Trip to South Africa, Part 8 – Welcome to Johannesburg

The first sounds of the Vuvuzelas in the morning echoed in chorus with the baboons ranting in protest. I had almost forgotten that we were here for the World Cup. The baboons were so pissed off that they decided to raid one of our neighbors condo units, along with some monkey accomplices. They got in through an open back door and began running amok. We all sat and had a morning beer while watching the monkeys and baboons run out with pillows and dvd players and what looked like plastic fruit decorations. Primate Control showed up eventually with paintball guns and bad-ass attitudes and proceeded to end the show.

I called my uncle and got directions to Jo’burg through Hartbeespoort Dam so we could play with the curio vendors and get off the highway for a bit. We stopped off at an outdoor bar and had a great meal with cheeky waiters before hitting up some of the curio stores to look for gifty things.

Ahh, Johannesburg! Like no other city on the planet. Sure it’s my home city, so I’m probably biased, but there is no other place that quite has the feeling that Joey’s brings. Multi-cultural, pretentious, dangerous, beautiful, hideous and a lot of fun.

On the way back to Johannesburg, we started hitting traffic for the opening match of the Cup. People were losing their minds: dancing in the streets, blowing their horns (hooters) and generally displaying acts of football induced insanity. We finally arrived at the cousins’ place and were greeted with an electric gate decorated in the South African and American flags. Apparently there had been a big row about the US flag replacing the English flag my dual-citizen cousins had originally had in its place, but Laurie’s hospitality had won out.

Our welcome was fantastic. Brian and Laurie gave us hugs and beer and warmth to the point that even Rob felt like he was home. My younger cousin, Mike, was also there with smart comments and a silly hair cut to move us quickly in front of the TV for the opening game. It felt like the good old days, sitting there in their lounge, drinking Windhoek and watching soccer (although it wasn’t Manchester United.) And what a game it was! Even though it was 1-1 (South Africa v Mexico), we all lost our minds with the first goal. We danced and high-fived and hugged each other like idiots. There is something about the pointlessness of sports that makes it so special. Everyone knows deep down that it doesn’t matter, but it’s the closest thing that we have to being able to deeply support a war. That basic instinct of us vs them makes you feel like your standing on some ancient battle field, ready to die for something you don’t understand even though you got all painted up for the big occasion.

We ended the evening with more beer and whiskey. Brian and Laurie had made up the pool-table room into a dorm for us with beds and futons and everything. After the travel and the whiskey we didn’t so much fall asleep as pass out.

The next morning we awoke to a full continental breakfast laid out for our pleasure. Laurie greeted us in a fabulous blue toweling dressing gown and massive smile. As we ate, Jonathan, the eldest cuz, arrived with that distinct look of a young man who has been up all night drinking and partying. Bleary-eyed and smelling like gin and cigarettes, Jonno managed a bleat of a welcome and went straight for the coffee. Jon decided that he would be better suited for the day ahead if he went to bed. Brian and myself hit the road in order to get our tickets for the tournament. My secret weapon, a South African ID book; this once-useful-in-a-lifetime item allowed me to buy the tickets at the discounted Zapher rate, as apposed to the pricey “I earn dollars” rates. So we waited in the Line. That capitalization was intentional. It stretched from the Aston Martin dealership, well past the BMW store. Brian doesn’t do queues well. Bouncing on the balls of his feet and chatting nervously to everyone in line, he proceeded to tell everyone how much he hates lines.

Finally successful in our quest, we returned home triumphant with our yellow and silver-leafed glossy trophies. My stack of 24 was much more impressive than Brian’s two, but happiness comes in multiple sizes. From there is was prep time for our first game. Brian had organized us a lift with his friend and his son. The gentleman in question was… very organized. We got to the park-and-ride four hours before the game started, and the bus ride to Ellis Park only took 15 minutes. This left us, and about 25 other punctual fans, in the 70,000 seat stadium with very little to do but wait. I introduced the boys to boerewors rolls and Magnum Ice-cream.

The game was Argentina vs Nigeria and the Argentinian fans where out in full force. Banners and flags, faces painted and blue and white vuvuzelas. Andrew almost lost it with school-girl like excitement, which degraded into alternating between punching and hugging me. The game was really a “holy shit we are actually here” kind of moment. The noise was incredible and the atmosphere was simply brilliant.

Later that night Bergen came round to the house with his new squeeze. He’s pretty much exactly the same with a little more gut and a little less hair. He took us out to the new cool parts of town, driving like a maniac and eating meat. Rob claimed that he was getting altitude sickness, and Bergen’s girl was getting a headache, so we dropped the ladies off and Bergen, Andrew and myself went to go look for a hookah bar. After a brief tour of Johannesburg, we concluded that either there were no hookah bars in the city, or Bergen didn’t know what he was doing, so he took us back to his place to use his. Unfortunately, he had none of the fixings, so we drank whiskey (or at least I did) and talked about the “good old days” until the whiskey and the events of the day started to drag on our senses. We climbed back into our dorm room and barely noticed Rob’s snoring as we moved into unconsciousness.

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