Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tips for an Awesome Soccer World Cup

While an African winter with daytime highs of 12 degrees Celsius might seem like sweltering heat to some Europeans, there are some important things to take note of when packing your bags to come to the very beautiful South Africa for the World Cup this June. With just under two weeks to go, you may want to take some tips from a relatively experienced traveller on some do's and don'ts for SA.

My own personal feelings at the disgust I feel every time our government has to kowtow to some Fifa whim, or how Fifa is raping our country and bleeding it dry, aside. Almost none of the official Fifa gear is made in South Africa and it looks like China is the biggest commercial winner from the World Cup. However, despite the fact that Fifa is curio shopping us with a ridiculous dreadlocked feline of some sort as a representation of our country, or the fact that something which looks like it was done on some graphics creator on MS Word is supposed to be indicative of San Rock Art, and even the fact that Fifa is the de facto government of our country as 11 June 2010: this is going to be a World Cup like no other.

A few things visitors might want to realise:
- Don't bring loads of luggage, jeans pretty much works everywhere here unless you know for sure that you're doing something that needs a particular outfit. You will need the luggage room to take back stuff from here. Once you've tasted our Mayonnaise, Milk Chocolate, Biltong, and a large variety of our ordinary tinned jams, and store bought biscuits you will be looking for space to take it all back.

- Look for items bearing the Proudly SA logo and things which are made in South Africa. There's no point in buying stuff from here that you can get anywhere else. Also the Proudly SA logo is placed on high quality goods and services, and we place a premium rate on labour so you can know for sure that you're helping South Africans.

- You are coming into our winter. It's been relatively mild this year, but remember you will need at least one fleece lined jacket. Five degree weather might be warm for you, but when you're seated in a stadium a few meters in the air and have freezing winds blowing past you, you will be grateful you brought one with.

- Different regions of our country have different winter climates. In KwaZulu-Natal you will probably have no need for anything warm and will enjoy the beautiful coast. In the Western Cape for matches in Cape Town, it's generally rainy there and quite windy. Skirts are not a good idea and a light Dry-mac or waterproof wind-breaker with a hood is generally a good idea to keep with you. If you're walking about the city, an umbrella or hoodie might be necessary. In the interior, in Gauteng and the Free State this is where you'll be finding the coldest climates, with bright sun, dry weather but a real chill nonetheless. Layering your clothing with light long sleeved t shirts and jackets etc allows you to enjoy the warmer time during the day from around 11am-3 or 4pm. Mpumalanga and Limpopo are also warm provinces during winter, but they have chilly mornings too.

-If you are going to Limpopo and Mpumalanga, as a precautionary measure take malaria prophylactics. We don't have as high a malaria risk as other parts of Africa, but you'd rather be safe than sorry. You may buy mosquito repellant sprays and creams from most of the larger supermarkets, pharmacies etc. Do try to visit the Kruger National Park for a safari while you're in these areas and be sure to visit places like Pilgrim's Rest along the way. These quaint little farm towns have some of the best home made foods and hospitality which makes South Africa famous. Do not be suprised if you ask a local for help in a supermarket and end up getting invited for supper to their home because you're a guest here. (I've seen that happen three times!)

-A VERY important reminder. In order to curb the illegal use of prescription drugs, South Africa does not allow for local pharmacists to issue medication on a script from your doctor overseas. Should you be on chronic medication and you wish to get a replacement, please visit a pharmacy and they will refer you to a local doctor who will give you a check up and write out a script for you, alternatively bring enough medication for the duration of your stay.

- A lot has been said about our crime rate, but a lot can be blamed on the stupidity of tourists. Do not be paranoid and huddle in groups all over, but at the same time don't be lax about safety and security. Try to avoid roaming the streets alone at night, this is logic which is applicable to all large cities around the world. Keep your wallet and other valuables safely stowed in hotel safes when you go out and get one of those travel wallet bags to keep cash on you safely.

- Speaking of cash, there's no need to carry loads around you. You will need change and stuff to pay for small things like parking, but most stores accept Visa, Diner's Club and Mastercard services. Traveller's cheques may be cashed at the airport for the better rates they offer, but a good option would be to have a debit/credit traveller card set up so that you can have it cancelled and a new one issued should anything unfortunate happen. Cash cannot be replaced, but cards and traveller's cheques can be re-issued.

-Pack sunblock with a high SPF. There's nothing worse than pasty ass European travellers who come here and turn red and then they look like they have some kind of skin rejecting disease.

-Pack sunglasses, I have a South African friend who after living in England for five years and came to visit and ended up squinting all the time with watery eyes because the sunlight we have here even in winter is far more that most of Europe sees in summer. (Remember this if you're into serious photography too, most of the time you won't need a flash or speedlight for daytime shots).

- Be adventurous, sample our local food franchises and restaurants. McD's might be Fifa's choice but we've got some pretty good local ones too. Like Nandos. (Who got ripped off by Fifa too and were forced to pull out of all our stadiums). After all, our fruit and vegetables are packed and shipped off to Europe daily, so it's not like you'd be eating anything too foreign.

- Tip generously, most of our food services staff depend on the tips they get because their wages are rock bottom. This holds for any services offered here. Car guards even at malls often wait until the wee hours of the morning looking after cars, so pay them well because they're waiting out in the cold, looking after your assets for you. After all, a couple of our Rands is next to nothing in Dollar, Pound and Euro terms.

- Buy a vuvuzela, buy a makarapa, and get yourself into the spirit of things here. Yes, we may have one of the lowest ranked football teams in the world, but we're still wearing their jerseys with pride.

-You may want to learn or appreciate the song Shosholoza. This song, which likens the team to working in sync like a steam train, features prominently at all South African sporting events. Even if it's not an SA game, you can bet that if there's South Africans in the crowd, there'll be a call to sing this. In a stadium set up, the song starts sounding more like this. Awesome, hey?!

-You may also want to learn how to diski dance.

-If you're buying stuff off the side of the road whilst driving, make sure you've got the right amount of money ready so there's no fumbling and fussing over change while traffic lights change.

- If you're Swiss or similar, our traffic lights go from green (go) to yellow (slow down to prepare for stop) to red (stop). Not the other way around.

-Our cities in Gauteng especially, might look like nearby dots on the map. You could be forgiven for thinking that with a 120km/h speed limit you'll get between cities in under 30 minutes given the distance. But you will not, so plan accordingly and allow for at least 2 hours worth of travelling time each way due to the extra traffic volumes. GPS units are easily available all over the show from the larger stores and cost around $100 or so.

-We're not afraid of Muslims in SA. I know of 4 malls with prayer facilities for Muslims in Gauteng and the airport is also equipped with a Jamaat Khana. Halaal food is easily available and halaal items are clearly indicated on other food stuff, even things which you thought there never was any question over the halaality thereof, we've just confirmed that it is.

- Try not to be condescending to locals. We're a sensitive bunch, we pick up on racism easily.

- Don't come here with your ignorant tendencies. Don't expect the vibe, atmosphere and noise levels to be anything like any other European soccer match. Our local league team games create scenes like this and this. It might look crazy to you, but there'll be lots of security and order and obviously not that much room for too much of movement for the latter video. If you're going for games to Bloemfontein in the Free State you're absolutely lucky cos those supporters there will give you a soccer stadium experience you'll never get elsewhere.

-Speaking of ignorance, if you come to SA and wonder if this song is our national anthem, you're forgiven, but it's not. Our anthem's Nkosi Sikele (God Bless Africa). This anthem combines the traditional version of the struggle song with the Apartheid anthem Die Stem and a new verse in English (SA's mostly widely spoken and understood language)rounds it all off. If you'd like to see the original version of Nkosi Sikele, just have a look at our entire (mostly white)World Champion rugby team singing the current version with such pride at being South African, and look at how far we've come. In this version, legendary SA musicians like Hugh Masakela and the late Miriam Makeba sing it (about the first 4 minutes of it) and you can see the despair and lack of hope in their faces. This was obviously shot at a time when so much as humming a bar of Nkosi Sikele could get you jail time in South Africa. As such it was sung widely overseas and maybe one day I will treat you to a post on how and why people like my parents still get tears in their eyes and force us to stand for the anthem, even if we're watching sport at home, because such a simple thing was not allowed in the old SA. Other "struggle kids" I know always joke about how this was the first lullaby we were taught and there's lots of truth in that.

- If you need help, ask. South Africans are more than willing to assist people, you'll find us very friendly and warm in general.

- If your gut feeling doesn't trust someone, go with it. There's lots of people who sell watches etc on the road, be wary of especially the "originals" on sale as these usually have some kind of dodgey background. If a place doesn't feel safe to you, move out of there and go somewhere where it does.

-South Africa's opened her heart out to hope and the promise of giving our guests the best possible time. Treat her with respect and keep your litter and throw it in a bin.

-Should you wish to go on a tour of the Gauteng region or if you'd like a tailored list of places you think would be of interest to you, please drop me an email (queenlestat [at] gmail [dot] com) as I am a registered tour guide and I'd be glad to assist you.

Welcome to our land, we hope you'll enjoy your stay and that you're met with many positive experiences throughout your stay that you'll take with you back home. I hope these tips will be of some use to you. I'll be editing and adding on as I think of more stuff, so check back every so often.

Good luck to your teams!

May the Force be with Bafana Bafana!

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