Encountering any wild animal is a heart pounding experience of excitement, mixed with a dash of caution and fear, as well as buckets of beauty and astonishment. Now imagine that as you’re deep into an African Reserve, navigating on your bike, with no boundaries between you and these beautiful creatures. Winner of our customer competition, Denise d’Abadie, recounts this spellbinding tale of her recent adventure into the heart of Swaziland.
‘Swaziland is now proudly known as the Kingdom of Eswatini – which has an exotic ring to it – don’t you think? I’d never been to the Continent of Africa, and with the numerous countries therein, found it difficult to choose exactly where to go. Swaziland came up by chance, and what an introduction!
Who would have thought it possible to cycle on the ‘range’, so to speak, sharing sacred space with impalas, wildebeest, zebras, cranes, crocodiles, buffalo, giraffe – and be totally at peace. Safe. Amazed. Enamoured. Humbled. Excited.
Visiting the nature reserves – a world once inhabited only by wild animals, now reserved for a few select protected creatures, and even fewer humans who dare to venture into their world. Vast open spaces where these animals literally ‘mind’ their own business. Grazing, drinking, looking up at us only infrequently as if to say – “Well, what’s your problem?”, leaving us some time to enjoy their simple world.
The first days took us cycling through undulating paths in and around the Mlilwanee Wildlife Sanctuary getting a close look at nature at its best. Magnificent vistas in the Sanctuary, ‘close’ encounters with ‘wild’ animals, peaceful, peaceful, peaceful. Then meandering through the neighbouring villages, greeting the locals (happy to have us experience their world) waving, smiling at us as we pass by.
The Kingdom of Eswatini is steeped in rich culture and customs.
We were fortunate enough to experience the singing and dancing of a local group of young Swazis who shared their passion for their culture – no reservations – and with much enthusiasm. Visiting what was once a typical nest of traditional huts, pregnant with the ancient culture of Swaziland, we were told of local customs and habits of village life. Whilst they make for good stories and a glimpse of what the world of Swaziland looked like many years ago, I would venture to say, much of it remains in the past – hopefully more distant than recent.
Cycling through the villages proved to be one of the best ways to experience this country. It allows you to get close to the people, get a glimpse of their hospitality, their everyday life, their lifestyle.
As we rode through the villages, we were always greeted with shy yet warm smiles, a quick ‘hello, how are you’. Gentle and sincere, laughing with each other as we rode by. Stopping at times, to ask the children if I could take a picture, they gathered together willingly, calling their friends and neighbours to join in the photo. Some posing bravely at the side, the younger ones, not too sure how to react, all the while though happy to engage and happy to welcome you to their world.
The latter half of our adventure took us through the Game reserves of Mkhaya and Mbuluzi where we boarded open trucks and ventured through the wild tracks searching for the likes of hippos, rhinos, giraffes, wildebeests, elephants and lions.
As we ambled through the rocky terrain, the animals seemed to appear one by one, as if on cue. Some close by, others in the distance. Some lazing in their favourite waterhole, others scampering away as we approached, a few staring curiously, others not even phased by our existence.
At all times however, our guides taking us carefully through the reserve and stopping at certain vantage points, allowing us time to experience the closeness of these wild animals.
There were moments when we understood that we were not very welcome. An uncanny feeling when you venture on foot towards a mother and baby rhino and discover that you are being surrounded by three large female rhinos whose instinct is to protect their young. What do you do? Carefully, slowly retreat. Retreat. Retreat. And there and then you understand fully that you are not in charge. You understand the power of the ‘village raising the child’ and wonder when we humans lost this instinct to protect each other so fiercely. Or have we?
It was encouraging to see other families of giraffes, warthogs, nyalas, impalas – an indication that these reserves are indeed successful in keeping these species alive.
My favourite however, was her Majesty the Giraffe.
I remember searching through the trails looking for her. I gasped. She just stood there, as if to say “Me? Looking for me?” I smiled. And almost with a gentle bow, I replied, “Yes. I’m looking for you.”
There she was – elegant, poised, sensitive to my presence and maybe a bit wary of my intentions. Nonetheless, she always maintained her composure and, turning away ever so gently, would walk slowly at first and then gallop with her young ones to a more secluded spot where she could continue to enjoy the peaceful surroundings of this, her nature reserve.
I encountered her several times. Sometimes in the distance. Sometimes on our path. At all times, her majestic presence left me in awe of this wonderful creature. She never disappointed. Was always gracious. And each time I stumbled upon her, I gasped silently. Always happy to see her. Always honoured to have made her acquaintance.
Would I do it again? In a flash.’
Feeling Inspired? Swaziland is just one of our thrilling cycling adventure destinations – for more once in a life-time experiences by bike go here. For riders after a more challenging experience, we also have a mountain biking version of this trip, click here to find out more!