Series of Unfortunate Events

5 March 2013

This past week, Rebecca and I decided to try and continue to make good on our resolution to see more of Swaziland before we COS later this year.  We joined a group of about 14 fellow volunteers heading to ‘one of the last untouched environments’ in Swaziland at Ngwempisi Gorge.

On Thursday night, after finishing up my final Excel computer class at 9pm, we packed our bags and set the alarm to head out first thing Friday morning to meet up with the group.  However, we were not woken by alarm, but rather by a rather uncommon morning rain storm pounding on our tin roof and the water that drips onto our bed whenever it rains.  We were not to be deterred; we busted out some rain ponchos Rebecca’s mom had brought when she visited and wrapped everything in plastic bags for our trek to the main dirt road about 2km away from school.  Even with the umbrellas and ponchos, we were soaked when we arrived at the intersection because the road leading to our school had transformed into a river of sorts.

At the bus stop (a designated tree at the intersection), we met one of the teachers from our school trying to get to the clinic.  She confirmed our fears, that our one reliable form of transportation – a bus called Pinduvuke – would not be able to make it to our community because of the rain.  She urged us to turn back.  Still determined to make our weekend plans, we huddled under the bus-stop-tree and waited.  After 45 minutes in the pouring rain, word came that the head teacher had called off school because so few students made the trek and he worried for their safe return as the storm continued.

Some of our students walk as much as 12km each way, and luckily they were offered a lift in the back of the 6th grade Teacher’s truck as she was trying to get home as well.  As they passed us, we flagged them down and caught a lift with the students.  Everyone was shivering and laughing in the back of the truck, it wasn’t the most ideal school holiday, but it still felt like a vacation for everyone.   Though some of the kids had to wade through flooded rivers to check the depth, the truck eventually made it to the sealed road about 16km away – with us soaked in the back.

Once on the tarred roads, we thought all our problems were solved.  We caught one of the many buses that run on the main West-East road in the country and met up with some other volunteers.  Rebecca and I paid 1 Rand to use the public restrooms to try and dry off, but our bag of clothes was soaked through.  After shopping for our weekend groceries, we took a khumbi ride to a village we had never visited before, to meet the rest of the group and start the final leg of the journey.

There is no public transport that makes the trek down the unpaved road to the gorge, so another volunteer arranged for two private trucks to meet us and transport us and our supplies to the gorge.

In keeping with the uncertainty that we’ve become accustomed to, our ride there turned out to be one small truck over an hour late.  Everyone took one look at truck and started looking around at each other, unsure if it was funny or not.  We started piling our bags in and found very little room left for bodies to fit.  Somehow it worked, we squeezed in and began the final leg of our journey.  The driver made us all a little unsure when he mentioned he had never been to the place we asked him to drive us to.  After about 10km of dirt roads up and down the mountains, the truck began to struggle.  It began backfiring and stalling going up the hills and we ended up spending a substantial amount of the trip pushing the truck up the hills, muddy from the morning rains.  Finally, the truck lost its battle and died.

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There was some discussion about where exactly we were.  The driver made a call to try and get picked up.  We were on our own.  The members of our group who had been to the place before couldn’t decide how far away we were.  Should we start walking or wait and try to get a ride?  To contemplate the impending decision we ate lunch by the side of the road.   Afterwards, we started walking, it was already the middle of the afternoon and didn’t want to chance getting caught in the dark.  It was a long hike, and several times we questioned where we were going and if we were on the right path.  Finally, finally, finally, the Khopho hut came into view—our series of unfortunate events was over.

The hut is built right into the giant boulders on the rim of the Ngwempisi Gorge.  It has a ‘Swiss family Robinson’ feel and is virtually open air with tremendous views of the river and gorge below.  The community runs this accommodation, and a man and girl from the near-by homestead made sure  to show us the gas-powered hot water heater and even made us a fire before heading back home.  We enjoyed the weekend, hiking down to the river, playing games with friends, and enjoying the view from just about everywhere (including the toilet and shower).

Alas, we had to go home on Sunday.  We had arranged with the same guys to pick us up at 10am and get us back to town in time to catch the Pinduvuke bus at 2:30pm for Rebecca and I get home.  Despite assurances from the guys that they would be on time and bring two new trucks, we quickly realized we couldn’t trust this claim.  After a few hours of waiting by the side of the road, we began searching for other options.  Asking near-by homesteads for leads on who might own a vehicle near-by.  Finally, we heard a truck approaching.  We sprang up and grabbed our bags only to burst out in laughter as we noticed it was indeed a new truck, but it was towing the old, broken truck behind it with a rope.

Luckily, the drivers arranged to park the broken truck at a local homestead and also arranged for a second, functional truck to ferry the group back to the tarred road.  Despite this break-through, we still arrived to the bus rank in Manizni too late.  The ladies selling snacks from their stands told us our bus had come and gone.  We decided we would get the next bus heading that direction and hope to pass the bus on the road somewhere before it turned from the tar.

We never found the bus, but we were lucky enough to catch a lift on one of the vehicles that had appeared in our area to ferry people to and from the big Marula festival at the near-by Royal Residence happening that day.

Rebecca and I ended the trip walking back down the 2km road to school.  Despite all of the challenges, we are so happy we never turned back—it was totally worth it.

-Oliver

Rebecca is Currently Reading: The God of Small Things

Oliver is Currently Listening to: Audacity of Hope

We are Currently Watching: Nothing! We’ve finally run out of media.

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