I've seen a lot over the course of the 4,000 kilometers I've driven in South Africa—of late, it has included white rhinos in iMfolozi National Park, lilac-breasted rollers at Mkuze, and a prescribed-burn sunset on the climb to Didima Camp—but it wasn't until last night that I learned of what a transportation epic can be ("epic," or, in other words, "cluster," or, as my new German best friends put it, "the real Africa").
The mission: Get from the French doors and hidden gardens of the Bit O' Bush guest house in Kempton Park, a quiet suburb of Joburg near the OR Tambo International Airport, to Soccer City, the 90,000-capacity stadium in the township of Soweto, 40 kilometers away on the other side of Jozi's sprawl. The proprietor, Annette, suggested we all take the Gautrain, a brand-new, speedy, seven-billion-rand showpiece, to Sandton, then a public bus to the Westgate hub, then a Fifa World Cup bus to nirvana (in other words, Ghana v. Germany). It took two and a half hours to get to the enormous cooking pot of an arena, and along the way we met football-obsessed Argentinians and mother-hen Austrians concerned for our safety (or, in other words, "stupidity").
It's hard to tell how dangerous—or not—Joburg is because the tournament seems to have imbued everyone with goodwill and a desire to make a great South African impression on the naive droves of international fans. Such good will served us well post-match: Germany won (1-0), but both teams advanced to the knockout phase, which resulted in much avid vuvuzela blowing and outbreaks of spontaneous dancing. Our crew of five missed the last train from the stadium and somehow weaseled our way onto what had to be the safest place in the entire country—a special police train filled with 1,400 academy students, all heading back to Pretoria at midnight. The conductor made a special stop at Rhodesfield Station, where our journey had started six hours before—which is when we realized that we were locked in the station. Or out. It was hard to tell for all the fences.
But that South African humor, good will, and bemused tolerance came through again—one of the security guards recognized us and let us out to where we were parked. At 1:30 AM, we pulled back into the Bit O' Bush—one car, two buses, two trains, one goal, one bag of potato chips for dinner, two vuvuzela earaches, two new friends, and one more African experience later.
The best part? For our match on Sunday, Mexico v. Argentina (in other words, what our Argentinian pal called "our version of going to church"), we reserved a parking spot 900 meters away from Soccer City. We're braving the drive; it's a familiar place behind the wheel for me now. Let the clusters continue, for it's the clusters that make the trips worthwhile.
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