So long South Africa
I made a pact to myself in 2006 after attending the World Cup in Germany that I would make the pilgrimage every four years for the rest of my life to the greatest sporting event on the planet.
After arriving back in the States last weekend, I'm glad to say that all the trepidation, concern and nerves I had before going to South Africa have been calmly shelved in my memory bank as a week long festival of fun and learning.
You don't have to be a soccer fan to enjoy the World Cup. You just have to be a fan of life.
That's why the tournament, wherever it is during it's summer's stay, is a wonderful opportunity to gorge on your savings account, but more importantly, thrust some spice into your life and truly define the meaning of the word living.
Here are some of the many highlights I enjoyed during this year's World Cup in South Africa.
Landing in Dubai: Flying with Emirates airlines made my 21-hour trek across the world much more enjoyable. I previewed the horror of staying on a plane for nearly a day well before my trip, but Emirates was top-class. I've become hooked on Indian food and saw some great movies I never would have seen at home. The only regret I have is not staying a night in Dubai. Our in-flight camera showcased the man made islands called 'The World' as we flew to Johannesburg. It was stunning and made me want to come back one day.
Taxi drivers: This may seem like a simple measure, taking a taxi on a daily basis, but when you get the same South African drivers taking you all over the place daily, you build some common ground with them and learn to understand these people. From the haggling of fare prices, to laughter of pieces of the vehicle falling off our on the highway, no taxi ride was ever dull.
Vuvuzela: Everyone complains about them and I even heard someone got thrown out of Yankee stadium recently for blowing one in someone's ear. I wouldn't suggest that, but they truly are an addicting piece of plastic. Best moments came from decibel competitions outside of bars, to blowing the vuvu in unison with thousands of people in and around stadiums. There is an art form to the little menace, but my favorite moment may have been when I blew it towards my neighbor as I got back.
Let's just say the cell phone he was holding didn't stay in his hand.
South Africa: You'd have to be totally naive to not do any research on the dangers of South Africa before going. The more I read, the more I got scared, especially when you're traveling alone. From murder, to car jackings, to muggings, HIV, malaria and driving on the other side of the street, South Africa does keep you on your toes, but it's not as bad as everyone makes it seem.
Lions are not walking around the city, you could drink the water and you can be safe if you're smart. The cities of Durban, Pretoria and Cape Town each offer their own bliss, but being based in Jo'burg, I saw the poverty of villages in Soweto, to the riches of Sandton, where Lamborghini's and Porsche's are commonplace.
The polars in economic levels are staggering in a country still trying to mend it's gaps, but one thing is certain in South Africa, security is always on your mind.
There are no white picket fences and the suburbs aren't sprawling with acres of green grass.
From the rich and famous, to the poverty stricken areas, everyone has at least barb wire or electric fences. Even when you may feel free, there is always a wall staring at you.
People: When you travel anywhere solo, it's imperative you make friends. I was fortunate enough to hang with new friends from Italy, Mexico, New York, California Brazil, Spain, Uruguay and South Africa.
The reason why this tournament is wonderful, isn't only for the sport, it's because of the people, the culture and the experience of truly being in a global environment. That's why I loved it in Germany and that's why I loved it in South Africa.
The games: You can't attend a World Cup without being part of the game in some aspect. From going to two matches, watching the games with groups at our hotel, as well as at Fan Parks across the country, no matter where you were, there was always fans of the team on the big screen or pitch.
You get to see their joy and anguish and thankfully there were plenty of Americans to relish in the moments we had in South Africa.
For a country where people act like they don't care about the sport, Landon Donovan's goal at the death against Algeria in the final group stage contest was the best sporting moment I've ever been through.
The sheer emotion of the goal that made Americans rejoice, cry and smile in Pretoria and made me feel united with our flag. It's those types of moments that this country needs more of.
The 2-1 loss to Ghana is bitterly disappointing, not only from a results perspective, but also from the sense of momentum. With 15 million-plus viewers watching the game, it showed that people cared, even the haters.
And that's what this sport and tournament does the best unify.
See you in Brazil 2014.