Category Archives: South Africa and the World Cup

Disclaimer: You will not hear the sound of vuvuzelas if you read these posts. I promise.

In search of a good beer and a McDonald’s

The glow of my watch indicates that it is 3:30 am and that I am now in the early hours of Monday, June 13, 2010.  I press the “Indiglo” button again hoping that maybe this time it can tell me how I became stranded in a driverless minibus taxi along Rustenburg’s Nelson Mandela Drive.  A wishful glance at my wrist only informs me that it is now 3:32 am, still Monday and still stuck, sandwiched between two passed out English football fans.   I’m also minus the American that I went out with.  The view out the van’s window shows me that the cause of our traffic delay has made it a couple blocks—on foot—while our wheels remained motionless.  A drunken British guy and an irate South African driver have taken their payment dispute to the streets, yelling at each other in languages the other didn’t comprehend.  Less than 24 hours earlier, I was rising from a comfortable bed in Cape Town.  Now, I am a mere 6 blocks from a drink, a bed and that warm, fuzzy feeling that being safe could bring.

“Seriously, how did I end up here?  More importantly, how the hell did I lose Alex?”

 

June 12, 2010

Cape Town, South Africa, 6:30 am

I’m fairly alert despite the lack of sleep.  I’ve been awake for two hours, after only a few hours of sleep since attending my first World Cup match the night before.  I had watched France and Uruguay play to a boring 0-0 draw and am excited to see the US play England tonight.  All I have to do is catch a two hour flight to Johannesburg, rent a car, drive on the wrong side of the road for 200 kilometers and I’ll be there.

Johannesburg, South Africa

9:30 am

The line to the Budget Rental Car counter is ridiculously long.  By my estimate, 90% of the customers-to-be are either British or American and on their way to Rustenburg for tonight’s match.  Good thing for me, I’ve already met up with Alex, a fellow American who answered my rideshare post on Couchsurfing.com.  We’re still waiting on two more passengers, but decided to get in line now before it stretches into tomorrow.  So far I like Alex, I think he’s going to be a good passenger to keep me on the left, and thus, the right side of the road.  I sign my rental contract and have keys to car in hand, along with a British and Canadian girl to fill out the Audi A4.  This road trip will start as soon as I figure out how to get keyless key to start the car.  It’s been 5 minutes and I still haven’t managed to get out of the parking lot.

 

Somewhere on the R24, South Africa

12:00 pm

Oh crap, a cop behind me just turned on his lights.  I glance at the speedometer—I’m going 120 KM—I have no idea how fast that is or even what the speed limit is.  I don’t know if I should pull over to the right, or cross lanes and pull over on the left shoulder.  Do I even have enough Rand in cash on me to pay the cop off if it comes to that?  Amidst my rising panic, one of the girls tells me to get into the left lane—the cop only turned his lights on because I’m driving too slowly.  One speed limit sign later, I realize that even though I was speeding slightly, I was too slow by South African standards.  I’m learning a lot on the drive.  In South Africa, the slow drivers need to keep to the left lane, not the right as I am used to.  Those vehicles that are driving slower than the speed limit will drive along the shoulder so others can pass at ease.  If you take one these drivers up on their passing offer, you’re supposed to flash your hazards as a thank you.  Where were these lessons in all the guide books I read?

 

Rustenburg , South Africa

2:00 pm

I’m still patting myself on the back.  I might give myself a standing “O” later on—haven’t quite decided on that yet.  I’ve been at the Traveler’s Inn for almost an hour and arrived without a scratch on me, my passengers and most importantly, the car.  My 3 co-pilots have ended their search for a bed.  There really aren’t any hotels in Rustenburg and finding lodging was proving more difficult than they imagined.  I think they plan to sleep in the car, which is fine by me.  I booked my bed a couple months ago and am thankful not to be in their situation.  The four of us are already a couple beers into our stay.  By the time we arrived, the place was already packed with people going to the match and we’re doing our best to catch up to them.  I meet up with Jeff, who sold me his extra ticket –per another Couchsurfing arrangement we made a month earlier.  The owner thinks that the transaction merits shots—some disgusting, cough syrup tasting, purple liquid later—we agree never to drink that again.

 

6:00 pm

It is a couple hours before game time and the outside of the stadium is filling up with rivalry induced chants:  “Johannesburg, Rustenburg, Pretoria and Durban, if it weren’t for US, you’d be speaking German.”  I can’t say I understand this supposed competition with England.  For starters, we’re allies, so most of our time together has been spent on the same side of the line and we rarely play each other in sports.  I guess if you want to get technical and go back to the Revolutionary War, then yes, we’re enemies and yes, the United States is dominating this rivalry.  If I’m going to throw my 2 cents into the mix, I think I’m going to need another beer.

 

5 minutes later…

I would like to thank you Anheuser-Busch for being the official sponsor of the World Cup and limiting me to drinking only Budweiser, a beer that tastes like it came from the Mississippi River.  I suck it up and pay the 6 Rand for the beer and a few minutes later I begin debate with the enemy if we’re going to be watching a soccer match or a football match.  I’ve concluded that debates are a lot more fun when there are cool accents involved.  I might let this guy win the argument because of that—maybe, but probably not.

 

9:10 pm

Ugh, we’re down 1-0 and Clint Dempsey just took another half-assed attempt at the goal.  England’s goalie Robert Green has already jumped on it.

 

Still 9:10 pm

Wait a minute! Is that ball rolling into the back of the net?  I thought Green had the ball.  That counts as a goal right?  I can’t believe we just tied the game 1-all.  I seriously wish that the scoreboard in this stadium worked so I could see the replay.  Doesn’t matter though, the PA just announced the goal, so Robert Green’s gaff turns into our gain.  God might be able to save the Queen, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to save Green from the wrath of England tomorrow.

 

11:00 pm

Alex and I head out to the bus stand to catch a ride back to the park and ride so we can catch a cab back to the Inn.  We had to go about 10 busses down before we’re able to squeeze into one.  I’m beginning to have a new-found appreciation for what sardines have to go through.  At least they’re put out of their misery before being canned.  We’re told that it’ll be at least two hours before we get out of the stadium parking lot.  Alex and I decide to get off and head to the pub at the end of the street.  We figure we can stand for two hours smelling the people around us or we can spend two hours drinking beer.  It was surprisingly easy choice for us to make.

 

June 13, 2010

Rustenburg, South Africa, 2:30 am

Man, I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.  I was a little upset that the only beer the bar hadn’t run out of was Miller Genuine Draft, but I met a nice British guy willing to give me the last of his Carling Black Labels.  Nothing against MGD, but I didn’t fly half way around the world to be forced to drink Budweiser in the stadiums and then MGD, a beer from my home state, at the pubs.

This bar is packed with Americans and Brits looking for another beer and locals looking for a foreigner to pay their bills.  I’ve had a long conversation with one lady and her husband who decided it was best for her to hit on the British guys.  After all, the US economy isn’t the greatest at the moment.  They did consider Alex as a potential buyer since he was the one flashing his money around the most.  He’s already bought every local a beer, but they still think they’ll have better luck with the British guys.  There’s also a DJ outside and a dance party that is beginning to wrap up.  I’ve had my camera out for the past two hours taking pictures and finally am forced to put it away.  A majority of the locals think I’m a journalist and will be putting them on TV.  I’ve endured a lot of grabs by people asking the “Camera Lady” to take their picture.  It was fun to start with, but now I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable.   I wonder where Alex is?

 

2:35 am

I can’t find Alex anywhere.  In fact, outside of the locals, all that’s left here are 3 drunk and 2 high British guys.  I’m the only girl left and my drinking partner in crime is missing in action.  I decide quickly that my best bet is to team up with the 3 drunken British guys to try to find my way back to the Inn in Rustenburg.  The guys agree with my calculations and we head off to figure a way out.

 

2:45 am

The guys and I get pretty lucky when a minibus taxi stops outside the bar.  We quickly run over and ask the driver if he can get us to where we’re staying.  The guy in the passenger seat assures us he can get us to our destinations.  No matter the fact that the driver doesn’t speak English and his translator doesn’t exactly understand where we’re going.  I look at the Brits and let them know that even if they’re only going a couple minutes away, I’m getting dropped off first.  No way that I’m being left alone in the van in the middle of the night.  We agree to get into the van and just take it from there.

We’re ushered in by a British guy, who I named Joe, sitting in the 2nd row of the van.  According to Joe, he’s been in this van for over an hour trying to find a McDonald’s.  So far no luck, but he’s got a good feeling about this next go at it.  The driver says that this ride will cost us 450 Rand.  The four of us don’t agree on the price and we decide to get out.  Now Joe is screaming at us to stay in the van so he can get to a McDonald’s.  The driver quickly drops his price down to 150 Rand for the lot of us.  We agree to stay along for the ride.

 

3:15 am

This has got to be the longest cab ride ever.  I don’t get it.  The driver stops every 20 feet to pick up whoever is walking alongside the road.  Guys get in and 10 feet later, they get out.  Joe continues to voice his displeasure over being in the van and more importantly, he still no Happy Meal in his hand.  I now have two of the Brits passed out on my shoulders—one drooling and one snoring.  To top it off, I can’t stop worrying about Alex.  I told him he was an idiot for spending his money so openly.  I’m picturing him in a ditch sans his wallet and his life.  If I only I had decided to leave earlier, we’d probably be together back at the Inn reveling in the US’s non-loss that night.

 

3:30 am

I’m finally able to get the driver to turn onto Nelson Mandela Drive.  I now know where I am and for the first time in an hour feel confident that I’m going to make it back to my bed in one piece.  I estimate that we have about 6 blocks to go, when the driver suddenly stops the van in the middle of the street.  The co-pilot turns around and informs Joe, “You know what, I don’t think there is a McDonald’s around here.”  I’m not lying when I say smoke started to come out of Joe’s ears.  He slides open the door and starts to make a run for it.  The driver must have anticipated this, because he jumped out the same time Joe did and started chasing him.  I was the only person in the van fazed by this.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 are still passed out on my shoulders.

“Seriously, how did I end up here?  More importantly, how the hell did I lose Alex?”

 

3:45 am

The driver gave up his chase on Joe and decided to cut his losses.  I’m now back at the Inn being let in the gate by the owner.  He senses my trouble and offers me a free drink at the still-packed bar.  I take him up on his offer and let him know that I left without Alex.  He suggests I finish my drink, head to bed and in the morning if Alex hasn’t turned up we’ll call the cops.  I reluctantly agree to go to bed, but I don’t think I’m going to sleep.

 

6:00 am

I wake up to discover Alex passed out on the couch in my room.  He made it back to the Inn and snuck into my dorm at 5 am. True to my warnings, he had been robbed at knife point by some of the locals.  He had a false sense of security that they were enjoying each others’ company, when he agreed to head to another pub with them.  He might be out some money, but at least he was alive.

I start the process of packing up and preparing to leave.  I still have the British and the Canadian girls’ things in my rental car.  I haven’t seen them since the day before when we headed to the match in separate groups.  Great, one search finally ends and another one begins…

 

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A shopping list of a different sort

Now that I have a plane ticket in hand, or at least floating around in cyberspace, it’s time to start figuring out what I want to do, where I want to go and how I’m going to get from Point A to Point B. The only things that I’m certain on are being in specific cities on specific dates to coincide with my match tickets. As of right now, I have tickets to the following matches:

Match 2: France vs. Uruguay, June 11th, Cape Town

Match 16: Spain vs. Switzerland, June 16th, Durban

Match 58: Quarterfinal, July 2nd, Johannesburg

I also have arranged to buy a ticket for the US vs. England from another American, but it’s a crapshoot if I’ll be able to use it, because we can’t get the ticket transferred into my name and if they check ID, I’ll be screwed. Regardless, I will be in Rustenburg for the match.

I’ve been doing a lot of planning in the month since I bought my plane ticket, which included a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg on the morning of the 12th. I have already reserved hostels in Cape Town from the 3rd-11th, Rustenburg for the 12th and Durban for the 15th-18th. In addition to finding a pillow to attach my head to, I’ve been putting together a rough itinerary and a list of the places I want to see the most.

As of right now, this is my current list of the places/sights I want to see:

  1. Robben Island—Nelson Mandela is an amazing person and a huge inspiration for me
  2. Cape Agulhas—the southern-most point of Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet
  3. Kruger National Park—can I see the big 5, pretty, pretty please?
  4. Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve
  5. Winelands—some friends of mine have a friend that owns a winery in South Africa, yeah, I won’t pass up that chance
  6. Drakensberg Mountain Range
  7. The Garden Route—the town of Knysna is very appealing
  8. Soweto—township outside of Johannesburg that the struggle of Apartheid played out in
  9. Whale watching—not exactly sure if I’m there during a good time for this
  10. Isicathamiya competitions—Saturday nights in Durban and Johannesburg, this is the type of music competition that Ladysmith Black Mambazo got its start at
  11. The massive Baobab Tree that has a bar in it—caught wind of this from another Travbuddy
  12. The Palace of the Lost City
  13. Victoria Falls—yes, I’m aware this isn’t in South Africa, but it’s a quick plane ride away
  14. Lesotho and Swaziland—countries within a country intrigue me

I’m guessing that as I continue to read through the multiple guide books that I’ve purchased, that this list is going to continue to grow and that some sights may move up in importance for me to see. I have a little over 3 months before I embark on this adventure, but I like to think I’m getting a good head start on the planning.

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This plane ticket is just the beginning

Call me crazy, but I applied for tickets for the 2010 World Cup a year ago when the first sales phase kicked off. I tried my luck at 5 matches and came out successful for 3 of them. I dropped a few hundred bucks on an event I wasn’t even positive I would make it to. I didn’t care, I was willing to take that loss, as I thought by having tickets it would push me even harder to make South Africa a reality. Turns out, it worked. You see, I bought a plane ticket to South Africa today.

I still can’t believe I’m doing this. I’ll be gone for a month and a half, by far the longest and grandest adventure I’ve ever taken on. This will also be my first time heading overseas to a country that doesn’t reside in Europe. My time frame was dictated by the price of airfare. I leave Chicago on June 2nd and fly back from Johannesburg on July 17th. If I wanted to leave a day later or come back a day earlier, it would have cost me over a $1,000 more. I figured it could go two ways: I could pay the extra money and be back and working sooner than later, or I could stay longer, experience the World Cup from start to finish and make better use of the money. If I’m going to spend a grand of my hard earned money, I sure as hell better have some fun with it, because no matter what flight I come back on, that coach seat isn’t going to come with caviar.

For as much excitement as I have, I think I have an equal amount of trepidation. I’ve already mentioned about how this is the longest trip I’ll have taken on and my first outside of the US and Europe. While I love the spontaneity of travelling alone, I can’t shake this compulsive need to have the 46 days in a foreign land planned out in some way or form. On this date I want to be here, on this date there, etc. Plus, the sheer number of people planning on being in South Africa for the World Cup has me paranoid about lodging. I want to Couchsurf as much as possible, but I think I need to have a bed reserved someplace and take the loss on the deposit if it comes down to it. Transportation isn’t as efficient as it in other countries. The larger cities aren’t known for their great public transportation system and taking a train between cities can take over a day. Busses seem to be the best option. Then there is the whole safety thing. Every guide book I’ve picked up has addressed the issue of rampant crime throughout South Africa and yes, no matter where you are in the world, crime will be had and found. It’s up to the traveler to play it as safe as possible—don’t travel alone if you don’t have to, be a little more wary at night, keep your possessions close and on you and always be aware of not only where you are, but how you’re getting to where you need to be. Yes, I know that security will be heightened for the span of the tournament, but I also know that an influx of tourists can be a haven for pickpockets…

Nervousness aside, this is an undertaking that I’m excited to take. South Africa looks like an amazing country and I’m afraid that a month and a half won’t be enough and that it’s going to be hard to pick and choose the best things to do in my time. For now though, I’ve made the first step and can’t wait to be off and running!

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