A Park by Any Other Name

Mlilwane National Park,

Swaziland

August 12, 2016

‘Where you camp surrounded by roaming game’ is how the brochure for Mlilwane National Park reads. It is scenic enough and idyllic in the sense that it is a quiet retreat with a pace that is even slower than the usual slow paced life in Swaziland. An excellent place to chill and while away a few days, but the so called game consists of about half a dozen zebras, a dozen or so wildebeests and perhaps a couple dozen antelopes. They graze in the company of some three dozen cows but while the cows plod on paying no heed to the two-legged intruders, the other animals are far more skittish of humans.

This is a park that started life as a farm and still rubs shoulders with existing farms. There are patches of fields within the park boundaries as well. Tractors bearing hay rumble their way down rutted lanes past the grazing animals and just on the opposite of the fence are vast fields of crops. Their virulent green must be an intolerable lure to the animals, limited as they are to the dried-out stubbles within the fence. There are a couple of crocodiles that sunbathe at certain points along a trail, posing motionless for the benefit of tourists. Of the hippos there is no sight.

The place runs amok with families out for the day or the weekend. There are bicycles and horses for rent and there is a faint carnival-like feeling with the air spiced with the smell of popcorn. The restaurant at the main camp hums with customers and the open-air braai pits send up smoke signals. Huge logs are burned in the fire pits regardless of whether or not anyone needs to braai.

There are several areas set with the traditional Swazi beehive shaped huts but these are custom built purely for tourists. They have an interior awash with modern comforts of beds, bedside lamps and overhead fans. There is even an attached bath with cemented floors, tiled walls, modern fixtures and plumbing. The only hut I have come across that is used as a shelter is the guardhouse. The sentry at the gate uses this. Smaller than the usual ones, he has enough space for a log fire inside for the chilly nights, some boxes and tools, and a squawking two-way radio on the table that crackles from time to time. There is no bed; he is on guard he says when I ask.

“It is not for sleeping”, he laughs as he poses for a photograph.

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