Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Walking Safari near Kruger National Park

We left Pretoria in the morning after the United States game against England in Rustenberg and drove north toward our first major tourist adventure, four day walking safari in the very far northern section of Kruger National Park.  Our drive began on highway 1 through Polokwane to Louis Trichardt, a/k/a/Makhado, where we turned east to Thohoyandou; there we spent the night at the Bouganvilla Lodge.  I had persuaded myself that this location might be culturally interesting, but it was a very long haul from Pretoria and we arrived exhausted, with very little light remaining, so there was no chance to explore the town beyond finding something to eat.  Leaving Thoyoyando the next morning, we began to see the local population in less developed contexts than during our previous days in and around Pretoria. 

We entered Kruger itself and began to see occasional wild game including zebra; but we had to make good time to meet out guides at lunchtime in the Makuleke Concession just north of the official park boundary.  I had aimed to have our Kruger safari adventure be in the park itself, where the prices were lower, but those tours were all booked up by the time we knew what our game schedule was; I did research the best I could and chose this outfit because they were able to match our availability dates, placed precisely between the first and second schedule US. games. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Impressions from USA v. England

We were off for our walking safari the following morning, so I dashed off a few impressions from our first game of the World Cup - England v. USA in Rustenberg

We were joined by our hosts, the Welsby-Karps, as well as Meg Macy, an American based in Durban and her friend Val.  Meg and Val (and Susan Welsby) traveled in our car while Nancy and the teens all traveled with Craig.  Traveling to the game, it seemed that most of the fans (including us) were on the N4 from Pretoria (and Johannesberg).  This is a one lane road most of the way, with toll plazas every 40 kilometers. So, at the Marikawa Plaza about just before Rustenberg, there was a huge backup, maybe 45 minutes to travel a mere 2 or 3 km.

We arrived in Rustenberg hoping to find something to eat before the game -- I had some listings noted down -- but it was getting a bit late and it turned out that we had to go beyond Rustenberg to the stadium, so we made a beeline for the stadium parking areas. The cars were divided into several park-and-ride areas, and one park-and-walk area.  The arrival system was well-organized with buses and vans to take fans to the stadium.  We aimed for the park-and-walk, but the directions were confusing and we ended up about 2 kilometers from the stadium. Still, it was a straight shot down the R565 from our parking area, so most of our party walked; Val and Meg chose to ride, and they got to the stadium first and back to the car first as well.

Walking down the 565, local residents were out by their houses, blowing vuvuzelas and cheering the fans as they walked toward the stadium.  (South Africans have gone out of their way everywhere, as they have noticed us, to tell us how welcome we are in South Africa and to hope that we are having a good time).  We got to the stadium 90 minutes before kickoff and joined the party outside in the bars along the 565.  This was our dinner as well as our drinking (when we got into the ticket area, the Budweiser sponsorship meant that was our only choice, not that South African beer tends to be much better)  There was great fan spirit, mostly partisan and bedecked in jerseys, many England fans dresses as crusaders.

American embassy blues band house party

We capped off our second day in South Africa by attending a house party for a blues band consisting of guys affiliated with the American embassy (including our host, Craig Karp).  

Like all such groups with diplomatic ties, they are breaking up as their members are moving on to new postings this summer.  So this was their last hurrah -- and a nice hurrah it was.  Good music, good dancing.

Two others from the audience, US fan Meg and England fan Val, are going to ride out to Rustenberg with us this afternoon.  The US Embassy is sending a busload to the game, but we have decided to drive so that we can get home quickly and get an early start tomorrow -- we will have a few hours driving up to Thohoyandou, whence we will leave for our safari in Kruger National Park.

Voortrekker Monument and the Pretoria Fan Fest ... NOT

We began our second full day in South Africa by sleeping in and, hopefully, completing our recovery from jet lag.  In the afternoon we visited the Voortrekker Monument, a rather ugly structure atop a hill overlooking Pretoria.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Our first day in South Africa: The kickoff concert!

Our trip to South Africa was uneventful.  Eight hours to Amsterdam, a painless transfer at Schipol (no need even to go through customs, as we have often had to do on international travel recently even just switching planes).  The plane from Amsterdam was full of orange shirts, but there was a smattering of fans from other countries.  I had a nice chat with a young Honduran fan who had already been going 24 hours from San Pedro Sula.  Our friend Craig met us at the airport and guided us to his home in Pretoria.

On Thursday morning, we headed down to the Brooklyn Mall to take care of the mundane details - get our tickets, pick up a local cell, and get some local cash.   Craig and his wife Susan had snagged tickets to the kickoff celebration at the Orlando stadium in Johannesburg,

So Joe and Nancy and I went along with them and their children Shona and Theo (shown pictured with Joe)

Charming airline reservations

For our internal flights between Cape Town and Johannesberg, we have been reserving on Mango Airlines.  They have a mandatory "green fee" (not much, so hard to complain), and then there is the option of taking your bike on the plane for an extra $25.

The web site operates bizarrely. Unlike American airlines, where the low prices are available early on, then steadily go up, lower fares appear pretty much at random, so if you don't like the fare you see one day, hold on and try the next and it may well go down.  In the end, we can fly 4 people roundtrip between Johannesberg and Cape Town for $520 or $605 depending whether we are following the Group C winner or the Group C runner-up. Not bad for such a long flight (800 miles).

Our route to the World Cup in South Africa

I was introduced to soccer in the late 60's at Reed College in Portland.  I grew up a political activist, otherwise very much a nerd.  But our school had a bunch of prep school graduates plus one ringer every year, our British exchange student, so we actually had a reasonably strong soccer team.  Some of my friends played on the team, so I did too.  We regularly beat University of Portland, for example; this was before the days of Clive Charles and their strong soccer program.   Its program, and Portland State's, revolved around their students from the Middle East.   I played a bit of intramural soccer during law school at the University of Chicago, and a bit of pickup soccer with Antioch Law students when I first got to DC.  Then I totally forgot about the sport until my older son started playing Stoddert; as a supposedly experienced adult, I started coaching.  Slowly but surely I got hooked again, playing pickup and watching our two children playing recreational and travel soccer.