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London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!

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Chicago, United States

We made it.

34 hours of travel from Cape Town to Jo'burg to London to Chicago.

I am supremely tired.

I'll have a wrap-up post tomorrow hopefully, but until then, enjoy the videos from the safari that are posted on youtube.


More will be added in the coming days.

What a blast the last 2 weeks were.

permalink written by  nucappy on June 27, 2010 from Chicago, United States
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
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Quick update!

Heathrow, United Kingdom

Just a quick update that we're at the airport in London and about to head home to Chicago. The rest of the pictures and videos will be posted once we get home. It's been an awesome time, and I'll be absurdly tired at the end of this. Meanwhile, go USA!

permalink written by  nucappy on June 26, 2010 from Heathrow, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
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Time to leave.

Johannesburg, South Africa

Well, there was one more item to take care of before leaving. That, of course, being a follow-up visit to the hospital to make sure that my stitches weren’t infected. I woke up at 7:30 to hike the kilometer and a half up the hill to the clinic, where they were somewhat confused as to why I was there. I mentioned to the nurse that I was traveling to the States today and the doctor had wanted me to come today for a follow-up visit. She then asked me when I was returning – to Cape Town. I laughed and told her I didn’t know, since I, you know, live in the US. She still didn’t quite get that I wasn’t getting the stitches removed in Cape Town, but she got the doctor to come by, take a quick glance at it, and deem it ok, along with a request for the nurse to clean it with some saline. After the 5 minutes that the whole visit took, I almost got out of there with no charge at all, but since they used gauze and saline, they had to charge me about $16 for the supplies. Still, $120 for the whole ordeal is phenomenal compared to what it would’ve cost in the US.

That being finished, we ate some breakfast, packed up our bags one last time, and got our cab to the airport around 11:25am. The flight to Jo’burg was pretty uneventful, although it was an easy one, only being 2 and a half hours. We were preparing for a 4-hour layover before our next flight at 9:15pm. Naturally, there was a bit of a snag. We attempted to get a VAT refund, as South Africa allows tourists to recoup the 14% tax on goods costing more than ~$30 that are purchased while in the country. We had a few such items that we could claim, so we took them to the counter to have the receipts and goods inspected. Easy enough, right? Not quite. The officer there approved the receipts with a stamp, and told us we needed to go to another stand inside security to get the money. Ok, no problem.

We went to go check in for the flight, only to find an absolutely massive line. There seemed to be a much shorter line for people who had already checked-in online, which we hadn’t done. However, having this trusty netbook on hand allowed us to do just that. Except, of course, that the free internet was in the other terminal. Deciding that it would be faster to trudge to Terminal B than wait in the line, we headed that way to get some internet and then check in for both the flight to London as well as the flight to Chicago. After 45 minutes, we managed to pull that off, and headed back to the check-in area, which now had an even longer line. Luckily, Rocio and Ryan both had status with British Airways, so we were able to bypass most of the line and got our bags checked in quickly.

After passing through security, we went to find the place to get our VAT money. Of course, the line was out the door. There were roughly 40 people ahead of us and only 4 counters, and for some reason, what seemed to me to be a very simple task was clearly the opposite. There were a ton of Algerians in line who didn’t speak very much English, and the South African staffers were really not being very helpful, because whenever they would ask for something that the Algerians didn’t understand, they would revert to the tried-and-true solution of saying the same thing louder. It worked as well as you think it would. After nearly an hour of waiting in line amongst people who don’t understand the concept of personal space, along with some rising tensions amongst others from people perceived to be cutting in line, we finally got the money. Just kidding, no we didn’t. We got a check in Rand that was “Non-transferrable, non-negotiable” – basically funny money – minus a fee somewhere in the neighborhood of 10%, which could only be cashed at the special money-changing place conveniently located just next door.

Meanwhile, it’s now less than an hour before our flight is supposed to leave. Thankfully, the bank line is shorter, and when I got up to the agent, I asked if I could get the money in US dollars. She said, no, it’s too small an amount. Granted, I was only set to get $10 back initially, but she said it was going to be a roughly $15 fee to give out US dollars. Instead, I got money in Rand, except that I noticed she took out considerably less money than what the check read. This, of course, was because the bank took out a freaking THIRD of the money due us as a fee. So, in the end, I wasted over an hour of my time for $5. If you are ever in a country that offers this, do not waste your time unless you’re expecting to get back a few hundred dollars. Talk about a scam.

After that fiasco ended, I’m sitting here at the gate awaiting departure to London. 11 hours for this flight, and most likely very few of it coming in sleep form for me. Oh well.

permalink written by  nucappy on June 25, 2010 from Johannesburg, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged SouthAfrica and Joburg

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I think I’m becoming an old man

Cape Town, South Africa

Ouch. Literally my entire body is completely sore. My shin, knees, and thigh are all bruised, my knees, hands and face are cut, and my ribs hurt. I’m only 26 – I’m fairly certain I’m still supposed to recover quickly from injuries, right? Ugh.

Today was history day for us. We began with an early-morning trip to the District 6 museum. District 6 is an area near downtown Cape Town that used to be a vibrant neighborhood for blacks and coloured people before the apartheid government decided to forcibly resettle people outside of Cape Town. It wasn’t a quick process – it took years of racist laws that were passed (Arizona, I’m looking at you) which lead up to the ability of the government to carry out such a process, and in 1966, it was declared an area where only whites could live. By 1982, over 60000 people had been moved out, and all of the buildings were torn down. The residents were moved to an area called Cape Flats, which to this day is still a slum. If you’ve seen the movie District 9, the basic story behind it is essentially the same. The land that used to be District 6 is still undeveloped, even 16 years after the fall of apartheid. Developers don’t want to build on it, as the people who used to live there have been trying to make land claims for what was unjustly taken from them. The museum featured many photographs, audio clips, and interviews from people who used to live there, and the fact that it is relatively recent makes it much more powerful. It really is amazing how history repeats itself over and over again, when there are so many examples showing how subjugating one race to an inferior status is a horrible and evil thing to do.

Following our time at the museum, we hopped a cab down to the waterfront where we needed to catch the ferry to Robben Island. This is where all of the political prisoners including Nelson Mandela and the current President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, were held during the apartheid years. Mandela was held there for 28 years until his release on February 11, 1990. The ferry ride was…interesting. The ocean was pretty choppy, and the boat moved up and down significantly. We were sitting on the inside, so it wasn’t as bad as if we had been up on top, but any time I looked out the window, my stomach churned ever so slightly to see water, than no water, than water again as we bounced around. Upon arriving on the island, we boarded a tour bus with a guide who explained certain features of the island as we drove around it. It allowed us to see much more of the island, which went beyond just a prison. One such area that we passed was a limestone quarry. All of the prisoners, including Mandela, worked in the quarry at one point. There was a large pile of stones at the entrance to the quarry from when the Mandela-led government came back to hold a ceremony there after the prison had been shut down. The island itself actually has a history dating back to the 1600s, and has been used for everything from a leper colony, to a military outpost, to the aforementioned prison, depending on who was in control at the time.

After motoring around on the bus, we were brought to the maximum security prison where the political prisoners were kept. Here, we were turned over to an ex-prisoner; now conducting tours so that everyone can learn about what the conditions were like, why people were kept here, and how it can never be allowed to happen again. South Africans are extremely proud of their country, and this emotion gets expressed in many different ways depending on who you are talking to. In this instance, at least for our tour guide, it was of the utmost importance that everyone – foreign or native – learn the history so that they can see how the past has shaped and will continue to shape the present and the future of the country.

We began in one of the communal cells, where the standard political prisoners were kept in big rooms. Our particular tour guide was kept in one of these cells during the five years he was held there. He was sent there in 1985 after he and some others set fire to a rent control building since his family was in arrears on their intentionally-high rent. Not everyone was kept in communal cells though. The people who were determined by the government to be the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement were kept in single cells. There, it was believed, they would be less dangerous than if they were able to influence the many prisoners in the communal cells. Even amongst the prisoners there, racism further subdivided them into two groups. Asians and coloured people – those of mixed-race or Indian descent – were given more and better nutrition than the black Africans, derogatorily referred to as Bantus, received.

Following the communal cell, we went outside to the area where the single-cell prisoners would get their exercise, as well as do menial tasks such as breaking rocks. There was a photograph that was taken for propaganda purposes that depicted the regular prisoners doing the manual labor of breaking rocks, while the political prisoner leaders were doing more constructive tasks. We were told that this would happen on occasion during media visits, and immediately after the visit ended, things went back to normal and the political prisoners were subjected to the same treatment. It was at this time that our guided tour ended, and our tour guide impressed upon us how important it was for everyone to learn the story of Robben Island. Following that, we walked through the single-cell area and saw Nelson Mandela’s cell that he had been in. There were only a few items left behind now, but in a video we saw on the ferry ride, many of the prisoners were allowed to keep lots of books, as well as complete their studies. Much of the South African constitution that is in place today was written on Robben Island by the prisoners who would form the new government following the end of apartheid.

With the tour over, we took the ferry back to the waterfront where we grabbed some food and did some souvenir shopping while the Italy-Slovakia game was occurring. As much of the food area was outside and all of the places had TVs tuned to the match, there was quite a roar when Slovakia scored their first goal to go up on the Italians. Much like when we were at the casino in Jo’burg, no one likes the Italians. We wound up in a bookstore which had a café with a TV showing the match as well, and that’s where we ended up watching the crazy finish which included many late goals, along with the trademark overacting of the Italians and some obnoxious time-wasting by the Slovaks as well. In the end, the result was Slovakia 3, Italy 2, and, as the announcer stated, the Italians exited in disgrace from the tournament. Apparently this is the first time in history that both finalists from the previous World Cup were eliminated after the Group Stage. Considering that France never even deserved to be in the World Cup and my now well-known disdain for the Italians, I couldn’t be more thrilled.

We headed back to the hotel to drop our bags off, and got caught up in the pre-match traffic in our cab. We quickly realized that there was no way we’d be able to take a cab to the match tonight, so once we got back, it was time to head out on foot to the stadium. Armed with vuvuzela in hand and American flag draped over my back, we set out to find the crowds of Dutch fans that we had seen all day long down by the waterfront. The Dutch fans are probably unlike any other country’s fanbase, as we were amazed at how many different articles of clothing were being worn in that bright, obnoxious, yet beautiful orange color. I’m talking about suits, suspenders, overalls, shirts, pants, glasses, helmets, ponchos, wigs, arm-warmers, socks, shoes, everything! It’s truly something that needs to be seen in person.

We finally found everybody as we approached the Fan Walk. This was the first time out of our 4 matches that something such as this was put in place. While we walked to the stadium in Polokwane, we were basically the only ones on our street walking and the crowd at the match itself was half the size of the one tonight. Jo’burg’s 2 stadiums weren’t set up to do anything like a Fan Walk either, with Ellis Park being in a crappy part of town and Soccer City being in the middle of nowhere. Cape Town, however, provided us with the atmosphere that was most reminiscent of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Throughout the 3-4km walk, there were DJs, bands, and dancers all scattered up and down the road, not to mention all of the fans chanting songs and blowing vuvuzelas, plus there was a marching band to top it all off. Pure joy and fun.

At the stadium, we had to walk three quarters of the way around it before we found a gate that wasn’t packed full of people. Once we got inside, we lucked out in that our seats were directly in front of where we entered, plus we were in the lower level for the first time. We were seated near the main Dutch fan section, which in reality was difficult to truly define, as roughly 85% of the stadium was decked out in orange. I always find it fascinating to see which countries are represented at matches. As I said earlier, I was sporting my typical American flag cape, as I wore something US-related at every match we attended regardless if the US was playing or not. The flags that I saw at the stadium for a Netherlands-Cameroon match were: Finland, Austria, Wales, England, Canada, Ghana, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Scotland, and even North Korea. I’m sure there were others that I didn’t see, but the point is that it’s terrific to see just how truly international a World Cup is.

As far as the match itself, it played out like a typical match from this World Cup involving a European power against an African team. The European power starts off slowly before picking up steam and scoring, while the African team doesn’t look horrible, but is completely and utterly unable to finish and score. Out of the 6 African teams that made the tournament, Algeria scored 0 goals, Cameroon scored 2 goals (1 on a penalty shot), Nigeria scored 2 goals, Ghana scored 2 goals (both on penalty shots), the Ivory Coast scored 1 goal (not counting North Korea), and South Africa did the best with 3 goals. Ghana managed to advance, but though these African teams have some individual talents, the teams themselves are just not good enough to play a complete match consistently. The Dutch took a 1-0 lead into the half, though it was rather mundane, and the Wave that swept around the stadium was arguably a bigger highlight than anything that actually happened on the pitch.

Keep in mind that this match didn’t really mean a whole lot. The Dutch had already qualified for the next round and were only in danger of falling to 2nd place if they lost this match, combined with Japan scoring a lot of goals to make up the goal differential. Japan was up 2-0 on Denmark at the half, but with the Dutch in full control of the match, it was nothing to worry about. Things got interesting in the 2nd half when Cameroon were awarded a penalty shot after a free kick was handled in the box by a Dutch player. Eto’o calmly converted to level the match, but again, a draw for the Dutch still secured 1st place. Later in the match, Arjen Robben, one of the best players who had been injured at the start of the tournament but was kept on the squad anyway, began to warm up. As he prepared to enter, the cheer from the Dutch fans was arguably as loud as when they had scored their goal earlier. The cheers were well-deserved, as a short time after Robben came on the field, he made a wicked move on a Cameroon defender and uncorked a fierce, curling shot that the keeper did extremely well to parry, except that it bounced right to their other striker, who shot it into the back of the net to provide the winning margin for the Oranje.

With our final match in the books, and this being our final night in South Africa, we headed out to a bar on the way back home. Many drinks later, it was time to head home amidst the vuvuzela chorus ringing throughout the night. Sadly, our trip has come to an end, as we leave tomorrow for the travel day of hell. We have approximately 32 hours ahead of us in a row from the time we leave the hotel until we return home to Chicago. 3 times to check our bags, 3 flights, 3 times through immigration, 3 times to pick up our checked luggage, hopefully sleep somewhere in the middle, along with remembering to eat. Ugh.

permalink written by  nucappy on June 24, 2010 from Cape Town, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged CapeTown and WorldCup

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Jews are not meant to do extreme sports - Discuss.

Cape Town, South Africa

Today was to be our day of adventure - mountain biking in the morning, abseiling (what the rest of the world calls rappelling) in the afternoon, US-Algeria match to follow. Little did we know just how much adventure we were to be in for today.

After breakfast, we made our way down to the offices of Downhill Adventures, the group that was leading our trip for the day. We showed up at 9am ready to go, but as we've discovered, South Africans have a different concept of time. We waited around in the office for them to get ready, and didn't make it up to the mountain until close to 10am. The mountain, mind you, is about 3 km away.

Once we got up to the cable car base station, the bikes were unloaded and we hopped on them to practice and make sure that everyone was comfortable with shifting gears and peddling on them. Since this was a tour for beginners, it was understandable that they'd want to do this. The bikes were click-shifters, and seeing as how I ride my bike at home all the time, I figured this would be easy and I was ready to go. The girls got their bearings on their bikes and it was time for the four of us plus our four guides to go on a practice run.

We began the trail, and it was pretty damn steep. Now, in the brochure, it said that the biking was going to be 10% uphill, 90% downhill. According to the guides, it was going to be roughly 30% uphill, 70% downhill. According to reality, it was closer to even. That aside, within the first 10 minutes of going downhill down the trail, I squeezed my front brake a bit too hard and pitched myself right over the handlebars. Way to go, Mr. Experienced Bike Rider. I only got a small cut on my right hand, and the skin was still mostly covering it, so I cleaned it as best I could and soldiered on. I had taken a couple puffs from my asthma inhaler before starting, and needed a couple more before we'd even gone halfway on the so-called practice run, as we were going up at a ridiculously steep climb, and, not having mountains in Chicago, I was not properly in shape for such an endeavor.

After walking up most of the uphill back towards the cable car base station and riding very slowly up the other part, we were able to take a quick rest to catch our breath again. It wasn't easy though, because there were so many cars passing through the area and the car exhaust fumes were seriously not helping me out at all. Once we finally got past that area, we were on the road going slightly uphill - much easier than what we had previously been doing. We were headed towards an area of Table Mountain called Devil's Peak. No one was really certain how it got its name, but by the end of the day, I would have my own theory.

At a certain point, the road became closed to cars due to rockslides, but we rode on up it anyway until we got to a point where the road ended, and another trail began. The views of the city were absolutely beautiful, as the mountains totally surround the city, and we got our first views of the stadium, though it was still a bit foggy and I wasn't able to get great shots from up high. At noon, a canon goes off from Signal Hill, which is the northern-most peak of the range, and it went off just before we were about to start down the trail. We could see the smoke rising from where it fired, and at that point, it was time to continue onward.

I felt pretty good starting down the trail, as it was fairly straight, not too steep, and I was getting a better handle on the brakes. Naturally, I spun out almost instantly and slipped down, but no damage there. We continued on for a bit, going over some bumps and struggling to maintain control of the speed, but everything was going well and it was fairly exhilarating. We stopped at one point to let everyone catch up, and then continued on down the hill. At this point, things got dicey.

We were on a part of the trail that was more rocks than dirt, and the bike tends to slip a bit while braking. I had been behind Sara and decided that I wanted to get out in front of her to be able to go at my own speed. Let's remember that this was on a downhill portion of a slippery slope that was difficult to brake on. As I passed her, another one of those bumps came up that you're not supposed to brake on as you go over it, because if you do, when you come down, your bike stops suddenly. Naturally, I hit the brakes as I went over it. When I came down, my front wheel stuck in the trail like it was a javelin stuck into the ground, and I promptly flew right over the handlebars yet again and went face-first right into the rocks on the ground.

I got up to find that my pants were scuffed, my shirt sleeve was torn at the hand, my right hand, which previously only had 1 cut, now had about 4 big ones and 6 or so other small ones. My left hand had a small cut, and apparently my chin was bleeding. I got up, felt a bit woozy for about 5 seconds, took some water, and then the guide looked at my face and his expression went from a smile to a bit of horror. Apparently I had gashed my chin open nice and good, and he thought I needed to get some stitches. Seeing as how we were still on a mountain, there was only one way to get to a place that could stitch me up, and that was to ride downhill. Luckily one of the guides had some band-aids, and covered my chin up as best he could for the rest of the ride. Somehow, this is the kind of thing that would happen to me.

I managed to make it down the rest of the ride without incident, and went through town the rest of the way back to the office where we were going to eat lunch before the abseil. After some more workers inspected my chin, they all concurred that I needed stitches as well, so while Ryan, Rocio and Sara stayed behind to eat lunch, Martin, our lead guide, drove me up to the clinic to get fixed up. I was hoping to be able to make it back for the abseil, but I didn't want the others to miss out because of my inability to properly control my bike.

I was told to go to the emergency room, so I went over there and filled out the paperwork, then waited until they took me back. The nurse told me I needed to shave the area around the wound so that she could get to it better, and handed me a straight razor to do the job. Now, I use an electric razor at home. In fact, I've managed to never use a straight razor for shaving in my life. So now I figured, great, I'm going to mangle my chin even further while doing this. The nurse was very encouraging though, and I managed to clean everything off without further nicking myself. The razor, on the other hand, was nice and bloody, so that was just delightful.

While going back to the hospital bed, I noticed there was a pump sitting in the corner that looked familiar. Sure enough, it was a Baxter Colleague pump - the hospital is a Baxter hospital. I wasn't exactly certain what to think about that....but I didn't need to use the pump, so it was all ok. After telling my story to the nurse and the doctor, I was given some lidocaine and stitched up with 3 stitches to close up the wound. For my hands, they asked if I would be okay with them using something called Mercurochrome or "monkey blood". It can't be used in the States since it has a low amount of Mercury in it. I didn't care at this point, so I had them smear it on my hand. Now my hand is nice and bright red. They wouldn't take my insurance, but even though this was the emergency room of a private clinic, the total bill was just over $100. Brilliant.

Upon arriving back at the Downhill Adventures office with stitches firmly in chin, I was relieved to discover that the rest of the gang hadn’t left for abseiling yet, so I was still able to go with them. We climbed back in the van and went up to the base station, but this time, we were getting on the cable car and traveling up to the top of Table Mountain, roughly 1000 meters high (~3250 feet). As we ascended, the floor inside the car rotated around so we got great views of both the mountain and the city as we were lifted higher and higher until we got off at the top, where the wind was quite evident.

The guys at Abseil Africa were right there once we got outside the cable car station, and as I peered over the edge, I couldn’t quite see where we were going to be descending from. They explained that once we had our harnesses on, we would climb over the wall, attach ourselves to a safety rope, and make our way around to the actual point of descent. The instructor explained in great detail the safety features of the mechanism and how there was literally zero chance that we could do anything to hurt ourselves while climbing down. Even with all of the explanations and assurances, Rocio declined to go with the rest of us, even though she planned the activity herself. As a result, there were only 3 of us, and since they only run in pairs, one of us had to be the odd man out and go solo. That person was me. Granted, I volunteered to go solo, so it’s not like it was forced upon me or anything. For some reason, and I don’t know if it was due to the earlier biking incident that had my adrenaline pumping or not, but I wasn’t frightened, even though I was standing on a piece of rock that was roughly 2 feet wide at best, holding onto a rope attached to another rock, staring out into the abyss.

The abseil itself was 112 meters (~360 feet) and apparently only a 5 or 10 minute activity, depending on how fast the person went, so it wasn’t like I had to wait that long of a time to get hooked up to go, but it sure did feel like a long time. They asked me which rope I wanted to use, and I told them whichever one makes me have to walk less to get to it. They hooked me in nice and tight, and then it was time to walk backwards into oblivion. Right as I took the first few steps, a HUGE gust of wind blew me a bit to the side, which really got the heart beating, and as I steadied myself and began to descend, there was no going back. I was given a helmet, which I doubt would do any bit of good had something catastrophic happened, and gloves, which were a bit too big for my hand and therefore made it quite difficult to control the rate of my descent. We were supposed to keep our hand at our hip and let the rope feed through it as we climbed down, but I kept having it creep up in front of me, at which point I’d bring it back down to my side. Thankfully, I could tell that the guys at the top were having more success controlling my speed, so I stopped worrying about it and kept walking.

The other tricky thing was making sure to keep my feet below my waist so that I didn’t wind up upside-down on a mountain-side. That, I was successful in doing, so on the whole, I’d say I did a pretty solid job for having never done this before. I took a couple of glances to my side where I could see what was somewhat below me, but never looked completely downward. No thank you. As I continued to walk down the rock, all of a sudden I took a step – and there was no more rock. Well, there was some rock, but it was approximately 20 feet away, and there was no chance I could get over to it. So now, I’m wondering what exactly the hell I’m supposed to do, at which point the rope spins me around to face the ocean and the town next to it as I’m slowly lowered down the remainder of the drop while getting to enjoy the view. Talk about a “Holy Shit” moment. I heard Ryan calling up to me, so I looked down at that point to see him on the ground, as well as the landing point for me. They didn’t mention that part in the brochure, I know that much, but it was pretty damn cool once the shock wore off.

Of course, now that we were at the bottom, we had to get back up to the top…so we could go back to the bottom of the mountain. The guys at the top said it would be a 25 minute walk up to the top. Much like how the mountain biking was only “10% uphill”, this information was wildly inaccurate as well. To start, the “path” that we were supposed to take was exceedingly dangerous and oftentimes we were within inches of tumbling 3000 feet to our death down the mountainside. There were big rocks to climb over, muddy rocks that were easy to slip on, and a few times not even a clear designation of where to go next. I kept wondering if maybe somehow we’d missed the real path and were on some other crazy path, but we never saw any other path that we could take, so we continued onward.

We had been walking for roughly half an hour before we encountered 2 tourists who, for some inexplicable reason, were making their way down the path that we were going up, and they told us that it was another 20 minutes to the top. Some 25 minute walk. Shortly after we passed them, there was a sign facing the direction of people going down the path. The sign’s message? “THIS IS NOT AN EASY WAY DOWN”. Yeah, no shit. As we went further onward and further upward, we finally started to get to the top, at which point we saw another sign, again facing towards travelers who would be descending. This one read “WARNING: Extremely dangerous route with steep rock climbing and difficult navigation. DO NOT attempt this route if inexperienced. Use at own risk.” Wow. Thanks guys, for letting us know that we’d be put on an expert hiking trail to return to the top. Finally, after roughly 50 minutes of strenuous, stressful hiking, we made it to the top and headed to the cable car to get the hell out of there and back down on the ground.

At this point, it was after 4pm and we were missing the US match, so our guide from Downhill Adventures, who didn’t go up the mountain with us, went to get the van to take us back to the hotel. Luckily, there was enough time for me to buy my own vuvuzela with the South African flag wrapped around it in decal-form. Perfect for tomorrow night’s match. We finally made it back to the hotel, where we ran up to catch the final minute of the first half, only to see that it was 0-0. Ugh. On the way back, we had learned that England was winning 1-0, so we absolutely needed to win to advance to the next round. It was bad enough that we hadn’t scored, but then we learned that Dempsey’s goal was disallowed thanks to another crap referee decision, and it just felt like it was going to be 2006 all over again.

The second half of the match was an exercise in increasing stress as the minutes melted away on the clock with the score remaining 0-0. Ryan was on the bed with Rocio, while I was sitting in the desk chair to the side – my usual spot for sports watching as it allows me to repeatedly jump up in anticipation of something happening. Every missed opportunity by the US, every near-chance for Algeria, every whistle by the referee – everything wound tighter and tighter. Meanwhile, Slovenia was doing nothing to challenge England, as it seemed like every time we flipped to the other channel the ball was deep in Slovenia’s end or England had possession. I was keeping track on ESPN while we were watching our match as well. When Dempsey hit his ball of the post and then blasted wide, I was sure that we were headed for 0-0 and a quick exit in disgrace out of the tournament.

The minutes crept into the 80s and still, nothing. Donovan had been absent the entirety of the half, the defense was shaky, Altidore wasn’t doing much when he got the ball, and Edson Buddle had headed wide on an earlier opportunity. Closer and closer to the end we came, and the stress increased further, and further, and further some more. And then, out of nowhere, comes Landon Donovan, savior of America, to slot the ball into the corner of the net. I don’t know if he could be seen on the HD feed running to the ball, but we sure as hell had no idea that anybody was there until he came storming in to slam the ball home and send us through to the next round. Unbelievable. Ryan jumped off the bed, I jumped out of the chair, we hugged, yelled, screamed. The vuvuzela was unleashed outside the room – it was complete and utter elation. Not only had we won the match, but we won the group as well, and all of a sudden, the matches tonight mattered a lot.

We decided to make our way down to the Fan Fest to watch the match between Germany and Ghana since we hadn’t been there previously and it was supposedly packed the night before. Since it was only 2km away, we walked there, and went down one of the main streets for nightlife in Cape Town. Tons of restaurants, bars, people having a good time. I was wearing my US jersey, and every USA fan that we passed along the way gave high-fives, fist-bumps, chants of U-S-A and so on. It was a fully festive atmosphere. There was a double-decker bus circling the streets painted in England colors with girls on the back dancing to music that was playing which passed us while we ate some burgers before we continued on to the Fest. Once we got there, it was pretty underwhelming, as there weren’t all that many people around to watch. They did have cheap beer (only $2.50) that wasn’t Budweiser, and that’s all that mattered. Ghana and Germany played a largely uneventful match, with Germany and Australia thankfully winning, allowing the US to have Ghana as its next opponent. Ghana has yet to score a goal that wasn’t a penalty shot in this tournament, and so compared to the hand that fate dealt England (Germany first, with the winner of Argentina-Mexico to follow), I feel pretty good about our chances to continue onwards. Unfortunately, as the only African team remaining, the USA will be going up against an entire continent on Saturday when they play.

Finally exhausted from the intensity of the day, we took a cab back to the hotel as soon as I got some antibiotic cream for my cut-up hands. Thankfully, tomorrow is a calm day and the potential for injury is quite low. We’ll be heading to the District 6 museum and Robben Island to learn us a little history.

permalink written by  nucappy on June 23, 2010 from Cape Town, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged SouthAfrica, CapeTown and WorldCup

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Pictures from Mountain Biking and Abseiling

Cape Town, South Africa

permalink written by  nucappy on June 23, 2010 from Cape Town, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged CapeTown, Biking and Abseil

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Penguins and Ostriches and Baboons, Oh My!

Cape Town, South Africa

We're finally staying at a true Bed and Breakfast here in Cape Town. It is called Tintagel and is terrific. A full English breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and tomatoes, not to mention a bowl of fresh local fruit and some yogurt was a great way to start off a day of exploration. Today on the agenda - heading to the Cape of Good Hope and the wineries of Stellenbosch.

We were met promptly at 9:30am by a man named Grant who was going to be our driver/tour guide today. When I was trying to plan out where to stay in Cape Town, I had an idea of the neighborhoods and landscape from Google Maps, but I was completely taken by surprise when we actually arrived in the city to find that the scale of the city is much smaller than I had assumed, and the mountains are much more prevalent than I had thought. Our drive down to the Cape of Good Hope showed us this, as we drove through a lot of hilly areas when I thought it was all going to be low-lying.

The drive down the coast was absolutely gorgeous. Very similar to the Pacific Coast Highway of California. Winding roads, an ocean on the west side, mountains, beautiful landscapes - it had it all. It took about an hour to get down to the park, and as we got closer, we passed a German ostrich farm. We weren't able to stop and get pictures, but there were many, many ostriches hanging out in fenced-in areas. Very ugly birds. As we continued on, we started to see warning signs about baboons. Apparently baboons have learned how to open car doors, and will steal things from people if the doors are unlocked or the windows are open. As we pulled in to Cape Point, we saw one such baboon with a baby right next to the path up the hill. After it bounded away, we made our ascent to the top.

The view is absolutely breathtaking. You can see both oceans from the top, along with the suburbs of Cape Town and the other nearby mountains. I've taken some panorama shots and a video or 3 to try and capture the feel, which will get posted later. It was a nice hike to the top, and we hadn't had any real physical activity like this since our days in London, so it was great to use the legs again. After we descended, we waited for the same baboon to move away from the car (but not before getting great pictures), and then we went over to the Cape of Good Hope for the photo op. It's much lower than the other peak, so there was no need to go up it.

Leaving the Cape park, we passed some more baboons and ostriches on the side of the road that people were getting quite close to for pictures. One such car had their doors open next to some baby baboons, and I was just waiting for an adult to jump in and terrorize them. I might be a horrible person. Our next stop was a place called Simon's Town, home of penguins. Known informally as the Jackass Penguin because of its braying noises that they make, we got to get pretty close to a couple of the little guys. So that's 3 new animals we've seen today to add to the litany that we saw on the safari.

As it was getting quite late in the afternoon and we really wanted to get back by 4pm to watch the South Africa and Mexico matches, we just grabbed lunch at, what else, McDonalds, and drove off to Stellenbosch. We made it to the Warwick winery and had a tasting of 6 of their wines. 2 whites - a sauvignon blanc and a chardonnay, and 4 reds - a cabernet sauvignon, a pinotage (South African specialty), and 2 blended wines. All were quite tasty, and as we tasted the last glass, the person who was taking care of us told us we were going to go on a wine "safari". We took our glasses into a Land Rover that was similar to our safari vehicle, and went up the hill into their farm area. Once again, the view was just phenomenal. We learned a bit about the winery's history, as well as which grapes grew on what vines and all the different conditions required to make each wine. We finished off our last taste and headed down the hill to go on home.

We missed the first half of the matches on tv, but were able to get the radio feed on the drive home. Listening to soccer on the radio is quite confusing, especially considering that they were flipping back and forth between the two games without much notice. South Africa needed a combination of a 5-goal swing between them and Mexico, and as the first half ended, Mexico had given up 1 and South Africa had scored 2. It was quite exciting in the car, and as we got home, we rushed up to catch the 2nd half of the matches. Unfortunately, Mexico didn't give up any more goals and South Africa allowed France to score 1, so their time at the World Cup came to an abrupt end. They should be proud though, for beating France if nothing else.

We hopped over to a rich area called Camps Bay to get some seafood, at a restaurant called the Codfather. Yes, it's a horrible pun, but the food was fantastic. They have no menu there. There is a choice of appetizers, and then you are taken over to the display case to select which cut of fish you want. There were roughly 6 or 7 different fishes to choose from, and you are able to tell them how much of it you want to eat. Then they cut it, weigh it, and tell you the cost. They also had 2 different types of prawns, and we got a couple of each. The fish comes grilled, and is served with 4 different sauces - lemon butter with garlic, sweet apricot, lemon butter with no garlic, and chili sauce. All were great, although the chili sauce was freakin' HOT! And I like spicy things, too!

Following dinner, we thought about going to the bar next door to watch, but it was crowded and they were charging cover to get in. Instead, we headed back to the hotel to watch the night games, which were pretty boring.

Tomorrow is a day of high adventure with mountain biking and rappelling down the mountain to follow before we watch the US take on Algeria for the right to move to the Round of 16!

permalink written by  nucappy on June 22, 2010 from Cape Town, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged SouthAfrica, CapeTown and WorldCup

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Pictures from Cape Point and Stellenbosch - June 22nd

Cape Point, South Africa

permalink written by  nucappy on June 22, 2010 from Cape Point, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged CapePoint and Stellenbosch

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Cape Town!

Cape Town, South Africa

We're in Cape Town! Sadly, our final destination on our adventure. I've got full internet access now, so photos and videos will be up soon. Cheers!

permalink written by  nucappy on June 21, 2010 from Cape Town, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged WorldCup

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Travel Day

Cape Town, South Africa

Today it was time to leave the condo in Pretoria and head off to Cape Town for the last leg of the trip. Hard to believe we've only been in South Africa for 7 days, considering all we've done, but we headed back to the airport to drop the car off and get on our flight.

The flight itself was only half-full and uneventful, which was much better than our flight from London that took off in vicious cross-winds. The Cape Town airport was nice and fast getting our luggage to us and we were soon on our way to the hotel via taxi.

It was unfortunately raining pretty hard on the drive, so we weren't able to fully appreciate the majesty of the view as we went into the city. We are staying in an area called Gardens, which is nestled right in the crease of Table Mountain. It's only 3km to the stadium, and about half that to the downtown area. From what we've been told, it's extremely safe to walk around in, even at night.

We hung out for the afternoon and watched the referee take over the Chile-Switzerland match, handing out cards like they were going out of style, and as the match ended, the weather cleared up. We can see Table Mountain from our bathroom window - it's that close. As we made our way down to dinner at an Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon that was recommended to us by our driver from the airport, the proximity of the mountain to us was absolutely stunning. I can't wait to get up there on Wednesday. as for the restaurant, that recommendation turned out to be a great idea.

After dinner we bought a few snack items and dropped them off at the hotel before heading around the corner to Rick's American Cafe (yes, like Casablanca) to watch the Spain-Honduras match. I was hoping Honduras would win and complete the Spanish collapse, but they just couldn't match their firepower.

Yes, today was a bit low-key compared to some past days, but tomorrow we start right up again with a trip to the Cape of Good Hope followed by a tour of Stellenbosch in wine country. Once that ends, it's football, football, football. Bafana Bafana is hoping for a miracle while Mexico attempts to win its group. Should be a great day!

permalink written by  nucappy on June 21, 2010 from Cape Town, South Africa
from the travel blog: London and South Africa - World Cup 2010!
tagged SouthAfrica and CapeTown

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