I’m writing this from the legendary Piggs Peak Hotel and Casino in Swaziland and it feels like I’ve stepped straight into a Wes Anderson film.
Apart from the physical features, - mint green trimmings in the bedrooms, a hairdryer that looks like a cream-coloured pay phone of sorts mounted in the bathroom and a pristinely kept lawn rolling down into a mysterious pine forest outside – the impeccable, delightfully old-fashioned, straight-backed, stiffly-starched-white-collar sort of service, instantly put me in mind of Anderson’s vividly-imagined Grand Budapest Hotel.
Had we really stepped back in time 40 or 50 years, as it felt on arrival, I suspect we might have encountered a slightly more bustling Saturday night lobby scene than we did.
During the height of conservative Apartheid rule, Piggs Peak used to be a popular spot for thrill-seeking South Africans, as gambling was a big, illegal no-no. Thus slot machines and the promise of unknown riches succeeded in drawing scores of Transvalers across the border on an annual basis.
Since casinos are now a dime a dozen back home and gambling is no longer considered an altogether wicked pursuit, this drawcard no longer holds any weight for the post stamp sized kingdom, however, as I’ve found out in the past 48-hours, a thousand other adventures await.
These are a few of my first impressions:
The people are really welcoming
We hadn’t even quite crossed the Oshoek/Ngwenya border when the staff of the tiny Swaziland Tourism Authority (STA) office next door to passport control came rushing out to greet us. One man had a big camera in hand and immediately lined us up for a photograph, explaining that he was a journalist for a local paper and wanted to interview us.
Between the border post and the petrol station just a few metres down the road we were welcomed to Swaziland at least 20 times. By everyone from passers-by to petrol attendants to policemen standing close by.
A day later we found ourselves being spontaneously invited to witness a traditional ceremony where a young bride-to-be was officially introduced to the womenfolk among her new in-laws. We had been in the rural area of Nsangwini to look at 4 000-year-old bushmen rock paintings, when a local woman spotted us and thought it the perfect opportunity to introduce us to some of their tradition.
Apart from being friendly, the Swazi people are also extremely proud of their culture and heritage, still observing age-old rituals and ceremonies.
Things are kept very tidy
While we haven’t visited Mbabane or any of the surrounding urban areas as yet, what we’ve seen so far is astoundingly tidy – no litter, well maintained roads and pristine accommodation everywhere we’ve been so far.
Beautiful views… EVERYWHERE!
Seriously. Driving through Swaziland is a feast for the eyes. Gently swaying grasslands rise into rolling hills, which give way to majestic folded peaks that turn various shades of blue as they stretch off way beyond the horizon. In the rural areas, neatly kept homesteads, each with its own mielie field and some with perfectly aligned vegetable gardens, speak of a simple, but good life (most houses have electricity and all have water). Then there are the dams and waterfalls, pine forests and granite boulders just strewn about. No matter where you stand in Swaziland, a 360 degree turn will bestow upon you breathtaking views all round.
Connectivity is patchy
I decided not to switch my phone onto roaming this time round, as I heard costs were pretty high and we were expecting wifi at most of our accommodation. However, a problem with the service provider saw a number of spots being offline.
If you are going to be spending a few days in the country, we suggest you invest instead in a Swaziland MTN sim card – it costs about R15 and there are no RICA requirements like you’d find in South Africa.
This is the adventure capital of Southern Africa
We hadn’t even been in the country for an hour, when we were already off on our first adventure: the Malolotja Canopy Tour. Consisting of 10 slides and one suspension bridge, this zip line tour is well worth the money (R595 per person), the drive and the border post queue with spectacular views all round and experienced, fun-loving guides helping you along the way.
Less than 24 hours later, it was time for the next – a two-hour outride on horseback from Hawane resort, through grasslands, over a busy tarred road, along a perfectly still dam and back again. Next, we’re off to play paintball and then… who knows? If adventure is what you want, Swaziland will give it to you… generously!
Nadia Krige is exploring the Kingdom of Swaziland as a guest of Swaziland Tourism Authority.