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.

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