Saturday, November 6, 2010

Highveld vs Lowveld

I’ve had a difficult time wrapping my mind around certain numbers and the corresponding relationships. 

For example, there are 1 millions Swazi’s total.  Last I heard we had over 20 million New Yorkers alone.  Swaziland is an independent nation, yet it’s square mileage is approximately the same as New Jersey. 

But this doesn’t make it any less diverse.  (And, similarly, I believe it’s time to acknowledge how diverse just New Jersey is, not to mention the other 49 states.  After all, in terms of size NJ is, what, 6th smallest?)

And I guess just as we have the Appalachians of High Point we also have the low laying Pine Barrens of all those Southern Counties of Western NJ.  (The whole Jersey shore, though being a North to South completion, is it’s own entity together, we all know)

I’ve spent most of my time in the Lowveld of Swaziland, watching the sun pound the clay dirt so hard dust rises. 

Here there is a rolling, lulling landscape punctuated by compact homesteads boosting between 3-6 huts in the closest proximity.  The property consists of some poor quality farmland that as been turned over to chickens, goats, and cattle, for the most part.  It is not the most fertile place on the planet.  Rusting tractors from the 30’s and 40’s disintegrate into nothingness in the most conspicuous of spaces.  As if after the colonial powers packed up they just left their agriculture there, it too costly to move.  And without overhead capital, farming is a demanding and terribly unproductive enterprise here in Swaziland. 

Gnarled trees dot the landscape, somehow getting past the stage of being mere bushes, the far more prominent of vegetation.  There light purples and azure blue flowerings erupt before you as the eye is only accustomed to different shades of clay, bark, and the green of aloe trees after awhile. 

Dirt roads hardly make their presence known amidst the dirt savannah.  What might at first seem a road on the horizon just might be a dried streambed.  Near my home there was a damn constructed as a means of modernization.  As far as I could gather, it’s been an absolute failure.  Now cattle are now just walked farther and farther to be watered.     

Shade is always sought in summer.  A dozen men will stay stationed all day at pool tables position under the corrugated awnings next to bottle shop.  The scores of vendors (all selling same thing) hold umbrellas for the day’s entirety.  (Anecdotally, I’ve been told that Swazis don’t possess a word for ‘imagination’ in their vocabulary.  It is not just being mean.  It speaks to how 10 vendors will line a street all selling only mangos, the same mangos, in the same size bag.  The logic being that if one person can make a living doing it, and I have mangos, I better copy them.  It will take only one brilliant Swazi to open a burrito stand and the history of the country will forever be different.)


My last days were spend in what I feel is the most scenic part of Swaziland.  As you drive in from South Africa there are suddenly pine (or at least some similar coniferous tree) forests that are logged into oblivion.  Luckily there is still enough there to proffer up a monkey sitting at the roadside and to give the rising mountains a texture not unlike The Northeast, only slightly less fierce in gradient.  I sometimes I felt like I was in a rolling, rural Virginia or even some of the hilly country I cycled outside Tampa.

After crossing the boarder there is an explosion beneath you and you climb winding roads of steep grade that make most cars wheeze and sputtered as drivers scramble for the right gearing.  Little adobe-esque houses and huts are built into the side of mountains.  Not mountains like we think of them on the East Coast but that undulating, curvature of elevated Earth that composes so much of California around San Francisco.  Here the rainy season brings about one million shades of green, all of which we have at home, but each hue as a different character…something, well, African. 

Huge amalgamations of granite boulders dot all the hills.  I was unable to garner from locals if these were remains of passed glaciers.  Whatever the case they stack upon each other to great heights on top and from the sides of mountains.  Here rivers will see flowing over hard rock beds, slowly bring valleys into existence.  It’s just as hot here but people seem to have a bit more energy.  They seem to complain about the heat and battle through while Lowvelders just understand it and surrender to it.

Some of these pictures were taken at a private residence that boasted amazing views and caves in the granite.  I’m very grateful to Jason at Bombaso’s for taking me there along with the Finnish constituency that was currently in residence.

As you leave this area, most notable for the capital Mbabane, and start moving towards Manzini, you plummet down hills and watch the temperature rise.

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