Saturday, July 3
Flagstaff - Port St.Johns
More goodbyes - this time it is me parting company with Camper Van nick and Fabio when we reach Port st.Johns.
I need to lie low somewhere for a few days to get myself together and to plan my last few days in South Africa. Port St.Johns is perfect because the town has an eastern African vibe, stunning beaches and vistas, and is home to a colony of hippies.
Again, it is sad to be saying more goodbyes. Nick has been an absolute star driving us all around during these past few weeks. He's also been a bloody good laugh as has Swiss Fabio. We have had an hilarious and very memorable time here. I am sad it is all coming to an end...
...but slightly relieved because I feel exhausted.
Luckily, 'Jungle Monkey' has brilliant 360-degree views of the sea, cliffs, mountains and lush green valleys from its vantage point above the town. It also has hammocks, a pool, World Cup footy on a big screen and local bands playing live music to a hippie vibe.
I expected Argentina to walk this World Cup so seeing them eliminated 4-0 at the hands of Germany shows just how brilliant this young German side can be. Schweinsteiger is the best player at South Africa 2010, and Ozil is the 'find' of this tournament alongside players like Mueller. I'm not sure why Maradona didn't bother to use the likes of Veron and Milito. Regardless, they simply weren't anywhere good enough to compete against this brilliant young German team.
They will meet Spain, who were fortunate to get past Paraguay. I will travel up to Durban next week hoping to get into the semi.
Meanwhile, I need to chill and get some sleep...
Friday, July 2
Umzumbe - Flagstaff
All good things come to an end. We say our goodbyes to Robin who has managed to grab a cheap one-way flight from Durban to Joburg, and changed his return flight so that he flies out of Joburg to the UK tonight at midnight.
England aside, it has been a brilliant few weeks. I've rarely had such a good laugh.
Nick, Fabio and I drive southwest into the land known as 'The Wild Coast'. I was rather assuming that the 'wild' part of the name was pure reference to the local nature, but it equally describes this Xhosa homeland. This is Nelson Mandela's tribe - the second largest black African group after the Zulus.
This place is roar and quite unlike anywhere else I have seen in South Africa. Many of the people live in multi-coloured rondavels and stroll about, adorned in colourful jewelry, as if strolling is the national pastime. They believe in witches here, and many of the Xhosa have the top of their left little finger removed to ward off bad luck.
The R61 takes you through rough and ready Bizana and up into the wild mountain communities of the 'Transkei'. There are numerous dead dogs on the road and small groups of local youths march with intricately-carved walking sticks by the roadside. It's almost like one great big township on cultural steroids set in mountains. It feels scary, but I can't honestly say whether, in reality, it is. We are met by countless looks of bemusement during our drive through but also by many beaming smiles and welcoming waves.
At my request, Camper van Nick calls it a night when we reach Flagstaff. I'm not up for driving through the rest of this region in the darkness with all the animals on the road so we find a bed and breakfast and check in just as the first of the quarter finals kicks off between Brasil and the Netherlands.
This is the evening that England should be playing in front of 90,000 in Joburg. Instead we find ourselves cooking pasta on a camping stove in a hotel bedroom in the middle of nowhere and washing our filthy clothes in the bathroom sink. It says it all really.
I'm not sad to see Brasil go out, but I am infuriated to see Ghana eliminated by the cheating Uruguayans. Who said cheats don't prosper?
Thursday, July 1
Quthing - Qacha's Nek (Lesotho) - Umzumbe (South Africa)
The four of us emerge from our two double beds and go off in search of dinosaur footprints...just another silly day at the 2010 World Cup.
Lesothosaurus dates from the late Triassic and early Jurassic period 200-208 million years ago. You can see his footprints and get your fingers on his bones on the edge of Quthing. I guess this is definitely the first and the last time that I will get the chance to hold dinosaur bones in my own hands.
I have run out of superlatives to describe the road trip through Leostho. So let's just say the three-hour drive along the Senqu River (to the sounds of Delphic), and up through the ice-covered mountain passes, past the ever-friendly shephard communities from Quthing to Qacha's Nek is more of the same inspirational stuff experienced throughout our time in this very special place. Fabio is of course sleeping through all of this.
Camper Van Nick, who's been to the Grand Canyon, reckons the similar topography in southern Leostho is actually more impressive in its entirity than the world famous US equivelent. A word also about those who inhabit Lesotho: they seem like lovely, genuine and often-passive people. The rarely matched landscapes and skyscapes of Lesotho are perfectly complemented by this nation's genuine people.
The customs and immigration officials at the Qacha's Nek border crossing are, of course, the last people we meet in the country.
"What did you think of Lesotho?"
"Brilliant. We loved it."
"Can you please tell everybody you meet about our beautiful country? You have only seen some of its beauty...and please make sure you come back and enjoy more of it yourselves."
We will - don't you worry about that!
Four hours hard driving from the border we reach the Indian Ocean and call it a night at Umzumbe.
Mantis and Moon Backpackers has got a jungle-themed garden, which looks like the film set for 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of here.' Inside the garden there's a tee pee, several tree houses, a bubbling jacuzzi and a very well stocked bar. Geordie Robin parts company with us tomorrow so there's nothing for it but to drink copious amounts of beer and wine by the open-air bonfire into the early hours.
Monday, June 28
Bloemfontein - Mesaru - Roma, Lesotho
Last night's accommodation was probably the silliest to date - seven of us sleeping in horse blankets in a tent erected next to a swimming pool in a guesthouse garden. Pride of place inside the tent was a roaring fire to help us survive the bitterly cold Bloemfontein night.
Everybody is on the internet trying to rebook flights home. A couple of the Spain '82 lads, we are with, manage to get on the computer early doors, while most England in Bloemfontein are sleeping off their hangovers, and save themselves a couple of hundred quid in the process. One ways home, leaving in the next two days, soon increase in price from 4-500 pounds to 700 or more.
It is the first of the goodbyes as many of the lads set off for Joburg and Cape Town and the their flights home.
For those of us staying here the main emphasis is now tourism, not football: Blackburn is off to Harrismith; Camper Van Nick, Geordie Robin, Fabio and I are running to the hills...literally. We are off to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho where we can mentally recover from England's early exit and physically recover from the weeks of drinking excess in South Africa.
Leaving the scene of the crime - the Battle of Bloemfontein - behind us we head out east on to the N8, past the poor towns of Botshabelo and Thaba 'NNchu and on to the South Africa-Lesotho border.
It costs us 50 pence each to get the van into the country, while the visa is free. Immediately there is a strong sense of being in a completely different kind of country. The capital, Mesaru, is only a couple of kilometres inside the border. This is because the Kingdom of Lesotho once stretched well beyond its current borders before the Boers took much of its western territory. The huge tourist information office at the edge of the city centre is a brilliant point of reference for anybody travelling independently in Lesotho. They will put you right on the many amazing sights in this pocket-sized country as well as the numerous decent places there are to stay.
Home for the night for us is the Trading Post in Roma, 35 Kilometres south-east of the capital. First though we have to negotiate the world's silliest trafiic jam. A journey that should take us no longer than 30 minutes ends up taking two hours as the local powers that be have decided to send JCB diggers and two dozen workmen to dig up and tar the road at the height of the capital's rush hour. One lane in each direction becomes three lanes in one direction leaving the capital, then four lanes versus one oncoming. The eventual (rather predictable) result is total gridlock, with all present getting out of their cars to investigate, remonstrate, giggle and, in some instances, to have a fist fight with the workmen on the recently tarred road.
when we eventually reach the Trading Post a man with a shotgun in his right hand, dressed in a horse blanket and wearing an SAS-style ski mask opens the front gate and shows us to our two ensuite chalets. It is a very reasonable 150 Meloti a night each to stay here (13 quid) and there's coffee, live world cup football and a roaring fire awaiting us in the lounge of the main house. Bruno is soon asleep, while the three Englishmen still continue to debate the whys and why nots of England's early departure from the 2010 World Cup.
Monday, June 21
Another team I don't like is Portugal. I love the country Portugal - particularly its islands - as well as its people's laid back, down-to-earth attitude to life. I just don't have much time for Mr Cristiano Ronaldo, Carvalho and their mates. It is more bitter and twisted stuff from me that dates back to Portugal-England games of the past, where I feel we have been cheated out of tournaments by Portuguese gamesmanship.
I am explaining this because this is the background to Robin, Rich and I leaving Simon's Town in driving rain to return to Cape Town in search of tickets for the day's Portugal v North Korea match. Oh, how we would love to be there inside the stadium to witness the cheeky North Koreans dump the arrogant Portugal team out of the tournament.
On the 'fanwalk' to the stadium there's a surprising lack of tickets being sold on the black market. In fact, demand appears to be outstripping supply by a conservative 5:1. The one thing we have got going for us is patience. It certainly isn't the end of the world if we don't get in, and if we miss the first few minutes of the match stood outside trying to buy last minute tickets, then so be it.
Half an hour before kick off plenty of category 3's are being offered out at face value (560 Rand). But that's too much for us on our increasingly slim budgets. We want to get in for a maximum 20 quid.
Twenty minutes before kick off two South African gentlemen come over.
"Our two mates can't make it here. Do you mind giving us 500 for their two?"
"Is 400 OK?"
"Yes, sure. You can give us the money inside so that you know the tickets are genuine. You are now our guests"
Everybody is a winner...including FIFA. The stadium is nearly full.
The North Koreans start very well. They look well organised, play the ball on the ground and their number 10 looks better than most central strikers in the tournament. But when Portugal go 2-0 up you know it is all over for them. Suddenly the Koreans appear to be playing with three at the back and are about to get a thrashing.
So, I came here hoping to see Portugal lose and instead I end up privileged to watch Portugal put on one of the most complete halves of football in World Cup history. Sublime is an overused word but it must be applied to descriptions of this performance. Brilliant is another word that comes to mind. The game finishes 7-0 with gasps of excitement drowning out the increasingly headache-causing vuvuzelas. I still don't like the Portugal football team but I have to take my hat off to a truly inspiring second-half performance by the claret and greens.
Camper Van Nick is ready and waiting for us in Greenmarket Square. The road trip to Port Elizabeth begins.
120 kilometres out of Cape Town we pull in for the night at Hermanus, the 'world's best land-based location for watching whales'. After more good food and drink and a few giggles at Fernando Torres' expense at Cubana, on the sea front, we call it a night at The Potting Shed Guesthouse, where a triple is ours for 650 Rand between the three of us. It's a normal price for a very decent little B&B...and definitely beats sleeping in the van when we might need to do that in the coming nights.