A short bike tour in Swaziland
It was easy to enter Swaziland. Anyway, till now at any border in Africa nobody said: “Hey! Stop! Let me see what you have in your bags”. After the border cross, there was a man selling prepaid GSM cards near the gate. The price of the card was cheap. I asked whether it was charged with credit, he immediately handed me one. Using star hashtag I chose one of the suitable monthly internet packages and activated the internet package. During my trip through Africa on bike I came across similar situations at almost all border gates. Also, I must admit that when you travel abroad (probably mostly by plane) the same will be encountered. Generally, the procedures for buying a prepaid cell phone line are not the same as in our country (at least not the same when I had left the country). If you go for a short holiday, you can easily buy an internet package and GSM line in short time. This country where I bought this GSM line, Swaziland, is a very small country at the south most tip of Africa.
Classical African scenes at the border: recycled corrugated iron houses, trailers parked at each side of the road, people wandering from one country to the other with their kids. There are no signs of wealth or luxury neither at location nor people. I only saw a couple of tourists travelling by car.
The capital town is 30 km away from the border. Since I crossed the border shortly before getting dark I stayed overnight at a small hotel near the border. It looked like a bar where trailer drivers, drunks and workless people where hanging around. In this geography when a white man enters such a place people inside get astonished. South African white men do not prefer such places. Anyway, after a few minutes people realize that I’m not a South African citizen. Since there is nothing to avoid and that I was directly recognized as a foreigner I easily can hang around, chat and even stay overnight. When I entered the room I started to laugh and the hotel in Cori in Georgia which looked like a cheap brothel came in my mind. The middle of the bed was sunk, the bedding filthy, cockroaches here and there. Familiar scenes.
At the entrance of Swaziland I came up to 1800 m and was still ascending. Just before the capital town there was a short slope and then a descent down to 800 m. While climbing, our honorary consul Ismail Olmez came by car to meet me. It was the first day of Ramadan and we greeted each other’s bayram (feast in Turkish). Since he was driving, he had to escort me. After 40 minutes we arrived at his company’s building in the town.
The brothers Cetin and Ismail came to Swaziland in 1983 due to their father being an electrical engineer. Actually such decisions are far bigger than mine of decision to travel around to world. Furthermore, taking into account the challenge caused by settling down in such a remote place and in that time, such a decision requires a huge amount of courage. After working in electrical industry field they changed to medical industry which turned out to be a wise decision. They own the only company selling medical instruments and necessary auxiliaries in the country. Both being since long time in the country and performing their business in the best way, they became close friends with the king of the country.
During World War II Japans mined iron in this country which information made me astonished. Mining has started officially only in 1963 in this country but it seems that Japans where in this country during World War II. Also, one of the oldest iron mines in the world was found in this country which I couldn’t visit since it was at the other side of the country. Sugar cane and timber are the export goods of the country. There aren’t almost any other mines in this country with high altitudes. The father of the present king didn’t licence foreigners for mining which was also followed by his son. They themselves don’t possess the technology for mining.
One of the biggest wishes of the King of Swaziland was a direct flight to the country by big airline companies. As I learned about this I said to Mr. Ismail our honorary consul: “Let us do it like this. We ask them for mining permission and then send Turkish Airlines to their country which has a direct flight to Johannesburg 400 km ahead.” Mr. İsmail looked at me so as if it was that easy. Of course it should first be checked whether is feasible or not and then decided. Mr. Ismail liked this idea very much which came in my mind in seconds.
Almost all the level and waterlogged lands are sugar cane fields in this country. They stretch to the horizon. Where ever I turn my head I see hundreds of acres of sugar cane fields. UK granted Swaziland 30 million pounds for cultivation, harvesting and sugar production. Also, USA grants similarly for pineapple production. In the world, 70 % of sugar production is done by sugar cane and the rest from beet molasses. The world’s largest sugar producers are Brazil and India. UK is the country which supports sugar cane production all over the world and therefore controls the sugar market. During my trips in Turkey I had the opportunity to see the country side and the agricultural fields. I must say that if sugar cane is cultivated in Arab countries and in Africa then it can also be cultivated in Turkey. Its cultivation and harvest is cheaper compared to that of sugar beet. It seems that in every country having four seasons climate sugar molasses can be cultivated but due to politics and the influence of leading countries the working class pays for it as usual. While I’m talking about this issue the sugar beet producers in my country suffered from the recent political decisions. As far as I saw and got informed, there are flour and sugar plants in this country. Even, the king promotes companies to establish sugar plants: “Come and produce under your own trade mark in this country, I’ll even give you a plant”. Saying this he actually demands to become 50 % stakeholder. Therefore, big companies do not take kindly this offer. This being the situation the company Coca-Cola has a plant in this country. The products sold in the towns in Swaziland and surrounding countries are coming from this plant.
Mentioning about the King something came in my mind. He has 40 wives. I would wish to ask this question to the king: “Hey, it is already hard to get through with only one wife, what is your secret? That is, I have met with women from all around the world but haven’t met anyone who is such familiarized like you. Therefore I’m asking you.” And every year the number of women increases. I think he even doesn’t know the names of all the children he has. In the rural areas a man has to give 5 oxen to the bride’s family which is almost the same everywhere in Africa. But, let’s say you fall in love with one of the daughters of the King than you have to give 100 oxen. When you marry to one of the daughters of the King, you’ll have priority in the issues of finance and business in the country. We passed the houses where the wives of the king live, 3-4 storied nice villas. I have seen poor communities in many countries I have visited so far but never encountered such a deep gap between rich and poor as in the sub-Saharan countries. In the sub-Saharan countries the people who got wealthy harmed their own landsmen. It seems that they are doing this under foreign countries provocation but they do it. There aren’t schools but the wealthy landsman let built a mansion for his wife, the state hospital has no equipment but he wears dresses worth of a few thousands USD, etc.
Mountain bike races are popular in this country. Due to the suitable land structure, people from nearby cities of South Africa come to race. Truly, most of the attendants to such races are white men in spite of the fact, that the majority of the population are black. The wealthy blacks also do not participate. I don’t understand why I can’t see them in similar activities yet. I’m sure they’ll be very successful. I met with the sports minister of the country who was also a cyclist. He told me that they were trying to do their best but were devoid of necessary budget and support. Well, it seems that if the king would support you instead of getting married each year you would succeed but whatever.
Throughout my life I didn’t like to say “Mr” or “Mrs”. All the diplomats kept calling me Mr. Gurkan, Mr Gurkan. Well, if we are at similar ages why not just calling each other by our names or if you are older than me let me call you abi (elderly brother in Turkish, informal) or abla (elderly sister in Turkish, informal). I would like to call you by your first name but the possibility to identify me as disrespectful is big. To me a conversation with Mr and Mrs isn’t respectful despite a complete insincerity. Within the 6 years I met hundreds of strangers and I called the people older than me always with their first names no matter women or men. Also, none of them called me Mr Gurkan even the princes, ministers, statesmen. Although I constantly pay attention to call our diplomats with their first names or by abi-abla they are still persisting in Mr and Mrs. I’m not the one who would say: “You are disrespectful” if people won’t call me Mr. Gurkan. You can call me by my name: Gurkan Genc. The highlight was the meeting in Oman (When I first met a member of Ottoman family we called each other “Oooo dear Gurkan, dear Selim” in a chum modus, we are still in connection).
Ismail abi hosted me very well. I stayed and rested in his house for 5 days. He has a son who is working in Singapore. While I was there he showed me a Singaporean newspaper in which an article was published about his son’s success. He has also learned Chinese. Well done. I was also proud of him. We don’t know much about the successful Turkish students, doctors, businessmen/women, travellers abroad who represent our country proudly. There is no place for such people in our country’s agenda. Why to mention about such successful people and give hope to the others? The journalist would say: “ Abi, our country’s agenda is hectic, you would be lost among the news fed, let’s do it another time”. “Abi, Let’s don’t report about you tout de suite, let some time to pass in between.” As if the country’s agenda is changing every second and all the Turkish people had read your news you made and knows me already. Especially, I really don’t like the chin-wag: “abi send me one of your unpublished photos”. There are presses which offer 100 USD for those photos. Well, which one is the sports branch where money talks? Soccer of course. Which news will hit the highest rate? Magazine of course. Just then, the other news will have their turn. Anyway, there isn’t any shortage of news in my country, thanks god.
I have traveled in 51 countries so far, I haven’t seen a country with an agenda changing that fast. All our ambassadors know this fact very well. In short, it is a system based on personal gain. You and I know very well when you make my news. : )
Ismail abi had to go to Namibia for a business travel. Even he wished that I would stay, I wanted to visit the second biggest monolith in the world the Sibebe Rock, taking the MR1 route. It is at 1488 m altitude and 390 m high. Pretty huge! It is said to be one of the favorites of the European rock climbers.
It is older than Uluru the biggest monolith situated in Australia, 3 billion years old. There are pathways for walking to the top which takes 2-3 hours not suitable for vehicles. But, what did I? Of course, I pushed my bike up through the pathway. Really, I sometimes don’t believe myself what kind of routes I choose. Dude, it is not a path for bike. Well, why not to use the roads for vehicles. No, the scenery on this side was amazing and I wanted to cycle on the top of the monolith. This route is to be done, that’s it! After a point I was unable to push my bike uphill which might give an idea about the steepness of the path. If I cannot push my bike by leg power, not even talking about cycling, then this is the break point. I removed all my bags from the bike and carried them to a place where I at least could my bike push. Then, went back to carry my bike. I broke the chain countless times just not to have to push my bike. Now, I even carry my bike. Gee! This path is definitely to be avoided by bikers. If anybody decides to visit he/she better use the vehicle road. Butttt when I arrived on the top I screamed as if I did a big shit. Hahaha. Dude, how I pushed the bike. After this first summit, I rode down without any difficulties. The path reaching the summit of the rock becomes a %14 slope, are the tires slightly sinking? The chain is about to break down again. Dude, hang on! Where are those fast-paced songs I need an immediate energizer. I opened my mp3 player, Unce Unce Unce Unce hang on girl (to my bike)…. Anyhow, at the end I reached summit. Well, as if the crowd was waiting for me at the summit I was yelling each time. I was yelling till I could hardly breathe as if I wasn’t already out of breath. What a climb it was. What do you do for the first when you reach the summit? You look around don’t you? What I did, I immediately looked for a place to poo. Then, I put up my tent and managed to record shortly by drone before it got dark. I was told there where caves where I could see the drawings of Bushmen also called Sandmen. I found those caves but they were hardly to be recognized. The walls were smeared with people’s writings.
Summit dinner is pasta as usual and the tent is facing to a beautiful landscape as usual. After I cooked the pasta on MSR stove, I turned it off and silence settled.
Before starting to eat I stopped for a while and looked at the scenery. I just stopped while writing this article and thought. It is so hard to write about my feelings. I’m experiencing so many feelings at once which I can hardly put in words.
The descent on this road was really good the next day but then there were again many ups and downs. Along this dirt road I only saw a few villages scattered around. Again the schools in this remote area got support from some European and US institutions. The adults keep away and the children salute from a distance and immediately smile when I respond.
Climbing up and down all the day through, I really got tired. While passing through a big village my body was signaling the time to stop has come. I stopped at the first grocery. Bought a bottle of fizzy drink and asked the woman in the store whether I could camp behind the grocery. She didn’t allow me or didn’t understand what I said.
There isn’t any place where I can put my tent up without recognized by people or to hide and there is still a 400 m height climb. I climbed more than enough for this day and have no power to climb. Either I’ll put my tent up in the backyard or get hosted by someone. The latter is what I wish.
After climbing 150 m I found a grocery on the right hand side of the road. It had also a restaurant. “Just stop, I’ll find a place to stay overnight but first let me eat something in the restaurant. I’m very tired and don’t want to cook.”
I first went to the grocery. Inside was a sweat curvy woman. We smiled and greeted at each other. The grocery and the restaurant were connected via a small aisle. I guess she could see from my face how much I was tired, she told me to come in and eat something first. I didn’t say no. While having dinner it got dark.
- Thank you for the meal. I’m looking for a place, may I put up my tent on your backyard?
- Come on! Our house is suitable. My husband will come soon then we’ll go home together.
Wow, I was so relieved. After her husband came, going to their house was another episode. I had to descent all the dirt road I had climbed up. Dude, I wished I wouldn’t have to climb back all the distance early in the morning. Well, the day will start with a 1000 m altitude climb and that is just to come back to the point which I climbed the day before. Hahaha. Nothing to do. I met her children in the evening, 4 girls and one boy. I looked in my bags for suitable presents for the girls. I gave pretty nice earrings to girls and also to their mother after seeing her look. Well, I’m carrying such small presents from time to time. Not always but if have the opportunity I like to make people happy. Thanks to them, day didn’t leave me outside that night. The next morning I woke up early. While watching the sunrise I was looking how the girls were preparing for the school. During my travel in Africa, I never saw school girls with dirty white socks and they always smelled good. Well, I got surprised seeing those girls coming from such poor families. Always clean and fragrant. I told this once to an American volunteer working in Africa. Then, she said: “Gurkan if you get the opportunity pay attention to the cleaning process of their clothes at the rivers. You would get surprised to see how much of detergent they use”. One day I stopped seeing the crowd at a river and watched the people. The people themselves mess the rivers in Africa although they hardly find clean drinking water.
The next day I passed by timber processing plants along my road. If I were the king of such a small country I would stop the tree cutting business. Dude, you are such a small country why to cut trees and establish timber business. Well, the owners of the timber processing plants are South Africans with European partners. Upon searching it goes much behind knowledge. Anyway, I came to Piggs Peak Hotel the most famous hotel in the past riding on scenic road.
During the Apartheid period the casinos were shut down. Therefore, people from cities as Johannesburg and Pretoria used to come to this famous hotel to gamble. Its location is really amazing surrounded by a forest. After Apartheid the casinos in South Africa were re-opened and this place lost its favor. Its rooms generally remain empty. The hotel is just 70 km away from entrance of the Kruger Park. The hotel depends of tourism income but possesses neither a professional hotel manager nor the present manager is experienced on this subject. Therefore, they were seeking for a manager which would bring back into action this 5 stars hotel. Since the rooms were empty they hosted me for two nights. While I took a short walk in the forest around the hotel I came up to more than 200 donkeys. I wasn’t carrying my camera and my smart phone so I just strolled around and returned to the hotel. After a good dinner I went to my room. Dude, they gave me such room with a spectacular view but nonetheless I’m alone in the room with black thunder my bike. Years have passed and I’m still traveling solo. Oh snap!….. Hahaha
I came close to the Mozambique border, just about 5 km to go. I could increase the number of countries visited easily but I didn’t since I had to take time when travelling in a country. Just riding to the capital town of Mozambique and then return to South Africa is not my thing. If I had entered the country the best would be to head to the north and enter Tanzania but for the time being no need for such a program. In the future I may do, just let me note this on the list. The countries I didn’t visit during this trip are: Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana Burkina, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania.
Leaving Swaziland I had come up to the eastern tip of South Africa. Well, now I’ll ride from this point to the South most and West most tips of the country. By the way, I had the opportunity to chat with students of a school where an Israeli was the school director.
Continuing to travel around the world like this.