Saturday, July 3, 2010
Moving on from Bloemfontein…
Our bus to Port Elizabeth was three hours late and at one point thought I would never leave Bloemfontein! Our 9:30PM bus finally pulled out of town at 12:30AM! I arrived safely in Port Elizabeth at 11:00AM. The bus lady was nice enough to give me directions and instructions to navigate to my place. The lady from the boarding school where I would be staying had offered to pick me up for SAR70 ($9.10) but having been here for three weeks, I know that there are cheaper ways of getting around. I opted for the local mode of transportation and got a porter to push my luggage in a shopping cart for R10 ($1.35) and then caught a bus out to my boarding school for R6 ($0.80) that was way better than the $9 I was charged!
The boarding school was a bit of a dump but with the Round of 16 game (Uruguay vs. South Korea) that day, I didn't really have much options since everything was booked out. I was the only girl there and there must have only been about half a dozen of us. Since it was a boarding school there was a communal shower…you know the ones that you dread in junior high? I managed to take a shower at night and hoped that no one would come in while I was there. I was safe and didn't need to give a free peep show.
The biggest problem that had here was that when I was getting my stuff out of the closet, I saw THREE big (well small ones compared to Hawaii standards) cockroaches! Ewwww! I let out a yelp but no one came to my rescue. I later told the girl there but she said she would get a spray can later which never appeared…she also said that all the rooms are probably the same so I couldn't move. I hoped that I would be able to sleep well that night because once I know critters are lurking, I can't sleep! I remember once in Nepal, I had to call someone up to my room twice because I saw some B-52s climbing up the wall behind me; needless to say, it was probably the worst sleeps (or attempt) in my life.
The place that I was staying at was located out of the way, about 10km away from the city center in Summerstrand; only a stone's throw away to the beach front. The area was beautiful and really reminded me a lot of Californian beaches. We were also fortunate to have fabulous weather (70s) and so it was the first time in a while that I could wear something other than the jeans that seem to be part of my usual attire and a t-shirt. It was a nice walk along the beachfront. When I got to the central part of town, I remembered the game and thought it would be nice to try to catch another game. Discreetly I tried to ask around to see if anyone was selling tickets. Since this was part of the Round of 16, prices were going up and I wasn't ready to pay an arm and a leg for it especially because I didn't feel strongly about either teams.
I went out to the park and ride area that was administered by FIFA and told them that I wanted to get on their shuttle to get out the stadium but that I didn't have a ticket. I was told that I couldn't get on the bus if I didn't have a ticket to the game. Instead they put me on another shuttle bus to take me to the FIFA office to buy a ticket there. Terrence, my driver, drove me to Green Acres Mall but had no idea where the ticket office was. When we got there he asked around and someone in the supermarket said that his friend had a ticket to sale. I started to follow him out to the parking lot and started to feel a bit uneasy about this transaction and felt that I was involved in some kind of drug deal. We walked out to the parking lot and told Terrence that I would prefer to go to the FIFA office. The guy called his friend and said that his friend would be coming shortly with the ticket and I can inspect it before I purchased it and I could probably get it for half off.
A few minutes later the guy turned up and handed me the ticket SAR700 ($93) was clearly printed on the ticket. Since I had already been to two games, I knew that it was a legitimate ticket though it seemed to feel a little different though that was probably an extension of my paranoia. So since I knew he would sell it to me for half but because I always need to have the best deal, offered him SAR300 ($40). He thought about it for a quick second and agreed. Yes, I do feel bad for not paying him face value but I didn't really need to go to the game and I think he was thinking that he didn't want to go anyway so whatever money he could make, he'd take it.
The game was an exciting one and I really like the Nelson Mandela stadium. They had larger screens than the one I was used to in Bloemfontein and more importantly, they had the time so I wouldn't have to squint my eyes to figure out how many more minutes of game time remained. It was actually a fairly good seat, somewhat behind the goal but at the end of the row so I wouldn't have to pass in front of people to get to my seat. I ended up cheering for South Korea because all of my Korean friends (Judy, Yvonne, Jeehon, etc.) and because it would be nice to see an Asian team advance to the quarter finals. The ending of the game was a disaster with rain starting to fall down upon us with 15 minutes left to go. It was a misty rain that I had never quite experienced before and not sure if it was like that because we were in the stadium but either way the rain made the air significantly colder and although everyone moved to drier ground, I grudgingly sat in my seat till the end of the game. At the game I also realized that I lost my SAR5 gloves earlier that day on the beach so the night was colder than it needed to be! After 90 minutes of play time, the game ended with a win for Uruguay (2 - 1).
That was definitely not the game of the night though and instead I was frantically trying to figure out where I would go for the US vs. Ghana game. I was fortunate enough to hop onto a free shuttle after the game and although the shuttle is only to drive on a pre-determined path, I was able to get Webster, the driver, to take me to the boarding school. Before that I also got him to take me to the local grocery store to stock up on groceries to make dinner (I really pushed my luck, huh?). I got lucky that he was kind enough to take me to these places along the way otherwise I would have gone hungry and have to pay a lot of money to get home. I ended up buying a head of cabbage and decided that I would have corned beef and cabbage that night for dinner. Before getting off at my place, I was able to get Webster's number and arranged to have him come back and get me (again off the free shuttle route) to take me to the Boardwalk where many of the restaurants and bars were located. Webster came back and dropped me off at the Boardwalk. I ended up squeezing through a restaurant/bar called News Day and managed to get seated right next to the American contingency that were there watching the game.
The game was a good game but we were definitely outnumbered. Even the Canadians, are own neighbors, weren't cheering for us! If they ever make it to a World Cup, I will remember this day! The African energy was strong and everyone around us was chanting "Ghana! Ghana! Ghana!" Of course this was Africa's last shot at remaining in the World Cup and although I would want to see an African team make it to the quarter finals, I also wasn't ready to see the US ousted! Unfortunately, Donovan, our star player couldn't pull the magic that he did in the other two games and wasn't able to recover from the 1 point that Ghana scored in the first minute of extended time. After a full game and 30 minutes of extra time, it was decided, the US was out of the World Cup. It really is devastating when "your team" is out; you're a lost soul not sure who to cheer for anymore. Although I would like to see an African team advance, they beat our team. I suppose I'll wait to see whose playing before I decide who I'm cheering for in the next game.
Now that the game was over and I was down because of our loss, I had to make it back to my boarding school. Because the game went into extra time, it was close to 11PM. I tried to phone Webster since he said he would come and get me so long as it was before midnight. I think I tried to call him about five times and each time would need to hang up before I got charged for being connected to his voicemail. After not being able to connect with him I started to consider my options. I had walked that way earlier that day but now it was 11:00PM and a single female should never be walking alone on any road in the South Africa. I found the other people who were waiting for a taxi and tried to see if anyone was going in the direction that I was going because the short distance home would cost me SAR70 ($9).
I think we are all allowed to do at least one stupid thing in each country and so this was my time. After realizing that it would be a while to wait for an empty taxi and honestly not wanting to fork up $10 to get back, I saw a White guy driving an older car pass in front of me. He was stopped at the stop sign before turning out into the main road. I knew I had to make a quick decision. I tapped on his glass and he opened the door. I stuck my head in and asked if he would mind taking me to Summerstrand if I paid him. He thought about it for a few seconds and agreed. On the five minute car ride home, he shared that he just got done with work and was heading home in the opposite direction. He also sternly warned me that I should never, under any circumstances, ask a stranger for a ride. I told him that for some reason, I knew that he was an honest guy and honestly, by his reaction when I asked him (of course I can say this now), that he would get me home safely. When I asked him how much I should pay, he said SAR30; so I was happy that I got a quick ride home for more than half the price.
Finally back at the dorms, I had to force myself to sleep knowing that the roaches were also sleeping with me in the room! I must have been tired because I had a surprisingly nice sleep. The next morning, I asked if their backpackers located closer to the city center had any vacancy. I calculated that with the game behind us, many people were leaving town. I was glad to find out that their backpackers was available and the owner would come down to pick me up and take me there…all for free!
It was a nice move and the house was very homey. Again, I was the only female here in a houseful of men. The best part about this place was that I got connected to their wi-fi and was able to connect with the rest of the world for the first time in a few days. After moving to the backpackers, I really felt cheated since the backpackers was about 10x better than the empty dorm with cockroaches and a sorry excuse of a kitchen with no stove but instead, a plug in stir fryer; I was glad to have inquired about their vacancy especially because the price was the same!
There I met a bunch of interesting characters: The Uruguayans including Father and Sons team, an American, a few Scots and a Tunisian. The Uruguayans I found out had traveled here with their car! I was so interested in their story and the older son was very excited to share it even though I'm sure he's had to share the same story at least a million times! So the story goes like this: it was a long time dream of the father to travel around the world and he told his sons about his wish and that in a year's time he would have liquidated all of his material possessions and would set off to travel around the world. Of course he wanted his sons to go with him and his sons said they would but they really didn't take their father seriously. True to his word, a year later, his father was ready to embark on his round-the-world trip. I am not sure if it was his intention to travel as long as they have but here they are, 3 years later, still traveling! It's pretty amazing because they brought their car up and if I got the story right, they went from South America to North America, shipped their car to Paris, and traveled through Europe, through the Middle East, as far East as Pakistan then through the African continent and here they were staying at the same backpackers that I was! They are a celebrity of some sorts and have major sponsors too! One of their sponsors was Citroën (French company), who loaned them a car while it was making its way by sea. They definitely started to give me ideas on what I need to do to extend my trip! Are there any sponsors out there? Hello? I was also surprised to learn that they also held 'diplomatic' passports, issued to them courtesy of the government because of their worldwide travels. Although the website is in Spanish, if you're interested, it's: http://www.uruguayporelmundo.com/. I always wanted a diplomatic passport…
I also chatted with an Asian guy (looked Chinese) who was from Scotland and I suppose it's the same thing as a Chinese American but an Asian face speaking with a Scottish accent was strange; reminded me of the time when I met Japanese Brazilians who looked Japanese American but could barely speak any English…I ended up finding out that the other Scottish guy, Mark, had three days before the next game and was planning to rent a car to some neighboring towns, in the direction of Cape Town which is where I was heading. The drive would be along the famous Garden Route, along the Eastern Coast of the country which is known for its varying landscape and probably more known for its beautiful beaches. I asked if I could do the trip with him too and pitch in since I would much prefer to ride in a private car and stop where I want to stop rather than take a bus that had almost no flexibility. The Tunisian, Aiymen (who was happy to find out that I actually knew where Tunisia was located - it's in Northern Africa between Algeria and Libya - because they used Saiki, the town next to my village, as their base camp when I lived in Japan during the '02 World Cup). So it was the three of us along with another Uruguayan, Juan, and another English guy who caught a ride with us to Jeffrey's Bay, the most famous surfing spot in the country. Turns out that the Billabong Surfing Competition is coming up in two weeks and I'm wondering who from Hawaii will be here…
After dropping the two guys off in Jeffrey's Bay, we ended up driving down to Storm's River Village and I was excited to be able to bargain a room for SAR100 a night! I think that's a huge benefit of having a big(ger) group, you have much more leverage when asking for a deal. It was a nice drive and it was nice to be able to stop and go as we pleased. Storm's River was also a beautiful place and here we saw many whales and dolphins out in the ocean at Tsitsikama Nature Reserve Park when we did a 3km walk on the Otter Trail (named because you can usually see otters?) to see a waterfall. It's funny because you can see whales off the Hawaiian waters as well but have never seen one in my life. While we were there we got lucky and I also saw a fawn out in the forest!
The highlight of this road trip though would have to be stopping at Boulkrans; home to the highest bungee jump in the world, Face Adrenaline, a leap of 213m. Although I did consider the jump, it was something that I didn't want to do solo. I felt that it was something that I'd want to share with a close friend, companion; I just didn't feel right taking the jump of my life with two guys I had just met the day before. Instead I chose to do the 'bridge tour' and had a guide take pictures of me walking out to the bridge and watching the others jump. At first it was only Mark who wanted to jump and after his jump, Aiymen changed his mind and decided he wanted to go too. All eyes were on me to make the jump but I couldn't do it especially after reading the excluded list which included people with back problems (I have a severe case of scoliosis); well that was the real reason and I'm sticking with it!
The guys had one more night on the road and wanted to spend it at a place close to the beach. I decided that I didn't want to have to wake up early with them and then try to find a new place to stay so I booked my own place in Knysna and had them drop me there. Our three amigo tour would have to come to an end which was a good thing. I found Mark, although a really nice guy, dictating our schedule and catering the itinerary to his interests only. Although he had good ideas it was difficult to travel with someone who didn't ever stop to ask what you wanted to do. Since he would have to bring the car back, the rental was under his name and for the most part did use this to his advantage. I said good-bye and will maybe see them again later in my travels. I will definitely look into meeting up with Aiymen back in Tunisia since it was a place that I had wanted to visit. It's great that I am meeting people for my future stops!