A Travellerspoint blog

Playing tourist again, before the big one

The Semi-finals had been pretty good as semi's go, and the result was that we would have a new winner's name on the trophy – the 8th nation to do so and in addition, either Spain or the Netherlands would become the first European team to ever win the World Cup outside of the European continent . Within minutes of the second semi ending, I had received the offer to beat all offers: A free ticket to the final, with full hospitality and VIP privilege. On the open market, it would have been several thousand USD, but sometimes, being owed a large favour can get you the most amazing opportunities. I agonised over it, but in the end had to accept that logistically I just could not do it. It was absolutely gutting. Under my originally plan and cargo ship, yes. But my changed plans mean't my stay in South Africa was going to end the same way as it started: truncated, and frustratingly missing out on a potentially wonderful experience. It pretty much summed up my trip, and led me to wish again for the freedom of years past.

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Mostly Dutch fans watching the Semi final against Uruguay

But I had no choice, and reluctantly had to turn it down. Besides, it will be a terrible game – finals almost always are. And hopefully when the favour is finally paid back, it will be in an even better way than this!

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Answers on a postcard please: Any idea's why on Earth Boris Johnson was used to advertise commemorative drinking cups in the Cape Town fanfest would be greatfully received

With that decided, and also taking the decision not to get a ticket to the 3rd place game (which was possible and would just about have been logistically feasible), I headed off for a couple of days. I had ended up with a car – a really sh1tty car - for 3 days, which always felt liable to break, but somehow survived almost 1000km, and allowed me to fill in a couple more gaps of places that I wanted to see. Thus I took in Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, the South-Westerly most point in Africa, before going back to Hermanus to whale-watch. I then had a pleasant day wandering through the mountains and ending up in the Cedarberg, an area I had driven through on day 1 and liked the look of. At that, the traditional Cape winter had suddenly kicked in, leaving me with a final day of rain storms, thick fog on the mountain passes and a much chillier temperature whilst I wandered around St. Helena Bay (somewhere I had wanted to come based on the name alone) and slowly made my way back down the West coast to Cape Town.

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Different penguins to be warned about exist around Cape Point than on Robben Island, and (below) a hazard of a different kind
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Looking out from underneath the old Cape Point lighthouse to the new one, much lower down, and thus less prone to being covered by the regular thick sea fog that decends. The low layer of mist (not particularly obvious in this photo) gave the cliffs on the far side of the bay a strange and beautiful ethereal quality, and almost looked like a painting out of a fantasy novel as opposed to a real life view

With that behind me, I reflected on the fact that I had at least managed to see pretty much everything that I had missed last year, but had wanted to see. My time here is shortly at an end, and that will require another large mental readjustment. Europe is apparently in the grip of a long term heatwave, a not unexpected development given my record: Every summer I am away from Europe, it is hot and glorious. Every time I am there, it is, erm, very definitely not. And I'm sure it will end a few days before I arrive. But before that, there is still small matter of the World Cup final. Sure, sadly, I won't be in Soccer City, but Cape Town is rarely a bad place to be, and even though I am predicting a dire game, I can't wait.

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Beach huts near Simon's Town

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It's hard life being a Baboon and terrorising tourists and their cars on top of Sir Lowry's Pass

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Erm... Atlantis found?

Posted by Gelli 04:50 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

A sad history of, mostly, one man

Astonishingly for winter, the Cape Town weather was pretty good. Whilst I was there, there was no rain at all until the day before the final: There was some wind, but not even much cloud: The famed Table cloth stayed away from Table Mountain, and it could generally be clearly viewed for large portions of all days.

I had arranged to spend about a week in Cape Town – I had figured that by this point I would be tired of constantly moving around, and knew Cape Town was a place I could hang out and enjoy for a bit. Which is pretty much what I did. I had a great time watching the Semi Finals at the fanzones, but otherwise didn't really do very much. I just hungout and wandered a bit. My internal “go and do stuff” drive has also apparently gone on holiday – I was increasingly getting into a deep state of “meh”, and from memory (which, admittedly, is struggling to remember what I was doing yesterday, let along longer term details) I am currently in the least adventurous, active and sociable state that I have ever been whilst travelling.

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The one thing I did do, however, was go to Robben Island. I had tried last time, only to discover that they were all booked out for the few days I was around. This time, I would not make the same mistake, and had booked my ticket a couple of months previously. I had then lucked out on weather – the table cloth on table mountain cleared for long enough to see it in all it's glory, and the wind and waves were not string enough to prevent the ferry from leaving. The following few days trips were all cancelled.

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Robben Island was a prison pretty much from day 1. Beginning as a Leper colony, it eventually got developed in the 1960's as a prison for political prisoners and dissidents. Though thousands of people were incarcerated there, it is mainly known for one reason: Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison here (although he was not the longest inmate on the island, nor was he eventually released from prison here: That was Victor Versal Prison in Paarl).

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Mandela's cell from outside, and inside

It is a kind of pilgrimage for people the world over, the most internationally recognised reminder of apartheid. On the island, visitors are shown around by former inmates of the prison, and though it is a bit rushed, it was fascinating to hear first hand reports of life there. My biggest regret is actually how the prison population is remembered. Everybody knows about Robben Island because of Mandela, and his story is well known. But there are thousands of other poor souls who suffered the same – and in cases worse – treatment in the prison who's stories are now almost marginalised or even forgotten about, simply because they are not Mandela. In a way it is good: because of Mandela, nobody will ever forget Robben Island and what it stood for. But it must not be forgotten that it was not just the prison of one man.

Posted by Gelli 10:45 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Diego gets his comeuppance

Green Cape stadium in Cape Town was actually a bit of a disappointment. From a distance, it looks fantastic. But up close, it looked very temporary. The outer cladding was a metal mesh. Inside it, all was bare unpainted concrete which was already showing signs of crumbling in places, whilst there were porter cabins inside the main structure. The number of both toilets and food and drink outlets were also much fewer than in Durban, for example. Pitchside, however, was much better, despite the fact that we were again sat in temporary seating (as in Durban, the top tier seating is temporary, shaky, and gets removed after the World Cup because Cape Town has no use for a permanent 66,000 seat stadium) with tiny leg room and an almost vertigo inducing climb. But the view, from just above halfway, opposite Jacob Zuma, Angela Merkel et al, was perfect.

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Diego Maradona and his motley crew of assistants gets the attention during the national anthems. If you didn't know who they were and saw them walking down the street together, all dressed up like that, they would look so out of place and so unnatural that you would probably guess that they are mafia/gangsters!

When the draw had been made, I had looked at the permutations for this quarter final to see who I could get. The worse case scenario involved England. The very best was Argentina v Germany. Amazingly in this world cup of shocks, Argentina v Germany it was. The fact that Germany had come there having thumped England was even better. On paper, it was the two teams on the best form in the tournament, and almost a disappointment that this was only a QF. The atmosphere in the city beforehand was amazing, and in the ground even better. And after a few damp squibs, I was delighted to actually see some goals and a decent game, even though it didn't go exactly to plan. Especially if you are an Argentina fan.

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Thomas Muller scored early, which should have set the game up brilliantly: Argentina had to attack. And they kind of did. Though they never really had any great chances, for the rest of the half and first 5-10minutes of the second half, the Argentinians got more and more into the game, and it seemed like only a matter of time before they scored. Then the Germans got a decent second, and the Argentinians gave in. A quick third followed, and that was it. Though the Germans scored an excellent 4th later on, the Argentinians just plain gave up after the second goal. It was quite strange, and sad to see. For a team that had gone in with such an attacking line-up, they offered nothing. The back 4 and keeper were poor (and generally had been all tournament), and Mascherano put in huge amounts of work trying to cover them. For the rest, it was basically a front 5. There was no midfield. Messi, probably the best player in the world and potentially the best ever was reduced to running into his own half in search of the ball. Tevez ran around allot and at least tried. Di Maria had the best of the chances in the first half but faded and was taken off. Maxi and Higuain may as well have not been playing. The amazing thing for me, with so many of these knock out games, is how conservative managers have been: If you are 2 goals down in a game you need to win, gamble – realistically, there is no difference in loosing 2-0 or 5-0 at that point. You are still out. So use all your substitutions, make attacking ones and gamble. It might just pay off. But Argentina, like Brazil , went out after only making 2 like-for-like changes, and leaving the third un-usued. England and France went out after making very late changes at the stage in the game that it did not matter. In some ways, for some people, it is understandable, but for Diego Maradona, it was bizarre.

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Walking back into town along the fanwalk, it was an almost shell shocked atmosphere. Nobody could quite believe what had just happened. But it had been good fun regardless. And with that, my first hand experiences of the 2010 World Cup were probably over. And it was odd – my abiding memory of the games I have been at will come from this game, but was nothing to do with the game itself: At one point during the first half, I happened to glance around me. I would guess that 70% of those people around me, including my friend Brad, were playing with their smartphones. Instant messaging on their Blackberries, or similar, and I just thought it bizarre. If I go to a game of football, I will always stay to the end, will try and plan my comfort/food/beer breaks so I don't miss any action. And I will watch the game. This was a World Cup Quarter Final, between two great teams, and with tickets not coming cheap. And yet many people didn't seem to be fully interested in the game itself. I just found it all very, very odd.

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Posted by Gelli 04:40 Archived in South Africa Tagged events Comments (0)

A wandering again

Pretty much straight after the damp squib of the Brazil-Portugal game, and after a week in Durban doing very little, I went and found my car, and with 8 days free before my next ticket in Cape Town, headed off. I had no specific plan, and kind of made it up as I went along, depending on who I happened to meet and what I felt like. Thus, I ended up taking a short swing through Swaziland, partly to see some of the south of the country which I hadn't seen last year (beautiful and mountainous, just how I like it), before heading back to Gauteng.

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Rourke's Drift: A place of almost pilgrimage for me, site of one of the most famous battles of the Zulu wars (and immortalised in the film 'zulu') where a small group of soldiers from the 2nd Battalian 24th foot South Wales Border regiment held off several thousand zulu warriors in defence of the Rourke's Drift missionary station in 1879. More VC awards for bravery were awarded for that one battle than any other in history

I went and stayed with some Couchsurfing friends from last year, Meruschka and Guiliano [who, as an Italian, and with the Italians long since out, was not the happiest] who had moved house, gained 3 fantastic puppies – two 'old' and hence large puppies, but the 3rd of which had been rescued 2 days earlier and was barely as big as my hand – and had invited guests for that evenings England – Germany game. Two of whom turned out to be old friends from Malawi and my days in Nhkata Bay. I am used to meeting people I know, or have a connection, every couple of weeks whilst travelling, and had been thinking only a day or two previously that I had been surprised that it hadn't yet happened. I was definitely due. An Irish couple and a German girl finished the party, and two of us were extremely happy at the games conclusion. Yes, it should have been a goal for Lampard, but really, England had been dreadful all tournament, were overrun by the Germans and lucky not to lose by more. I was praying for 5-1 as, at a stroke, that would have removed the English 2 big 'crowing points' over the Germans: the astonishing 5-1 away defeat of the Germany in qualifying in 2001 (even Heskey scored) as well as the controversial goal given by the linesman in 1966 [admittedly, the English had a much more legitimate claim in 2010 than the very marginal call in 1966]. But, to be fair, I was quite happy with 4-1, especially as I had had a deep feeling of foreboding prior to the game.

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Dinner time

I spent a day being a tourist, checking out the Cradle of Mankind and Sterkfontein, and then wandering around the Hartbeespoort dam/lake, before going and catching up with another friend from last year, Therese. It was a great couple of days.

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The view from the Hartbeesport Dam, and, below, a reminder that South Africa is not always the safest country to travel in. These signs cropped up regularly in a few pockets of the country

From there I headed down to Lesotho, and spent a great couple of days doing very little except exploring the mountains, and again running into another random coincidence, by discovering a couple of people I knew on St. Helena had just moved to Lesotho. As you do. Lesotho is definitely a country I need to return to with more time, and all my walking gear, and spend some days in the mountains. As for now, I had to be content with twisting mountain passes, snow, the constant ringing of cowbells in the distance, fresh-air and glorious vistas. I had no time for anything else, and a long drive to Cape Town ahead.

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Many of the roads in Lesotho are twisting mountain passes, often precarious, and with lumps of rocks on the road which have fallen off the mountainside and tumbled down. I can quite understand the naming of this pass in particular!

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Mohale lake, a fairly recent addition to the Lesothan highlands, after the Mohale dam was constructed

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It wouldn't be the emptiness of South Africa without a picture of a typical rural railway station...I would guess that the nearest building of any description is at least 20km away

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Looking down from Dutoits over the Winelands and Paarl. The faint mountain in the distance is Table Mountain, 70km away

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My trusty steed, named Göran (by Maaret - Hello Dear) for reasons that remain unknown. Together we covered some 7000km

Posted by Gelli 11:32 Tagged events Comments (0)

Durban

Durban definitely had benefits - comedy value: On arrival we got directed to park on the 10th story of what turned out to be an 8 story car park, which pretty much had us collapsed in helpless laughter after having driven onto the roof. More importantly, it mean't that less than a week after almost freezing to death at a game in Joburg, here we were, watching games at the fanzone on the beach, and at the magnificent stadium whilst wearing shorts and trying to avoid getting sunburnt. The Northern/inland venues in winter are cold. The Western coastal locations (Cape Town and Port Elizabeth) are prone to rain and wind. Durban has sun. And with Europe being in the middle of a heatwave which is bound to end before I get back there, some sun was very definitely welcome.

The other great thing about Durban is that the stadium is pretty central, which means that you can walk to it. Along the beach with 50,000 or so crazed Oranje fans. Which is exactly what we did for Netherlands – Japan. Though vastly outnumbered, there were still a fair chunk of Japanese fans around, also fully dressed up and very vocal.

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Durban turned orange, although the Japanese certainly made an effort

With the Dutch qualified, the guys all flew back to Europe and their wives, fiancees, children and jobs. I stayed. I don't have the ability to fly, or for that matter, a wife, fiancee, child (that I admit to, anyway) or job. Besides, it was the World Cup and there were more games to go to.

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The happy Dutch guys – Luc, Sam and Remco after qualification

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Apparently I had not been orange enough during the game, so I had to make up some ground, although (below) I wasn't going to give up my identity completely!
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The first of the extra games was Nigeria – South Korea. It was one of those games that looks to be of no real outside interest, but in my experience tend to be the more entertaining games of football. Both teams go in with genuine prospects of winning, and in this case as the 3rd group game, was almost a play-off for a place in the second round. And it was a pretty decent game as well. There were chances at both ends, and a miss by Yakubu which will go down as one of the most incredible in World Cup history. It should not have been possible to miss from less than a metre and with an entirely open goal. Let alone from somebody who earns more in a week than most of the crowd do in a year.

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In the end, the South Koreans were deserving victors, and their support was both vocal and colourful. Another African team thus went home.

In contrast, my final game in Durban was the single most anticipated game of the entire round: The only non South African game for which tickets could not be got for love nor money. I could have sold my ticket on the way to the stadium for over 3times it's face value, and that was to people shouting offers to passers-by. If I had wanted to sell and made an effort, i'm sure I could have got more. The build up was amazing, the atmosphere incredible. But despite everybody else's optimism, I was convinced the game would be a damp squib. And so it proved. The problem was that it was essentially a meaningless game. Brazil had already qualified, whilst Portugal's goal difference mean't only a vast miracle would see them fail to advance. And even future fixtures were of no help - If it had gone to plan, Spain would be topping their group and would play the runners up: A huge incentive would have existed, to avoid Spain. As it was, the Spanish loss mean't that they could come anywhere between 1 and 3, and with their final game played later, there was nothing any of the Portuguese speakers could do to deliberately avoid them.

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”Action” from the the Brazil – Portugal boredom fest

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I would almost go as far to say that it was probably the worst game of the entire tournament, though there have been a few other equally dire encounters. Based on the group stages, at least, South Africa 2010 will not go down as a classic World Cup in terms of the football. It can only get better, surely?

Posted by Gelli 04:26 Archived in South Africa Tagged events Comments (0)

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