Cape Town Dispatch, V. II

World Cup Semi-Final (Netherlands v. Uruguay)

Given the “hand of God” of the Uruguyan team that knocked the last African nation (Ghana) out of the World Cup, it is no wonder that for the last World Cup game in Cape Town we saw a sea of orange (or Oranje, as they prefer it). Some were dressed in orange head-to-toe, making it look like a CalTrans convention.

It was exciting to see the game–even more exciting when our tickets read “Row 1, Seat 2” and “Row 1, Seat 3.” We were right behind the “friends and family” section and above the tunnel where the players emerge at the beginning and after half-time. In American football parlance, we were on the 50-yard line and then some.

Perhaps the most fun part of the evening was the “Fan Walk,” the 3-mile or so moving party starting at the “Fan Park” (where people can watch the matches on enormous screens for free) and winding its way through town. They closed off the streets as approximately 149,000 fans paraded toward Green Point Stadium for the last of the 2010 World Cup matches in Cape Town.

Security, as you can imagine, was pretty tight although not in a militaristic sort of way (no AK-47s or riot gear, for example).

The match itself was fun to watch. It’s amazing how quickly a goal happens if you’re too busy looking around and taking it all in. Plus there is no instant replay on the big screens in the stadium (that would be the FIFA-Luddite stand against technology). Luckily the games are on TV round-the-clock and it’s easy to watch just about any game at at any time in any restaurant, pub, mall or public area.

I know that at home it sounds like there is a constant din of vuvuzelas, but in person it’s not the same. I also noted there is a specific protocol for the vuvuzelas in the stadium.

  • No vuvuzelas during the national anthems
  • Typically there are just a few going off (a ‘few’ being relative given the stadium seats 68,000), until someone kicks (corner kick, free kick, penalty)–then it gets pretty loud. The stadium is concrete so you don’t get the same effect in stamping your feet as you might in bleachers. But it’s pretty much the same idea, though–to either support or distract the kicker.
  • Now and then, someone can get a burst going where everyone is synchronized with short toots. That’s the loudest and most impressive. You can actually hear that in last night’s game. It sounds like “honk…honk…honk.”

We did not bring ear plugs nor did we need them, even with a young vuvuzela player standing right behind us. Mark my words: in four years when the World Cup is in Brazil, people will complain about the whistles and the drums.

Now we prepare see a final with Spain vs. the Netherlands. We saw Spain win over the Germans while enjoying tapas at a local restaurant called Cafe Sofia. With the exception of two obnoxious German fans (including a woman who clearly had her best days as a high school cheerleader), the crowd was decidedly pro-Spain.

Speaking of food

It’s been impressive so far. We’ve seen some interesting combinations of restaurants here (Mozambique-Portuguese, Italian-Irish, Wine Bar-Japanese, etc.). The country is a fusion of cultures and traditions, so ‘fusion cuisine’ is a big deal here. Not always my favorite dining concept but it does demonstrate something about the country, as all food cultures do.

The seafood here is amazing and I’m leaning toward linefish and langoustines for the most part. However, ostrich and wildbeast are on my “gotta taste” list. Ostrich is pretty beefy and very low fat, so it’s a great option to beef. Ostrich burgers are popular. We even now have a coupon for a nearby restaurant that serves crocodile ribs, gemsbok and warthog. Yum.

One of my goals while I’m here is to learn more about Malay cooking.

Other observations

I know a lot of people say this about countries they visit, but the people here could not be nicer and friendlier. I think locals recognize the benefit to South Africa that the World Cup has been in terms of business development and tourism. I do get the sense of genuine “diplomacy” on behalf of the locals to put on a good show for the world. They are not jaded by tourism the same way some San Franciscans and New Yorkers are. (The infamous shirt that reads “I’m a local and I don’t give directions or answer questions,” being an example of the local surliness we sometimes show visitors.)

There is also a real sense of an international party going on. I’ve met more travelers on this trip than any other–people exchanging advice, ideas, wanting to know where you’re from, etc.  I have loved the international flavor of it all, the mix of languages (including the 11 official languages from South Africa alone!).

It seems that South Africans felt they had something to prove by hosting a successful World Cup without major incidents. With 500,000+ estimated visitors here for the events in the various cities, there is a sense of national pride that they have accomplished that.

Challenges

The one main challenge so far has been the fact that this is NOT a pedestrian-friendly town.  Roads are very wide and busy and fast. The pedestrian lights almost never last long enough for you to cross the street. There is NO such thing as “pedestrian right of way” (there is absolutely NO yielding!). You often feel like you’re walking along a freeway. There is no reliable public transportation—no real bus system and no subway. You can’t hail a taxi, but have to call and arrange for one.

There is a get-on-and-off tourist bus for which you can buy one- or two-day passes that can get you to the sightseeing highlights. That lasts until the end of the month.

Seeing how difficult it’s been for me to learn to WALK to the left (up & down stairs, exciting doors, etc.), I am not inclined to rent a car. Luckily the taxis are cheap and you can also arrange for private tours to Cape Point, Winelands and some of the surrounding areas for our weekend trips.

Otherwise, the weather continues to cooperate, albeit getting cooler. We are continually reminded how lucky we are to have such amazing weather this time of year.

The international party is winding down here. Even with World Cup games gone from Cape Town, there are still plenty of tourists, but next week there should be a different vibe. We’ll see if Cape Town survives all this with an afterglow or with a hangover.

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