Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts about my experiences at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. You can read the first post, Twenty Days in South Africa for the World Cup, to get an overview of what we did while we were there and the second post is about the soccer and the third post about is five days in Durban, the fourth post is about my safari in Madikwe Nature Reserve. This post is about five days in Cape Town. I realized that I had written a post about my trip to Cape Town, but somehow didn’t put it live until now. Oops.
We flew into Cape Town the day after the US beat Algeria on a last second goal in Pretoria and on a huge high. The flight into the Cape Town airport is beautiful. It was a clear day and we were able to see Table Mountain with Cape Town spilling downhill toward the clear blue ocean. We got our bags and drove toward the city. In Pretoria, the woman who owned the bed and breakfast referred us to her friend who runs a guest house in Cape Town. As we got closer, we realized that we were staying at the foot of Table Mountain, with amazing views of the city.
The first night, we drove down to the harbor and took in the scene. The Netherlands were playing Cameroon and the entire harbor was orange. Many white South Africans have Dutch ancestry and were supporting the Oranje, so it was a really fun scene. We watched Italy lose to Slovakia in a packed restaurant with amazing harbor/table mountain views and then I walked over toward the stadium to buy a ticket. I ended up getting a ticket right on the midfield stripe for face value. Green Point stadium was beautiful and the game, although meaningless, was really fun.
The next day, I went to an Internet cafe and tried to find out how much it would cost me to fly to Rustenburg to see the USA vs. Ghana round of 16 match and found a cheap flight/car rental. It was too good to pass up, so I made plans to leave Andy and Katie later that night and flew to Joburg with my sleeping bag, USA gear and enough money to buy a ticket at one of the bars.
Before I left, we climbed Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain. It was a tougher hike than I thought it would be, but completely worth it. Although it was a little cloudy when we got to the top, you could see Cape Town on one side and the Cape of Good Hope on the other. We could see the huge waves crashing into the Cape from both sides of the Atlantic and Indian oceans even though we were miles away and a few thousand feet up.
In the airport, I met two other Americans who had the same plan. We ended up hanging out the entire time and it was a great time and completely worth it, even though the US lost in extra time. I flew back to Cape Town the next day and Andy and Katie were waiting for me with a picnic they had prepared from a local farmers market. We decided to drive around the Cape, while taking a break for lunch to watch the Germany/England match.
The next day, we went out to wine country. Cape Town and the surrounding areas, including Stellenbosch, produce some of the best wines in the world and we spent the day going from winery to winery sampling the best. Cape Town’s wine country is beautiful and very close together. We went to 5-6 wineries and then ended the night in Stellenbosch, which seemed like it was South Africa’s version of Madison.
Our last day in Cape Town, it pored. We went to Bo-Kaap, which is a high area overlooking the city. It is hope to mostly Cape Malays, which are the descendants of Dutch imported Indonesian slaves in from the 1600-1800s. We had a great meal overlooking the city and then explored a spice shop where we bought some awesome curry spices to bring back to the US. My favorite was “mother in law curry” which was their hottest. I’ve cooked with it a bunch of times since I’ve been back and it’s one of the better curry blends I’ve tasted. Bo-Kaap is also home to the iconic multicolored houses that Cape Town is famous for. After our trip to the Bo-Kaap, we drove to the airport to start our 34 our journey home via Dubai and New York. Cape Town was one of the highlights of our trip and I’d love to come back some day.
Between USA/Slovenia and USA/Algeria, we drove up to Madikwe Nature Reserve for a three day safari. We booked online just before we left, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but all three of us were excited to see some animals. We were happy that we’d gotten a discount from the official rates and it was about a 4 hour drive from Pretoria, so we left fairly early in the morning and drove northwest, via Rustenburg.
We arrived at Madikwe, which is about 15k from Gaborone, the capital of Botswana and entered the park. There are three types of reserves in South Africa and three different types of safaris. There are national parks like the famous Kruger National Park or the newer Pilanesberg, which allow anyone to drive around the reserve in their own cars in search of animals. There are also private reserves that are generally much smaller and are owned by companies that feel that they can make a profit from safaris. Madikwe is a public/private combination of the two, in that the land is owned by the government, but private companies were allowed to build accommodations in small areas of the park. You also must be accompanied by a guide at all times in Madiwke, so there is much less traffic than in Kruger or Pilanesburg.
We got to the park and made our way to The Bush House, a few km inside the park, just off the main road. We really didn’t know what to expect, but we were greeted by friendly staff and luxury accommodations. The first day, the three of us were the only people staying at The Bush House out of a possible 12, so we basically had a private, luxury safari for a day. The Bush House is in the wild, surrounded by electric fence to keep the animals out and guests safe. In addition to luxury accommodation, they have a watering hole that is right outside the fence, where you can watch animals come take a drink when you’re not out in the park.
Each day, we would get up at 7am and do a 3.5 hour safari with our guide, Jason. After about 2 hours, we would stop for coffee and tea and then cruise around for awhile longer. When we got back, breakfast would be ready for us outside in the breezeway. We had the next few hours to ourselves, then had “afternoon tea” which was really like a lunch at 230, before another 3.5 hour safari that included drinks at sundown and 30 minutes or so of night safari. When we got back, dinner was ready for us. We were there for three full days and the entire experience was completely worth it.
It is winter in South Africa, so it gets really cold at night. During the day, it was comfortable to walk around in shorts and a tshirt, but as soon as the sun went down the temperature would drop from about 70 to about 40 in twenty minutes. We made sure to bundle up for the morning and night safaris because it was frigid, but it was completely worth it.
Our first game drive started out slowly our first afternoon, but it was fun to be in the bush, looking around hoping to see the big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard). We saw a bunch of antelope and wildebeest and continued to drive around. Our guide got a call on his radio that there had been a sighting in another part of the park, so we drove that way. He pulled off one of the dirt tracks and all of the sudden, we were 10 feet from two sleeping lions. The guides use radios to share sightings between each other, but Madikwe has a cool rule that only allows 3 vehicles to be at a sighting at once. Other parks have no limit and cars crowd around the animals, which doesn’t seem fun or safe for the animals.
I was continually suprised at how close we could get to the animals without them running off or us being in danger. Our guide told us that the animals view the vehicle as one big blob, which looks dangerous to them, so they do not want to attack or show interest. He also told us that as far as he knew, there has never been a case of a lion grabbing a human off of a vehicle before. We never really felt in any danger, but was a little disconcerting to be 30 yards from three rhinos who continued to stare us down.
Speaking of rhinos, they look like they are from a different time and place. They look prehistoric and you can really tell they’ve been on earth for a really long time. They’re also incredibly wide. I’ve seen rhinos in the zoo before, but they’re always just sitting around in their enclosure. Seeing these huge creatures in the wild was completely different. They are the ones in control, not you. We also learned that the guides do not talk about rhinos over the radio because poachers have been very active in killing rhinos for their horns. There are only about 6000 rhino left in South Africa and over 125 had been killed already in 2010. A full grown rhino horn is worth close to $1m because mostly Asian cultures want them for either rhino horn knives, which are used in coming of age ceremonies, or to be ground up and snorted or eaten as an aphrodisiac. On our second to last day in South Africa, there was a story in the Cape Town paper about a rhino that was brutally attacked with a chainsaw for it horn. It’s an incredibly sad and unfortunately growing problem, even on the nature reserves. Madikwe has not had any poacher problems yet, but they are constantly vigilant to prevent rhinos from being hunted to extinction.
After seeing the rhinos, we got back to the Bush House and dinner was waiting for us in front of a roaring fire. It felt great to get out of the freezing cold and the meal didn’t disappoint. We had ostrich steak and lamb chops, accompanied by potato and leak soup, which were both really good.
The next morning, we got up for another game drive. We drove into a more mountainous region of the park and ran into a group of 8 giraffe. Giraffe are under appreciated animals, but I think they might be my favorite. They’re huge, but we were able to get within 10 yards of them. I didn’t realize that they have cones on the top of their heads that they use to fight and defend themselves. Our guide told us that the males have much bigger cones and the older ones generally have broken cones from all of the fighting they do. During mating season, the males fight to show dominance and apparently a giraffe fight is really brutal, with the loser dying of concussions or a broken jaw from time to time. The males also get darker as they age, mostly to show dominance. Again, seeing giraffes in the wild is a completely different experience from seeing them in a zoo where they just sort of stand around.
Right after the giraffes, we spotted one elephant on the side of the mountain. After stopping to take some photos, we realized that there were a ton more coming down from the hills. Elephant go up into the hills at night and then come down to eat when the sun comes up. We quickly found ourselves in the middle of a group of 50-60 elephant, including a bunch of babies. The babies are pretty funny, because they can’t use their trunks yet. They try, but they sort of just dangle there, useless. Elephants learn to use their trunks after 6-12 months, but have trouble until then.
These elephants were huge. They were so much bigger than the mostly Asian elephants I’d see in zoos. We were close enough to smell them and hear their vocalizations. The younger males, 10-12 years old, are sort of like human teenagers. They think they’re invincible and are really interested in the opposite sex. They start to cause trouble and then a senior male, usually 45-55 years old, disciplines them. Once the young male learns his lesson, the older male mentors the young one, teaching him how to interact with females, other animals and how to behave. We were told that in areas with lots of poaching, the young males miss out on this mentoring and then don’t know how to interact with females or other animals and cause trouble, many times leading to them having to be put down. Elephants live into their 60s and their lives parallel humans. It’s amazing how far the parallels actually go.
That night, more people came, so our private safari was over, but it was still really fun. They didn’t believe us that it got cold at night, so they froze the first night. We ended up finding a large pride of lion, with over 10 lions in it. After watching them for awhile, we noticed the younger cubs wandering off, so we went to find them. On the other side of the hill, we saw all four of them getting the last of the afternoon sun in what looks like a staged picture, but I can assure you is not. After dark, we saw two lions hunting and heard the shrieks of antelopes, but the lions didn’t catch them. The lions were huge and slinking through the tall grass.
The next day, we saw a ton of zebra and went in search of wild dog, but didn’t find them. Instead, we stumbled on a herd of 250+ buffalo. They were huge and their horns looked like they could do some serious damage. Our guide told us that buffalo are the most dangerous of the big five because they are so smart. He said that he’s heard stories of buffalo that are shot by hunters that double back and attack the hunter from the rear to kill them. Later that day, we saw the only cheetah on the reserve. There used to be 60 cheetah, but the lions killed them all. The park is trying to move 15-20 of the lions and then reintroduce more cheetah. Our guide had been in the park for 6 months or so and had never seen the cheetah, so we were fortunate. We were also fortunate to see two male lions eating a freshly killed wildebeest from really close up.
It was amazing how much all of the animals blended into the landscape, especially the lions and cheetah. I had always thought of lions are yellowish and probably had a bad picture of cheetahs in my mind because of the cheetos guy, but both are almost light brown and really hard to see. I could easily imagine walking right up onto a lion without even knowing it.
I really enjoyed the three days on safari. Besides the matches, it was the highlight of my trip to South Africa. Seeing these huge animals in the wild is a completely different experience than seeing them in the zoo. If you go to Africa, you must go on safari. It’s really not that expensive. If you do choose to do a safari, I really recommend Madikwe and the Bush House based on value for money and all of the animals we saw.
Note: This is the second in a series of posts about my experiences at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. You can read the first post, Twenty Days in South Africa for the World Cup, to get an overview of what we did while we were there. This post is about the soccer portion of my World Cup trip.
When most people are traveling, they’re more likely to try new food, talk to people on airplanes and in bars and try new things. Overall, people seem to be much more outgoing when they’re traveling. I like to call it the traveler’s effect. I’ve experienced it all over the world, but every four years when the World Cup comes around, I see the traveler’s effect on steroids. This is why I love the World Cup.
Yes, there’s really good soccer, but that’s only a small part of it. During the World Cup, people are more outgoing, willing to help others and have a good time. Citizens of the host nation want to showcase their country and go out of their way to help travelers out and people who have traveled to the World Cup seem to be much more willing to reach out to each other. It’s an incredible phenomenon and one of the reasons I’ll do what I can to never miss another World Cup in my lifetime.
I went to seven matches in five stadiums while I was in South Africa and saw 18 goals or 2.6 goals per game, which was above the tournament average. Although the US didn’t get past the round of 16, all four games were really entertaining, especially our one win against Algeria. That match moves to the top of the list of the best sporting events I’ve ever attended.
Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg – USA vs. England, June 12, 2010
Our first match was USA/England in the small mining town of Rustenburg. We stayed in a camp with tents and it was packed with USA and England fans. Africa Ubuntu was the only place that advertised on the Internet and they were able to charge $50 per person per night for tents with beds. It was a bit expensive, but it was worth it because we had transport to and from the stadium and tons of people to watch the other matches with.
We took our shuttle at 3pm ahead of the 830 kickoff and went to Lucky’s bar, a township bar that was close to the stadium. When we got there, it was full of about 200+ really drunk English people and maybe 30ish Americans who were on their way. The English are an interesting bunch, sort of like Chicago Cubs fans in that they haven’t won anything in a really long time, but expect to win each year. Most were really nice before the game and even during the game, until the USA scored.
We had a great time with the English at Lucky’s and marched toward the stadium around 7pm so we could hear the national anthems. On our walk to the stadium, a few English fans threw beer cans at us from their passing cars, but we didn’t see anything serious. It was interesting that most of the English fans were 40-65 year old men, whereas most of the American fans were 21-30 year olds and there were clearly more American women than most nationalities. If people my age keep attending World Cups like this, the USA will be the largest supporters group at all of the further World Cups.
The atmosphere in Royal Bafokeng was electric from the moment we got in. The English have some great soccer songs and it was a pleasure to hear them singing over the vuvuzelas before the match. As it got closer to 830, the temperature started to drop and we put on our extra layers. The teams came out and we were ready for the national anthems. At most American sporting events, many people view the anthem as a necessity and stand quietly waiting for the real action to start, but at World Cup matches, everyone screams the national anthem. It’s enough to give you goosebumps. It’s probably my favorite part of a World Cup match.
We gave up a really crappy goal 4 minutes into the game, and the English thought they were going to run away with it. The US fought back and played really well, scoring on a howler by Robert Green. I thought we played really well and thoroughly earned our draw. England went right to the dressing room. The English fans were not happy and headed for the exits. We stayed in our seats and celebrated at the team came down to the supporters section to thank us for coming.
We went back to Lucky’s with our friends from Minnesota and met tons of locals. The South Africans in Phokeng were so happy to see us. We talked with hundreds of people and the common sentiment was that they were so happy Americans had come because they were worried that with the bad reports in the media, nobody would come. It’s like when you throw a party and tell people it starts at 9pm and at 845 nobody’s there yet. You have that empty feeling…what if nobody comes? The South Africans, especially the ones in Rustenburg and Phokeng were having this feeling x100. At 915, the first person starts to come in and by 945, it’s completely full and you know you’ve done a good job.
We had friends who tried to drive back from Rustenburg to Joburg that night and said it took forever. I’m really glad we missed the traffic and stayed in Rustenburg because we were able to check out Lucky’s, meet a ton of great people and experience some real local color.
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban – Germany vs. Australia, June 13, 2010 & Spain vs. Switzerland June 16, 2010
We left the next morning and drove the 7 hours to Durban, which is on the Indian Ocean on the east coast of South Africa. We got to our guesthouse at about 5pm, ahead of the 830 kickoff. We didn’t have tickets, but I wanted to go. Our host, Florette, was kind enough to drop us off near the stadium and I walked over to try to buy a ticket. I ended up buying a category 1 ticket for $70 when face value was $160 and had a great seat to see Germany completely destroy Austarlia.
Moses Mabhida is the best stadium I’ve ever been to in the world. The architecture is beautiful and looks similar to the Calatrava designed Milwaukee Art Museum and the site lines are perfect. It also has a cable car that you can take across the roof for views of the city and the stadium. It’s located right off the beach in Durban and was about 5k from our guesthouse. Although there weren’t many things to do right around the stadium other than a casino and the beachfront, Moses Mabhida Stadium and Durban in general where highlights of the trip.
I saw Germany destroy Australia 4-0 and then Switzerland upset Spain 1-0 and both times, the atmosphere was great. The German fans love to clap in unison and the Aussies were clearly having a great time until Germany unloaded on them. At Spain/Switzerland, most of the people were supporting Spain and it was eerily silent when Switzerland scored. Their raucous fans went nuts in their supporters corner. The Swiss are some of my favorite fans. I saw Switzerland beat South Korea in 2006 in Germany and hand a ton of fun with their fans and this time was no different. They remind me of Wisconsinites: they like beer, cheese and sports. There were tons of neutral South Africans blowing their vuvuzelas and really getting into both games.
Ellis Park, Johannesburg, USA vs. Slovenia, June 18, 2010
Ellis Park is one of the older venues of the World Cup, but might have been the best one in terms of watching a game. It’s sort of like Camp Randall, in that it’s located right in the middle of a neighborhood and the people around the stadium like to party before and after the match. We had category 3 tickets, but they were the best seats we had for any match, regardless of category.
We started out at Radium Bar, about 3 miles from the stadium and had a great time meeting tons of Americans and signing US Soccer songs. When we got inside, the atmosphere was again electric. All of the South Africans were rooting for the US and it was incredibly loud. The US gave up an early goal again and were down 2-0 at halftime. I still thought we could score some goals, since Slovenia looked pretty weak and sure enough, Landon Donovan scored a great goal right at the start of the 2nd half.
People started to believe and Ellis Park got louder. The US pushed for the equalizer for most of the second half, but finally broke through after Jozy Altidore had an awesome flick right into Michael Bradley’s path for the tying goal. Ellis Park erupted and I got bruises on the backs of my legs from jumping up and down so much. Everyone was hugging each other and the entire stadium was rocking. Minutes later, the US took the lead and the stadium was the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium. Nobody heard the whistle from the referee who decided there had been a foul. There clearly wasn’t and after the match, the ref was sent home by FIFA for screwing up the match. We had no problems parking on the street and driving home and our car was exactly where we left it, with no damage.
Loftus Versveld, Pretoria, June 23 2010 – USA vs. Algeria
We were excited and nervous to watch this match. We knew that we were likely the better side, but knew anything could happen. If we won, we went through. Loftus is normally a rugby stadium, but it had decent sight lines for soccer. The US almost gave up another early goal, but were lucky not to concede. After that, the US dominated, but couldn’t finish. The refs mistakenly disallowed another US goal, but the fans were not deterred. There seemed to be a bunch more US families and women at this match than there had been in the past, but that didn’t stop the crowd from being incredibly loud the entire match.
We thought we were going to score the entire match, but it came down to an amazing throw from Tim Howard, a great run by Donovan, a good cross by Altidore and then an awesome finish by Donovan in the 94th minute. You know when I said that the 3rd US goal in the Slovenia was the loudest I’d heard a stadium? This completely topped it. It was complete pandemonium. Beer was flying everywhere, people were screaming, some were crying. There were still a few minutes to play, but I don’t think any Americans remember what exactly happened. If you’ve seen the video of people around the world celebrating the US goal, it was like that but even crazier. Everyone was so happy that Donovan scored and we won the group. I don’t think I could feel like I did at that match for any other sporting event.
Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, June 23, 2010 – Netherlands vs. Cameroon
Green Point Stadium looks amazing from the outside, but wasn’t completely finished on the inside. I sat on the center line near the top of the stadium and my entire side of seats were temporary bleachers that didn’t seem all that safe. I was probably 70 feet up and to my left there was a huge drop off protected by a small fence.
The Dutch are great supporters and painted Cape Town orange. There seemed to be a bunch of white South Africans who were supporting the Netherlands as well, which added to the atmosphere. Arjen Robben is a joy to watch, as was Samuel Eto’o. As soon as Robben came into the game, he immediately took over and created the winning goal. Although both teams didn’t have anything to play for, they both clearly wanted to win and it was a fairly entertaining match.
Green Point Stadium was the most fun to go to because it is surrounded by shops, bars and restaurants along the Cape Town waterfront. While not the best looking stadium compared to Durban, Green Point was the total package and was more fun than most of the places we went in Germany 2006.
Royal Bafokeng Stadium – Rustenburg June 26, 2010 – USA vs. Ghana
I was back in Rustenburg for the USA/Ghana match after a crazy flight/sleep in the airport. I met some friends, Andy and Chris, in the airport and we ended up back at Lucky’s and then onto the game. Bob Bradley inexplicably started Ricardo Clark in the midfield and Robbie Findley at forward and both didn’t do well. Clark was horrible and gave away the ball dribbling in his own defensive third, leading to Ghana’s first goal. He was promptly subbed off. The atmosphere was electric again. 90% of the fans were rooting for Ghana and the rest were from the United States. Anytime Ghana did anything well, the vuvuzelas would go crazy. If we had to lose to any team, I’m glad it was an African side like Ghana.
Overall, the soccer was great, the atmospheres exactly what you’d expect at the world’s largest tournament. In the US, everyone’s asked me about the vuvuzelas. At the matches, I actually really liked them, besides for the fact that you couldn’t hear fans singing. The vuvuzelas brought the matches to another level and weren’t annoying. They were much worse on TV.
The South African fans were incredible as well. They danced, sang and had a great time, even at the games where they weren’t playing. They were also quick to help and offer suggestions on where we should go and what we should do while we were in each city. Each city felt safe and there were hundreds of police officers around each stadium to make sure that people knew it. For all of the hand wringing in the media beforehand, South Africa staged a magnificent World Cup and were great hosts. I just wish the US would have gone farther.
The only drawbacks that I encountered were caused by FIFA. FIFA is one of the most corrupt organizations in the world, along with the IOC, so many of the things that went wrong were caused by greed or outright corruption.
The first problem caused by FIFA was in the ticketing. FIFA categorizes tickets in the stadium into four categories, with 1 being the best and 4 being the worst. This world cup, category 4 could only be sold to Africans. The problem was that in many cases, the $160 category 1 tickets were not any better than the $80 category 3 tickets. My best seats were category 3 for USA/Slovenia, Category 3 for Spain/Switzerland and Category 2 for Netherlands/Cameroon. The worst were category 1 for Germany/Australia and the category 1 tickets in Rustenburg were no better than my other category 3’s. Since you can only choose a category ahead of time, not actual seat locations, you can get stuck with expensive seats that aren’t any better than the cheaper ones.
There were also large swathes of empty seats for many games, including two of the USA matches. FIFA claimed that it was because people bought tickets and then didnt show up, but it was entire sections that were open, which doesn’t make any sense. I think FIFA’s ticketing system was screwed up and didn’t show how many tickets were really available. For USA/Slovenia, people were searching for tickets on the street, but there were 4-5 sections available in the stadium. FIFA should have made sure that locals got unsold tickets to make the atmosphere even better. It was a huge missed opportunity for FIFA to spread the game to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it and improve the atmosphere in the.
FIFA showed its greed by not allowing resales of tickets. The only way you could legally resell tickets was to use FIFA’s own system that cost 10% to sell and an extra 10% to buy. If you had already printed your tickets, you couldn’t use the system and if you bought through supporters clubs, you couldn’t legally resell tickets. If you were like our group, and many were, you had to buy tickets months in advance. One person dropped out of our group, so we had 1 extra ticket for all of our matches. According to FIFA, we weren’t allowed to resell it anywhere. It caused fewer people to get into the stadium and higher prices outside because people were scared to get their tickets cancelled by FIFA if they were caught selling.
A few days before the round of 16, FIFA cancelled hundreds of tickets that had been “illegally” resold, causing the buyers to be screwed and the sellers to keep the money. That’s just dumb and shows FIFA only care about the money, not the fans. FIFA also wouldn’t let people give tickets away in sweepstakes or make their own travel packages. All were deemed illegal by FIFA.
The second problem was FIFA’s overarching power. South Africa (understandably) rented themselves out to FIFA for the tournament. They acquiesced to new laws demanded by FIFA like “outside companies advertising inside the stadium is a crime.” This “law” led to 40 Dutch women to be arrested and charged with a crime for wearing identical orange dresses to support a brewery. FIFA also banned any local food from the stadium, so we were stuck with Coke, Budweiser and pies by a large company. People decided to smuggle food into the stadium instead. I understand that the sponsors need to make money, but jacked up prices (by South African standards) and poor food quality rubs people the wrong way. FIFA also brought logistics companies into the country to care for the teams. They used “blue lights” which were law-exempt cars that traveled at huge speeds all over the city to shuttle dignitaries all over the place. They were dangerous for everyone else involved.
I also talked to one of the people who FIFA contracted to manage these people and he said that FIFA covered up all sorts of problems created by teams, delegates and others involved with FIFA. I heard about a team getting caught with lots of cocaine, but it never made the media. Another story was that a FIFA delegate stole about 10k from a player, but that was swept under the rug as well. I’m sure there were a ton more problems that never made the media, but it’s pretty sad that one organization has all this power.
I also really dislike that FIFA uses politics to choose referees. As you can see from some of the dubious refereeing decisions, the best referees are not all in South Africa. The referee from Mali who blew the USA/Slovenia match is likely not one of the best 16 refs in the world. Just pick the best 16 referees in the world, no matter where they’re from. And let’s try to get some sort of replay for the next world cup. It really wouldn’t be that hard!
The last and probably the biggest problem was MATCH, the official tour/accomodation partner of FIFA. MATCH was the company that partnered with FIFA to “help” people find accomodation, flights and car rentals. All MATCH did was buy up all of the reasonably priced hotels, guesthouses and B&B’s and then tried to resell them at 4-5x their price on the FIFA website. I felt bad for the people who spent huge amounts of money on what would have been normally priced accomodataions, but that’s not the bad part. Since FIFA bought up all of the reasonable places and the places that normal people could find online, many people didn’t come. FIFA got greedy and it resulted in at least 50k people not coming to the world cup. The best part? MATCH and FIFA didn’t sell out their accomodations, so they turned back a bunch of rooms a month before the tournament, too late for people to book flights. In pretoria, MATCH has reserved an entire guesthouse of 40 rooms, right across from the stadium. FIFA was trying to get $350 per night per person on their website. We called the place directly and they booked us in at $100 for the night total because there was only 1 other person staying at the guesthouse who had booked through FIFA. Instead of an awesome guesthouse filled to the brim with world cup fans, it was only us and the one guy who paid the $350. What a scam.
South Africa did a great job putting on the tournament and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I just wish FIFA would hold up their end of the bargain, become more transparent and make future tournaments even better. I’m not holding my breath.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!