The drives: Car and Game (June19-24)

July 16, 2010 — by Larry

[Editor’s note: The latest installment in Coach Larry’s series of dispatches from South Africa]

Now it’s Saturday the 19th and we finally get in the rental around 9:30 am.  A friend has assured us the highways have European motorway quality.  Not the route we used on the N17 and N2.  Multiple sections over 100 km either have severe pothole warnings or are down to one alternating lane due to reconstruction.  Our promised 6.5 to 7 hour drive has reached that, but we remain a solid 2 hours away.  We switch drivers to handle dusk and dark, and the GPS steadies my uncertain hand at the wheel.  We reach our lodge, make one last wrong turn, and finally pull up in front of the main house.

We fill the next four days with hosted game drives, boats, and walks.  Ahh, actual warmth, winter here far more pleasant than on the Cape or in the highlands.  The new camera with 70-300mm zoom lens proves its worth.  Spectacular sights of all the animals,

See? Not kidding

first in the distance, then closer, until, finally, you practically have a chance to ride a zebra.  Oh, and all for just the two us most of the time.  The area soon to become a new Big Five park, once they complete the new roads and roll back the eucalytus forests of the paper producers.  The largest area of vegetated sand dunes  in the world should recover nicely over the next 10 years, especially if the decade long drought can come to an end.

What about the soccer you ask?  Well each day’s activities finish, conveniently, before the afternoon kickoffs of the simultaneous third matches for every team.  Our hosts join us in the lounge as we all root on the Bafana Bafana, hoping somehow they will pull of the miracle.  The next day they add to our celebration as Donovan slides joyously toward that corner flag.  We still see all of the action, enhanced by nightly visits by hippos and a buffalo named Reggie to the lodge’s watering hole.

Finally, we depart, return to the N2 heading south, and arrive in Durban.

DispatchesUnited States

USA v Slovenia, June 18-Ellis Park

July 6, 2010 — by Larry

Ellis Park

[Editor’s note: The latest installment in Coach Larry’s series of dispatches from South Africa takes us back to the dramatic USA v Slovenia game of June 18.]

After the easiest trip ever yesterday [June 17], which allowed for a quick 10 minute roulette session (single 0), today our hosts decide to switch it up.  We are dropped in downtown Sandton to catch a shuttle, at any of many numerous stops, which will take us to another shuttle.  We decide to leave early, as we hope to experience more of the atmosphere around this crucial match.  The extra time proves useful, as no police or locals have any knowledge at all about the location of these bus stops.  Within 30 minutes, the two of us now have 8 friends, all looking for “the stop for the shuttle to the shuttle to the park”.  A couple of Germans, one wearing a Frings kit, wave down a minibus taxi instead.  Nine of us pile in, the people already in it get out, and the driver agrees to take us all the way to the stadium.

Located much more in the city, say like Queens, the hills of Johannesburg prevent us from even glimpsing the light stanchions of Ellis Park before being dropped off.


Argentina v South Korea, June 17-Soccer City

July 3, 2010 — by Larry

An Argentina fan

Having been warned by both our inside guy at FIFA, and the owners of our B&B, we leave for the park & ride at 9:30 am for the 1:30 pm kickoff.  It is also quite cold, but sunny, so doubled up on socks and tshirts, have the hat, gloves, and sunglasses.  After a half-hour ride in toward the city itself, we get out at Gold Reef City.  An amusement park celebrating the history of gold mining in the area.  And on the other side of the street, it is a casino.  Instead of chaos at the drop-off, we walk around the bend, into a nearly empty line, get right onto a shuttle, which spends 15 minutes driving us to the stadium.  It is now 10:15.  I guess the people who had trouble tried to get there right at kick-off, a feat which makes no sense to us who value the whole experience.

Along the main access road, the locals are just setting up there food stalls, providing sausages, chicken, salads, sandwiches, and drinks for anyone who walks along the main road from the dropoff toward the stadium.  Only a couple are ready for business at this time, but all have on vests and ID proclaiming their fitness to handle food.

Soccer City inside

Many fans mill about, as the gates have yet to open.  Way more Argentina than South Korea, but that is expected.  Lots of locals on the side of the Argies, including the locals with the curly wigs, earmuffs, tights, and jerseys.

South Korea buys our loyalty with an additional layer in the form of a free t-shirt from their government sponsored school in Swaziland.  They also brought in a student group who perform a Korean drum ceremony as fans dance and snap photos around them.

Once through security, but outside of the the ticket-taking, we stroll over to the sponsors area where we come across friends.  Not unexpectedly, of course, as I certainly figured they’d be around for tomorrow’s USA-Slovenia match at Ellis Park, so hitting this match makes complete sense.  After a chat, we have even more time to kill, so we wander over to the Bud beer garden.  We sit with 4 locals at a picnic table, and we begin the usual exchange of information.  Very nice people, and they want mostly to know our impressions of South Africa both before we arrived and now.  Finally, we leave them behind, and head inside.

Soccer City is a fantastic setup.  Brand new of course, but impressively compact, tight feel to the seating bowl for its massive capacity.

The swap

Just before start, now there are 2 small and one large sections of South Korea fans, but 2 very large, multiple-section groups of Argentina supporters in the lower bowl.  Fairly entertaining match itself, even if all 3 first-half goals were a bit sketchy.  Higuain’s hat-trick could not have been easier, as Messi dominates play along with the affections of the crowd.  Can a player be named the MVP of the World Cup without scoring a goal?  I’m guessing he can.


No longer lovely, vivacious, or in South Africa

July 1, 2010 — by Larry

That is what 28 hours of traveling from Durban, through Johannesburg and Atlanta, to Chicago will do to a person.  Sadly, circumstances prevented consistent access to webbernet facilities, so I had to return before continuing this activity.  Apparently some worried that bad things had occurred.  Rest assured, no problems, except for my lack of vigilance in note taking for the remainder of the trip.  I shall endeavor to recreate the remainder of the trip in its roughly chronological order.

Picking up the story, we left Cape Town having done virtually zero of the important local activities.  Our visit to the District Six museum showed a nasty part (one of many) of the Apartheid era.  The government declared a large, multi-cultural neighborhood to be Whites-Only, shipped the residents to projects on the other sided of the mountain, and leveled the area except for places of worship.  The outrage over this proved immense enough within South Africa to delay any development long enough for the system to change.  Today the whole area remains virtually undeveloped, with streets and streets of bare grassland providing mute testament.

District Six today. Lion's head in the background.

We scalped our first Robben Island experience to German journalists willing to pay double, then the winter weather canceled the ferries for our other attempt.  Which meant not riding up to the top of Table Mountain on day two proved a mistake as well.  Alas, reason to return.


Dispatch from South Africa: Well that was a wet one…

June 14, 2010 — by Larry1

Sometimes seats above the roofline are a good thing.  But, first, let’s rewind a bit.  Winter found its rhythm today, managing sun, wind, rain,and hail, rotated nicely about every hour til the sun went down.  The other three left him behind without missing a beat.

Visited the & Union for the Netherlands v Denmark match.  It’s the brewpub of sorts for a South African craft brewer, but, strangely, their product is actually brewed in Germany according to their bottles.  Both the Amber and Dark Lagers were perfectly drinkable, yet lacked depth, leading to quick finishes.  Sadly, in a bid to maintain some sort of sanity and coherence, I had to cut back, and those were the only beers tried.


Dispatch from South Africa: Days Two and Three

June 13, 2010 — by Larry4

Obviously, there was no way anyone could expect SA to keep up that pace. Needless to say, by morning, the hangover was in full effect, and there was hardly a vuvuzela to be heard before 10. The actual onset of winter weather (for here) has not helped, creating an extremely gray day. At the fanfest for the Arg/Nig first half, the crowd split fairly evenly, Messi v Africa, but far more of black South Africa participated than in the bars in around Long St.

We managed a side trip to see some endangered African penguins. The metrorail train took us right there, skirting the coast of False Bay, to a sleepy, sleepy, off-season Simons Town. Very relaxed atmosphere on board, groups mixing and mingling easily, unless the vuvuzela was blown.