27 June 2010

USA v. England

What an experience all around! The day started early (though apparently not early enough) when Javon came to pick us up around 1pm. We randomly met these folks in line for tickets where they bought our extras for the game. As we made plans to exchange tickets, it quickly turned into ‘we’ll drive’ then ‘come over for a braai at our place first’, which we were quick to agree to on all fronts. The food was incredible and abundant: local sausage, pork chops AND beautiful steaks, not to mention several delicious sides, salad and milk tart, a smooth, subtle desert that reminds you of the holidays.

We left the house a little after 4pm for the 8:30pm kick-off as the stadium in Rustenburg was a 2-hour drive with the last bit being only a 2-lane road for all the 40 thousand fans (!!). Several traffic ques later, plenty of road rage and lots of vuvuleza practice we are pulling into the park and ride at about 7:45pm and getting more than a bit nervous. Several large busses are lined up waiting to take folks to the stadium, however, we climbed onto the one bus who apparently had never driven there before….with only minutes until kick-off she drove us away from the stadium and pulled several u-turns before finally making it to the horrendously planned vehicle entrance for the bright lights, where we immediately hopped off and booked the last bit on our own, making it into the stadium seconds before the teams entered the field!

The energy was electric, though it was rather disappointing to have the reserved fan areas so incredibly mixed with US and England fans, and there is certainly some bad blood. Several hand gesture exchanges could be seen throughout the stadium and one of the more popular chants on our side was ‘1776’.

Considering that we were in a newly renovated stadium, it was rather disappointing that the scoreboard, clock or replay screen did not work, especially when our goal went in… The final blow to the organization of the new stadium, however, was trying to get the hell out. The buses were coming in at exactly the same intersection as mobs of people were exiting and it was completely deadlocked for hours. Our cars were about 5-miles away and not exactly walkable, so we hit up the only bar in the area (full of England fans who were by and large NOT pleased, we heard a few ‘f*** the US’ as we walked in with our garb) while we waited for the crowds to thin out. The frustration was so high that when the first empty buses came to pick us up people rushed the doors, causing some panic and a few injuries.

So after our beers, we qued up again and finally were on our way back to the park and ride where of course, nobody was moving so we settled in with some more beers and plenty of biltong (talk about delicious) to watch the spectacle. In the end we arrived back at the hostal at 4am, almost simultaneously with the various other convoys of US fans returning from the stadium.

Bafana Bafana!

After an adventurous drive from the Johannesburg airport, we arrived to a busy hostel with plenty of folks from all over excited about the upcoming games. Our first night was rather mellow, sitting around a fire pit in the back yard talking football statistics and comparing country stereotypes while slurping down delicious local beers. The hostel owners joined us later, teaching us some valuable, and some not so valuable Afrikaans.

A few days of walking around Pretoria later, seeing the South African executive buildings, the Voortrekker monument and embassy row, we prepared for the opening games: Bafana Bafana v. Mexico. There was a mall (though think more like beer garden) around the corner from our hotel so we planned to watch there, but were way too late considering the amount of local support and the doors were closed. So the group (about 8 of us) was desperately wandering around looking for a bar minutes before kick-off (as you will see later this is a theme) when we stumbled into Cofi (subtitled eatchillate) where we wedged ourselves onto the floor between large leather couches full of fans (and yes, their vuvulezas). It was rather uncomfortable but a great vantage point for the big game. We were happy to be in a purely South African crowd, instead of the mixed bag that would have been the beer garden where we were originally aiming. The celebration after their goal was phenomenal.

As the game rounded down, the DJ eased up the volume on the tunes and we all easily segued into a full-on dance party which continued through the next game and well into the night. Only once the music really picked up did we realize that we had crashed a VIP room. Not long after we began to boogie we were approached by the folks sitting on the couches in front of us who wanted to test out our dance moves. As a group we did fairly well, and for those of you who know him, not surprisingly, my brother was made honorary African American by the group after teaching them ‘bootie call’.

03 June 2010

World Cup 2010

So, certainly a different set of mountains (though the diurnal extremes are similar to where I've spent the last year and change), but I am off soon to the hills of South Africa where I will be joining soccer fans from around the world to celebrate the 2010 World Cup, the first games hosted on the African continent!

Stay tuned for updates from our trip across eastern South Africa (as we assume you are following the games on your own). After a LONG layover in Munich, we start in Johannesburg for the days leading up to the first game with England, then head north to Nelspruit, just outside the southern entrances to Kruger National Park (one site to find the 'Big Five'), back to Gauteng for another two games, then off to the east coast to camp on the beach with elephants! Hopefully the 4-man can deal with the herds...

More soon. Happy footballing!