Cape Town – in which country are we, again?

Cape Town is like a parallel Universe. It looks like Anytown; Auckland, Amsterdam, Zurich, and Boston. The city is clean, organized and modern – it doesn’t even have a unique smell . But beyond the brilliant surface it really is South Africa, the Rainbow Nation.

Our trip started two days ago with a 20-hour flight from New York to Cape Town via Johannesburg. Arriving in Cape Town, Eduardo’s first comment was “It doesn’t look interesting.” And it doesn’t. The personality is more British/Dutch than African, with its terraced Victorian houses, boxy gray office buildings and glass-walled high-rises. They even have a Waterfront shopping center that looks like a larger New York South Street Seaport.We could just as well be in New England, and all the Africans on the streets could be immigrants.
On the way from the airport, we passed by a shantytown with thousands of plywood huts with corrugated tin roofs, which sadly is more what we expected South Africa to look like. But downtown Cape Town, cowering beneath the impressive flat-topped Table mountain, looks more like a brand new doll house.

I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up reading white South African writer Andre Brink’s books about (and against) the apartheid era, but it’s hard not to notice the divide between the rich, mostly white people who own businesses and the poor, mostly blacks and coloreds (an accepted name for the rest). It just seems unfair. With only 20 years since the dissolution of apartheid, large steps have been made, and there’s a definite respect between the different groups. But I guess I just wish the power would lie with the original countrymen.

Thank heavens for the World Cup! Because with the World Cup all South Africans seem to come together in their support for Bafana Bafana! Go South Africa!

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World Cup Fever!

Since first landing in Johannesburg, one thing is clear – this country is ablaze with World Cup fever! Everywhere you go businesses are promoting the World Cup. All advertising has a flavor of football, shop windows display South African flags with digital countdowns of days and hours until kickoff. People on the street are wearing their yellow Bafana Bafana t-shirts in support of the South African national team. All pubs, restaurants and shops show football matches on their flat screen TVs.

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In Cape Town, street signs are pointing towards the stadium and the locations for the free public screenings of the matches. In the ticket sales hub, long lines of folks were camping out for two days in wait for releases of new tickets for the Cape Town matches where most of the South Africa matches will take place. The food stores even have free tastings of foods from all the 32 participating countries, one country per day – today Swiss cheese fondue, tomorrow Slovakian potato cakes.

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Even the newspapers are full of World Cup stories, for example that the sangomas, healers, were brought to the Johannesburg stadium, Soccer City, to bless the venue and the World Cup, and make sure that everything goes well and stays secure.

Two days ago, we spent a whole day in line with a bunch of South Africans, waiting to buy more tickets. Although the wait was long, this was one of the highlights of the trip so far. The South Africans are good people. They are friendly, calm, patient, and generous. As they say, they don’t expect any terrorist acts during the World Cup because they don’t have any bones to pick with any other countries. They just get along with everyone.

We’re getting increasingly caught up in the excitement. Thirteen more days until the games start. And we just picked up our tickets two days ago. Sheer joy y muchos goles!!

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Arriving by Police Escort in Nelspruit

Nelspruit may not be on everybody’s must-see lists when traveling, not even those traveling in South Africa. But besides the non-existent scene, this town sits on the threshold to Kruger National Park, and hosts four matches of the 2010 World Cup, so it is on the map, and yes people do come here.

Eduardo and I ended up in Nelspruit after driving (sometimes in circles) from Johannesburg through dense fog, heavy rain and through a rainbow arch. Reaching the town well after dark, and not seeing a single sign pointing towards the town center, we decided to ask for the way at a gas station.

“Sorry, no, I don’t know Van Wijk Street, but I’ll take you to the police station, and you can find out there.”

Incredibly typical for South Africa – everyone’s nice. Everyone’s beyond helpful. So this South African gentleman drives has BMW ahead of us to the Nelspruit police station and asks the policemen to assist us. I’m not sure if there’s no crime in Nelspruit or the policemen were just bored, but they actually escorted us through the town to Van Wijk Street (Van Wyck, for us New Yorkers).

And we arrived at our hostel by police escort…

The Swaziland Football Team

Unfortunately, they did not qualify for the 2010 World cup.

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Teasing Football Supporters

“Brazil is going to lose tonight!”
“Argentina 2 – Mexico 0”
“Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland – Better luck next time”

There’s more to the World Cup than just watching football. A lot of fun can be had with the supporters that often take their country’s successes very, very personally.

The free condoms that were handed out in the stadiums played a big role in our games. Eduardo was especially keen on inflating them and writing a message on them, then throwing them out into the sea of spectators and see who laughed at them, and who got annoyed.

Most people laughed, even if they didn’t agree with the message.

But many Brazilians could not take the joke and were offended, aggressive and angry. At the Portugal-Brazil match, we scribbled “Brazil 0 – Portugal 2” on a “balloon”, and posed for photographs with unknowing Brazilian fans. I was even filmed for a TV show dancing with a bunch of Brazilian guys, showing my condom predicting a Brazilian loss.

When they realized that we were only kidding around with them, they were furious. One guy tried to kick Eduardo, but he was so drunk he fell flat on his butt.

Unfortunately predicting football scores is not our forte, and we will not become rich as World Cup Oracles. None of our predictions came true, but our condoms will always be remembered.

(And congratulations Spain!!!)