Al Sandiego on the loose at yet another global sporting event...the 2010 FIFA World Cup
Hello, gentle readers! It indeed has been a while since my last post, but from the very beginning the purpose of this blog was to report on vacations taken overseas and NOT work trips! Canada doesn't count, otherwise I would have blogged from Vancouver in February (at the Winter Olympics) and Montreal this past Memorial Day weekend.
I just arrived a couple of hours ago in Johannesburg, South Africa, after an eleven-hour British Airways flight from London Heathrow. O.R. Tambo International Airport is much bigger than I thought it would be. I'm sitting across from the food court where there are various restaurants, the only familiar one being Subway. There's a fish-and-chip shop, an Indian place (lots of Indians here, especially in Durban), a burger joint called Wimpy, and a well-known chain called Nando's that specializes in piri-piri chicken. I headed for the Fournos Bakery and got a shrimp "rissole" and a veggie samoosa (yes, that's how they spell it here). The rissole looked like a South American empanada but was deep-fried, and inside were two or three shrimp surrounded by a very salty, thick gravy-like mush. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not, but there are very few things that are deep-fried that I will not eat.
Most of you were aware already that I'm here for the FIFA World Cup. This trip has been almost two years in the making, and it's hard to believe I've finally arrived. I've wanted to come to South Africa ever since the early 90s, right around the time Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the country came out of the darkness of the apartheid era. I almost had the opportunity in 1998 when I was working at the World Wildlife Fund in D.C. I was helping to plan a conference of African wildlife & conservation experts in Cape Town but left to go into the Peace Corps before it actually happened. The temp admin assistant in our department took over that task and got to travel. She sent me a postcard, saying what a great time she was having. I was pissed! So I've waited a good, long time to make this journey and am thrilled to be here.
I still have six hours before my connecting flight on South African Airways (a Star Alliance member = more Continental OnePass miles!) to Cape Town and am not sure what I'm going to do. I have to pick up the tickets to the three Group matches that we're seeing (England vs. Algeria, Portugal vs. North Korea, and The Netherlands vs. Cameroon) at the kiosk on the lower level of the airport, but other than that I just need to wait. The Clasen clan is on its way from London via Nairobi - we're on different flights to Cape Town and may just meet up at the airport there. For those of you who don't know them, the Clasens are a family I befriended in Milwaukee when I lived there. Mary Pat introduced Alterra (my former employer) to the Kulaktik cooperative back in 1998, and when I started working there in early 2001 I took over the communication and management of that relationship and got to know her and eventually her entire family. The four kids are spread around now, and Mary Pat and her husband Tom have sold their house in suburban Milwaukee and currently are based in San Francisco. In August 2008 I met up with them in Sisters, Oregon, where Tom's twin brother lives. While on a hike Tomas (the third of four children) expressed interest in going to the World Cup, Mary Pat told him it wouldn't happen unless I planned it. So that's the back story on how I got here.
We're renting a large house in Hout Bay, a community south of Cape Town right on the Atlantic. It looks pretty sweet from the pictures I've seen on the Web site, and being in a house will give us the opportunity to eat in and not have to go to restaurants for every single meal. Even though it's winter here (it was -5 C when the plane landed at 8am earlier this morning) it's still mostly sunny. Plus it should be warmer in Cape Town than Jo'burg. We have the rental for nine nights, after which everyone else will fly back to London - I'm staying an extra night and will meet up with my good friend Monica's older brother, Paul, who just happened to overlap with me by two days. The media has reported on multiple occasions that the U.S. had the most World Cup ticket orders of any country other than South Africa, and I've already heard that there are a handful of people I know who trekked all the way over.
I fortunately had three days in Europe before last night's marathon flight. Just getting there required two flights on Air Canada (Seattle-Toronto and Toronto-London) and a third on Lufthansa (London-Cologne/Bonn). I went to Bonn to visit my friend Michaelyn B. and her family who just moved there this past March after having spent a zillion years in Central America. She works for Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), the governing body of Fair Trade. I hadn't been to Germany since a month before I left for Bolivia and felt an odd desire to re-immerse (and prove to myself that I still could get by in German). It was a very short visit - only two nights - and I spent a good part of it sleeping off the jetlag, but I was happy to be back there. On Sunday night the five of us went to the central pedestrian zone in Bonn to watch the Germany-Australia match. We ended up at the Salvatorkeller, a restaurant/pub operated by Paulaner (one of the six main breweries in Munich). They had one of my favorite Bavarian dishes, leberkaese, and Paulaner Weissbier is also a thing of beauty.
I got to London on Tuesday afternoon and stayed with my friend John S. whom I had met in Milwaukee. He's lived in London for 6-1/2 years now and took me to two pubs and a great little restaurant. Although it was my fifth or sixth trip there, I still don't feel like I know the city all that well. I have been to all of the major sights but can never seem to get my bearings...which is rare since I pride myself on having a great sense of direction. Even so, I find London to be fascinating and could see myself living there someday.
One final random story before I shut down: there was quite a scrum at the baggage claim but in general people seemed to be pretty mellow (probably tired from the long flights to get here). Out of nowhere someone down the hall blew a vuvuzela, that long, plastic horn that's gotten a lot of media attention during the World Cup because of the annoying (for spectators) and distracting (for players) din that it creates. Immediately people started laughing because we were barely off the plane before someone greeted us with this trumpeted noise. I happened to have earplugs and definitely will be taking them to the three matches that we're seeing. As I type this, I'm hearing other vuvuzelas in the atrium below...better get used to it.