June 1 to July 11, 2010
05.31.2010 - 07.11.2010
WHERE I'VE BEEN SO FAR
Once again it was a frantic last second frenzy to try to finish everything before I left for my trip. This time it climaxed in 48 hours without sleep and my dad ripping up the back seat of the car at the airport, minutes to my flight, trying to find the very important flash drive I was sure I had lost. Fortunately I made the flight, found the flash and managed to get some sleep on the plane.
I arrived in Johannesburg May 31. My first couchsurfing host Brett was so nice as to pick me up at the airport (For those who don’t know about couchsurfing it is a hospitality exchange website, www.couchsurfing.org, my profile: http://www.couchsurfing.org/profile.html?id=JX2AKP ). This was a huge help in Johannesburg because everything is so far apart and public transport is often either not available or not safe. The only other option taxis, were ridiculously expensive (airport to center $60!).
I arrived 10 days before the World Cup started. I took it easy and the first few days and just got a feel for the city. I pretty much slept straight for the first 48 hours. I stayed over a week with Mark, my second host in Johannesburg. He was a great host. I really felt at home.
A few days after I landed in Johannesburg my brother’s friend Marco arrived from Calgary. We spent a few days sightseeing and managed to go to an exhibition game between Portugal and Mozambique.
Marco and his host Tamara met up with my host Mark and me after he arrived in Johannesburg
The World Cup started on June 10. I stayed in Johannesburg for the first 3 days. I watched the the first game with South Africa at a huge fanpark in the city which was pretty crazy.
Opening Game at the Sandton Fanpark
After Johannesburg I joined Marco and his friend Edgar from New York to Kruger National Park in the northeast of the country. They had rented a car. The park was pretty cool, you just drive around and stop whenever you see something. We didn’t see any of the big cats but we saw lots of everything else.
We spent 3 nights there then we stopped in Polokwane, a little city on the way back to Johannesburg, for the 2nd Mexico game versus France (Marco and Edgar had tickets for all the Mexico games).
Next I took a train on my own from Johannesburg to Durban on the South coast. It’s a nice city with a great beachfront and hot weather. I went to two games there. Marco and Edgar flew to Durban so I met up with them for the first two days I was there. Then they flew back North for the last of the Mexican games. After about 5 days in Durban I went West down the coast to Port Elizabeth, a smaller coastal city where I went to the first playoff round game between Uruguay/Korea. My host was a Swedish guy Johan, who is now going from South Africa back to Sweden by land, taking the same route I am. Hopefully I’m able to meet up with him somewhere along the way. I spent 4 nights there then took a bus to my last stop Cape Town on the west coast.
Celebrating Swedish "Midsummer's" Holiday in Port Elizabeth
Marco was in Cape Town for a few days before he flew home so I met up with him when I arrived (Edgar had flown home already). Cape Town was my favourite city. It really looks cool with the big mountain sheltering the city center on one side and the bay on the other. The center is really compact so it’s really easy to get around and there were always lots of fans around so it was really exciting. I spent the last 2 weeks of the World Cup in Cape Town. I wasn’t able to find a couchsurfing host who could host me the whole time so I ended up staying with 5 different people, it was a lot of moving but they were all cool. I spent the days watching the last games of the World Cup and sightseeing. There is alot to do in Cape Town and it is all easy to get to. For a couple days inbetween the quarter and semifinal I visited Stellenbosch a student town in the wine region about an hour out of town. I watched the final at some bar in Cape Town. The fanpark and most places with a TV were completely full.
Robbin Island Prison off Cape Town
WORLD CUP 2010 OVERVIEW
I had planned to come to Africa in about a year or two but I fast-tracked the trip in order to be here for the World Cup. Despite the stress this caused I’m glad I did because it was pretty cool. I think South Africa was the perfect place to have the World Cup. There was an excitement that wouldn’t have been in a country that was used to having major tournaments. People here were really friendly and happy to have so many guests in their country.
I had tickets to 2 games that I bought before I came but now I wish I hadn’t. Most of the group stage games were not sold out. It was easy to get tickets for free by just waiting in front of the stadium before a game. I was able to go to 2 more games doing this (Mexico vs France and Netherlands vs Japan).
Netherlands vs Japan
I watched alot of the games at the fanparks, which were pretty cool, especially when South Africa was playing. It was too bad South Africa didn’t pull off a miracle and qualify in their last game because it would have been really crazy.
In general the organization and infrastructure in the host cities was really good. The new stadiums were really nice and they had some free shuttle services that were useful. Police were all over the place around the clock.
I must say though it was a cool experience but “once is enough”. I don’t plan to go to another World Cup any time soon or even watch one on TV. After spending a month watching soccer pretty much every day I’ve become a bit disguted with it. It seems to be a game full of cheaters, liars, snakes and babies. I don’t know how some of those players can come home and look their wives/children in the eyes, when they’ve just rolled around on the ground crying after tripping on air. Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and the Latin American countries seem to be the most crooked so most of the time I cheered for anyone but them.
I didn’t really know alot about Apartheid, Nelson Mandela etc before I came. But from going to a few museums and talking to people I am realizing what a big thing it was. Basically apartheid categorized everyone into 4 categories, white, black, asian and coloured (mixed race) and tried to keep them as seperate as possible. Initially the idea was “each to their own” but it gradually got a bit oppressive. Apartheid of course ended long ago but blacks are still typically poorer and fill the menial jobs. Lots of whites have black housekeepers, gardeners, painters etc (labour is really cheap). They are making efforts to get more black people in middle class jobs by making minimum quotas for the number of black people that are hired in companies. Alot of white people I have met don’t like this very much because they all seem to have a story of someone leaving the country because they were tired of losing jobs to people who were less qualified than them. Another thing white people seem to complain about is taxes. They say only 10% of the population pays taxes of which 90% are white.
Although the Europeans in South Africa did some pretty unforgivable things the one bright side I think is that their influence through the years has been a major reason that South Africa is now the most developed country in Africa.
Now what everyone wants to know, “was it dangerous?”. Well when I arrived at the airport in Johannesburg I was basically paranoid, thinking everyone was going to rob me. Within only a couple days though it became obvious that the image I had of South Africa was pretty exagerated. There are places where you can definitely get robbed but for the most part if you avoid those places, pay attention and use common sense the chances of an incident are pretty low.
Overall I would say South Africa is a great place to live. It is really very developed and your money goes a long way. Houses are about a third of what they are in Canada for the same quality and everyone I stayed with seemed to have a housekeeper. The weather is mostly hot and you have beaches, mountains and game reserves all nearby. Also, people are generally very friendly and easy going.
Couchsurfer Thabo and me in Soweto, a huge township outside of Johannesburg
There are some issues though. Corruption seems to be a big problem. From what I’ve heard it sounds like the government is a bit ridiculous. They seem to do whatever they want but still get voted in again because the majority of the population aren’t critical enough or are unwilling to vote for any other party. Also, it is a bit crazy the lengths people must go to for security. Alot of the houses in the Johannesburg suburbs were protected by huge walls with electric fence and often communities had security guards and regular patrols. Alot of cars have gps trackers so that they can be tracked down if they are stolen. Something that has been really annoying has been the cold. In winter it rarely gets below 5 degrees but there is no heating in the homes so you can never get away from it. Whatever temperature it is outside is what it will be inside. I even caught a cold. Also, AIDS is of course a big problem.
One of the biggest surprises of South Africa was the food. I was amazed at the quality and variety of South African food.
There is all kinds of stuff but my favorites are...
biltong – basically jerky but really nice
potjiekos ("poike") - a stew cooked outside in a big black pot
bunny chow – its half a loaf of bread hallowed out and filled with curry, its cheap and you can carry it
peppermint crisp – a dessert cake
meat pies – they sell them all over the place, “game” pie is really good
I have to also mention that South Africans really like their “Braais”(BBQs). They cook all kinds of meat and sausages slowly over a natural fire. I was able to go to a few.
My first braai at Mark's in Johannesburg
Something that has been really nice so far on this trip is that I bought a cellphone. It has come in handy alot more than I thought. It especially makes arranging couchsurfing hosts alot easier. I managed to get a phone that should work all through Africa for $30. Another thing that is really nice is travelling without a deadline. This is the first time I’ve flown overseas without a return ticket. I don’t have to rush and be in such a hurry. I’m able to enjoy the trip alot more.
So there is my first blog, finally. I am already working on the next one now so it should be up soon.
Edgar had a little tummy ache...what beautiful scenery