Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Day 1 Ngwenya through Sigangeni

Flatdogs, mad dogs and tall grass. Our starting point for day #1 of Circum-Swazi was the Ngwenya/Oshoek borderpost. This was for no other reason other than convenience.

For those unfamiliar with Swaziland, the Ngwenya border ("Oshoek" to South Africans) is Swaziland's main or busiest border crossing. It leads straight down the MR3 highway to the capital of Mbabane. Swaziland has invested very well in its road infrastructure, and one very graphic example of this is the double-lane highway that now runs from Ngwenya border straight through Mbabane (on the new bypass) and down to Manzini, the country's commercial and industrial heart. Its quite an engineering feat with massive cuttings and fills linking up granite koppies (small hills) and avoiding steep valleys.

On the new bypass it took us just 25min from Mantenga in Ezulwini (where I live) up to Ngwenya. Ngwenya means "crocodile" supposedly because the adjacent mountain looks like a crocodile. I've always been too sober to spot this particular resembalance.

Apart from being a major entry point for Swaziland the name Ngwenya has been taken world-wide by the nearby Ngwenya Glass factory, one of Swaziland's most successful art & craft exports. The beauty of this facility is that it uses 100% recycled glass, with all items (glasses, tableware, vases, ornaments, gifts (the list is endless) being hand-made by local Swazi artisans. It really is a great business. Just recently I heard that they have put a conversion on their fuel hungry furnace which can now use old engine oil to power itself... another brilliant step to being environmentally sensitive.

So after grabbing some small denomination notes at the ENGEN petrol station at Ngwenya we posed for the obligatory photo and headed off south. Our plan is to circum-navigate Swaziland in a anti-clockwise direction; the theory being that we would leave the major mountain ranges to the north of Ngwenya until we were a bit stronger on our feet.

In white-water rafting and kayaking circles tingwenya (crocodiles) are commonly named "flatdogs". Johan and I are used to keeping an eye out for these sneaky reptiles, having been attacked numerously during our previous Kunene River expedition. Today however it was mad dogs that we needed to be wary of. The first pack were just 20min from our start and they had us practising some choice words of dissatisfaction and walking backwards for quite some time. Whenever we turned our backs on them they charged for our ankles, but kept their distance when we had them square on. Further on we learnt that stones, or just the act of picking up stones, was a short-cut to respect. We had few further incidents.

In fact we saw few further homesteads until the Sigangeni area...as the route soon became sparsely populated. Just rivers and mountain peaks marked our progress most of the day. The crossing of the Lusushwana River marked our departure from the Hhohho district (or province) of Swaziland and our arrival in Shiselweni. This is the same river I live alongside, opposite Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, many windy kilometres downstream.

Our next landmark was Lundzi border post, a very minor crossing point on the far west of the Usutu Forest. We didn't see a single vehicle for the 30-odd minutes that we had the road in sight. If you hate standing in a border queue...then this is the border for you.

Karen was a bit late in finding us just 5km south of here for our overnight stop. Johan and I quickly got a roaring fire going to keep warm. Wattle is a major invasive species in this area, so we felt no shame in ridding the area of some chunky pieces.

Later we sat down to an awesome dinner under a starry sky, just 500m from Shiya Summit at 1448m. We camped in the middle of the dirt track we were following, hoping that no traffic would come. None did - our first night was definitely a night in hassle-free Africa.

Highlights for the day:
Makwane Peak - impressive granite dome
Ball of red sun setting on Shiya Peak
Butter chicken and basmati rice followed by battleship sinking birthday cake

For the techno junkies:
Walked for 06h38 and covered covered 29km. Moving average 4.4km/h, overall average 4km/h. Burnt 3905 calories. Max heartrate 187 (Darron), average heart rate 127 over a 07h37 period.

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