Sunday, May 23, 2010


When people talk about soccer and the World Cup in South Africa, 90% of the time the conversation is about how stressful it will be, what a disaster it will be, how ill-prepared the country is, etc. (I don't actually think it will be a disaster or that the country isn't prepared, although I'll be surprised if the M5 intersection is ready by World Cup 2014, let alone three weeks from now. There are some valid criticisms though -- mostly that a country with like 30-40% unemployment has built a bunch of enormous soccer arenas that won't have a clear purpose in 7 weeks). Aside from government-sponsored SABC programming, I hear almost no one hyping the World Cup as something that will be fun or being excited for Bafana Bafana games. Not that The Boys The Boys stand a chance.

What people are into, though, is rugby. The current big league that is happening is the Super 14, with 5 SA teams, 5 New Zealand teams, and 4 Australian teams. They played a round robin season with one game per week. The top four teams advanced to the semifinals, which happened yesterday. And I went and watched! The Western Cape team, the Stormers, have supposedly been bad for a number of years. Somehow, though, they put together a good season this year and hosted one of the semifinals games at Newlands in the southern suburbs. We decided to go.

On Friday afternoon, spent some time on, sort of a SA craigslist, since the game was sold out. Talked to a few people and found someone that would sell us some tickets. Saturday morning, while I was running other errands, I went into Cape Town to meet the guy and buy the tickets. Also managed to pick up a couple Stormers hats from a dude selling them at a stoplight. A few hours later, we were rushing to close up the farm and get on the road. Thankfully there was no traffic going to the stadium -- everyone was already in place watching the other semis game that was taking place (the Bulls from Pretoria won it).

We got to Newlands, which is a nice big stadium - 52,000 people - though it does a good job of blending in with the surrounding area. I've driven by there plenty and had never really noticed it. The game was fun. Kris and I went with Simon from Backsberg and his buddy from college. I spent the whole time asking lots of questions, since my rules knowledge is spotty. Plus, rugby seems to do a bad job of explaining what is going on (what the penalties or for, who will get possession, etc). Of the fan antics, my two favorites were some extended (and quite catchy) song about the Stormers that was mostly in Afrikaans, and the chant "Hier kom 'n ding! Hier kom 'n ding!" Translated, that means "here comes a thing! here comes a thing!" We badly need that chant in American sports.

There was a lot of defense and a lot of kicking in the game, though we had a great view of the one try by the Stormers. For a half, we also had a view of the "VodaBabes," the cheerleaders/dancers who apparently were created in a Vodacom laboratory and are corporate entities.

The Stormers won! They go play the Bulls in Soweto next week for the championship. Should be fun to watch (on tv this time). People will be really excited about the all-SA final this week before then focusing all their energy on complaining about the World Cup.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mozambique trip, pt. 1

Got back from Mozambique Thursday. I kept a short-hand log and took a few pictures (probably not enough due to negligence). Here's what happened:

5/12/2010, 7 a.m., South Africa/Mozambique border near Nelspruit

After game lodge, flew back to CT. Lots of running around. Mom left, got Lil and Roberto settled in cottage, packed for Mozambique. KT and I did deliveries then left. Flew to JBurg. Bizarre cab driver talked our ear off. He was overbearing and racist, but gave us a good price so we set a date for him to pick us up at 4 a.m. on the morning we return. He claimed to be "old school" and a man of his word. We are pretty sure the old school he refers to is apartheid. Beers at bus station then onto bus. Jam-packed, uncomfortable, loud pop music, crying babies. Both of us in aisle seats. Terrible movie [turned out it was Book of Eli]. KT thinks at least a passenger or two has TB. Finally to border for 2 hour crossing, 5-7 a.m. while sun rises. They removed all comfortable cargo for inspection (pillows and comforters but no suitcases). Never really knew what was happening or why - no explanations given, but we eventually got put back on the bus. Visa worked successfully and we're in Mozambique. ~1 hour to Maputo.

11:27, Fatima's Backpacker Lodge

Off the bus and headed to lodge recommended by a friend. Got a bit lost, then got bearings and headed for Av. Mao Tse Tung. All streets seem to be named after socialist leaders, even the murderous dictator ones (Avenida Salvador Allende; the Robert Mugabe roundabout, etc).

Nice breakfast and changed some money. KT met problems changing US dollars -- "only 2006 series dollars." The next teller over then accepted the dollars from other series. This was a segue into a favorite pastime: making sarcastic quips about southern African bureaucracy (not that US bureaucracy is much better).

Got to Fatima's, sprung for room with personal bathroom and shower. Pink room that makes me want to vomit. Off to go explore, tired but refreshed by shower. Glad I brought a bar of soap at the last second.

Ugly pink room:

20:00, Fatima's Backpacker Lodge
Long day of wandering the city - just about all the way around. Nice city with some cool neighborhoods. Especially like the quiet residential ones -- lots of trees and shade. Stopped in museum of natural history. Lots of hilarious stuffed and plaster animal displays. Every animal was shown fighting another animal in a gruesome battle. My favorite was when the monkeys were being attacked -- they were created with a look of sheer terror on their faces. Excellent artistry and my kind of museum. Back to lodge for a long nap.

5/13, 8:45 a.m., coffee shop on Av. Mao Tse Tung

Out last night. First to a Portuguese restaurant that we'd been eyeing earlier. Delicious bread, meat, cheese -- got filled up before ordering. Split a mixed meat kebab with rice and beans and some kind of a grain salad. Really good.

Went in search of live music from there. Cab brought us to a really trendy spot, Gil Vicente. 3-person band, all percussion. Two xylophone-type things and a girl singing/playing shakers. Two excellent sets (though the songs ran together) while I had gin and tonics (someone once told me tonic repels mosquitos and I hoped to avoid malaria). Couple conversations, discovering that spanish or spanish with a fake portuguese accent gets the point across 75% of the time.

Stayed out for a while longer and found another bar. Looked up and randomly noticed that at ~2 a.m. the tv was showing the Yankees game at a random bar in Maputo! First live baseball game I've watched this season. Another highlight was at one point in the night when I came back from the bathroom and Kris was trying to teach a couple of girls to say "that's what she said" at appropriate moments. Their english was spotty at best, and it didn't quite work.

Home and sleep. Up early and coffee. Plans today: revolution museum, other sights, make plan to get car to head north tomorrow, more live music tonight hopefully.

5/14, 7 a.m., Fatima's in Maputo

Fought through tiredness yesterday to have a good day. Spent a while on logistics for the rest of the trip, deciding on renting a car from the airport today.

Then went to find the Museum of the Revolution once siesta time was over. Museum had been closed for what looked like years! Thanks, internet and guidebook.

Saw some other sights, including an all-steel building designed by Eiffel, a nice old-style train station, the central market where we bought some peri-peri cashews and some Mozambique music. [Both those items later proved vital for enjoying our trip up the coast].

All-steel building designed by Eiffel. Apparently it didn't work as a residence because it got way too hot in there. Who woulda thunk it.

Then to the Nucleo Arte, a highlight for me. It's a gallery with all local artists. Next door is a little cafe/bar. Then next door to that is a studio where the artists can work. One guy invited us in and with talked with him and this old grizzled-looking painter who was working. Won brownie points with him by having identified the painting from the gallery that was in his style. Also, he liked that I am from NY. Funny old guy.

Had some peri peri chicken on the way back.

Last night was a loss. Sat down to read for a while to rest and kill time before dinner/out. Next thing I knew, it was 11 pm and I was waking up. Had to get up early anyway to rent the car, so decided to just power through with sleep. Not one of my finer moments, but I now feel refreshed and ready to take on this drive up to Inhambane. Hopefully after a big breakfast.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I have let down my vast (and apparently very demanding) readership by failing to write anything for a long time! Sorry Mom, Granny, and Danielle.

Many apologies. Have had lots of visitors and whatnot. Will catch up in a hurry.

Paganello was excellent. My team was very good and very fun -- particularly enjoyed playing with some hilarious young Austrian kids who were really good players and seemed to know the words to every Will Smith song ever made (except for the Fresh Prince theme song, which they had me rap for them within an hour of meeting them. We finished something like 5th, and the weekend was cold and wet but a great time. Definitely hope to return to Paganello again. Here's a picture of me playing frisbee on the beach, and a picture of our team:

From Rimini, I went with Mark and Rebecca and Dad and Andrea up to Venice. We stayed on Lido, and I went to a crappy circus on Lido the first night. Very enjoyable. Spent the next day walking around the city, which is great and beautiful once you get away from the particularly crowded touristy areas. I worried at first that the whole city was going to be like Piazza San Marco -- luckily the rest was extremely charming.

From there, I went with Mark and Rebecca to Bologna, which I also really liked -- it felt more like a real city and less like a tourist mecca than Venice. Stayed near the University part of town. The highlight by far was a huge lunch that we had at a trattoria just outside the south west corner of the city. Tagliatelle bolognese followed by a zucchini stuffed with meat and a tasty tomato-ey bottle of sangiovese to go along with it. Great meal. Otherwise, walked around the city, saw stuff, drank lots of coffee, ate lots of gelato, etc. Fun times. Had a crappy trip back to Cape Town, getting stranded overnight in Madrid and getting home much later than expected. C'est la vie.

Hosted a flurry of visitors soon after getting back from Italy.

At one point somewhere in there, played in South African frisbee nationals. Our pool games kind of ran together. I enjoyed matching up with the big guy on the Stellenbosch team who was doing everything for them -- Nils, a big German kid who turned out to be only 18. He happened to know the same Austrian kids that I played with in Italy. We played in the showcase game against Johannesburg on Saturday night -- though a meaningless game because they'd underperformed, they played pretty well against us and we only won by a few. Ate some delicious food after the game and had a couple of beers at the party before crashing at Ant's house so I didn't have to drive back and forth to Paarl. Beat Zebru (another Cape Town team) pretty easily in the quarters. Then had a good semis game against Khayoba (Cape Town + Khaylitsha), who beat us the two times that we played them when I was there (including in summer league finals). They're a strong team with easily the best actual frisbee talent in the country. I think they took half on us, but we snuck back in the second half and eventually received on double-game-point. We turned it when Finn shut me down on a dump and we threw a desperation huck to the end zone. They marched it back down, but turned it themselves on an ill-advised hammer attempt. Finally we marched it in for the win. In the finals we played against the Long Donkeys from Pietermaritzburg, who were these enormous dudes who threw thumb forehands to each other. I guess a couple of them might have played for the SA basketball team at some point? I don't know. Anyway, I managed to knock away a couple of their early attempts to bully us in the air, so they had to move on to plan B -- they were not as good at plan B. The game cruised along until it was double game point again, them receiving. We intercepted a pass to the end zone, worked it down and punched it in against their tired defense. Wahoo! So I'm now a South African national champion. Fun tournament.

Once my Mom, Lily, and Roberto were here, we took a trip over to the other side of the country. Flew into Durban, rented a car, and drove a few hours north on the N2 to go stay at a game lodge. We lived like kings there -- tasty buffet breakfast and dinner, a game drive each day, massages, pool, etc. It was the first time in memory that I've been on a spa-like vacation, but all of the pampering felt somewhat justified because, other than when we went on game drives, we were basically confined to this small area of a reserve roughly the size of a football field. Game-wise, we saw a family of elephants (who weren't really wild), warthogs (my favorite because they reminded me a lot of Watson), nyalas, impalas, wildebeasts, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, and probably some other things that I'm forgetting. Cool stuff. Will be interesting to compare the game lodge on a somewhat small reserve experience to the safari that we're going on in Kruger National Park in June.

Almost directly after flying back from Durban, I got myself together for a vacation to Mozambique with Kris, who was in need of a vacation. I kept a running journal during that trip and took some pictures, so I'll get that up tomorrow or this weekend to get you critics off my back.