Elephants (Literal)

After putting away a delicious $7 T-bone at a bar called Grazers following the Cote d’Ivoire game (Evans and I in our matching orange Ivory Coast jerseys, a purchase inspired by being drunk on equal parts joy and Budwesier), we hit the Addo Elephant Park Wednesday morning. The highlight was when this guy bore down on our car—he was close enough to touch as he moseyed up to us. Like an idiot, I rolled up the window in a half-panic, like that was going to protect us from him if he decided to stomp our little Toyota Yaris, which weighs roughly a quarter of what an elephant does. But he just kept walking.

Babar.

That's a big ass.

My favorite thing about the whole park, though (and I failed to get a picture due to some camera problems), was the sign out front that laid out all the warnings and disclaimers—basically a big board of fine print. In addition to warning us not to get out of the car or feed the animals fruit (???), we were informed that the park was not responsible for any injuries incurred, including “psychological” and “loss of dignity.” What would constitute loss of dignity? Being mocked by a lion in front of your family? Being de-pantsed by a zebra? Or something far more sinister?

And now for the rest of the menagerie:

Baby Babar.

Joe Crawford, Bennett Salvatore, Steve Javie

Kudu. Majestic to look at. Delicious to eat as biltong.

A hyena and his dinner.

Under African skies (from behind a windshield).

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Elephants (Metaphorical)

Tuesday morning we drove to Port Elizabeth, which is a long haul (about eight hours), but it’s incredibly scenic and a lot more mountainous than expected, especially this far south. (Basically the drive is along the southern coast—they call it the Garden Route.)

Port Elizabeth, weather fine.

Oddest sight: We stopped for gas at a BP (I know, I know), and they had some sort of mini zoo out front: goats, roosters, pigs and a llama, who had his own pen.

BP mascot.

Once in PE, we went to the Portugal-Ivory Coast game. Great sets of fans, especially the Ivorians. There were about 250 of them, tucked away in the corner. There was only one vuvuzela, and it was an authentic one, not some cheap plastic one being blown by a drunk English kid from Doncaster. Instead, their preferred noisemaker was a pair of wooden sticks that were banged together whilst chanting and dancing. (Video link TK)

There were also two men in elephant suits (Cote d’Ivoire’s nickname is Les Elephants). One guy’s headgear had some sort of wooden tusks, and he accidentally gored me in the chin while I was moving in for a picture. The poor dude was mortified. He took his head off and gave me about eight hugs.

Gored.

Forgiven!

The other guy was called Papa Elephant. His suit was more of a mascot-kinda-thing. We snuck into the Cote d’Ivoire section in the second half, and after the game Papa came back to the section, took off his head and collapsed onto a seat. The guy looked totally wiped. He let me put on his head. It was tight and sweaty, and the less said about the smell the better.

Elephant men.

I didn’t care, though. It was awesome. For the first time I didn’t feel like I was at some shoe-ruining, cold-hot-dog-serving, dangerous, poorly organized amateur hour. I felt like I was at the best sporting event in the world.

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In Rainbows

And then came Cape Town. Beautiful, so much so that the fiasco that was Jo’burg has been more or less forgotten. It’s the middle of winter here, so it’s always threatening to rain. But when it does, it usually stops after 45 minutes or so, so there are rainbows all over the place.

Somewhere under the rainbow.

I got in Monday morning and went to the apartment I’m sharing with three friends. We hit wine country in the afternoon. First up was Ernie Els’ vineyard. Nice views, nice wine, nice people.

Grapes and whatnot.

We then went looking for a place with a TV so we could watch Japan play Cameroon. The place we found was nice enough—gorgeous grounds, okay wine and a dog who seemed to have the run of the place.

John finally finds someone who understands him.

The ride back was interesting—a spectacular sunset gave way to a storm in which it hailed stones the size of Milk Duds sideways, but by the time we got ready to go to the Italy-Paraguay game, it was fairly clear (but freezing). Our seats were in last row, but we moved down for the second half (plenty of empty seats and the ushers aren’t exactly vigilant).

The view from row 38. Of 38.

After the game (it finished 1–1, which meant I hit my 11-1 bet on that score; that’s another nice thing about Cape Town, the betting parlor on the corner), I typed up a terrible SI.com column on a Blackberry then  started interviewing Paraguayan fans with some help from Evans, who speaks a bit of Spanish. (It’s for a forthcoming piece that ties in with The Hobbit.. What we discovered: Paraguayan fans are generally not experts in geography, and the president of the country is a former priest who, in the words of one fan, “has a lot of baby mamas.”

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My Poor Shoes

So Saturday started out great. We got to the stadium quite easily from the park and ride, watched a great game, got a good result against England. We had been told to come back to the same spot where we were dropped off to get the bus back to the park and ride, so after I did the postgame press conference thing, I met up with Mravic, [The boy…] and a special guest, Mike [Gabe’s friend’s son]. Then things took a turn.

The lack of buses was one thing. The total lack of anyone who knew anything about anything was another. There were, no kidding, about 10,000 people standing on a side street in Rustenburg, wandering around hopelessly, looking for a cop or a stadium worker or a traffic control person—anything. And there were no street lights, so it was just a mass of humanity, some moving one way (back towards the stadium and civilization), some moving the other (up the side street, which seemed to be where the one or two buses we saw were coming from), but most just standing there cursing loudly. It was a lot like Cloverfield.

"Does the M72 stop here?"

Early on in all this, I was standing in someone’s front yard. I had to move out of the way so a car could pull out, so I stepped into what looked like a very shallow puddle but was, in fact, some sort of muddy sinkhole. My left leg went in halfway up my shin. Luckily my initial fear—septic tank—was unfounded, but it wasn’t pretty. (Had it been septic-related, that would have been quite ironic. Brits—at least Simon, an English photographer—call Americans septics. It’s Cockney rhyming slang: septic tanks rhymes with Yanks.)

Please let that be mud.

We finally stormed our way onto a bus, which just sat in traffic for ages. That gave the England fans on the bus ample chance to chant and sing (the usuals—“There were 10 German bombers in the air…,” “Come on England!”—and a few improvised on the spot—“Park and ride, my lord, park and ride” to the tune of Kumbayah). Clever. For a while.

I won’t tell you what they were chanting about Sepp Blatter, who is the head of FIFA and the driving force behind an African World Cup. Suffice to say, it wasn’t flattering, but it was hard not to empathize with the drunken, loutish hooligans. The first two games both had major, major logistical shortcomings—near tramplings, people left to fend for themselves in the middle of nowhere with no security after a night of drinking—the kind that could lead to serious problems. Doesn’t exactly leave one feeling inspired about the event.

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Like a Dung Beetle, Randmarks Rolls Back to Life

OK, so we’ve been a little lax on the blogging front. Turns out it’s work! I also had to lend my laptop to Peter King for the England-U.S. game and didn’t retrieve it until Sunday night, after Serbia-Ghana. Monday was a full work day as I edited the SI magazine package, and Tuesday involved errands and then freezing our butts off at Brazil-North Korea. Wednesday had been scheduled for sightseeing of some sort, but it has turned out to be a day for much-needed R&R. The sheer process of getting to and from the stadiums, and of sitting through hours on end of vuvuzela blare, in the chill of the South African winter has turned out to be exhausting.

I had promised some thoughts from the opener, but that feels like ages ago. So here goes with some of what we like and don’t like.

1. We like Peewee, the deaf and blind soccer-playing World Cup Pup at SI House.

World Cup Pup.

2. We liked the look of Soccer City, both during the day and at night.

3. We liked the vibe inside the stadium at the opener—black, white, Asian or whatever, everyone in South Africa colors, belting out the anthem in multiple languages.

4. We liked the dung beetle in the opening ceremony.

Meet the Beetle.

5. We liked the hard-ass Afrikaaner security guy at the U.S.-England game who held a pair of Nikes in his hand and talked into his earphone for the entire second half after some American hooligan threw his shoes onto the track. The security guy absolutely would not give the shoes back despite heckles and pleas from the crowd. Eventually he called in backup, and five more stewards came to watch our section.

6. We liked the England fans’ banners at Royal Bafokeng. England supporters may be obnoxious louts (may be? ARE) but they win the war of the flags. MORE to come.

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Live-blogging the Roadtrip to Rustenburg

12:15 p.m. (local time, EDT +6): Mravic and Peter King plot our trip along “the scenic route.”

Driver and navigator.

We’re in great hands.

12:35: We pass this enormous structure, ponder what it is. Best response from Peter: “Something big.” (NB: Most of these shots were taken from a moving car.)

12:53: We might be lost. Peter: “These road signs—they’re all falling down. This one’s in a garbage can.”

12:59: We’ve doubled back. Mravic: “I don’t remember this bridge, do you? [The boy…] do you remember any of this?” We’re lost.

1:03: Found!

1:08: Mravic: “Looks a little bit like Manhattan, Kansas. Except for the giant cactuses.”

1:10 Peter: “Amazing being in the African countryside and Tweeting about David Tyree.”

The countryside.

1:12: Mravic: “Is this common in Africa—fires in the sky?”

Peter: “I’m afraid I don’t know that.”

Mravic: “There’s a fire. [The boy…], look at the fire.”

1:24 Peter gives a nice breakdown of Tyree’s Velcro catch.

1:31: The Tyree lesson causes us to miss yet another turn.

1:35: Now we’re talking about college football conferences. Mravic: “They should combine the Big 10 and the MAC and call it the Big Mac.” [HONK!] Peter, getting into the soccer spirit, suggests a promotion/relegation setup for the two: e.g., send Northwestern down, bring Ohio U up.

1:38 Peter admiringly calls Grant a soccer nerd. I try to lure him into a football nerd comment by asking how far under or over the cap the Ravens were two years ago. He didn’t know that, but it led to a discourse on the Ravens cap crisis of 2001. The man knows his stuff.

1:50: Peter: “Look at that cow taking a huge dump! It’s great! That’s the kind of observation that should go on your blog. He was hunched over just like a dog. I didn’t know cows did that.” (No photos.)

1:56 Makeshift soccer field.

Five-a-side, anyone?

2:10-3:10 Lunch at the Garden Cafe, a roadside stand that just opened today. Dee made us boerworsrolls (sausage) and grilled cheese and tomato while Leon sold [The boy…] about eight pounds of biltong (jerky). We considered buying an ostrich egg, which Leon assured us was as big as 24 normal eggs. We asked if it would keep for 12 hours in a car; Dee replied that we’d probably end up with a full-grown ostrich.

Opening day.

3:20: Roadside sign: HIJACK AREA, 500 METERS

3:25: Places South Africa now looks like: LA; Manhattan, Kansas; Miami; Pennsylvania.

after 3:25: In a nutshell, computer lost its juice, we tried to navigate using the sun (no one had a sextant), almost got lost, followed some nice locals to a park-and-ride that, unfortunately, was nothing more than a large field with two buses that weren’t in operation.

The first sign of trouble.

So we made our way to another park-and-ride, this one with actual cars and stuff…

A boy and his horn.

Then rode to the stadium, where we finally saw someone find a constructive use for a vuvuzela, giving [The boy…] a preview of college life.

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They Love Cale Yarborough in Jo’burg

We had dinner last nite in a mall. It took a while for our food to show, so time was killed on banalities such as lecturing the Indian waiter on the “horsehit” qualities of Hawaiian Punch and taking pictures of [The boy…] through a glass of Windhoek, which we’ve taken to calling Namibian Budweiser.

The boy + the beer

I should point out that [The boy…], of course, had no opinion of either Hawaiian Punch or Windhoek, because he’s too polite to say things like “horseshit” at a table of eight adults and too young to drink Windhoek—and anyways he was mesmerized by his own drink: Sprite, which here they call “lemonade.” As Vincent Vega once said, “It’s the little differences….”

One thing we can all—South Africans, Americans, possibly even some Europeans and the odd Japanese car fanatic—agree upon is that we should all have an abiding love for the history of NASCAR, especially the period encompassing the late 1970s and early 80s. To wit: During the aforementioned lull in the eating, I went to Executive Books looking for a copy of The Hobbitt. (It’s for work, trust me. Stayed tuned—it’ll make sense in a week-and-a-half or so.) And what did I see in primo position?

Remember, Mandela Day is a little more than a month away. A NASCAR book makes a great gift.

Still plenty of copies left, World Cuppers! After dinner and the celebrity and pseudo-celebrity sightings (see below), it was home for what should have been a nice night’s sleep, one that was ruined by the plaintive wailing—for hours on end—of some type of dog right outside the door to the Two and a Half Men Cottage. Around 5:30, Mravic theorized it was a coyote caught in a trap, which now that I’ve had time to think about it is patently ridiculous but at the time was troubling, not so much because of the idea that there might be coyotes nearby, but rather that someone might have laid some coyote traps in the yard we often walk in the dark.

Not an akita.

Anyways, the beast shut up around 6:45, which was precisely 10 minutes before the alarm on Mravic’s rented cell phone started going off every five minutes. By then it was time to wake up, and we spent the day driving, freezing, going deaf, breaking 200-Rand notes and cursing at the apparently vertiginous woman who lives inside and voices the GPS. More on that later. Got some sleep to catch up on.

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