Sitting in front of the comforts of a fire at 10PM in my friends’ home in Hout Bay is a far cry from the 3 prior nights. Two of those nights were spent on airplanes traveling from Atlanta to Amsterdam and Dubai to Johannesburg and last night was spent within a crowd of 65,000 boisterous fans at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town for the Holland – Cameroon World Cup match.
My usual journey to South Africa begins with a direct flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg and I suppose I have become accustomed to the brevity of the trip. Albeit, the plane flight is 15 hours but I am spoiled to be able to walk out my own back door, take the train to the airport, board the flight and then step onto South African soil — no connections, no refueling stops and a plane usually filled with people with whom I have become familiar.
Due to the World Cup starting in South Africa about 2 weeks prior, all the direct flights to South Africa were booked or very expensive so I elected to fly to Amsterdam, then Dubai, then to Johannesburg and then on to Cape Town; all with the goal to take in the Holland – Cameroon soccer match in Cape Town last night at 8:30PM. To make this happen I had to leave Atlanta on a flight Tuesday early evening. While I did not relish the length f the journey I was curious about Dubai despite just flying into the airport on the way over. I hope to spend a few days in Dubai on the way back.
The plane landed in Dubai at midnight local time and I thought like most American airports the place would be sparsely populated. The flight over was full and I was glad to have had a window seat. With ease I can admit that Emirates Airlines offers the best plane and best service I have experienced during my travels. The seats were wider, every seat offered a private screen to view probably 25 movies of your choice, drinks and meals of choice were served often and the staff was much more friendly than other airlines.
After the plane landed we were taken by bus to the main terminal and the length of the drive gave some indication as to the size of this airport. The elevator itself, which transported us to the main floor, held probably 50 people and there were maybe 5 of these elevators. As the doors opened at close to 1AM, I was taken aback to witness a sea of people. They were all shopping at stores offering everything from Hermes bags to diamonds to Marlboro Lights by the case. The main hall of the airport (which is 160 gates long) was nothing but store and restaurant after bar. The main hall is long enough such that to walk from one end to the other will take a minimum of an hour. I’ve seen some airports laden with commerce but nothing compares to Dubai. Oil money goes a long way in creating such a place. The rest of the airport was impressive with marble laid out on the floor, international electrical kiosks every 25 feet ready to recharge any and all makes of phones, computers and the like. I thought twice about the idea of leaving my phone on a counter to be recharged in public as I had to get something to eat but the kiosks was full of other electrical devices already recharging. I determined this was my foray into what my friend from South Africa living in Abu Dhabi told me was a country almost void of crime. Paul Jansen, Jr. has been teaching English in the UAE and he never locks the door to his apartment and informs me that a section of the paper is dedicated to items found in public, often wallets with cash. So, I delayed little in plugging in my phone, leaving to eat and picking up my phone an hour later. Free Wifi is available to everyone in the airport.
My flight from Dubai to Johannesburg landed at 11AM and with a smooth transition I was able to make my connecting flight into Cape Town departing at 1PM. Landing at 3PM, picking up the rental car and driving to Hout Bay and showering, I was back out the door and headed to Green Point stadium by 6PM. There was ample bus service departing from Kronendal School just around the corner. The bus was full of Dutch supporters all dressed in their trademark orange in a variety of costumes including overalls, wigs, scarves, glasses and even a kilt. I drew a lucky card and sat beside Johnnie Anderton, a native of Hout Bay. We exchanged the usual introductions and then came into our personal stories and I came out in the favorable position of listening to Johnnie tell me about the 10 years he spent living and traveling the world on his 43 foot sailboat. As imagined, his stories were full and ripe, offering glimpses into what can be experienced. His details included starting off with his wife in setting sail from New Zealand to begin a 5 year travel phase only to be hit with a cyclone in the first 24 hours. In his same sailing pattern 11 other ships sent in mayday signals and one boat was never seen again. His travels ended with becoming the father of two girls and sailing through the European rivers before coming home. The only continent he did not visit was the South Pole. He and I shared a common interest and fascination in the sea explorer Ernest Shackleton.
By the time we reached the stadium the streets were covered in Dutch supporters. Dropped off alongside the stadium I followed the crowd up to one of the entrances and waded through the sea of orange. I was not sure of the availability of tickets but just stuck up a single finger to gauge the interest. Within 5 minutes I had 3-4 people offering to sell their tickets. In the end I bought a ticket on the second level from an Irish man who had come over to see the matches and visit his retired mother now living in Fish Hoek. The vuvuzelas were blowing at full force and supported the scenes depicted on TV. The stadium is brand new and looked it. I made my way up to the second level and enjoyed some time with my new Irish fans. The stadium was filled to the capacity of 65,000 and about half looked to be dressed
in orange. The anthems were sung, the ball dropped and match got underway.
One nice aspect of soccer is that the clock is always running so the length of the match can be well predicted. The Dutch scored first, followed by a Cameroon goal on a penalty kick to make it all tied at the half. With about 10 minutes to go until the end of the match the Dutch scored on a rebound from the left post with a powerful shot bringing the match to a close and the Dutch record to 3 wins and no losses in group play. They now go on to play Slovakia in the Round of 16.