Another fine night’s rest at another splendid B&B (based on the pricing of backpackers and B&Bs, the outrageous exploitation of the backpackers means the difference in cost is less than normal, and the amenities and hospitality at the Afrikaner B&Bs have been top notch). We were up early as we had to return the car to OR Tambo as our booking had run its course. However, with our change in venues for the Round of 16 match for the US match, we now needed another car as public transportation would not be feasible for getting to Rustenburg. After experiencing the organization of Ellis Park in Johannesburg, Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, and the stadium in Bloemfontein, it made much more sense to us when South Africans refer to Rustenburg as a small town. I wonder how games at Polokwane and Nelspriut were taken in as they are both small towns compared to the big cities of Durban, Cape Town, and Joburg. However, both of those towns had brand new stadiums, and looking at the layout of the security on our booklet from FIFA with our tickets, it looks like the design makes much more sense in terms of getting in and out. Rustenburg has hosted four more matches since England and the United States opened up on the second day of the tournament, thus hopefully they will have gotten their act together, as making the front page of a national newspaper for having fans walk 3k+ (like we did) to get transport must have not gone down well with organizers.
We arrived at the airport in only 30 minutes from our B&B meaning Alisa planned the location for our night’s stay quite well. The service we got from Tempest was quite good as they were understanding of our desire to extend and also helping fill out the paperwork for our two formerly ‘busted’ tires. I hesitate to use the word ‘flat’, as we found our that replacing/fixing the rims were what was needed, and so I was instructed to simply spell out what happened, and what we did to fix them and leave out specifying adjectives as I was told that no matter what I wrote they would conduct their own inquiry. We handed over our slips showing the amount we had payed for replacements and repair… will we see that money refunded? The gentlemen checking in our car seemed to make it seem likely, and since we had the waiver on tire and window damage he assured us that we would not be charged for any work they would have to conduct further. I was kind of hoping that the waiver would also cover by default the cost of repair and replacement, but that was not offered, so we will have to hope those costs will be covered later.
We were lucky to also grab one of their last automatics (Alisa would prefer it even though she has not driven since the accident, a automatic means she could if she had to), though we had no luck in getting a Toyota Corolla (a car we drove 4400 km in a week on our trip to Namibia in 2007 with no problems, and the one my mother drove quite well from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth). We had to settle for another Chevy Aveo (though dark grey instead of silver), however as we got in we realized it was a brand new car, with only 1700 km on the odometer, and no deviation on the steering wheel. We packed up the new car with our luggage and we were off.
What a relief it was to be driving a properly working vehicle as we entered the motorway. As we were checking in our old car and I was lamenting the drivability of the car, the attendant looked at our plates and commented that because it was from the Eastern Cape “they’re all fucked up there”. So a brand new car, with Gauteng plates (helps as it doesn’t make it seem like you’re a crazy EC person as we had worried about when we got our first car), and what a pleasure it was to drive. It drove straight, no weird sounds coming from the left front tire wheel well, great acceleration (the old one had to be floored to move from 2nd to 3rd gear, and getting from 3rd to 4th was even harder, not good in the insane driving that is Gauteng), and non-squeaking brakes.
We SMSed Glenda, a GP at Elna’s clinic, to check on Elna’s status and to make sure it was alright to return to Elna’s for the night as Elna had planned to be heading to Lagos for the weekend for a Pfizer conference on Viagra (apparently all the rage in Nigeria). We had no immediate reply, so we stopped at the Sandton City shopping centre once again, and wandered the shops. We were in fact looking for a Mugg & Bean to continue our photo upload but stumbled into one of the sports stores looking for a white USMNT jacket (I should have purchased one before I left, but thought all my layers would keep me warm), and Alisa ended up getting a baby blue Puma African hoody to go along with her pink Puma Africa t-shirt. Wandering further we went into a camera store to check out telephoto lenses, as Alisa has been needing to add one to her camera bag. We found one that with the VAT coming off was reasonably close to US prices and she fell in love with it after a couple test shots. Seeing as I have convinced her that we should go to Blyde River Canyon since we now have a car till the 1st of July, her new lens will get its first real chance to shine and we’ll post those photos as soon as we get back to let everyone see the difference.
We ate at Nelson Mandela square, just below ESPN’s South Africa studios, and finally received a SMS back from Glenda that it was fine to return and that Elna was out of the hospital.
We called Alex, our England contact, and set up a meeting at the KFC in Kroonstad for tomorrow. For those that haven’t been to South Africa, KFC’s are insanely popular here, and nearly every small town has a KFC before any other fastfood (there was no McDonalds (a ‘premier’ fastfood place here)in Kroonstad, nor a Steers, a decent South African burger joint). We called our accommodation in Bloemfontein to explain our plans had changed, and asked if perhaps we could simply change our dates rather than cancel and lose our $100+ deposit. We couldn’t give hard dates for the change and Alisa said the contact sounded extremely disappointed we would not be showing. I thought places here were requiring extremely high deposits exactly because the World Cup was a fluid environment and the deposit would cover cancellations. However, there is a mass of England fans descending on the city, so we figure he would not have trouble finding fans needing a room. We tried to pass on our booking to Alex, and then Simon another England contact we had made in Rustenburg, but both weren’t interested. Our exchange will take place at 10am in Kroonstad meaning we need to make a departure from Sandton no less than 8, however that puts us right in the middle of Joburg’s Washington DC-like commute, so we will likely need to leave earlier to make up the time spent in traffic. From Kroonstad we will make the slightly less than four hour trek north to Rustenburg (Google maps tells us that we should come back through Joburg, however there is a direct road north from Kroonstad, but we need more info before choosing), hopefully arriving in plenty of time to not deal with the mess that was associated with our first game. Kick off is at the same time as the England match, 2030, so there is no real rush, but being able to wander around the stadium pre-game has been a much more relaxing way to spend the build up rather than dealing with the Park and Ride situation. Though hopefully that will now be sorted.
Alisa is spending the night planning for our accommodation up by Blyde River Canyon. I think her new lens has made her excited after she saw some of the pictures. The current plan will be to return from Rustenburg to Elna’s on tomorrow night (hopefully getting back no later than 0200). Then sleeping in Sunday, and departing for Blyde River (a six to eight hour drive northeast) in the mid afternoon. We’ll hike and do the activities that are available on Monday, do whatever we missed in the morning on Tuesday, and then head home to Elna’s. Wednesday, I want to head back to Pretoria to see the Voortrekker Monument, the Union Building (seat of the President’s offices) and whatever else we come upon there. Pretoria had a much different feel to it than Joburg, and was quite a delightful place to spend 24 hours. Just based on that, I think it would be my preference to live in Pretoria over Johannesburg. The houses there do not seem as walled off or as ‘old’ compared to Joburg (though there are some very nice McMansions here), but more investigating will be needed to make a more rounded decision.
Thursday we will return the car, take the Gautrain back to Sandton and then figure out how to take pubic transportation from the rich economic hub of the continent (the new Rea Vaya bus does not come to Sandton) to the gritty (though reawakening) downtown part of Joburg to finish off the museums we missed and visit Constitutional Hill, the former fort that housed imprisoned whites in the late 1800s and early 1900s, then came to be home to Mandela and Ghandi during their scuffles with the South African government. THEN, even though I am quite superstitious about looking past the Round of 16, the US’s potential quarterfinal match on Friday would be at Johannesburg’s pantheon of soccer: Soccer City. Tickets were sold out long ago, but if the US does knock off the last African side, perhaps some of those ticket holders would be willing to part with their tickets. That’s so far away at this point, but it’s nice that we’ll at least be positioned to take advantage of a splendid US cup run.
Alisa is now fully into the World Cup, as she didn’t hesitate to want to follow the US as far as they go, regardless of how much time that leaves us at the end. Even if the US were to make the Final, we would still have 17 days in country to visit Victoria Falls, Namibia, or even the Garden Route in the Western Cape. The beautiful day that Joburg got today (blue skies, 25 degrees) continued to bolster our mood. After the poor accommodation experiences, the poor results of Bafana Bafana (which more than they care to admit has deeply affected the mood of the country compared to what an advance to the Second Round would have brought), the chance that the US would be eliminated in the first round, plus the readapting to South Africa had caused stress and disappointment that I could not fully appreciate until all of it was wiped away with the US’s win in Pretoria. It probably also coincided with the ‘reacclimation’ to South Africa, as the first couple weeks were adverse with the difficulties of internet access, hot water, heating, freezing days and nights, and South African bureaucracy that all took some of the enthusiasm out of us that had built for our return. Perhaps I did not expect there to be this readapting period, but after going through this culture shock, it reminded me of my first month at UKZN in Durban, which at times was quiet miserable due to the adjustment to ‘African time’, “I’m coming just now” (a favourite among South Africans which means they could be coming in the next 15 minutes to 2 days), and being seen as an ATM to my fellow African students. Working for Apple in the months leading up to leaving for ZA certainly didn’t help, as the need to be connected took a hit in Mozambique, but more so in South Africa where finding information and doing research on our trip requires some access to the online world. That’s been sorted with getting a 3G chip from Vodacom, cutting it down to size and putting it in our iPad. The slow internet connection which prevents us from showing much of our experiences to friends and family back home, will simply have to be accepted, and everyone will have to wait till my return to the world of Verizon FIOS. Today our spirits our high and seeing Alisa, who I took to her first professional soccer game just three years ago in Durban, becoming so engaged in this sport and this event that after the last two US games she admitted she would have cried had we lost, has been an evolution that has been fun to be a part of.
Rustenburg is supposed to be in the high 20s tomorrow, which mean shorts and my US kit might be the order of the day until we do the final leg of the journey to the stadium. Even then, kickoff should be well above freezing. However, if I’ve had one thing reinforced to me over this past month, it’s the power of the African sun. Above the horizon it can make any day feel comfortable under its rays. However, once the sun sets the ground quickly loses all of its heat as if remembering that it is winter all of sudden, and producing biting cold no less than 30 minutes after the sun has passed beneath the horizon. Royal Bafokeng is not conducive to trapping heat due to its resemblance in design to Los Angeles’s Rose Bowl. Though if the atmosphere among the crowd is anything like that of the last US match in Pretoria, we will have all the heat we will need, and hopefully the United States will produce a performance befitting the atmosphere!
[NOTE] We will update our twitter feed (easy to do through the iPad) throughout the day tomorrow to let everyone know that our Anglo-American ticket exchange was successful and that our drive to Rustenburg is completed safely. I’m told the game will be on ABC around 1400 EST and is poised to break records for viewership. So tell everyone you know to tune in and watch! Our tickets will be Category Three, thus somewhere behind the goals, but how close is truly uncertain. We’ll also twitter our location if we’re positioned to be on ABC!