turkey (stay tuned!).  Mine would be Bosnia.  Bosnia is frankly one of the most beautiful, intriguing, and difficult places we have been.  Our trip, which wasn’t an extended one by any stretch, gave me a taste for a land filled with lush forests, dramatic waterfalls, towering mosques, and war hardened residents.  Bosnia offer travelers historical insights, out of door adventures including hiking, rafting and camping.

Greek coloumnsTurkey

As a kid, I always dreamt of being teleported back in time.  I wanted to live history.  I wanted to see, taste, smell, and interact with the scenes of great literature.  Turkey has made this boyhood dream a living reality.   The characters of the bible walked the same streets as I did.  We drank from the same springs.  I ate wonderful olives, savory meats from a roadside kabab, and partook of the most amazing Baklava!  Turkey brings history to life.

Read about our Open Love Letter to Istanbul.

Turkey was a surprise to both Luci and I.  We were discussing where we might want to go in Eastern Europe.  Turkey came up and we both said, yea….Turkey.  We started our in-depth research about the country, began our quest to learn everything we could about the history, culture and language.  Turkey offers great shopping in the Grand Bazaar, delicious cuisine, ultra friendly natives, and a window into history that has no rival.

Maldives

“Where exactly are the Maldives?” Ask most people, and they might have a challenge pointing the country out on a map.  The collection of roughly 1000 islands is located due south of India and west of the African Continent.  The island country is bathed in the Indian ocean. The temperature ranges from 75 to 90 degrees year round, making it a wonderful year round destination.  It offer travelers seclusion that rivaled by few places.

beach

Lovely Maldives

The most difficult choice is which island and resort to pick!  There are so many options for holidays to Maldives.   Lodging offerings range from Spartan shacks on the beach to five-star full service resorts.  The warm clear waters offer great snorkeling and diving.  Rent a boat and go island hopping.

A few words of warning about traveling off the beaten path.  First, be prepared.  Do your homework. Then be completely flexible.  Things including hotels, roads, and people that were to be there for you might not exist.  This is truly the beauty of traveling where few do.   One of our tricks to traveling well is humility and openness.  You must be willing to try new food, smell new smells?, and be completely removed from your comfort zone.  In return the dividends of off the beaten path travel will greatly enrich your life.

Tell us, where have you traveled off the beaten path?  What lessons have you learned?  Where would you like to go?

8

Soweto

Soweto-  (SOuth WEstern TOwnships)

The site was the theatre for deadly clashes that started the dominos falling to the end of Apartheid.   Candidly, on the visible surface, not much has changed in the 2010 version of the Soweto.  Poverty still rules the day.  Opportunity is no longer limited but an oppressive government, but it is a difficult road to travel.  Access to healthcare, education and clean water is not as plentiful as your would expect.

Main streets are lined with open air butchers, abandoned cars, and pick up soccer games.   Our guide took us to see an African “natural medicine market” located just outside of the Soweto.

The now abandoned twin nuclear cooling towers have been converted into a tourist attraction.  I understand that they filmed a location of “The Amazing Race” here.  Stretched between the two concrete towers is a bungee jumping facility.  We were on a tight schedule and were unable to check it out.

We spent nearly a full day in the Soweto area, and came away with more questions than answers.  We counted a significant number of Mercedes and BMWs coming and going in the neighborhoods.  We saw well dressed folks coming and going.  We saw clearly malnourished kids wandering among cardboard and tin shantys.  There was a government employee strike during our visit and the large hospital at the hear of the area was completely empty.  It was heavily fortified by the military.  Where did the patients go?  We understood that locals that attempt to volunteer during the strike are attacked.

So many difficult questions.  No easy answers.

Our impression of the Soweto was dramatically different than our visit to Swaziland.  The Swazi situation felt hopeless.  The Soweto again presented a constant dichotomy.  It appeared like some had found the escape hatch from desperation.

1

Swaziland-A window into Hope and Desperation

Sometimes what you expect to see and reality can be so dramatically different.  Unknown to us, we found Swaziland is a hauntingly beautiful land of undulating mountains.  Huge tracts of domesticated forests at different points of growth and harvest dominate most of the country.  Amid this striking setting, people cling to life in dire poverty.  Nearly a quarter of the county is infected with HIV/Aids.  The living conditions and mortality rate is dire.

In prep for our visit we had done our homework on the tiny Kingdom located almost entirely in South Africa.  As a part of our research we watch Without the King.  A documentary on the Monarcy, and specifically the King’s eldest daughter, Princess Sikhanyiso.  The movie portrays the masses as being on the verge of a overthrowing the ruling body.  We did not witness any outward evidence of civil unrest.  We witnessed a people eking out a meager existence.  A people clinging to life in anyway possible.

So why visit Swaziland?  We truly count our visit there as a blessing.  Amid difficult circumstance there is hope.  We met hope in the people with whom we interacted.

We stayed at the Forester Arms Hotel outside the capital, Mbabane.  Roughly a 30 min. drive through the mountains and forest to an isolated tree plantation.  This charming retreat is very comfortable and the food was very good.  They serve both dinner and a full to order breakfast.  The hostess of this impressive oasis is an amazing woman.  Our interaction was limited, as we only stayed a night, but we witnessed the kindness she exhibited to her extensive staff was only exceeded by her graciousness to us as guests.

You really must visit Swaziland.  The natural beauty is compelling.  Swazi crafts are also impressive.  But most of all, go to Swaziland to learn about yourself.  So many life lessons are learned when you witness happiness and hope amid abject poverty.  The Swazi situation is difficult to witness, but you will be the better human for the experience.

11