JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - For most soccer fans, the journey to the World Cup will be no more eventful than a taxi to the airport and a touch of turbulence on the long-haul flight to South Africa.
For an adventurous few, however, it will be the ultimate road-trip — an epic ride from Africa’s top to toe, with big game, stunning scenery and a glimpse into the soul of a continent along the way.
“Africa is like beauty and the beast,” Dutch fan Maurits Rodermond, part of a 22-vehicle convoy that left Amsterdam 10 weeks ago, told Reuters by telephone from the South Africa-Botswana border near the final leg of the odyssey.
“It’s unbelievably beautiful but it also has a dangerous side. It makes you realize — you live more in Africa.”
The harsh realities of the poorest continent hit hard in Malawi, the eighth African country on Rodermond’s “Oranje Trophy” tour itinerary, when a 60-year-old member of their 100-strong group drowned while swimming in a lake.
The tragedy was the worst but not the only setback as shattering roads, especially between Ethiopia and Kenya, took their toll on everything from brand new Toyota Land Cruisers to a 1975 Volkswagen Beetle.
“All of our vehicles broke down but they all made it in one piece in the end,” he said.
Even though it was probably the biggest, Rodermond’s was not the only “Great Trek” to Africa’s first World Cup.
England fan and self-professed hitch-hiking guru Andrew Grady decided to go overland via West Africa armed with little more than a tent, backpack, camera, passport — and what he called his “magic” hitchhiking thumb.
His more unusual encounters included brushes with overzealous security guards at the Mauritanian embassy in Morocco and a supposedly clairvoyant tortoise called Fred in the Malian capital, Bamako.
Unfortunately, the vast expanses of the Sahara and West Africa’s awful roads proved more powerful than any magic thumb, and as of Friday, the tournament kick-off day, Grady was stuck in Ghana looking for a boat to Angola with about 4,500 km (2,800 miles) standing between him and the main Cup venue Soccer City, according to his blog (www.mymagicthumb.com).
Portuguese fans Carlos Brum, Jorge Franco and Joaquim Baptista took no such chances, arriving in South Africa well ahead of time after a 20,000 km (12,500 miles), 13-country drive in a bright red Mercedes truck.
Their biggest scares were being overtaken in Sudan by a pick-up truck full of machine-gun toting men and nearly being refused entry by border guards in one unnamed country because of problems with their papers.
“They wanted to stop us continuing our trip,” they told Portugal’s Lusa news agency. “But there’s nothing like a few Cristiano Ronaldo T-shirts to unblock a bureaucratic situation.”
Having successfully completed a road trip to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and now South Africa for the World Cup, Rodermond has his sights set on future adventures.
The London Olympics in 2012 hardly counts — something that cannot be said of the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
“We’ve had a bit of time in the last few weeks to think ahead and there are lots of possibilities,” he said.
“You can do something with water and you can do something with air. Remember, New York was founded as New Amsterdam so there’s got to be a way.”
Additional reporting by Chico Laxmidas, editing by Jon Bramley