Wednesday, June 30, 2010

South African Tabloids

South Africa boasts their very own tabloid, The Daily Sun. Although there is no Page 3 dolly-bird bearing her breasts, it very much copies the same design, editorial and fonts as it’s British counterpart.

Front page news articles from Friday’s edition was an article claiming there had now been 33 deaths this month due to botched circumcision surgery. There is also a quarter page photo of a guy who promised to pay his prostitute US$200 in American currency but failed to be able to produce US$1 or even more than ZAR10. He was stripped naked by security guards at the hotel who stripped him naked, sprayed cold water with a hose over him, and probably then sold the picture they took of this to The Daily Sun newspaper.

Classic stuff indeed!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Holed Up in St Johns

holed up in PSJ

Escaping PE was eventually made possible on Saturday as I head further up along the South African coastline.

The Translux bus follows the N2 through East London and on up through what is known as the Wild Coast. I transfer at Mtata and make my way via 2 mini-buses to Port St Johns. As sunset falls I am treated to a gorgeous sunset with a huge pink full moon rising over the sea below me. A kind of appropriate entry into the laid-backness of this region.

After the never-ending suburbs and Europeaness of Port Elizabeth, it is great to find something more traditionally African. The area enjoys a small population, scattered villages and a subtropical climate. Like many places in South Africa, unemployment is high, I was told almost 80% here.

I am staying at the very much hippy haunt (for young and old) of Ammaponda Backpackers, annoyingly placed some 5 kms from the town centre.on 2nd Beach Road. Lonely Planet refers to “Pondo” fever which sets in to many and there are several people who come here and stay on indefinitely, as well as a popular long-term retreat for South Africans. It is a great place to pick up travel information, not least from Grant, a twenty seven year old New Yorker, who has come down the East coast of Africa from Kenya and given me a few excellent not-to miss places in Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi.

There are several interesting walks to explore and several beaches and coves. Swimming is not recommended, and indeed there was a fatal Great White shark attack last year. There is an interesting 61km trail that goes between Coffee Bay and Port St Johns.

I am looking at holing up here for a while, not least to get a lid on my banking difficulties - (contact has now been made), before heading on to Durban and out through Swaziland at the end of the World Cup finals.

Some photos of Port St. John will be up eventually.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Banking Evils

Banking is a necessary evil we all have to face. It is particularly difficult for a communist like me who has no interest in personal wealth.

This said, i have been a huge fan of HSBC Hong Kong who are normally, organized, efficient and helpful. My credit card has been cancelled and i am unable to log in to their excellent, easy-to use- Internet banking. Why the card has been cancelled i can only presume that they think it has been stolen. After all its had a lot of use and abuse across Southern Africa.

I sent them an email explaining that I need the card reactivated, as well as re-access to Internet banking to shift my funds around the five different accounts I have. I also give them my Namibian mobile number to contact me direct, but 4 days later i have only received an email with no real information to help me oot of this problem.

To say i am disappointed is a severe understatement.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Buried and Out!

I might be a global citizen citizen, but it still hurts to see England get knocked out of the World Cup. Ouch!

It was deserved and Germany punished England - remorselessly.

The game would have been different if soccer finally caught up with most other sports and used all the technology available to make objective decisions, but whilst Sepp Blatter remains at the helm of FIFA it is unlikely to happen. Hell - even cricket and rugby use it - and their inferiority to the Beautiful Game is exponential!

Well done Germany!

Despite enjoying plenty of possession, England yet again seem to be unable to threaten in the final third of the field, especially in the face of the always highly organized and generally efficient Germans. This is in stark contrast to the Germans who look menacing going forward against a distinctly shaky English defense. Gaps are exploited mercilessly and England find themselves two nil down within the first half hour. England somewhat surprisingly grab a goal back of the hapless face of Upson and a morsel of hope must go through the minds of English fans. Then the goal that was never given. It is so clearly a goal I don’t even need to look at the slow motion of it for verification. That ball is so completely over the line! I don’t want the first half to end as for England are in the ascendancy, but it does, but by the time the second half comes, England again stumble blindly and ineffectively, and the writing on the wall. No real surprises to see England get destroyed every time the Germans go forward. 4 -1 is not a fair reflection, but if you can’t defend at this high level you are going to get punished.

For the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, James and Terry – members of the ill-fated dubbed “Golden Generation” – there will be no more World Cup chances. Yet both Gerrard and Terry were the only players to leave the tournament for England with any credibility. Talisman Wayne Rooney has been completely anonymous throughout the tournament, possibly a victim of being so hyped in the media as England’s potential savior. What is more scary is where are the next generation of World Class players for England? Apart from Man. City’s Adam Johnson, I can’t see much potential for the Premiership is full of foreign “stars”. Worrying times for England indeed.

I walk off into the sunset hand in hand with my American friends.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ready For The Next Round?

All World Cups throw up a few surprises, and South Africa 2010 has been no different. After all, over a ninety minute period it is eleven men against eleven and anything can happen. One of the beautiful things about the beautiful game.

Who could have expected to see the Italians, current World Champions finishing bottom of the group? And Slovakia to qualify in their place? So far, the match between these two teams has been the best of the tournament.

So I stand by the fact that my world cup predictions from December 2009, that twelve teams out of 16 that i picked have qualified for the knock-out round. I had also named every team that finished top of each of the eight groups. To the “Anonymous” commentator on my prediction posting who asked if I knew what I was talking about, clearly I do.

The South Americans have clearly shown that with their sublime skills, energy, pace and movement off the ball, all of the South American teams have qualified for the last 16. Usually, the teams from the host continent do better than expected, but not this time however. Only Ghana fly the flag for Africa.

It’s now time for some more crystal ball gazing. Based on current performances we are looking at an all South American final, between Argentina and Brazil. Push me further and i will say that the Brazilians will come out on top.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The World Cup - North Korean style

Spare a thought for the much beleaguered citizens of North Korea – one of the most bizarre places to live on the planet.

With their autocratic and somewhat megalomaniacal Kim Jung Il in charge of every aspect of human existence, the population were treated to this very interesting summary of the World Cup. Check out this You-Tube video allegedly taken directly from North Korea’s only TV station. Click here for the direct link.

After such a stoic performance, the powers that be in North Korea gambled on showing the DPR against Portugal live. The gamble backfired somewhat, with the Koreans suffering a seven zero defeat to the team from the Iberian peninsula. Not exactly for the Glory of the Beloved Leader.

Rupert has heard that after the final witness the TV cut to a documentary of happy peasants talking of the virtues of collectivization farms.

Who was it who said “you can’t fool all the people all of the time”?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

At a World Cup Match

When i purchased my ticket for the England versus Slovenia match in Cape Town, i was expecting that England would already high and dry. However after two extremely poor performances this has become, in the words of England captain Steven Gerrard, a "do or die" match.

I depart from my digs in Port Elizabeth at 2pm and make my way towards the beach-front to pick up the shuttle bus to the stadium. As I wait for the bus to arrive a mixed group of middle-aged English fans come down the road drinking bottles of beer. A police car pulls up alongside them and informs them that drinking on the street is not allowed. A torrent of abuse ensues as the fans begrudgingly carefully place the bottles in the bin. An officer gets out of the vehicle and ensures the beer is poured out of the bottles, before driving off. By this time the fans are livid. “The fucking bastard monkeys are just cunts” says the troop leader, a large Neanderthal Londoner. The others concur as we cram into a mini-bus.

The other passengers are also middle-aged and are from the Midlands, a mixture of Birmingham and Wolverhampton supporters who share stories of defecating in their showers at their lodgings... I can only hope the bus driver can’t decipher their Thick Central England accents. Meanwhile the Londoner is still upset about his run-in with the local police. “The monkey-cunts won’t know what hits them if England go out of the cup today”. A real charmer!

I arrive at the beautiful stadium in Nelson Mandela Bay and the crowds and lines outside are large. About 70% of the fans are from England who chant their local club’s names, pour hatred on their rivals and sing songs about certain manager’s and players being pedophiles. Fortunately, the queues move quite fast and after being body-searched twice, I enter into the stadium at 3.20pm. The stands are well-labeled and i am quickly able to locate my seat.

About half the seats are empty in the area i am sitting. However there is a large group of Slovenians who are in good voice and remain standing throughout the entirety of the game despite the efforts of police and security guards pleading with them to take their seats. The ground (known as “the sunflower” because of the petal-like shape of the roof) can hold up to 48.000 is only filled with some 36,800 supporters.

To my immediate right is a family from Derby living in Durban. The two teenage boys spend all their time on their phones, their Mom looks on smiling and their father wraps an English flag with Derby County scrawled across and begins on his air horn and chanting “I’m England till I die” in between cussing all and sundry as the Slovenians warm up on the pitch. I’d like to think I’m much more global than that! Inspired by Dad, the teenagers join in with his industrial language.Mum meanwhile scans the myriad of England flags that are draped around the stadium and points to a couple more Derby County supporters.

At 3.50pm the players come out of the tunnel to a crescendo of noise. It’s like sticking your head into a hornets’ nest with the vuvuzelas shrieking out.

The first 10 minutes are a very cagey affair, but England begin to string a few passes together. Standing in front of me is a young Frank Lampard look-alike and his 12 year old girlfriend shrouded in a Union Jack. Frankie Junior spends much of the game out of his seat, screaming out “well done my son” whilst his prepubescent girlfriend looks on adoringly.

Meanwhile, every time England captain gets close to the ball Mrs Derby shouts “go for it Stevie G” – clearly the only player she can recognise. This continues for the full 93 minutes.

England start playing some football – at last- and begin to string a few passing movements together. However, both Johnson and Barry are guilty of needlessly giving the ball away. Nonetheless, England are in the ascendancy with both a Lampard 35 yard free-kick, Rooney having a shot blocked and Johnson having his shot easily saved by Slovenia keeper Samir Handanovic.

England take a deserved lead through a Defoe volley from a Milner cross in the 23rd minute, and the huge sense of relief is clearly felt from the England fans. For some 10 minutes England look reasonably comfortable, without looking particularly threatening.

I take a much needed smoke break at half time – only available at the entry point to the stadium, the rest being smoke-free. Not surprisingly the bar and refreshment outlets have overpriced their products with Hamburgers at ZAR 35, hotdogs (ZAR25) and a Budweiser beer selling at ZAR30.

England begin brightly in the second half. Defoe got a touch to Gerrard's shot but the ball flashed inches wide. Then Defoe had the ball in the net again, but his provider Rooney was marginally offside.

From a Barry corner, Terry climbed to head goal-wards at the far post only to be denied by the competent Handanovic. The keeper also got his fingertips to Rooney's shot from 12 yards, turning it on to the foot of his right-hand post. All Rooney can do is stare in complete disbelief.

As long as England only had one goal in the credit column it was going to be a nervous time. It took strong blocks by Terry and Johnson to preserve their advantage. Joe Cole finally made his World Cup entry when he replaced an injured Rooney with 18 minutes left.

But, as the clock ticked over to the 90-minute mark, it took a heroic tackle from Matthew Upson to block the Slovenians from scoring from 10 yards. Indeed the last fifteen minutes are decidedly nervous.

One can here the sighs of relief from the fans at the final whistle. England have guaranteed 2nd spot, thus progressing to the knockout stage of these finals. The players (minus Joe Cole) group hug at the end of the game as if they have won the tournament, before many players going over to thank the die-hard England fans.

The England performance has been better, but still far off being World class.

The crowds are busy, but the shuttle-buses efficient enough to ensure an escape from the stadium, with most of the English fans heading directly to the pub. I have had more than enough of the company of English folk and return back to the digs to hang with the Chileans.

With Donovan scoring a goal in injury time, it is Team USA that finish top of Group C, setting up a match with Ghana, whilst leaving England with their backs to the wall against arch-rivals Germany in Bloemfontein. I won’t be going, but I will be watching it from a bar somewhere further up the coast.

American friend Carie the Book is ecstatic, and so is Ying, although judging by her crowing email, she seems to be under the misapprehension that only the USA has qualified. Hope you are eating your humble pie now Gal – you’ll need it for your 75 mile cycle ride this weekend.

My Born Again Christian taxi driver fails to pick me up at 5.30am this morning and i now find myself stuck in Port Elizabeth until Saturday. Not good! Making life even more trickier, my HSBC credit card and Internet banking has been suspended, possibly through suspicion of theft – it has taken a lot of abuse recently. I am now at the mercy of my UK ATM card. Shit happens! On the bright side I have no deadline to meet, the weather is warm, i have been transferred to a more central location and the local people are warm and friendly.

Chant of the Day, sung to the tune of “She’ll be coming round the mountain” – “You can shove your vuvuzelas up your arse”.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bafana Go Out and Fan Fest at Port Elizabeth

A proud moment for South Africa as they end their World Cup with a victory over France. It is the tournament’s loss however that South Africa become the first host nation not to make it to the knock-out stage of the World Cup.

Many of the Chileans have started their journey over to Pretoria, but Rodrigo and Jaime stay on. We are joined by Rupert, a Londoner living in SA and in the evening we all head out to the Fan Fest being held at the cricket ground where English DJ Fat Boy Slim is headlining This really is so not the venue for his House stuff, and whilst the light show is pretty good, it’s embarrassing to witness a very clearly middle aged Norman spinning the disks and doing “The Lasso” on the big screen. By 11.30 pm we have all had enough.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Port Elizabeth

My two chosen accommodation choices are both full in Port Elizabeth, so I have gone through www.findaroomin who have sorted me out in a deserted residential house in Summerfield, some strange suburb of the city. But then everywhere seems to be suburb.

However, it is so much quieter than the 24 hour party place on Long Street in Cape Town and appears to be a vuvuzela-free zone. My new housemates are all young Chileans who, despite their country collecting their second 1 – 0 victory in a row are all pretty chilled. Quite rightly they are disparaging of England’s performance at these World Cup finals and are very quick to point the finger at England’s Italian manager Fabio Capello. They become even more lucid, fuelled by the quantities of Piscola that are consumed.

Port Elizabeth – or PE as it is affectionately known – is recognised as predominantly a student town. Whether it is because I am only here because of the England v. Slovenia match, or because I have just come up from Cape Town, but I take an instant dislike to the place. It is spread out, lacks character and again I find myself in a non-descript place that really doesn’t feel like Africa.
Thus, my first excursion is to purchase a ticket out of here. I leave for Port St John’s via Umtata on Thursday morning.

Nonetheless, i am very interested to experience at least one World Cup game first hand, even if England may well implode again. It will be with mixed feelings that i take the shuttle-bus to the stadium early tomorrow afternoon.

the pier on the front

Cheap Eats in Cape Town

After getting fleeced on accommodation in Cape Town, again I predominantly self cater – although the kitchen at Blue Mountain Backpackers is not without its fridge thieves. The following are located on Long Street and Kloof Street (or immediately off these streets) enabling you to eat a decent meal for under ZAR50.

Sultans – these doner kebab specialists are found on based on Long Street with lamb doners served on some strange rolls for ZAR30.

Shwarma Express – another classic kebab restaurant on Long Street which also do decent falafel as well. A choice of lamb/turkey or beef served on Laffa bread for ZAR44.

Arnolds on Kloof Street does excellent and cheap breakfast. Particularly popular with local. My favourite is the eggs benedicts with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce. They also do decent meals and great and large desserts. Check out the two chocolate mousse or the mammoth chocolate cake.

Simply Asia – on Park Road – This eatery specialises in Thai food. Generous portions and authentic taste for around 50 rand for a main dish, they also offer a take-away service too. They have several restaurants around Western Cape as well as a restaurant in Pretoria and Jo’burg.

Spurs – this predominantly meat orientated place offers hamburgers at just under 50 rand and steaks based on grams ordered. A well-known chain in both South Africa and Namibia, we try their restaurant at the Waterfront although there is another just off Long Street, offering one of the cheaper options in this salubrious part of the city.

The Spar mini-mart on Kloof do good sized salads where you pick your own ingredients. The medium salad costs ZAR22. They also do cheap and reasonable pies and other hot food. I am delighted to note that they sell Dr Pepper but at a whopping ZAR9.95 per can

Cape Town Museums

Whilst the World Cup matches don’t kick-off till 1.30pm, it gives me time to explore some of Cape Town’s museums, many of which are situated in the city centre.
First up is the Holocaust Museum, located I what only can be described as Kosher Corner, next to the Jewish Museum and the synagogue. Not into the Jewish museum – and at ZAR50 beyond my budget anyways, we wander around the complex, where an elderly women is insistent we check out the synagogue.She is a bit of a yenta (a Yiddish word for a chatterbox), quite knowledgeable and gives us the low-down of this impressive building. Donations only, but wearing of the kipper (the small circular cap) for males is mandatory.

The Holocaust Museum is excellent with a full documented history of the Holocaust as well as analogies made with the years of South African Apartheid. Many of the exhibitions were donated and/or copied from the Yad Washem museum in Jerusalem. Again, entry is by donation only. Opening times for these are 10am – 5pm Sunday to Thursday and 10am – 2pm on Fridays. It is located on 88 Hatfield Street, Gardens.

The complex boasts an excellent sand cheap eatery on site.

Next up is the Iziko South African Museum and Planetarium. Although we don’t enter the planetarium, the South African museum has an excellent collection of interesting stuff. Founded in 1825, it is South Africa’s oldest museum. It endeavours to explore the “relationship between us and the World we live in – our biological and cultural diversity, past and present”. It boasts examples of early rock art, the tribal South Africa, Darwin’s travels to Africa, and plenty of stuffed animals, models of whales, sharks and dinosaurs and bones as well. It is open Tuesdays – Sundays 10am – 5pm. ZAR20 with discounts for OAPs and students costing only ZAR5.

My international student card fails to impress the National Gallery, but the ZAR15 that it costs to enter is so worth it. When so many people are discriminated for so long, their creativity can provide a vital outlet – and none more so than here in South Africa. The art covers a wide cross-section, but undoubtedly the most hard-hitting was coming out of Sharpsville in the early 60s. There are many interesting compositions and installations to be seen. Opening times are the same as the other Iziko galleries.

“African art? Never heard of it” - Pablo Picasso (1920)

Situated on 25A Buitenkant street, the District Six museum commemorates the famous sixth district of Cape Town in 1867.

It soon established itself as a vibrant mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. Such integration soon became fround upon and in 1901 Africans were forcibly removed from the area. Under the Groups Area Act of 1950, through the policy of apartheid the district was declared a ”White Only” zone. And a further 60,00 people were forcibly removed from their community.

The museum documents the area through newspaper cuttings, photographs and first-hand accounts from residence. How South Africa would love to replicate such integration today!

Opening times are as follows:
Monday 9am - 2pm
Tuesday – Saturday 9am – 4pm
Sundays by appointment only.
Admission is ZAR20 for all adults

Of course the "Big One" is Robbens Island, but tours are booked up for three days plus with World Cup supporters desperate to check it out. I fail to get on the tour and cannot spurge the ZAR200 asked. It is meant to be immense however.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Table Mountain Cableway

A must-do in Cape Town is a trip to the top of the iconic Table Mountain.

Table Mountain was under the sea some 600 million years ago where glaciers rubbed it flat before it was pushed out by movement of the tectonic plates.

The plateau is seriously beautiful and has 3 nature walkways to explore. Its altitude is some 1085 metres at its highest point.

off the summit at sunset

The cable car was constructed more than 80 years ago, and each cable car can hold 65 passengers. The car revolves as it climbs and descends down the mountain top with a maximum speed of 10 metres per second and carry some 4000 litres of water as ballast. Each cable is some 1200 metres each.

The cost is ZAR160/ZAR105 for adults/students return, although there is a walkway which I am reliably informed takes some 2 hours to hike.
More information can be found by clicking here.

Cape Town at dusk from Table Mountain

Bo Kaap

This charming and picturesque suburb of Cape Town was once known as the Malay Quarters and traces its roots back to the 1700swhen it was home to freed slaves, craftsmen and free traders. About 90% of the community are Muslim and the streets are lined with some beautiful mosques.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Great White Encounter

I am a believer in confrontation of one’s fears.

After a near death climbing experience at Breen Down in UK, i had some serious problems with heights. Throwing myself off a bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand for a bungy jump helped.

After watching Jaws on its release as a kid, it took several years before i felt comfortable entering the ocean. Even the sight of small reef sharks whilst diving, regularly caused me to hyper-ventilate.

However, it is time for me to confront my fears.

Situated 2 hours South East of Cape Town is Gansbaai, which is the main jumping off point for a Great White shark encounter. Some 10kms off-shore lies Dyer Island and Geyser Rock which forms what is known as "Shark Alley". Attracted by the Cape Seals as well as some 45 smaller shark species, this area is frequented by passing Great White sharks.

There are several operating outfits that offer both cage and boat viewing, and based on price I opt for White Shark Ecoventures.

Many visitors complain of particularly rough seas, but after two fine days of weather, this is not a problem and conditions are near perfect with a surface temperature of some 18 degrees and the visibility is about eight metres.

The boat anchors and with 5 minutes we see our first shark circling from the boat, Chub is thrown overboard and a tuna head is slung overboard as bait.

The cage holds five people, and with about 25 people on board there is a waiting queue. Nonetheless, even in a wet-suit, I immediately feel the coldness entering the water. The cage stays at the surface and we are asked to wait for instructions from our Divemaster.

Using a weight-belt he asks us to go down as a shark approaches. My eyes scour the waters. These big beasts are real fast and one blink and you can miss them. Some come real close to the cage, eyeing us carefully, and occasionally we have them bashing the cage ferociously with their tails.

Almost all the Great Whites encountered are juveniles and female, as they tend to be the more curious of the genders. They are between 2.5 – 3.5 metres. However, we are particularly lucky to see a 4.5 metre adult male. After two sessions in the cage and some 3 hours we have indeed been fortunate to see at least 8 individuals.

The trip, including snacks, drink and two meals costs ZAR995 booked through One World Tours on Long Street. Worth every rand!

During Southern Right whale season (July – September/October) they also do whale-watching sessions at nearby Hermanus.

The following images were taken on a cheap disposable underwater camera.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


For more observant regular visitors to ALITD you might be aware of as few glitches on the site - not least the lack of photos at the moment.

Due to technical difficulties - mainly to lack of space on my Hard Drive, getting anything uploaded at the moment is difficult. Normal service will hopefully be resumed by Tuesday.

Meanwhile. it's not just the England supporters i am embarrassed by. England's scoreless draw against Algeria was shocking. Clearly the team will need my presence in Port Elizabeth for the do or die match against Slovenia. Fortunately (or unfortunately) i have a ticket for this match.

Editor's Addition: Almost normal service is now resummed.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Englishmen Behaving Badly

Since arriving in Cape Town every night's sleep has been disturbed through incidents (normally vuvuzelas) outside on long street.

However, last night was particularly bad, with drunken English fans chanting menacingly all night. The police are regularly on hand, but last night, probably based on the reputation of the English supporters) Long Street is full of police cars and vehicles, and indeed by midnight the street is cordoned off for an hour or so and alcohol consumption fuels the chants and abuse being dished out.

Usually my MP3 player is able to drown out the noise, but it fails on this occasion. England play Algeria here in Cape Town tonight at 8.30pm. I’m totally embarrassed to be associated with these “fans”.

I’m off out to play with the Great White sharks today, but will be back in time for the match tonight.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup – Day Seven

First up today is a classic encounter between Argentina and South Korea with a victory for each side from their first matches.

With coach Diego Maradonna playing an aggressive 4.3.3 formation including six strikers and no full backs, the Argentineans dominate proceedings and quickly amass a two goal lead within the first 30 something minutes. Remarkably, the Koreans get a late goal just before the break, and the game is set for a superb second half.

After a slightly shaky start to the second half, the Argentineans compound the damage onto the Koreans, and with two more goals the Argentineans are looking good value for a Top 4 position in this tournament.

John and I miss the second game as the weather looks good and we hike up towards Table Mountain in the afternoon and evening.

Back in time for Game Three today with France playing Mexico. Despite France having the lion’s share of the possession, it is the Mexicans who look more likely to score even though the teams go into the second half 0 – 0.

More of the same in the second half with France looking somewhat disjointed and failing to threaten the Mexican goal. In the 56th minute a well taken goal by Henandez gives the Mexicans the lead, and the French coach fails to use his substitutes to try and change the situation. Tierry Henry can only look cold and perplexed from the bench. It’s Goodnight Vienna when the Mexicans win a penalty and the veteran Blanco smashes the ball beyond the goalkeeper’s reach.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Day Six

The first game on Day 6 is the match between Chile and Honduras. Chile show greater determination to attack and very much set the tempo of the game. It is the Chileans that take the lead on the 36th minute when the ball is somewhat bundled over the line from more good work again on the right wing.

There is a greater sense of urgency to Honduras in the second half, although it is still Chile who dominate and have the two best chances of the half. The last 10 minutes is all rather scrappy and no further goals are forthcoming.

The second match between one of the top favourites Spain against Switzerland provides the first major upsets of the tournament. Spain completely dominate the first half, without really being able to capitalize on their possession for the entire first half. In the opening of the second period, Spain attack with fervor and continue to dominate. Unbelievably a quick launch by the Swiss goalkeeper in the 53rd minute catches the Spanish defense napping and Fernandes manages to bundle the ball into the Spanish net. Whilst the Spanish onslaught continues, most notably a blistering shot by Xavi that hits the woodwork, Spain are unable to grab an equalizer. Indeed another rare attack by Switzerland also hits the post. Switzerland can’t believe their luck and celebrate an historic victory.

The last match of the day is South Africa against Uruguay. Cape Town is abuzz with expectation and vuvezelas that are never quiet on Long Street anyway are even more vociferous. John and i get front row seats at Mr Pickwick’s but it is an ominous start to the match with Uruguay dominating proceedings. A three man attack pays dividends in the 24th minute by Diego Forlan whose power-drive from some 35 yards gives Uruguay the lead.

The visitors dominance continues in the second half, with a slight batch of South African play for 10 minutes is wiped out by a rash challenge by Bafana Bafana’s goalkeeper Kuane results in a penalty and a red card, and the first job for the replacement goalkeeper is to pick the ball out of his own net as Forlan buries the spot-kick. Insult is compounded with Uruguay scoring a third with virtually the last kick of the game.

Despite the crucial loss for the host nation, the noise on Long Street is deafening.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup Day Five

The World Cup continues with the opening match today between two minnows - New Zealand versus Slovakia. Despite expecting a rather rugged match, both teams play with a degree of intensity and passion, and the first half is quite open with both teams keen to take an early lead in their group. Although the first half remains goalless, Slovakia are clearly on the ascendancy towards the end of the half.

Within five minutes of the restart it is the Slovakians that take the lead with a good headed goal by Robert Vittek, although the New Zealand defense seem to have gone AWOL.

New Zealand battle hard, but look completely unable to break down Slovakia who look far more dangerous going forward on the break.

With a minute of the four minutes of extra time to be played, young Winston Reid heads home a dramatic and undeserved equalizer, and becomes a National Hero overnight.

The second match between Portugal and Ivory Coast was a low-scoring classic. Ivory Coast clearly have the edge of possession whilst it is only Ronaldo’s blistering shot that hits the target, but it bounces back off the post. Not surprisingly, Ronaldo’s spends much of the half either on the floor or glaring at the Uruguayan referee.

The second half continues with Ivory Coast dominating play for the first 20 minutes after the break, before Portugal begin to exert some pressure. The last few minutes of the game and it is Ivory Coast who pile the pressure back on, but the game ends goalless in a game that both teams would have been hurt bad by a loss.

There is much anticipation for the third and final game of the day, with favourites Brazil playing the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.

It is an emotional night for the North Koreans as highlighted by J. Tai Se who is in floods of tears as their National Anthem is played. Contrast this with the distant and remote Cristiano Ronaldo during the Portuguese anthem!

Not surprisingly, it is Brasil who dominate possession during the first half, but the organized and efficient Koreans hold their own and produce a few attacks themselves usually generated on the right side of play. It is all square as the whistle blows for half time.

After the break however, Brazil up the tempo really turning the screws on the Koreans. However it takes a wonder goal from Maikin in the 55th minute to break the deadlock, producing a fierce shot from an improbable angle on the right to open the scoring. It is Elano who adds an excellent second goal in the 72nd minute and one fears for a trouncing. Nonetheless the Koreans grab an opportunistic goal from Ji in the 89th minute, with a touch of Brazilian magic himself, giving what could be an important consolation goal to the North Koreans.

Anyone who is interested in the North Koreans' participation in the 1966 World Cup Finals should check out the amazing documentary The Game of Their Lives - one of the most poignant soccer documentaries of all time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup Day Four

more Bafana Bafana fans in Cape Town

It has been both wet and cold in Cape Town all day, so the conditions are perfect for football watching. Unfortunately the first two matches were not classic examples of the “Beautiful Game”

Back in the 1970s the Dutch were known for playing “Total Football”. However, after watching the first half of Holland versus Denmark I am left in a state of coma.

A majestic own goal after just one minute into the second half by the hapless Poulson (who just smiles inanely at his misfortune) and sees the Dutch take the lead, and a second by Kyuit with ten minutes left secures an unconvincing Dutch victory.

Next up is Cameroon against Japan. Cameroon come into the tournament on a winless streak of seven games whilst the Japanese have never won a World Cup match without being on Japanese soil.

Cameroon dominate throughout the match but it is a great goal from Honda that gives the Japanese a half-time lead. During the second half Cameroon continue to dominate but are completely helpless in breaking down the very solid Japanese defense.

Fortunately things quickly pick up for the third encounter in Cape Town, with reigning World Champions Italy playing Paraguay. The Paraguayans play skillful, organised football and take the lead in the first half through Alvares. The Italians speed their game up in the second half, and a mistake from captain/goalkeeper Villar from a corner leads to a well taken equalizer from Di Rossi. Both sides refreshingly go for a winner, but the Azures plug really hard in the last 10 minutes. Nonetheless the Paraguayans hold on for a deserved point in a good quality game.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cape Peninsular

the Cape of Good Hope

On my two trips to Antarctica in 2004 and 2007 the boat passed by Cape Horn – the most southerly point of South America. It therefore seems appropriate whilst in Africa to check out the Cape of Good Hope.

John and I head down today to Cape Peninsula on the Baz Bus tour costing ZAR540. We’re picked up at Blue Mountain Backpackers at 8.30 for a full day’s tour of Cape Peninsula.

The first stop is Hout Bay Harbour where we take the Drumbeat charter to visit a Cape Fur seal colony. Though the ride isn’t far, the seas are not very calm, which is close to The Dungeons – a World renowned surfing Mecca where waves can reach some 20 metres high. Cormorant and black back gulls keep the boat company.

Hout Bay

Fur Seals

A drive up over the bay takes us to Simons Town and Boulders which boast a sizeable African penguin colony. Also known as the Jackass penguin, this unusual bird certainly mimic donkeys somewhat uncannily. New born babies grow fast, and easily spotted by their soft down.

Heading on further the last stop is to the continent’s edge. We cycle for about 6kms before picking up our bus again. Cape Point is marked by a lighthouse. Made of cast iron in 1860, although it boasted a beam of some 2,000 candlepower and could be seen for some 68kms, unfortunately it proved ineffectual. Built 248 metres above sea level it was often shrouded in low cloud causing several notable accidents, not least the sinking of the Lusitania in 1911. The new lighthouse on Dias Point is at an altitude of some 87 metres above sea level.

the old lighthouse at Cape Point

The whole region is part of the Table Mountain National Park and boasts an extremely rich ecosystem including some 1100 endemic flowers and plants of which several are found nowhere else on the planet. There are also some 250 bird species. We also manage to see bontebok (a highly endangered gazelle), ostrich and chachna baboons.

a lone baboon

The day ends perfectly as we run into friends from Namibia. Austrian Barbara flies to Paraguay tomorrow and the sweet Rene drops her off before returning back to Windhoek to continue his African adventures. They insist on sharing a beer and I have no real choice to acquiesce.

The area is gorgeous and a one day excursion does not do this place justice. A two day hike can be booked at the National Park office (although places are limited) and it is hoped that it will soon be possible to complete a 6 day hike from Cape Town to the end of the peninsular.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup Day Two

With those vuvuzelas blasting off till 4am it is a somewhat disturbed sleep here at Blue Moutain Backpackers. Nonetheless up by 8.30am for a cheap and rather offensive tasting breakfast. Around 10.30 am and a double decker bus sponsored by UK’s Sun newspaper drives along with non-topless dolly-birds jiggling about. Tacky don’t even come close!

We head to Cafe Santa Groove bar just off the Market for the first match of the day. This is a very attractive game with the versatile South Koreans taking on Greece. The game has pace and South Korea dominate throughout. A seventh minute goal by the spritely Koreans set the tone and despite some aggressive play by the Greeks, South Korea dominate the midfield look lively on the attack. A second goal basically seals the tie with the Greeks in complete disarray substituting their captain at half time and the replacement captain before the end of the match.

Mixing it up, John and i head to The Dubliners pub on Long Street for the second match of the day.

With the brilliant handballing cheat of a manager, Maradonna looking more and more like his idol Fidel Castro, he leads his Argentinean team to victory over the Nigerians. It bodes badly from the start with ex-Watford player and heavyweight Danny Shittu at the heart of the Super Eagles defence against a three man Argentinean attack including superstar Tevez and the mecutial Lionel Messi. Again, an early goal settles the match, and it could have been worse had it not been for the heroics of the Nigerian goalkeeper who saves three immense shots from Messi. Shittu plays stoically and no further goals are scored. Argentina look amazing going forward, but whether they can win their third World Cup remains to be seen.

In the final match of the day, England get off to a magical start following a blunder by greedy Watford star defender Jay De Merritt who allows Heskey to flick on to Scouser and England captain Stevie G who takes the goal to perfection after just 4 minutes. Suddenly i see England’s chance of spanking them in. This doesn’t last long as England fail to control the game, and Team America apply themselves well. However, another classic blunder from an English goalkeeper (think Seamen against Brazil in 2002 and ex-Watford keeper David James on ore occasions than i care to remember) and Robert Green parries the ball into his own net from a straightforward opportunistic US punt with just a few minutes left before half time.

England look threatening when they go forward but their efforts are ineffectual and the game ends unceremoniously in a draw. England look unconvincing, but rarely start World Cup tournaments well. However world champions they are not judging on this performance!

John and i are taking a short football break tomorrow to head to Cape Point. More on this tomorrow – i hope.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup Day One

The opening game might not have been a classic, but it was a great start to the 2010 World Cup finals.

John and i might have now relocated to the Blue Mountain Backpackers on Long Street, but we return to the Capetown Backpackers for the opening match between Bafana Bafana and Mexico with the promise of a barbeque (braai) and a free shot for each goal the hosts score.

The crowd is certainly up for it with alcohol and dance of equal importance to the soccer. A few tears of pride as they watch the opening ceremony, and every time South Africa make three or more successful passes.

Mexico dominate throughout much of the first half. And the biggest cheer is when Mexico have a goal disallowed for off-side. Mexico look fast and dangerous on the attack and there are clearly a few nervous Bafana players on the pitch. Towards the end of the half however, and South Africa ply a bit of pressure and win a succession of corners.

Most of the South Africans are dancing at the start of the second half, but after a few minutes the bar settles down again. The second half starts on a more of an even match. However, in the 55th minute South Africa have a great break forward with one touch football and Tshabalala volleys a great shot into the net. The bar erupts as do the streets outside.

Despite a few chances for Mexico, Bafana Bafana look more confident at the back. But with just 12 minutes left on the clock Rafael Marquez somewhat ruins the party with a late equalizer.

A draw is a decent result for the hosts – and indeed the pressure has been on as no host nation has ever lost a World Cup opener, however there is a sense of disappointment that South Africa couldn’t hold on for an opening victory.

Nonetheless returning back to Long Street the vevuzelas are screeching out constantly and there is a huge street party right outside our guest house.

We watch the second math, France versus Uruguay at Blue Mountain. The room is packed but everyone is more interested in developing alcohol poisoning. Despite having much of the possession, France are unable to convert their chances, relying on some half baked long distance shots predominantly by Ribery. With 10 minutes to go Uruguay have their substitute sent off, but even with intense pressure, France fail to convert.

Whilst no-one takes three points in the first two matches it would be fair to say the real winners were South Africa and Uruguay.

I’m holing up for all three matches tomorrow, including The Big One – England versus United States.

Safety and Security in South Africa

would you trust this South African?

Safety in South Africa has been an issue for a long long time.

Not surprisingly, the World Cup being held here has brought these issues up in force and has probably scared some football fans away from the tournament.
The attack in Angola during the African Cup of Nations a few months ago, didn’t help matters, but it is like saying there was a terrorist attack in London so i am not going to Athens!

Austrian Barbara who has “underground contacts” in Jo’burg informs me that rival gangs have produced a timetable over the World Cup for muggings and robbery. An American we meet on the Inter-Cape bus tells of two friends who were threatened with an HIV+ syringe in Cape Town. Neither may be a reliable source.

Nonetheless BBC World reporting from Soweto say that the locals there are upset by such negative World reporting. Certainly the police presence here in Cape Town is heavy and security measures are in place to avoid such criminality. After all, such incidents will only tarnish the World Cup and South Africa.

Here’s hoping for a safe and enjoyable World Cup that will be remembered for the football, not muggings, violence or theft on a grand scale.

Green Point Stadium

a stadium fit for a World Cup

The impressive stadium in Cape Town is at Green Point with a capacity of 68,000. The roof is unique, made of glass and based (apparently) on a bicycle wheel. Security is high and as yet i am unable to get up close and personal.

England play Algeria here on the 19th June and i feel obliged to hang on here until after this game before travelling on to Port Elizabeth for England’s last group game against Slovenia.

Meanwhile, despite the efforts of Austrian Barbara, no ticket has materialised for England’s opening group match against the United States in Rustenburg. Thus my American travelling companion John will be forced to watch this with me in a Cape Town bar. To him, beautiful Ying, Carie the Book et. al. - be prepared for a whipped ass – i hope.

Six matches are scheduled to be played here, including the 2nd match of the tournament, France versus Urugauy, England against Algeria, a quarter final and semi final match.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Are You Ready For The World Cup?

Whilst Jo’burg held their World Cup party on yesterday featuring “international stars”, Cape Town celebrated their opening event today, featuring a veritable feast of local African groups headlined by the well known academic, Dr. Victor and the Rasta Rebels – not quite sure what his Doctorate paper was though!

Cape Town is clearly ready for this Global football fest.

up for the craic?

wild hat guy

News channels both local and international talk of little else, and the anticipation for the kick-off tomorrow is immense.

Bafana Bafana play Mexico in Jo’burg in the tournament opener whilst France will meet Uruguay here in Cape Town. Both Les Bleu fans and the Uruguayans have been a heavy presence here in Cape Town.

Back in December i gave my own World Cup predictions, and although several sides have suffered some high profile injuries including Rio Ferdinand (England), Arjen Robbens (Holland), the highly Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Nani for Portugal and Michael Ballack for Germany i’m sticking with my predictions.

For those not tired out of football here in Cape Town, check out The Labia cinema (maybe it means something completely different in Afrikaans?) on Kloof Street showing a series of football related films and documentaries over the next few days.

Disturbing Vuvuzelas

come blow on the horn

A vuvuzela, sometimes called a "lepatata" (its Setswana name) or a stadium horn, is a blowing horn, approximately one metre in length, commonly blown by fans at soccer matches in South Africa. They require some lip and lung strength to blow and emit a loud monotone like a foghorn or an elephant. It is rumoured that the name of the instrument is a mispronounciation of the name of former West German international footballer Uwe Seeler who played for West Germany in the final of 1966, which West Germany lost 4-2.

A similar instrument (known as Corneta in Brazil) is used by football (soccer) fans in South America. Vuvuzelas have been controversial and can be distracting to players and coaches.

Originally made out of tin, the vuvuzela became popular in South Africa in the 1990s. Well-known Kaizer Chiefs FC fan Freddie "Saddam" Maake claims to have invented the vuvuzela by adapting an aluminium version as early as 1965 from a bicycle horn after removing the black rubber to blow with his mouth. He later found it to be too short and joined a pipe to make it longer. Maake has photos of him in the 1970s and 1980s at local South African games and international games in 1992 and 1996 and at the 1998 World Cup in France, holding the aluminium vuvuzela. He says the instrument was banned as authorities ruled it a dangerous weapon, which prompted him to find a plastic company that could manufacture it.

In 2001, South Africa-based company Masincedane Sport began to mass-produce a plastic version. Neil van Schalkwyk, the co-owner of Masincedane Sport, won the SAB KickStart Award in 2001.

Vuvuzelas have been said to be rooted in African history, but this is disputed.] People would blow on a kudu horn to call villagers to a meeting. Adding to the appeal is South African folklore that "A baboon is killed by a lot of noise." During the last quarter of a match, supporters blow vuvuzelas frantically in an attempt to "kill off" their opponents.

The origin of the name vuvuzela is disputed. It may have originated from Zulu for "making a vuvu noise," directly translated "vuvu-ing" because of the "vuvu" sound it makes, or from township slang related to the word for "shower". Alternately, township slang may have adopted the name for a shower head based on the word vuvuzela because of its similar appearance. Slang in townships of South Africa also adapted the word vuvuzela to describe pumping up a performance.

Some pundits think the name is a mispronounciation of the name of former West German international footballer Uwe Seeler who played for West Germany in the final of 1966, which West Germany lost 4-2.

In early 2010 members of the Nazareth Baptist Church claimed that the vuvuzela belonged to their church, and threatened to pursue legal action to stop fans playing the vuvuzela at the World Cup.

The vuvuzela came to international attention during the run-up to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup, both hosted in South Africa. The world football governing body, FIFA, wanted to ban the use of vuvuzelas during the World Cup 2010 because of concerns that hooligans could use the instrument as a weapon and that businesses could place advertisements on vuvuzelas. However the South African Football Association (SAFA) made a presentation that vuvuzelas were essential for an authentic South African football experience, and FIFA decided in July 2008 to drop the ban, allowing vuvuzelas at Confederations Cup. President of FIFA Sepp Blatter opposed banning the vuvuzela, saying "We should not try to Europeanise an African World Cup" FIFA ultimately decided to allow the instrument for the 2010 World Cup as well.

Some football commentators, players and international audiences argued against the vuvuzela during the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. During the match between United States and Italy, BBC Three commentator Lee Dixon referred to the sounds as "quite irritating". FIFA received complaints from multiple European broadcasters who wanted it banned for the 2010 FIFA World Cup because the sound drowns out the commentators. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso also called for a ban, the latter saying the horns make it hard for players to communicate and concentrate while adding nothing to the atmosphere.

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Hyundai and a local South African advertising agency called Jupiter Drawing Room created the largest working vuvuzela in the world on an unfinished flyover road in Cape Town. The vuvuzela is powered by several air horns attached at the mouth piece end, and it will be blown at the beginning of each of the World Cup Matches.

Some are plain, many are in South Africa’s rainbow flags or buy one with your favourite team’s motif.

Walking around the Water Front and city centre of Cape Town over the last few days and not a moment goes by without competing blasts echoing around the front.

They will be clearly the landmark sound of the 2010 World Cup.

It is observed that these vuvuzelas also double up as a drinking tube, not unlike the famous Bavarian “yards” of ale.

Now anything above the 100 decibel level is injurious to the health of the human inner ear for longer than a period of 15 minutes. Air-horns average 123.6dbs and a drum has an upper range of 122dbs. The referees’ whistle has an average of 121.8dbs. The vuvuzelas however weigh in at a hefty 127dbs!

Supporters will be asked not to blow these during the playing of the team’s National Anthems. I wonder how strictly this will be policed!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bafana Bafana

two local Bafana Bafana supporters on the streets of Cape Town

A few weeks ago, World Cup Host Nation South Africa (Bafana Bafana) named their provisional 29 player squad. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira listed only two white players, reserve goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez and defender Matthew Booth. This is in stark contrast to the World Cup winning rugby team that consisted almost exclusively of all white faces back in 1995.

The crowd expects, but it is clear South Africa will have a battle on their hands if they are to finish in the top two positions of their group to qualify for the second round. Recent victories against Jamaica and a nil- nil bore draw against North Korea haven’t inspired much confidence in the host nation. Expect heads to roll.

Meanwhile, all South Africans are fully behind Bafana Bafana, but realistic about their team’s capabilities. Most expect the team not to proceed beyond the group stage, with France and Mexico the more likely to progress further. A recent survey suggests that South Africans will switch their allegiances to tournament favourites, Brazil.

Cape Town is awash with noise and sporting fervour, from both locals and visiting supporters, and we haven’t even kicked off yet! The French and Uruguay supporters are here in force with their opening match kicking off in Cape Town on Friday.

There is a “Welcome Party” tomorrow in Cape Town with street parades and music from 2pm. It should be awesome.

An Eye and a Lens - World Cup ball

your own World Cup correspondent

John takes a picture of Aubs in the Waterfront posing in front of the official new World Cup ball. Not sure how easy it will be for any team to score with this one though!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Arrival into Cape Town

Cape Town Harbour - Table Mountain an impressive backdrop

Arriving into Cape Town with just 3 days before the kick-off to the World Cup, the place is clearly up for a month long party.

The city is one cool, cosmopolitan, happening place. A mix of modern and historical buildings create an excellent urban centre with a number of choice bistros, restaurants and bars.

the Waterfront at sunset

Heading to the harbour the FIFA World Cup box office at the Spearheart Building is selling their final stock of World Cup tickets and after less than half an hour wait, i am able to procure a ticket for England’s final qualifying game against Slovenia on 23rd June in Port Elizabeth. This Category A ticket costs R1120.

Staying at Cape Town Backpackers in a good central location. However, prices have been escalated by 500%! Shocking treatment for visitors to the country. A few desperate emails have been sent to ex-colleagues from South Africa and seriously hoping cheaper alternatives can be found for the month duration of the tournament. Otherwise Lesotho or Swaziland might provide an alternative base where prices have not been so severely escalated.

With 64 matches to be played i am hoping to watch as many of these as possible as ALITD goes into soccer overdrive over the month. You have been warned!

Monday, June 7, 2010


John is a twitcher. Armed with several South African bird guides, he busily ticks and dates each new bird he sees. In Etosha, his nose is often buried in these guides rather than admiring all the wildlife.

John is also keen on Bushman tracking. This involves looking at tracks in the sand and looking at droppings on the ground. If nothing else, it can certainly be said he knows his shit.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Big Cat Experience

feeding time for cheetah

So with my last full day in Namibia, John and i splurge on a visit to Amani Lodge some 20kms south west of Windhoek, found off C26.

Chameleon Backpackers run tours here every afternoon (including champagne) for N$1025 per person. This seems really expensive as the cost from Amani is still expensive, but at N$440, much reduced. John and i will share a taxi ride, so we are reduce the costs dramatically.

Known as “The Big Cat Experience” it provides an opportunity to get up and personal with cheetah, lion and leopard.

The location is superb offering fine views over both Windhoek and the surrounding terrain. The tour begins at 2.30pm sharp, and Peter, our young guide for the day certainly knows his stuff.

All three of these big cats have their own large enclosure. Our first stop is a group of five cheetahs. The six travellists stand in a small wooden enclosure whilst Peter throws out chunks of meet just metres form where we stand. Sure enough, within moments, the cheetah come hungrily through the scrubland and pretty much ignore the presence of us humans and devour the offering.

tucking into a hunk of snack

Next up is a visit to the solitary leopard. We are warned he is very shy and hasn’t been seen for several days. We catch the fleetest of glimpses and swiftly disappears despite Peter’s meat temptations and leopard calls.

Our final stop is to visit the two lions. These resplendent beasts pay little attention to us as more meat is dispatched. The male takes the lion share before saving a few scraps for the female.

one hungry male

the female lioness

Come sunset and we return to the lodge for champagne and are given a glimpse of two more cheetah, one a four month old wild and very frisky cub and a large female known as the Teddy Bear – a very much domesticated cat indeed.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Zebras are African equids best known for their distinctive white and black stripes. Their stripes come in different patterns unique to each individual. They are generally social animals and can be seen in small harems to large herds. In addition to their stripes, zebras have erect, mohawk-like manes. Unlike their closest relatives, horses and asses, zebras have never been truly domesticated.

There are three species of zebra: the Plains Zebra, Grévy's Zebra and the Mountain Zebra. The Plains zebra and the Mountain zebra belong to the subgenus Hippotigris, but Grevy's zebra is the sole species of subgenus Dolichohippus. The latter resembles an ass while the former two are more horse-like. Nevertheless, DNA and molecular data show that zebras do indeed have monophyletic origins. All three belong to the genus Equus along with other living equids. In certain regions of Kenya, Plains zebras and Grevy's zebras coexist.

The unique stripes and behaviors of zebras make these among the animals most familiar to people. They can be found in a variety of habitats, such as grasslands, savannas, woodlands, thorny scrublands, mountains and coastal hills. However, various anthropogenic factors have had a severe impact on zebra populations, in particular hunting for skins and habitat destruction. Grevy's zebra and the Mountain zebra are endangered. While Plains zebras are much more plentiful, one subspecies, the quagga, went extinct in the late nineteenth century.

The name "zebra" comes from the Old Portuguese word zevra which means "wild ass".

Zebras were the second lineage to diverge from the earliest proto-horses, after the asses, around 4 million years ago. Grevy's zebra is believed to have been the first zebra species to emerge. The ancestors of the Equus horses are believed to have been striped, and zebras must have retained the stripes of their ancestors due to their advantage for social animals in tropical environments. Extensive stripes would be of little use to equids that live in low densities in deserts (like asses and some horses) or ones that live in colder climates with shaggy coats and annual shading (like some horses).

The Plains Zebra (Equus quagga, formerly Equus burchelli) is the most common, and has or had about twelve subspecies distributed across much of southern and eastern Africa. It, or particular subspecies of it, have also been known as the Common Zebra, the Dauw, Burchell's Zebra (actually the subspecies Equus quagga burchellii), Chapman's Zebra, Wahlberg's Zebra, Selous' Zebra, Grant's Zebra, Boehm's Zebra and the Quagga (another extinct subspecies, Equus quagga quagga).

The Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra) of southwest Africa tends to have a sleek coat with a white belly and narrower stripes than the Plains Zebra. It has two subspecies and is classified as vulnerable.

Grévy's Zebra (Equus grevyi) is the largest type, with a long, narrow head making it appear rather mule-like. It is an inhabitant of the semi-arid grasslands of Ethiopia and northern Kenya. Grévy's Zebra is the rarest species of zebra around today, and is classified as endangered.

Although zebra species may have overlapping ranges, they do not interbreed. This held true even when the Quagga and Burchell's race of Plains Zebra shared the same area. In captivity, Plains Zebras have been crossed with Mountain zebras. The hybrid foals lacked a dewlap and resembled the Plains Zebra apart from their larger ears and their hindquarters pattern. Attempts to breed a Grévy's Zebra stallion to Mountain Zebra mares resulted in a high rate of miscarriage. In captivity, crosses between zebras and other (non-zebra) equines have produced several distinct hybrids, including the zebroid, zeedonk, zony, and zorse.

It was previously believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes since some zebras have white underbellies. However embryological evidence shows that the animal's background color is dark and the white stripes and bellies are additions. The stripes are typically vertical on the head, neck, forequarters, and main body, with horizontal stripes at the rear and on the legs of the animal. It has been suggested that the stripes serve as visual cues and identification. With each striping pattern unique to each individual, zebras can recognise one another by their stripes.

Others believe that the stripes act as a camouflage mechanism. This is accomplished in several ways. First, the vertical striping helps the zebra hide in grass. While seeming absurd at first glance considering that grass is neither white nor black, it is supposed to be effective against the zebra's main predator, the lion, which is colour blind. Theoretically a zebra standing still in tall grass may not be noticed at all by a lion. Additionally, since zebras are herd animals, the stripes may help to confuse predators - a number of zebras standing or moving close together may appear as one large animal, making it more difficult for the lion to pick out any single zebra to attack.

A herd of zebras scattering to avoid a predator will also represent to that predator a confused mass of vertical stripes travelling in multiple directions making it difficult for the predator to track an individual visually as it separates from its herdmates, although biologists have never observed lions appearing confused by zebra stripes.

A more recent theory, supported by experiment, posits that the disruptive colouration is also an effective means of confusing the visual system of the blood-sucking tsetse fly. Alternative theories include that the stripes coincide with fat patterning beneath the skin, serving as a thermoregulatory mechanism for the zebra, and that wounds sustained disrupt the striping pattern to clearly indicate the fitness of the animal to potential mates.

Like horses, zebras walk, trot, canter and gallop. They are generally slower than horses but their great stamina helps them outpace predators. When chased, a zebra will zig-zag from side to side making it more difficult for the predator. When cornered the zebra will rear up and kick or bite its attacker.

Zebras have excellent eyesight. It is believed that they can see in color. Like most ungulates the zebra has its eyes on the sides of its head, giving it a wide field of view. Zebras also have night vision, although not as advanced as that of most of their predators, but their hearing compensates.

Zebras have great hearing, and tend to have larger, rounder ears than horses. Like horses and other ungulates, zebra can turn their ears in almost any direction. In addition to eyesight and hearing, zebras have an acute sense of smell and taste.

Like most members of the horse family, zebras are highly sociable. Their social structure, however, depends on the species. Mountain zebras and Plains zebras live in groups, known as 'harems', consisting of one stallion with up to six mares and their foals. Bachelor males either live alone or with groups of other bachelors until they are old enough to challenge a breeding stallion. When attacked by packs of hyenas or wild dogs, a zebra group will huddle together with the foals in the middle while the stallion tries to ward them off.

Unlike the other zebra species, Grevy's zebras do not have permanent social bonds. A group of these zebras rarely stays together for more than a few months. The foals stay with their mother, while the adult male lives alone. However like the other two zebra species, bachelor male zebras will organize in groups.

Like horses, zebras sleep standing up and only sleep when neighbors are around to warn them of predators.

Zebras communicate with each other with high pitched barks and whinnying. Grevy's zebras make mule-like brays. A zebra’s ears signify its mood. When a zebra is in a calm, tense or friendly mood, its ears stand erect. When it is frightened, its ears are pushed forward. When angry, the ears are pulled backward. When surveying an area for predators, zebras will stand in an alert posture; with ears erect, head held high, and staring. When tense they will also snort. When a predator is spotted or sensed, a zebra will bark (or bray) loudly.

Zebras are very adaptable grazers. They feed mainly on grasses but will also eat shrubs, herbs, twigs, leaves and bark. Their well adapted digestive system allows them to subsist on diets of lower nutritional quality than that necessary for herbivores.

Female zebras mature earlier than the males and a mare may have her first foal by the age of three. Males are not able to breed until the age of five or six. Mares may give birth to one foal every twelve months. She nurses the foal for up to a year. Like horses, zebras are able to stand, walk and suckle shortly after they're born. A zebra foal is brown and white instead of black and white at birth.

Plains and Mountain zebra foals are protected by their mother as well as the head stallion and the other mares in their group. Grevy’s zebra foals have only their mother as a regular protector since, as noted above, Grevy's zebra groups often disband after a few months.

Lord Rothschild with his famed zebra carriage (Equus burchelli), which he frequently drove through London

Attempts have been made to train zebras for riding since they have better resistance than horses to African diseases. However most of these attempts failed, due to the zebra's more unpredictable nature and tendency to panic under stress. For this reason, zebra-mules or zebroids (crosses between any species of zebra and a horse, pony, donkey or ass) are preferred over pure-bred zebras.

In England, the zoological collector Lord Rothschild frequently used zebras to draw a carriage. In 1907, Rosendo Ribeiro, the first doctor in Nairobi, Kenya, used a riding zebra for house-calls. In the mid 1800s Governor George Grey imported zebras to New Zealand from his previous posting in South Africa, and used them to pull his carriage on his privately owned Kawau Island.

Captain Horace Hayes, in "Points of the Horse" (circa 1893) compared the usefulness of different zebra species. In 1891, Hayes broke a mature, intact Mountain Zebra stallion to ride in two days time, and the animal was quiet enough for his wife to ride and be photographed upon. He found the Burchell's zebra easy to break in and considered it ideal for domestication, as it was immune to the bite of the tsetse fly. He considered the quagga well-suited to domestication due to being easy to train to saddle and harness.

Modern man has had great impact on the zebra population. Zebras were, and still are, hunted mainly for their skins. The Cape mountain zebra was hunted to near extinction with less than 100 individuals by the 1930s. However the population has increased to about 700 due to conservation efforts. Both Mountain zebra subspecies are currently protected in national parks but are still endangered.

The Grevy's zebra is also endangered. Hunting and competition from livestock have greatly decreased their population. Because of the population's small size, environmental hazards, such as drought, are capable of easily affecting the entire species. Plains zebras are much more numerous and have a healthy population. Nevertheless they too are threatened by hunting and habitat change from farming. One subspecies, the quagga, is now extinct.

Zebras have been the subject of African folk tales which tell how they got their stripes. According to a Bushmen folk tale of Namibia, the zebra was once all white but got its black stripes after a fight with a baboon over a waterhole. After kicking the baboon so hard the zebra lost his balance and tripped over a fire and the fire sticks left scorches mark all over this white coat.