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?
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.