Stories

To Swaziland and back again

Every year since meeting my wife, we make our way to Swaziland in June. Yvonne’s sister and her husband live there on a farm in a beautiful valley. Swaziland is a very small country bordering South Africa. They are still a monarchy, and have a king with thirteen wives. 

We try to get the whole family together at this time, depending on who can or can’t get away for the weekend or long weekend. As they have a nice, big farmhouse, we manage to all squeeze into it. Numbers usually range from 10 to 18 people. The trip there is about 4-5 hours from our home base in Johannesburg. We also have to brave the border control to get there. 

There is the main border post called Oshoek, which can take anything from 20 minutes to 3 hours to get through, depending on the time, the amount of people crossing (including trucks and pedestrians) and whether there is an upcoming public holiday or not. Because of this, we prefer to take the slightly longer road to a smaller border post called Nerston. This adds about 30 minutes to the trip in road time, but the border control post itself is small, neat and obscure, and we are usually the only ones there. 

The other benefit is that the last 2 hours of driving is full of beauty and very little traffic. The road is embraced by trees and valleys and is just a pleasure to drive on.

Having two photographers in the car, can easily extend our trip by an hour, especially with such beauty around us. After the border, it is about 45 minutes to our final destination. By this time it is usually close to 10:00 in the morning, so we will stop for photos again on the way home when we are driving in the golden hour of the afternoon. 

Most years, the dates of the trip were linked to a mountain bike race in one of the close-by nature reserves, that some members of the family used to do. This made for a nice hectic and rushed weekend, with getting everyone there (cyclists and supporters all in tow).

 This year, there were no cyclists and we managed to go for a longer weekend, which included a public holiday. This made for a wonderfully lazy weekend.

Most of the time is spent on the farm relaxing, playing games, drinking lots of coffee, chatting and catching up on family matters and gossip. Late afternoons we go for walks around the farm, basking in the glorious late afternoon sun. The kids especially love this and get to see some farm animals. The evenings we spend together making dinner, with always at least one night having a ‘braai’ (this is the South African way of having a BBQ, and is a point of national pride). While winter is hitting its peak back home, Swaziland can still be cold, but is generally quite a bit warmer. We were also lucky to catch a couple of days of unbelievable ‘un-wintery’ days!

Yvonne and I have quite a soft spot for Swaziland. South Africa is a bit of a crime heavy country. Also, where we live in Johannesburg, we live the city life, rushed with traffic, lights and noise. While we do enjoy the urban life, once we hit that border, we both feel like time slows down. In many ways, Swaziland feels more like Africa, but we also feel more safe and the stress and tension of everyday life slip away. Yvonne and I also come more often for other of reasons as well. I have been sent there for work before, and we also volunteer with Ubuntu Help-Portrait once a year in Swaziland. As a matter of fact, we just love to travel in general.

It being a different country, mobile phones are off and people can’t get hold of us, which is such a nice feeling. The country is a mix of valleys with lush green trees, particularly the area we stay in the Ezulwini Valley, an area called Malkerns.

Most of the images we take are of the family weekends, and I generally take the majority of them. We usually come home with about 1000 unrejected shots between the both of us.
 

At the end of the weekend, we hit the road again, and sometimes try to plan it around the good light, via the same route and small border.

 ©Neill Soden
 ©Neill Soden
 ©Neill Soden