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Twenty Days in South Africa for the World Cup

Note: I just got back from South Africa two days ago and finally have some time to write up a post and share some pictures.  I’m planning to write this post as an overview and then go into detail in further posts about what we did in each city, plus include a practical guide to the things that I wished I’d known before going.

I left Madison on June 9th with my friends Andy and Katie, not really knowing what to expect.  We had tickets for all three USA matches, plus Spain/Switzerland and an idea of where we wanted to go, but hadn’t booked any accommodation except for the first two nights.  I had read all of the press about South Africa being dangerous and that we shouldn’t drive, but I wasn’t worried.  I figured that if their media is anything like ours, they would really overstate the bad and ignore most of the good.

The trip was unbelievable.  South Africa is an incredibly beautiful country, with varied climates and landscapes.  The people were extremely nice and we never felt threatened the entire time we were there.  If anything, the people, both black and white, were protective of us.  They clearly really liked Americans and everyone we met went out of their way to make sure that we were having fun and staying safe.  Here’s what we did:

We landed in New York on the morning of the 9th and dropped our bags with my friend Chris who works in the city.  He was nice enough to take all of our bags up to his office, even though his co-workers all gave him strange looks.  Andy and Katie had never been to NYC, so although it was rainy, we went all over the city.  We had to catch a flight out of JFK at 1130pm, so we had plenty of time.

We got to the airport to find it packed with soccer fans.  We were flying via Dubai and we were happy to see tons of Americans, Mexicans and South Americans, all dressed in their team’s gear, getting ready to board the flight.  As we were going through security, someone spotted Justin Timberlake going through security and most of the women got really excited.  When we got on the plane, someone asked one of the flight attendants if he was on our flight and she just giggled and said she wasn’t allowed to say.

We got to Dubai after a 12 hour flight.  We flew Emirates and it was a pleasure.  It’s the best airline I’ve ever been on, with fairly large seats, personal LCD screens with 600 channels and front and bottom cameras so you can watch the scenery from the plane.  The food was really good too and we quickly realized that they do Middle Eastern/Indian food much better than western food.

The Dubai airport is massive.  We had a 6 hour layover and got to explore a huge area.  It’s really the crossroads of the world and it was fun to see people from every corner of the globe.  To kill time, we walked around and tried to guess the destination of the flight by looking at the people.  We got pretty good at it after a few hours.  We finally got on our 8 hour flight to Johannesburg (Joburg for the rest of the posts) and arrived at 10am.

We rented a car and got on the move to Rustenburg, about 2 hours northwest of Joburg, where the USA would play England the next day.  It was incredibly strange at first to drive a car on the other side of the road, but I got completely comfortable after two days.  The hardest part were the round-abouts and shifting with my left hand, although the South African drivers were more aggressive than drivers here.  I’ll have more about driving in a later post.

We stayed at a camp in Rustenburg Kloof, which was a beautiful area just north of the “city” of Rustenburg.  I say “city” because there was really only a mall and a few restaurants, all about 10k from the stadium.  We watched the first South Africa match at a bar near our tents and it was an unreal atmosphere.  The South Africans were so excited, so supportive and incredibly happy to have to tournament start.  When South Africa took the early lead, the place went absolutely nuts.  We were too tired to watch Uruguay/France and fell asleep by 7pm.

Lucky's Bar Rustenburg

The next morning, we were woken up by Sky Sports News doing interviews outside of our tent and I got interviewed about whether we had a chance to win.  I pretty much said that we would draw and that we had a better goalkeeper and got to feature on Sky.  We went to a bar called Lucky’s in Bafokeng, about 4k from the stadium.  It was an outdoor bar with tons of English fans.  The atmosphere was electric and only built on the way to the stadium.  Most of the English were really nice, until we scored our equalizer on a howler by Robert Green, then they started to get really angry and a guy in our row tried to fight an older American fan with a neck brace on.  After the draw, which felt like a win, we went back and celebrated at Lucky’s.

The next morning, we started the 6 hour drive to Durban, without a place to stay.  Our plan was to start calling places from the road, but most of the places were booked up because Germany was playing Australia that night.  We asked a few places if they had any recommendations and one place sent us to Florette, a woman who rents out rooms in her amazing house.  We ended up staying there for five nights and it was one of the best decisions of our trip.  I’ll go into more detail in my Durban post, but I went to the Germany/Australia match after buying a ticket on the street for half price and the Durban Stadium was the most beautiful stadium I’ve ever been to.  Germany killed Australia, but the highlight was talking with a South African, Jordan, who sat next to me for the entire match.  He was extremely nice, bought me a soda and a pie and then offered to give me a South Africa Jersey for free.  He wouldn’t let me pay for anything.

Jordan and me in front of Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban

After we explored Durban for a few days, we had tickets for Spain/Switzerland and my friend from the previous game met me outside with the promised South Africa shirt.  The Spain match was one of the best games of the tournament.  Everyone thought that Spain would roll, but the Swiss were organized and countered well.  When the Swiss scored, they stadium was largely silent.  Everyone was shocked.

Golden Gate National Park

After Durban, we drove back up to Joburg ahead of USA/Slovenia.  We drove through Golden Gate National Park and it was absolutely beautiful.  We were staying in Pretoria since it was cheaper and safer and stayed at a hostel.  The next morning, we drove down to Joburg to see the match at Ellis Park.  We got there really early and went to Radium Bar, which was the bar picked by the American Outlaws as the place to be.  It didn’t disappoint.  Katie got on NBC getting her face painted and the place was LOUD.  We sung just about every American soccer song we could think of and then walked to the game.  As always, the South Africans were huge USA fans.

Katie with South African Kids Going to USA/Slovenia

We went down 2-0 early, but we felt that we could score.  In the 2nd half, Donovan scored a great goal and then we got another one in the 84th minute.  I got huge bruises on the backs of my legs from celebrating so much in the stands.  We were sitting next to three little South African kids and they were really getting into it.  We scored again, capping the biggest comeback in USA history, but the referee decided he’d seen a foul.  He got sent home for his poor decision.  It was still a great day, even though we should have won.

After the match, we went back to Pretoria and watched the England/Algeria match at Eastwoods, right across from Loftus Versveld, the stadium in Pretoria with two Americans we had met in the bar in Joburg.  We were rooting for the 0-0 draw that happened and were just about the only people supporting Algeria, as the rest were English fans.

The next day, we drove 4 hours through the mountains to get to Madikwe Nature Reserve, where we had a 4 day Safari at a place called The Bush House. Other than the soccer games, the safari was the highlight of the trip.  We saw all of the big 5, minus a leopard, a lion eating a wildebeest, a cheetah and tons more.  We were driven around by a trained guide and it was awesome.

Lion in Madikwe Wildlife Reserve

Lion Cubs

After our safari, we drove back to Pretoria for the USA/Algeria match, which was a must win match.  We didn’t have a place to stay again, but ended up right across the street from the stadium.  I’ll go into more detail again later, but FIFA and Match really screwed up here.  We got accommodation because FIFA bought up all of the rooms at cheap rates, then tried to resell them at 4-5x prices and failed.  The place gave us a room for a good price because they were empty, although FIFA paid for the nights.

On match day, we went to some bars and were completely surprised by how many Algerians there were.  They were everywhere and wanted pictures with us.  Most were really nice, but a few were a bit angry with Americans.  We had ANOTHER fair goal disallowed on a blown call and the atmosphere was incredible.  People stood the entire match singing, chanting and blowing their vuvuzelas.  We had chance after chance and finally put one home in the 91st minute to send us through.  I don’t remember the next 10 minutes because everyone was celebrating so hard.  Andy and I got on TV right after the match and everyone stayed in the stadium celebrating for the next 30 mins, then went outside to sing and dance some more.  Katie got a ride on a police horse in exchange for her American flag and the party went on most of the night. Those 4 hours and that one moment were incredible.  Those moments are what make soccer the best sport in the world and now clearly top the list of the best sporting events I’ve ever been to.

Katie on Police Horse

We stayed with a family near the stadium and left early the next morning for Cape Town.  We had assumed before the World Cup that the US was likely to finish 2nd in the group and play in Bloemfontein, which would have been a drive from Cape Town, but since we won the group, we played up north again in Rustenburg.  I went to an Internet cafe to check out flights and told myself that if I could go for under $500, I had to do it.  Luckily, I found a flight for $180, a car for $60, a place to stay for $40 and a match ticket for $150, so I had to go.

We climbed Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain, watched the two matches that day and then I drove to the airport for what I hoped would be an unreal 30 hours.  Besides for the final result, the day didn’t disappoint.  I met two Americans in the airport who were planning to do the same thing as me, so we traveled together.  We slept in the airport, rented a car, drove to Rustenburg, went to Lucky’s again and hung out with Americans and some really nice Brits.  The match was electric again.  When the media here says that Africa is behind Ghana, it’s an understatement.  Everyone except the Americans were cheering for Ghana, hard.  It was a fun match and I thought we would pull it out, but it was not to be.  We went back to Lucky’s and partied with the South Africans.

From the Top of Table Mountain, Cape Town

The next morning, I drove back to the airport and was back in Cape Town with Andy and Katie by 1pm.  We took a drive around the Cape, stopping at beaches, towns and mountains, before stopping in an English pub to watch England get destroyed by Germany.  We saw one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen from the top of a mountain, overlooking the Cape and then went back to Cape Town to watch Mexico/Argentina.

The next day, we drove to Stellenbosch and the towns around it, about 30 minutes outside Cape Town to tour the winelands.  It was a beautiful day and a great way to relax.  The vineyards were all set in incredible locations, many surrounded by mountains and rolling hills.  We did tasting at 3 different places, then went into Stellenbosch to explore for dinner/games.  We got back to Cape Town and prepared to leave the next morning for our last day.

It was raining the entire day on the 29th, so we drove around and explored Cape Town and had a great meal in the Cape Malay section of town.  We got to the airport at 4pm and were back in Madison on the 30th at 10pm.  It was an exhausting two day trip via Dubai and NYC again, but completely worth it.

Overall, the World Cup and South Africa were amazing.  The soccer was great, the people were incredibly nice, were were safe the entire time and it cost about what we expected.  I’ll likely come back to South Africa sometime in the future and will for sure be in Brazil in 2014!

This post was sort of a rambling overview, but I’ll get into more details about each city, the soccer and South Africa in general over the next week or so.  I hope you enjoy reading!

Andy, Katie and me at USA/Slovenia, Ellis Park

South By Southwest Chile Technology Summit

I will be moderating a panel at South By Southwest called the Chile Technology Summit on March 16th at 1230 at the Austin Hilton, ballroom F.  Twitter hashtag #chiletech.

The World Technology Summit is a new addition for SXSWi and features panel discussions from emerging technology hubs around the world including Brazil, England, South Africa, Singapore, France, India, China and more.  The goal is to share what it’s like to do business, work and live in these countries.  We’ll answer questions like:

  • How has the technology scene changed in your country over the last five years?
  • What is hottest new media technology trend in your country?
  • How is social media developing / evolving in your country?
  • What is the atmosphere / environment like for new media entrepreneurs?
  • What kind of government support is there for the new media industry in your country?
  • What is the level of education in your country? Is there enough talent for high-tech work?
  • What are the best resources / blogs / websites for people to learn more about new media in your country?

The panelists joining me at the Chile Technology Summit are Juan Pablo Tapia, Leonardo Maldonado and David Basulto.  Each panelist is a leader in his field.

Juan Pablo Tapia

Juan Pablo is the cofounder of Bowl, one of Chile’s leading social media agencies with clients like Ford, LG and others.  He is an experienced entrepreneur and loves technology and social media and also lectures at the Universidad de Desarollo. Juan Pablo will share his perspective on Chile’s developing social media and technology business scene.

Leonardo Maldonado

Leonardo is a serial entrepreneur involved in numerous projects in Chile, including Gulliver, InsumoChina, Gestion y Liderazgo, and Blue Company, a platform for creating personal online communities.  Leonardo is also involved in creating technology entrepreneurship and business opportunities for Region Fertil, a state in Northern Chile that includes the city of Antofagasta.  He will share his insights about creating businesses in Chile and what he sees as some of the successes as well as challenges still facing Chile’s rise as a technology economy.

David Basulto

David is the cofounder of Plataforma Arquitectura and Archdaily, the world’s largest and most trafficked architecture website in the world.  David graduated from Universidad Catolica’s architecutre program and decided to start an architecture blog with one of his friends.  After a few years of hard work, David and team turned Archdaily into the world’s most important architecture website.  David will share his perspective on what it’s like to build a world class business in Chile, along with the changes he’s seen in the Chilean startup community since he started his business in 2005.


I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to share my experience living and working in Chile, as well as help Juan Pablo, Leonardo and David share some of their stories from the front lines of entrepreneurship and high technology in Chile.  I’m also excited to showcase Chile as one of the best places in the world to start a high tech startup.  If you’re attending sxsw, stop on by our panel!

Got questions?  Want to know more about Chile?  Put questions or topics you’d like us to talk about in the comments and we’ll do our best to fit them in.

Maricel Saenz, NextBiotics: Defeating the Next Superbug, Ep 76

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest global threats that most people don’t know much about. It has the potential to take us back to the days when a small cut could kill you. Maricel Saenz is tackling this problem head on with NextBiotics, a company creating new tools to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria.

If that wasn’t enough, she’s taking on antiquated stereotypes of Latin American and female founders. Have you ever heard of a male entrepreneur getting asked if he is dating his female co-founder? Maricel Saenz was advised that she should disclose that she had no personal relationship with her male co-founder near the beginning of her pitch. Maricel has bigger battles to win: specifically, the battle against drug resistant bacteria. Originally from Costa Rica, Maricel has worked in Canada, the US, Asia and South Africa to try to solve big global problems; listen in to learn how she decided to cofound NextBiotics, her most recent endeavor.

I sat down with Maricel Saenz in this episode of Crossing Borders to talk about her experience in entrepreneurship, her decision to solve hard problems, raising finance for a biotech startup in Silicon Valley, and her decision to study at Singularity University. Maricel also offers advice to female and Latin American would-be founders to help them get their first endeavor off the ground.


World Cup Brazil 2014: Part 5 – Recife to Salvador for USA Belgium and Netherlands Costa Rica

Note: This is part three of a series about my world cup trip. Read part one here about Natal and USA/Ghana, part two about Porto de Galinhas and Costa Rica Italy here, part three about Manaus, Sao Paulo, Natal and USA/Portugal, Chile/Netherlands and Uruguay/Italy, part four about Recife and USA/Germany and Costa Rica/Greece, or the entire series here.

After watching Costa Rica advance to the quarterfinals, we set out to the south, aiming for Salvador, about 750km away. Every Brazilian we’d told we were driving south to Salvador looked at us like we were crazy and tried to convince us to change our plans. They said the road was terrible, there were frequent robberies, potential kidnappings, random objects in the road to get you to slow down so that people could rob you, and that many of the police were so corrupt that you weren’t even supposed to stop for the police if they tried to stop you.  I assumed this was another case of south americans exaggerating the danger, but I looked online on trip advisor and found dozens of stories of bad roads and dangerous conditions.

We needed to get to Salvador for the US game three days later and we wanted to see the beautiful Brazilian coast line, so we decided to go. Because the Costa Rica game went to extra time and penalties and we got stuck in traffic, we ended up leaving Recife after dark. We stopped at a truck stop for a traditional meal of grilled meat, farofa, beans, rice and fruit juice and planned our route south. I so wish I had a russian style dashboard cam for this drive, as it was one of the craziest of my life.

Within 20 miles of leaving Recife, the road went from decent highway to a two lane road with no shoulder, car eating pot holes and heavy truck traffic. This route connects Brazil’s third and fifth largest city, but at least half of it is worse than anything I’ve ever driven on, even in South Africa. Over the next few hours we avoided: a road kill horse that was blocking our lane, a fully intact truck tire in the middle of the road and a two and a half foot long piece of metal that would have popped our tires.

After avoiding pot hole after pot hole in the now dense fog, we saw red flashing lights off in the distance. We had been told not to stop for police, so we weren’t sure what we were going to do when we came to the flashing lights. As we got closer, we saw that the police were blocking the road. What to do? We slowed down and got closer and we saw the entire road sparkling in our headlights. And then we saw it. A jackknifed semi truck blocking 80% of the road that had spilled its entire contents across the road: 10,000+ now shattered glass beer bottles. The police had used shovels to clear two tire paths for cars to pass and were trying to direct traffic.

We finally cleared the area and pulled into Maceió, which we later learned is the most violent city in Brazil. As I was pulling into the city, I read an article that said Maceió was mostly lawless, people solved problems with knives and that the police could be bought off for even the biggest of crimes. It was late, I was tired and we weren’t paying too much attention as we sped into the city, keeping up with traffic going 110km per hour, blasting through red lights, in 50km zones.

As we got closer to our hotel, I tried to turn left and had to take evasive action to avoid an oncoming car, as I’d turned down a one way street. That oncoming car was a police car with its lights on. I figured we were screwed and he’d stop us and maybe demand a bribe. But he just kept on going and didn’t pay us a second thought. I can’t think of many other places in the world where you turn the wrong way down a one way street, almost crash head on into a police car and don’t get pulled over. The entire drive reiterated why Brazilians were mad about the world cup. Basic infrastructure connecting the 3rd and 5th biggest city just didn’t work. And was outright dangerous.

Praia Francesa
Praia Francesa

The next day we went to Praia Francesa, a small beach town about 30 minutes south of Maciaó. It was absolutely beautiful and really relaxing after the long, harrowing drive the night before. Besides for the natural beauty, the first thing I noticed was the amount of people with knife wounds. On their faces. On their chests.  On their legs. I looked it up later and found articles saying that people solved their problems with knives instead of fists, guns or calling the police. And it showed. I bet we saw 10+ people that afternoon with some sort of knife scar, including our waiter who had a mouth to ear scar.


After spending the day at the beach, we headed south again, with the intention of getting to a small town about an hour from Salvador. We missed our turn off and by about 1030pm, ended up in Conte, a tiny town about 120km from Salvador. We were some of the only tourists in town and stayed in a beautiful hotel for about $50 for the night. We ate dinner at a small restaurant where locals were drinking beer and sampled the local food.

Fish, shrimp stew
Fish, shrimp stew

Salvador and its region has some of the most interesting food in Brazil. It’s the center of afro-brazilian culture and you can see the influences in everything, but most of all the food. There are dishes that are very similar to southern food in the US, including Acarajé, which is very similar to hush puppies, boiled peanuts and stewed chicken with spices. Acarajé, one of my favorites and a ubiquitous street food, is made of smashed up black eyed peas and then covered with okra, boiled shrimp, greens and sauce.

Acarajé.                                         Source:

There’s also fish and seafood stew cooked with spices, served with the stew sauce thickened by manioc flour. I had this stew in Salvador and had to convince the waiter to let me order it, as he thought the shrimp and fish stew, along with the manioc would be too much for my gringo digestive system. I’m glad I was able to convince him, as it was by far my favorite dish I tried in Brazil.

Acai is the hidden gem of Brazilian snacks. I’d had acai juice before and didn’t really like it, but the frozen acai with bananas, granola and honey. I had it for breakfast, in hot weather on the beach and after hangovers. An incredible treat that I wish we had either in Chile or in the US.

In Conte, I sampled a manioc and chicken stew that had been cooked for 4+ hours in a spicy broth, while my friend had carne de sol, the most popular meat dish in the region. We also ate cheese grilled over open coals, another ubiquitous street food in the region. It’s really easy to always order grilled meat when you’re in Brazil, but if you go off the beaten path a bit, you can find really interesting, flavorful dishes.


We got up early the next morning, ate Brazilian fruit for breakfast, and then headed south toward Salvador and the USA Belgium game. We stopped for a coconut water halfway to Salvador, then drove to the mall near where we would be staying to take the shuttle to the game.



Lighthouse Barra, Salvador
Light house Barra, Salvador

Salvador was my favorite city I visited this trip and I would go back again. It’s a city that made sense to host world cup games. The historic Arena Fonte Nova is located downtown, within walking distance from Pelorinho, Salvador’s historic center, the beach and areas with bars. Located between a major street, a favela and a beautiful lake, the redone stadium is beautiful from the outside and had good sight lines from inside. We bought beers outside the stadium from entrepreneurial Brazilians and got into the stadium.

coconut water
coconut water

I had tickets from the US supporters club and was expecting to be in an all US section as I had been in the previous games, but FIFA screwed it up and I was in a mixed section with Belgians, US fans and Brazilians. I’d stood and cheered the entire first three games with thousands of other US fans, but this time I had to sit as Belgium dominated the first half. The US were lucky to be tied at halftime, but were still in the game.

Arena Fonte Nova
Arena Fonte Nova

My friend and I decided to move seat locations and stand with other US fans in another section, which improved the atmosphere. Tim Howard stood on his head the entire game, turning in the best goalkeeping game I’ve ever seen. Belgium really should have scored two or three times in regulation, but Howard kept them out. In the last seconds of the game, the US missed it’s chance win the game, missing a wide open chance from about six yards out.


Belgium finally broke through in extra time and scored twice, but the US fought back, scoring quickly and almost scoring again off a beautifully executed set piece. It would be have been nice to see the US play more attacking in the Belgium game, but it was a good end to a fun world cup run. I was surprised how anti-US the Brazilian crowd in Salvador was, chanting “USA go home,” “bye bye USA,” and whistling loudly to drown out our cheers whenever we got something started. Although the US advanced to the round of 16 again, just like 2010, it was a good world cup that showed US progress. Hopefully Klinsmann learns from this world cup and puts in a good showing for Copa America 2016 in the US.

The next day was a public holiday, for Bahia independence day. Salvador de Bahia, founded in 1500, was the first settlement by the Portuguese and just oozes history. We drove to Pelorinho, the old city, which gets its name from the stockades where the Portuguese originally hung and tortured slaves and locals. We watched the celebratory parade with full brass marching bands and dancers, had a beer and enjoyed the old architecture. Everyone was incredibly nice, open and willing to talk to us. This was true everywhere in Brazil, but especially true in Salvador.


We spent the next day in Barra, one of Salvador’s many beaches, enjoying the sun, caipirinhas and warm water. Barra is one of the only beaches in Brazil where you can see the sunset, which was absolutely beautiful. The Brazilians on the beach stood up and cheered as the sun went down, thanking it for making the day a great one. We decided to watch Brazil vs. Colombia in Pelorinho, the old section of town. People piled out of their homes to set up chairs in the streets and watch the game on tvs perched from windows and porches. When Brazilian won, this was the reaction:

I went to one last game, the Netherlands vs. Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, which was a tight, exciting and chance filled game. The entire crowd were behind the Costa Ricans, willing them to win. Both teams had great chances, but neither could convert. The Dutch manager substituted goal keepers in the last minute of extra time and his gamble paid off. Tim Krul, the substitute, taunted, psyched out and disrupted the Costa Ricans and then saved two of their shots, winning the game for the Dutch and sending them through. The atmosphere was electric, with the Brazilians singing anti-Argentina songs throughout the entire match at full volume. Argentines sang right back.


By the end of my three week trip, I was ready to sleep in my own bed and stop traveling, but I was sad to leave sunny, warm Salvador for cold, rainy Santiago. It was an amazing trip through northern Brazil and I’d love to go back to explore more of Salvador and the surrounding area, along with southern brazil. Although it’s still four years away, I can’t wait for the world cup in 2018, even if it is in Russia.

Last sunset in Brazil

Flying back over the andes
Flying back over the Andes