Looking in to the eyes of a foreign person wearing his military camouflage is intimidating, no matter what you are doing or where you are. In our case, we were simply driving across an isolated mountainous area and not 100 yards into our cross-mountain road, I made eye contact with the first pair of eyes and we stared at each other. Then another pair, and another pair.
A Short-cut in Swaziland
In the northwestern part of the Kingdom of Swaziland is a hard packed dirt road that looked like it would easily shorten our journey back to South Africa. On our paper map, we had calculated the route would be about 15 kilometers, and rather than drive back on a tarred highway (and looking for another adventure), we jumped at the chance when the weather looked clear and dry. The scenic route would lead us from Swaziland’s beautiful rolling green hills into some of the world’s oldest mountains (3.65 billion years old) on the Genesis route in Barberton, South Africa.
Headed west from Pigg’s Peak, we drove a rented Chevy Spark (think shoebox size), and bounced along the road, dodging potholes and a dozen security vehicles cruising down the mountain. With our eyes becoming accustomed to the dirt and dust, we eventually realized there were pairs of military men stationed about every 50 meters along the road. All carried automatic assault rifles, some were almost hidden in the brush, some were on the shoulder of the road, but all stared as us. A few returned our “thumbs up” gesture, but most would not smile through their dark, dead eyes. We could not know what was going on, and had the smarts to not stop and ask. I was strongly encouraged against taking photos. Interestingly, not all the military men were on high alert, but our curiosity meter ran high.
The King is in Bulembu
Alas, after an hour and 21 kilometers, we reached a Police security checkpoint that was staffed by three men and one woman wearing uniforms – some Police uniforms, some Military. We asked what all the military attention was about….and the guard ignored me. Another approached my passenger window, looked in the car and at us, and then waved us through. A moment later, we reached the border post to exit the Kingdom of Swaziland. Being the only ones transiting that post (and perhaps that entire afternoon), it was easy to chat with the Immigration Officer as he filled out his paper ledger with our passport details. (No computers at this border control office.) “The King is in Bulembu,” he explained. Ah ha! So it turns out that we had simply stared into the eyes of all the King’s men as they guarded the road into the small town of Bulembu. Perhaps next time we’ll actually see King Mswati III.