Journey to Mpumalanga to Ease the World Cup Sorrow

27 June

The day after our elimination started with us arriving home at 4 am, and sleep walking into bed. Waking up 6 hours later, I had no desire to get on with the day, preferring instead to sleep until the disappointment from last night did not sting as much. It was hard to place one factor as being the most heart wrenching. Perhaps it was the fact that the team again didn’t come out ready to play at the opening whistle. Perhaps it was the way everyone in South Africa and the continent had turned against the US team (being serenaded to taunts by Ghana ‘fans’ at the end of the game will be something I won’t forget soon). Or more so, perhaps it was the quick turnaround been the amazing bliss that the win against Algeria produced and not less than 48 hours having been eliminated to a team that was beatable on the night. The disappointment causes even more reflection of what might have been when the bracket as a whole was examined. Ghana and Uruguay are teams the USMNT can match if they play well, and thus a once in a lifetime workable path to the semifinal was there for the taking. For when the US does make it to the semifinal or final of the World Cup it will inevitably have to be through much tougher opposition. And while to win it you must beat the other best nations, what a cup run, even just lasting for another week, would have done for the team and it’s profile domestically and internationally could have bee significant.

I disagree with the writer at the Washington Post who said the win against Algeria was a watershed moment for soccer in the country (interest in both MLS and the USMNT has been steadily growing the past 4 years despite the poor showing in Germany in ’06). But a win versus Ghana would have at least let the dream live another 5 days and not caused this greatest of highs to greatest of lows & ‘what ifs’ in such a short period of time. I had so much wanted to go watch a US game at Soccer City and now that had been denied as well. This emotional roller coaster is something that only sport can produce in my psyche, which at this point has been left with very negative feelings towards the tournament and our South Africa hosts (even though I understand their symbolic if empty show of African unity). Time will eventually fade the negativity and leave only the good moments, of which their were many, but today was still one filled of contemplation of what could have been.

Fortunately, plans have been made already to visit Bylde River Canyon on my urging, so our day had to begin whether we liked it or not, and so a quick pack and we set off north.

As we went along the N12, the same way we went to Witbank for the Springbok game, we listened as England was thrashed by Germany and Alisa celebrated each German goal with vigor after the support by the many English fans in Rustenburg for Ghana and the abuse they dished out in the US’s direction during the match. I too had been hurt by what I thought would be a group supporting us, and I had no problem with karma taking its effect so efficiently on England.

For the most part the 400 km drive today was uneventful until we turned off for Lyndenberg just after the sun at set. After departing the main motorway of the N4 the drive north was not the best road by South African standards but fortunately, despite the frequent signage posted about potholes, most had been filled in. This seems to have been a theme lately, as much of tar potholes had been filled in out near Kroonstad and Orkney when we were there yesterday. I’m not sure if this was a byproduct of the World Cup, but one that I’m sure the locals don’t mind.

One necessity of driving through the bush roads in Southern Africa is the need for proper headlights and good high beams. Our last Chevy had a uneven low beam spread, and its high beams were less than illuminating. Our new Chevy was better, and on most of the roads doing something close to 70kph to 80kph was possible due to the plugged potholes (slaggate in Afrikaans, literally ‘pitfalls’). However, I’ve noticed that some drivers fail to drop their high beams on approach which can make navigating the narrow two lane roads all that more difficult, especially when going over the side of the road can result in an accident like Alisa suffered in Hartbeespoort. Slowing down would be the logical answer when this situation occurs, but local drivers have little patience for you, even when going the speed limit, and would likely put their high beams in your rearview mirror, compounding the problem. Tonight, one road custom I have failed to discern is the tapping of high beams just as two cars pass one another. Usually the flashing means ‘you’re welcome’ after a car passes you on a two lane road if you move over into the emergency lane to let them pass, called Yellow Line driving in South Africa. It is popular among big 18 wheelers on the 2 lane motorways. If they did not do this, it would cause significant congestion as they often drive 80-100 kph, and passing the traditional route of going into the other lane, is either impossible, because of oncoming traffic or unseeable due to road conditions. Moving over to the side of the road can be risky on some roads, but on the well maintained South African motorways, it effectively becomes a second lane for slow moving vehicles. After passing, the faster car will generally use their hazard lights to thank the slower car for moving to the side. However, tonight after lowering my high beams for an approaching car, and it doing the same, I was flashed just as I came close to passing, both times blinding me unexpectedly. I wasn’t sure if this was a local saying ‘hello’, or ‘lower you high beams sooner’, or what it meant. Earlier today, another new signal through the high beams was discovered after I offered another car to pass me by turning on my right side turn signal to indicate he could round me and the coast was clear, however the car flashed his high beams as if to say thanks but no thanks. It was the first time I have had a South African willing to sit patiently behind me on the road until the road turned into a proper two lanes in our direction. Perhaps, we’ll get the local take tomorrow and be able to write up a Mpumalanga road signaling manual.

Driving up through the Robbers Pass, which has an interesting history, we made it down to Pilgrims’ Rest, where gold mining activity was said to have ended in 1971, but as we headed out of town to the next mountain pass we saw many signs for heavy load vehicles. The town had been on my list of things to do as Lonely Planet made it seem to be a town frozen in time dating back to it’s gold rush days.

Finally, down the mountain and into Graskop, where we easily found our accommodation in the small town and settled in for the night with a self-catered dinner before watching Argentina throttle Mexico.

After 1000km of driving over the past two days, it will be nice to make the short jaunt of 60 km north to the Canyon and hopefully do some significant leg stretching hiking the trails and taking some great pictures!

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One thought on “Journey to Mpumalanga to Ease the World Cup Sorrow

  1. Ghana was beatable but the U.S. chased the entire tournament. Down 1-0 to England, 2-0 to Slovenia, overtime with Algeria, then 1-0 to Ghana and again, 2-1, they were just too tired. But they showed lots of spirit/fight. Unlike other teams, say from Great Britain, they did not let questionable calls that took away goals deflate them. They just kept on playing but eventually ran out of gas. But look at the money you’re saving now not chasing them.

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