Easter crept up on me this year. I was so overwhelmed with moving to a new continent, that it was only the week before Easter that I realised a long weekend was coming up, for which I had nothing planned. Long weekends without plans of exciting adventures are as devastating as dinner without desserts, so with little time to choose my own adventure I politely squeezed my way into other peoples’ well organised holidays. I’m pleased to say, that tactic served me very well.
It all started at 7am on Good Friday, as I entered Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary to ascend Execution Rock with a bunch of other Aussies, and the odd Pom. Execution Rock was so named because it was apparently the place where people were marched to before being involuntarily nudged off the other side. As I hiked up it this early morning, there were moments where I wondered if anyone threw themselves off prematurely because they considered that fate a more pleasant alternative than the climb. However, as with most upward hikes, it was worth it in the end with fantastic views over Ezulwini Valley and a tiring sense of accomplishment.
Driving through Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, I was also fortunate to spot some of Africa’s famous inhabitants. Hippos in the distant water, crocs (otherwise known as flat dogs), impala, wildebeest, warthogs, zebras, and a variety of other antelopy things that shall remain nameless because I don’t know their names.
Later that evening, I was fortunate to be invited to Seder festivities, as part of the Jewish Passover. Sadly, my ignorance on Seder meant I knocked up a rather un-kosher cous cous dish to share, but at least I also took some wine to soften the blow. I did become much enlightened about the occasion throughout the evening, though. After dusk, children and adults sing a special song asking and explaining why this night is so special. An offering plate is made, containing a chicken wing to represent strength (a strong arm), pickles to represent a bitter life, sweets for the good things in life, a hardboiled egg to symbolise hard times, and edible greens signifying renewal. Each person gets to nibble each of these after dipping them in salty water. Then, over the course of the entire night, adults share with the children the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt (we were entertained with the much-shortened 30 minute version). The storytelling is interspersed with an awful lot of food, starting with Matza soup (Matza being the unleavened dry bread), and followed with a variety of delectable dairy-free, pork-free, seafood-free and wheat-free dishes. All is eaten while lying comfortably.
My celebrations were short-lived however, as I was up again at 6am to complete my second hike in as many days. This time I joined Aussie Carly and Kiwi Chris for a hike to one of the many 11,000 year old San Bushman Paintings that can be found in Swaziland. Again, I was awarded with spectacular scenes of rural Swaziland, and the occasional vertical rock scramble.
That evening, it was time for more animal viewing at Mkhaya Game Reserve, as I joined another Aussie volunteer, Julie, and her visiting family members on their weekend getaway. The package included dusk and dawn game park drives, as well as luxury accommodation in a Swazi beehive hut (with the bonus of hot water and complimentary insect repellent), a candlelit dinner by the fire, cooked breakfast, and a charming 5:30am wake-up call complete with a cup of tea and a muffin. Although we didn’t get to see all the Big 4, we had some amazingly close encounters with rhinos. The backs of these fellas were taller than me and their waist about 1000 times the size (definitely obese on the BMI scale). Seeing them about 3 metres away made me bleedingly aware of how easily one of these critters could completely annihilate our open-top jeep and the squishy bodies within. A comforting thought. We were also fortunate to spot a herd of albino wildebeest, buffalo, monitor lizard, the bums of elephants hiding in the trees, and giraffes off in the distance.