Monday, October 31, 2011

Rie's African Adventure Part Two: Swaziland

Rie continues her account of her solo travels last summer.
Saying farewell to Namibia, I flew to the Kingdom of Swaziland, a small country (about the size of Connecticut) surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique. The people are friendly and peaceful with no history of racial tensions. It was the perfect place to unwind, do some hiking, and see the countryside. I based myself in the Ezulini Valley, a beautiful, green valley set between Swaziland's two largest cities -- Manzini and Mbabane.

I first visited Mantenga Village, a living museum with traditional beehive huts, dancing and drumming.

I stopped by House on Fire, a wonderful outdoor theater/gallery/restaurant/art space.

I got to see white rhinos at Mkhaya Game Reserve.

I hiked up ancient Sibebe Rock and in the solitude of Malolotja National Preserve.

And, finally, I was fortunate to attend the Umhlanga Reed Dance. Once a year, young maidens from all over the country come to the royal compound to pay homage to the Queen Mother. This year 80,000 made the journey. During the week-long event, they stay in make-shift camps and cut reeds from nearby fields. On the day of the dance, they gather in groups from their villages and form a long, long line. Led by members of the royal family -- easily identified by the red  feathers in their hair -- they make their way, singing and dancing, to Lobamba to present the reeds to the Queen Mother. The girls are traditionally topless, and don't wear much else -- short skirts, colorful sashes and other acoutrements. Despite the cold drizzle, everyone seemed to be having a most wonderful time.


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