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Writing Project – design your perfect house in words.

Duncan took me up to his place that weekend, and what a place. Sitting halfway up a forested hill was some sort of post-modern experiment in Japanese architecture. Large and white, from a distance it looked like a large set of stacked rectangles with sloped Japanese roofs.

Coming to the front door was an experience in itself. The stone walkway led you through a small oak-slat gate between perfect, whitewashed walls. There was no handle, or even a discernible hinge. Embedded in the wood was some sort of inductive circuit, which when my host held his wrist watch to the gate responded with an elegant “click” that released the magnetic lock and the door silently yielded with the force of a finger.

The gate opened to a traditional Japanese garden atrium of simple stone, ferns and bamboo. A small stream wound its way around the garden, running under the walkway from the gate. In the center of the atrium sat a comparatively plain set of wooden furniture. The house itself surrounded the entire atrium. On all sides, glass sliding doors opened onto the various rooms of the house. In front of us, the sliding doors were open directly to the kitchen, with the oak hardwood flooring one small step up from the garden. It appeared that some one had been a little over zealous with the stainless steal in the kitchen design, but it still had a warm feeling from the light that pored in from small, wide windows that ringed the entire room, high up near the ceiling.

Almost everything the house had the same lighting and flooring: slick, warm and sophisticated. The main bedroom differed slightly in that it was floored with tatami mats, and a low profile bed. The room also had the same sliding glass doors on both sides of the walls. When I first entered, the glass doors were totally opaque, but as my host slid his finger over an unseen panel in the wall, the glass became transparent, basking the room in light and the view of the atrium on the one side, and the pool and deck in the back.

Parts of the deck actually overlapped the swimming pool, and were spaced with glass panels for maximum effect. The steps to the pool started at the same level as the deck, and slowly descended to the bottom of the pool, which flowed off the side of some unseen barrier as if waterfalling into the wooded back yard.

“Not bad, eh” said Duncan as he grinned.

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Trip to South Africa, Part 10 – Herring and Kimchi

So Monday began better than most. Waking up to yet another selection of fruits and cereal for those who didn’t appreciate cheese and chutney sandwiches, and coffee for those hung over. I never thought that I would miss Ricoffee. My parents had instilled in me a type of distain for those who drank it; too lower class or not real coffee or something. But it tastes like old scouting camps and college, and goes really well with cheese and chutney. Then began the preparation for the first game the cousins would be joining us for.

Holland vs Denmark defiantly had that big game feeling, and although no one really knew anything about Danish football, we all felt like we did. Holland is somewhat of a weird third choice team in South Africa (at least for the cup that is). Amongst the whiteys, the English folk have the poms for their second and the Afrikaners the Freaky-Deaky-Dutch for theirs. Somewhere after that comes all the African countries, mainly because we were all told to support Africa. It’s weird actually, most people in South Africa have less to do with Ghana than they do France, but we were all clearly told by every right-minded TV personality or politician that it was the right-minded thing to do.

The game had a bit of a strange background story, as a week or so before, a bunch of nutters had been caught planing an attack on the stadium, seeing as some Danish newspaper cartoonists had drawn a picture of Muhammad (Praise be to him in a don’t-blow-my-ass-up kind of way) and had the audacity to publish it. It was fairly staggering that any religion (as bizarre and stupid as they all are) would be insane enough to consider attacking a legitimate form of peaceful worship that actually does the world some good. Jealousy makes you nasty I guess. Anyway, our travels were peaceful enough as we all sang “We all hate the French” on the bus to the game.

In fact getting to and from the game was much more memorable than the actual event. Holland won of course, but traveling with the Brian, Laurie, Jonno, Mike and Kerry made the whole thing seem like what the entire world should have been doing if we lived in a perfect universe. It was also our first experience of Soccer City, Soweto’s calabash shaped stadium which is shear magic. The thing is spectacular, and brilliantly designed. Not a bad seat in the house, brilliant crowd control and quite beautiful to boot. It’s only a pity that all the people there had to be bussed.

On leaving exiting the game, surrounded by mad Dutch fans, we were informed that the bus drivers who had so politely dropped us off in Soweto, had promptly gone on strike after their last passenger had “de-bussed”. This however allowed us to experience the general confusion and panic associated with thousands of South Africans who had never been on a train before added to the shear insane exuberance of thousands of train-enthusiastic, victorious, Heineken-drunk, mental-cases from the Netherlands. I am pretty sure that more than a few Dutch fans who woke up in Hilbrow in clogs and orange dresses with gigantic fake breasts and orange wigs, are still there now, terrifying the locals, being macheted, trying to explain that they are not, in fact, Afrikaners, and some who are still quite drunk.

Yet we survived. From train, to bus station, from bus station to Sandton, from Sandton we walked or waited for rides back to the house. All in all, five hours of travel for a 30 minute drive. We polished off the night with pizza, wine and song.

The next morning Rob started out with a mission: To find as much North Korean fan apparel as possible. Rob’s favorite dictator is Kim Jong-il, and seeing as they were going to be something like a billion to one that evening against Brazil, we all agreed to support the underdogs.

So I took the boys to the former “place-to-be” in Jo’burg, and my former stomping grounds, Sandton City. Yes, that’s right, the mall! My friend Charles had lovingly provided me with the administrative access for the mall’s wireless internet access and so I would finally be able to get in almost a full days work while the boys went shopping. Hopefully they would be able to find some small trinkets to take back home for memorabilia and gifts, and I might be able to save my company. Neither group was particularly successful, but Andrew found a lovely USA scarf and I had a delicious lunch.

Charles met us back at the Adams’ family (much worth has been wrung from that joke), to join us in the evening’s adventure. Charles is one of my oldest and oddest friends. I’m not sure if he realizes how funny he is, but Rob and Andrew were convinced that he was the best “straight-man” they’d ever met. I tried to explain that he is not that way on purpose, but they refused to believe that anyone could throw around so many half-witty, half-mad non sequiturs with a straight face and not be doing it with intent. Later they would come to understand that Charles is just a charmingly deranged individual who barely grips the fragile strings of sanity, while he daringly swings, successfully, between the complex oddities of his life. And he’s one of my best friends, so that doesn’t say much for him either.

The game was absolutely fantastic! The crowd was a sea of yellow and green and other than the “Official North Korean Fans” (who were paid Chinese actors with carefully choreographed chants), we were NOTICEABLY the only DPRK fans in the stadium of 75,000. And so, of course, we were a hit. At first there was some concern that our gesture would be misunderstood, but I think the irony was thick enough that even the thickest of the South American’s were able to grasp the gag. We had chants and songs and a scarf! We screamed and yelled and sung, completely entertaining the fans around us who were fighting off the cold. Man it was cold! We were in the top row of Ellis park, at night, in the middle of Johannesburg winter at night. That slow creeping cold that when you walk out of your door in the morning you say “Christ, what a nice day! I’m going to have a great day and wear a light jacket, and even skip a little!” Then you remember that it’s Johannesburg, so you throw your long-johns and Glock into you jacket pocket before you let your enthusiasm get you killed.

The good ol’ DPRK didn’t do too badly actually. A late goal meant that we had something real to celebrate. Apparently, the next day, the game was shown on a massive screen in some grand square in Pyongyang, but no score was broadcast and the Brazilian goals were edited out. I think it was also announced that North Korea had won the World Cup.

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Trip to South Africa, Part 9 – Boerewors and Beer

Sunday arrived the way Sundays should, late and smelling of coffee. I, as usual, got up first left my dozing companions for the comfort of the kitchen to breakfast with my aunt and uncle (even though I guess they’re cousin and cousin’s husband.) This became a truly enjoyable ritual during our stay in Jo’burg. We’d drink tea and chat about family, work and cheese and Mrs. Balls chutney.

Because our trip had not been particularly well planned, I had four tickets to each game and only three bodies to fill them. The idea was that I would be able to use these free seats as bribes for couch space or drinks and entertainment, or at the very least get some of my money back. Our first game had been too soon to organize a forth, but Brian had suggested his niece, Kerry, should come with us to the Netherlands v Sweden game on Monday. Seeing as I hadn’t seen Kerry in years and having a girl our age around sounded like a good idea for the local social scene, I gratuitously offered up the ticket I had nothing else to do with. Kerry, in her infinite wisdom and gratefulness, decided to thank us for her ticket by throwing us a braai (South African BBQ) and inviting some of her friends around. Rob got so excited about the possibility of “sexy time” that he had been doing a little weird jig where he would move his mid section side to side in an odd rotating motion as if he was trying to hula-hoop… badly.

Brian and Laurie have had a set of goal posts in their backyard for almost as long as I can remember. I know I didn’t become a reasonable goal keeper from school soccer (we play hockey and rugby in high school), nor was it from playing club football – I could already play by then – but standing in goal that morning with my sneakers (tackies) tied tight and my grandfather’s old leather gloves on, I realized that Jonno breaking my hands as a kid with his ridiculous left foot may have something to do with it. For god’s sake, the man was hung over, wore no shoes, had a beer in one hand and had injured his left foot so he was kicking with his right, and his shots still bent my my wrists. My jeans got covered in mud and grass stains, and I think I broke a pair of sun glasses, but god it was fun. I really miss that kind of stupid Sunday.

Jon, myself and the boys hit the local Spar (grocery store) to stock up on some needed supplies (read “more beer”) for the braai and got back with enough time to try and make ourselves look as good as three drunks who hadn’t shaved in 2 weeks could. Kerry arrived early to make potato salad and remind me that I had locked her in some sort of toy box when she was six or some such nonsense and that I am responsible for some of her deeper psychological problems. At least I’ve stayed consistent throughout my development. I helped out by pouring drinks and the boys helped with fires and table setups. When Kerry’s friends arrived, we all played adults sitting outside, drinking wine and chatting about our careers (well except for Andrew who is unemployed so can mainly only talk about dancing) and how great all our lives are, and where we plan to move to make them even greater.

I had completely forgotten about the Jo’burg Girl Attitude. Living in Florida for the last 10 years had fooled me into thinking that women wore shorts and flip-flops and where generally prepared to talk to anyone who would buy them a Corona Light or has air conditioning. I think that at one point in my life I had convinced myself that I liked the insane “challenge everything you say” and “I really care about what shoes you wear” or even “if you don’t drive a BMW I’m not going to give you the time of day” was something that I honestly liked in women. They were a challenge, something to aspire to be able to please. I don’t know if it’s the US or if I’m just getting old, but I don’t have one second left in me for that shit. The girls were entertaining however, and because of the attitudes, and the fact that they were kind of a captured audience, it was much easier to shock them with relatively tame comments.

The meal went extremely well all things considered. I got nice and blotto and the boys flirted with the girls and helped with the braai. Jon and I occasionally got sucked back into the soccer net, and sometimes the others would even join in. Rob, as it turns out, actually has a pretty good right foot on him – maybe next time he decides to lose some weight he should try out for the local footie club and not the RX methamphetamines.

I don’t know what it is about being a man that makes you feel like you should stand around a grill. It just makes you feel manly I guess. I’m a vegetarian, and my food was going to be heated up in the microwave, yet still I stood at the barbecue. Its the same with power tools or construction or whatever, if one guy sees another working on some concrete with a jackhammer he’ll just want to stand near it, even if he’s never seen a jackhammer in his life before.

“So, eh, what model is that?”

So a good time was had by all, great food, tons of wine and beer and even whiskey for dessert. When the good times were coming to a close, Kerry decided that we should all go out for a night on the town, so we all went down to the Jolly Rodger to watch Germany/Australia, and continued the drinking there until someone took us home.

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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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Trip to South Africa, Part 7 – Leaving the Bush

I slept in late on Wednesday morning. Partly from being so tired from the night before and partly because I was avoiding Rob and Andrew. After I packed up my stuff last night, I ran into an ex-Zimbabwean named Wayne who had been living in the UK for the last ten years. We had a lot in common and hit it off immediately. He had a mate out by the pool (it was well past 1:30 am at this point) who was apparently “chatting up some bird” with a box of wine.

(Once on a drip of pethidine – I can’t believe my spell check has pethidine in it – in the hospital, I dreamed a dream based on some Poe short story about balloons to the moon. When I awoke, my college mates Patrick and Jess sat a my bed-side, yearning for my recovery. I don’t remember this, but apparently I had asked them what they had done that weekend. They had responded something to the effect of “Oh it was great, we went to the beach and had a few boxes of wine.” It was my response that I was forever mocked as a pethidine snob (as well as a boy’s school Illovo snob), by being completely shocked that wine actually came in a box. )

Back to the English-Zimbabwean. We talked for a while and I let him use my laptop to check his email, bank balance, etc, while we discussed soccer scores and box wine. Eventually, his half blasted mate came and collected us and we joined him out side, where we were greeted by three girls, two white South Africans and one black Englishwoman. Everyone was clearly plonked and Simon (the wild eyed English mate of Wayne’s) was obviously keen on the English girl. It also appeared that we had been promised to her friends, the to South Jo’Burg boskats (Bush Cats). We were all drunk and getting on well when the one girl told me that she had dreamt about me and had a vision that we were going to be married and have two children (whose names I cannot remember right now) and then I was going to cheat on her with some tennis pro. Clearly out of her mind, I though that this would be a good time to head back, before I got axe-murdered or Bobbit-ed. The girls took this as a sign to encourage us to stay by removing their clothing and getting into the pool. Simon looked like a dog who had been given steak and steak for breakfast and de-togged faster than a Chip’n Dale and dived in. Wayne gave me a look which I’ve seen from animals in the road at night. I thanked him for the wine, wished him well for the night and made a dash for the hill. The creepiest thing was not that I thought that I loved my girlfriend too much to even turn around and look (although it was a factor), nor was it the effect that the ambeint temperature had had on Simon’s “tackel-out” attire, but rather the two stoic security guards standing at the main entrance to the pool the whole night. We had ignored them because they hadn’t said one word the whole night, until they said “Goodnight Boss” as I scurried past.

The following morning Rob and I made up, which felt good and meant that we at least understood each others’ breaking points a little better. Like two stupid rhinos, we both had to walk away a little embarrassed, but it was for the best. We spent the day getting in some deep down relaxation. Partly because it was such a nice day, and partly because we had run out of Internet time. I had now moved on to my Ryan Giggs autobiography, and spent a large portion of the day in the bath, by the pool and at the bar plowing through it. Having the energy to read actually requires not being completely wiped out from work and the other side helpings of life. We used the day to organize Thursday’s activities and to get some laundry done. We finished it off with a fantastic Indian curry dinner. That left time for one more bath and book before bed.

Rob and I had planned a morning game drive, while Andrew had been content to sleep in. So we were out the door by six thirty and back in the park, freezing our asses off again. This time we had come a little bit better prepared however with gloves and coats and hats. Our tour was not as exclusive as the first, with other six Americans and two Englishmen who slept though part of the drive and made quirky jokes the rest of it. Three of the Americans were a fully camo-outfitted family. Dad was kitted out in his hunting gear, mom in a fluffy cammo hoodie and stylish cammo boots, while their girl of around 13 wore a full length, plush wool leopard spotted poncho. I seriously couldn’t make this up if I tried. Mom and dad used a lot of swat team style hand gestures to each other whenever they saw an animal, and they gave me the creeps. Almost as bad were the older yank couple up front, who wanted to know what every tree and bird the saw was, and each time they would see anything move would YELL, “Oh gosh, look at that _____ over there, isn’t that just amazing? Frank pass me the camera, oh gosh!” Even Rob got a little freaked out. The drive was good, and we drove through large herds of impala and springbok, as well as an entire herd of elephant that was actually a little unnerving, especially when two young males started playing roughhouse right in front of the truck. When you have a couple of elephant in the road you can’t simply toot your horn (hooter here) and scare ’em off. It’s pretty  much their road until they’re done with it. The drive actually went close to an hour longer than expected due to the traffic problem.

Rob and I warmed up with a Wimpy breakfast and coffee, then we went back and found Andrew watching TV at the house. I took a nap and woke up in time for our next stupid thing to try. Rob had discovered that the worlds longest zipline is right here in the Pilanesberg. It’s over two kilometers long and around 300 meters high, with your top speed hitting around 100 miles an hour. So of course we had to try it. It was pretty freaking awesome, and the only time nerves played into it was when you are first strapped in and you’re looking down the mountain while the crew do your safety checks. After that, it’s as close to flying as you’re going to get without jumping out of a plane. Beer was bought at the bottom, and then it was off to find food.

We found an African Style Buffet, which meant that they served South African favorites, made well, and in huge quantities. I think that I’m going to gain at least 10-15 pounds from traveling with Rob. The meal was fantastic however, but trying to walk afterward was much more difficult that it should have been. We waddled up to the Sun City cinema to watch Iron Man 2, which we all enjoyed partly due to great special effects, partly our elevated moods, and largely because of Scarlett Johansson as a brunette. Tomorrow we would have to pack up our belongings and be out by 10 am, back to Jo’Burg to try and get a hold of our tickets and avoid being hijacked.

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Trip to South Africa, Part 6 – Storming

We woke up the next day still pretty high from the night before, and decided to calm down with tea and cricket. The highlights from the West Indies South Africa game was on and I used it as a teaching tool to try and explain the game to my American travel mates. Strangely enough they seemed to understand what was going on, and even looked interested… perhaps it is something in the air in America that makes it impossible to explain cricket, or perhaps it’s that I’ve never tried explaining it sober. Anyway, after the cultural lesson we took a stroll down to the Valley of the Waves, which is very difficult to describe, but I’ll give it a shot:

Imagine Walt Disney, the Discovery Channel and a Vegas casino decided to team up and build an African themed water park. This wouldn’t be so tough to imagine, but they really want to make it authentically African. The problem is that it actually has to be in Africa, so it has to be WAY more African than anything in Africa actually is. So we have giant elephant statues everywhere, and majestic waterfalls and beautifully crafted ancient looking temples and massive artificial tidal pools complete with white sand beaches and fast food joints. It truly is breathtakingly awful. It may be the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but the carefully constructed views are amazing and you can’t help but grab a martini (even thought the fucking bar has no fucking olives, not even a bloody cocktail onion) and sit on a deck chair over looking the entirely spectacular strangeness of it all. We ate ice cream and calamari burgers and felt like we’d walked onto the set of the next Monty Python film. The day of relaxing ended with getting take-out Nandos Chicken, going back to the apartment and drinking wine until we felt normal again. I went back up to the visitors center and worked for a few hours before falling happily into my bed. I felt almost relaxed enough to really enjoy the book I’m reading. Kurt Vonnegute’s Blue Beard.

Part of the plan had been to drive to Botswana, mainly at Rob’s insistence so that he could rack up another stamp in his passport to continue to prove that he was the most well travelled person in the known universe. It seems odd that a person with such an interest in the finer things (to which he boasts incessantly) is so pathological regarding travel to what he considers third world countries. He has no interest in Soccer, and very little interest in people living well. When you finally take him to a place where people are living in shacks and scraping by each day, he cheers up, only to follow with “I’ve seen worse.” I think part of it is his sense of humor, and part of it is that he is not a very outwardly emotional person, but it was starting to grind on me.

I refused to do the four hour drive into Botswana, but offered to take the car into the park for our own game drive. We all agreed and first hit up the liquor store and Spar to get all the essentials for a safari: beer, wine, cups, plates, knives, forks, Portuguese bread rolls, brie, and meat for the boys. The only thing that shook us up a little was the lack of availability of coolers for the beer, but as they say in Afrikaans, “n boer maak n plan”. So after we fashioned together a whiskey packing box with a Pep plastic bag, we had a perfect ice box for the Windhoek Largers and brie.

Considering our inferior Korean touring car, our lack of experience and levels of alcohol, we managed surprisingly well. Rob navigated, I drove and Andrew napped in the back. We found a nice hide over a lake and set up a gourmet buffet while we watched the hippo and bird life until some Germans arrived and we decided to move on. We saw zebra and buck of every kind, elephant, more rhino a ton of baboons, monkeys and wildebeest. Not bad for doing it on our own.

On the way back from the drive, I was starting to get pretty angry with Rob. I didn’t like his sense of humor and tensions finally flared when after a few drinks at the Shabeen. We’re both strong willed and stubborn people, but rather than fight to the death, I will invariably leave, which I did, and almost considered leaving his ass in Sun City. After working a bit and speaking to the girlfriend back home, I had calmed down enough to wait till the morning to sort things out.

Right now, I am sitting completely alone in the visitors center of Sun City. This is the only place where I can even get some sort of internet signal, and I have to pay $20 to sign on and I will only get 150 megs of traffic. I figure that’ll be enough to download my emails and maybe upload some of the work I’ve done.There is now an Italian in the Visitors center, at a quarter to one in the morning. Not only is the Internet connection very expensive, it is also fascinatingly flaky. It seems to somehow know when you are almost done uploading something extremely important before it disconnects you from the network. The Italian did not respond to my greeting other than with a nod. The reason I know he is Italian, other than the ridiculous shoes and the blue track jacket with “ITALY” all over the back, is that he just started throwing his arms up and down while yelling in Italian. It is clearly directed to God, or women in general, or someone other than me… And he hasn’t even take out his laptop… perhaps he can somehow taste the bad WiFi signal in the air… I guess I will call it a night and try to get this posted when the web gods smile upon me again.

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Trip to South Africa, Part 5 – The Pilanesberg

Resurrected, appropriately, on Sunday morning we headed off to discover the great new land that surrounded us. Being in the middle of a wild life preserve larger than Spain makes one think one obvious first thought: how do we get online? It turns out that there are a couple of viciously flakey hot spots around the place that cost $20 to access per 150 megs – which amounts to daylight robbery. Begrudgingly I paid, and then proceeded to deal with as many client complaints as I could stomach. I even told one client to find a new dev, because I couldn’t deal with them anymore… something I should have done a long time ago.

For lunch we found a great little Indian fast food place that had vegetarian food for Andrew and I (the two fags) and curry hot enough to satisfy Rob. After that, we watched rob hit the Black Jack tables for a bit and then went for a walk around the grounds. We met up with two Australians who had driven up for the day, and told us they were staying in the Parktonian Hotel in downtown Johannesburg. I said it had been nice meeting them, and if there was anything I could do for their families once they were gone.

Still looking for trouble, we booked ourselves on a night game drive, but still had some time to kill. It was suggested that we try the local Shabeen. Now a real shabeen is a township (read shanty town), informal bar. They normally server cheap beer and fermented milk products, along with food that is designed to be inexpensive enough for people who live in some of the worst conditions in the world to be able to afford. Sun City, in their infinite quest to provide the ultimate African experience, has built their own shabeen (which Rob insists on calling “The Shabang”.) Its actually very nice, clean, full of white people and the jukebox is stocked full of Kenny Rogers (like 10 CDs) and Afrikaans classics with lyrics that went something like this (translated as best I can) “We need back the home of my grandmother, where the flag waved proud and the springbok kept its head high”… so basically nothing at all like a shabeen, but exactly like a shabang.

Time passes very quickly when exposed to pool tables and 750ml beers, but it probably has something to do with gravity. Soon it was time for the game drive. Due to the massive drop in night time temperatures, night drives are apparently not particularly popular at the moment, so the three of us got an exclusive. Our ranger was a black guy named Israel, who didn’t seem to have any opinion on the Middle East, but knew a lot about the reserve, so that was good enough for me. The park was basically empty as only rangers can enter at night, and we were the only tour group from Sun City. In fact, we only passed one other vehicle the entire three hours we were out. Boy did we get lucky. We saw pretty much everything you could hope to see short of the big cats. We saw a giraffe laying down to sleep, which is pretty unusual (propping his head up against a tree), owls standing in the road for warmth, baboons sleeping on dam walls, zebra and gnu still out grazing and even a lone bull elephant who followed us for about two kilometers down the road, which actually got a little weird and the ranger was clearly worried at times. The highlight of the evening was an easy choice. Coming over a hill, we found two male rhinos squaring off in the road. We watched them strut and grunt for a while, which is pretty usual posturing over territory, but Israel said that never in his six years had he ever seen them fight. Tonight was different though, and they went at each other. Seeing two creatures like that actually try and kill each other is somewhere between sad and amazing. They didn’t seem to be at all bothered by our presence and let loose on each other. Their horns clapped as they rammed each other, but the sound of their feet and the rocks moving out of their way as the push each other in and out of the road was what stood out the most to be. They were pretty evenly sized and matched, and both came out of it worse for the wear. The one closest to us, who looked like he was leaving first, had a gash almost two feet long from his snout to the neck, and was bleeding pretty badly; the other was covered in blood under his horn and mouth. When they walked off in two different directions, they almost seemed embarrassed. Our guide said that if he was anyone else seeing this he would cry… I’m not sure if he meant that he was tougher than the average person, or if he could drop his professionalism for a minute he would break down, but it seemed even more moving to him than it did to us, and we were stunned.

The drive became colder and colder, and although if Israel had kept going there would be no complaints, we were all pretty happy to get back home and into warm beds.

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Trip to South Africa, Part 4 – Cape Town, the final day

Saturday morning was a little rough. I woke up at 7, having only gone to bed three hours earlier, and packed, showered and got the car ready. I then went to wake the two who had as much to drink as their non-driving selves wanted the previous evening. Andrew was especially hung-over, and probably still drunk, but is slightly more maneuverable than Rob, so I got him up first. Rob whined and complained that there was probably too much fog on the mountain for us to even go, and that he should be allowed to sleep in. However, my tolerance for this sort of thing is extremely low at 8 am, so a quick facebook poll reassured me that I should just leave him. That did seem to motivate him enough to drag his feet as slowly as possible to start packing, showering, getting a snack, medicate, and whatever it is he does in the mornings. From there we made our fondest farewells and heartfelt thanks to Jacqui for being such an excellent host, and headed off as fast as we could to make it up and down the berg before the plane left us in Cape Town.

I got a bloody speeding ticket. I drive a Stage 2 Lotus Elise, which will do 0-62 miles an hour in around 4 seconds. It is generally considered to be one of the finest handling vehicles ever built. I live in Tampa, with long, straight stretches of beautifully maintained highways. And I got my first speeding ticket in a fucking Hyndai Atos.

Anyway, we made it to the great flat-top mountain, and up the crazy slope of the cable car without further incident. Although I’ve been up many times, the view still left me speechless for a good while, something that is normally very difficult to do. Andrew was so inspired that after lunch at the top he wanted to go for a run, which I advised might not be a very good idea seeing as there are no side railing, there are half mad Japanese tourists everywhere, loose rocks underfoot and an altitude not primed for sea level dwellers’ cardio. But mainly the rails thing. All of the incredible fresh air meant that Rob stayed at a look out post to smoke. So Andrew and I did the lap and took the silly pictures and headed back to the cable car where we found Rob and regrettably headed off to the airport. Cape Town is almost too good of a place to live, like San Francisco, so I might need to go live there some time. I asked the boys what they thought and Rob said that he had come to see Africa, and not some European knock off, and Andrew said that he would have like to have gone dancing… so I guess you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

We arrived at the airport an hour before our flight, to find it had been delayed by 3 hours. So that speeding ticket was defiantly worth it. I thought it would be tough to keep my eyes open until they made us board, but South African efficiency made it easy by moving our gate every 30 minutes and making us wait in line to find out where the departure gate might wormhole its way to next. The flight to Johannesburg nothing short of a 2 hour nap. I don’t remember take off or landing.

We met up with Andrew (who had taken an earlier flight) and went to pick up our car rental. We had booked the same Hyndai Atos, so I couldn’t wait. When we got to the counter, Rob argued with the poor Avis girl for an HOUR trying to get his name taken off the rental in case we got hijacked in Johannesburg. He wanted it all in my name, what a friend! Of course he couldn’t share the driving either, as the manual stick shift is all in the wrong place. I thought the poor girl was going to cry at one point, but cooler heads eventually prevailed. She even gave us an upgrade! My heart sang like a DNA released sex offender when I first started up our full 4-cylinder Hyndai Getz! It even had a rev counter! I’ve driven a Ferrari before, but nothing as ever felt as good as that drive out of Jo’burg.

So armed with our Getz, we flew (under the speed limit) out of the city and toward the Pilanesbergs.

We arrived pretty close to dead. Our brains had stopped working some time ago and Sun City is not the ideal place for brainless travelers. Built in the 70s as a testimony to white wealth and pleasure seeking power, it is a monstrous thing. There are half a dozen hotels, two casinos, a couple of Disney-style African experiences and a central booking offices for the pilot-fish businesses that eat the tourist bacteria off its sides. The place is, however, very nice. We got our selves a two bedroom condo in the timeshare section thanks to my parents generosity in giving up one of their RCI weeks. As soon as we checked in, we hit the only open restaurant: the main dining room buffet. There was more food than we could even processes, and we ate like zombies at the all you can eat brain buffet. We climbed into bed and died.

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Trip to South Africa, Part 3 – Wine and Poker

We woke up a little later than planed the following day and I slowly mobilized the troops to hit the wine route. Jacqui, who gets up at a time more fitting for a college student than a senior partner in a law firm, gave us some advice on the trip before we hit the road, but mainly about where the cops are likely to pull us over and where it will be cheaper to drink rather than which estates won which awards. So we climbed back into our Korean death trap and headed out into some of the prettiest parts of the country. Although the boys were not as impressed with Cape-Dutch gables and white washed farms with quaint stone walls and country hedges as I tried to insist they should, they were suitably impressed with the air and the sky. I guess that my parents had done a suitably educational brainwashing job on me to have instilled deep seeded appreciation for Cape-Dutch architecture, gables and white-washed all.

We spent what seemed like a low-blood-sugared hour searching the small university town of Stellenbosh for a dining establishment suitably interesting enough for Rob’s foody tastes, but it was worth it for yet another great fish and chips for me and ostrich burger for Rob. Andrew ate his salmon sandwich peacefully and only mentioned New York and Rhode Island three or four times.

Our first stop on the route was truly inspired (if I do say so my self, and I do.) Although there were one or two grumps and grimes from the peanut gallery about my being an alcoholic, we first hit the Van Ryn brandy distillery. We were greeted with apricot juice and brandy starters and then led on a tour of the plant, which included a demonstration of barrel making by hand which was pretty impressive considering that “Uncle Clarence” looked about eighty years old. When I thanked him for the entertaining demonstration in Afrikaans, our tour guides eyes swelled up like plague-infested lymph nodes. “Where did you learn that!?” he said. Apparently everyone here seems to immediately assume that I am American from my extremely thick yank accent. Every tourist I meet believes me to be a zapher because of my South African accent. I can now begin working on the new “Trans-Atlantic” accent that was so indicative of wealth, upbringing and education in the 50’s, but now just means you work in television.

From there we were given a bandy and chocolate pairing flight. Never have I been a big fan of dark chocolate until it was served with so much brandy! Somewhat stable, we left for the estate most recommended by the locals, Vergelegen. It was recommended so highly as it has been winning all the local awards recently, although has not started shipping internationally. The estate is owned by an Italian who has produced a ton of unique blends of Cape and Italian grapes and something something something… after the third of forth glass I couldn’t really keep up with how impressed I was supposed to be. We were also given an olive and olive oil tasting which was odd, but enjoyable. The last time I actually drank oil willingly was before I had to go into a hospital for a particularly nasty procedure.

The evening’s itinerary had included going to diner with my great aunt and uncle, James and Mari, David’s parents. Normally this would have been a stop and go mission of trying to decipher tourist maps and hand scrawled notes, while popping into gas stations (garages as they’re called here), to make sure we’re headed in the right direction. However, the previous evening, David had been far sighted and trusting enough to give us his GPS (gipis as I call it), so the trip was extremely smooth. When we arrived were greeted with more warmth and love and food than I knew what to do with. David and Tanya arrived in time for dinner and dilution, and we had a great time. The boys were very patient while my uncle and cousin and I discussed our insane family and how much we love them and how much we miss some of them. After we had indulged in enough memories and wine to make us all nice and soppy, we headed off back to Hout Bay. The boys wanted to hit up Long Street and check out the night life, but fate had other plans.

Every Friday night, we gather at Steve Martinez’s house to play poker. Texas Hold’em to be precise. We are borderline fanatical. So when Jacqui’s son Chris called us and invited us to his friends place to play, Long Street didn’t even make a showing for second. When we arrived, the game was already huge, but our arrival required a split into two full tables. There was beer and chips and wine and whiskey for all. The final ended up with an extremely tired Greg as big stack and some guy called Rob (not our Rob who had re-bought in twice and had busted out three times, much to his “I’m the best poker player in the world chagrin”) who didn’t really seem to understand what he was doing. After some drunken negotiations, it was decided that I would make an unlucky bet and then be happy to settle for second place and take my hard earned R500 home. We were leaving the next day and still had not done Table Mountain, which Rob insisted on doing before our flight at 1:30, so it was quickly to bed (after I did some more work and got yelled at by clients for being on the other side of the world.)

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Trip to South Africa, Part 2 – Shark Diving

Wednesday started a little later and relaxed, with coffee and a drive into Cape Town on a mission to find “Swimming Costumes” (Bathing Suits) – the one thing we had both failed to bring, and considering the beautiful weather and the idea that we should go cage diving with Great Whites the following day, seemed to become reasonably important. We stopped in at Quay Four and ate a kilogram of prawns (seriously, that’s what is said on the menu) and drank enough beer to make my head pound a little less. From there it was on to the airport to pick up Andrew. There is something very strange about sitting in an African city, in which you are somewhat a tourist, and a native, but defiantly not a local, and waiting at the arrival gate for a friend. Also, it is pretty tricky to spot a slightly-built black guy, who likes to wear dark browns and blues, in a crowd that is a little less homogenous as Tampa. However, we did indeed find him, and took him back to Jacqui’s for a fantastic meal of fish and beer and even more Malva pudding.

Thursday I woke up at 3 am, three hours after going to bed, and tried to wake Rob up. By 4:30 we were on a pitch dark road through the mountains to Gansbaai to go do something completely stupid. We somehow made it to breakfast at Shark Diving Unlimited by 7:30… alive. We got the usual lecture of don’t feed the sharks your hands, and then headed off on a boat with 18 other lunatics in wet suits so used, they were no longer fit for use for humans. Rob chatted up a cute Aussie girl while I ate a tasty cheese and tomato sandwich and reminisced about my childhood by washing it down with Creme Sodas (in the correct green color) and Appletizers, which are brilliant! I also tried to talk to some of the folks puking over the side to take their mind off the sea sickness, but I think it just came across as smug when I went back for my second cheese and tomato.

The shark diving works something like this: A metal cage of about seven feet deep, three feet long and ten feet long is lowered into the water and strapped to the side of the boat while a guy in a lot of rubber throws buckets of blood and fish heads into the water: mmmmm, delicious – the smell did not help my heaving companions, but it may have added to the chum. Then, everyone still able to stand, hangs on to the side of the boat and watches for the first shark. The experience is completely bizarre, because you know that it is supposedly pretty safe, but that if something goes wrong you will be dead, or at least walk and talk funny the rest of your life. More over, you are having to listen to New Zealanders trying to psych themselves up even more in one ear, and Americans, South Africans a Greek puking some barely palatable scrambled eggs and toast ad nauseam out the other.

When the first shark arrives there is a much greater sense of “wow, maybe the water is too cold, you know, and the salt is bad for my skin, and…” and then Rob grabs you and tries to rush into the water first. However, the anticipation was allowed to build nicely as we were the last group of five sent into the water. You have only a mask and a weight belt, and are packed into the cage side by side in a row. The idea is that the sharks are swimming all around the boat, and when the dive master sees one coming around, he yells “down, down, down!” and you all hold your breath and drop below the surface. Please try and keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times, unless you think the sharks aren’t getting enough primate in their diet. Then right in front of you is a Great White. It doesn’t seem real at first, but something defiantly changes in your brain. The freezing cold water you’ve been floating in no longer even registers and you’re not even afraid. Everything has been replaced by a kind of awe or fear or super sharp sense of survival that is not the adrenaline based, heart pumping sensation I expected, but rather a warm feeling of amazement and surreal feeling of being safe only a few feet in front of something that would be more than happy to suck your delectable blood out of a hole it had just created in your torso.

Each group of five was allowed two, 20-30 minute stints in the blood and killer-fish infested ice water. To describe this as something one would pay for to any rational human being would sound like lunacy, but humans have some sort of weird need to have controlled fear inducing situations for entertainment. This might be from some sort of hormone that we build up to help us get away from a sabertooth tiger or something, but now is no longer really used. It may build up and cause mental illness or weight gain or even bad breath. It is clearly worse in some than in others: Rob said of the experience “It was cool, but I just wished one had really attacked the cage, you know?” No… no I don’t.

By the time I had driven the 3 hours back to Hout Bay, I was exhausted and was now starting to form blisters on my feet from driving. We made it back just in time to shower, change, grab Andrew (who had spent the first half of the day getting an exclusive tour from Jacqui, and the rest hiking around Cape Town) and head off to dinner with my cousin David. He met us on a main road near his house, claiming it was too complicated for us to find our way through the winding roads to his place. He would probably have been right, but his daily commute is worth it. He and his wife Tanya live in an amazing home with a view of the city and a house so tastefully decorated that it was sickening. We were fed fantastic wines and one of the best meals, restaurant or otherwise, we’ve had. That boy can cook! David had also invited one of his friends and his girlfriend to the dinner as well to dilute us no doubt. The guy turned out to be a folly artist who had been nominated for oscars for movies like 300 and Robin Hood! I spent most of the night catching up with David, who is unbelievably easy to get along with and like, and I almost like no-one so that is high praise. After rice pudding, coffee, tea and some more wine, it was time to let the adults go to bed, so David helped push our micro-machine up the driveway (it had become significantly more difficult to drive with the addition of a third passenger) and we headed back to Jacqui’s for the night.

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