Tuesday, July 20, 2010

7/20/10 – Final Days!

                  This is very likely my final blog entry!! Tomorrow my flight leaves at 3:50pm, but I will be taking no chances and arriving at the airport very early. Dave and I were just reflecting on our last four days here, potentially one of the greatest, most enjoyable, four day spans in my entire life. Shark cage diving, kayaking, taking a boat tour of False Bay, going on a safari, touring Robben Island, and hiking up Table Mountain is quite an impressive line-up to be completed in four days. Looking back, I'm glad we waited till the end of our trip because the weather has been fantastic. In addition, I'm exhausted now and shouldn't have any issue sleeping much of the time on the plane.

                Yesterday was our safari to Fairy Glen. I really have to stress how amazing Jamaica was at organizing and taking the initiative to drive to Fairy Glen with our rented vehicle. I'm not sure I would have done so well driving on the left side of the road. After being here a month I still usually look the wrong way first when crossing a street. While I'm at it, I should mention that Dave and Jamaica were both terrific this whole trip. They planned absolutely everything, and I really attribute how great my experience was to their initiative. Not to mention I would still be completely lost walking around Cape Town if I didn't have them at my side (my sense of direction is awful).

                Traveling to the safari went very smoothly, although leaving at 4:30 was quite painful. The drive was about an hour from Cape Town and the scenery was magnificent along the way as we watched the sun rise behind the mountains. I can't say enough times how beautiful the entire area is surrounding Cape Town; the mountains are nothing like in Oregon as the elevation changes very rapidly to make for an impressive profile. Upon arrival we were served a very filling buffet breakfast. Our tour guide, Gerard, was full of great information and humor as he took us on the large jeep-like vehicle through the reserve. It was a beautiful day and we were fortunate enough to see a lot of great animals. We got very close to all of the animals we saw including elephants, lions, rhinos, a hippo, giraffes, zebras, springbok, wildebeest, bontebok, ostriches, eland, a crocodile, and others I am forgetting at this moment. Ashley got lots of great photos that I was able to steal. She is the only one with a camera left on this trip! My camera was lost or stolen, Jamaica's charger broke, Dave's camera broke, and their video "flip" stopped working as well.

                After seeing all the animals we returned to the lodge for another great buffet meal. They really fed us well; it was definitely my best meal since I've been here. After lunch Dave, Jamaica, and I went on a horseback ride on a scenic path. I really enjoyed riding my white horse Pearl, although she was occasionally a bit temperamental. All of the horses behaved for the most part, but they had moments of being quite stubborn. Dave rode Socks and Jamaica rode Pica. We had a great time, although my thighs definitely felt the bumpy ride after it was over. The entire day was absolutely perfect, as was the weather once again. I can't believe how amazing it has been this last week considering we are in the middle of winter. I'd love to portray more about the animals, but it will be best done with the videos and pictures that we took once I get back home.

                Today was another early morning, and my sleepiness caused us to miss the first train out of Fish Hoek by just seconds. Oops. We still made it in to town early enough to make it to the Waterfront for our boat taking us to Robben Island. For those who know nothing of Robben Island, it was a massive isolated prison on an island off the coast of Cape Town that housed prisoners and notably political prisoners during the Apartheid of South Africa. Most notable amongst the prisoners held at Robben Island was Nelson Mandela, whose struggle for equality in South Africa lead the country out of Apartheid and was elected for president in 1994 after being released in 1990. Nelson Mandela is still alive today, and we celebrated his 92nd birthday Monday, Nelson Mandela Day. The tour of the island and the prison was very interesting. Our tour guide, Sadik Levy, was actually a prisoner at the island, so all of the information was really coming from his heart. He told us all about his personal hardships at the island as well as the life of Nelson Mandela and other famous prisoners who fought for human rights and the equality of blacks and whites in South Africa. It is amazing to consider that Apartheid just ended in 1994. The country has progressed so much since then and most everyone who lives here seems so proud of the unity they have now. Unfortunately we had no camera at the island because just Jamaica, Dave, and I went, but the pictures would have been pretty depressing anyway. I would not say that the Robben Island experience was "fun", but I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to do it. The prisoners of Robben Island and especially Nelson Mandela are such important figures of why South Africa has taken such positive steps in recent years. Without Nelson Mandela's impact I really doubt that this country could have ever hosted a World Cup.

                Our final big activity of our incredible journey was to climb Table Mountain, one of the most well known landmarks in all of South Africa. Jamaica unfortunately wasn't able to join Dave and me on the hike because she was feeling ill from the boat ride. Dave and I set up the mountain trail on a descent pace, passing lots of other hikers panting along. The hike was definitely not for someone that was out of shape, the path was very steep and strenuous. We read going in to the hike that it takes between 1 and a half to three hours for most hikers, but Dave and I made it to the top in just one hour. I think if we were in top shape we could have shaved off another ten minutes, but I was struggling a bit towards the top due to the peanut butter milkshake and foot long roast beef and gravy sandwich that I had just put down before the hike. For those of you who know Dave well, you're aware that he can eat 40 wings at Chicken Bonz and still play a 90 minute soccer game, so the meal didn't slow him down a bit. Before reaching the top we fortunately ran into Ashley and Jesse, who had decided to take the cable car up and hike down. We were lucky to see them because they allowed us to borrow Ash's camera. The summit was a beautiful and relieving sight! The view from the top was so much greater than what can be portrayed in a photograph, 360 degrees of beauty. Dave and I enjoyed the wonderful weather and got some nice photos before heading down the cable car so that we could meet up with Jamaica back in town. Table Mountain was a perfect capper to our vacation.

                Tonight we are all packing and doing last minute house cleaning. I can't express how great my trip has been. There are a lot of places I want to travel to still in my life, so I'm not sure if it's in the cards to return, but I'd be so happy if I was able to. This trip has influenced me to make the decision to travel to the next World Cup in Brazil! Hopefully my mother and Rachel will come as well. I spoke with one man on a bus who had been to every World Cup since 1974. After talking to him I hope that I will be able to see the world in a similar manner. The World Cup is such a great way to see a country in addition to watching an incredible soccer tournament. I've had a great time, but can't wait to get back to see my family and Rachel. I planned my trip for just the right amount of time because I got to do everything that I had hoped to (besides seeing Soccer City Stadium in Joburg). I'm excited now to head home tomorrow afternoon and be picked up by Rachel in. SOOOOOO excited to see Rachel! Hope everyone has enjoyed my blog, but if not I don't really care because at least I'll get to look back on it someday :). PEACE.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

7/18/10 – Kayaking

                 This morning we rose early to catch the bus once again to Simon's Town. All five of us met with the kayak tour guide, Derek near the dock. Our group got a private guided tour, as nobody else had signed up for the trip. Being the fifth wheel, I got my own single kayak while the two couples both rode double-seat kayaks. It was a beautiful day, probably getting up to 75 degrees during our trip. I really enjoyed kayaking for my first time, and hope to do it more in the future. We kayaked along the rocky coastline of Simon's Town toward Boulder Beach. Along the way we were extremely fortunate to see a Southern Right whale probably 300 meters away. The whale was very impressive as it surfaced maybe 10 times before moving out of range. The tour guide challenged us to not say "awesome" until the trip was finished, but I failed just minutes in. It's difficult to not say the words "awesome", "incredible", "amazing", etc. when you are kayaking in crystal clear False Bay under the warm sun amongst great friends, whales, and penguins. The surrounding scenery was breathtaking as well. All of the impressive mountains around False Bay from Simon's Town to Cape Town were visible today. The water was so clear as we kayaked along the coastline and through the kelp at some points. After watching the penguins at Boulder Beach we parked the kayaks up on a beach and enjoyed picking up seashells for a while. Eventually we made our way back to the starting point, the trip in total lasting about two and a half hours. Derek was a very entertaining tour guide which added to the enjoyment of our trip. Kayaking is definitely something I could really enjoy in the future, although I can't imagine many trips equaling the joy of this one.

                We ate lunch in Simon's Town and wasted some time at a very interesting South African Naval Museum. Then, later in the afternoon, the five of us took a boat tour out to Seal Island where Dave and I had done shark cage diving yesterday. We were hoping to see whales, dolphins, or sharks, but had to settle for seeing the 40,000 seals on the island, more penguins, and lots of seabirds. I was disappointed not to see whales or dolphins (as they often do on this particular trip), but still very much enjoyed riding on the 14 seat motorized raft called the Rubber Ducky.

                Today was another exhausting day full of great new experiences, and I'm expecting more of the same tomorrow. Tomorrow we are catching the 4:30am train in to Cape Town where we have a car rented to take to the safari, Fairy Glen. I'm extremely excited and looking forward to sharing that experience as soon as I can!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

7/17/10 – Shark Cage Diving

                 Once again I have put off posting a new blog for far too long. Since the end of the tournament we have mostly spent a lot of time shopping and hanging out in Cape Town. Amongst the shopping we also made it to the Two Oceans Aquarium; making Africa the third continent on which I've been to an aquarium. Two Oceans was quite nice, but I still rate it under our beautiful aquarium at Newport, Oregon.

                Yesterday was especially fun, as we were able to meet up with Sean and his family in Cape Town after their tour of Robben Island. While we were there we also booked our tour of the prison for this Tuesday, the day before my return to the States. It was great to see Sean and his family and hear about their great experience attending the final. I am so happy that I was able to see five games, but I regret not being able to at least see the massive stadium, Soccer City in Johannesburg. We had lunch with Sean and the gang, did some shopping, and then parted ways. It was a short get together, but it was really neat to see them in Cape Town! We attempted to call it an early night to prepare for today, so Dave, Jamaica, and I headed back to Fish Hoek at a reasonable hour.

                I didn't get nearly as much sleep as I would have hoped last night. It is difficult to rest, however, knowing that you are going to be in the water with great white sharks in just hours. Dave and I were the only two who braved the shark cage diving trip that began at 7:00am in Simon's Town. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and one that I won't allow myself to forget. Skipper Rob took us out on his boat with six others to the famous Seal Island in False Bay. The boat ride out to the island took about 25 minutes. The morning skies were absolutely stunning; a perfect start for what would be a perfect day.

                We didn't waste too much time seeking out the great whites. The island is covered with around 40,000 seals, packed from flipper to flipper. The idea was to follow small groups of seals away from the island, and eventually pick up on individual seals that had broken off from their groups (those are the ones that the sharks go after). We did not have much luck, only seeing the tail of one right near our boat as I quickly turned my head towards the commotion. Next, we threw out an imitation seal on a rope that trailed about 25 yards behind the boat. We were instructed to watch the seal closely, as a shark could breach at any second. Just shortly after putting out the fake seal, a shark erupted out of the water (yes completely airborn) attacking the seal, flipped around in the air, and splashed back down into the water! I could not believe the immense power of the animal to completely launch itself out of the water. I've seen pictures of great whites completely out of water, but I guess I just expected it to bite the seal. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen! We were able to witness the sight two more times, the second one being quite a large shark. Dave got all three breaches on video clips!

                Next up was cage-diving. I didn't feel really nervous about being in the water with the sharks, surprisingly. The crew on the boat attempted to coax sharks around the boat by chumming the water, using bait, and throwing out another type of fake seal. A few different sharks came over to the boat and checked it out, occasionally making a play at the seal. The size of the sharks swimming around the boat was unbelievable. Most of the sharks were around 12 feet long! Dave and I entered the cage together after brief instructions. My greatest fear was the cold water. The wet suits helped, but when I jumped in I was breathing very hard, likely due to a combination of the temperature and the intensity of the situation. This made it a bit difficult to find my breath using the scuba tank, as I had never used one before. Eventually I was able to calm myself down enough and trust the equipment; it is such a strange feeling having the power to breath under water! After a few minutes my body acclimated to the cold water and I become comfortable. Dave and I looked around as best we could for sharks, but they weren't having much luck luring them towards the boat. After about 10 minutes under water I felt a tap on my shoulder from Dave. I turned around and swimming past us was a massive one! It was just feet from the cage, and it came around again for a second pass. The shark wanted little to do with the us, but I was satisfied with our one great look up close and personal. When we got out of the cage, the people on the boat informed us that the shark that came up to us was about four and a half meters long, about 15 feet!! It was likely the biggest one that we saw all day! I expected to flip out when I saw the shark that close under water, but I was just excited in a very calm manor. I dried off and warmed up, but Dave got another opportunity to go again. I could have gone, but was already warm and satisfied with our first run. Right off the bat, Dave got a great look at a shark that took the bait right in front of him, then turned and smacked the cage with its tail. I had an awesome view of it from the boat, but Dave was so fortunate to be in the cage at that moment. I missed a good chance, but I was happy for Dave and still very excited about what I had gotten to see.

                Throughout the day we probably saw 15 or more great whites! We were told at the end of the tour that we were extremely fortunate to see so many, especially the breaches at the beginning. Apparently, sometimes they are not able to see any sharks; it just depends on the day. I felt so fortunate that we had such an incredible day. We were out on the boat for over five hours and had one of my most memorable experiences ever. Dave got a few great video clips, but we also exchanged emails with another guy on the boat who is going to send us a few pictures from the trip.

                Tomorrow is another action packed day. The five of us are all doing a kayak trip early in the morning that takes us over to Boulder Beach, where the penguins are located. Later in the day we are taking a boat tour out to Seal Island, where Dave and I spent the day today. All five of us are taking that tour and hoping to see sharks, whales, dolphins, and definitely more seals! I hope we have the same success tomorrow that we had today. I should be posting again really soon because the day after tomorrow is our Safari, then the next is our Robben Island tour! I'll try to post after each experience so everyone gets the detailed version.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

7/11/10 – End of the Cup

                 Well the tournament is over and Spain wins! What an incredible journey it was, and I am quite satisfied with the outcome. I picked Spain to win it all in my bracket that I filled out in May. The third place match was brilliant and the final was intense. My enjoyment in watching the tournament was as high as I could have hoped from the beginning. During the final matches I thought the style of play from all the teams was very entertaining and fast paced. It was nice to see that teams didn't sit back and defend as did previous winners Italy. The final four teams, especially, all played beautiful football with differing tactics. I loved seeing so many different and effective ways of playing the game tactically, in contrast to watching most club football where a similar style prevails within each league. Not sure if any of my followers actually think about this stuff, but it's what's on my mind right now so that's what you get! I LOVE talking about the tactics involved, but I'll spare you all.

                Only slightly dampening the greatness of the tournament, there were some things that repeatedly happened during the games that continue to piss me off. It's the stupid things players do that non-soccer players are quickest to criticize (and rightly so). I am so tired of seeing complaining, faking injuries, and especially diving! None of this needs to be part of the game. The worst is when any one of these things results in something positive for their team, for example being awarded a pk for a dive. Two changes need to happen for Brazil in my opinion. The first is goal line technology; Frank Lampard's goal is evidence of that. The second change would be some sort of punishment for diving or faking injuries (like grabbing your face when someone elbows you in the chest) that is applied after the game is reviewed by FIFA. I don't know if there is a better way than a fine for the players, a suspension might be too harsh. I don't know, hopefully people agree with this.

Anyway I'm thinking about all the wrong things now, ranting instead of rejoicing! It was a super experience and the tournament was amazing. South Africa was an incredible host and really proved to the world that they can put on such an epic event. The 64 games occurred without even a stumble in the event's organization. The soccer part of my trip is all over. Only 10 days now to do everything else before I'm back in the air heading to Portland. On the "to do" list still is Cape Point, kayaking, Table Mountain, shopping, Safari, and shark cage diving (if I'm brave enough). Hope we can fit it all in, at least I'll be tired for the plane.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

7/10/10 – FLU :(

                I am reporting a bit late on the outcome of the semifinals, but this is by no means due to any displeasure with the outcomes. Both games turned out as well as I could have possibly hoped for. However, the games were the only bit of enjoyment I have had in quite a number of days as I have battled the flu. I decided it was better to not concern any mothers out there about my lack of good health while I was out of commission. The good news is there is no more need for anyone to worry because this morning I feel nearly 100 percent. The unfortunate part is that we still have a lot of things that we want to do in our remaining days here, so we are going to be hard pressed to fit it all in. With only two days left in the tournament, Dave and I will be less distracted and I'm sure Jamaica won't have any problems helping us with all the shopping we still need to do. She has mad shopping skills to say the least!

                This evening is the 3rd/4th place match between the two teams that were unsuccessful in their semifinal matches. Uruguay who failed to get passed the Netherlands in an exciting 2 to 3 defeat will test their skill against Germany, who failed to score against Spain in their 1 to 0 semifinal loss. It is always difficult to predict what might happen in this sort of match, as it seems the teams often lack motivation without the big prize to play for. Germany is the better team, but Uruguay might be more motivated to win since third place would mean a great accomplishment to their country. Miroslav Klose, the veteran striker for Germany, will have the most personal aspirations going in to the match. The two goals that we watched Klose score against Argentina took him past the great Pele for total lifetime World Cup goals and is now just one behind the leader, Ronaldo (The Brazilian one, not Christiano Ronaldo). Klose was one of three German players rumored to have the flu, in addition to a back injury suffered in the game against Spain. Reports say that he likely won't play, but I think there is little that could keep him from a chance of putting his name in the history books for good. This will definitely be his last World Cup, so tonight is his last chance.

                I recently thought of something quite amazing about the games I have been to here at the Cup. I have been to just five games out of the total 64 matches, but if Germany wins tonight I will have seen the 3rd place team, runner up, and World Cup champions all play at least one match! I think that's pretty damn awesome! I may not have gotten tickets to the finals, but I got to see both the finalists play. As far as the finals go, I hope that Spain continue their impressive performance over Germany. I rooted for the Netherlands in both of their games I attended, but Spain is my second favorite team in the tournament (behind the USA obviously). I know that not everyone who reads by blog is the biggest soccer fan, and prefer hearing more about the other stuff we do, but I encourage everyone to at least watch the final. This is extremely exciting for me!!

                On another note, I have finally proven to the world that I CAN grow a beard, and a rather disgusting and patchy one at that. I was hoping to hold out on shaving it until I got back, but don't get your hopes up because it's getting rather painful for me to look at in the mirror.

Monday, July 5, 2010

7/4/10 – The Quarterfinals and Sea View Game Park

             Friday and Saturday were by far the most exhausting days of my trip, but also the very best. The overnight bus rides were even longer than I expected. Dave and I left Thursday evening and 12 hours later arrived early Friday morning in Port Elizabeth. I had very little success sleeping on the cramped bus, which made for quite an uncomfortable trip for someone as tall as myself. Shortly after arriving in Port Elizabeth and eating breakfast, Dave and I caught a cab to Sea View Game Park. As we entered the game park, outside the car window we saw springbok and neyla (both horned dearlike animals), giraffes, and zebras as we made our way toward the restaurant and main area of the park. The animals were so close to our vehicle, and didn't seem to even care that we were there; I suppose they are used to seeing cars and people. When we arrived at the headquarters of the park I met some of the people that Dave and Jamaica worked with while they were volunteering. I had no idea that I was in store for some VIP experiences thanks to Dave's reputation! We started by touring around the nearby reserve area that holds young animals including baby lions (12 weeks), Siberian tigers (7 -8 months), a caracole (also known as an African Lynx), meerkats, a leopard, a crocodile and five male lions that were just over a year old.

Before doing "handlings" with some of the animals we went to meet the adult lions and tigers in another part of the park. We didn't see the male Siberian tiger, but the female was very large and beautiful. The male Siberian tigers are the largest cats in the world. The lions weren't very close to the fence, but even from a distance their size and power was obvious. After visiting the adults for a while we headed back up the hill to the younger animals. Our first handling was with the tigers, meaning that I was able to go into their cage and pet them! The tigers, Shu Shu and Faye, were a little excited at first so occasionally we were instructed to slap them on the head and push them off if they tried to claw or nibble at us. They were just playful though, they weren't actually trying to hurt anybody. The park got pretty busy for a while, so Dave helped out while I watched him do more handlings with the customers. Eventually, however the park got quieter as we got a little nearer to game time. Dave and I went in with the African Lynx, Kenny, and although he didn't really pay any attention to me being there as he paced back and forth, I was able to pet him a little while he ignored me. Dave had mentioned going into this experience that some of the animals are racist, which I found unusual. The African Lynx, who had completely ignored us, found time to stop and hiss fiercely as one of the black workers walked by the cage. Apparently it is more difficult for Dave and the other workers to do handlings with black and especially Indian customers; they have to be more careful because they don't really want to tell them that the animals are racist! After chilling with Kenny for a while, we went in with the meerkats, Fat Momma and Sid. It took some time to coax them out of their underground manor, but eventually they poked their heads out of a hole. Dave had me sit down, and immediately Fat Momma came over and sat down in my lap. Besides wanting to eat my fingers, Fat Momma was very cuddly and cute. When Dave's friend, Delano, was done helping customers with handlings he took us in with the male lions. Considering they were just over one year old, they were massive. At first I would approach the animals very timidly, but eventually I became more comfortable with them. It was quite an experience to be so close to something that could eat me if it decided to! Even the lions would try half-heartedly to give you a nice scratch or nibble, but you could distract them with a wave of your hand usually and push their massive heads away. Cliff was my favorite of the lions; he was so calm and had beautiful white hair. We spent a solid 20 minutes with the lions, and I was sad to say goodbye when we finally had to leave. It was definitely one of the greatest experiences I've ever had! To finish off the day, we had some time to play with the baby lions before the cab picked us up. They were so cute, although it was a hot day so they were less playful than usual. I can't wait to show everyone the pictures from Sea View. It was such an amazing start to what continued to be a great day!

                The cab picked us up and drove us close to the stadium. Although the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth is significantly smaller than the one in Cape Town, the architecture is absolutely stunning. Dave and I were both supporting the Netherlands against Brazil. There was decent support for both teams, but Brazil was definitely the more represented judging by the amount of yellow and green in the crowd. It was one of the best games of the World Cup so far and I felt so lucky to be seeing such talented teams. Brazil scored first and looked very strong at the end of the first half. During the second half, however, Netherlands really began to dominate the game. After an own goal from a Brazilian player, the momentum switched dramatically. The Netherlands grabbed another goal shortly after, and from there on out it never looked like Brazil were threatening to score a second.

 I wish that I could put into words how amazing Friday was. Between the animal park and the game it was one of the greatest days ever. The bus ride back seemed to go by a little quicker since I was able to get about eight hours of sleep. For Dave it went even quicker since he slept from the moment we got on the bus until I woke him up at the station at Cape Town, a solid 12 hours.

Saturday was another great day. Dave and I met the others at Cape Town station to head to the game between Germany and Argentina. I was the lone German supporter in the group, as most of them were pretty certain that Argentina was the best team in the cup. I knew better. The Germans looked absolutely dominant throughout the game. They played the highest quality soccer that I've ever seen in my life. It was an absolute pleasure to watch how well they possessed the ball and moved off of the ball. They are definitely the most sound tactical and technical team in the tournament. I would love to see Spain beat them in the semis after their close win over Paraguay Saturday night, but the Germans definitely look better thus far. The Germans managed to net four goals against Argentina as they put up a shutout against the team who had scored the most goals in the tournament to this point. I think it is worth mentioning that I witnessed 18 goals at the five games I attended in South Africa, an average of over three per game.

The semifinals are now set, with Uruguay and Netherlands playing in Cape Town, and Spain and Germany playing in Durban. Only four games left counting the 3rd/4th place match. Plenty of excitement left, although we do not have any tickets for the final games. There are two days off before the semis start, so today we will hang out in Fish Hoek as Dave and I recover from our big weekend. Today is the fourth of July so we're going to have a barbeque. Dave and Jamaica's friend Tamz, from Australia, is also going to stay with us for a few days, so Dave and I are roomies until she leaves. I'm really looking forward to the barbeque today, as it will be a little celebration to remind us of home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

7/1/10 – Botanical Gardens and Eber’s Departure

                 Happy July everybody! Yesterday was Ashley's 21st birthday, and a full day off from soccer. We celebrated in Cape Town by going out to both lunch and dinner. In between, we visited the botanical gardens in Cape Town. They were absolutely beautiful, and I can only imagine they would be more spectacular during the spring and summer when everything is in bloom. It was a nice change of pace from watching soccer as we walked around the trails for an hour or so. We were scheduled to visit Robben Island yesterday as well, but we had to get a refund because all tours were cancelled due to rough seas.

                This morning Eber left for the airport and is ultimately headed back to New Orleans. I was sad to see him go, we had a lot of fun together and I just officially became our groups "fifth wheel". Dave (Mehr) and I are leaving for a little excursion of our own this evening. We will take the train in to Cape Town and then board an overnight greyhound bus to Port Elizabeth for the Brazil vs Netherlands quarterfinal. I believe it is around a 10 hour bus ride to PE, so I am hoping I'll be successful in sleeping on the bus and being rested for the game. Also in PE, we will visit the lion park where Dave and Jamaica volunteered for two weeks prior to my arrival in South Africa. I don't want to give away everything I might experience, so you'll just have to wait for the next blog! After the game we will have to catch another overnight bus back to Cape Town in order to make the quarterfinals match between Germany and Argentina. Ashley, Jesse, and Jamaica will meet us in Cape Town that afternoon and we'll all go to the game together. It will likely be the last game we attend barring some miracle that we get semi-final tickets in Cape Town. So I'm really hoping for a great game!

                It should be a few days before my next blog post, but it should be a good one recounting my two quarterfinal matches and my visit to the lion park.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

6/29/10 – Spain vs Portugal

                 Yesterday morning Dave, Jamaica, and went on a run along the beach under the surprisingly warm "winter" sun. We have been very fortunate with weather thus far, experiencing quite a few days in the mid 70s with plenty of sunshine. It is winter here in the southern hemisphere, and apparently average highs are mid 60s and average lows are mid 40s, so we consider ourselves lucky.

                We watched the games yesterday at home. Brazil and Netherlands both avoided upsets so Dave and I will see the two teams clash in Port Elizabeth on July 2nd! I'm so excited to see the top ranked team in the world, Brazil. Dave and I will both be cheering for Netherlands, however.

                The weather this morning was windy, rainy, and gray; however Dave woke me up with some news that brightened my day. He has been logging on to the ticketing website every few hours to check for more tickets, and he finally managed. The five of us who are still here will be going to the quarterfinal match in Cape Town featuring Germany and Argentina! This is likely going to be the game of the tournament. Both teams are in top form with Germany coming off a 4 to 1 thrashing of England and Argentina managing a 3 to 1 win over Mexico. We will be seeing the best player in the world, Messi, who plays for Argentina. I can't even express how excited I am to see this game. I'm excited to see the individual players on both teams, but I will be hoping for a German victory!

                We just got back from Cape Town and our knockout phase game between Spain and Portugal. Our seats were the farthest from the field in the entire 65,000 seat stadium, but we were actually able to see the tactics of the game better than when I sat close. Seeing Spain for me was absolutely unbelievable. Xavi, one of my favorite players in the world received the man of the match award as Spain beat Portugal 1 to 0. Spain looked very good against Portugal, who had just beat North Korea 7 to 0 and tied Brazil. I'm still so overwhelmed at each game, thinking about how fortunate I am to be here and watching the best footballers in the world.

                Tomorrow is the first day since the tournament began on June 11th that there is no games scheduled to be played. Weather permitting we will take advantage of the break in soccer to visit Robben Island. Robben Island was formerly the prison that held Nelson Mandela before he became president of South Africa and lead the nation out of Apartheid. The prison is now a museum and a historically important monument that commemorates South Africa's greatest hero and anti-apartheid leader. I am very excited for the boat ride out to the island and the inclusive tour. The tour runs as long as the sea is not too dangerous, so hopefully the wind will not be blowing like it was this morning.

                Hope everyone is well back home. Feel free to ask me any questions or make comments if you want!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

6/27/10 – Catch Up

                 Friday was an especially delicious day! Eber and Jamaica walked down to Kalk Bay to buy some fish. We spend the afternoon devouring a 3 foot smoked snoek. It was so delicious that the six of us had finished it off within a few hours. We only paid 60 rand for the snoek, equating to about $6.50 in US dollars! We also bought 4 red snapper for the braai (barbeque) that cost us about $5.00 US. I can't even imagine how much that seafood feast would have cost us in the States! That evening we watched the Spain vs Chile game and the Brazil vs Portugal game. Spain won and Brazil and Portugal tied, so we'll see Spain in the second round against Portugal!! It's still likely that Dave and I will see Brazil vs Netherlands in the quarterfinal game in Port Elizabeth if they don't get upset against Chile and Slovakia respectively.

                Yesterday was somewhat less pleasant. We went in to Cape Town with our painted faces, scarves, and jerseys to support the USA in their game against Ghana. The game was end to end action, with the US having better opportunities to score, but the Ghanaians won the match 2 to 1 in extra time. All of the American fans were upset, but I was still proud of our performance throughout the tournament and our persistence to come back from trailing in all of our games. To add to our state of defeat, I came to the realization on the returning train ride that I no longer had my camera in my pocket. I can't be certain how it fell from my procession, but I feel pretty unfortunate because I've been so careful with everything to this point. Nevertheless, I'm not going to hang my head. I have lots of friends taking pictures, so I will share with them from this point on.

                Today we spent the day in Cape Town again watching the Germany vs England game at the Fan Fest and the Argentina vs Mexico game at Baran's, a Kurdish restaurant with Hookah. The two games were likely the most entertaining of the tournament so far with Germany and Argentina both earning victories. The two teams, who look to be the strongest in the tournament, meet next week in the quarterfinal.

                Everyone is pretty burnt out right now, so tomorrow will likely be spent in Fish Hoek here at home. The train ride to Cape Town is very economical, but the voyage is over one hour each way and starts to take its toll after making the trip a few days in a row.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

6/25/10 – US vs Algeria and Netherlands vs Cameroon

               It appears as though I have fallen behind again in my blog in all of the excitement. Two days ago was the United States vs Algeria match, the most important game of the tournament to me thus far. If the US won, they were moving on to the next round, and if they tied or lost, they would likely be eliminated. We were hoping to go to the Fan Fest in Cape Town to watch the game, but unfortunately they decided to show the England game instead of ours. So we eventually found the perfect bar, The Purple Turtle. The Purple Turtle was apparently the spot to be for USA fans! The place was packed with red, white, and blue. I even spotted a familiar face from the U of O who plays for the club team there. The game itself was a mixture of excitement and frustration. The game was end to end action and the USA was robbed of another goal due to an unfortunate decision by the referee. The USA had so many chances including one off the bar, but heading into stoppage time, the score was still 0 to 0. Finally, in the 92nd minute, probably just moments before the referee was going to blow his whistle and send the USA home, Donovan clinched the victory with a goal following a wonderful US buildup. The Purple Turtle went CRAZY!! Everyone was jumping up on down, dancing on tables, blowing their vuvuzelas, and hugging fellow Americans whom they had never met. The party continued at purple turtle for another hour before we left to catch our train. Even in the streets everyone yelled out supporting remarks for the American team and the incredible victory. England also won, 1 to 0, but we still clinched first place in the group due to scoring more goals. A few English supporters were not so positive toward our team and tried to pick a fight with us on the street. Lucky for them we just exchanged a few harsh words and eventually went on our own ways. It was such an awesome night, and the US have an excellent chance to continue deep into the tournament, getting to play a beatable Ghana in the second round. And if we keep on winning we will play in Cape Town for the semi-final match!! I would do everything in my power to get a ticket to that!!

                Yesterday afternoon we hung out at Kalk Bay, watching seals, eating fresh fish, and watching reigning champions Italy take an early exit to the tournament. It was quite a shocker to see Italy get beat by Slovakia, but I found it pretty amusing, that's what they deserve for playing ugly soccer. After watching that game on tv at a bar in Kalk Bay, we hopped on the train for the night game between Netherlands and Cameroon. Jesse and I had our tickets together again, and Jamaica, Dave, and Eber were sitting together elsewhere in the stadium. By looking at our tickets, it seemed like Jesse and I had pretty good ones. When we got to the stadium and searched for our seats, my grin got bigger and bigger as we made our way down the steps closer and closer to the field. Jesse and I sat right at the half-line in the 3rd row!! I could see the individual blades of grass on the field!! When the players took the field Van Persie and Dirk Kuyt were on our flank, and I could clearly see their faces!! The game was very entertaining as well. I was supporting the Dutch, as was the majority of the stadium it seemed. They ended up winning 2 to 1 with goals from Van Persie and Huntelaar and a penalty kick from Samuel Eto'o for Cameroon. Arjen Robben came on in the 70th minute and played incredibly, having one wonderful strike hit the post and fall to Huntelaar for his easy goal. The Dutch fans are a lot of fun with their creative orange outfits and I had a great time watching them celebrate after the game. If Brazil wins today, and both Brazil and Netherlands win their second round game, then those two teams will meet in the quarterfinal that Dave and I are attending in Port Elizabeth!! Today we also need Spain to win, Dave and my favorite team outside the US, so that we will see them in our second round match. So everybody please cheer for Spain today over Chile!!

                Today we are all taking some time to recuperate after some exhausting fun-filled days. We plan to watch the Spain vs Chile game and the Brazil vs Portugal games either at a bar or just here at home. Both games are so important because it dictates who we'll see in the second round.

                Apart from soccer, I really love Cape Town and all of the small towns around it. Cape Town is big, but really not too crowded. Everyone so far has been so nice and we almost always feel safe. South Africa is so well prepared for this event; there are police officers and security always within your sight if you ever need any help. I have always felt that Americans are generally disliked abroad, but being here I have learned to take more pride in where I am from. When we are wearing our USA gear people are always stopping us to tell us how much they are cheering for our team and how much they like our country. It is also so nice to be able to return to Fish Hoek after spending a day in Cape Town. Fish Hoek is so quiet and safe, and most importantly far away from the noise of the vuvuzelas. Our home is such a nice retreat from the excitement in Cape Town. I am having such an incredible trip!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

6/22/10 Portugal v North Korea Game and Cape Town Fanfest

Wow!! I really have way too much to write about after not blogging last night! We attended our first match yesterday at Green Point Stadium. The stadium is absolutely magnificent! It was pouring on our way to the games and we all got pretty soaked since we were a little unprepared. Thankfully the magnificent retractable glass cover of the stadium kept us dry during the match once we were in our seats. Jesse and I had our seats together and, like most of the stadium, we were surrounded by fans in support of Portugal. Going in to the game I did not have any real passion or loyalty to either Portugal or North Korea, but the fans spirit was contagious. I found myself cheering on Portugal from the kick-off. It was incredible to see the highest paid player in the world. Everyone, especially the women, screamed for Ronaldo every time he touched the ball. The first half was very exciting as Portugal took a 1 to 0 lead with a pretty even number of chances at both ends. The second half however, was nothing short of amazing. The second half was not tightly contested like the first half, however. The Portuguese managed six goals in the second half!! Six different players scored the seven goals for Portugal as they absolutely manhandled the North Korean squad. The atmosphere in the stands was phenomenal. After each goal the crowd erupted and everyone was in a triumphant state of joy. Jesse and I could not believe the game we were seeing, the highest scoring game at the World Cup thus far. Even someone that isn't a soccer fan would have had fun at this one. I can't wait to show everyone all of the videos and pictures from the game.

                Today was another excellent soccer filled game. We went in to Cape Town again, this time to watch the South Africa verse France match at the Fan Fest. The Fan Fest is a huge celebration near downtown Cape Town with a stage, huge screen to show the game, 5 v 5 soccer fields, food and beverage, and a lot of South African fans blowing their vuvuzelas (the horns that everyone is hearing make those wretched noises on television). Only Dave, Jamaica, and I made it in to the Fan Fest because the others unfortunately missed out because it closed for being too full before they got there. Dave and I played quite a lot of 5 v 5 verse mostly South Africa kids and guys around our age. It was such a blast and Dave and I scored our fair share of goals, obviously :). We watched the game on the big screen, with the magnificent Table Mountain standing as a beautiful backdrop. The setting, game, and fans made the experience so incredible. South Africa defeated France for the first time in their history, and although they did not advance into the next stage of the tournament, it was still a great victory for South Africa. The mood after the game was triumphant, and really difficult to translate into words. My videos will tell the story when I am able to post those.

                Tomorrow is another huge soccer day. It is the final group stage match for the US against Algeria, and a must win! If we win the game, we will move on to the second round. The other matches during the day will determine if we finish first or second in our group, and who we will play. So look forward to hopefully a happy post soon after a victory!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

6/20/10 - Boulder Beach penguins

                What an incredibly beautiful day!! The sun was shining all day long with temperatures around 70 F, which is amazing considering it is winter here. The highlight of the day was a lovely 2 hour walk to a nearby town called Simons's Town. The path weaved along the Indian Ocean coastline with epic picture taking moments every minute. Everything about Simon's Town was very pleasant; the food, the people, the markets, the weather, and the sights. We ate lunch at a lovely seafood restaurant that lay directly on the beach.

                The overall intent in our voyage was to see the famous penguins of Boulder Beach. We did not, however, realize that the beach was on the far side of the town, so some members of our group began doubting our undertaking of such an expedition.  However, we moved onward and were greatly rewarded for our persistence. Before reaching the Boulder Beach we were surprised with a site nearly unheard of from this coast. We came across a group of people on a large rock pointing out into the ocean in excitement. We rushed toward them to see what the spectacle was. There were three or four orca whales that were swimming quite a distance off of the coast. Apparently they were noticed when a group of dolphins fled very quickly, obviously pursued by the killer whales. A boat was directly trailing the whales, taking in an unbelievable experience.  According to a man that lives in the area, it is the first time he has ever seen killer whales! I felt pretty lucky that we were able to witness something so extraordinary.

                Eventually we reached the penguins of Boulder Beach. Hanging out with the penguins was a lot of fun and we got plenty of photos. I was excited to finally see some African Wildlife today. I can't wait to see some of the more famous African animals, especially when we make it to a safari.

                Tomorrow however is all about soccer!! Our whole gang is going into Cape Town tomorrow for the North Korea verse Portugal game. The game could be very crucial, depending on what happens in a few minutes during the Brazil verse Ivory Coast game. We are all pulling for North Korea surprisingly, so that Ivory Coast and Brazil will likely move past the group stage. I am absolutely thrilled to be going to the game and afterward the fan fest tomorrow in Cape Town. The atmosphere is going to be awesome!! My next post is definitely one to look forward to if you are a soccer fan. Wish me look in the Vuvuzela contest at the fan fest, my trumpet playing past should come in handy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

6/20/10 - Home in Fish Hoek


                I am uncertain if jet lag is still corrupting my internal clock or if the overall excitement is keeping me awake, but nonetheless it is about 5:00 in the morning here in Fish Hoek and I have been wide awake and restless since probably 2:00. Yesterday was my first full day here at our beautiful home in Fish Hoek, a suburb of Cape Town. My travels went as smoothly as anyone could have hoped for and a very nice gentleman gave me a taxi ride to the house on the evening of the 18th when I arrived at Cape Town airport for. When I arrived at the house Dave (Mehr), Jamaica, Jesse, Ashley, and David (Eber) were all watching the end of the England verse Algeria game, which to our satisfaction ended in a 0 to 0 draw (the ideal score line for the USA!). The USA tied their match while I was on the plane 2 to 2 coming back from 2 goals down, but they were robbed a goal late in the game that would have garunteed them a spot in the 2nd round. So that SUCKED!

                My first full day in Fish Hoek was absolutely perfect and restful. When everyone was up in the morning we took a nice walk down to some stores near our home and bought a soccer ball. From there we walked down to the beach, which is no more than a five minute walk from our home. We juggled on the beach for quite some time. It was great fun despite the fact that I chased one of Jesse's misplayed passes in to the Atlantic soaking my shoes, socks, and jeans. After juggling, that gang walked and I sloshed over to the market where we did some shopping for breakfast and dinner that day.

                We watched the matches at home during the afternoon and evening. The results of all the matches were not ideal, but we had a great time anyway. Cameroon's loss was quite a disappointment because now they are unable to reach the 2nd round, and will likely be less motivated to play well when we got to the match between Netherlands and Cameroon next week. I am having a difficult time knowing who to cheer for in the two first round matches we will be seeing. The North Korea verse Portugal game is especially tricky. Is it un-American for me to root for North Korea?! I would really like to see them win so that both Ivory Coast and Brazil make it out of that group, in which case I would likely see Ivory Coast in the second round game, and Brazil in the quarterfinal game that Dave and I are going to in Port Elizabeth. I only have a couple days to figure that out, I suppose I might have to hope for a tie.

                Yesterday was awesome, but I am excited for my first real activity today. We are planning on hopping on the train to Simon, which is probably about 30 km or so from Fish Hoek. At Simon's beach there are apparently lots of jackass penguins! I'm so excited to see some animals! The rest of the gang have been here longer than me and all had great experiences already, especially Dave and Jamaica who spent two weeks in Port Elizabeth volunteering to take care of baby lions and tigers on a reservation that also housed lots of other great wildlife. After hanging out with the Penguins we plan to come back home and rest up while we watch the games. Climbing Table Mountain is our next excursion within a couple days, so I can't wait for that!

                Hopefully my next update will be soon. Our internet availability is not as good as I had hoped for, so I will likely not be able to post many videos or pictures, but I will still try to post blogs regularly. Cheers!

6/19/10 - Travelling

Finally I have departed for my great adventure and juncture between school and the real world. It was very difficult to imagine and realize my true excitement the last few weeks as I was preoccupied with entertaining friends and family, moving out, packing, and graduation. This is my first blog entry dedicated to my trip to South Africa for the World Cup. I don't really have any preconceived ideas of what I might write about besides my experiences at the games. I am currently mid-flight from Washington Dulles airport to Johannesburg, which will be broken up by a stop in Dakar, Senegal. My flight does not however end in Johannesburg; I board another plane to Cape Town. Everything has gone as planned thus far as I have thankfully avoided any traveling issues. The flight is painless, besides on my neck, with plenty to entertain including my own personal screen with options including movies, tv, music, and games.

                I am interested to see how my experience will go when I first arrive in Cape Town. The loose plan after leaving the airport is to find a cab and hopefully make it to the home I am staying at in Fish Hoek, a suburb of Cape Town. Once reaching the house I am hoping that my friends will already be there or that there is some other way for me to get into the house. I haven't heard from Dave, so I'm just banking on the fact that he'll be there. I'm already loving the adventure of traveling on my own, and because I don't have anyone tagging along I don't have any real fears of hitting any bumps in the road with my lack of planning, because at least I won't be dragging them into it as well.

                Hopefully my next update will be an update of a successful journey to Cape Town and Fish Hoek, written from the comfort of our beautiful beach house. I'm so excited to see my friends and truly get settled into my incredible adventure. Looking forward to some excellent soccer and completely engaging in the South African culture!