Friday, July 9
The Shirt is proudly hanging in Brightwater Shopping Mall, Joburg. It's a fantastic sight.
While I've been roadtripping it around South Africa these past three weeks, Bjorn and Marianne have been hard at work in Joburg continually spreading the word to the international press. Bjorn has even been featured on Costa Rican TV.
Catch all his latest news here
Truthfully, I'd be very happy to fly home today, but I am hoping to spend my last full day with Bjorn catching up on the past few weeks and reminiscing back over the adventure from Kenya to Kopfontein.
It turns out though that Bjorn is booked up with shirt commitments around the Gauteng area and, as I don't have transport, I can't meet him.
Later on friday he also has to pull out of our planned 'last night on the beers':
"Sorry mate. I'm with Nelson Mandela's photographer and Morgan Freeman. Catch you tomorrow lunchtime in the pub."
Blown out for Morgan Freeman! I suppose I can forgive him on this occasion :)
Instead, Blackburn and I spend my last evening in South Africa in the Nigerian gangster pub over the road from our guesthouse. This is where I first found Blackburn stumbling around all those weeks ago, before the World Cup had even begun.
It's Castle and Klipdrift, then time to pack my bags...
Tuesday, July 6
Port St.Johns - Durban
I'm gutted to be leaving the backpackers in Port St.Johns. I wanted to find somewhere to chill for a few days and this place has been absolutely perfect.
I'm down the minibus terminal at 7am. One of the drivers organises breakfast for me with one of the local ladies and while we are waiting tells me about the last years of apartheid when "some people" came down from Bloem and Joburg and opened fire on the local black population in '83. "They just wanted to kill as many of us as they could," he tells me, "but none of them ever left town. Now all anybody is interested in coming here for is to relax and have a good time."
It's closer nine before the minivan is full and we can set off for Durban. Predictably, I'm the only white person in the van and there in't a single white on the whole journey back along the R61. Again, the dead animal count on the road is near double figures but the road to Durban doesn't seem half as intimidating as it did on the way down with Camper Van Nick and Fabio.
I find Blackburn at the Costa Do Sol bar just off the beachfront in Durban. It's a bit sketchy down here where the colonial buildings stop and the dive bars begin. Blackburn's the wrong side of drunk so after a couple of Klipdrifts and Castle I chuck my bags in at our digs for the night on the beach front, just across from Joe Cool's.
Durban beachfront is absolutely packed in the evening for the first semi-final being shown live at the Fanfest. They've been getting 70,000 here on a regular basis throughout the world cup.
A big bonus is the sudden appearance of K'naan, whose song 'Wavin Flag' has been the soundtrack to this world cup finals. K'naan was a Somali refugee so you can't blame me for a sudden attack of goosebumps when he sings a second rendition of 'Wavin Flag' in front of tens of thousands on Durban beach. Images flash in my mind of the refugee camps I visited in Tanzania and Malawi. I think of all those lovely people Bjorn and I met, many of them from Somalia; I reminisce over the last three amazing months on the road and here at the World Cup in South Africa. I bite my lip to stop the odd tear or two rolling down my cheeks.
A gale blows on Durban beach as the Dutch experience a late scare against Uruguay but go through 3-2. Tomorrow it's the semi-final here. It will be a result if i can end my world cup by getting into the semi before I fly home.
Sunday, June 13
It is 3.30am as our minibus finally reaches the Joburg Golf Club and a 30 pound taxi for Robin and I to get back to Bjorn's flat in Randburg.
The joy of following England - it is a quick two hour kip in Randburg and then back out of bed at 6am so we can get down to Joburg City Park coach terminal for our transport to Durban.
We are on the 8.30am coach to the sunny coast. It is an eight-hour ride but the double-decker Greyhound is suitably comfy and the views spectacular.
Aussie Tim, who Bjorn and I met at Victoria Falls, Zambia is waiting for us at the fanpark in Durban. Where Rustenburg and Joburg were cold, grey and often uninspiring, Durban is sunny, warm, exciting and buzzing. Gary and Keith from Smith's Cottages have very kindly invited us to stay at their place in Durban for free for a couple of nights. They really like 'the shirt' project and want to help us by putting us up while we are in Durban. Keith even picks us up from the coach station, drops us at the casino close to the fanpark and then takes our rucksacks back to the cottages.
England hung round a shopping mall before their opening match; Australia are warming up for theirs in a casino. This is not your normal world cup.
The Durban fanpark is at the back of the casino and is stocked with enough beer for tens of thousands of German and Aussie beer monsters. Tim seems like he has personally drunk half of it already.
A good few Aussies don't have tickets but are able to pick spares up for face value or less. One Scottish lad who's with us gets a CAT 1 (face 1500 Rand) for 400.
The Durban Stadium is a beauty. With the beaches and sea on one side, rolling hills behind it and the Miami style apartment blocks its location would be spectacular enough in itself, but this is only added to by one of the aesthetic wonders of the football world. If footall has become the world religion, then the Durban Stadium is one of its global cathedrals.
One year ago I would have fancied the Aussies to push the Germans in this match but the northern Europeans are on the up.
Despite having most of the support in the stadium, Australia are outclassed from start to finish. Germany are simply brilliant. Ozel looks like he might be 'the find' of the tournament; Schweinsteiger could end up being the player of the tournament.
My seat is about 15 rows back from the pitch. My 560 rands gets me one of the most complete performances I have ever seen from an international side. An Englishman doesn't really want to admit this but it was a pleasure paying 50 pounds to watch Germany play this well.
Afterwards the Aussies are in surprisingly good spirits. They are agrieved about the Cahill sending off but all admit they have been totally outclassed. Predictably enough they drown their sorrows drinking vast quantities of Castle in the casino. It must be 3 or 4 by the time we get Tim home.
Tuesday, May 18
Kasane - Nata, Botswana
Paranoid about another possible scorpion incident my mind was put at rest before bedding down for the night when Bjorn told me the tent was 100 per cent sealed. “Nothing can possibly get it once the inner layer is zipped up. Not even a small snake,”
It does rather come as a surprise therefore to wake up around 4am and discover a big, friendly white cat peering through the tent door meowing at me. Turns out Bjorn has gone to take a leak in the bushes and forgotten to re-zip the canvas.
A Zimbabwean, working a few kilometers down the road at Dunlop, kindly drops us at the main road junction near Leshomo – the best place to try and cadge a hitch hike in the area. We must be in South Africa by Thursday so, dare I say ‘sadly’, we need to revert to hitch hiking rather than cycling to cover most of the remaining kilometers.
After an hour of fruitless thumbing of potential lift attempts a Toyota truck finally stops. Three locals negotiate a spot: one in the passenger compartment, two in the back.
“You people never stop and give us a lift when we need one,” the driver’s companion tells me.
I know what she is referring to but play dumb, “What do you mean – ‘your people’?”
“You white people never stop for us. It is the same where I come from in Zambia. It is the same here.”
“I am sorry. I cannot speak for the locals. We’re from Europe. There’d be no issue about picking you up where I come from.”
“OK. Where you travelling to?”
“We want to get as far as Nata today. We also have bicycles.” (I don’t bother to mention the dozen bags and cycle trailer)
“OK. 60 each, OK?”
“Yes, sure. Thanks for picking us up.”
With our bikes, trailer, bags and two other locals already perched in the back of the open-air truck the two of us manage to squeeze our masses into the last few centimeters of available space at the very rear of the Toyota.
From here it is 300 kilometres of almost entirely deserted tarmac.
Perched in the back we feel every bump, vibration and pot hole; every air current. My nostrils are occasionally filled by diesel fumes and the odd collision with unfortunate high speed flies. With a can of cold Castle in hand we pass two elephants by the road side munching from some tree or bush. Lush greenery is replaced by arid semi-desert. The drive is extremely uncomfortable at times; the first signs of cramp surge through my left leg. But this is an amazing way to travel. I feel alive, so very alive.
As the truck passes through its second animal disease contamination check point of the day and the Makgadikgadi Pans draw closer, we pull up in Nata.
The town resembles a posh North African desert town, something, of course, that does not exist.
Adjacent to where we are dropped is North Gate Lodge, the most luxurious night’s accommodation I have had since my journey began more than six weeks ago: Air con, bar next to swimming pool, satellite TV and friendly owners.
It is the perfect end to one of those days when you really can say ‘I feel alive’.
Saturday, May 15
After emailing photo and editorial content to British and Italian journalists Tore drops me at the Livingstone Stadium where Zambia (including players based in Holland, China and Egypt) are due to play the Southern provinces. Outside the stadium over excited rugby scrums of locals are trying in vain to squeeze inside. I wasn't expecting this, but then I didn't realise that the first President of Zambia (1964-91), Kenneth Kaunda, is the guest of honour, prompting many thousands to turn up here. It is hot, dusty and chaotic. Many give up trying to get inside and go home, while lines stretch around the walls of the stadium.
Two soldiers, guarding one of the entrances, let me through as I climb under a broken gate. Inside thousands are crammed behind two-metre high metal fences, many surging forward as the stadium MC announces that KK is about to greet the players on the pitch. This is a big deal for the locals. Kenneth Kaunda is still held in high esteem by many Zambians, who see him as responsible for helping to end colonial rule and putting the country on the right track to its new found independence. KK, now aged 86, jogs on to the pitch along with his huge personal entourage, which includes a gargantuan body guard who appears to be three metres tall.
When KK joins in a quick kick about the crowd goes wild, before the former-president leaves the pitch at a noticeably slower pace than he arrived, looking like he has rather overdone it in all the excitement.
I would love to stay and watch the whole match but it is uncomfortably hot, uncomfortably overcrowded and uncomfortably close to the kick off time of the English FA Cup Final.
Tim, Axel and I jump in a local minibus and head for town.
The Capitol Theatre, a colonial 1930s cinema, is showing Chelsea v Portsmouth on its big screen. Back of the net! For less than a pound we are each ushered to our seats where, instead of popcorn, a theatre employee walks around selling Castle Beer.
This really is a theatre of dreams and, for the locals, the closest thing to ever being at an English football match. Fittingly, therefore, those present are wearing Chelsea shirts and scarves and create their own crowd noises in addition to those communicated from Wembley with the horns and rattles they have brought to the cinema. It is a beautiful football moment as Chelsea hit the woodwork for the fifth time in the first half and I witness dozens of Zambian football fans jump up and down in this atmospheric old cinema.
Friday, May 14
Victoria Falls, Zambia
After Norwegian porridge, Internet and 'real' coffee we head out for Victoria Falls, regarded by many as one of the wonders of the world.
"Take your shorts and raincoat," I am told.
I take no notice, thinking the locals are being wet in every sense of the word.
Imagine the Scottish Hebrides in a November force 9 storm and you will get a sense of what it is like to walk the slippery, water-lashed path that allows you to pass just metres away from the full force of one of the world's greatest waterfalls.
Truthfully, it is a little scary if you have a fear of heights or of slippery-pathways-leading-to-a-vertical fall-and-almost-certain-death; particularly the walk over the narrow suspension bridge above part of the falls.
It is, though, an amazing, exhilarating experience and rates as a must if you are passing through this part of the world.
Sunset is an ice cold Castle by the banks of the Zambezi. The Zambezi Hotel is colonial throwback at its very best. A night of pure luxury here will set you back anything from 400-2000 dollars but non-residents can slip in and enjoy the daily 6pm near perfect sunset.
Amongst those present for another of those unforgettable African sunsets are the squad members of the Zambian National Football team. Their manager invites us over for a photo and wants to discover more about ‘The Shirt’ project. About to make plans for an impromptu kick about with the national team the following day he is suddenly whisked away to meet the country’s most famous man - the first president of an independent Zambia, . You can’t really compete with that.
Later on we join our new good-value Aussie mates, Axel and Tim, for a night out on the town with tales of snakes, scorpions and the world of ‘props‘. A brilliant laugh is had by all, but I guess you had to be there…