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.