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29. Jul, 2010

World Cup Final – Our Extra Time in South Africa

World Cup Final – Our Extra Time in South Africa

Drakensberg and the Zulu Heartlands

After having seen Spain qualify for the World Cup Final, we started the last leg of our World Cup odyssey back towards Johannesburg. At this stage, having seen almost all of South Africa and its main attractions, there remained only one – the Drakensberg mountains.

Forming a natural border between Lesotho and South Africa, the Drakensberg lie deep in rural Kwazulu-Natal. We spent two days driving around the spectacular scenery which is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landscape is characterised by rolling plains of long yellow grasses, divided by small rivers, and dotted everywhere with scattered settlements of traditional Zulu houses. The highlight was definitely the famous Amphitheatre, which is an 8km stretch of cliffs which rise over 3,000m in height, forming a natural border between South Africa and Lesotho.

Ninfa at the Drakensberg Amphitheatre

Champagne Castle and Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg

Back in Johannesburg, we had two goals to fulfil. One was to visit the Apartheid Museum, and the other the World Cup Final. As it happened, there was a Park and Ride facility located at the Apartheid Museum, which allowed us to combine both into the same day. So we left early on the Sunday to give us plenty of time for the three hours which are advised for the Apartheid Museum. As it happens, you could spend a whole day in the museum, as it charts the history of South Africa from the discovery of gold in Johannesburg in the 19th century, right up to the present-day democracy.

Traditional homes in Kwazulu Natal

Zulu child in the Drakensberg

From the first encounter at the museum, you get a sense of the twisted reality that was apartheid, as your entry ticket classifies you as White, or Non-White. Based on that, you are invited to use the appropriate entrance to the museum, which is lined with other signs from the apartheid-era, classifying areas and services based on race. During apartheid, groups of unqualified inspectors would judge a person’s colour by a number of predefined categories such as white, coloured, or black. In some cases, this could have disastrous consequences resulting in families being split apart as a man could be classified differently from his wife. In such cases, there was an appeals process, where your “colour” could be revised. One of the more amusing exhibits showed a newspaper article which listed the changes that had been recorded by the appeals board, the final sentence stating, with no hint of irony, that “no blacks have become white”.

No winning tickets at the Apartheid Museum

Not the turnstiles at Soccer City ... entrance to the Apartheid Museum

There is so much information in the museum. My only criticism would be that it could break up the visit into different stages to help you progress, for example, The Formative Years, Organised Resistance etc, as sometimes the amount of information can be slightly overwhelming – I’ve named the sections myself below. One section that I found very interesting was “Petty Apartheid”. This described practices where schools would be provided, but without tables and chairs. Or at train stations, the majority of passengers were non-whites, and they would have only one gate, while the whites would have several which would hardly be used. And trains for non-whites would not run on time, and would not have destinations marked on them, rendering it almost impossible to be sure you would board the right train. The intention was obviously to degrade the people as much as possible. Another fascinating section was on the life of Steve Biko, a resistance leader who sought to overcome these psychological methods, and to restore pride and self-belief in the black people. He was beaten into a coma while in custody, and not given medical treatment for days, which resulted in his death, one of many who died at the hands of the regime.

Apartheid made South Africa a country of signs

Another section of the museum describes the actions of white people to fight the apartheid policies, but as Nelson Mandela stated in one of his trials, these people “existed in spite of, not because of the grotesque system of justice in this country”. Another area describes the township violence which took place after the release of the political prisoners and the unbanning of the black political parties. This period was in fact the bloodiest time of all, a state of almost civil war among the different ethnic communities. And importantly, a section on the international landscape during these times. During the Cold War, a blind eye was turned to Apartheid because the USA counted on South Africa as an ally to fight communism in Southern Africa, even supporting a strike against nearby Angola. And in fact, international pressure was only applied on South Africa after the end of the Cold War, showing the ugly side of world politics, where self-interest inevitably prevails over principle. The flipside of course is that Robert Mugabe gave shelter and support to the ANC military wing in exile in their time of need, which helps you understand why South Africa has never condemned the Mugabe regime at its worst in Zimbabwe.

Honduras al Mundial!

The Opening Ceremony at the World Cup Final

We had spent over three hours in the museum and still hadn’t finished, but kick-off was approaching, and the museum was closing anyway, so we hit the road to Soccer City. There were people from every country at the final, and it was full of colour, none more noticeable than the trademark orange of the Netherlands, helped by the fact that most of the seating in the stadium is itself orange. But even that couldn’t help Spain running out 1-0 in extra-time after a tense and frequently ill-disciplined final. In fact the highlights for us were a colourful opening ceremony, a brief appearance from Nelson Mandela, who was greeted by 80,000 fans singing Ma-Di-Ba!, and to top it all off, the presenting of the World Cup trophy to the winning team. And so it ended, Spain were the World Cup champions, we had attended 4 of their 7 games and somewhat frustratingly seen them score a only a single goal in 3 of those games, and Honduras could hold their heads high knowing that ultimately, it was the world’s best who had sent them home.

Special Guest Appearance from Ma-di-ba!

World Cup Champions - Spain!

The Famous Francois (on the left!)

As we were in Johannesburg, and were bidding farewell to South Africa, we figured it would be appropriate if we had a night out with the first South African we had met on our World Cup trip, Francois, who had helped us so much throughout our trip with tips and contacts. So we met in the aptly-named restaurant “Carnivore” on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The restaurant is centred around a huge fire grill, which serves up a huge selection of South African game. We ate springbok, crocodile, venison, pork, and my personal favourite – zebra! All washed down with some good company and some Pinotage.

And so we bid our farewell to a month in South Africa, the first African World Cup, 7,500km of driving, enough memories to keep for a lifetime, and to make us want to come back for more. So thanks South Africa for everything and well done for making it a terrific adventure!

25. Jul, 2010

South Africa – Coastal Road Trip

South Africa – Coastal Road Trip

Hi again everyone! Well it’s been a while since we updated the blog, as Africa has presented more than a few difficulties in obtaining reliable internet connections, or any connections at all. As a result, we’ve packed a lot into our last two posts from South Africa, so apologies for a long post.

Wilderness Beach on the Garden Route

Knysna Lagoon

On our last post, we had been having a splash with the Great White Sharks in Mossel Bay in the Western Cape province in South Africa, exactly one week before the World Cup final in Soccer City. Our route would take us some 1,200km right around the coast of South Africa and to Durban, and then 600km more back to Johannesburg. That journey would bring us through the remainder of the Western Cape along the Garden Route taking in some of its highlights like Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. We would then cross into the Eastern Cape, also known by its former name of Transkei, which is the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, the poorest province of South Africa, and the home of the Wild Coast. And finally, we would arrive in Kwazulu-Natal, the heart of the Zulu nation, home also to the large Indian community in Durban, and the Drakensberg mountains which form the natural mountain border with Lesotho. Then we’d head 600km back to Jozi and the climax of our trip and the World Cup in Soccer City on July 11, 2010. A full itinerary, and that’s exactly what South Africa was for us – always interesting, at times exhausting, and a monumental road-trip.

Garden Route

Raging Sea at the Knysna Heads

Deciding against a swim at Knysna Heads

The highlight of the remainder of our trip along the Garden Route was Knysna. It is situated just inside a narrow channel of sea formed by two steep headlands which reach out around a small island set in a freshwater lagoon. It’s a beautiful setting, and we drove out to one of the cliffs on the headland and watched the sunset. We then took a drive down to the beach at the foot of the cliffs to get a closer look at the waves crashing in against the rocky shore, and a good dose of some fresh, bracing sea air. That helped us work up a healthy appetite, and we drove back into town to sample some of the local speciality – it just happened to be Knysna Oyster Festival, and though lacking in a bit of atmosphere, it was abundant with some delicious seafood. Our favourite spot was 35° South (our latitude at that point) which was a buzzing deli-restaurant on the lagoonfront.

Morning at Plettenberg Bay

View from the top of Knysna Head

Earlier that day, we had done a township tour with a difference in the hills surrounding Knysna. The Knysna townships are home to South Africa’s largest Rastafarian community. Our guide was the dreadlocked Brother Zeb. We decided to take a taxi to the township as we weren’t sure it was a good idea to park our car out there with all our belongings. The truth is the car would probably have been grand, but on a trip like this, unnecessary risks bring unwanted problems, so we exercised caution. Brother Zeb told Brother Tony and Sister Ninfa about the community in Judah Square, their rituals, and their religion. I enjoyed Brother Zeb’s stories of the Rastas “dubbing to the reggae music coming across the airwaves”, the fact that he finished almost all his sentences with “Yes-I! Brother Tony” or “Jah Rastafari I-n-I”, as well as the more serious discussions about community life and the Rastafari religion. Rastafarianism is in fact based on Christianity, and Brother Zeb and Mama Bee quoted verses from the Psalms as reliably as they quoted Bob Marley. The difference is that Rastas believe that Christ has come again, in the form of Emperor Haile Selassie, the previous ruler of Ethiopia, which is seen as Zion, the Promised Land. The fact that the Messiah is an African also underlines their belief in Black Emancipation.

Brother Zeb was one Natty Dread

Sister Ninfa and Brother Tony, I-n-I

The Transkei

Regarding Black Emancipation, our journey through the Transkei was memorable in that it brought us to the homeland of Nelson Rohilahla Mandela, the great Madiba. On our way through the provincial capital Mthatha, we saw a sign for the Nelson Mandela museum. We always try to reach our destinations before nightfall, and stopping at the museum would put this in jeopardy, but I persuaded Ninfa that we had to take this opportunity. We parked on a double-yellow line right outside the front door, and tipped one of the locals to look after the car. On every street and in every car-park, there’s someone whose self-appointed job is to direct cars in and out of spaces, and supposedly to look after it or buy you a parking ticket if they see the police coming – the people are a South African institution. Regarding the museum – it does not disappoint. There are great exhibits which focus on Mandela from his birth, to his career, his involvement in the ANC Youth League, his rise to the leadership of the ANC, his persecution, imprisonment, and subsequent liberation, his presidency and his current HIV/Aids campaign. I loved it! My favourite was perhaps the huge photo Mandela on his Inauguration Day as South African President, with Thabo Mbeki by his side, and the emotion visible in their eyes, as they had finally reached that moment when they had won their greatest victory.

World Cup decorations in downtown Durban

Feeling good, but in a rush, after leaving the museum, we continued on through the Eastern Cape. What a land this is. The national road is at its worst in the region, and it climbs and descends unrelentingly through the deep valleys and steep winding hills. You descend one hill, and climbing the next you’re in 3rd and sometimes 2nd gear trying to get the car up the steep ascent. And the views over the land are amazing. We were in a rush so we didn’t have time for photos, but I won’t forget the scenery any time soon. The region is evidently poorer, almost entirely black, as it was this area which was set aside as the Homeland region during Apartheid. Throughout the journey, we had to slow down for goats on the road, and stray cows appearing from behind the shacks. Although we did not stay for long in the Eastern Cape, we did stay in a beautiful seaside village called Cintsa on the Wild Coast, where even a warthog crossed the road in front of us.

KwaZulu-Natal

And finally we reached KwaZulu Natal, and Durban. Spain were playing Germany in the World Cup semi-final here and Spain ran out deserved winners by 1 goal to nil. We were getting used to watching Spain win 1-0 at this stage, but they refused to score any more goals than necessary. Durban, which is supposed to have summer all year round, was grey and dull when we were there. Also, it seemed to have a little more of an edge to it than any city we had been to in South Africa, and we saw a few scams which we had read about in our guidebook. Durban has South Africa’s largest population of Indian-descendants, and is famous for its curries, and bunny-chows. A bunny chow is basically a curry served in half a loaf of hollowed out bread – a messy affair. I had already ordered my curry by the time I realised it, but I’m afraid Durban curries aren’t a patch on the real thing over in India.

Germany vs Spain in Durban

World Cup Semi-final at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban

One thing I remember from our time in Durban is a conversation I had with a Zimbabwean who was working as an engineer in South Africa, but staying in the same accommodation as us. He spoke about what it means for South Africa to host the World Cup. He compared it to looking at the sun, as something forever visible but forever out of reach, and that one day you could hold it in your hands, and that this day had come for Africa. I couldn’t believe that he had described it so poetically, but for me it was the perfect description of how Africa has seen this occasion to host the World Cup.

Our next post will bring you news of our trip through the scenic Drakensberg Mountains, a day at the Apartheid Museum, a night out at the World Cup Final in Soccer City, as well as some last minute business in South Africa. Thanks for reading!

13. Jul, 2010

South Africa – Whales and Sharks!

South Africa – Whales and Sharks!

Hermanus - Whale Town

The whale watcher got her wish!

Sadly it was time to leave Cape Town. We both loved it so much that we would like very much to move there. We battled with the decision of staying longer, but that would imply missing the famous Garden Route and rushing the 1600 km drive to Durban to see the Germany Spain semifinal. It was that good that for a moment we even considered missing the semifinal, until we remembered the main reason why we were in South Africa at that time: FOOTBALL! We had 5 days to get to Durban on the other side of the country and our plan was to take in as much as possible of the Garden Route and the South African coasts.

Southernmost lighthouse in Africa

The meeting point of the oceans


Our first stop was Hermanus to see the whales. Hermanus is a charming small town and is well known as the best location in the world for spotting whales from land. The whales make their way from Antarctica and spend their winters in the South African Coast from July to October. It was just the start of July so our chances were slim. We arrived in Hermanus and I was impatient to hear the whistle of the “Whale Crier”. He is a very well known man (after Mandela, he is the most photographed South African) who walks the shores of Hermanus during whale season and when he has a definite whale spotting, he blows his whistle. We walked the shores of Hermanus and there was no sign of whales or the whale crier, but just when we were getting in the car to continue our route, we heard the cry. I ran to him and asked him where the whale was and then ran to the cited location. And yes, we saw them, not one but two Southern whales, very close to the shore. They did not do any flips or twists like the ones in Sea World do, but it was more magnificent to see these gentle giants in the wild, their natural habitat and so close to us, especially when they blow full steam of water out of their bodies. Been there, done that!

At the southernmost tip in Africa, Cape Agulhas

We could have kept spotting whales for longer but silly me realized I had left my credit card behind, in a restaurant 150 km back; so instead we had to backtrack and go retrieve it. Once recovered, we continued on our route to the next stop, Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in the African continent, where the cold Atlantic Ocean meets the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Night had fallen on us and the final 30 minutes of our drive were under complete mist, the kind of mist you see in horror movies. We had no visibility whatsoever, so we called it a night in foggy Struisbaai, a small sleepy seaside town a few km before Cape Agulhas. Struisbaai is known for its resident stingrays who adorn its beaches. Next morning we made it to the very tip of Africa, set on a magnificent rocky beach with violent wind and waves, with the typical red and white striped lighthouse. Another wish fulfilled and on we set to commence our journey through the beautiful and well known Garden Route of South Africa.

The innocent seal colony

Our next stop would be Mossel Bay, the main objective being to cross one more item off our bucket list: diving with the Great White Sharks. Mossel Bay is another seaside town which is great for whale watching, shark diving and surfing. Our shark dive was out of this world, so much that it was a record for the company we did it with. We had the record number of 19 sharks, 19 sharks that circled our cage while we were underwater! They told us the average number of sharks per dive was 6, so 19 sharks were a lot of sharks! The dive took place just 10 minutes by boat off the harbor of Mossel Bay in the proximity of a a small isle, a seal colony. These poor lovely seals are what these vicious sharks feed off during the winter. I wanted to save every seal that I saw swimming offshore, but you can’t go against nature.

There he is after the bait

The dive is done in a metal cage which is lowered from one side of the the boat and into the water, then six divers in wetsuits and snorkels go into the cage. The sharks are lured with tuna bait and chump (mashed bloody fish guts basically), but not fed, as this would teach them to associate humans with food. So basically the sharks are only teased to come near thrill seekers. The company said they have a 100% safety record, but it still takes nerves of steel and guts to go through with it. The bars in the cage are quite separate from each other and you have to hold to the inner bar with your hands. In a tense situation it is hard to distinguish between the inner and outer bars so your fingers could be easily chopped off by the shark. The captain said that if he saw anyone putting his hands on the outer bars he would only warn once, the next time you would be taken out of the water.

Here we go!

Circling the cage, smelling fear

We both dived two times and on the first dive I had the right corner of the cage, the scariest slot. We saw the sharks go by us and rock the cage many times and on two occasions a very close encounter. On the first one the shark came directly at us and opened his jaw at us, but obviously the cage prevented him from devouring us. The cages do have many dents and teeth marks all over. On the second close encounter I thought that was it for me. Since there were several sharks circling us, they came form all sides. We were advised from the boat which way to look for sharks, so we were all focusing on one on the left side, when suddenly one came from the right corner out of nowhere and angrily rocked the cage and then proceeded to go to the back side of the cage and under. I panicked and threw myself at Tony as I was the one on the right corner and the first that would be eaten. ;-) I just heard the skipper say: “Sh** that was not supposed to happen!” When we were briefed we were told that the sharks don’t go under the cage or on the back side of it as it is next to the boat. Well this shark had a different idea and defied the rules. Because sharks don’t go under or through the back it is safe to put your bare feet there and that’s what made me nervous, I thought the shark would go for my feet. Shark diving is not like scuba diving, you don’t have an oxygen tank, so you have to keep coming up for air. There were 17 of us diving, 14 guys and 3 girls, in three turns. I am not tall enough to stand up in the cage so to be able to go underwater and see the sharks up close I had to put my feet against the outer back bars of the cage, the “safe part”. When that shark decided to attack from the back I panicked and probably had the thrill of my life. Regardless, I fought fear and went back down for the second dive, this time I was better protected as Tony offered to take the corner this time. Sharks kept coming at us but we knew they could not get us. To do shark diving you have to believe they can’t get you, and they wont.

tururururu...

Been there done that - ALIVE!

What better way to cool our nerves than a cold freezing outdoor shower back at the harbor. We had to continue our drive through the Garden Route but not smelling of bloody fish and salt. The only fish we wanted was fish and chips at a beach shack at the harbor. Fish and Chips had become part of our regular diet in the coast. And on we continued…

12. Jul, 2010

Capital of Cool – Cape Town

Capital of Cool – Cape Town

Third post from Cape Town, and the last. We squeezed in a lot to our last night and morning in Cape Town. After returning late from Robben Island, we headed straight out to dinner with our new friends, Kim and Dumi, who we had met while tasting wine a few days previously in Franschhoek. Kim had offered to choose the restaurant and asked if we had any preferences. Ninfa had one basic requirement – African, African, African. Kim and Dumi didn’t disappoint and we met in Marco’s African restaurant just off Buitengracht St, nearby the colourful district of Bo Kaap.

Dumi, Tony, Ninfa and Kim - International Wine Tasters Club

Danger on the dancefloor!

Last day in Cape Town - feeling blue in Bo Kaap

At dinner, we went for the traditional African specialities. Ninfa had a chakalaka salad made of diced onions, tomatoes and spicy peppers, while I opted for the Impala steak which tastes like steak, but a little milder flavour and very tender, which was absolutely delicious. Kim opted for liver, and confirmed her position as the sole person at the table who thinks liver is a delicacy and not a throwaway. Dumi chose the wine, a rich red from the Hartenburg estate and we had no trouble getting through two of those. The restaurant has a band and dancers perform throughout the night, and young and old, black and white, were grooving at their tables all during the meal. The band was made up of marimba, percussion and steel drums, and the three dancers were moving as if their whole bodies were made of elastic. At the end of the meal, myself and Dumi got up to show the ladies that what they can do, the boys can do … not quite as well. But it was a lot of fun. We hit it off brilliantly with Kim and Dumi, and we were really sorry we would not have the chance to hang out with them more and get to know them better.

It's cool for cats in Bo Kaap

Bo Kaap - residential kaleidoscope

The next morning, we drove down for a quick look at some of the trendy shops on Long St. Long St is full of boutiques, fashion stores and cool cafes, and shows a trendy and hip capital which is not scared to walk on the wild side. I bought a new baseball cap, and a pair of cheap shades, as I had left my beloved black and yellow Wayfarers somewhere in Bloemfontein. One of the hardest things when you’re travelling is retaining all your possessions. Being in a different place everyday, and rarely sleeping in the same bed two nights in a row provides all too much opportunity for parting company with your sunglasses, driving licence, torch, travel towel … As well as that, it gives you the feeling of what it must be like to be a fugitive on the run, not that we’ve done anything bad … yet! So far, Ninfa hasn’t lost anything, but this is pure coincidence.

Ninfa picks her favourite colour in Bo Kaap

Street Art on Long St.

Our last stop in Cape Town was to Bo Kaap, which we had seen in loads of postcards and guide books. Bo Kaap is home to Cape Town’s Muslim population. Its steep streets are lined with the brightly-coloured facades of residential housing. The colours are gorgeous, and shine brightly in the clear sunlight, and we coud have spent hours there taking photos, but the clock was ticking and we had to get on the road to Struisbaai, and Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southern-most point. So we bid farewell to colourful Bo Kaap, to cool Cape Town, to new friends, but taking with us some excellent memories that we’ll keep for a long time.

11. Jul, 2010

Robben Island and Table Mountain

Robben Island and Table Mountain

Cape Town from Robben Island

The day after the Spain vs Portugal game in Cape Town was beautiful, so we couldn’t believe it when the staff told us that all the ferries to Robben Island were cancelled due to rough seas. We were about to get annoyed when they told us that they couldn’t rebook us for the next day, as it was already full. Robben Island was one of the things we were anticipating the most in Cape Town, so to be told we would not be able to visit it was a huge disappointment. We explained that the next day was our last day, and the agent eventually agreed to book us on one of the tours – relief, if the weather improved.

Cable Car to Table Mountain

Ninfa high in the clouds, Cape Point in the distance

If the weather wasn’t good enough to sail in, it was ideal for another of Cape Town’s highlights – Table Mountain. Table Mountain rises 1,086m above sea level. By the time we had reorganised our Robben Island tour, we arrived just in time to get one of the last cable cars to the top at around 5pm. The cable car has a rotating floor so everybody on board gets a 360 degree view as we climb up. As you rise, you see Table Bay open out below you, and just near the top the cable car rises above the ridge that joins Lion’s Head to Table Mountain, and the whole of False Bay opens out on the other side, to the oohs and ahhs of everyone on board. It gets cold on top of Table Mountain, and it wasn’t a good idea to be wearing shorts anymore, but we still enjoyed watching the sun set over Cape Town, looking out over the city to Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and further offshore, the elusive Robben Island.

Cape Town from the foot of Table Mountain

Ninfa, with Lion's Head and Robben Island

Cape Town has a number of highly recommended restaurants, but that night we took it easy back at the apartment we were renting. It was such a novelty to be able to stay at home and cook that we couldn’t resist staying in. We’ve been on the road for three months, and it’s the first time we’ve been in a proper kitchen since we left.

Me, on a chilly Table Mountain

Sunset on Table Mountain

On the morning of our last day in Cape Town, the weather was again beautiful. We made our now daily trip to the V&A Waterfront to see if the boat was running to Robben Island, and jackpot! Shortly after the boat left, we realised why it had been cancelled the two previous days. On a calm day like today, the swell of the sea in Table Bay is huge. No wonder the Cape of Good Hope has caused so many shipwrecks in the past. Across the bay we saw anchored cargo ships drop halfway out of sight as the waves rolled them and us around.

From the port in Robben Island, we were picked up by bus and given a tour of the island. Our first stop was to the solitary confinement section which had previously housed Robert Sobukwe. Robert Sobukwe was the leader of the Pan African Congress in the 1960′s-1970′s. He had a reputation for charisma and being a wonderful communicator, and was seen as such a threat by the Apartheid government that they passed a “Sobukwe Law” which allowed for the indefinite detention of political suspects without trial. After a PAC policy of burning their “Dom-passes” (literally “stupid-pass” that all non-whites were obliged to carry), Sobukwe was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for over 4 years during which time he was not permitted to speak or be spoken to. The strategy was to destroy that which was strongest in Sobukwe, and it worked. At the end of his time on Robben Island, Sobukwe was a sick man, psychologically drained and lacking the ability to speak properly as his vocal chords had decayed due to lack of use. Of all that I heard and saw in our tour of Robben Island, this angered and saddened me most.

Solitary Confinement Area of Robert Sobukwe

Robben Island Prison Tower

A former inmate gives his own personal account

Further along the island, we saw the lime pit where the prisoners were brought to slave as manual labour, using basic tools and sometimes only their bare hands to quarry the lime from the ground and break it. There was no use for the lime being quarried; it was simply a meaningless exercise, and a weapon in the hands of the Apartheid regime designed to break the prisoners both physically and mentally. To add to this, he prisoners were denied any protective equipment which severely damaged their health. In fact, the toxicity of the lime almost blinded Nelson Mandela, but in an operation to save his sight, his tear ducts were ruined, and as a result he is unable to shed a tear. There is a small cave in the quarry which became known as the University of Robben Island, as it was the only place where the prisoners could gather, and there they educated each other in topics ranging from the most basic literacy skills to some of the most advanced theories in politics and history.

From here we went to the prison buildings. There, we were greeted by a former prisoner of Robben Island. Our guide, whose name I forget, was emprisoned there for five years in the 1980′s, and gave us accounts of his daily life in Robben Island. He told us of the physical and verbal abuse the prisoners suffered as well as the harsh living conditions. He then guided us around the prison, and to B-Section, which was the area which housed the most “dangerous” political prisoners, including Mandela. On the way, I caught a glimpse of the football pitch where the prisoners played matches. The prisoners set up the Makana Football Association, and ran a league which helped maintain morale and foster understanding between the rival anti-apartheid political parties. Jacob Zuma, the current South African president was a referee, but so far in this World Cup, he’s remained in the stands – will he referee the World Cup Final perhaps?

Robben Island football pitch - Makana FA

B-Section prison cells from the prison yard

We were then led through to the B-Section cells, and the cell itself which housed Nelson Mandela for 18 years from 1964-1982. It’s a very poignant moment, and again makes you marvel at his strength and that of his fellow prisoners in overcoming this terrible hardship and to never have lost hope.

All the staff live on Robben Island, and there is a primary school for the young children. Our guide, the former prisoner, told us that he lives on the island, as do some of the former prison guards. He told us that not all prison guards were the same, and that some of them had treated the prisoners humanely. I still could not fathom the possibility of living side by side with my former captor, but this is exactly the challenge that South Africans have been able to overcome so successfully since the fall of Apartheid. Our guide did confide that on some days Robben Island is the last place he wants to be, and he feels he cannot face the prison, but that he is driven by the goal of showing the world what must be avoided, and to live as an example of reconciliation and not revenge.

Robben Island

Gateway to Robben Island Prison

If I could complain about anything about the tour, it would be the fact that it was too crowded. Even our guide told us that due to the previous days’ cancellation and the high demand, the groups contained twice the number of people that they would normally have. As a result it was a little rushed, especially when viewing the cells. Another thing was the delay getting back to the mainland. For some reason the boatmen had gone on strike for part of the day, resulting in over an hour delay to our return trip, and two hours for the tour before us. But in the end, these were small nuisances in comparison to the wonderful experience we had been able to witness.

Madiba's Prison Cell

On the boat back, we were able to appreciate beautiful views of Cape Town, nestling in the outstretched arms of Table Mountain which sweep down to the sea. The contrast of the natural beauty of Table Bay, compared to the human tragedy and subsequent triumph on Robben Island, underlined Cape Town as an amazing city with two treasures which reward all the senses.

“Today when I look at Robben Island, I see it as a celebration of the struggle and a symbol of the finest qualities of the human spirit, rather than as a monument to the brutal tyranny and oppression of apartheid. It is true that Robben Island was once a place of darkness, but out of that darkness has come a wonderful brightness, a light so powerful that it could not be hidden behind prison walls…“ – Nelson Mandela

09. Jul, 2010

Cape Crusaders – Cape Town

Cape Crusaders – Cape Town

Cape Town - Where to from here?

Cape Town lies on a peninsula of land which the Portuguese originally named the “Cape of Storms” in the 15th century, but subsequently changed it to the “Cabo da Boa Esperanca”, or the Cape of Good Hope, at their optimism of opening a trade route to the east. Bartolomeo Dias and Vasco da Gama were the first to succeed in traversing this treachorous stretch of sea, but it was the Dutch who established the port of Cape Town. Under the dramatic shadow of Table Mountain, it grew in importance as a last stopping point before the eastern destinations, and a staging point to await the favourable conditions to successfully pass by the south-western tip of Africa and beyond.

Familiar Face at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

The V&A Waterfront

Although we did not welcome the fact, it was perhaps fitting therefore that our first day in Cape Town should greet us no more with the resplendent winter sunshine of the previous weeks, but rather a gusting, stormy morning, living up to its original name. From our accommodation on the steep foothills of windswept Table Mountain, we headed straight to the port and one of Cape Town’s most famous landmarks, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. We had booked to take a tour to Robben Island, the infamous long-term prison home of Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners during the dark years of Apartheid. When we arrived, there was a crowd of people queueing to rearrange their tours as all boats had been cancelled due to the rough seas. We had no choice but to follow their example, and rebooked for the following day.

A Makarapa for all Nations

Why didn't Ireland qualify - practicing my penalty technique

The Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront

We quickly changed our plans therefore, and decided to stick to terra firma and explore the Cape by car, heading just south of Cape Town to Simon’s Bay, where once the British had established their colonial naval base. The area retains much of its colonial buildings and is a pleasant drive despite retaining much of the British weather also. We continued to Fishhoek which was recommended to us by a Swiss fan at our last World Cup game in Bloemfontein. Fishhoek has a little port with a number of restaurants near the Harbour House. We ran from the car and got soaked in the process, but regained our spirits over generous portions of battered hake, calamari, prawns and chips, helped down by a couple of bottles of dry cider – delicious!

We sheltered for a while more, hoping for some better weather to blow in, but to no avail. Nonetheless, we continued further along the coast to Boulder Beach, which is renowned for its penguin colony. Of all the colonies in Africa, the penguins are undoubtedly the most peaceful, but even they were put off by the bad weather, sheltering and shivering in the bushes along the beach. They’re really cute, and we found it hard to resist the temptation to reach out and bring a few home with us in the car.

View from Chapman's Peak on the Cape of Good Hope

One of the locals at Boulder Beach

We drove on further south, along winding coastal roads, alternating between long sandy beaches, and steep cliffs plunging down into the waves crashing against their rocky feet. All along the road there are signs warning people not to feed the baboons, as they can become aggressive, but they appeared anything but as they strolled across the streets in the sleepy seaside villages. We decided not to enter to drive to the tip of Cape Point as it was 75R each to enter, and it was such a bad day we were only going to watch from the car anyway, but as a result we missed out on some famous photo shots at the Cape Point. Instead we rounded the Cape and drove north back to Cape Town along a spectacular mountain pass called Chapman’s Peak which hugged the side of the cliffs around Hout’s Bay. We also passed through Camps Bay and Clifton, Cape Town’s chic suburbs which lies on the southern side of Table Mountain, and took a quick drive past the new stadium to which we were returning later that night for the round of 16 match between Spain and Portugal. Each of the suburbs were more beautiful than the previous, and all within a short drive to the big city of Cape Town. In fact, despite being a big city, Cape Town itself has a permanent feel of spaciousness and a relaxed pace, which make you feel immediately at home, and made us want to put down our backpacks and settle down for a much longer stay.

C'mon Spain and Portugal!

As far as the World Cup was concerned, Cape Town was rewriting the rulebook as well. Between the FanFest and the stadium, they had drawn a 2.5km Fan Walk which would guide supporters to the stadium, with various local entertainers lining the route. The atmosphere was great with drummers, facepainters, singers and dancers all along the way. It also gave us a chance to see some of the crazy costumes that some of the supporters wear; a group of English fans (wrong match!) won our vote with their zebra suits and fez hats, although we also liked the Spanish fans with their banner “There’s only one Ronaldo, and he’s Brazilian!”

The match itself turned out to be a fairly one-sided affair with Spain dominating possession (as is their habit) and Portugal failing to provide any real clear-cut chances. So next stop for Spain is Johannesburg against Paraguay, but although we have tickets, we won’t be following them the 1,500km there. Yes, Cape Town is a much bigger attraction than a World Cup quarter-final, and that just about says it all. As a result, we’ll take the coastal route all the way from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape and we’ll rejoin the winners of the quarter-final in the port city of Durban for the semi-final. The stakes are getting higher in the competition, and its continuing to be a fantastic tournament!

Singing and Dancing on the FanWalk in Cape Town

Marimba Band at the V&A Waterfront


More news on Cape Town and the Western Cape in our next post. Ayoba!

08. Jul, 2010

Wine Country in South Africa

Wine Country in South Africa

Desert Landscapes in the Northern Cape

Honduras had just been eliminated from the World Cup. So it was just as well that the next stop on our South African odyssey was bringing us to the south-western Cape, South Africa’s wine country, and some timely tonic to soften this heavy blow. Nonetheless, we still had over 1,000 kilometres to travel before we got there, a little more than required to build up a thirst. The 1,000km brought us through South Africa’s least populated province, the Northern Cape, a flat and arid region with straight stretches of road that at points run 30km without a single bend. Every now and then the road rises over a ridge that divides the plains, or will pass by what looks like extinct cone-shaped volcanoes which cast their long shadow over the flats in the bright desert sunlight.

Freedom! Drakenstein Prison, near Paarl in the Western Cape

Prior to the result of Honduras’ last group game with Switzerland, we did not know where we would travel for our next games. A FIFA ticketing agent had told us that if Honduras did not qualify, we would follow the 1st-placed team if we finished 4th, and would follow the 2nd-placed team if we finished 3rd. Secretly, we were hoping Honduras would finish 1st or 4th, as this would provide us with the best tourist itinerary, visiting Cape Town, Jo’burg and Durban. We were willing to sacrifice the Jo’burg quarter-final in order to do a road-trip of South Africa’s coast from west (Cape Town) to east (Durban). And so it turned out. So we will be following Spain (or whoever beats them) to the final – let’s see how that turns out …

We drove for well over 7 hours before night fell and the landscape changed. Beside us now in the darkness, we could just about make out the looming rocky shadows of the Western Cape. We took one of the high mountain passes and the wind was gusting so strong that it almost blew the car into the ditch on a few occassions. Tired, we decided to look for accommodation in a town called Paarl, about an hour short of Cape Town.

Merlot Vines at Chamonix Vineyard in Franschhoek

The View from Grande Provence Vineyard in Franschhoek

Paarl is one of the lesser-known towns in the middle of wine country, and we started to visit the town’s B&B’s one by one. And one by one, each B&B turned us away – no vacancies anywhere. We had just about exhausted all our options and were considering moving on when we arrived at a B&B with no lights on and a phone number for inquiries hanging on the gate. I rang the number and the lady told me she was out of town and therefore couldn’t help as she wouldn’t be back for a day or two. I was about to hang up when she asked if we were having trouble finding a place. I told her we had tried everywhere, at which point she told me to hang on, and proceeded to guide me to where she had hidden her keys, and to direct me around her house to one of the guest rooms. The lady was miles away and was giving a complete stranger access to her house, all on the basis that I had “a voice I can trust”. The place was great, and we left the money in the room the following day when we left, and the keys back in the hiding place.

Inspiration from Nelson Mandela

And this story really typifies our experience in South Africa. We arrived here more nervous than anywhere we had visited before, having heard numerous stories about how dangerous South Africa is. And it is dangerous in places. But too little press is given to the hospitality and trusting nature of its people. Only once have we been asked for ID where we’ve stayed in South Africa. Generally, you pull up to a place, ask for a room, give your first name, and get the keys and pay on departure – no credit card, no deposit, no ID. It could easily be abused, but obviously isn’t, and this trusting attitude contributes to a real feelgood atmosphere in the country.

The next day we visited Franschhoek (French Corner), which is a picture-perfect village surrounded by vineyards and rocky peaks. We stopped at the tourist office and got a map of the numerous vineyards nearby. England were playing Germany at 4pm so we squeezed in three vineyards before kick-off. The first of which Graham Beck, which is famed for its sparkling wines made in the Methode Cap Classique style of French champagne. It was a perfect stop, as just a few hours earlier I had been informed that my sister had given birth to a beautiful, healthy girl. Ninfa and I toasted the good news over a glass of top-class bubbly in the winter sunshine. We went on to make more toasts at the Grande Provence and Chamonix vineyards in Franschhoek, but only after we had made a stop at a location that looked oddly familiar.

Lots of vines means lots of wines!

View of Wine Country from bubbly Graham Beck Vineyard

Just outside Paarl, on the road to Franschhoek is a rugby pitch and pavilion, which looks like a little colonial park stuck in a timewarp. But it’s hard to figure out why it’s surrounded by a barbed-wire wall. Just next to it is a long avenue with a little guardhouse at the entrance. This is Drakenstein minimum security prison, which I watched live on 11 February 1990 with members of my family at home in Donegal, on the day when Nelson Mandela walked free from prison, one of the many great steps in a series of wonderful events which turned South Africa from a pariah state of discrimination to a rainbow nation that defends the equality of all its peoples. There’s a statue of Nelson Mandela at the entrance, which is inscribed with some of his many inspirational words. It is impossible not to be overcome by the achievement and humility of this great man.

Wine Tasting in Progress

Old Cape architecture near Stellenbosch

During our wine-tasting at the Chamonix vineyard, we met some South Africans from Cape Town. A quick friendship was struck up, probably partly due to the wine, and Kim and Dumi gave us tips on other vineyards to try in the area, as well as some restaurant recommendations. We swapped contact details and arranged to meet for dinner a few days later in Cape Town. We were happy to meet some nice new people, and we were also happy to at last meet some black South Africans. Up until now, we had only met white people, and we were obviously feeling that we were missing something in that the majority of our experiences were based on a minority group of the population. But more about Kim and Dumi in our next post from Cape Town.

After that, we had dinner in a restaurant in Franschhoek, reputedly one of all Africa’s best, the Tasting Room. The service is excellent and similar to Michelin standard in Europe. Sadly, we felt the food lacked the same quality, and other than some exceptions, overall it was a bit of a letdown.

Who's a pretty girl?

A Yawning Lion inspires anything but relaxation - big jaws!

The next day, we continued our tour of wine country and hit Stellenbosch, which is on the other side of the mountains from Franschhoek. We visited more vineyards, but one in particular deserves a mention. While we were not overly impressed with the wines at Spier, we were with the overall experience. It’s well geared to entertain, and we enjoyed the adjoining cheetah park and wild bird park. Additionally, there’s an African theme restaurant, Moyo, which is not at all tacky. The buffet serves some great traditional African dishes such as bobotie, and there’s lots of grilled meat, assorted breads, and plenty of amarula ice-cream! There are entertainers who sing and dance traditional African songs, and come and paint your face, and then visit each table individually to sing a song. It’s a lot of fun, making Spier a must-see on the wine route.

After lunch, we made our way slowly to cloudy, windswept and dramatic Cape Town. More about that wonderful city in our next post.

02. Jul, 2010

Last Chances in Bloemfontein

Last Chances in Bloemfontein

Me, Ninfa and Zakumi!

Although accommodation costs n South Africa are high (anywhere from 33-100% higher than the season usually demands), we’ve just left the carhire company with a new car at a great rate thanks to Travelsupermarket.com, and it looks like we’ll be able to drive South Africa in a saloon car, and stay in decent accommodation – all for less than the campervan would have cost excluding campsite costs etc. This is a comforting thought as we set off for the coldest World Cup destination, the location of Honduras’ final group game, the crunching decider against Switzerland in Bloemfontein.

Our time in Pretoria was mostly used up doing some necessary administration – blogging, banking and car rental – as well as some medical treatment. Probably due to the combination of the long-haul travel, the 40 degree change in temperature, and all the time on the road, we both had loads of aches and pains. So we had a couple of sessions with the local physiotherapist in Pretoria, which made us feel a lot better. The physio here has 2% vision, so that adds South Africa to Nepal as a place where blind people find career opportunities in fields where vision is of limited utility. I’m yet to see one instance of this in Europe and I wonder why.

Union Buildings, Pretoria

The Big One!

We were staying in a B&B in the suburbs of Pretoria which is the capital of South Africa. It’s a sleepy and relaxed area well away from the dangers of nearby Johannesburg. Although we haven’t seen any crime so far in South Africa, you can sense the greater risk of such an occurence in the Jo’burg, with a lot more people hanging around traffic lights selling flags, phone chargers and having a good look around the inside of your car as they pass by. We visited the Union Buildings in central Pretoria and that was about it. We’ll be back here for the final, so we plan to see the Apartheid Museum and the Soweto township when we come back.

The journey to Bloemfontein takes about 5 hours, and brings us right into the heart of Afrikaner country. Bloemfontein itself is a “varsity” (university) town, but the students are on study break at the moment, which leaves Bloem’s sole party street a little deserted and lacking life, even on the eve of a World Cup match. We settled on a resto-bar called Cubana which had a lot of Swiss calming their pre-match nerves by drinking and watching football while the wildest were playing cards.

Mi bandera!

Party Time!

Other than the party street, Bloemfontein’s main soul is the waterfront which is right in the centre of town. It’s a big mall situated around an artificial lake with a fountain. Although it sounds a bit tacky, it’s a nice place. Bloemfontein is situated in the heart of South Africa’s flat plateau, and there’s little of beauty or interest around. So the lake provides a nice environment for taking it easy. Directly behind the mall is the football stadium, so the waterfront was the ideal place to warm up for the game. The Swiss brought quite a bit of colour to the event, with some of them dressed up as cows in cow outfits, or others going a step further and walking around with a massive cow-bell attached to the back of their lederhosen. On the other hand, most seemed to have swapped their habit of yodelling for vuvuzelas – which is probably a good idea despite having not had a vuvuzela-free day since we got here.

Pre match big ambience at the waterfront

AYOBA!

The game kicked off at 8.30pm with any of the four teams in Group H still with a possibility of qualifying for the next round. Honduras were playing in their blue home strip for the first time – could this signal a change in fortune? The stadium was only half-full, so the organising staff allowed us to watch the first half from the upper tier with Ninfa’s godfather, Leonel, and aunt Zudora. The first half finished goalless, and we went downstairs to watch the second half from our own seats. With Chile losing 2-0 to Spain, Switzerland only needed a victory to qualify, while Honduras were already effectively eliminated. While Spain chased qualification, Honduras chased pride, and the second half was packed of end to end attacking football as both teams gave everything for the elusive goal. The atmosphere was beginning to hot up too, and when the linesman disallowed a Honduras goal for offside, it was probably best he was on the opposite side of the pitch as the many Hondurans around us vented their Latin temperaments by questioning the origins and machismo of the game officials. The more Switzerland attacked, the more Honduras looked like winning, but despite having had numerous opportunities, the game finished nil-nil and both sides bid farewell to the World Cup. The Swiss laid distraught on the pitch, while the Hondurans, like their fans, seemed relatively satisfied with their best performance of the tournament which had earned them their first point, but also disappointed at finishing the tournament goalless.

Swiss cows at match

Catracho blowing his vuvuzela

A few other points of interest from the match: at the end of the game, 4 or 5 of the Honduras players came across to applaud the travelling fans. This was the first time that any of the Honduran players had saluted the fans at any of the matches during the tournament. It looked poor when compared to the entire Swiss squad who had come to applaud their travelling support. We feel the entire Honduran team and coach should have done this, so while they lose some respect for this, it was made up for by the thrilling last performance in the match. Also, the next day I met Steve, an employee at the Engen petrol station who showed me photos of him dressed in his Bloemfontein Celtic (the local team) supporters gear. Steve is one of the most recognisable fans and wears the same outfit to every match, complete with beaded vuvuzela and tailored jacket – half as the South African flag, and half the Bloemfontein Celtic green and white hoops. He told me that the Bloemfontein fans are recognised as some of the best in South Africa. This explained what we had seen the night before – the groups of South African fans who didn’t sit down once, but danced and sang the whole game through. It’s great to watch, as they jump up and down in rhythm, then turn their backs on the game, then split down the middle and dance away from each other, only to turn and dance back together, and then sing and wave their hands. It was a real party atmosphere. A final note must also go to the Swiss fans who were the nicest we have met so far, giving us tips on places to visit in South Africa, swapping shirts after the game, and generally being great fun – doing much to rid themselves of their reputation as card-players, but party animals.

Tu bandera, tu bandera...

Honduran players thanking the fans - us

Swiss guy who had turned catracho by the end of the match!

The World Cup is over for Honduras, but not for us. Next stop is Cape Town, 12 hours down the highway, and the last 16 match of Spain vs Portugal.

25. Jun, 2010

Ayoba Jozi!

Ayoba Jozi!

Back in Johannesburg, well almost. Thanks to Francois, who we met on the plane from Dubai to Jo’burg, we are staying in a guesthouse in Pretoria which is about 50km north of Johannesburg. Our next game is against Spain in Ellis Park in Johannesburg on 21 June, mid-winter’s day (or mid-summer depending on where you’re reading). And as it’s the solstice, we’re sensing a little magic in the air, and hoping that Honduras can produce a stunning victory and send the Spanish home early.

Vamos Honduras!!! All layered up for the cold!

Tonight’s game is in Johannesburg, and not the nicest part of town either. When we left the Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, we were waiting about two hours before we could get on a bus to the park and ride station. Tonight’s game is at 8:30pm, and the temperature will be around 5 degrees, so we don’t want to be hanging around in a bad part of town for two hours at midnight. So Francois (our personal travel tipster) has recommended a Portuguese restaurant near the stadium which serves good food, and provides secure parking just 10 minutes walk from the stadium.

Honduras Honduras!!!

We had heard about Johannesburg traffic being crazy, and it is. Kick-off is at 8:30pm, and leaving Sandton City at 5:30pm to drive the 10km to the stadium seems like we may not make it in time. Finally, we get on the main highway (M1) that cuts through Jozi, and we can relax a little. We are happy that we changed our rental car today to one that has a GPS. Travelling round the countryside with a map is fine, but don’t attempt Jo’burg without a GPS unless you wish to donate your car to charity, or your head to frustration.

La Garra Catracha

A lot of the roads around the stadium are closed for the match, but luckily the detour leads us right to the restaurant, the Boa Pinga. We ring the bell so that the staff press the button to unlock the metal door so that we can enter. Once inside, the cook tells us she has forgotten the key for the secure carpark. We’re in a bit of a dilemma, but after consulting almost everyone in the bar restaurant, they advise us to park the car on the pavement at the restaurant door and pay the watchman 5 Rand to look after it. Because the restaurant is staying open until after the match, it will be ok. If not, consider the wheels on your car gone – a Johannesburg parking fee. I pay the watchman 10 Rand, and promise him 10 more after the game. Ninfa’s not so confident, and is impatient to get to the game, but I try to convince her that it’ll work out.

Ohhhhhhhhhh!

So we order some grilled chicken and some Mozambiquan beer to get in the mood. Meanwhile, we take it in turns to go to the toilet and add at least three layers of clothing. In India, I foolishly posted my fleece jumper home thinking that an African winter is bound to be like a European summer. By day, yes; by night – where’s my fleece?! There’s a cheap clothing chain-store in South Africa called PEP, and we each bought gloves and hats and for me long-johns! In high spirits, and warm clothes, we walk to the stadium through the hilly, bungalow streets lined with street vendors in the entirely black neighbourhoods surrounding Ellis Park. We share a bottle of South African sparkling wine on the way (South African wine is good quality and available at bargain prices), already celebrating what we are confident will be a resounding Honduran victory.

Ellis Park

By the time we enter the stadium, it’s almost 7:30pm, and the atmosphere is bubbling, as are we. There are TV crews filming Spanish fans in matador costumes, and we wave our huge Honduras flag in front of them like a red rag to a raging bull (a quite jovial bull to be fair). It’s not long until we meet some old faces from the first game in Nelspruit, and we start partying and singing various songs like “Adios Espana!” (Bye-bye Spain), and “Matador d’Espana, Honduras!” (Spain-killers, Honduras!). Loads of the fans from both sides are gathering round and taking photos and joining in, and the atmosphere is electric.

About 15 minutes before kick-off, we take our seats. We’re on the centre-circle around 8 rows from the front – the view is amazing. As is the noise! At pitch-level, the vuvuzelas echo around the stadium and crash in a crescendo of noise on the pitch. It’s true, it’s impossible for players and managers to communicate. Just before the teams come out, and half-way through typing a text message, someone bumps against me on the steps and my phone falls out of my hand. I see it in a crowd of feet, and making my way towards it, someone accidentally kicks it, and now the teams come out, and nobody cares and I don’t even know if I do anymore. But it’s a frustrating side-show to the main act taking place on the pitch.

Spanish toreros!

And this is it, Honduras’ moment at the World Cup. With nothing to lose, the players and fans bellow out the national anthem and the game kicks off at a frantic tempo. Twenty minutes in, and just in front of us, David Villa beats two players, turns inside another and nestles the ball in the top corner of Noel’s net. It’s a goal worthy of a World Cup final. Spain are in the ascendancy, but Honduras, courtesy of a few changes in personnel and notably the return of talismanic striker David Suazo, are giving as good as they get. In the second half, David Villa hits a shot from the edge of the area which takes a deflection and loops over Noel for goal number two. A few minutes later, and Spain have a penalty. David Villa, who is perhaps lucky to still be on the pitch after raising his arm to a Honduran defender in the first half, steps up to take the kick. It looks like he’s used all his luck, as the penalty flies wide, and it’s as if Honduras scored a goal.

Spain continue to play best, but Honduras are full of fight and are no pushover, but give Spain a good contest for the rest of the game. It’s a brilliant night, and it’s all clear that it’s not winning, but taking part that is most important. It’s a terrific achievement for Honduras to be at the World Cup, and such a wonderful moment to see them play a part in such an historic occasion. And for us to be there to watch it, is a feeling money can’t buy. The final whistle blows, and our only criticism of the Honduras team is that for the second game running, the team doesn’t come to applaud the fans. But they’ll come in the third game.

After the game, we search in vain for my phone, and walk back to Boa Pinga, where we have a few coffees before hitting the road back to Pretoria along the wide, deserted highways.

World Cup Lingo – Lesson 4

Shopshop – fine, good. Eg Question: “How is everything with you?” Answer: “Shopshop.”

Yaw – This word, commonly used by the Dublin rugby classes and the English royal family, is the Afrikaans word for “yes”

Robot – a traffic light. Eg, Person 1: “How do I get to Jozi?” Person 2: “When you see the second robot, turn right.” Person 1: “Have you been drinking?”

Ayoba – a greeting used for exciting or great occasions, such as World Cup 2010

25. Jun, 2010

Sabuwona South Africa!

Sabuwona South Africa!

One of the great things about the World Cup in South Africa is the fact that we have added a wonderful country to our round-the-world itinerary, and the fixture list will bring us to parts of the country that we would not have independently selected to visit. Nelspruit is based in the north-east of South Africa, only 50km from the entrance to the Kruger Park, home to the Big 5 of the animal kingdom. When we left Nelspruit, we headed straight for Kruger. Kruger is the same size as Israel or Wales, and is an unrestricted animal reserve which hugs the Mozambiquan border, joining another massive park on the other side of the frontier.

We bought a basic permit to drive through the park along the network of tarred and gravel roads, as far as the Pretoriuskoop camp in the reserve, where we would be spending the night. Rules are strict in Kruger – never leave the marked roads, never get out of your car, and get into camp or out of the park by 5:30pm. Winter in this part of South Africa is sunny during the day, dry, and cold at night. As there is little vegetation on the trees, it’s an ideal time to see wildlife. The first river crossing we came to greeted us with a wonderful sight of a mother elephant with two of her young, eating grass on the riverbank and spraying water out of their trunks. Beautiful! I had my eyes on the road, and Ninfa was tasked with spotting the animals in the surroundings. Not long after, we were less than 20 metres from a white rhinoceros. This animal weighs around 2.5 tonnes, and luckily, doesn’t eat meat. In fact, it has more to fear from us, as a lot of them are hunted by poachers for their horns which are a prized ingredient in Chinese medicine as well as barbaric trophy cabinets. Further on, in a rush to get to camp before closing time, we frightened a couple of giraffes on the side of the road. Only three hours into our first experience, we were both agreed that safari is unlike anything we’ve ever done before, and thoroughly addictive.

That night, we took a park-organised tour, and asides from almost freezing to death, saw a host of other animals. This time, it was my turn to play spotter with a spotlight on the side of the open-air truck. We came upon a huge here of buffalo, saw rhinos in the distance, elephants, rhinos and numerous other small predators. Alas, no sign of lions, and by the time our driver got an alert, it was almost hometime. It turns out that the lions had been just outside our camp, but by the time we got back they were gone.

African sunset, just like the photos!

The next day, we set out again, and this time saw zebras, waterbuck (like large deer), impalas everywhere (like springboks), an amazing sight of a herd of elephants where a male elephant with huge tusks pushed a dead tree out of the ground with his trunk, as well as a lake with eagles flying overheads, rhinos surging through the water and stretching their huge jaws, and a lone crocodile floating ominously through the water. Again, no lions and where seconds earlier a group had seen a leopard on the side of the road, we saw a warthog come running across the road in front of us. Safari is a question of luck. On the same stretch of road, you could see everything, and half an hour later see nothing. The roads cut through a tiny portion of the wilderness, yet you can never be sure of what is around the corner.

Hippo in Action

We left Kruger and stayed a night in a town to the west of the park called Sabie. Sabie is a pretty, lazy, little town at the fringe of the South African escarpment. The majority of South Africa is situated on a high plateau approximately 1,500 metres in altitude. Just north of Sabie, the plateau ends and plunges down to the “lowveld” and the Kruger National Park. The scenery is stunning as the mountains end and high cliffs look over the savannah plains in the distance. One of the famous views is called God’s Window, and it’s really breathtaking.

Nearby is a town called Pilgrim’s Rest, which appears frozen in time. The town was important until the 1970s as a mining centre for gold, and you can still pan for gold in the river near there. The town looks straight out of the Wild West with corrugated tin cottages, and old-style saloons strung out along the sleepy streets. We stocked up on some delicious macadamia nuts, before driving further north to the Blyde River Canyon. The canyon cuts along the edge of the escarpment and provides more beautiful scenery of Africa. We stopped off at one location called Bourke’s Luck Potholes, named after a man who struck gold here near the natural whirlpools which have shaped the rock where the Blyde River joins the Treur River. What is most amazing, is that while you visit the site, just nearby the baboons play in the grass, and multi-coloured birds fly around jumping from one rock to the next.

Pilgrim's Rest

Our final stop in the Blyde River Canyon was the viewing site over the Three Rondavels. The 3 Rondavels are three peaks which resemble traditional African dwellings which the Voortrekker (Dutch explorers) name rondavels. We watched the sun set over the lowveld and drove on to a nearby village to stay the night. There was no room at the inn, so we ended up driving another 30 minutes before staying the night in a remote chalet in a nondescript village called Ohrigstad. They don’t get a lot of tourists here, but the people were hospitable, as everywhere in South Africa so far. Tomorrow, it is back to Johannesburg, and preparation for game number two – Spain versus Honduras.

3 Rondavels

World Cup Lingo – Lesson 3

Bafana bafana – literally “boys boys”, also the nickname of the South African football team

Banyana banyana – literally “girls girls”, also the nickname of the South African ladies football team

Sabuwona – pronounced “Sabona”, which is Zulu for hello

Laaaaakduuuummmmmaaaa! – goaaaallllll!

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