South Africa, Day Three: More World Cup, and Big Reptiles

After hitting the trade show floor at Indaba in Durban, South Africa, Jena Tesse Fox visits one of the FIFA World Cup stadiums and has close encounters with snakes and crocodiles.

People of the ancient world built magnificent temples to their gods. Today, we spend small fortunes to build skyscrapers—or stadiums. Durban’s new Moses Mabida Stadium is a gorgeous feat of architecture; spacious and airy from every angle, with a truly cool bridge over the top that serves as a cable-car track on one side (for great views of the city) and a bungee platform on the other. (I’m not making this up. We watched a man swing down from a wall! For real!)

After a quick walk through the new stadium, we were seated in the prime seats as a group of tourism and FIFA professionals took to the field (well, a raised platform off the field) to argue about how South Africa has handled the World Cup so far, what they expect to happen when the games begin, and what will happen when the final whistle blows. Monhla Hlahla, CEO of Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA), pointed out the renovations of South Africa’s airports (including the brand-new King Shaka International Airport in Durban, which can handle the biggest planes) as a sign of long-term investment. “When the economy grows, traffic will increase,” she said, adding that landing fees are in South Africa’s currency—the Rand—rather than in dollars or euros, which keeps prices low. She did acknowledge, however, that the World Cup would not cure all of the country’s economic problems. “The world is challenging our economy,” she said.

Security was also a major concern (after several riots broke out at other World Cup games in the past), and Bheki Cele, the National Commissioner of Police, said that he had traveled to several countries to learn how to handle those nations’ more— shall we say— excitable fans when they get too excitable. By understanding how each country has cooled hot heads in the past, Cele hopes to keep the games— and post-game events— from getting out of hand.

PheZulu

For the afternoon, we got away from the city for a few hours and drove to PheZulu Safari Park, a tourist attraction with a re-created Zulu village, performers and local guides to explain what daily life was like for the Zulu people in the area. Even better, the park is situated at the top of a large hill with breathtaking views over the surrounding hills and valleys. (And I mean that literally. Watching the sun set over miles and miles of hills made me stop breathing for a few seconds. It’s amazing. No photograph can do it justice.)

The Crocodile and Snake Parks make up another notable section of PheZulu. We walked around large enclosed ponds filled with crocodiles sunning themselves in the afternoon heat. (We were told that the staff always counts how many crocs are in each section, just in case one is hiding in an inconvenient spot…) One croc, 105-year-old Junior, was kind enough to jump out at us with his teeth bared…and, yes, I shrieked like a little girl. (C’mon, if a massive reptile jumped out at you, you’d shriek, too.) Best of all, I got it all on video…including my very embarrassing screams and nervous giggles.

We then headed up to the Snake Park, where we learned about the various vipers indigenous to South Africa, and how deadly they actually are. (Turns out, it takes some snake venom hours, sometimes days, to become lethal. If that’s true, why did Cleopatra choose an asp to dispatch her? One of those mysteries we’ll probably never solve…) I got to play with a very friendly boa constrictor named Fluffy who, I was told, would probably not hurt me if I put him (her? Who can tell?) around my shoulders. Probably.

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