Beginning with the incredible Isimangaliso Wetland Park in St. Lucia to the sandy Ponta d’Ouro in Mozambique and the tranquil Ezulwini Valley - there is everything to remember about the first east3ROUTE expedition that took place on October 24-27.
From the moment the Swazi contingent left on Sunday, the euphoria was amazing.
The delegation comprised tour guides, entrepreneurs in the tourism sector, Swaziland Investment Promotion Authority (SIPA) officials, staffers from the Swaziland Tourism Authority and the ministry of tourism, the Swaziland National Trust Commission, Swaziland Airlink and CEOs from various companies as well as members of the media.
As the coach wormed its way into the tiny town of St Lucia, KwaZulu Natal, everybody was curious about what to expect.
We arrived in St Lucia at around 7pm and were immediately booked into our respective hotels.
Having settled in, we immediately set off for dinner at the nearby Elephant Hotel.
We had an early start on Monday, first having our breakfast at The Elephant and then going for registration at Siyabonga Craft Centre.
There, we were given backpacks, hats, rain ponchos and T-shirts with the east3ROUTE logo.
Inside the backpack was the itinerary for the whole trip and information packs about Isimangaliso Wetland Park, which was to be our first destination.
We then set off for the first game drive of the journey.
Isimangaliso Wetland Park blew us away with its vastness.
No wonder it is South Africa’s first World Heritage site, an honour it received in December 1999.
Besides comprising three major lake systems, Isimangaliso has eight interlinking ecosystems, 700-year-old fishing traditions, 526 bird species and 25 000-year-old coastal dunes, among its many miraculous wonders.
As we drove through the 332 000 hectares of wonderland, we saw various wildlife ranging from zebras to black rhinos, impala and other game.
Having had lunch at the Catalina Bay, we proceeded to Cape Vidal, where we saw the most stunning beach nestled behind a lush bush.
Cape Vidal is still being developed as a full-scale holiday venue.
The first day ended on a high note with a gala dinner at Mtubatuba Municipality Hall where latest music sensation Zahara and theatre legend Mbongeni Ngema brought the roof down with amazing music.
Swaziland’s Minister of Tourism Macford Sibandze presented the host, Member of Executive Council Michael Mabuyakhulu with what he termed “Eswatini Award” while Mabuyakhulu returned the favour with a shield and spear gift.
Many gifts were exchanged between the three tourism leaders after that.
The following day came with more exciting challenges as a convoy of coaches and 4x4 vehicles drove through Isimangaliso Wetland Park to Kosi Bay and over to Mozambique.
Having left our coaches on the other side of the border, we boarded local taxis.
However, no one had prepared us for the most gruelling drive of our lives.
There was so much sand on the road that some of the vehicles got stuck.
For some of us, this was quite an experience.
As we drove along to Ponta d’Ouro, the road didn’t get any better.
We arrived as the sun was about to set with the promise of a drizzle.
We had a late lunch at Coco Rico Hotel where I made my third attempt at eating prawns.
I eventually decided I don’t like them that much.
Later, we were made to choose between visiting a lighthouse, which directs boats to the shores and an ocean safari.
Being naturally scared of the sea, I have no idea what motivated me to go for the ocean safari.
The sea looked menacing as a group of Swazis boarded little speedboats to God knows where.
I let the first two boats leave while still pondering whether to take the risk.
Eventually, someone convinced me and I found myself praying for dear life as the boat invaded the sea.
The wind didn’t make matters any better as waves became more and more threatening.
The border to South Africa was just visible when the unthinkable happened – one of the boat engines died in the middle of the sea.
Although our guides assured us we had nothing to be afraid of, it was the scariest moment of my life.
As one of the guys tried to open the lid covering the engine, mayhem happened as the rope got torn.
The driver ordered us to look the other direction, but I could hear him muttering “tsk, tsk, tsk” under his breath.
To me that was enough confirmation that we were in trouble.
I continued to scream