Monthly Archives: June 2010

Round of 16: USA vs. Ghana

We conserved our energy on Saturday morning because we had a big day planned: USA vs. Ghana in the Round of 16 (meaning we would be expelling extreme amounts of passion and fandom for our boys in red, white and blue) in Rustenburg (meaning Bus Ride of Torture: The Sequel).

 The game in Rustenburg didn’t start until 8:30 pm.  We were taking the FIFA fan bus again, sadly, and it didn’t leave until 3:00 pm.  So, we spent our morning lounging around the hotel – Lauren did her homework just like a good little student – and we headed into Sandton around 1:00 pm. 

In Sandton, we had a quick lunch at a café on Nelson Mandela Square.  We had been to Nelson Mandela Square several times by this point in our trip, but we had never seen it so crowded with soccer fans and locals.  I’m sure it had something to do with the gorgeous, sunny, mild day.  And the good shopping.  And the many restaurnts.  And maybe the ESPN studio that is located there. 

We each ordered a drink with our lunch.  In preparation for the bus ride ahead, of course.

Even the alcohol couldn’t make it better.

The ride was still long and cramped and boring.  It still took well over two hours.  (And by “well over two hours,” I mean it took three.)

The entire operation was slightly more organized this time around, thankfully.  And we arrived at the stadium in Rustenburg with plenty of time before kickoff.  As a matter of fact, we had so much time that we had the ability to stand in line for 45 minutes in a failed attempt to buy a couple of hot dogs.

I don’t know what the deal was with Rustenburg, but it was a bit of a mess.  It was astounding, really, that the venue had hosted games for three weeks and couldn’t efficiently make/sell/distribute concessions.  There were probably 10 lines that stretched 15 people deep.  In the 45 minutes that we stood in line, we saw three people successfully leave our line with food.  Two of them were employees.

Not cool.

Hansche girls do not like to be hungry.  Hansche girls do not like to eat Cliff Bars for dinner.

And then the Americans had to go and lose that game!  In additional time! 

It was not an awesome day.

But there were still awesome parts of it.

It was awesome that the USA was playing in that game.  From the time of the draw, Lauren and I always assumed that England would win Group C.  We briefly entertained the idea that the American team could play in the game, remarking how cool and how unlikely that would be. 

It was awesome to have another opportunity to wear all of the patriotic gear that we’d hauled all the way to South Africa.  It was really fun to get all decked out in the stars and the stripes.  Seeing all of the other Americans doing the same was always a blast, too.

It was awesome to have a perfect view of Landon Donovan’s successful penalty kick.  We had the perfect seats for that moment: right at the penalty spot at the goal where he took that shot.  Lauren got some great pictures of that moment.  It’s too bad that the American team couldn’t score a proper goal.

It was awesome to watch Tim Howard play goalie.  Because Tim Howard is awesome.

It was not awesome that the Americans lost.  It made the bus ride home just a little bit more painful.  As did the bitter British man who sat behind us and, just as we were sitting down, proceeded to loudly rant on about how stupid all Americans are.  Slightly insulting.  Definitely unnecessary.  Ignorance is so ugly.

We didn’t get back to Nelson Mandela Square until 3:30 am.  We took a taxi back to our hotel.  Lauren ate pasta that had been sitting, unrefrigerated, in our room for 27 hours.  (And never got sick.  Is her stomach not amazing?)  And I set our alarm clock for 7:15 am.

Yes.  You read that correctly. 7:15 am.

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Pilanesberg National Park and Sun City

We were up at 6:00 on Friday morning, hurriedly getting dressed and rushing to breakfast before our tour company picked us up at 6:45 am.  …or 7:15 am, as it turned out to be.  (Africa time!)

The tour guide had to pick up a few other groups at other hotels in the area before we were on our way to Pilanesberg National Park.  There were nine of us in the van and all nine of us slept at some point on the two-hour trip to Pilanesberg.   We were all so excited that we couldn’t keep our eyes open!

At one point during our trip, our tour guide mentioned that we would be taking our safari from our tour van.  Should any of us be interested in doing the safari from an open-air vehicle, it would cost an extra 190 Rand.  A little ridiculous, really, considering that we had already paid over 1,200 Rand for the tour.  Oh well. 

Our tour guide clearly wasn’t all that keen on putting us in the open-air vehicle.  But she did eventually hand the seven of us interested in taking the open-air vehicle to a new tour guide; she took the two prissy city girls (who applied makeup on our drive to Pilanesberg) through the park in the tour van.

Moving into the open-air vehicle was definitely the right choice.  The guide was undoubtedly more knowledgeable, we had a much better view of the park as we drove through it and we ended up seeing more animals than the group that stayed in the van.  Three cheers to the Italian who really pushed our tour guide to get us in the open-air vehicle.

The first animals we saw were some of the more common plains animals.  Our tour guide pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the vehicle.  As was common throughout our safari, he would give us a bit of information on the animal that we were seeing and a little bit of time to take pictures before pulling away. 

Within the first 10 minutes of the safari, we round a corner and I see the backside of a giraffe bending her head down.  “Oh, funny,” I think to myself.  “A statue of a giraffe’s backside.” 

No, dummy.  That’s a giraffe.  It was so close and so big that I thought that it couldn’t be real.  It was.  She stood quite still, looking at us as we all stared back at her.  Lauren was busy taking pictures – she brought her zoom lens and took a lot of really amazing shots.

We saw gnu and impalas and wildebeests.  We saw a pretty bird in an electric blue color whose name I cannot recall.  We saw a dead elephant, with his intestines spilling out of his abdomen.  We saw monkeys, a big group of them, running down the side of the road and climbing into trees and generally being the cutest things you’ve ever seen. 

We saw an elephant that wasn’t dead, too.  He was just chilling by a tree, eating, eating, eating.  We were maybe 10 feet from him and he wasn’t interested in us whatsoever.  When our tour guide turned off the vehicle, we sat in the quiet (except for the sound of cameras clicking) and listened to him munch away.  It was amazing.

We saw zebras.  We saw hippos from across a lake.  “They look like two big, shiny rocks,” our tour guide told us.  And that’s exactly what they looked like.  We saw two rhinos from afar.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see any lions or cheetahs, but that’s pretty common.  They don’t guarantee that you’ll see any animals, as the park is enormous and the animals are permitted to roam wherever they please.  The lions were sometimes hard to spot in the grass at the Lion Park, when the vehicle was stopped and someone was pointing them out to us!  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we had just driven past a lion or two.  Their camouflage is quite effective! 

All in all, I would consider our safari a successful one.  Driving through the park was a delightful trip in itself and seeing the animals so close was just magical.  I wish that we had the time to do a longer safari – three day game drives at Kruger National Park are quite common – I suppose we’ll just have to come back one day!   

For the second part of our tour, our guide drove us to Sun City.  I had no idea what Sun City was, really, except for a place where we would be able to get lunch.  Sun City, as it turns out, is something like a big Las Vegas hotel that was built in the middle of nowhere.  It has a luxury hotel, a casino, restaurants and entertainment, all African themed.  It was an interesting place and quite the juxtaposition to the quiet nature that we were just driving through.  I still can’t quite comprehend why the tour company pairs Sun City with the safari at Pilanesberg, except that it is somewhere for people to get lunch.  And maybe some people are amused by the vastness of the complex.  I just thought it was sort of lame.  Maybe we should’ve spent less time lunching and more time gambling.

After our two hours at Sun City, we headed back for Johannesburg.  Again, all nine of us slept on the drive home.  Safaris are hard work! 

That night, Lauren and I went to dinner in Melrose Arch.  It being a Friday night, it was absolutely packed.  We couldn’t get seated at a few of the restaurants that we first tried.  One was just booked out with reservations, which I understand, but the other just didn’t have any tables available at the moment.  Instead of taking names, they just turn you away.  It seems strange, but it isn’t the only time that we’ve experienced that since we’ve been here.  I suppose that, with the number of people milling about on Friday night, they knew that any empty table wouldn’t remain empty for long.

It took a few tries to find a restaurant that would seat us, but we didn’t go hungry.  We had our dinner.  We watched Spain beat Chile.  Lauren drank an alcoholic beverage out of a teapot.  And, earlier, we’d seen elephants and giraffes and zebras!  It was a good day.

Italy vs. Slovakia

Thursday marked the final match we would see in the group stage: Italy versus Slovenia at Ellis Park.  It was a 4:00 pm kickoff, and our shuttle driver had another group to pick up from the airport, so we got to the stadium quite early.  We walked around the stadium, took a few pictures, checked out the apparel, bought an ice cream, watched a bit of the corny “entertainment” put on by a few of the World Cup sponsors and were still to our seats an hour before the game started. 

The game was an exciting one but, apart from the final few minutes of the match, the Italians were disappointing.  It was quite a shock to see the reigning World Cup champions fail to progress out of the group stage!  Italy was very well represented in the stands.  The Italian fans had very long faces on the walk out of Ellis Park, that’s for sure.

The walk out of the stadiums is always interesting.  We never fail to see a handful of foreign reporters – television and radio – looking for a good interview from an elated (or distressed) fan of one of the participating countries.  The world press is definitely present at this World Cup.  The press box usually takes up a section or two of the stadium.  Dozens of photographers, all wearing orange vests, are seated at the sidelines at every match. 

After the game, we met our shuttle driver.  He was kind enough to drop us off at Nelson Mandela Square so that we could squeeze in dinner and a little bit of shopping before we headed back to the hotel for the night. 

We had dinner at a restaurant that overlooked Nelson Mandela Square.  I was feeling adventurous, so I took the suggestion of the “must have!” printed next to the Oxtail Casserole on the menu and ordered that for my dinner.  It tasted okay, but the consistency of the meat left something to be desired.  There was a little bit too much connective tissue for my taste, unfortunately.  It is the only meal I’ve had on this trip that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all that bad.  Plus, we finished the meal off with chocolate mousse.  Chocolate mousse heals all.

After finishing up dinner, we caught a cab back to our hotel.  With the length of time that we’ve been in Johannesburg, we have a pretty good idea of the standard rate that it costs to get to or from our hotel to a few different points in the surrounding suburbs.  It’s astounding how often we’re quoted a rate that is 50 Rand higher than the already inflated World Cup rate that the taxi drivers are charging.  We’ve gotten quite good, and quite comfortable with, telling the cab drivers that there’s no way we’re paying such an astounding rate.  And they always come down in price.

Back at the hotel, we got to bed earlier than we had been in bed during the entire duration of our trip.  The alarm clock was set for 6:00 the following morning.  No moaning about the early wakeup call allowed: we were getting up to go on a safari!

Germany vs. Ghana

After a Wednesday morning that started like all of our others: breakfast, showers, outfit coordination and email checks, we arranged for the hotel’s shuttle driver, Thierry, to take us to the Apartheid Museum.

Let me pause for a second to tell you about how awesome Thierry is: very awesome.  He takes us to games and picked us up at the airport.  Always cheerful.  Always laughing at Lauren’s jokes.  He’s definitely made our lives here much easier.  And we’ve certainly paid him for that privilege.

So, anyway, Thierry dropped us off at the Apartheid Museum for a few hours. 

Even after visiting the museum, I still find it inconceivable that apartheid fell only 16 years ago.  16 years! 

The museum itself was well done.  It was a little crowded, I thought, but we still took a great deal away from it.  There is so much information – I’m sure that I only soaked up a tiny percentage of what was presented – on both the rise and the fall of the apartheid museum.   I definitely left with a greater understanding of South Africa and its history.  I wouldn’t hesitate to go back if I’m ever in Johannesburg again.   

Thierry picked us up outside of the museum (on African time, of course).  He told us that he was looking for our blonde hair.  That’s all we are here.  Blonde bombshells freak shows. Now I know how Jessica Simpson feels.

We got back to the hotel with less than an hour until we were supposed to leave for the Ghana/Germany match.  It was a quick turnaround.  We changed into our Germany jerseys.  Packed up our tickets and our cameras.  Ran to the restaurant for a quick snack (chicken strips for Lauren and a quesadilla for me), caught just a bit of the two Group C final games (USA/Algeria and England/Slovakia) and got on the shuttle.

Wednesday was day of the final group stage games for Group C and Group D.  When we left for the game, USA was tied with Algeria, 0-0, and it looked like the American team would be going home.  Thierry had the game on the radio in shuttle and we listened nervously as time ticked down.  What a shame.

We were on the highway when the game entered injury time.  We were stuck in traffic, inching along.  The shuttle was just driving past a fan park – where the games were projected onto big screens – when the Americans scored. 

Perfect timing.

For us and for Landon Donovan.

Lauren and I were both a little shocked.  All this time, we had assumed that we would be watching England in the Round of 16.  And now we had a reason to use the temporary tattoos we hadn’t used at the USA/Slovakia game.  Hurray! 

With plenty to be excited about, we entered Soccer City to watch Germany/Ghana.

As has become pattern, the African fans were loud and proud.  There were a lot of German fans in attendance, too.  Unlike the Mexico fans, no Germans tried to tell us that we didn’t look German.  Go figure.  A few tried to speak to us in German, as a matter of fact.  We smiled and nodded and definitely could’ve used Betsy or Meredith’s translation services.

The Germany/Ghana game was a fun one to watch.  Germany’s goalie, Manuel Neuer, plays like a complete madman.  While the score was only 1-0, both teams had a good number of quality scoring chances.  We had category 3 tickets for the game, our lowest price/category tickets, and I swear that they were equal or better to some of the category 2 tickets we had.  Go figure. 

There is no explaining FIFA.

Mexico vs. Uruguay

We had an early start on Tuesday.  Attending our first match in Rustenburg required a morning of travel.  Rustenburg is approximately two hours away from Johannesburg and, before we left, I purchased tickets on FIFA’s city-to-city fan busses.  Because she’s really awesome (or maybe because she feels guilty about the whole hotel-burning-down ordeal) Jackie volunteered to take us to the bus station.  Our bus was scheduled to leave just after 10:00 am; she dropped us off around 9:30 am.

If I’m being honest, I’m still not exactly sure how we managed to get on a bus and get to Rustenburg.  It was that disorganized.  Give your ticket to that woman over there.  See that man standing by the wall?  Get a wristband from him.  Stand around.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.

It was well past 11:00 when the bus finally showed up.

We joke about Africa time, but it is definitely a reality of life here.  Things aren’t to the minute and people don’t live and die by the clock. 

But the bus eventually showed up and we squeezed in with a bunch of passionate Mexican fans, along with the odd Uruguay fan scattered here and there.

The night before, we’d been warned about the trip to Rustenburg.  Expect slow and expect long, we were told.  And, by all means, when your bus stops at the gas station before you get to the stadium?  Get out!  Get out.  Get food.  Get drinks.  Because it is your last chance.

At a gas station.

The problem with Rustenburg is that there are only two ways to get to town and both of them are simple two lane highways.  It made for a very long trip.  What takes two hours in optimal driving conditions took almost four.  We arrived at 3:35 pm for the 4:00 pm match. 

Mexico largely dominated the match but lost, 1-0.  Mexico’s fans seemed to be the majority in the crowd and they were a little intense.  After halftime, we were walking up to our seats and one Mexico fan looks at us and exclaims “you’re not Mexican!” 

No kidding, bro. 

After the game, we went straight back to the bus.  It was a little after 6:00 pm, which was somewhat alarming because our bus driver definitely told us, upon arrival, that the bus was leaving at 7:30 pm.  But Rustenburg’s stadium is in the absolute middle of nowhere.  There isn’t any single place to go for a drink or shop for souvenirs or otherwise kill time.  (Unless you wanted to invite yourself over to a family’s tiny tin home, I suppose.  And that would be rude.)

So we sat on the bus.  Waited.  Waited.  Waited.  Waited.  AGAIN.  Finally, the bus was full and all of the sad Mexicans (and the occasional elated Uruguayan) were accounted for.  Except two.

We would leave, the bus driver said, if the two missing passengers hadn’t returned by 8:30 pm.     

They showed up.  All of the Mexicans sang a song to the latecomers as they climbed onto the bus, teasing them for being late.  I just wanted to cry tears of joy. 

We slept, fitfully and uncomfortably, for most of the ride back.  The driver didn’t have the air conditioning on, so the bus was stuffy in addition to being cramped and so, so slow.  The infamous single road leading out of Rustenburg was backed up most of the way.  It was not a pleasant trip. 

But it got us where we needed to go.  And it got us back.  We arrived in Sandton just after 10:30 pm and we rushed over to Nelson Mandela Square to find a restaurant that was still serving dinner.  Not surprisingly, our outlook on the day was a bit rosier after we had had a meal.

We survived the trip to Rustenburg!

And we’re going back on Saturday.

A feathered hat and the paparazzi

Monday was a rest day.  No games, no tours, no commitments until our 8:30 pm dinner reservations. 

We started our day at approximately the same time that we start every day here, 9:30 am.  Breakfast is served until 10:00 am, so we’ve set our internal clocks to get us up just in time.  We haven’t missed a breakfast yet.  And good thing.  I hear it’s the most important meal of the day!

Following our breakfast and our morning email check, we sat with our friend James in the hotel lobby for a while.  Though he is from Liverpool, James was travelling with the group of New Yorkers (who had since gone home) and we had spent quite a bit of time with him.  He was with us on our first trip to Ellis Park, for the USA/Slovenia match, and he had gone to the Brazil/Ivory Coast match the night before, too.

James mentioned that he was going to the mall and to lunch with Jackie (the proprietor of our original accommodations and the woman kind enough to take us to the Lion Park) later in the morning.  We decided to tag along.  We ended up back at the African craft market.  Where we bought a few things (of course) and subsequently banned ourselves from returning to because we find it far too easy to burn through cash there.

(I should mention that we’ve since made plans to return this Monday because self control + Lauren + Alyson = does not compute.)

We had a nice, quick lunch and headed back to the hotel to see James off.  Before he left, he delivered several flags to our room: United States, Spain and Argentina.  He had no use for them at home; we promised to wave them wildly at every opportunity. 

The rest of our afternoon passed quietly.  Lauren did homework and took a nap.  I blogged and checked my work email. 

We headed to Melrose Arch for dinner at a restaurant called Moyo.  We had actually tried to have dinner there on Saturday, but couldn’t get reservations.  Moyo is an authentic African restaurant that came highly recommended by Jackie. 

Lauren suggested that Moyo may be the Frankenmuth of South Africa.  The staff wears traditional African outfits, which is probably embarrassing yet mitigated by the amount of business that they see.  We were seated in the basement section of the restaurant, which was absolutely enormous and completely packed.  The basement is decorated to look like a cave.  A cave with flatscreen televisions broadcasting the Spain game. 

We had drinks.  We had dinner.  We watched the Spain game.  We had our faces painted – which is apparently an African thing (or just a clever trick to charm the tourists).  We talked a Frenchman named Francois into taking our picture.  We soaked up the atmosphere.  It was really fun.

And about to get better.

Just as we were finishing up our meal, the Spain game finished.  To celebrate, the restaurant played the World Cup’s anthem “Waka Waka” (performed by our hero, Shakira) over the loudspeakers.  The wait staff gathered on the floor and started to dance.

“Go dance with them,” I told Lauren.  We’d been dancing to that song for nearly a week.  And it isn’t like talking Lauren into doing something like that is even remotely difficult.

So Lauren gets up with the wait staff and she starts dancing.  Before long, she’s wearing a hat made of feathers.  And drawing quite the crowd. 

Before I could really comprehend what was happening, Lauren and I were standing at our table and posing for photos with a large group of men.  Who formed a line.  To get their pictures taken.  With us.

There was also a large group of others surrounding us, taking pictures.  (Thankfully, I took a good number of photos of the paparazzi.  So funny.  Can’t wait to share them.) 

Here’s something we’ve learned since coming to Africa: girls with blonde hair and blue eyes are a bit of a rarity.      

Especially to a group of men from Saudi Arabia, which is where the majority of our fan club hailed from.

It was one of those situations that you could only ever get into with Lauren.  You all know exactly what I’m talking about.  Just so unusual that you can’t really believe that you’re there and so funny that you’ll be rehashing it for years to come. 

The night was magic.  Pure magic.  (Plus a bangin’ Shakria jam and one feathered hat.)

Brazil vs. Ivory Coast

On Sunday, we let our Lobert side shine.  No, we didn’t each chips and dip.  We went shopping!

The mall that is a just a few minutes from our hotel hosts an African craft market on Sundays.  It was a very traditional setting, with lots of different vendors setting up their goods in a booth, encouraging you to “come here, look.  Good prices!”  Of course, haggling is encouraged. 

There was so much to look at!  Everything from beaded jewelry to wooden bowls to vuvuzelas and t-shirts.  We picked up quite a few pretty things before stopping for lunch.  After lunch, we wandered around the mall for a while.  Eventually, we came upon another craft market.  This one was even bigger than the last!  We were rapidly running out of time, but we took a quick stroll through.  Lauren is craving a scarf made of African fabric that costs less than 700 Rand.  We’re still looking.

The hotel shuttle to the Brazil vs. Ivory Coast game was scheduled to leave at 4:30 pm.  We got back from shopping, packed up our warm clothes and headed out to the shuttle.  We neglected to take African time into account: everything runs 15 to 30 minutes later than we’re told because, well…because it isn’t being run by a bunch of neurotic Americans, I think.

We left closer to 5:00 pm.  We’ve been arriving at games with plenty of time to spare, anyway.  Our shuttle drivers get us there quite early, as the traffic to Soccer City is rather bad (although it seems to be getting better) and it gives us time to take in the sights and get something to eat and find our seats and oblige the strange men who ask for their pictures with the two blonde girls before the start of the match.      

Brazil fans are a lively bunch.  Very vocal, very proud.  Ivory Coast had quite the crowd backing them, too.  It didn’t take us long to learn that Africans cheer for their own country first and for the other African nations second.  Combine the Brazilian fans and the Ivory Coast fans together and you get a very loud Soccer City.  It was easily the loudest match that we’ve been to.  The vuvuzelas were out in full force at that match; whenever Ivory Coast had a free kick, the building would pulse with the hum of the vuvuzelas. 

Despite having what was classified as a category 2 ticket, our seats were up high in the second row.  It didn’t really matter much, actually.  I doubt that there is a bad seat in Soccer City.  Soccer can definitely be appreciated from higher up than is the case for some sports; it is actually much easier to see plays developing from higher up in the stands.  It’s just harder, if not impossible, to read the names on the back of the jerseys. 

It wasn’t anywhere near as cold at Soccer City for this match, an 8:30 pm start, than it was during the Argentina vs. South Korea match, which started at 1:30 pm.  We brought extra layers and our hats and mittens but really didn’t need any of it.  Isn’t that how it always works when you’re prepared?!

In the pleasant temperatures, we munched on crisps and cheese dogs again.  We laughed at the very, very intense Brazilian woman losing her head and screaming about some call (or lack of call) by the referee every few minutes.  We met a pair of Norwegians. We watched Kaka get ejected from the game.  We saw a very, very strong performance from an amazing Brazilian team.  The Ivory Coast is a decent squad, but Brazil was just so much better.   

It was a busy, busy day.  When the shuttle returned us to our hotel, we called our daddy to wish him a Happy Father’s Day and fell asleep shortly thereafter.  Fortunately, Monday’s itinerary was wide open but for dinner reservations at 8:30.  Time to sleep in!  Time to relax!  Time for Lauren to do homework!  Or maybe just time to go shopping again.