Swazi-style hospitality is fit for kings, writes Mzi Oliphant
The one thing I was looking forward to when I accepted a weekend getaway to Swaziland was seeing the beautiful, topless Swazi maidens of the Umhlanga, or Reed Dance, but I discovered that the country has more to offer than just maidens.
The Kingdom of Swaziland, nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, is one of the smallest countries in Africa and boasts magnificent, scenic views of mountains, lush sub-tropical valleys and waterfalls.
Ezulwini Valley in Mbabane, the capital, is a little heaven for tourists - hence its name.
Overlooked by the Madzimba Mountains, down in the valley are luxury five-star hotels and lodges, including the lavish Royal Villas. This is where we were deceived into thinking we were royalty. Gold-finished taps, red carpets, king-sized beds - even my bedroom door was inscribed "King's Suite".
The next morning we were whisked to Mantenga Cultural Village. This is where we experienced a typical day in a traditional Swazi homestead, where polygamy is still seen as a way of life for men who possess wealth.
I marvelled at the way Swazis still believe in and follow their unique culture and traditions.
Some words of advice: don't speak ill of the king. The Swazis pride themselves as peace-loving, but they are bothered by outsiders who believe their king is not good for the kingdom.
Most of them really love King Mswati III and his face on their kangas is evidence enough of this.
Though 70 percent of the population lives in the rural areas, there is a high level of economic activity, as we saw at the Ngwenya Glass Factory we visited. The people who work there were trained by the Swedes in the art of glass-making and you can watch glass-blowers creating artifacts in heat levels that would make Lucifer feel at home.
As we snaked through the hills of the northern part of the country, we were shown where Swazi Gold is grown. It is regarded as the best grade of marijuana in southern Africa, but we were not allowed to sample any because it is illegal.
If South Africans are high on heists as their number one crime, Swazi jails are filled with dagga pushers - and don't be fooled, they do have the death penalty.
The kingdom has six big game parks, and we chose the wrong one to visit.
In the Hlane Royal National Park we saw a handful of elephant, one tired cheetah cub and Springbok in abundance.
The park is said to be home to the Big Five and can be appreciated in open 4x4 game viewing.
We got lucky, though, when we arrived at Maguga Dam, near Pigg's Peak further north, just in time for a glorious sunset.
And when night came we retired to the tranquillity of the forest at Mantenga Lodge.
It is a village of tents built high on special platforms for those who fear snakes. With no television to watch, I had to settle for the sounds of animals trampling past my tent and woke up to the singing of birds in the morning.
It would be criminal not to say something about the kingdom's night life. Your trip is definitely not complete if you haven't been to If Not Why Not night club.
I immediately dropped the conservative tag I had labelled the Swazis with when I walked in there. High-class pole dancers in their birthday suits keep tourists flocking to the joint. When you get tired of watching them, you can hit the dance floor and enjoy the latest in kwaito and house.
Not too far from Why Not is House On Fire club, renowned for hosting top local and international DJs. If you can't stand the fire, try Quatermains and chill to some cool sounds.
And in their quest to bolster their fast growing tourism industry, Thandie Shongwe, the minister of tourism, environment and communication, unveiled Sello Maake ka Ncube as the new face of Swaziland.
The former Generations star, who is currently studying in London, said he was glad to be associated with the kingdom and praised its hospitality as one of the best in the world.
In Swaziland everyone gets along. Is it because every second person is a Dlamini? Or is it because everyone speaks the same language? All I know is I got more than I had bargained for - a true royal experience.