Posted by: Dave | June 27, 2010

A week on the Western Cape

*Warning 1:  This is going to be long. It covers over a week of very full travel days – and lots of soccer.

*Warning 2: At the risk of losing some readers, I’m starting this blog with World Cup talk. Again, I’ll (try to) leave the analysis to other people, but since I last posted there has been a lot of soccer in my life. If you want to read about my visit to South Africa’s wine country, the Great White Shark diving or my thoughts on Cape Town, then you’ll have to read through the World Cup stuff… or skip right over it.


World Cup

I’m going to cover the important stuff here… the USA’s last couple of World Cup games.   Last night I watched the knockout match against Ghana with Americans, Brits, South Africans, Uruguayans and Koreans in a bar that overlooks the Indian Ocean in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth.  Quite an atmosphere.

With Ghana being the lone team remaining in the tournament from the African continent, the usually pro-American South Africans were all behind their African “neighbor”.  It’s really interesting to see this continental loyalty. Every African supporter, regardless of nationality, has been blinding supporting every other African nation. Can you imagine Argentinian fans supporting Brazil because they’re “South American” … or the (fantastically) eliminated French or Italians rallying behind the English or Germans to save European face in this World Cup? Not a chance.  Everywhere we’re been, the South Africans have been supporting their country, all of the other African countries (except maybe Algeria) and the United States.   African unity – and South African solidarity – may require a totally separate blog post altogether.
Ghana outplayed our boys last night. And although I’m completely bummed that we’ve been eliminated, it was probably deserved on the night (why, why must we always give up goals in the first 5 minutes?!) – and it was certainly great for this continent.  Hopefully Ghana can get past Uruguay in the quarterfinal.  An African country has never been in the semifinal of the World Cup, and this it a great opportunity for the best soccer nation on the dark continent.

Celebrating our last minute win over Algeria.

While I’ve been to five matches now, some of my favorite World Cup experiences have been watching games in bars around the country. We’ve watched games while on safari, in small towns and big cities, and by ourselves and with hundreds of people. The World Cup is everywhere.  In Cape Town we caught the important USA-Algeria match at a restaurant in the V&A Waterfront area. It was the prefect place to watch the critical last stage of the first round. There were hundreds of American and English fans there to watch the two matches. Celebrating our last minute win – which put us through to the next round is certainly one of the most memorable soccer-related experiences I’ll ever have.  Americans from all over the country were buying each other shots and singing and dancing in a city halfway around the world from home.

The most shocking revelation for me during this tournament has been the English fans.  I know the US is generally disliked in sporting circles around the world, but in soccer we have earned a little bit of respect for being a hard-working team.  But the English fans I know personally (this applies to some of you reading this) and to the ones I’ve met in the last few weeks have been so ridiculous about the US soccer team.  I think the English media and supporters expected an easy run in the group stage, and with 5 months of anticipation of the US-England opening match, there was a lot of time to think “we’d better beat the USA.”  And of course they didn’t. Sure we were a bit lucky in that match, but that’s why we play the games… and we were unlucky in our two others.  I received emails, texts and other words from English friends that suggested we wouldn’t get another point (i.e. we wouldn’t beat or even tie Slovenia and Algeria). Of course we did, and we won the group, but the insufferable England fans seem to think we’re an insignificant team.   I don’t get it… maybe they’re scared we’ll take over the sport they think they’re good at. They’re right.  I love the English Premier League, and some of the England players, but I think I will now always support whomever is playing England.


South Africa (non-soccer)

I’m still in love with this country.  This place has so much more to offer than the bad-news stories that I was warned of by so  many people before coming here. Sure, this place has a long way to go to feel as comfortable as the US, but they’re not as far as most Americans believe.  There’s a real feeling of unity here – which is demonstrated by all (including the white) South Africans of embracing the African heritage.  White people only make up 20% of the population of South Africa, have much of the money, and were instrumental in the atrocious behavior of the apartheid era. But as a tourist I neither see or feel any lingering resentment from the apartheid era. I’m sure it’s there… and there certainly is significant impact from apartheid in the economic situation of many non-white South Africans, but the resentment isn’t so apparent.

Typical vista in wine country in western South Africa

So what have I been up to over the last week besides soccer? Everything.  After leaving the Johannesburg area, we (me, Ceara, Mackerer, Wode and Brody) headed to Cape Town – and then immediately drove 20 miles to South Africa’s wine country.  Brody came through huge at this stage. His buddy Andre – a South African who was in Brody’s b-school class at Columbia – is in the wine industry here in SA and gave us a private VIP tour of a few vinyards. He was apologetic, as it was a Sunday and some of the vineyards were closed, but it was a phenomenal visit nonetheless… ending at Andre’s family “house” in the vineyards for a true South African braai (read: BBQ) and some of his family’s wine.  Perfect, perfect way to enjoy South African wine country.

Outside our the last vineyard we visited in Franschoek

The next day we hit two more vineyards then headed to the south coast town of Hermanus, which is the best place in the world for seeing whales from land. But we didn’t see any – which was ok because our main purpose for being there was the next day’s cage diving with Great White Sharks in nearby Gaansbai.

Yeah... we jumped in the cage and before they could close the lid, the sharks were there.

We went out with Brian Mcfarlane’s company. You may have seen Brian on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week – he’s the guy who created the cage diving industry in South Africa.  There are only 8 companies licensed to run cage diving excursions in Great White waters, and the industry is closely regulated to ensure that the sharks don’t become overly, um, interested in humans.   We rode out 20 minutes to Dyer Island (also of Discovery Channel fame) and Ceara, Brody, Keith Gorman, Cory Arberg and I were the first ones in line to get underwater to see these animals.  Seeing 12-15 foot Great Whites cruise by within a few feet of my face is one of the coolest experiences I’ve had.  While against the rules, I even reached out as one swam by and ran my hand across its side fin. I still have both arms and all fingers.

With Keith and Brody before entering the cage.

I didn’t take the camera underwater, but I had an underwater video camera. I’ll edit and post stuff from that as soon as I get home and have more time/computer power.  Overall we saw about 12 different sharks come through… including one massive one that easily was 15 feet long (and around 1 ton, according to Mcfarlane). This was top of my bucket list… and I don’t think I’m done with it yet.  There are 3-day Great White Shark diving trips from Baja that go way out into the Pacific… that’s on the list now.

Top of the food chain

Now back to Cape Town, which is like San Francisco and San Diego smashed together…. with the super-awesome Table Mountain looming over the city.  Table Mountain is over 3000 feet high and isn’t more than 3 miles from the water’s edge.

Table Mountain - as seen from our apartment off Long Street

We rented an apartment in the middle of the city and had a phenomenal view of “The Mountain,” as the locals refer to it.   Then we made the decision to hike The Mountain.  I don’t think any of us expected 1300+ steps up, but we did it. Not easy to ascend about 2000 feet in an hour and a half, but we did, and the views from the top are phenomenal. Of course you can take a gondola up there if you don’t want the Buns-of-Steel hike, but we were all glad that we made the effort to hike The Mountain.  Any burned off calories were replaced later that day as we put down a few (dozen) pints of Castle – South Africa’s outstanding national lager.  The V&A Waterfront is Cape Town’s posh restaurant area, and it’s the most densely concentrated World Cup area that we’ve seen. The new stadium in Cape Town is 1km away, and all of the restaurants and bars are indoor/outdoor – which is perfect winter in Cape Town. (Cape Town is 33 degrees south latitude – Phoenix is 33 degrees north latitude. The winters are similar.)   We didn’t have enough time in Cape Town.  I think Cape Town and the surrounding area is worth well over a week.  We did make it down to the Cape of Good Hope – the bottom of the African continent, and we got to see the penguins in Simon’s Town, but we could’ve given all of it more time.  The word on the street is that Cape Town will be a serious contender to host the 2020 Olympics. If you can’t get to Cape Town beforehand, the 2020 Olympics should be your excuse to get there.

Table Mountain

This cub took a special liking to the zipper on my jacket. So cute though.

I’m now in Port Elizabeth… watching Germany wrap up their clinical elimination of England (see above. I love it.). Before catching the Uruguay-Korea match yesterday, we went to a local “lion park” with one sole purpose.  The Seaview Lion Park is kind of a breeding center for lions and rescue for some other animals. But we were there for the lions. We had had a few excellent lion experiences in Kruger and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, but Ceara wanted to pet some cubs.. and this was the place to do that, not with the wild lions of the national parks.  And so we did… we got to spend some time with 4 lion cubs, who couldn’t have been any cuter.  And then we got the nerve to go in the pen with some 12+ month old males (with two staff members).  Petting an almost full-grown male lion might have been more exhilarating than the Great White encounter – and the 12,000 volt jolt when my butt grazed the electric fence in the lion pen.  These animals are huge and untameable.  And they are so beautiful and magestic.

Side story from the lion park:  There are some pens where the more mature lions hang out until they’re shipped off to game parks or zoos around the world. You can get close to the lions, albeit on the other side of an electric fence.  Some lionesses were enjoying the afternoon sun, and I chose to lay down and take some pics through the fence, and one of the lions took a slight issue with that and decided to run at me. I have no idea what she was thinking, whether she was being playful or, um, hungry… but it was scary – even through the electric fence. I got one “pre-charge” pic, and then somehow took one during the episode. See below.

Checking me out from afar...

... and coming closer (quickly). This can't be good.

Today was our second to last day in South Africa. Ceara and I checked out the famous surf beach Jeffrey’s Bay, which is considered one of the 10 best surf spots in the world, but the weather was uncooperative and the winds blew out any swell that might’ve existed.  Tomorrow morning we head to Durban to catch Holland-Slovakia, then head home the following day. I’ll write more about South Africa when I get home. Just know that this place is incredible and not as bad as people say it is.  And there’s little reason to visit Johannesburg. More to come on that.

Thanks for checking in!  See you soon.

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Responses

  1. So awesome – thanks for sharing!! I agree on the English fans… and was equally happy with Deutschland’s utter dismantling of the 3 Lions!!! Can’t wait to see all of your pics. And FV2020 is on for South Africa 🙂

  2. Such disdain huh…
    The US team did their country proud. We absolutely self detonated but not quite as spectacularly as the French or the Italians.

    Trip looks awesome, solid photos dude.

    Let’s plan for a killer trip in Brasil…

    Safe travels and God Save the Queen.

  3. Wow. I can not believe you got in a cage to see great whites. They scare me, but love watching them on the discovery channel. Sound’s like you are continuing to have an amazing life experience in Africa. Have a safe flight home.

  4. Thank you soooooo much for including us on your adventure. Have safe, easy travel home. See you later this week.

  5. Seriously–I thought maybe, just maybe you might have found your next place to live—AND decide to start right now. Apparently, you are actually going to come back to USA–at least for now.
    see you soon……….lee


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