Wednesday, December 22, 2010

World Cup Diary - Part 6

Sometimes it's the first step that seems the hardest. And then you realise that it might have been a mistake, and that each step is progressively harder. And so I have splurged on fantastic seats, Category 1, right on the halfway line, in line with the TV cameras. Every flight to PE is booked out. Not only that, but there are no seats on the connecting flights from PE to JHB to get us back in time for the flight back to Sydney. After investigating buses and trains it seems like we don't have a way to make it to this game.

Our saviour is the English receptionist. Her uncle is driving through PE on his way to his son's graduation from pilot school. She is able to organise us a lift with him and another backpacker tags along with us. His name is Karthik. He is not amused when we reference Karthik calling Karthik (a Bollywood movie that I thought was pretty good).

It's 5:30am as we wait in the dark for our lift to PE. I see a white hatchback and meet Uncle Bernard. We pile into the car and I find that he has brought a small dog along, who becomes my companion in the front seat for the journey.

Everything is going well as the four of us + one dog + suitcases in a small hatchback leave Cape Town just as dawn stretches across the sky. Bernard is polite as we chat through the usual introductions. After about an hour in, Uncle Bernie feels comfortable enough to start making some jokes. Before you know it, he's launching into anyone and everyone. It's the tour guide that is not in the books, even the quirky tour guides have nothing on this. Bernie says he is a soutpiel. His family is originally from Britain but settled in South Africa. Soutpiel in Afrikaans means salt dick, because he has one foot in South Africa and one foot in Britain... so his dick is dipped somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Bernie gives his assessment of Aussies, based on his time growing up with them in South Africa. A bunch of arrogant womanising drunks who love to surf sums it up. He seems to have got this image from the film 'The Adventures of Barry McKenzie' and in his slang refers to Aussies as 'Bazzas'.

As we are going along, we notice a clunking sound in the car. Bernie doesn't know what is going on but assures us that his car has been serviced recently and he has had the oil changed as well. We keep going but the clunking gets more insistent so Bernie suggests we stop, let the car cool down, check the radiator and stretch our legs. We come to a rest stop and wait for ten minutes. As we set off again, the clunking noise comes back after a few minutes and then we hear a thud. I hope that we have just passed a bump on the road but as we pull over and trace back along our path, we see a steaming hot piece of the engine has fallen on the road. It looks like what I imagine a meteor would look like, dead black, oddly shaped and alien looking. We need to get help so Bernie goes to the farmhouse opposite the rest stop. The owner is willing to help so we push the car back along the road and into his driveway. Bernie tells us the owner is a typical Afrikaaner farmer, he must have been about 6'2" but massively built. Bernie says he'd probably eat us if it wasn't against the law. He also said he'd probably fuck your wife and then kick her out but that is neither here nor there.

Our helpful farmer gives us a lift into the nearest town. The nearest place we could possibly rent a car is Albertinia, almost the middle of nowhere. If we fail there, we will need to go to Mossel Bay. We get there in no time as the farmer has a massive green 4wd and blazes across the road at upwards of 140km/h. As a sign of his general disregard, as he leaves his own driveway his car monsters over a potted tree that got in his path and he just accelerates through without a glance back.

Albertinia is a sleepy town, not much to see here. We stop at the petrol station which seems to be the main hub of the town. We find out from the petrol station attendant, who also seems to be running the tourist information office, that there is a bed & breakfast that might be able to help us. We go there and meet a charming old couple that offer to give us their daughter's brand new car to rent. They seem really trusting, as they only ask us for a deposit as an afterthought. As we are getting things organised, Uncle Bernie spies their daughter. He describes in graphic detail his psychic determination that she would enjoy sex in a variety of athletic and limber positions. Unfortunately, it is time to leave... and we head on.

We've lost just over an hour on our car ride so Bernie is now pushing our new car for all its worth. We pass a few interesting sites along the way, a stretch of road that is marked by the sign 'Hijacking Zone'. Any smart hijacker would just move to another stretch of road though, wouldn't they? We lock our doors to be safe just in case they haven't gotten to that level of thinking.

As we sit at the traffic lights just past this zone, a beggar comes to our window asking us for money. He's selling vuvuzuelas and other trinkets. I'm studiously avoiding eye contact. Bernie rolls down the window so the puppy can growl and snarl at him, tells the man to get a proper job and then says he'd give 1,000 rand for the beggar's sister. We drive off again.

Somewhere along the car ride, Bernie tells us why he has recently moved away from Johannesburg, where he and his family had lived for over a decade. Bernie lived in a walled estate, a fancy townhouse. I don't know how he affords that doing his stated career of petrol station fit outs. One summer's night, Bernie and family have another family over for a few drinks. It's a warm night, so they leave their windows open, have a joint or two. They bid farewell to their friends around 10 and turn in to bed. Bernie is woken barely an hour later. Men climbed in through his son's window and asked him who else was in the house. His son leads them to Bernie. There are five men, all ex-military from Mozambique. They don't wear masks, they don't need any disguise. They are not on any database and can't be found. Bernie and son are made to lie on the floor and their hands and feet are tied. They ask Bernie for his safe, but he says he has none and they believe him. They go through the house methodically and take everything of value, plasma tv, jewellery, even the money from Bernie's wallet. One man is left behind to watch the family, and he menacingly loads and unloads his gun in front of their eyes. The sight and sound of bullets is chilling.

After 4 hours in the house, a man puts a pillow behind Bernie's head and puts the gun to it. Bernie prepares for the worst but the man leaves. After 4 hours in the house, the five men leave with all the valuables and Bernie's wife. Bernie and son do not move for the next fifteen minutes.

The wife comes back. They had just used her to get past the security guard at the front gate. The car is found the next day, abandoned not far from the house. The men are never caught.

This incident happened a year ago, and Bernie is in the process of moving his family away from Johannesburg. He says Joburg is run by the blacks, and they are aggressive and resentful towards the whites. They drive fast cars, spend big and there are some places that you definitely shouldn't go to. I ask if I could go there because I'm brown and he says I'd be gone within minutes. Bernie seems to think that South Africa is going to get a lot worse before it gets better and draws parallels with the decline of Zimbabwe.

We finally arrive in Port Elizabeth, an hour and a half before kick off. Bernie is adamant that he wants to get a beer. It's the only thing he's had to eat since picking us up. We pick up a beer and Bernie has a drink and drives on to the airport, where we leave our luggage. We then say our goodbyes and head off to catch a bus to the game.

Now onto the game ....

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