The Jo’burg – Delhi Express
Although South Africa is an English speaking country with a wonderful climate, it is a nation remarkably less traversed by the backpacking masses. This could be due to an ignorance of the country’s inspiring natural beauty and fantastic travel opportunities. Or it could be a continued negativity towards the terrible apartheid era and well documented social inequality. I’m not sure of the exact reason as to why South Africa isn’t just as popular to travel as Australia, New Zealand or the USA. But for the semi-adventurous who do decide to frequent this misconstrued part of the world, a popular way for them to get around is by using what’s called the Baz Bus.
The Baz Bus is basically a hop on, hop off bus service along a variety of routes throughout Southern Africa. The simple accommodation pick up and drop off concept eliminates the ever present dangers of dodgy bus terminals and untrustworthy taxi drivers, whilst adding ease and efficiency to an individual’s trip.
The route of the Baz Bus is chiefly directed between Johannesburg and Cape Town, stopping at most towns and places of interest along the way. Passengers also have the option of going via the gorgeous Drakensberg mountains, or alternatively, follow the path we chose and venture through the leafy Kingdom of Swaziland.
Danny, Dean and I had all purchased a two week Baz Bus pass back in the UK. Having said goodbye to our amazing hosts Trigger and Kerryn, we initiated these passes by departing the uneventful city of Nelspruit and set out for the verdant Ezulwini valley, located deep within the green hills of Swaziland.
It truly was a gorgeous drive. The views as we rose from the dry low lands of South Africa towards the mountainous border control were stunning. Undulating grassy valleys rolled over one another as far as the eye could see. And random bush fires on the horizon sent plumes of smoke spiralling into the sky, forming a dusky haze over the afternoon sun.
“Dean,” I said, reaching behind me and tapping him on the thigh.
“Over there look, on that second hill.”
“What am I looking at? The bush fires?”
“No, to the left a bit. Just on the top of that big mound, can you see the two massive giraffes?”
“Where at?” asked Dean dubiously. “There’s sod all there pal.”
“Not this first hill, that second one,” I added, hoping my spotting skills would impress. “Next to that big plume of smoke. One of the giraffes is bending over and the other one’s just dipping its head slightly.”
“That’s two JCB diggers, you daft prick.” replied Dean annoyed I had disturbed him.
“Is it? Oh…bugger. Never mind then.”
Foiled by my shitty eyesight once again.
Arriving at our first border crossing of the trip I expected the usual frontier hassles. Exit forms, entry forms, passport stamping, visa purchasing and money changing, plus the usual procession of conniving border conmen to deal with. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the driver of the Baz Bus took control of the situation and made the whole process remarkably stress free.
While waiting for a customs official to stamp me into Swaziland I noticed a small dispenser a few counters along. It was offering little blue packets that people were readily snapping up for free. On closer inspection I realised they were packets of condoms and optimistically shoved a handful into my jacket pocket also.
I was spotted on this prophylactic pilfering by a wizened old Canadian woman who looked like an extra from the film Labyrinth. The little goblin bound over to where I stood, grabbed a packet for herself and studied it with interest.
“Sweet,” she cooed. “Are these candies?”
“Yep,” I answered coyly, unsure whether she was being sarcastic or not. I assumed the big, red AIDS ribbon would have been a bit of a giveaway, but perhaps she just though the sweets were 100% HIV free like all good treats should be.
“Neat. Are you sure they’re free?”
“They certainly are. You might have a hard time chewing them, but get stuck in.”
Once she realised they were only fit to enter a mouth if a person’s trade included giving blowjobs, the gobby Canadian became rather annoyed at me. Scowling from thereon in, she muttered something in my direction before storming back onto the bus.
It was a murky, humid evening when the Baz Bus arrived in the Ezulwini Valley. Dropped off at our respective accommodation choices, the three of us checked into Legends – the so called party hostel of Swaziland.
The morgue like atmosphere within was hardly striking of carnival tones. Yet in fairness to Legends, you can hardly expect an Ibiza style reception when there’s only one other guest staying there. Sucking up our disappointment at the quietness, we handed our money over and hoped to make the best of it regardless.
The aforementioned other guest came in the form a tall young German girl named Klara. Klara had been sat in the dining area quietly reading a magazine when we all piled through the door. Spotting her straight away, she instantly became the recipient of a good old chatting up. Not just by me specifically, but by the three of as a whole. A horny, desperate trio of sleaze.
By no means was Klara a beauty. But she was single, friendly and most importantly female, so she ticked all the boxes. As I was working through the usual boring questions a traveller instinctively seems to churn out on a first meeting, a late arrival off the Baz Bus barged over and cut in. Offering her hand to Klara, the uncouth girl then sat down at the table, completely ignoring us males as if we didn’t exist.
“I’m Monica,” she said to Klara. “So what’s your story?”
“Excuse me?” replied Klara, rather caught off guard.
“Why are you here? Are you travelling, working, studying or what?” asked this stout little enigma, still without acknowledging me or the other lads.
“Erm, I’m studying for a semester at Stellanbosch University. But now I’m on vacation. And you?”
“I’m here visiting a friend who’s studying in Johannesburg. We’re travelling to Cape Town on the Baz Bus,” answered Monica, “I’m meeting her in Durban though as she has classes right now.”
At this point we left the two of them to it, not particularly inspired by the thought of conversing with the strange girl in the Tina Turner T-shirt who’d interrupted our charm offensive.
Once showered, we asked what there was to do at night in the area, to which the skinny guy on reception answered “very little.” Not overly enamoured by this response, we then quizzed whether there was anywhere we could buy alcohol. His response was a little more positive this time, telling us that if we hurried we may still make it to the Pick ’n’ Pay supermarket before it closed.
Upon hearing this, Monica – the peculiar Canadian girl who had ignored us half an hour previously – finally deemed us worthy to talk to and asked whether she could join us on the walk to the shops. Not being petty for a change we acquiesced, and the four of us set out in the humid darkness towards the quiet supermarket.
The Ezulwini Valley is located within an elevated region of Swaziland. The quiet settlement has a very small population and a limited infrastructure to match. Streetlights were wanting in most areas of town and it was pitch black out, even on the busy main road. To prevent breaking a limb, each of us had our torches on illuminating the mud strewn path we coursed.
Ambling towards a set of flickering lights in the distance, we were like the three wise men carrying a Canadian curio as an offering. Once we neared the distant lights it was necessary to cross a dark, grassy patch of wasteland. The route was like a bog in parts due to a heavy rain shower which had decided to fall a few minutes after we’d set off. Tip-toeing our way around the filthy puddles we heard rapid footsteps closely behind and all began to panic.
“Get your weapon out Dan!” I squeaked, referring to the non-euphemistic knife he kept in his trousers.
“It’s out lad, don’t worry.” said Danny looking back into the darkness.
“Good. Let me get behind you then.”
The footsteps got closer and closer until out of the shadows strode a lithe, athletic black guy drenched to the bone in just a basketball vest and shorts.
“Hey guys. Do you mind if I join you?” he said in a strange Americanised accent.
“Where are you off mate?”
“Same as you, to the Pick ‘n’ Pay.”
“How do you know that’s where we are going?”
“I checked into Legends after you folks, remember? The guy on reception assumed you were heading that way.”
“Oh aye, that was you was it? We thought you were coming to mug us just now.” I said upon recognising him from the hostel.
“No, it’s all good. I’ve just come to grab some beers. I’m Anusa by the way. Nice to meet y’all.”
Having stocked up on plenty of alcohol we all slowly made our way uphill and back towards the hostel. The common room at Legends was basically an unused car garage. It contained a TV, a few musty old sofas, and when we burst in it had the addition of a half asleep security guard wielding a big stick.
Once he’d calmed down from being caught sleeping on the job, the guard became quite chatty. His English deteriorated rapidly when we requested he turn whatever rubbish he was watching on TV off and put on some music, yet became strangely fluent again when asked if he fancied a beer.
Klara, the young German girl from earlier joined us in the morbid little outhouse and began downing glass after glass of Dean’s wine. He didn’t seem to mind though, and it wasn’t long before her hands were wrapped around his broad shoulders giving him a vigorous massage in return.
At this juncture in the evening I’d drunk a couple of beers and a little wine. Instead of being giddy like everybody else I felt really fed up. I was tired, and the lack of excitement in the hostel had made me morose.
Leaving the rest of my wine with Monica – who’d opened up a lot more since our first meeting and was beginning to show her true character – I then moped off to bed in an inexplicable sulk.
I had warned Dean and Danny many times before setting off that I regularly get pissed off at myself for no apparent reason. I’m almost positive that somewhere deep inside my abdomen dwell two quasi obsolete ovaries which release a little bit of oestrogen into my system every so often. I hate the fact I can change into a menstrual, miserable mess in the blink of an eye. It not only negatively affects my day, but it disturbs the dynamic of those close to me also.
Having travelled with other people beforehand and realising that when I get this way I can be a real obnoxious tit, I made sure that the other lads were aware of its inevitability and to not take offence when it happened. I told them to ignore me and just leave me to it. I love my own space at the best of times – not really being a great people person as such – and when I begin to feel a bit low, solitude is often my only real comfort.
On that first night in Swaziland I thought it best to just hide away in the empty dorm and sleep off my depression. If I took my pouting face away from the action then hopefully I wouldn’t drag anybody else down with me.
Waking up the next morning I felt fresh and full of the joys of spring. Or, more likely, I was enjoying the temporary loveliness from atop my bipolar based peak. But whatever it was, I was in grand spirits and set about waking up the other lads.
“What’s up with you?” I said to Danny as he growled at me from his pillow. “You look like a slapped arse. Feeling a tad rough this morn?”
“No, I’m not rough,” he answered groggily. “I just got no bloody sleep.”
“Ask lady killer over there,” replied Danny, to which a snigger came from underneath Dean’s duvet.
“Has one been shagging sir?”
“No mate. I don’t know what he’s on about.”
“Care to elaborate then Danny?”
“He knows fine well what I’m talking about. That tall German bird was in here until god knows what time. I don’t know how you slept through it all.”
“Was he bonking her then?” I asked good humouredly, trying to disguise a tinge of jealousy.
“I don’t know if he got there in the end but he was giving it a good go. All I could hear was her saying ‘nein, nein, your friends vill see!’ and him going ‘will they buggery lass, now get thee bloody bra off!’ It seemed to go on all sodding night.”
“Good work brother, did she give in then?” I said to Dean.
“No mate,” he replied, finally emerging from his bed sheets with a big grin on his face. “I told her to do one in the end. She did my head in. She supped all my wine and wouldn’t even get the old nipples out. It was rubbish.”
Sufficiently enlightened to the previous evening’s events, I went and inquired at reception as to what we could do to amuse ourselves around the valley that day. Handed a leaflet, I browsed the options in the sunny garden. A myriad of activities were listed, from quad biking to kayaking and everything adventuresome in between. Although great sounding, all of it far exceeded our daily budget. So I threw the leaflet away and began looking for some penny pinching inspiration.
While waiting for the other lads to get ready I spotted a giant peak in the distance. I found out from the rotund lady on reception that this particular mountain was called Executioner’s Peak, due to the forced leaping of criminals in the not so distant past. When Dean and Danny were dressed and joined me in the garden we unanimously decided to try and climb it.
After a quick change of apparel, slipping from casual shorts and flip flops into our idiotic looking hiking gear – a swap that would consequently make us stand out even more in the predominantly black community – we then set out towards the mountain.
It wasn’t long before we lost sight of Executioner’s Peak. A mass of thick cloud had descended and our hapless wandering landed us deep inside a ramshackle village. Initially we felt ill at ease in the impoverished settlement. Had this been South Africa, we would no doubt have been in grave danger being the only white faces in such a destitute community. But here in Swaziland it turned out that attitudes were considerably different.
We had nothing to offer any of the lovely people who greeted us that morning. And they wanted nothing in return besides a happy salutation or a shared smile.
Everybody we met in the village was amazingly friendly – especially the happy children. One little girl walking with her mother in particular made us all feel wonderful. The toddler waved continuously until we were out of sight, hollering ‘hello’ and ‘bye-bye’ as her little pink palm wagged jerkily from side to side. It was very touching, and I think we were all uncharacteristically moved by the gesture.
Children are definitely one of the most heart-warming and rewarding things a person can experience whilst away travelling. To share a few words with a kid and to make them smile or laugh is enjoyable in itself back home. But to do this with a child from an entirely different cultural background to your own brings a real warmth that you don’t get from many other experiences in life.
Young kids are generally unaware of racism and social difference. Their minds have only the natural curiosity we are all born with and are yet to be poisoned by the prejudices and delusions that humankind seems to adopt with age. This in turn makes them a joy to be around – providing they’re not snot encrusted, spoilt little brats that is.
With regards to personal safety, I’d admittedly been a little concerned about Swaziland, and black Africa as a whole for that matter. Being brought up in a working class, predominantly white rural environment, I’d never really mixed amongst the black communities much. Through my lack of exposure a slight ignorance had formed, followed closely by ignorance’s sibling emotion: Fear.
My Dad had made great efforts in bringing up my sister and me as non-racists. And in this zealous effort he had possibly raised black people to a higher pedestal than was necessary. It was like living with Malcolm X at times, especially when rifling through his soul records on a Sunday afternoon or John Barnes was on the telly.
This well-intended perception of black people being as good as, if not better than whites in the majority of areas produced a sense of awe and slight intimidation in me. If I ever came across a black opponent whilst competing in a judo competition in my youth for example, I would automatically assume they were better than me and go into the bout having lost in my mind already. The same applied with football matches and school rugby.
This minor sense of inferiority – coupled with the media’s negative reflection of Southern Africa’s black communities – had put me on real tenterhooks entering Swaziland. Yet I ended up loving that morning’s stroll around the run-down little village. Even though we’d got lost and never made it anywhere near Executioner’s Peak, I felt as if the experience had broken down a few barriers of apprehension within me that needn’t have ever existed.
After the unsuccessful summiting, we made our way back towards the centre of town. Walking past a fearsome looking troop of machete wielding prisoners on grass cutting duty, we then ventured into the mausoleum of King Sobhuza II.
Not knowing a great deal about the former king made the visit a rather dull one in fairness. And apart from a giant portrait of the former leader which looked like the annoying West Indian guy who moaned incessantly on the TV show Desmonds, there wasn’t much else we could relate to.
The three of us had a quick peek in the National Swazi Museum next, but like King Sobhuza’s mausoleum we really weren’t in the mood for it. Danny, who wasn’t quite so uninterested, learned a few snippets of information and kindly passed them on to us philistines. The most interesting being how a Swazi King must go out into the wilds and kill a lion to prove he has the courage to lead his country before a coronation.
In most people’s book this would be deemed a quite charming fact, and it did coax a raised eyebrow or two between Dean and me for a split second. But while our mature friend was further educating himself on the ins and outs of the Swazi Kingdom, Dean and I were more interested in locating local head-dresses we could put on and prance around in.
Unsuccessful in our pursuit, the museum failed to provide the stimulation required for visitors of our mental capacity, so we pissed off back to the nearby supermarket instead.
Purchasing a single piece of steak weighing in at an impressive 2.3kgs, we sauntered back to Legends in order to light the hostel’s barbecue. Monica, who we had now fully warmed to having initially thought she was a freak, joined us for the early afternoon garden party. As did Anusa, the American sounding Malawian guy we’d met in the muddy field the eve before.
To our quarter of a cow Anusa literally added a five foot beef sausage. The thing was massive, and proved an excellent allegory for his more than probable giant knob.
Is assuming a black guy would have a mammoth penis racist? Possibly, but I don’t think it’s a generalisation that would upset too many people so I’ll stick with it.
Vegetarian Monica also supplemented the feast. Her generous offering was a two day old peanut butter and jam sandwich which she said we were all welcome to indulge in if we saw fit.
A wonderful meat filled afternoon of barbequing ensued. A troop of monkeys who repeatedly attempted to steal our food added mirth to the affair. Especially when Dean chased one around the garden with a plank of wood after it grabbed a handful of Doritos.
Shortly after we’d all eaten our fill, the dense clouds that had covered Executioner’s Peak began slamming paintball sized hail stones down to earth. When the painful hail subsided heavy rains came, producing one of the strongest storms I had seen in a long time.
Not being the cleverest bunch of travellers in the world we chose this tempestuous period as the most opportune moment to set off on foot to the local hot springs. Why wait for it to pass like the big woman on reception had suggested when we can walk in bitter winds and torrential rain? It would make it all the more rewarding when we got there, we concluded.
What a bunch of dickheads.
The supposed twenty minute stroll to the hot springs was more like an hour long power walk beside what seemed like the busiest road in the country. The rains were absolutely freezing and I was ready to give up shortly after setting off. Danny and Dean were men on a mission though, and as I didn’t want to appear the pathetic little soft arse I possibly am, I battled forth to save face.
We all came very close to death on numerous occasions along that terrible jaunt. Petrol tankers and huge lorries would zip by at breakneck speeds. The busy two lane highway was an accident waiting to happen. One false step to the right would have seen us crushed to death by a speeding vehicle. Whereas a foot or so to the left would have sent us tumbling into a Willy Wonker like sluice drain filled with a thick, chocolaty river of mud; the brown torrent travelling rapidly along its deep drainage channel before making a vertical drop into a scary looking abyss.
When we finally arrived at the hot spring – a site that would more accurately be described as a heated outdoor swimming pool – I was shivering like mad and almost in tears from the cold. The iciness in my bones was quickly washed away though. And no sooner had the five of us jumped into the glorious, bath temperature pool we all became buoyant in spirits once more.
We bobbed and swam around in steaming springs for an age, trying to get the heat back into our hypothermic bodies whilst doing our best to ignore the fart like smell of sulphur emanating from the waters.
The loveliness of the hot baths was brought to an abrupt end half an hour later. A bolt of lightning from the enduring storm smashed into the ground thirty metres from where we frolicked. The surging electricity could be felt on our shocked faces as it hit, temporarily blinding those looking in that direction.
Reluctantly we departed the spring’s warm embrace soon after, setting off home before we were all suitably fried to a crisp.
That evening Danny, Dean, Anusa and I took a stroll down a dark, winding path to a swanky lodge for some drinks. It was the closest thing the Ezulwini Valley had to a bar, and after our not so enjoyable episode trying to find the hot springs we were all in need of some pleasant refreshment.
Draining our second beer we were thus joined at the table by a drunken Zimbabwean named Louis. Bossily ordering the barman to procure another round of drinks for us all, Louis then entered into a discussion about architecture with Danny as they were both relatively knowledgeable on the subject.
Their educated chat didn’t last long. In his growing drunkenness Louis became somewhat boisterous and a little overwhelming. He liked to be heard, and didn’t seem overly keen on listening to others either.
Anusa soon lost patience with Louis and began chatting up two local Swazi girls. The other lads quickly became fed up with Louis’s conversation domination also and followed Anusa in his pursuit of the local talent. The two women looked remarkably like chubby prostitutes, so I stayed and talked to Louis about Zimbabwe instead.
“So what’s it like there at the moment?”
“It is not good,” replied the red eyed African, before barking more drink orders at the patient barman. “Since the economy crashed, things have gone from bad to worse.”
“What do you think of Mugabe?” I asked.
“Robert Mugabe is a very, very intelligent man.”
“So I’ve read, but do you like him?”
“Can you really like someone whose government has lost everything you have ever worked for? All of my money I had in the bank is gone. I have had to start again from scratch. But there are no other options for the people of Zimbabwe right now.”
“Wouldn’t that Morgan Tsvangirai dude be a better bet to rule the country?”
“Morgan Tsvangirai is a simple man. He is not an intellectual like Mugabe. I really do not know whether he would be any better or any worse, but it is unrealistic to think he will gain control of Zimbabwe. Mugabe is too powerful.”
Louis and I continued to talk about his country, briefly eluding to the ordeals it has gone through under Robert Mugabe’s white man hating regime. All throughout our conversation Louis never once said a bad word about the fuckwit Mugabe, which I found strangely fascinating. Was he scared, or did he genuinely believe Mugabe was the best of a bad bunch? I really don’t know. But talking with the guy proved insightful and I’m very glad I had the opportunity to do so. Plus he paid for my drinks all night so it was a win-win situation.
On our second full day in Swaziland we were at a loss for affordable things to do. Another wander to the Pick ‘n’ Pay supermarket didn’t knock our socks off with excitement, so we decided to get on the next bus heading to the capital city with hopes of finding something interesting there.
The ride to Mbabane didn’t take long at all due to Swaziland being a tiny country. Upon our arrival, we drifted along on the scent of fried secret spices and wound up within the confines of good old KFC.
The price of meals in Mbabane’s KFC seemed ridiculous in comparison to what we had been spending on food of late, so we hastily bid the Colonel good day and went off in search of more economical fare.
Ending up in a small local café we ordered whatever was cheapest and were unsurprisingly disappointed with the results. The chicken casserole I got was a foul brew (no pun intended) of skin and bone with the odd diced carrot thrown in, served on the local staple known as pap.
Pap is a tasteless white lump of cooked ground maize. It is the African equivalent of mashed potato or rice I suppose, just nowhere near as enjoyable as either.
Despite tasting pretty gross, pap does have its plus sides. This comes in the form of what is known locally as a ‘pap ass.’ The thick, stodgy mass is laden with calories and the ladies of Africa can’t seem to get enough of this white gunk inside them. When not burnt off, these calories migrate straight to the ladies rump and form enormous, juicy looking behinds.
A big, fat arse doesn’t exactly sound all that enticing, but believe me, it really can be. These rotund derrières look magnificent fun just sitting there, defying gravity like two smuggled footballs stuck in the back of a woman’s knickers. So, having left most of our crappy meals, we spent the next few hours walking around the capital Mbabane being inter-racial perverts and checking out these gorgeously massive bottoms.
Personally, I think black women are beautiful. I like all women in fact, but there is something about the exotic femme – be they of African, Latin or Asian descent – that really gets me going. Here in Mbabane then I was totally in my element. Dean surprised me too with his ardent admiration as I’d always figured him as a busty blonde kind of guy. The two of us were in cahoots on this one though, and couldn’t keep our eyes still for a second.
Not only were we admiring the perfectly stout ‘pap asses’ of these mysterious black beauties, but we couldn’t help noticing the enormous boobs the Swazi females appeared to possess also. Dean and I were agog at the plethora of busty stunners. Danny remained calm and composed on the other hand, offering fatherly advice every now and then when we got a little overly excitable.
It’s no secret that Africa has a very large problem with the AIDS pandemic, and Swaziland has one of the world’s highest rates of infection amongst adults. So whenever Dean and I would ogle or comment to one another about the perfect dimensions of a particular ladies chest (all done in the most tasteful sense I strive to add) Danny would inform us with an air of learned disinterest that “they might look nice boys, but they’re full of sour milk.”
Not letting the political correctness crew off work just yet, Danny soon changed his tune on the local female populace when an absolute stunner dressed in a tight black pencil skirt and low cut, pink blouse sat next to him on the minibus home.
“Get her chatted up brother!” we urged quietly from the seats behind.
“I might do lads,” replied Danny, unintentionally loud. “You know what they say, once you’ve had black, you never go back.”
His well-known quote wasn’t a terrible thing to say. On the contrary in fact, it’s a compliment if anything. But when said at considerable volume in a minibus full of already staring locals, it may not have been the most appropriate piece of praise given the circumstances.