The Kingdom of Swaziland

Swaziland is a little land-locked country, surrounded on all sides by South Africa and Mozambique. Besides being the only absolute monarchy left in Africa, I didn’t know much about Swaziland, other than it has (at least had) the highest rate of HIV positive people per capita in the world. Someone in Johannesburg told me I should visit in winter, so I could go skiing, but after arriving and asking when the ski season is and being laughed at, I learned there’s never any snow in Swaziland. Someone must have confused it with Lesotho.

To my surprise, Swaziland was a much safer, more peaceful part of southern Africa. As soon as I crossed the border from South Africa, everyone felt more at ease, and no left-over apartheid feelings of racial separation seemed to exist. I could walk the streets alone at night, and even hitchiked my way around Ezulwini Valley. I felt really at home at a hotspring called the ‘Cuddle Puddle’ which was actually a big, beautiful, warm pool where you could BYOB and order take away pizza.

safari on foot at Mlilwane

Ezulwini valley was a sort of tourism center in Swaziland, and there was more tourism than I expected. There was a handful of backpackers and most hostels were associated with an adventure company or game park. At Mlilwane Game Reserve, there are no predators, so you can actually go on a walking safari, and get up close and personal with lots of zebras and little horned antelopes and ‘beests.’ They had other game parks, one personally belonging to the king, where you could see lions, elephants and rhinos a lot easier than Kruger National Park, which is 1,500 square kilometers larger than the entire country of Swaziland.

Mantenga Falls

I went on some other hikes, one to a cultural village and waterfall, and another to a granite cave. You wouldn’t think those activites were thrilling anywhere else, but because I hadn’t expected any adventures, I laughed my whole way through the 200m of cave tunnels we had to squeeze, bend, crawl and climb thru. We went to a soccer game to watch the beloved Swallows, one of the better teams on all of Africa, play surrounded by an enthusiastic local crowd. We were the only foreigners in the stadium.

at the football stadium in Ezulwani valley

I met an American film producer who used to work for National Geographic and had been making a new tourism commercial for Swaziland, and got sold on visiting Swaziland yet again. I ended up staying a few days longer than I expected, but still left some things undone, and was glad I didn’t visit for only a weekend as I had originally planned. I was lucky to leave at all, since I learned at the border exit that I had been illegally visa-free in Swaziland the entire time. So for any other Icelanders being sold on visiting Swaziland anytime soon, make sure you get your visa on arrival, even if they let you in and stamp your passport without one.

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American College Football

me hugging Oski, the California Bears Mascot

me hugging Oski, the California Bears Mascot

I attended my first college football game here at Cal (short for the University of California at Berkeley) where the California Golden Bears played the Oregon State Beavers in their second-to-lastlast home game. Unfortunately, it did not go so well, with their main quarterback suffering a serious fall (leading to a stretcher carry-out and a concussion)  and the final score being 31-14 for Oregon. Their last home game was a close call, but victory against Arizona came with a 24-16 final score. Next weekend they play their second-to-last last season game, against Stanford, a long standing rivalry of theirs. Even day-to-day on campus, all students express fierce competition with Stanford on every level (other varsity sports, academically, socially), and Stanford recently won a game against USC (the University of Southern California) by 55-21, one of the biggest margins ever.

Since the Cal Golden Bears are ranked 25th and Stanford is ranked 17th (BCS Standings as of Nov 15), there is a lot of pressure on Cal, and fans here are tough; during my first game, I was sitting in the stadium, and after the end of the third quarter, more than 25% of the fans had just left, knowing the game was already lost. Halfway through the last period, you could see on the televised versious of the game that the stadium was more than half empty, and the only section still full and cheering was the Oregon fanbase. It seems harsh for that many fans to turn their backs on you after a rough game, but, those people come to see them win, not lose.

It was still a really cool experience; the Cal stadium is up on the top of the slight hill that Berkeley campus sits on, with a view of San Francisco from the top of it. At night time, it is lit up with so many white lights that you can see it glowing from accross the bay. It is the largest football stadium in California according to its 72,000 seating capacity (which fills almost every sold-out game); being in a crowd that big for the most beloved sport of Americans was definitely an experience I couldnt miss out on, especially since I myself am now a ‘bear’ – an affectionate term for Berkeley Students.