Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And still more photos!

Photos of Hermanus and our whale-watching experience.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More photos

Here is the second batch of photos, see the previous post for descriptions.

Sunshine and Storm Clouds

Today in Cape Town the skies are dark with heavy clouds, the air is cold and the wind is blowing hard. Rain is forecast for tonight, when we will join the throngs of fans for the Round of 16 match between Spain and Portugal.

But overall, we have been very fortunate weatherwise. The past two days have been magnificent: warm, sunny and mild. Yesterday we hiked to a waterfall above a lush botanical garden at Betty's Bay, and watched a Southern Right whale lolling for 45 minutes in the shallow water just a few yards off the coast of Hermanus. It literally looked like the 30-foot-long whale was sunbathing as it rolled on its back, waved its fins and tail, and spouted. We were mesmerized as we watched it slowly swim out to sea.

Our time in Cape Town is growing short, unfortunately. The past eight days have gone by so quickly, and we leave on Thursday morning for our drive along the Garden Route and the Wild Coast to Durban, where we will see a semi-final match on July 7.

The photos in this post (and the next two) in no particular order show the apartment building where we are staying in the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton, views from the apartment, a crowd of people watching the South African team, Bafana Bafana, on a giant digital screen at the V&A Waterfront, views from the summit of Table Mountain, the Hermanus coast and the Southern Right whale.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

U.S. Blues

I was down in the dumps this morning in the wake of Team USA's loss to Ghana, and quick exit from the round of 16. No more Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of a match in this World Cup. (As I write this, the future of Mexico's anthem is also looking pretty grim.)

But our team did give us some great moments, and Landon Donovan has earned his place in U.S. soccer history with three electrifying goals.

My disappointment was put into perspective this morning when we took a boat ride to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Our tour was conducted by a former political prisoner who frankly shared his experiences, from the brutal punishments inflicted by the guards for the slightest infractions, to the attempt to blow up a fuel depot that led to his arrest by the apartheid government.

Prisoners were forced to break rocks with picks and shovels in a limestone pit for 12 hours a day, only for the sake of demoralizing the men because the rock wasn't even used.

As disheartening as it was to learn about this sad period in South Africa's history, I felt some comfort that the island is now a museum, less than 20 years after the last political prisoners were released.

In the afternoon, we took the cable car to the top of Table Mountain and drank in the spectacular views of Cape Town, Greenpoint Stadium and the sparkling blue Atlantic.

I can't wait for Tuesday, when we will return to the stadium for the round of 16 matchup of Spain and Portugal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Orange Crush

We attended our first World Cup match in Cape Town last night, and Orange was the word - as in more than 10,000 Dutch fans decked out in the team's bright orange hue. Some wore wigs, others painted their faces and a few wore formal orange suits and ties.

Cape Town organizers have set up a "fan walk" from the central train station to Green Point Stadium, about a mile and a half away, which was of course a pulsing orange river before the match.

Those who didn't want to make the trek had the option of jumping onto shuttle buses for the short ride to the stadium.

So far, support for the Netherlands has been second only to that shown for Bafana Bafana, the South African national team, at least from our experience. The affinity for the Orange apparently stems from the Dutch heritage of many white South Africans.

Cape Town's stadium was in pristine condition, with excellent acoustics and sight lines. We sat about midway up, above a corner of the field, with great views. My ears are still ringing from the constant trumpeting of the vuvuzelas, which at times reached a fever pitch.

The match itself had little consequence - the Netherlands had already clinched a spot in the next round, and Cameroon was already mathematically eliminated. But both sides played hard in the Netherlands' 2-1 win.

Many streets throughout downtown are blocked off to cars, so fans can browse stalls selling souvenirs or eat at outdoor cafes. While some skeptics wondered before the World Cup began whether security concerns would overshadow the fun, our family felt quite safe at all times both before, during and after the match, which ended about 10:30 p.m. local time.

The FIFA fan zone in downtown Cape Town is set up with several huge video screens where locals and foreign visitors mingled to watch matches, listen to live music and soak up the atmosphere. A Dutch fan proposed to his girlfriend on stage yesterday.

While South Africa is out of the tournament, interest by locals remains strong. Some of the South Africans I have talked to support Ghana and Ivory Coast, which are still playing, and even the USA after its thrilling last-minute victory over Algeria on Wednesday.

(A side note: What's with these refs? Another questionable call, this one an off-sides infraction, robbed the USA of another goal in the Algeria match.)

We are looking forward to cheering on Donovan and Co. as they take on Ghana tomorrow night, and our Round of 16 match in Cape Town on Tuesday, where we may be lucky enough to see Brazil, Spain or Portugal compete.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bafana Bafana!

Greetings from the Rainbow Nation! Ava, Salome and I arrived in Cape Town late Monday after a brief stopover in Johannesburg. We spent our first night in S.A. at a private home in a suburb of Joburg because our hostel was overbooked. The home was quite nice, with all the comforts but we were put off by the wall topped with electrified fencing that surrounded the place. Back to the airport the next morning for the short flight to Cape Town.

World Cup fever is all around, from the throngs of international fans decked out in their teams' colors to the banners and signs posted everywhere. Schools have closed for the entire month of the tournament so families can take part in the celebration.

We spent Tuesday afternoon at the V&A waterfront which is a lot like Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, with loads of shops, restaurants and street performers. Massive Table Mpuntain looming overhead reminds us we're not in California.

And if you think the vuvuzela horns are annoying on TV, they are ear-splitting in person. Thousands of South Africa fans watched on TVs and huge video screens as "the boys" beat France 2-1, but the jubilation was tempered when they were eliminated by the points differential with Mexico.

Today we will watch the U.S. team as it seeks to advance with a win over Algeria and Thursday we will experience Green Point stadium (which we can see from our apartment in the suburb of Milnerton) when we attend the match between Holland and Cameroon.

Pictures to come soon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

We're on our way!

The bags are packed,the passports in hand, and we are off for an incredible journey to experience the wonders of South Africa and the greatest sports spectacle on Earth, the World Cup.

By this time tomorrow, Ava, Salome and I will be on our way to Johannesburg, our first trip to Africa.

We've been watching the first week of the tournament with interest: from the U.S.A.'s improbable tie with England, to Mexico's triumph over France. Today's U.S.A.-vs. Slovenia contest was action-packed, and the debate rages among pundits and fans as to whether the Americans' third goal near the end of the match was properly disallowed. (The consensus seems to be the ref blew the call big-time.)

Once we arrive in South Africa, we'll be posting dispatches from the road, photos, observations, etc., when time and Internet access allows.

And later this summer, check out my upcoming travel book, Dear Guests, Beware of Wild Monkeys, available at fine Web sites everywhere!