Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you – David McCullough Jr.
And what a mountain we climbed.
Our journey to Execution Rock started with a farewell to St. Lucia and a temporary adieu to South Africa. We traveled by bus to Sondzela Backpackers, a hostel located in the beautiful Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
The drive there was fascinating, largely due to the changing landscapes, but also because we had to get out of the bus and walk across the border from South Africa to Swaziland. Since we changed countries, our passports were stamped again, an experience I delighted in immensely.
Our entrance into Swaziland resulted in a stop at a nearby local market. I understand that we are expected – and occasionally even encouraged by the sellers themselves – to barter, but I have never been comfortable with the process. At this point in time, I was nearing the end of my spending money anyway, but I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling I had trying to haggle prices. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I suspect otherwise.
Sondzela was a lovely location, but what sold me on it were the huts. We weren’t able to stay in them, but for the five minute walk out to our sleeping quarters, we passed by several and gazed longingly at them. Plus, it was the perfect setting for a sunrise panorama.
Our Swaziland activity day broke down into two main groups – white water rafting, or a horse back ride up to Execution Rock. When I first arrived on this trip, I had been Team White Water Rafting, until I thought about it a little bit more…. I don’t always have the best luck (good old Murphy’s Law and I are old chums), and did I really want my first-ever rafting experience to be dying in a river in Africa? Not particularly. Like a scaredy-cat, I chose the safer option, but in the end I’m glad I did. (Only three people didn’t fall out of the rafts out of fourteen or fifteen, and one girl somewhat seriously hurt her ankle.)
In the end, I’m glad I chose the horse option, particularly when our walk there began with views like this:
We arrived in a slightly confused stupor, having been pointed in the right direction by a group leader and then left on our own for the last half of the walk out. Since we were in the ‘intermediate’ riders group, our tour left earlier in the morning, a fact of which I was grateful for when the sun began to beat down on us. It was a stark contrast from the temperature and sun we experienced in St. Lucia.
After our ride was underway, I received even more proof that I chose correctly. Not only do I love horseback riding, but having the opportunity to do so with scenery like this and near zebras and wildebeests was an experience I will never forget. I know I’m a broken record with that statement in these posts, but it’s true.
We had some interesting moments along the ride. Sophie’s horse was not happy to follow along behind mine, and made it known by causing my horse to break into sporadic trots. Eventually, Sophie’s horse took off out of the line, and when forced back in order, the horse took the spot ahead of mine.
Twice each direction we had to get off our horses and walk them across either a bridge or a rocky path too much for them to handle with us on their backs. This was where I truly learned how sweet my horse was. Meet Sibiya.
As I walked her along, she nudged my arm frequently with her nose, and even licked my arm twice. She kept pace with me and seemed to be as cautious of my safety as I was of hers. I couldn’t have had a more perfect horse.
Then we reached our destination…. Well, sort of.
The mountain behind me in the picture above is Execution Rock, known for – you guessed it – being a popular execution spot. The hike up was so steep, strenuous, and exhausting that I had to take several breaks. Part of me was thinking of the people who had to endure this trek, only to jump or be pushed off at the 1110 m (roughly 3640 ft) summit.
When I finally reached the top, only moments after becoming convinced that I would never make it, a feeling of breathless peace washed over me, and – as cliche as it sounds – all of my aches and ragged breaths passed from my mind.
I think we stayed for an hour, but the time passed far more quickly than I had realized. I could have stayed for hours, watching the landscape light up as the sun moved across the horizon. Of course, the only thing worse than making that climb would be making it in the dark.
Reliving all these memories and seeing all the pictures from my trip makes me ache to return. The momentary lifestyle I lived in South Africa and Swaziland felt more connected and genuine than anywhere else. In so many ways, it felt like how life should be – connecting with people on different levels and across different cultures and divides; bonding over shared experiences with people I had never before met in person; fulfilling lifelong dreams; taking chances and adventures and proving to myself just who I am as a person and what I believe in.
I warned you in the introductory post that there would be a surplus of cliches, but one stands above all others – Africa challenged me, fulfilled me, and changed me, and I’d like to think it’s all for the better.
Until next time. TIA.
I have one final round up post coming soon! As excited as I am to share more of my adventures, this one is hard to say farewell to.