We were hungry. I was frustrated at being so close to Mozambique without actually getting into the country. The next best thing would be Mozambican food! I’ve heard about Afro-Portuguese cuisine, with the emphasis on seafood, and here was our chance!

MO-ZAM-BIK Ballito / 4 Compensation Road, Boulevard Centre, Ballito 4399, South Africa / +27 32 946 0979

Passing through Ballito, I saw the syllables MO-ZAM-BIK emblazoned across a billboard. Sold!

We were seated on the second floor, with a wonderful view of the goings-on below at the family tables. We ordered a selection of seafood, a bit of everything, and it was absolutely wonderful. The crowds, the spices, the aroma, the taste; it all blended together for a fabulous evening.

Spar Supermarket / New Shopping Centre, Kudu Street, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa / +27 15 793 2305

One of the ways that Carmella and I experience what the locals do is by visiting their stores and shops. On the way south from Needles Lodge we pass through the town of Hoedspruit (“Hat Creek”, in Afrikaans), in Limpopo Province, at the foot of the Klein Drakensberg (“Small Dragon Mountains”). There, as in many small towns, the economic center of attention seems to be the all-in-one grocery store; here it’s a Spar supermarket.

I have no interest in globally available products, like Nestlé products, but rather in what’s local. In Hoedspruit it’s bacon strips, flavored with chutney, smoke, or chilli [sic].

Carmella’s hand is caught coveting all the skewers. In fact, it’s such a good idea that we buy some of each kind because there’s not much in restaurants where we’re going next…

That’s the face of a happy girl, buying all the things. She’s making sure we’ll be able to feast for a the few days we’ll be almost off the grid (in a way I’ve never done).

Another South African specialty is biltong and droëwors. Best toss some of each of those into our shopping cart.

Provisioned well, we head onwards to bureaucracy (and make it just in the nick of time).

Borgdergate Managa / Mananga, 1354, South Africa

While I knew that there’d be a border crossing into Swaziland, our next destination, it never occurred to me that they’d have operating hours! We got there with just a little time to spare, thankfully. I have no idea what we’d do if we were stranded on the South African side of the border; sleep in the car or backtrack to Hoedspruit and hope for an open room.

Borgdergate Managa is a handful of single-story buildings along a two-lane road. The first set of buildings belong to the government of South Africa, the second set, Swaziland.

In the SA building we fill out some paperwork, including serial numbers on our laptops and digital cameras, and our license plate. Several rubber stamps later we’re deemed ready to walk to the Swaziland building. There we proffer our papers for another set of stamps.

Hanging on the walls are warnings against participating in illegal wildlife trade:

OF PUBLIC INTEREST

Be warned: Swaziland game laws have teeth!

Illegal wildlife trade results in no less than 5-15 years in jail without the option of a fine.

Swaziland has tightened the noose around the ivory and rhino horn racket

Weigh this reality against the dreams of black-market profit.

We in North America and Europe are used to digital mapping and house numbering address schemes. (Much of the Spanish-speaking world still use house names, Edificio Raul, and Japan uses a hierarchy address scheme of prefecture, municipality, wards, district, and town or village.) In Swaziland, addresses are step-by instructions:

Depart Maputo on the EN2 past Matola and Boane. Approximately 5km after Boane turn left onto the EN5, passing the quarry on your right. Continue straight with this road to enter Swaziland at the Namaacha/Lomahasha border post. Continue on the road, cross the bridge over the Mbuluzi River and turn left on the tar road after the bridge. Mbuluzi Game reserve is 600m on the left.

Mbuluzi Game Reserve / Ngomane, Swaziland / +268 2383 8861

Following the GPS map, we find the village of Ngomane, and then the entrance to Mbuluzi. We’re received warmly, as long-separated family. Check-in was methodical, giving me time to explore the nicely-designed Randoval-style office and the exhibit of wildlife bones just outside.

Mbuluzi Game Reserve has eight different lodges and a campsite, separated by walking paths through the woods.

We got the Timbuti tented lodge, a Botswanan military tent with a wooden thatched roof.

The interior has a cement floor and an attached, very comfortable bathroom with a full tub (that looks out onto the forest). It’s secluded and quite magical.

I took a photo of the tentmaker’s tag because I knew I’d want to recreate the atmosphere back in the states, someday, somehow.

The tent cabin’s awnings and wooden porches protect from the rain and provide a satisfying outdoor seating space.

There’s also an outdoor shower, surrounded on three sides by a wooden privacy screen.

 

There’s a central common Randoval-inspired shared kitchen and living room; it’s huge!

The common kitchen is large, with ample counter-spcae and a standard (small) European-sized gas stove. Pots and pans and crockery and cutlery galore; one wants for nothing in that department.

My favorite piece of kitchen equipment was the bush baby cast iron pot, with three stubby legs to allow one to place it directly in a campfire. (I really wanted to take one back, but even the smallest version took up way too much luggage space. Someday.)

Because a bit of pre-trip research had uncovered a dearth of restaurants in the area we’d gone hog-wild in our shopping and now had plenty of options for meals. We cooked everything with a South African twist, either with the ingredients, spices, or both.

A typical breakfast of ours was scrambled eggs and crisped biltong and droëwors.

The common area also had a round swimming pool overlooking the river. Several times a day we’d be out there when the troops of monkeys would commute through the trees, hooting and hollering. Some would drop to the ground and explore our area, although none came particularly close to us. (Years of camping in US forests, with their resident bears, taught us to secure food; the monkeys weren’t rewarded for their efforts.)

The common area also has a wood-fired open grill, built into a fire ring (which also serves as bench seating around the fire). The staff provided wood and a stern warning not to harvest our own, lest we inadvertently burn the wood of the tambuti tree — umthombothi (Spirostachys africana) — the smoke is noxious and the cooked meat, mildly poisonous.

We loved the campfire grill so much we used for cooking lunches and dinners! The marinated skewers we’d bought on the way came in very handy indeed.

The campfire is also the perfect place to relax at day’s end, the flickering light magically illuminating the trees, the crackling sound of the burning mixing with the burble of the river.

The animal preserves are just across the road, and several times we took multi-hour walks along the marked trails, sharing space with giraffe, zebra, kudu, nyala, impala, bushbuck, grey duiker, and warthogs. Two kinds of simians, the Chacma baboon and Vervet monkey, always made their way to our tent; we never saw them in the wild.

The people of Swaziland were uniformly sweet, even a bit surprised and grateful that we’d chosen to spend time with them. I would love to go back and travel more through the country, it left such a nice feeling.

We highly recommend the Mbuluzi Game Reserve; the staff, the accommodations, and the grounds made for a wonderful, self-sufficient week.

Next we head down the Dolphin Coast to the Fairmont Zimbali Lodge & Coastal Resort.

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