A Travellerspoint blog

Schloooee-Schloooee (or some such)

With the Dutch guys only around for a week, and Sam and Luc never having set foot in Africa before, we decided to forego one of our games and instead take a road trip. You can't come to Africa and not see – or at least attempt to see – some animals. Which is what we did. I had originally uhm-ed and ah-ed whether to also go, but they had found a park in the South East with a good reputation for animals (Hluhluwe – iMfolozi) and were then going to go to St. Lucia, one of the few places in South Africa that I hadn't previously been to but really wanted to see. And, I figured, It would probably be some time before I returned, so I may as well go animal hunting as well.

Entering Hluhluwe after a mad dash due to yet more long roadworks, we got ridiculously lucky. 8 seconds into the park, and a family of black rhino crossed the road ahead of us. Barely 30seconds later, a buffalo crossed as well. In less than a minute, 2 of the big 5 had been seen at close quarters. At this rate, we half expected to see a leopard riding an elephant chasing lions, and maybe even a Polar Bear within the hour. But, as is the way with such things, that is as good as it got. We saw a few giraffes and handful of zebra, but not much else on the way to the camp. A night game drive was noticeable for just how confused the guide was that we pretty much saw nothing – this was prime territory, but, it seems all the animals were off watching the Spanish lose their opening World Cup game instead of. The one thing we did see, however, was pretty cool: another group of rhino (6 of them), happily going about their business but got a bit miffed at being watched, leading to one of them to charge the safari truck ahead. That evening, South Africa lost against Uruguay, and their World cup was pretty much over already.

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I bored you all with lots of animal photos last year, so i'll revert to signs from Hluhluwe instead

The following day was the sort that happens in game parks. Endlessly promising, but never quite delivering: Sure we added variety to our spottings – several birds, wildebeest, warthogs, monkeys, baboons and finally a number of species of antelope were added, but the things we really wanted to see (Elephants and large cats) remained sadly elusive, despite lots of sign of recent elephant activity (recently destroyed trees, and new piles of shit) and promising looking trees for leopards and resting spots for prides of lions.

Animal spotting is one of those things that can never be predicted, and you can never guarantee sightings, unless you go to a zoo. Or, perhaps, you are in St. Lucia, looking for Hippos.

The St. Lucia wetlands are a world heritage site, and home to a vast array of biodiversity. Within the park are over 200 species of indigenous tree alone. To put that into perspective, the whole of Europe has only 76. A pleasant couple of hours on a boat gave us sightings of a number of crocs, including one in the middle of eating a large flatfish, numerous birds, including fish eagles (also hunting) and a number of pods of hippos. St. Lucia has vast numbers of hippos and crocs in particular, and hippos are so common that on arrival, you are warned what to do if you happen to meet any whilst walking down the main street at night.

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There is something about the expression on this hippo's face that I love and can relate to. To most other people, it just looks like a hippo. Below, baby hippos as well

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St. Lucia had been one of the few places that I really wanted to visit last year but hadn't managed to get to, and even though we only to got to visit a small portion of it, I was happy to have made it. But we didn't have long to explore. There is more football tomorrow, and Durban awaits.

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Dinner time: This croc was struggling badly with his skate brunch, to the point that he appeared to fall asleep halfway through eating it, whilst we watched this fish eagle catch his dinner and then devour it

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And I couldn't not finish with another sign from the 'no sh1t' department

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Posted by Gelli 10:16 Archived in South Africa Tagged animal Comments (0)

Mythbusting

Yes, dear readers, it is time yet again for me to break out some truths and solve some myths. Or something like that.

1. Africa is hot.
Oh no it f*cking isn't! Well, not all of it, all the time, anyway.

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In my night in Gaborone it had reached -3. Gauteng, and Johannesburg were almost as bad, but with the added 'extra' that we were outside, in Ellis Park stadium, watching Brazil v North Korea. The stadium power died early on, replaced by generators which worked intermittently and repeatedly belched out thick black clouds of smoke. South African winters are cold, but short: barely 6weeks, normally, which means nowhere has any heating. And stadia like Ellis Park are just not designed to be used in this season. So it was, that we joined the frozen masses in the 3rd tier, towards one end next to the where the stadium is open sided, and thus the howling wind blows right through. And we all prayed that we still had the correct numbers of fingers and toes left at the end of it.

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Yup, Ellis Park for Brazil v Korea DPR was an exercise in not freezing to death, as much as anything else

Put it this way, 60,000 fans and the queue to get a beer at halftime – normally mission impossible at a packed sports stadium – was 4 people, for 6 servers. The queues for coffee were maybe 600. It is the only game I have ever been to where beer was the quickest thing to get to.

The game itself was OK – North Korea (sorry: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea) looked fairly enterprising, the Brazilians slow in defence and Kaka was awful. Yes Brazil won, but for 5glorious minutes at the end after the Koreans scored, the stadium suddenly turned to be fully Korean supporting (official DPRK fans: 35) as we willed on an unlikely equaliser. Perhaps most interest came when I wandered up to a Scottish family – kilts, feathers, the works – whilst wearing my large Welsh flag, which seemed to cause much amusement amongst the passing South Africans, and utter confusion amongst the Brazilian contingent.

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There are always a few lost souls looking for an oval shaped ball

2. This is an African World Cup

Technically, yes, this is an African world cup. It is, after-all, being played on African soil in South Africa. But that is basically it. South Africa is the least typical African country anyway. And the fact that it is then being played in South Africa in winter pretty much wipes any advantage that the African nations would have, at a stroke. Play the tournament in West Africa, with the vast humidity and unpredictable pitches, or in North Africa with the extreme heat and crazed local support, and yes, they may have had an advantage. South Africa 2010? Nope.

FIFA made a big show of it being African, and of putting out cheaper seats for locals. But locals mean South African residents only. For the rest of the continent, they get to pay normal prices. And that is the kicker. Probably in order to pay for the very cheap South African resident tickets, Ticket prices in South Africa for everybody else are much higher than before. In Germany 2006, the cheapest tickets were 30euros. In South Africa, they are 80usd. Factor in the fact that for most Africans it is both cheaper and easier (and, in some cases, quicker. And closer: The Ivorians previous game in a world cup was in Munich, which is marginally closer to Abidjan than their game in Port Elizabeth) to fly to Europe than South Africa, and it becomes clear that African fans are struggling. Only the very rich (or expat in South Africa) can afford to travel, and numbers visiting African fans are much lower than they were in 2006.

Far from this being a tournament with an African team in the final, I personally guess that maybe only a single African team will qualify from the group, and astounded if more than 1 does. And any qualifier will not go beyond the QF. Yes, feel free to laugh when it is an all African final...

3. Vuvuzela's help the African teams
No. They don't. So far, I would say that they actually sound worse and louder on TV than in the stadiums. But more than that, they are hugely impersonal. They make the same droning noise, and are blown at any occasion. Which means that there is no advantage for either side. What the singularly fail to do is get behind their team. South African commentators seemed surprised that Mexico were not phased by them in the opening game. But they should not have been. Anybody that has ever seen a Mexican game knows that they are noisy, passionate affairs. In the opening game, the vuvuzela's actively worked against South Africa. After they scored, there was vuvuzela blowing, but no singing or other noise to help them get behind their team, and the Mexicans got back in. South American drums and music, Korean chanting or British style singing is much effective: It is passionate, and obvious which team the noise is backing. Vuvuzela's lack that.

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4. Americans don't like football
Possibly, to an extent, this is true. And there are obviously many Americans who have no idea at all about football. Sorry, soccer. However, American based fans bought more tickets than any country except the hosts, whilst in the few hostels I've stayed in and fanzones I have visited, there have been lots of Americans. Lots of English as well, and – especially around cities where they are playing – large groups of Dutch, and lots of smaller pockets of others, including lots like myself from non-qualified countries. But more Americans than anything else.

5. Africa is cheap
Whilst, yes, some places in Africa are cheaper than, say, Switzerland, Africa has never really been cheap. The average person knows that lots of African countries are poor, and assumes that travelling in such places is correspondingly cheap. This has long been a source of amusement to me. Yes, some things are cheap, and you can live on virtually nothing. But it is subsistance living: living off the land. For backpackers etc without land, Africa is nowhere near as cheap as South East Asia, for example: The type of accommodation that tourists look for/want/will accept foreigners, plus food and transport all add up.

And then there is the world cup.

South Africa was generally at the higher end of African costs normally. In the world cup, prices are insane. A Budweiser (I hesitate to use the official word 'beer') in the stadiums, the only alcoholic option available, costs 30Rand. That is over 4usd, which is expensive even for foreigners: for locals, the cost is insane and unheard of. A dorm bed which normally goes from 80-120 Rand is typically 200-300. The most expensive I have heard of is 800 Rand, and there might well be higher. That's allot of money for a dorm bed. Basically, the prices for everything has gone up, often dramatically. And even World Cup extras have not been free: In Germany 2006, a match ticket got you free citywide transport for whole of the day, and often long distance transport. At the 2008 Euro's, Sam and I travelled from Zurich to Basle (and back) for the Semi final, for free. And the next day, all the way to Vienna, based on a single match ticket. In South Africa, it costs 50Rand just to leave your car at the park and ride. Again, not a huge cost. But an extra one to normal such events. And they all add up. It is a world cup of exploitation of those fans who made the effort to go. But with Sepp Blatter and FIFA involved, that is unlikely to be news.

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Not the tastiest 30Rand I have ever spent...

6. The locals have got fully involved
They have generally been enthusiastic and welcoming, yes. But fully involved? No. Even the locals only cheap tickets are 140Rand, which is substantially more than many people can afford: In places, that is a weekly wage. The local ticket distribution was also quite poor, requiring internet or credit cards to begin with, and ending in the farce which has seen empty seats at every game. Sometimes, lots of empty seats (the fact that genuine foreign supporters are often forbidden to get empty seats, even in Cats 1-3 is a different story, and basically all about FIFA's stubbornness). The fanzones are also expensive for food/drink, and many have been hard to get to. The brilliant situated Durban fanzone (it is on the beach, in the only host city with reliably decent weather) has officially been the highest attended in cumulative attendance. And whilst it was crammed for South Africa – France, of the other games I saw there, none were more than maybe 20% full, at most. Cape Town has generally been full, but has a much smaller capacity, and is easily accessible. And there are lots of foreigners around. The ones in the north have often done very badly: Rustenberg fanzone is in the middle of nowhere, in a city that is not easily accessible anyway. The ones in Johannesberg require driving to/from, but parking is really hard, so people have stayed away. At one game, one of the main Joburg fanzones had, it is reported only 47 entrees, who had all left at halftime. The capacity is almost 20,000. And even those hardy enough to want to attend often gave up on account of the weather: it was just too cold to be standing outside, especially for evening games.

7. England are a good football team

  • insert maniacal laughter here*

It was excruciating for 3games. But the 4th was fantastic. Unless you are an England supporter, naturally.

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Some of us just about survived Ellis Park!

Posted by Gelli 04:13 Archived in South Africa Tagged events Comments (0)

Yet another disclaimer

Erm. Yes. Well. Ooops?

I'm ashamed to say that there will be a slight lul in entries now. Basically, I have run out of time to upload them, and have a ship to catch. Yes, I am aware that is a gawd awful excuse. Many are even already prepared. But I will try and get more uploaded as and when I find some internet again. Which continent, hemisphere, country or month that will be in, is, as yet, entirely unknown.

Apologies

Rich

Posted by Gelli 00:54 Archived in South Africa Tagged events Comments (0)

The first Oranje invasion

From there on in, the World Cup proper started for me. Sam, Remco and Luc arrived pretty much on time on Sunday lunchtime, and games could begin to be watched and beer consumed. Come Monday, and it was time to go to Soccer City. Glen and some friends also had tickets, so the 8 of us piled into 2 cars and headed to the Park & Ride for Netherlands v Denmark. Large queues – of Dutch and locals, plus 6 hugely outnumbered Danes - later (which we later discovered was caused by a wildcat strike amongst the bus drivers) and we were on a bus, on which with surprising ease, we made it to Soccer City stadium on the edge of Soweto.

Soccer City was a strange stadium. Fantastic inside, but from the outside in day light it almost looks unfinished. Sandy coloured cladding mean't it was dull and not shiny as most new stadiums are, and it has lots of holes in it. At night, it comes into it's own as it is all lit up like a traditional cooking pot. But by daylight, it looks a bit odd. The 94,000 capacity all sat in orange seats, which mean't that even where there were no Dutch fans, the stadium looked Oranje. But there were also lots, and lots of Dutch fans. The three guys I was with were no exception: Lucus, all 205cm of him was not exactly inconspicuous to begin with, whilst Remco had a large orange traffic cone style hat on his head, and Sam was in a plastic suit that basically made him look like a large orange condom. Naturally all wore orange jerseys as well. For me, my Swedish links made me more a Danish supporter than a Dutch one, though I was heavily out numbered, and essentially, didn't really care.

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The match was a slow burner – you can always tell how bored the crowd is by when the first attempts at a Mexican wave start in the crowd. It was 8minutes here. There were some quite large gaps in the crowd, and the capacity was later announced to be 84,000: impressive, but still 10,000 under capacity, which was quite sad. The dreaded vuvuzela's didn't shut up for the entire match, but they really weren't too bad. Because it's quite a low pitched tone, it's easier to tune out, and the fact that they are all the same tone means you quickly get used to them. Despite their protestations, I actually think that they work against South Africa. They have no soul or passion. They have nothing specific to your team. Which means that more people blowing them has no noticeable affect on the team. Compare it to, for example, the sort of singing you get from many European fans, or the Brazilian drums, which are much more passionate and help get behind *your* team. In the opening game, I think South Africa would have held on had they had South African songs sung after they went a goal up. Instead, just more vuvuzela's (which are nowhere near as noisy or passionate as most latin American teams are used to) worked more for the Mexicans who duly equalised.

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The first half was fairly poor. The Danes had a couple of decent chances, the Dutch much more possession but no width or final ball. The second half started with an own goal, and along with substitutions led to the Dutch growing in confidence and width. But they ended up with absolutely no central focus, often leading to lots of pretty passes out wide, but nothing more. The second goal was definitely deserved – and they could have had more – but to my mind, they have much work to be done. The Danes tailed away disappointingly, but should still have qualification in their own hands against Cameroon and Japan.

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As the noise slowly dispersed, so did the fans. Getting away from stadium was much more queuing, but only as to be expected, whilst leaving the car park and trawling through the evening rush hours traffic in the increasingly cold and dark evening was surprisingly easy. With that, it was time for a fantastic chicken skewered dinner and a beer whilst watching the Italians play in the cold wind and rain of Cape Town.

Tomorrow it all starts again.

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Sat not far in front of us, these are the lovely Bavaria girls, who later gained fame/notoriety by all being arrested for alleged ambush marketing. If they had been ignored, nothing would have happened. As it was, Bavaria gained huge amounts of publicity from the exercise

Posted by Gelli 05:53 Archived in South Africa Tagged events Comments (3)

My brief interlude with Botswana

Because of my change of plans and 3 week later arrival, all my plans were up in the air. Some things i'd had to cancel, some rearrange. Something that I hadn't been able to change except to delay it was an appointment in Gaborone. The problem was that I needed to be in Johannesburg on Saturday night and it was now Wednesday evening. So it was that I picked up a hire-car as early as possible on Thursday morning, and set off immediately. 1007km (generally very pretty, if empty km, which I would love to have more time enjoy properly) later, I stopped for the night. A 6am departure followed by another 800km followed, and I made it to my appointment in Gabs with 30mins to spare.

It was my first time in Botswana, but I barely saw anything and am not counting it as somewhere I have been. Originally I was going to have a couple of weeks to enjoy it. Instead, it was barely 30hours, and most of that work-related. I had also only expected to be needed Friday afternoon, not most of Saturday as well. Thus, by the time I was able to leave, it was gone 4pm on Saturday, the sun was going (and chilly – it had got down to -3 the previous night, and had been raining in the morning. Yup, it's definitely winter), I had no where to stay – my original plan depended on arriving much earlier - and I still had close to 500km to drive. In addition, the World Cup was well underway, and I had only managed to catch one full game in the first 2 days.

There was a slight problem crossing the border which delayed me further – the only time in my entire life I haven't instantly checked my passport after it had been stamped, and then discovered they had put the wrong stamp on. By the time I was in South Africa, it was dark. I decided to avoid the main N2, both because of the numerous tolls, and the fact it goes past Rustenberg where USA and England were due to kick off in a few hours, and instead cut through. The folly of that was only discovered much later when I spent over an hour sat waiting for traffic lights at major roadworks.

With other options expired, I had managed to convince a friend of a friend to let me crash in Joburg, and somehow managed to find his house without a map or too much problem. At least my worries about driving around Jo'burg alone, at night, and lost, had come to nothing. But it was gone 22:30 by the time I got to Glen's, after basically driving 2300km in 2.5days. But i'd made it. The England game had even finished, though, sadly, despite Robert Green's best efforts, without England loosing. Damned it!

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Always a good thing to know in advance. No guard docs in Botswana, just guard Crocs

Posted by Gelli 05:50 Archived in Botswana Tagged events Comments (0)

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