Escape from Johannesburg

Yesterday we blew out of Joburg finally for the long drive out toward Nelspruit, where we’ll see New Zealand play Italy. We rolled  along a nice superhighway across the highveld with a perpetual haze in the air. Everything in South Africa is on fire all the time. If it’s not the brush grass along the highway, it’s massive (massive) and sinister-looking power plants that loom on the horizon or suddenly pop up in a beautiful canyon. About three hours out the countryside turned to rolling hills and then dramatic picture-worthy Africa. The passenger took the pictures.

On the road again.

Note the left-hand side of the road. I’ve gotten the hang of it pretty well except for the occasional brain cramp coming out of a driveway. The only real danger was when we turned back to go to the Garden Cafe and I pulled directly into on-coming traffic headed to Rustenburg, nearly wiping out a large SI contingent. Who would have taken over Monday Morning Quarterback?

The hotel is about an hour north of Nelspruit just outside Kruger National Park. In fact, from the hotel deck you can look right into the park. This was our first view:

Checking off one of the Big Five.

The Boy has been fighting off a sore throat and headache from dryness and altitude, so we skipped Argentina-South Korea and the goal explosion there. We were up for the BBQ (braai, they call it) on Thursday night at SI House, with a few special guests. One of them, a former US national teamer and MLS GM turned broadcaster, spilled wine all over the white couch. “Poor marking,” Marcotti quipped. Somehow I ended up as grillmaster, and must complement myself for having succesfully done a massive beef tenderloin, lamb shoulder and chops, boerewors (sausage) and roast vegetables, enough for 12 people, on a plain old Weber. Grant took over for the fish. A good time was had.

It’s plenty fun being around an international cast of characters. Guillem Balague told a funny story about doing voiceovers for a European soccer videogame. To cover players who master the game, he has to announce scores up to 99—in three voices, one ebullient if the player scores—Goal! And it’s 99-3!—one neutral, and one in a sad voice if the opponent scores. Now that’s behind-the-scenes stuff you don’t get everywhere.

Friday was the U.S. game, for which we had seats about 10 rows up on the goal line where all five goals were scored. If the England game was a tie that felt like a win, Slovenia was a tie that felt like a loss. Lots of people managed to be happy afterward—still chanting U-S-A U-S-A—but I couldn’t get over the lost (stolen) opportunity.

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