Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Germans oh my!

In Port Elizabeth we quickly discovered that if we wanted to do any sightseeing at all while in South Africa we would need to get ourselves some wheels.  So, for only the second time on our trip we hired a car.  Unfortunately for Courtney, Lee’s driving license had expired back in March, which meant he wouldn’t be able to drive the rental car (not legally anyway).  Not wanting to risk a hefty fine, Courtney took one for the team and agreed to be our designated driver for the next 11 days.  Lee agreed to try and stay awake.

Hail to the bus driver, bus driver, bus driver...

When Lee purchased the World Cup tickets earlier this year he foolishly predicted England would win their group and therefore be playing their second round match in Rustenburg.  Landon Donovan’s injury time winner against Algeria meant that USA won the group and second placed England were heading to Bloemfontein.

Now, we had in our possession two perfectly good tickets to USA v Ghana in the second round of the World Cup.  BUT, England were set to face Germany in their second round encounter and as World Cup matches go, that’s a pretty big one…and Lee REALLY wanted to go.  As luck would have it, we were able to do some last minute wheeling and dealing with some friends of an American fan we had met previously and we swapped our tickets with their England v Germany tickets – everyone’s a winner!  And so, we were headed for Bloemfontein and a date with Ze Germans!

All smiles before England v Germany

England v Germany

Bloemfontein is about 700 kilometers from Port Elizabeth so it was about a 9-hour drive for us (well for Courtney, a 9-hour sit for Lee) and the road was long, flat and straight.  The only interesting thing about this drive was the monkeys that we saw from time-to-time along the side of the road.  We’re not sure what kind of monkeys they were so we named them “street monkeys.”

“Bloem” is most famous for being the birthplace of JRR Tolkein, author of “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings,” among other things.  It’s also now famous for having nowhere near enough accommodation to house 50,000 plus English and German fans during the second round of the 2010 World Cup.

As a result of our last minute scramble to get tickets, we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay in town.  We decided to drive up and go door-to-door asking if there was room at the inn a la Mary and Joseph (minus the donkey and baby).  After two hours with no luck we finally got a lead from a security guard at one of the hotels we tried.  There was some space at a place about 30k out of town.  It was a bit pricey and the location wasn’t great but it was all we had, so we hopped on the highway out of town.

After driving several miles on a dirt road we finally came to a set of gates in the middle of nowhere with a 4x4 sitting outside one of them.  The guy we spoke to on the phone said he would meet us at the entrance to let us in so we assumed that this was him.  He opened one of the gates and drove through.  We followed.  Bear in mind, it was about 10:30pm so it was pitch black out, there were no lights around anywhere and we had no idea where we were.  As we rounded some bushes our headlights shone some light on a few small chalets that looked like where we might be sleeping.  Then, as we got closer something moved.  Something massive.  It was still hard to make out but we drove a few more feet closer and then there was no mistaking what they were – three camels…right in front of our room for the night.

Trying to ignore the camels for a moment we had a look around the chalet with the owner and he showed us where everything was.  Full kitchen, living room, Jacuzzi tub, king-sized bed…not bad at all.  Then, as he was leaving us to settle in he said, “make sure you keep the doors closed as the emus are a bit curious and can be a bit of a pest.  Also, if you hear the lions roaring during the night don’t worry as they can’t get over here.  Goodnight!”

It was only the next morning that we discovered that we had booked ourselves two nights on a small game lodge!  It ended up being a real bonus as the day after the match, before we left for Cape Town, we took a game drive and saw tons of animals – lions, tigers, cheetahs, zebras, elands, giraffes, and a hippo named “Glen.”

Oh yea, we did go and see a match while we were in Bloem, wasn’t very good though…

With England and USA both headed home there was no football to distract us and we were able to look forward to some sightseeing in Cape Town.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Deciders - Party Time in Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape was the venue for England’s last group game, and our next match, against Slovenia.  We opted for a 13-hour overnight bus ride with Translux to get us down there.  The bus was very reasonably priced and comfortable.  The icing on the cake was the entertainment we were treated to.  We must have had a top-notch entertainment director as the line up was truly something – first up was “Phil Collins: The Final Farewell Tour” on DVD.  That was followed by a Patti Labelle PBS special with all the funky 70s soul and disco classics.  The night’s programming was concluded with the action-packed “Mercenary for Justice” featuring none other than pony-tailed puncher Steven Seagal. What a night! 

In PE we met up with a few of the characters from Rustenburg, including the long-distance cyclists.  Daniel, one of Lee’s friends from England was also over for World Cup with his friend Robbie so we met up with them too.  The game was great and England got the win they needed to advance to the knockout stages (as did the US in their game) so it was party time again.  We celebrated into the small hours again as the World Cup party train rolled on.

Before leaving the Eastern Cape we took a break from all the football fever to take in some of the natural beauty of the area. Along with Daniel and Robbie, we visited the Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve, an incredible bit of coastline about 15 minutes outside of Port Elizabeth.  There are a number of hiking paths along the coastline collectively known as the Sacramento Trail.  The weather was beautiful and we hiked along the lower path, which takes you along rocky grasslands and beaches, for about an hour and a half before turning around and hiking back along a higher trail that offered spectacular views of the Indian Ocean.  We even spotted a pod of whales making their way along the coast.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


The Samba boys’ first match and USA v Slovenia at Ellis Park

After more or less 3 straight days of drinking we dragged our tired bodies back to Johannesburg for some R&R.  We had tickets for two matches in Johannesburg over the next week – Brazil v N. Korea and USA v Slovenia.  Brazil was up first.

Brazil v N. Korea
June is the start of South Africa’s winter and lucky for us the day we went to watch Brazil was apparently the coldest day in Johannesburg since 1994!  Needless to say we were woefully unprepared.  The only thing that saved Courtney from certain hypothermia was the fact that there was a rather large man sat in the seat next to her inside the stadium.  With Lee’s puny body offering little protection from the elements, Courtney nestled into the side of the big fellow’s generous frame and managed to at least keep the frostbite at bay.

Brazil won the match as expected, but the plucky Koreans put up quite a fight.  The most bizarre sight of the game was the group of 100 or so Korean fans sat together on the other side of the stadium from us.  They were all wearing identical red tracksuits and clapped and cheered in perfect unison every so often.  We later found out that these “fans” were actually primarily Chinese nationals who had been hired by the North Korean government to pose as Korea fans for the match.

USA v Slovenia
Later that same week we headed back to Ellis Park for USA’s second group game against Slovenia.  At the match we met up with friends Katie and Ran who had traveled over to watch the first two US matches.

 Katie and Ran

Before the match with Katie

We had rubbish Category 3 tickets for this match but Katie and Ran had Cat 1s (much better seats) so we snuck in with them and squeezed into their section. We were in the biggest section of USA fans so the atmosphere was awesome.  After going 2-0 down it wasn’t looking good for the US team, but an early second-half goal from Donovan and then a late equalizer from Bradley and it was game on.  The crowd was going nuts.  If you watched this match on TV you know what happened next.  For a few seconds it was pandemonium in our section as US fans celebrated what we thought was the match winner.  Unfortunately the dodgy referee saw something that nobody else in the stadium saw and the goal was disallowed.  2-2 was the final and, after England’s terrible display against Algeria, it was all still to play for.

Some first half action

After the match we grabbed dinner and drinks in Melville, a trendy little suburb of Johannesburg, before saying our goodbyes to Katie and Ran who were headed back to Philadelphia in the morning.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hodge Podge...DODGE!

Rustenburg for the England v USA match

England v USA was the opening match for both teams in the tournament and also our first game.  The game was held in Rustenburg, a small town a couple of hours north of Johannesburg that is famous for it's platinum reserves (apparently something like 86% of the world's platinum comes from the area).  As a result, the Royal Bafokeng Nation who own the mining rights up there are filthy rich.  As far as we can tell, that's the only reason Rustenburg was chosen to host any World Cup matches...the king paid for the privilege.  

Getting to and from the place was a nightmare, there was nowhere near enough accommodation (more on that later), and the stadium was not exactly world cup standard, and certainly not the ideal venue to host England v USA, the two countries that brought the most fans to South Africa.

Phokeng ridiculous!
So, back to the accommodation.  We booked our accommodation for Rustenburg way back in December 2009 as soon as we knew England would be playing the US up there.  We booked a cabin at a place called the Hodge Podge Lodge.  The name should have been fair warning that this place could be a bit dodgy but it was all we could find so we went with it.  What a nightmare!  This place was miles out of town, our cabin had no lock on it whatsoever, the family that owned the place tried to rob us every chance they got by overcharging for everything, and speaking of the family...what a bunch!

In spite of all that we had an absolute blast up there.  There were hundreds of England and US fans staying at Hodge Podge and we met some great people who we would end up hanging out with again at other England matches.  We partied the whole 3 days.

For the opening ceremony and match we headed to the FIFA Fan Fest in town.  The atmosphere was unbelievable.  There were close to 25,000 fans there to watch Bafana Bafana (South Africa) take on Mexico in the opening match.  The noise from the now infamous vuvuzelas was almost unbearable but they certainly created a unique atmosphere.  When Bafana scored the whole place erupted.  There were spontaneous outbreaks of fans singing traditional African songs and dancing together.  It was amazing.  Unfortunately Mexico’s equalizer dampened the spirits somewhat but that didn’t last long.  After the final whistle the party was in full swing again with 20,000 plus people celebrating the start of the tournament.
 Enjoying the opening match with some Bafana Bafana fans

Back at the lodge we continued the party and met some of the other Hodge Podge guests.  Among them were a group of guys and girls from England who had cycled from Egypt to South Africa for the World Cup.  That’s right, Egypt to South Africa…on bicycles.  If you’re not sure how far that is feel free to have a quick look at a map and you’ll see that it’s REALLY FAR!  And there we were thinking we were all clever because we’d taken a couple of flights to a few countries around the world.

We also met a great group of English lads and some American guys who we had a lot of fun with.  The Americans had had some look-a-likes among them too…

We knew Clinton was there but "dubya" and Sampras too?!?

On match day the England v USA clash kicked-off at 8:30pm so we had time to get in the mood beforehand.  Not wanting to get too boozy we opted for a sensible start time of 11am.

Courtney singing the national anthem

England goal!

The game was great!  Courtney’s first ever, live football match and it was England v USA in the World Cup finals!  Not bad.  (Lee’s first ever match was Arsenal v Norwich at Highbury…not exactly the same).  The 1-1 final score meant that we were still on speaking terms after the 90 minutes and after a couple of hours of total chaos trying to leave the stadium area, we made our way back to Hodge Podge to continue the party. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hello Africa, Tell Me How You Do it!

We arrived in Johannesburg about a week before the tournament was set to get underway.  This gave us some time to make some travel arrangements to some of the matches and generally get ourselves organized.  We have been extremely fortunate to have been looked after by the Raabs, Peter and Lucienne, during our stay in South Africa.  Peter and Lucienne are Courtney's brother Colin's good friend Ant's parents and they have been absolutely amazing.  They have really made us feel at home while we have been staying with them and our visit to South Africa might not have been possible without them and it certainly wouldn't have been as special.

During the first week we pretty much just laid low as we knew we would be doing a fair bit of traveling once the World Cup action got started.  We enjoyed some lovely meals with the Raabs and they also showed us around Sandton, a northern suburb of Johannesburg which is generally considered the city's commercial hub, and is the area where we have spent much of our time while staying with the Raabs.

The Apartheid Museum

The one excursion we did take was to visit the Apartheid Museum. Opened in 2001, the Apartheid Museum tells the story of apartheid in South Africa.  The museum is really well done and the exhibits are fascinating.  We spent almost 4 hours in there and easily could have stayed longer.  It's pretty shocking that apartheid in South Africa is such recent history.  The country has come a long way in such a short period of time but there's still a lot of work to do.  If you find yourself in Johannesburg, the Apartheid Museum is a must-see.

3 days to go!

Arriving in Joburg
Originally uploaded by LeeSenior

Round-the-world in numbers: the story so far

Most of the counting we have been doing on this trip has been related to money - how much is this hostel room?  What is the exchange rate? Lee you've already spent this much on beer already, Courtney if we forgo using moisturizer we'll save this much money, etc, etc.

After just 2 days in New Zealand we realized that we were going to have a tough time keeping track of our daily expenditures, and therefore our budget, so we invested in a cheap calculator to help.  With the assistance of that same trusty little number crunching device, we decided to look at some other numbers related to this trip and the result is the following summary.  Our trip by the numbers...

5 number of continents visited
11 number of countries explored
144 number of days traveled
43 total number of places that we've stayed in
2 number of motorbikes rented

before the "incident"
50 percentage of rented motorbikes that were crashed
20 number of books read
18 number of flights taken
4 number of different cameras used (so far)
2,195 number of photos taken
10 different modes of transport used

One of the higher quality buses we rode on

35,317 number of miles traveled
24,901 distance in miles around the world at the equator
1 bag of insects eaten

15,000 height in feet from which we jumped out of a plane
15 number of beaches laid on
3 number of public rallies/riots/protests we have witnessed (civil unrest seems to be a theme on this trip)
9 number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited

Sydney Opera House - UNESCO World Heritage Site
190 cost in US dollars of one speeding ticket in Australia
26 number of bus journeys taken
23 percentage of bus journeys where we feared for our lives

This was a contender for worst bus trip

65 percentage of bus drivers in New Zealand named "Peter"
10 number of capital cities visited
8,500 approximate weight in pounds of the elephant we rode in northern Thailand

53 current age of former England captain and all-round footballing legend Bryan Robson, who we saw hanging out near our hotel in Bangkok
171* number of canadians met while traveling (*estimate.  actual number unknown but it felt like at least that many
27 number of new facebook friends
8 average cost in US dollars of a beer in Australia
0.45 average cost in US dollars of beer in Vietnam
15 number of dorm rooms stayed in
36 percentage of dorms that had smelly and/or noisy roomies
7.5 size of the flip flops Lee inherited after his were stolen from outside an internet cafe in Laos (they are a bit snug)

With only 3 days to go until the start of the World Cup, we'll likely have plenty more statistics to think about over the next 4 weeks.