Addo – We wake before dawn because we’ve signed up for the 7am guided safari, on the understanding that more animals will be visible and moving around at that time of day. Breakfast is delayed until we return. It’s cold and we huddle in an open sided vehicle as our guide explains that we may not see any animals. Oh. But once inside the ‘wildlife area’ – so-called because amidst all this farmland, the citrus groves, sheep grazing and steers, the only place you’ll find wild animals – ie ‘the big five’ : elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard or the smaller (?) six : hippo, giraffe, jackal, hyena, warthog, eland – is inside an electric fence patrolled by wardens. This comes as a shock to me – my imagined Africa has already disappeared, certainly here, probably in Kenya, Zambia and elsewhere too. We shiver and wait for a sighting, cameras ready. A jackal, almost as soon as we’re inside, skulking through the scrub. Kudu. Elephants more elephants, bless ’em. Then a long wait, a long drive and – nothing. A driver tells us a lion ‘just crossed the road’ but since there are only six lion in this giant park we don’t seriously expect to see it. Nonethless we stare at the bushes for ten minutes. Then as we turn around for the drive back to camp, a crashing noise to the right and a huge lone Cape Buffalo runs acorss the road directly in front of us and into the bush on the left. Cameras click madly and I get one great shot of him, an aging male, not with the family any more, wandering around solo.
At breakfast we discuss last night’s results : Germany beat Ghana 1-0 with a beautiful goal by young star Özil, but the Aussies went out with a bang beating Serbia 2-1 thus Ghana have qualified for the 2nd round – the only African team left in the competition. Had we topped our group we’d have played them in Rustenburg, but that pleasure now falls to the USA, while we just need to drive a few hours north to Bloemfontein and a meeting with the young German team. Thrilling prospect though it is, our plans and all of the 20,000 England fans out here are now in disarray : we have rooms booked in Joburg, booked on the assumption that we would win the group. German and Dutch fans have made similar arrangements, but their teams had the dignity to deliver. Ah well. We hit the road for a short (3-hour) drive to our next B&B in Graaf Reinet and wave goodbye to Addo.
Oranges oranges everywhere, oranges and lemons by the acre. Or hectare probably. Cape fruit. Outspan. All the dreaded symbols of apartheid that we boycotted all those years ago, leaving them to rot in the fruitbowl if mother made the short-sighted error of actually buying the stuff. All so different now – black majority rule, a country looking forward not back, we need to get with the programme. Monkeys sit on fence posts by the roadside but if you slow down to take a picture they jump off and lollop away in gangs like teenage boys.
The road here goes on forever, rather like those desert roads in New Mexico and Arizona, the endless horizon, the deep blue sky, the odd vehicle. It’s exhilerating stuff and we stop in random Boer towns for gas and drinks, the accent is strong and the skin weathered. There is cactus, more monkey gangs and a field of blue cranes. As we reach Graaf Reinet and fill up, the chap at the till thinks that “3 teams can win the World Cup. Brazil, Argentina….and Ghana!” It’s the first indication we get since last night’s game of how the african imagination has embraced the Ghanaian campaign and will follow them all the way – to the final ? Who knows ?? The B&B is delicious – cats and dogs lazing in the sunlit garden, tea made for us on arrival, a spacious cosy room, and moreover, directions to the Valley Of Desolation.
Graaf Reinet is surrounded on three sides by the Karoo National Park, and the geography here, nevermind the wildlife is quite stunning. We take a short drive past the lake and wind our way up the mountainside, the views at the top are breathtaking on Monument Valley scale. Not quite Bryce Canyon at the top, but a similar rock formation towers over the Karoo desert. On the way back down the sun is dipping and animals are making their way to the lake, crossing the road where they fancy – we see ostrich, springbok – my wife’s favourite animal which means I can’t eat any at dinner – and the smaller duiker and very large-eared Cape Grysbok which is basically bambi. Upon our return to the hotel two German guests are hunched in front of the TV in the lounge watching Italy get beaten 3-2 by Slovakia and dumped out of the tournament – the holders of the trophy are going home! It’s a thrilling moment – even my brother Paul texts me from Shanghai “best match yet!!”, Missed it, I answer, “on safari”. He doesn’t send any more texts after that – until the game with Germany that is…
In the evening we eat some ostrich and have a glass of wine in a very arty little restaurant called Die Kliphuis just round the corner. Graaf Reinet is a quite superb little gem of a town with over 200 listed buildings, and a quite unique feel to it. We see a Japanese couple in the blue shirts walking around, but mainly locals. Our black waiter is definitely gay, like the white proprietor, so that was another collecter’s item. Back at the B&B we watch Japan see the Danish off with a wonderful display of football, winning 3-1 to book their place in the last 16 then go to bed happy and exhausted and reasonably drunk.
Breakfast is completely awesome, as it has been every morning on this trip. B&B is simply the only way to travel. On the drive out of town we are randomly stopped and asked for our driving licence opposite the local township – always on the edge of town, always crowded with always black people. It’s stopped feeling weird. As we drive across more stunning scenery we spot a large group of springbok leaping around in some kind of courtship display and flexing and stop for pictures. A group of eland stand by watching impassively.
Then we hit the trail again, more monkeys, the odd meerkat and ground squirrel aside, it’s non-stop to Bloemfontein. Actually we did a quick sandwich stop at an interesting desert museum type place which had hosted forty Swiss the night before. They’re playing in Bloem tonight against Honduras – but it’s not a game we’ve planned to attend. Spain v Chile is on the TV !!
Bloemfontein is entered the wrong way completely and we find oursleves in the market area totally surrounded by people, taxis, people with huge loads balanced on their heads, men in suits on mobiles, kids in rags. A few right turns, and there is the stadium, the Waterfront (small lake) and the FIFA ticketing office. No it’s sold out (England v Germany in 2 days time) but come back tomorrow and englandfans will have a desk. If you have a fan number (we do !!) The place is crawling with Swiss dressed as cows, with horns and cowbells, and there are a few Hondurans too.
The B&B is possibly the best yet, Cape Dutch architecture, a siamese cat called Izzy whom I fall in love with (we do miss our two on the road) and – wonders will never cease – a hairdryer !! Spain deliver and so does David Villa scoring another terrific goal. He establishes himself as my wife’s favourite player in the tournament. Hard to argue, though Özil is pretty special I think.
Breakfast is glorious as ever, with Izzy becoming literally attached to my knee, then off we go to search for accomodation at the University of the Free State, since we only planned to be in Bloem for one night. We were supposed to drive to Joburg today, but Billy the Bee has sublet our room successfully and we’re gonna stay here. The University room is only 600 rand a night but it’s a prison cell. We console ourselves with the thought that if you are actually at this University and staying in this Hall Of Residence, you’re one of the lucky ones. Back at FIFA and englandfans we get so incredibly lucky it’s not true – someone hasn’t needed their pair of Cat 2 tickets to tomorrow’s showdown and for one hundred quid each (face value) we are IN. One of the more sublime feelings on this earth is to score a pair of tickets to a World Cup game, usually outside the stadium with 15 minutes til kick-off, this is almost two whole days away. We relax for the rest of the day and watch the gathering England fans as we witness Uruguay beat South Korea with a superb goal by Suarez. More about him later. In the evening we look for another fanpark and find one in the other University – a large hall inside (nice – it’s cold) with a large screen, beer, and food. Not great food, but we stay in a pretty african atmosphere for the big one – USA v Ghana. It’s tight and goes to extra time at 1-1. When Gyan rips the US net with the winning goal the place erupts, I leap off my seat and the man behind me gives me the biggest squeeze. It’s the most euphoric moment we will experience at the tournament. Ghana are in the quarter final, and will play Uruguay.
Next day after a night in the cell, thus woken by English accents outside our door (shared bathrooms) from all corners of this green and pleasant land (“what’s breakfast like ? Mince. Shit.”) it’s England day. We’re England all flipping day. T-shirt, flags, jackets, tickets, the lot. The waterfront mall is awash with St George and it’s very very difficult to get a drink anywhere. It’s heaving with English and Germans. Locals have joined in on one side or the other. Drink ? We’ve pretty much drunk the place dry and it’s not even 3pm. We finally manage to find some beer and talk briefly about the perils of pitching your tent on a hippo path with two chaps from Dewsbury who have been camping in Kruger. And the delicious slow walk to the stadium surreptitiously supping beer from the bottle and spurning offers of spare tickets, meeting Steve from Brighton and moving inside the arena to confront our destiny, full of hope and love and joy.
And thus the game. Lovely seats, between sets of British asian fans, front row second tier – thus when people stand up, there’s no-one in front of you. A perfect view then, of the demolition job the young talented German team performed on our aging fat superstars. Never at the races frankly. They turned us, outran us, outpassed us, outscored us by four to one. Yes yes, all the talk at halftime was of the text received from Ibiza that the ball was two feet over the line, three feet over the line, a goal, that Lampard had scored, should be two-two, but deep down we knew, as one fan said to me in despair : “what is it with England and tournaments?” This isn’t the forum for that debate, but we were spanked that afternoon by a side willing to run for each other all day. We barely moved above a trot. Out. And stay out.
As the afternoon faded to evening and Germany progressed impressively to the quarter finals and a probable match with Argentina, we were left to cry into our beer and into the arms of happy Germans, and look for food. The bars were awash with hugging entente ; grown men weeping into fat German shoulders. Music pounded into the african night. Drink was drunk. Not a glass was broken in anger. We wished them luck, and went home to bed. Fucking England. What a bunch of inept overpaid woeful wankers. They let us all down, and it hurt. Time to move on. One more night in the cell then away. If you’re out of luck or out of work we can send you to Johannesburg.