September 21st, 2008 – by: tpuell
When we were half way up Shebaâ€™s Breast, huffing and puffing, totally out of breath since out of shape, but enjoying it, we thanked our lucky stars that we had not tried the ascent the previous day at noon. At 10 oâ€™clock in the morning, the sun was blistering hot already and no shade anywhere! We finished our two bottles of water in no time. But we did make it to the summit, sat there, red, sweaty and happy and had a picknick. I almost did not make it back down again. Bridging the gap between the main slope and the rock, which marked the pinnacle had somehow seemed much easier on the way up! Arnaud with somewhat longer legs had to go first; then I was able to follow. Upon our descent we took a quick dip below the waterfall at the foot of the mountain, and then got on the road again.
Up up and away
Soon after leaving Ezulwini Valley, the road began to snake itself up the mountains in ever tighter curves. The views were breathtaking. Clear blue skies and green green fields and meadows in lush valleys between staggering heights of complex geological formations. We learned later that the amazing mountain ridge between Swaziland and South Africa is one of the oldest world-wide, 3 billion years, and every mountaineerâ€™s dream. We were traversing them in our trusted Golf Chicoâ€¦ Luckily this was the dry season. When we reached timberland, a vast area where fast-growing coniferous trees are grown and cut, the road changed into a sand track. Still steep, still serpentine, frequented by humungous work vehicles, just no tar. Our little car prevailed! We were not worried anyway: the sights were much too absorbing for us to notice anything else.
The breast? Not sure...
We made it up and over the mountains under steady utterances of oohs and ahs and oh-my-goods. The ground was iron red, like bloodied rust. Dark green of endless exact rows of pencil-straight spruce-trees segmented a clear sky into an accurate pattern of cerulean to sunlit white. At times the stark black of burnt trunks would frame sudden open vistas exposing densely forested rows of summits fading into the distance. It was incredible. I kept the window rolled down trying to capture the splendor with our little camera but only succeeded in coating the interior of the car and us and all of our effects with a dense coat of blood-red dust. At one point we reached a boom with a guard, but it was not the border yet; just the beginning of a private road leading us up, up and farther north.
When we did reach the border with South Africa (we needed to get a special permit to take the car across the Mozambican border before doing so), the officials came running out of their station to laugh at us and our Golf, all of us covered in red dust. The way through the mountains had taken considerably longer than we had anticipated, and we now needed to make a mad dash to the Nelspruit airport car rental office before closing time. We got there just in time, received our permit, and rushed onwards. The border was supposed to be open only for about another hour before closing for the night. Just out of Nelspruit we had to take a very brief break, though, because there was a unique photo opportunity: a giraffe grazing by the side of the highway, unperturbed by the noise or stink.
It was otherworldly. The sun had set when we reached a big toll plaza just a few miles before the border. Fumbling for money in my pockets I suddenly realized that we had no Rand left ï¿½" only Swaziland money and Dollars! No matter, we saw a sign that said credit cards were accepted. Alas, no American credit cards.
The toll booth attendant was very nice. He offered to drive to the next ATM with us, which was in some township about ten minutes away. There was only one problem: our car was filled to the brim ï¿½" no room for another passenger!
As I sat on the steps in front of the toll plaza, reading my book by the harsh glare of the highway lights, it occurred to me that I had no passport or money on me. When 40 minutes had passed and I was still waiting, I started to get a little nervous.
What if something had happened? I decided everything would work out just fine. People were so nice. Surely somebody would help me out and drive me to the next German consulate wherever that wasâ€¦ I was still spinning this fantasy, when an electric blue streak on the periphery of my vision ripped me from my reverie. The Golf Chico! Arnaud! Hooray! I would not need to depend on the kindness of strangers after all. Along with the toll money (acquired from the only working ATM in some shady part of town), the kindly toll booth attendant had imparted some promising information: according to him, the Mozambique border was open well into the night! Arnaud put the pedal to the metal anyway, seeing as we still had a couple of hours to drive to Maputo where we would spend the night.
When we arrived at Fatimaâ€™s, Maputoâ€™s famous backpackers, there was no availability at first. Then all of a sudden there was. It was a huge room, meant for six people who had not shown up. We got it for the going double rate.