Resistance was futile when it came to surfing at sunrise on our last day in Ponta. Soon, we were to swap surf for turf, heading from Mozambique to Swaziland (Eswatini) and for the rest of the trip the surfboards had to sadly stay tied to the roof racks.
Hundreds of people started waking up on the beach and many others arrived to set up camp, all eager to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Ponta D’ Ouro. So sorry we missed it, but there’s always a new year to enjoy with the locals and ‘Mapushkins’, who would all definitely teach us a thing or two when it came to partying…
With topped up provisions from the hubbub market, we reluctantly bade farewell to an incredibly laid back charm that oozed vigour and spirit. It took us thirty minutes to exit the market parking area because of a man in a bakkie unloading his stock of water bottles. Keep calm and…relax even more… was definitely the motto of Ponta life.
In the direction of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, we drove over a hundred kilometres. Moments after passing through the outskirts of Maputo Special Reserve, a haven for elephants that we missed out on exploring due to time constraints, we turned left onto gravel roads. This time we elicited the help from both Garmin GPS and Google Maps.
Diverse dirt tracks led us to asphalt at the commence of the spectacular pass, which spiralled up Lebombo Mountains and back down to Goba, the border post into Swaziland. What a pleasure; a less frenzied experience when compared to the Kosi Bay border post into Mozambique.
Swaziland Becomes Eswatini
Less than a year ago, King Mswati III officially changed the name of the landlocked country from the Kingdom of Swaziland to the Kingdom of Eswatini. The unofficial reason was that the king claimed that people thought Swaziland was Switzerland, sounding too similar for his liking. Nudge-nudge-wink-wink.
The people of Eswatini all welcomed us as though we were long-lost friends. With their first language being English, the majority communicated well. From shop assistants to vendors on the side selling braaied mealies, as black as the coals cooked on. We stopped on the side of the road to buy fresh mealies to braai ourselves for dinner and the vendor thought we were joking. He’d never, in all his years as a businessman, had someone buy ‘raw’ corn from him. Another ‘friend’ buying mealies spotted our surfboards on the rooftop of my car and said, “My dream is to surf Jay Bay!” He’d never ever visited the sea before, he added, grinning.
Wide Horizons Retreat
Just outside of Manzini we returned to dirt and gravel roads, 4×4 only tracks, potholes, river crossings, informal settlements, rainbow coloured tiles amidst thatched-roof, traffic consisting of cattle and goats, herdsmen and beaming children.
It took us over six hours from Ponta, including a couple of stops, to reach Wide Horizons. We spent three nights in Aloe Camp, the safari-style tent furthest away from the main house. Completely isolated, the camp had everything anyone could need and more, even a security guard patrolling around the grounds throughout the night. The spacious tent with the ensuite had a corner bath and also an outside shower. A few meters away from the tent, the kitchen and dining area was big enough for six people to comfortably enjoy. A true out of Africa existence.
Within an hour of arriving and lighting the braai, I smelt the rain before I felt it. The mist veiled the ancient Makhungutja mountains and valley below. As soon as our dinner – chargrilled mealies, jacket potatoes and garlic bread both in foil and barracuda steaks – came off the coals, the storm electrocuted the sky and a deluge hammered down all around us. Heavier and heavier, it fired down onto the tin roof that protected the canvas tent. From 8:30pm until early hours into the New Year, it stormed and tripped the electricity. We had no choice but to party inside the tent by glimmering candlelight.
Rose, the owner of Wide Horizons farm, left The United Kingdom in her early twenties to backpack through Africa for a year. The moment she set foot onto the property she never left. After her late husband died twenty years ago she sold sections of the land and all the cattle, keeping the main house and surrounding area, which was now a wildlife conservation reserve where wildebeest (gnus), zebra and impala freely roamed. Traffic or city life couldn’t be heard, the only noise came from the bleating zebra. Incredible tranquillity.
White River Rafting
The guides from Swazi Trails put on a spectacular day teaching us how to navigate through white water on a two-man inflatable raft. I’d done a day’s trip down The Great Zambezi River near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe many years ago but with nine others in the raft, and not once did I pop out into the river. This experience was slightly different.
A trip on the bus with twelve other people lasted a bumpy hour to reach the entry point into the river. The briefing took thirty minutes before we launched ourselves into the creamy caramel water. Two people raised their hands in admission they didn’t know how to swim. The same two people struggled with controlling their raft and keeping it in a straight line, going round in circles most of the time. I’m sure they spent most of the time inside the river rather than inside their raft.
Along the Great Usutu River, on our raft, one of us fell out three times and the other was bumped out twice. Of course, I’m not going to mention names; wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s rep…
Most opted to walk the last ‘tongue’ raging rapid. We closely observed the three guides tackle it, and both agreed on the best line to take. With gusto, we went forth and conquered. We definitely learned from our earlier mistakes and our confidence paid off in the end. The two other rafts didn’t quite make it without capsizing. Thankfully and miraculously no one was injured.
I expected it to be slightly less demanding so the challenge fuelled my adrenaline, making me feel alive and by the end of the trip I believed I could take on any adventure.
Tip: Keep your toes securely tucked into the feet pockets at all times.
The day of departure we ventured to the main house at Wide Horizons where Mike prepared us a superb breakfast with freshly made bread and muffins. Originally from Yorkshire, he’d been expertly managing the farm for many years. Another place we double-promised to return to.
Time to head off to the Sabi Sand Game Reserve for a two-night break at Kirkman’s Kamp Lodge, in the heart of leopard country… Coming Up Next!