Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 22 – Back home to the land of the free?

We all had varying theories on how to best avoid jetlag on the trip back, mine being that you slept as much as possible on the first flight, being about a five hour flight from Johannesburg to Ghana, another two hour nap or so on the flight from Ghana to New York and then stay awake from New York to Portland. Marcos insisted on staying awake the entire Johannesburg to Ghana flight and doing all of his sleeping on the Ghana to New York flight, which would be immediately adjusting to Pacific Standard time. All I knew is no matter what his plan was he was probably going to be sleeping for the majority of every flight, regardless. And waiting to sleep until the Ghana to New York flight meant going nearly thirty hours with no sleep. Either way, I stuck to my plan and spent most of my first flight catching some z’s.

Once we arrived in Ghana we had to wait on the back nine of the runway for a bus to come pick us up and shuttle us to the terminal; we were way to far to walk the distance and even if anyone was up for it we were in the midst of a proper rainfall. Once we reached the terminal we had a few different airport officials helping us do what we needed to get done, the only problem was they were all telling us different things. The first guy had us fill out a customs and immigration slip, even though we were only in transit. The next guy told us we didn’t need to fill that out we needed to sign our info in this big notebook they had just sitting on a table. My first thought was, ‘what kind of information on you putting in this book for anyone to see?’ Their system was pretty old school, like 1940’s old school, and lacked any worries of identity theft, which I found both interesting and a cause for concern. Once through customs we gathered our bags and followed the guy who helped us through customs as he was leading us towards our gate we needed in order to transfer to New York, this involved leaving the terminal we arrived in, walking outside around the corner of the building, up a large flight of stairs and in to the departures terminal. The whole time we’re in the midst of a deluge and the roof’s leaking all over the airport, granted it was about 75 degrees with 300% humidity.

Once outside, the airport official helping us started screaming at a swarm of “We love Americans” locals who just wanted to help us with our luggage, get us umbrellas, and show us where we were going, for a small tip of course, to get back and leave us alone. They did so until the official went back inside and then they were on us like white on rice. We refused to let them help us, they did anyway, perhaps the most interesting being the guy trying to push our luggage cart while Micah positioned himself so the guy couldn’t push it and insisted he had it and didn’t need any help the entire way to the terminal, but the guy would awkwardly position himself to get a hand on the handle anyway. They were surprised when we all refused to pay them, there were about six other Americans in our group transferring to the same flight as us as well.

Once inside the departures terminal we had five hours to figure out what was going on and get ourselves through customs, so we were in no real hurry. There was a large line of people, whom we assumed were not Americans and not on the same flight as us, so we grabbed a seat and started to relax. After about fifteen minutes or so we realized that entire line was one large group of Americans, some sort of African drum band or something. We jumped up, and shadowed their every move, never mind that this was a female African drum band. Their check in process involved a guy standing by a scale who would weigh everyone’s bag as they walked by him. Our large shared bag that we’d brought solely for bringing home souvenirs and things purchased along the trip was too heavy for four kg, so he told us to take our 4kg and disperse it across the other four bags. Having absolutely no reference for how much 4 kg was we just started taking the heaviest things out and putting them in other bags. Second time through his line was a charm.

The next step of the process was talking to the Delta front desk concierge, and by front desk concierge I mean person at a podium with no computer. They asked a few questions, mainly where are we coming from, where we were going and what the purpose of our trip was. Considering the U.S. was knocked out of the World Cup by Ghana, the country we were now in and the last African nation still in the tournament, I decided to try two methods on getting past these security officials. The first, and one I used on the concierge after she inquired who I was supporting in the World Cup, was simply answering “Ghana, The Black Star’s. Show dem Ghana, show dem!” Breezed right past her. Next line of security was bag checkers. No x-ray machines or fancy bag scanning equipment, remember I said this place was straight out of 1940, just two people that would open all your bags and rifle through them. Not only did this feel slightly uncomfortable, as you’re standing in this massive line of people while some stranger investigates your dirty underwear, but it was also frustrating for me because I consider myself a world class suitcase packer. I knew there was no way this guy was going to rebuild my suitcase the way I had it. I’d added four bottles of wine to my suitcase without taking any of my clothes out, and only did I have the smallest suitcase out of the four of us, I also had the biggest wardrobe. As he finished his search I watched him continually fumble with putting it back together, he couldn’t even fit the wine back in properly regardless of there being clothes around it or not. I offered to fix it for him, as there was still a massive line of people behind me waiting to have their bags searched, but he’d already inspected it and I was no longer allowed to touch it. He got it somewhat close, asked me if it was good, I realized he wasn’t going to be able to do any better and told him it was fine, all the while hoping when I reclaimed it in New York it wouldn’t be dripping wine out the hinges. This is also where I tried my hand at the second method of security distraction, demand pity. Not sure how much alcohol I could legally bring back to the states and thinking four bottles was quite a bit, I demanded he had to be nice to me in a show of gratitude for his country knocking mine out of the tournament. Never mind the fact that I was decorated head to toe in Holland gear, and this was the day the mighty Clockwork Orange were to knock the most feared, number one team in the world, Brazil, out of the tournament.

After baggage check we made our way to the gate, which involved three more security checkpoints. Two put-your-carry-on-through-the-scanner-machine-take-your-shoes-off-and-walk-through-the-x-ray-machine checkpoints and one simple check to make sure your carry on met the size requirements. Carlos admitted he hated Ghana because of the such high security standards, having to take his broken toe boot off and completely apart in order to pass security. He seemed surprised when I said it had nothing to do with Ghana and security was so tight because we were going back to the states on this flight, but insisted it was Ghana’s fault and they sucked. Bitterness from The Yanks being knocked out of the Cup by them I’m sure.

The flight from Ghana to New York seemed to be never ending. But it also wasn’t full and people were able to switch seats and relocate to wherever they pleased. Carlos insisted he’d bought the seat between us for his sticks, to which I claimed it was the best $2,000 he’d ever spent. Only to have to stewardess come by moments later and tell them he couldn’t keep them there, then whisked them away to the front of the plane. Though I didn’t particularly want to leave South Africa, once we touched back down on American soil at JFK and I was able to take my cell phone off airplane mode for the first time in a month, it was a pretty good feeling. Having all that power back at my fingertips, feeling smart again knowing whenever I was asked a question I didn’t know I could quickly google the answer on my phone, quite exhilarating.

There was a traffic jam on the runway, which saw us getting to our gate about forty-five minutes late, which ate in to our time to get off the plane, make it through customs and board our final flight home, a time frame that was already pushing it with our two and a half hour layover, now chiseled down to just under two hours. Everything seemed to be flowing smoothly and quickly. From past experiences of traveling outside of the country it always seemed that returning back to the states was the most difficult. Getting in to foreign countries was a breeze, the most security and questions were thrown at you once you tried to return home to the states. That wasn’t the case this time and immigration went more like I’d always asked why it couldn’t be like that. I walked up to the immigration officer, he took one look at me, one look at my passport, asked “You go to the World Cup?”

“Yep.” I confirmed.

“Bummer about losing to Ghana…then having to fly through there,” *stamp! “Welcome home.”

The real adventure started after baggage claim. The unfortunate thing was having to reclaim our baggage at every stop and not being able to just check it all the way through to Portland. We switched airlines in Ghana and had to reclaim it there, then had to pick it up so we could take it through customs in New York. Carlos had finagled himself a wheelchair transport from a Delta employee, which was nice as we now had about an hour to make it through customs baggage check, security and make it to our gate and she could get us through secret doors and the front of security lines. She said we’d be fine to catch our flight as long as we got our bags within fifteen minutes, it took closer to twenty but she still insisted we looked to be in good shape. Somewhere between the baggage carousel and the customs baggage checkpoint Marcos managed to lose his customs paperwork. Being the last of the four of us through, he was now stuck and in the gray area of the country, similar to international waters I suppose. He wasn’t one hundred percent back in to the U.S. yet and we couldn’t go back for him since we’d already cleared customs. We tossed our bags in the baggage room, thinking there’d be no way that their convoluted system would work efficiently enough for us to see our bags roll off the carousel in Portland, and waited for Marcos to figure things out. The lady pushing Carlos around grew increasingly stressed and impatient, telling us we were going to miss our flight. We tried to figure out what the best solution was going to be, not wanting to leave Marcos all alone but also not wanting miss our flight. The first option was for Carlos and I to go ahead while Micah waited for Marcos. The Delta lady insisted there’d be no way they’d make it to the flight on time because going with her was going to get us there quicker. Micah then came up with the most logical idea, being the Ortiz boys were getting picked up by their parents and Micah and I by my parents, it made the most sense that we went on and he waited. Then, once we got to the plane, we’d be able to stall and at least inform them the other two were only a short ways behind us. Carlos immediately shot down that idea and said he didn’t want to have to spend any more time in the airport. With the outcome quickly becoming all of us ending up at the airport overnight, and all wanting to go home rather than have our trip extended another day, I made the executive decision that Carlos and I were going to move on so we could at least inform the flight crew the others would be along shortly. Off we went, cutting lines, taking down velvet ropes and going in to uncharted hallways. Just as we’d made it through the security checkpoint and I’d just finished tying my shoes we saw Marcos and Micah run by, just arriving at the security checkpoint. The line for security looked to be about a thirty minute wait so I looked at the Delta lady to see if she could get them to the front of the line, but before I could even ask she said there was nothing she could do. Knowing Marcos had cleared customs and they were now to security was a bit of a relief though. Carlos, being powered in his wheelchair by the Delta lady, and I took off double-timing it to our gate with only five minutes or so left until the plane was scheduled to depart. Not more than a few minutes later Micah and Marcos caught up to us, winded and sweating but back with us. The terminal was completely empty and everyone seemed to be seated and waiting for us once we got on the plane. However the most important thing being we made it on the plane.

We blasted off, had a nice aerial view of New York city, and were quickly flying at a rate of 480 miles per hour, give or take about twenty. Rumor had it the flight was equipped with wifi so I reached for my laptop as soon as they told me in doing so we weren’t all going to go in to a fiery tailspin and plummet 36,800 feet to the ground. It didn’t take me long to remember we were back in the states though and the wifi wasn’t free. I opted for a movie, which also wasn’t free. All the same movies that had been free on every other flight of this trip were all of a sudden six dollars to watch. I decided to scratch the movie idea and feed my newly found bejeweled addiction, which ended up costing five dollars if you wanted to play, a game which was also free on every other flight. It only seems fitting that the baggage carts you could rent for five dollars at JFK were free at every other airport we’d been to as well. Every flight we’d taken prior to this one we were also served two full meals, two or three snacks, and there was always a self-serve snack pile in the back of the plane. After being asked what I’d like to drink and if I’d like to order something off the menu or would possible like a little snack I remembered that even if it was a six hour coast-to-coast flight I was still going to have to pay for food if I wanted it. The cheapest thing on the menu was a bag of chips for five dollars. So much for being the “land of the free.”

Our pilot then came on and admitted to having a lead foot, claiming he’d have us to Portland an hour ahead of schedule, then followed through on his promise. So, at 9:36 p.m. on July 2nd, 2010 I stepped out of the plane and sent foot back on Portland soil, or airport carpet as the case may be. At 10:36 I filed a lost baggage claim with Delta, along with Micah and Carlos who had also checked their bags the same way as me. Marcos, who checked his at the security checkpoint once he’d realized he couldn’t carry it on due to the beers he was smuggling back for me, checked his at the security check point. His made it, none of ours did. At 10:56 I was seated at McMenamins Tavern and Pool Hall on NW 23rd. 11:00 p.m. I was drinking a hammerhead with a spicy chicken burrito on its way. I had to give Micah a hard time for ordering a burger after we’d spent the last three weeks eating burgers and using our expert senses, intellect and exploring skills which would put the likes of Lewis and Clark and Christopher Columbus to shame, in search of Mexican food. The only place I’d found Mexican was at Spurs, a Denny’s-like restaurant chain, at Suncoast Casino in Durban. I ordered the only Mexican dish they had on the menu, which was fajitas, my least favorite of all Mexican dishes. Surprisingly though they were the best fajitas I’d ever had. A burrito is what I’d been craving though. At 5:45 p.m. July 3rd everyone’s bag was delivered to them except for mine. At 9:36 p.m. July 3rd, 24 hours after I landed, my baggage claim code still told me they hadn’t located my bag so I called Delta. The lady told me it had just landed in Portland and would be delivered sometime the following afternoon. At 2:04 a.m. on July 4th my vacation was officially over when Russel, from Delta airlines, snuck through the dark of our driveway, crept up on the deck and left my bag outside our front door. Then called me and left me a voicemail to tell me he’d just done so.

It’s been fun, South Africa. I can’t wait to come back and visit you again soon. I have to admit, there's nothing quite like sleeping in my own bed though and no matter how good crocodile and impala meat may be, I sure missed the delicious home cooked meals my roommate makes. This whole backwards system of driving on the left side of the car and right side of the road is mighty weird though, it's taking me some time adjusting to this oddball way of driving.

Not sure what to do now besides countdown the days until my next big trip, Austin, Texas in eighteen days to visit my cousin and watch Manchester United play the MLS All-Star team. I had a lot of fun writing and taking pictures about this trip and imagine I will do the same for Texas. So, for those of you who enjoy reading about my travels, stay tune for the next episode scheduled to start on July 22nd. And perhaps if I get enough emails, texts, and phone calls from you all asking to keep writing maybe I’ll post snippets of other things I’m working on between now and then.

Added a few pics to the random album, including the plane we flew home on and Marcos encountering a Sounders fan after 30 sleepless hours.

Day 21 - Last Day In South Africa, Land of the Carnivore

Our flight home didn’t depart until 11:30 p.m., which gave us a full day to take care of any last minute things we wanted to take care of before we left. Most of us were just looking to ditch the last little but of our rand and find some last minute gifts for friends and family. Micah wanted to go to a market to find some more traditional type gifts and Heather had recommended one for us to go to. What an experience that was, these guys made used car salesmen look like amateurs. It was pretty annoying for those of us who didn’t want to buy anything and were just looking around. Immediately as we walked in there were guys all over us heckling us, trying to take us to their booth, “Come, my cousin, come. You must look at what I have for you. I give you good price.”

There was certainly some interesting stuff there, wood carvings, stone sculptures, hand made jewelry, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Yes, they even had a shop of lingerie. And I’m pretty sure it was all used, at that. Back in Cape Town the Ortiz boys had found soccer jerseys for a South African soccer team that they wanted, the Kaiser Chiefs. Which happens to be a band they like that was named after the soccer team. The jerseys were cool and I thought that would be a cool thing to bring back as a souvenir, a team that you wouldn’t be able to find in the states. I’d gotten online that night and did some research and found the Orlando Pirates had the coolest looking jerseys, in my opinion. And wouldn’t you know it, I found a “Just Do It” shop selling one. I sent expert negotiator Micah in to do the dirty work for me and he talked the guy down from 450 rand to 300. He made me proud. As we left we had to walk by the same high pressure salesmen that we passed on the way in, only this time they upped the ante and didn’t want my money nearly as much as they wanted my black and orange Nike New York City Marathon lunarglide shoes. Had I wanted anything, or even had another pair of shoes in the car I could have changed in to, I would have given them up. It was quite entertaining to see how badly all those guys wanted them. Micah gave up his dirty old running shoes for an armful of loot.

After the market we hit up the one main thing I had left on my checklist, Carnivore. For those of you who haven’t been privileged enough to experience Carnivore all I should really have to say about is that it’s a restaurant, I’ll let you fill in the blanks as to what’s on the menu. It’s not just your typical steak house, however. Carnivore serves the finer meats, those that only true carnivorous connoisseurs could enjoy. Their meats range from beef, chicken and pork to such luxury meats as crocodile, kudu, zebra and impala. Like Nicks In The Sticks, there is no menu here. You simply walk in, get seated, order a drink, then a bowl of soup, loaf of bread and salad appear in front of you. Not exactly what I was expecting, but the numerous waiters walking around with miniature machetes and spits with huge carcasses cooked to perfection kept my hopes up. After I convinced the clean up crew that I was in no way an herbivore the mayhem began. A hot steal plate was set down in front of me and I was immediately mobbed by the wandering spitters (I’m not sure if that’s the technical term for the guys carrying the huge spits of meat, but we’ll roll with it.) The following conversation took place in the span of about 30 seconds, and keep in mind they just walk to your table with this massive chunk of wild African bush life on a spit in one hand while wielding a machete that would make Crocodile Dundee exclaim, “Oye! This isn’t a knoif, that’s a knoif!”

Waiter 1: “Would you like some beef?”

Me: “Yep.”

Waiter 2: “Would you like some chicken?”

Me: “Yes please.”

Waiter 3: “Would you like some pork?”

Me: “Don’t mind if I do.”

And so on up until about eight or so waiters had sliced slabs of the majority of the animals I’d taken so many pictures of at Kruger Park on to my plate. The mountain of meat in front of me would have brought a Viking to tears. Happy tears, of course. A conversation quickly started of what not just a disgustingly huge pile of juicy meat was going to do to our digestive systems, but what impala, crocodile, kudu, zebra and similar animals of uncharted territories was going to do to us. After all, we were boarding a flight in eight hours and going to be spending the majority of the following thirty hours in the air. Clearly a fine dining establishment like Carnivore is meant for real men, and real men don’t fear the unknown. I wasted no time going to work on the pile of heart attack in front of me.

When all was said and done I think bacon has moved to number three on my list of favorite meats and I now know why crocs are so aggressive and tough skinned, because they’re delicious. Needless to say, crocodile now tops my list and impala is the first loser. Crocodile is a bit of a work to get to the meat, but once you do it is absolutely worth it. Most people were describing it as being like chicken, but that’s what most people say about any white meat that’s not chicken. I thought it was going to be like chewing on a leather boot but was surprised that it was about as tender as chicken, though it’s texture closer resembled that of fish in it’s somewhat flakey consistency. The impala was so tender it was like eating warm butter; that was meat flavored, juicy and cooked medium rare. Zebra was quite similar to just a regular steak, though I couldn’t get the picture of the zebra standing right outside our car window out of my head while I enjoyed every last bite of it. The kudu we had was in sausage form, which I enjoyed the taste of though it was like chewing on a leather boot. Other than that, their regular pork, beef and chicken offerings were nothing shy of being cooked to five star, two thumbs up, perfection.

The waiters were a riot as well. As soon as we sat down one of the waiters started telling me how much he liked Arsenal, as I was wearing my Arsenal jersey. In no time flat we swapping jerseys, my Arsenal jersey from last season for a brand new Bafana Bafana jersey. Good deal, at least I thought. It wasn’t much longer before Micah and Marcos were buying the jerseys off other waiters’ backs. Robert and I were buddies after we swapped shirts though, he kept coming by wanting to take pictures, insisting I hold the spit of carcass and knights sword. He also wouldn’t let us leave without having our picture taken by their cooks and cooking area. Definitely a fun experience, not just eating exotic animals, which is always fun, but the whole atmosphere of the restaurant as well.

With bellies full of braii (Afrikaan word for BBQ) we headed back for Heather’s to see if all of the treasures we’d collected along our journey would fit back in to the assorted luggage we’d brought. With a little elbow grease and creativity we got it all sorted out and said our goodbyes to Heather, along with gifting her the GPS system we’d just spent the last three weeks testing to make sure it was of a high enough quality for her. I also had to promise I’d send her a copy of my first book, signed at that. She even got my email address I think so she could send me constant reminders asking how it was coming along. I guess I’ll have to get serious about that once I get back home.

We dumped the bags at the departures curb with Los and Cos to stand guard over them while Micah and I went to see about returning our car. Some confusing signage put us on an onramp for the freeway back to Johannesburg rather than the onramp fifty feet later that went to the car rental return garage. A small gap in barricades, no visible traffic, and a burning desire to one more utterly stupid and ridiculous bit of driving before we returned the war wagon had me flying from the far right lane of one onramp, across six lanes and two other on/possibly off ramps, complete with various assortments of barricades, to get in the far left lane and catch the exit just as the road split, and all at speed – of course. That split second decision, that most likely had Micah’s life flashing before his eyes, prompted the question as to how big the stack of tickets was going to be once we handed the keys over. No tickets, no hassle, with the exception of filling out a little paperwork for the flat tire we woke up to this morning. Which thankfully happened on our last day of the trip, apposed to any other day. And happened overnight, so we were able to swap the wheels out in Heather’s driveway apposed to a section of road clearly labeled with “DANGER: Car Hijacking Zone Next ___ KM,” as we’d seen along the trip.

With the car returned we made it to the gate by the skin of our teeth, with only about three and a half hours to spare. Naturally, once the desk opened and the line started moving we came across all kinds of problems getting our boarding passes. The flight was through Delta, but the first flight out was with Air Naimbia and there was some sort of hold on our account. Of course this was all taking place around 9 p.m. or so and there was no one left at Delta. After lots of running around, phone calls, chasing people around, standing, waiting, and guys with fancy swipe badges that can get you whatever you need, we were on our way.

A few more pics added to the random trip album.

Day 20 – The End of the Road Trip

We took our time leaving Durban this morning, our only engagement today was dinner with Trevor’s mom (the lady kind enough to let us stay with her) and we were only looking at a five-hour drive. Just as we were loading the car a guest had shown up to enquire about a room, so Gideon (the proprietor) brought him down to our part of the house to show him around. Nothing was mentioned about the twenty empty beer bottles laying next to the garbage, empty bottle of vodka on the counter, and empty pizza and cereal boxes scattered about, but it sounded like the inquiring guest was impressed enough to book the basement and stay. We should have got a discount for our interior decorating work.

The drive back to Johannesburg went off with out a hitch; at least I hope it did. We’ve logged nearly 10,000 kilometers and passed countless signs warning us of speed limits and photo radar, but I can only think of two or three times I’ve actually seen a camera. Today’s drive the freeway was littered with cameras and of course they’d be in the worst spots. For example, the speed limit was 120, at the bottom of a long steep hill that coasting down would have you doing 140 the speed limit would drop to 100 right at the bottom and there would be a camera immediately after that. Oh well, I’m fleeing the country in less than 48 hours any way. If I got a ticket I’d be more than happy to come back for court, as long as they covered the expenses.

Heather was excited to have us back and made us a delicious chicken and rice dinner, with peas and squash and a traditional Afrikaan dessert. All of it was quite delicious. Granted it was the first home cooked meal we’d had in a month, with the exception of a spaghetti dinner after our first night in the Kruger, I think on any given night it would have tantalized the most spoiled of taste buds. She was eager to hear all of our stories and thrilled to see the slideshow I had prepared. It was fun reliving all the moments as a group and having everyone be able to throw in their little stories and perspectives on things. She seemed most excited to hear our stories of Kruger and I think the elephant charging us was really the biggest story of this trip.

It’s hard to believe this is the last night that I’ll be sleeping in South Africa, at least on this trip. It seems like the time has flown by so fast. Technically it’s not my last day here, or even night, considering we don’t fly out until 11:30 tomorrow night. But we’ve had great times over these last three weeks, met some amazing people, learned more than the internet would have ever been able to teach us, and indulged ourselves in some truly amazing experiences. Heather couldn’t stress enough at how lucky we were to see all of the animals that we did, let alone how close they were, while at Kruger Park and how lucky we were to get such nice weather while in Cape Town. Oh yeah, and I think we went to some pretty sweet soccer games somewhere along the line as well.

This blog and my pictures don’t do this country justice. Between the people, the landscapes, the animals, and just the energy and atmosphere that surround you, it is truly a place you have to experience first hand. I hope to be back here some day. Who knows, maybe I’ll score a book deal and can buy a house on the coast just outside of Cape Town to help keep me motivated and keep the creative juices flowing.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 19 – We’ve Got to Finish All That Alcohol

Nothing was on the cards for today, so we all slept in and took our time getting up and at ‘em this morning. The Dutch fans were obnoxiously loud yesterday morning starting around 6 or 7 a.m., telling jokes and then stomping their feet on the floor directly above my head, while boisterously laughing, but they didn’t do that this morning. We’d considered being equally as obnoxious when we got home last night, chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A! And banging on the ceiling, but we’ve got more class than that, so we didn’t. Nevertheless, it was nice being able to sleep in a bit today.

We went to The Pavillion, which is a massive shopping mall by our place. Everyone was looking for souvenirs to bring back for friends, family, and coworkers so we thought we’d try our hands there. After an hour or so spent in the mall we decided to start migrating homewards to watch the games for the day, most notably the night game between Spain and Portugal.

We’d discussed dinner plans and came to the realization we’d accumulated a fair bit of food and alcohol throughout the trip and that we should probably finish that off tonight, considering we’re flying home in a few days. We enjoyed the view from our back patio that overlooks the Indian Ocean, just caught the sunset, watched the stars come out, and then, strangely, watched the moon rise a couple hours later. Carlos spent most of this time inside finishing his book, as well as the remaining vodka. By the time he came out to join us he was all smiles, as were we watching him try to maneuver around the flat but crutching straight in to things like the TV stand and cupboards. To which he’d then pause, slowly look at us, smile, and reset his coordinates around the impeding object.

Once Carlos joined us outside he asked us what time we were leaving, a question Marcos had asked me earlier and a discussion Micah and I had prior to Marcos inquiring. We’re going back to Johannesburg tomorrow and staying with Mrs. Davies again, our friends mom who was nice enough to put us up at her house when we first arrived. It’s only a five hour drive and she invited us over for supper, so really we don’t have to be out of here until noonish if we don’t want to. When Marcos asked Micah started explaining things before I quickly jumped in and answered, “Just be ready to go around 6 a.m.” Sober minded Marcos saw through me like a Jedi and asked what time we were really leaving. When Carlos asked Micah gave him the same spiel about distances and dinner engagements and capped it off with a 6 a.m. departure. Shortly there after we migrated back inside to watch Spain vs Portugal and enjoy the last World Cup game we were going to watch in South Africa. After the game Sticks started crutch-stumbling around the house again before heading for the shower, towel and toiletries in tow. No one thought anything of it until I announced, “You know what’s funny, I’m pretty sure Carlos just went to take a shower because he really thinks we’re leaving at 6 a.m.” Upon returning from his shower he confirmed, “That was exactly why I was taking a shower.” We all got a good laugh out of it, at Carlos’ expense, of course.

It was a relaxing last night here in Durban and I’m glad we were finally able to spend some at our house. It has such an amazing view and I was hoping we’d be able to enjoy it rather than wake up to it and rush out the door every morning. Johannesburg tomorrow, sky the next day, home the following.

Day 18 – Our Last Game, All You Can Eat Buffet, and Reunion With Roses

After seeing how close the casino parking lot was to the stadium last night, Sticks (Carlos) insisted we park there for the game today. We battled through traffic for over two and a half hours being turned down at just about every final turn to the stadium until we reached the last one. Once we made the second to last turn it took us an hour to move about three blocks. Then once we got close enough to the front of the line where four different roads were merging in to one Micah told me to take the freeway onramp, the turn I was supposed to make was the frontage road that came immediately after the freeway onramp. So, having wasted two and a half hours through gridlock traffic, spiking my stress levels and abolishing the fuse to my temper, we headed for the Park and Ride station back by our house.

Arjen Robben finally got a start, after playing the role of super-sub last game, and he certainly did not disappoint. Every time he touched the ball something amazing happened, and that’s not an exaggeration. He’d either score, hit the post, or force an amazing save from the keeper. Other than that the Dutch still look as though they’re on cruise control and only doing what they have to in order to advance. We got about a ten-minute glimpse of what they’re capable of last game when Samuel Eto’o equalized off the penalty kick. But even for the first game in the knock out rounds they seem to just be screwing around and going through the motions. Their next game will be nothing shy of amazing though as they’re now set to play Brazil, unfortunately we’ll be somewhere over the Atlantic when that game takes place.

After the game we made our way to the casino to find some dinner and then watch the Brazil vs Chile game. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with this idea as there were thousands of people pouring in to the casino and lines were rapidly growing. Ironically the restaurant with the shortest line was the one with the longest line the day before at an all you can eat buffet and grill. Not only was it the shortest line they had dropped the price 25 rand as well, so it was now all you could eat for 100 rand (roughly $13 and what you’d pay for a regular meal anywhere else.) We got in and it had been at least twelve hours since I’d had breakfast so I wasted no time on catching up on food not eaten in that time span. Four plates of entrees and two plates of apple cobbler later we waddled out of there in search of a comfortable place to catch the game.

Brazil went off and eviscerated Chile 3-0, a rather impressive blow out. We went in search of a cab after the game, but the glowing and flashing slot machine lights were too inviting for Micah and Carlos, so they headed in to the gambling area. Marcos and I followed but they wouldn’t let Marcos in with the doughnuts he’d just purchased to feed his newly renewed obsession with doughy goodness. Micah had said he only wanted to gamble ten rand (just over $1 American) so, thinking they wouldn’t be long, I told Cos I’d hang with him out in the main corridor. An hour later I went in to investigate what was taking them so long. It was the text book Micah ran out of money but Carlos was still playing, so Micah put in more money. Then Carlos ran out of money but Micah was still playing, so he put in more money and the process kept repeating itself. About an hour and a half later, and now pushing 1 a.m. they emerged; Carlos with 450 rand more than he went in with and Micah with a fist full of gamblers anonymous brochures.

We caught a cab back to the shuttle transfer station and the cabby asked us how we were doing. Carlos was quick to boast about his cheerful mood due to his winnings before asking the cabby how he was, “Good man, it’s just fricken freezing out!” I did a quick assessment of my wardrobe, shorts and a Holland jersey; on top of that I’d made a mental note of how pleasant the temperature was as soon as we’d stepped outside of the casino. Once we got to “The Workshop” (not sure where that name comes from, but it’s the central transfer point for game shuttles) we were walking from the cab towards our bus when a group of girls under a tent started hollering at us. Now, being four incredibly good looking guys this is nothing new to us, but then they started calling me by name and said they’d taken pictures with us. It was the girls we’d met when we were here last week. We went to talk to them, introduced Marcos and Sticks, and started a brief conversation. They were bundled up in Eskimo jackets, scarves, snow boots, and other similar articles of clothing and were quick to end the conversation and get back under their easy up tent, which I’m assuming had some sort of heater in it.

By the time we got home I was spent, walked in to my room, face planted in to bed and woke up some time later to a dark house but my bedroom light still on. This might not seem to be odd at first, but the strange thing about it is that my room is in between Micah’s room and Sticks’ room. So neither of them bothered to turn my light off before they went to sleep, and apparently weren’t bothered by it in order for them to get to sleep. I guess in their defense I was still fully clothed with my shoes on and Micah claimed, “I thought you were going to get back up.” Then he later admitted they didn’t know what time it was when they got home and after watching TV for some time realized it was 2:40 a.m.

Just a small album, but a new album none the less.

Day 17 – Never Ending Day 16

I’m not sure where to technically end one day and start the next, but we successfully pulled off our Cape Town to Durban voyage in twenty-five hours, including stops for gas and watching the demise of the U.S.

We pulled in to the place we’re staying in Durban, same place we stayed the first time we were here about a week ago, at 9:30 a.m. I was concerned that we might have been too early to check in and if there were people who’d been staying here they might still be there, meaning we’d have to go entertain our sleep deprived and zombie selves for a few hours before they’d have our rooms ready for us. To our luck Gideon was more than excited to see us back and helped us carry our bags in. Upon inquiring where we’d just driven in from and answering, “Cape Town,” he was in a brief state of shock before telling us we had too much energy.

I got a little excited when he said a large group of Dutch fans had rented out his entire upstairs (we have the basement) but then he said they were kind of snobby. This killed my excitement of befriending real soldiers of the Orange Army, the name given to the Dutch fans for their elaborate bright orange outfits and wild behavior.

As soon as we emptied our bags from “the boot” (a.k.a. trunk) Micah and I napped while the two non-drivers caught up on missed TV watching due to the long ride. I forced myself up after about three hours and we went in search of food and our tickets for tomorrow’s game. Both could be found at Sun Coast Casino and we would be able to watch the England vs Germany game there as well, so we made a break for it. The Three Lions performance was nothing shy of a complete disgrace and I was a little bummed that my main man Wayne Rooney never really showed up at this tournament, England has now exited from the tournament and he was never ably to tally a goal. Germany’s performance, on the other hand, was nothing shy of top class, absolutely brilliant. They certainly know how to counterstrike and proved that by scoring the majority of their four goals off a counter-strike.

Back home now and just relaxing. Twenty minutes until the Mexico vs Argentina game, should be another great one. Argentina has been as impressive as Germany so far this tournament, if not more so considering they’ve yet to lose. Two hours of sleep prior to leaving Cape Town then maybe five or six hours of sleep in the car ride here has me thinking I’ll be in bed as soon as this game’s over. Tomorrow sounds as though it’s going to be another long one, Holland is the first game of the day then there’s either post game celebrating to do or the second game to watch; or both.

Having spent the majority of this day driving through the dead of night and then napping, I didn't really take any photos today.

Day 16 – The Boys Eat Trunk Pizza

It was hard getting up this morning. Not because we knew we had 22 hours of driving ahead of us or because of the screwdrivers and beer we had with our pizza last night, but because Cape Town is such a gorgeous city. Nevertheless, we were set on heading out so we could make it to Durban with time an extra day before our next game, Holland vs. Slovakia. Today was also the first day I saw Marcos get up on time and be ready to go on time, instead it was Micah who delayed us an hour. Unfortunately it took this long to realize the only thing that gets Cos out of bed is a deadline to watch the U.S. game.

Once we hit the road the Cape Town powers that be put an amazing Table Mountain sunrise on display for us. I’d asked Micah the other day if people who lived there ever became unimpressed at how amazing the scenery is in this city. His response, “That would be sad, if they did.”

First stop on our day long, literally, trip back to Durban was the Cape of Good Hope. We drove through some cool little beach towns to get there, some had houses on hillsides which had me thinking they’d make the perfect office for a writer. But, considering I haven’t written my New York Times Bestseller yet I didn’t bother picking up any real estate pamphlets to see what housing prices were like. Once we got to the cape the fog had rolled in pretty thick and it was starting to rain; California rain, not Oregon rain. Due to time constraints and uncooperative weather we didn’t stay too long, just did the whole we came, we saw, we conquered sort of thing, then got back on the road.

After the Cape of Good Hope there was discussion of going to the southern most point of Africa, but it was going to be a two hour detour and Cos was adamant about not going. He wanted to be certain we’d be in Port Elizabeth so he could see the U.S. game at the fanfest zone by the stadium, regardless of me warning him it was supposed to be 50 and raining (fanfest zones are outdoors.)

Cape Town is South Africa’s equivalent to Napa Valley and wine tasting was something we’d thrown out as a thing to do prior to our arrival in the utopic city. As coincidence would have it, just as it randomly dawned on Micah that we’d failed to do this we were coming upon a nice looking winery with copious amounts of signage boasting about various awards won for their wines. We pulled in. The bartender (?) who was telling us about each wine, though he repeatedly claimed, “I know nothing about wine, I’m just a farmer who likes to drink,” insisted today was a red wine kind of day, not white and proceeded to pour us samples of each of their reds. Once we’d tasted each and ran out of jokes he mentioned the white wines, then reached for a bottle of Captain Morgan. Only being about two hours in to our twenty-two hour drive I cashed in my chips and took a rain check, my entourage did the same.

After we cleaned them out of what they had for sale we went to get back on the road only to find the souvenirs we were slowly accumulating had taken over our trunk space and we were now going to have to make room for the arsenal of wine we’d just purchased. Luckily one of the things taking up a large amount of space was the Roman’s Pizza box containing the leftovers from last nights ‘zza. Having inquired to the rest of the guys if there was a hunger in the land every fifteen minutes for the previous two hours, and always ending up being the only one hungry, I dug in. Micah and Marcos were quick to join in on my trunk pizza feed and as I was simultaneously enjoying my slice and the landscape I realized the family sitting on the patio of the winery’s kitchen was staring at us. I was quite relieved when Micah mentioned they were all staring at us as I realized it was in fact the case and they wine hadn’t just gotten to my head, I was the driver after all. Then we heard their little kids saying, “mommy they have pizza,” “I want some of their pizza,” “why can’t we have pizza.” And the whole while the parents were looking at us like they wanted to kill us. I’m guessing the kids had been complaining they were hungry for longer than the last two hours and more often than every fifteen minutes.

We got Marcos to Port Elizabeth with over an hour to spare and as the weather had predicted, it was raining. Proper rain, not California rain. Micah had spent the previous two hours or so behind the wheel and later admitted that was the most stressful driving he’d ever done. Fog, monsooning rain, and poor lane reflectors made it difficult for him to follow the road. We did the typical no one makes a decision on where or what to eat thing, wasting the extra hour we had, before I picked a pub and we tracked it down. It was a small place, and so thick with cigarette smoke my eyes started burning, but they had the U.S. game on and 350-gram burgers, which were delicious.

At half time we split for the fan zone and got in just after the kickoff for the second half. The Yanks battled it out for 90 minutes and the game ended drawn at one a side. Since it’s now the first round of knock out stages that meant they went to overtime. Ghana scored three minutes in to overtime and the U.S. wasn’t able to level it back out. Considering Ghana is the only African team left in the tournament, the small handful of other people battling the rain (which had now eased up to a California rain) were going crazy.

This is when the real fun started. It was now past 11 p.m. and we had an eleven hour drive ahead of us.

Added one photo to the Cape Town album and some more to the random South Africa album.