Saturday, June 12, 2010

South Africa, first view...

I've made it to South Africa. It was a long flight, about 3.5 hours from Denver to New York, and then 14.5 hours from New York to Johannesburg.

When you arrive in South Africa, you immediately notice all the signs and ads that make sure you know this is the home of the World Cup. As you walk past customs, you are greeted by the obnoxiously loud sound of the famed vuvuzelas - the plastic trumpet horns that in many ways are a symbol of South Africa. No pictures can describe what it's like to hear this droning and monotonous sound.

I think every country's fans is represented at the airport, with Mexico and Brazil fans being the two that most stood out. (Algeria fans in photo).

We wait a few hours and meet two friends that flew in on two other flights, rent our car and drive to our lodge in nearby Petroria, where we meet up with the other three guys that made it here the day before. The lodge is new and appears to be in a really nice neighborhood, and then you notice that all the houses and lodges have electric wire fences above the walls in their front yards. We are a few blocks from the Iraq Embassy, among others.

The FIFA ticket center is in a mall, where we go to claim our tickets. After an hour wait, much patience is required as one of the guys is told his tickets can't be claimed. It appears they had some glitch - so a short while later and after a bit of nervousness it's all figured out.

There is at least one person selling South Africa flags at every corner, it seems. You see the flag or at least the colors on just about every car driving around. South Africa was about to kick off the tournament against Mexico at 4:30 pm local time, and the streets were buzzing with activity. Everyone was walking around with the yellow jersey on.

We all decide not to battle the crowds at the Fan Fests, so we settle in the TV room at our place. Although Mexico is our neighbor and part of CONCACAF, we decide we would like South Africa to win because we know how cool it is when the host country is winning. When South Africa scored first we could only imagine what it must have been like at a big gathering place. We walk outside to see if we could hear anything, and of course, we could hear the sound of the vuvuzelas. It was like a swarm of bees was hovering.

When the game ends, it's dark outside, yet only 6:30 pm. We now want to watch the second game with others, and wondered where buzzing sound was actually coming from. We find out there was a fan fest not too far from where we are staying. However, when we ask how to get there - walking - we are told it's not a good idea: not safe, was the reason.

I ask more questions, because there has not been one person that has not warned us about safety. It just couldn't be that bad, I thought - but when the locals tell you not to go walking around, it sinks in a bit better. The lady at the front desk further explained, in a soft and matter of fact voice, that it's not that they carry guns, but rather they approach you with knives.

She then says that if there are more than three of us going, we should be ok so long as you walk straight to a main road. She tells us that if we go, to only carry a small amount of cash, no cards and definitely not our passports or anything of value. The seven of us nervously begin our walk, following the directions she had given us.
Not too far into the walk we are at ease. It's not that bad. We made it to a small fan-fest like square that had a decently large outdoor screen to watch the Uruguay vs. France match. It was packed with people, mostly South Africans, but also fans of many other countries. We find a spot on a terrace of one of the bars that overlooks the crowd and is directly across from the screen. This is where we perched ourselves for the next few hours.

So here were are on Saturday morning, day two. In a few hours we'll be taking a two-hour bus from Petroria to Rustenburg for tonight's USA v England game. Soccer fans in the U.S. have waited a long time for this day - I hope everyone finds a way to enjoy the game, which if you're not here you will likely do so without the sound of the vuvuzelas.