The view from my hotel room was so ruggedly beautiful, I kept expecting the Riders of Rohan to go charging by at any moment.
If you’re scratching your head and staring at your globe right now, don’t feel bad: with a population of only 1.2 million and a total area of around 6,000 square miles, the Kingdom of Swaziland is among the smallest countries in Africa. Even among those who are aware of its existence, it can be easy to overlook when traveling. But for a tiny place it can pack a mighty punch! (Or so I’m told.) There are many things to do in Swaziland! Game drives! Bungee jumping! ATV safaris! Birdwatching! Horseback riding! Abseiling! Potholing!
I have no idea what those last two are, and also, I did none of those things. Well … I did birdwatch a bit, from the comfort of my deck chair next to my hotel’s tiny-but-lovely swimming pool. Swaziland is completely gorgeous, and I fully support fellow travelers doing as many of these economic-growth-supporting tourism activities as possible, but for me, my Marvelous Things To Do in Swaziland list consisted entirely of …
1. Absolutely nothing. This may come as a shock to
none some of you, but I’m a bit of an overzealous competitive type-A lunatic at times. I’m not high energy in the way an Australian Shepherd dog may be, but I’m cognitively restless, constantly leaping from one problem to the next in my mind, considering all contingencies. I tend to take on more than any sane person would. I can have trouble forcing myself to relax. I can demonstrate this in one simple anecdote: my senior year of college, my two best friends and I took a spring break trip to Las Vegas, a city that delights in its own meaningless hedonism and cheerily spits on responsibility. One afternoon, we were all super hungover a smidge tired, so we adjourned to our hotel to nap and refresh before another night of male strippers and cocktails at Tao Nightclub.
If you had quietly crept into my room that afternoon, you would have found me sunk to my clavicle in a deep marble bathtub, the lights dimmed, mounds of efflorescent bubbles forming miniature landscapes across the water’s surface, a Norah Jones playlist drifting from my laptop speakers, a mass of honey-blonde hair piled in a haphazard though sensuous topknot atop my head, a stemmed glass of chilled Reisling in one hand … and the other holding a soggy paperback copy of writer/Sudanologist Alex de Waal’s Famine Crimes: Politics & The Disaster Relief Industry. An eye-meltingly bright orange highlighter was clenched in my teeth. Every so often, I’d set my reading down and lurch sideways, sloshing steamy scented water onto the gold-and-cream tiled floor, so I could hit the “refresh” button on my laptop and see if my applicant status with the Peace Corps had changed yet. My friends and I had pledged on pain of death and banishment that we would not discuss – nay, acknowledge the existence of – our undergraduate dissertations while on vacation, but there was always more work to be done, right? I had at least another 20,000 words worth of term papers to write. No one had to know I was throwing away my vacation on them.
I had no “off” switch.
I tell you all this to make a simple point: relaxing and letting the world go by has never come easily to me. However, Peace Corps taught me patience, and helped me learn that if I didn’t calm down once in awhile I would probably go completely insane and pop like an overfilled water balloon. The past two months have been an incredible ride, but also a very busy one; I will have no other other opportunity to chill in quite this way, I imagine, until I come skidding to an abrupt halt in the US at the very end of this month. (And even there, it’s a brief break to breathe before the dreaded PhD program applications start.) So in Mbabane, I gave myself time to regenerate energy and reflect on my experiences so far. I sat by the pool. I watched the birds. I read two books from start to finish. I dabbed tea tree oil on the innumerable cuts/scrapes/scratches/bruises/minor flesh wounds that had resulted from me getting royally thrashed about in the shark cage (moderately rough seas that day.) I drank Diet Coke and inconspicuously watched other people play chess.
I loved every minute of it.
After the heady adrenaline rush of a long adventure, I strongly suggest you do the same.