Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Cricket connects in the Rainbow Nation

Thanks to the amazing hospitality provided by the Rainbow Nation and its people, I just couldn't sum it all up in my  previous blog. Here's an account of my interaction with two..well, I won't reveal it all out here. Read on to know who these two gentlemen are.

Venue: Hotel Sandton Sun lobby, Sandton city, Jo'burg.

Early morning buffet breakfasts at the Sandton was something that I always looked forward to. Apart from the yummy breakfast , I got to meet interesting people there. Seated across me were two men, in their late fifties and what started off as a  casual cricket chat went on to become a full fledged tete-e-tete.

 The two gentlemen Arrie de Beer, a South African and Ronald Hope from England, told me that they had been to India on work. Curiosity creeping, I wanted to know if the Indian Premier League (IPL) had got them all the way to India. And surprisingly it had.

Being the Chief blogger for one of the IPL teams, Royal Challengers Bangalore, participating in the tournament; I was more keen to know, which team they were rooting for this season. And faced some disappointment when I received a unanimous "Our lips are sealed. We can't take sides." Still prodding a bit further I let them in on my fanfare for the Royal Challengers, hopeful that they would spill some beans or their take on RCB. And bingo..it worked!

Ronald Hope and Arrie de Beer(r)

Arrie, just couldn't stop raving about our coach, Ray Jennings (yes, I did mention him in my first blog). Being a cricket enthusiast and having travelled around the world with teams, he knew most of the players from close quarters. And Ray, he said, was one of the finest individuals and mentors a team could ever ask for. (No..his Protean connect has got nothing to do with the volley of praises for the coach)

Ronald Hope, from Manchester, was more of a football fan and was surprised about how we Indians follow cricket so ardently. "Isn't Hockey your national game?" he asked. I sheepishly admitted that it was but we Indians followed cricket as a religion and hockey as a result took a backseat.

Now, it was my turn to fill them in about the various fan club activities that team RCB undertook and how we were doing our bit for the environment, apart from being a cricket franchisee. The two were mighty impressed by the 'Go Green' initiatives.

As the rendezvous was cut short by Indian team skipper, M S Dhoni's entry, I wanted to know their profession, as they seemed huge cricket buffs like me. I was in for a surprise when I got to know who the 'fans in disguise' really were.

P.S  Sir Arrie and Sir Ronald Hope, were the two ICC officials monitoring the tournament (CLT20). And finally Sir Arrie did give in to my persuasion and admitted that 'HE IS ROOTING FOR THE ROYAL CHALLENGERS' All thanks to this chance encounter at the breakfast, I found a new RCB fan.

This post is my entry to Around the World with Expedia contest at Indiblogger.
Escapades are fun when you go all out and enjoy, not having to worry about the hole it burns in your pockets. Expedia, now in India, gets you the best travel deals while you make the most of your holiday.

Friday, 24 February 2012

From the Rainbow Nation with love.

While the world was still reeling under the withdrawal symptoms of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, I had a chance to visit South Africa, after being chosen as the chief blogger of a cricket team. Three weeks in the rainbow nation with a fun filled tournament to be a part of, it was tough to bid adieu to the wonderful country and its people.

Touchdown Jo'burg
Fourteen hours, two flights and a few airline meals later we arrived in Jo'burg. My first glimpse of the city and I absolutely fell in love with it. Our first stop in South Africa was the High Performance Centre in Pretoria. Huge green lawns, lush outfields coupled world class infrastructure, the HPC was every sports persons dream come true.
Here, I was in for some world class cricket, rugby and football action. And yes! I did get my hands (legs rather) on the Jabulani balls which were quite a hit after the FIFA World Cup.

The local team with Jabulani balls

Bon Appetit
 One meal in SA is like a buffet in India. The portions are just humongous. The 'rainbow' not only applies to the country and its people, but also to the cuisine that South Africa has to offer. The cultural melting pot that this country is, I was in for some lip smacking delicacies throughout my stay. While the Butchers Shop and Grill at the Mandela Square, served every kind of meat available on earth, I tried kudu and snail (albeit its awful taste) to get a hang of the local cuisine. Also a wild spinach dish, Morogo, which is an ancient local preparation, might win your taste buds over.  But its Nandos and its hot peri peri and Creme Soda that I really crave for.

Squid pasta.. look at freaking quantity!

Surfs up...it was time to discover Durban

Amazing beach fronts, sand installations, seafood and a whole lot of Indian population, thats Durban for you. Renting a bike and cycling along the entire beachfront promenade,was the perfect way to unwind. The huge oceanic waves lashing past and the early morning chill hitting my face..ah bliss!
Durban beach front
Up next, was a trip to Ushaka marine world, where it was time to let go off all my inhibitions and soak in (here, I mean literally) the world of marine amusement.  
Numerous passage ways of huge underground aquariums from turtles to sharks, pythons octopus and beautiful bright fish this place had it all and more. Ocean walking and shark diving just added to the mirth and daredevilry of the outing. Holed up in huge glass cage with those scary looking monsters all around you, phew, whoever said shark diving was fun!

My blog would be incomplete without a mention about the warm people I met during my stay in South Africa. From cricket coaches to Cage fighters, Physiotherapists to the Hooters girls, I was in for some amazing South African hospitality throughout my stay.

Ray Jennings
 A hard taskmaster at work, Coach Jennings makes sure everyone in the team is performing to his abilities.He planned and organised a visit to the Soccer city stadium. 
Ray Jennings at Soccer City Stadium
Based on the design of a calabash, an African pot, this ninety five thousand capacity stadium is an engineering marvel and shows what a beautiful sporting culture the South Africans have. Thanks to Ray's efforst I had the privilege to enter restricted areas in the stadium, even walking on the pitch, something very few people are allowed to do. Driving back we passed Soweto, the biggest black township in SA, also the Hector Pieterson Memorial, a wonderful monument built to commemorate the black uprising 

The Mandela house in Soweto

Another highlight was stopping by Nelson Mandela's small brown brick house in Soweto, the place where the Nobel Laureate was born. Throughout the tour, Jennings kept us supplied with information about South Africa's history. I wish my teachers in school were so interesting, I would have scored a lot better in History. Conversations with him ranged from cricket and rugby to history,from diets to his newborn granddaughter.

Evan Speechly
'Ever happy' Evan Speechly and  me
If there was an award for staying happy always, Mr. Speechly would win it hands down. Being assoicated with various cricket and rugby teams as a physiotherapist, Evan can sense a niggle with a mere touch. An avid reader and an excellent mimic, we bonded big time over books and humour. I did take few Hebrew lessons,from the Jewish born physio,considering the penchant that I have for learning new languages.

Theo Padayachee

 Like most African nations, South Africa too earns the dubious distinction of being rated high on crime chart. But with security officers like Theo on board, I didnt have to worry about being harmed in any way. 
Theo Padayachee- the enforcer
The intimidating figure that Theo is, I was in for a surprise when he told me that his ancestors had moved from Tamil Nadu in India to Cape Town, before independence. He could actually speak fluent Tamil as well. What really amused me was, Theo's intriguing past. He used to be a cage fighter, who had even served a term in the prison , before he mend his ways and got into providing security solutions to those who sought her services. But our interaction was more to do with discussing the latest gadgets and social media, than the protection business. Yes! we are still connected via Facebook.

The Hooters girl
HOot Hoot Hooters: Danelle

Not just a pretty 'Hooters' face, Danelle, ended up befriending and showing us around Jo'burg. From  shopping at the flea markets in Rose Bowl to the hopping to most happenings places in town, we simply had a ball. While Danelle is a football fanatic,cricket buffs, my friend Shireen and I, provided ample cricket gyaan and even ended up giving Danelle tickets to one of the matches. Glad she was and how!

The Kiddie brigade

Andrew (extreme right) with his friends.

You can call it a case of saving the best for the last, this bunch of cute little kids at the grass banks of Centurion, were the most endearing of the lot. Being the chief blogger of the team, I was on the lookout to meet interesting fans across the stadium where I came across Andrew and his friends, who were cheering their lungs out. Andrew's dad who had accompanied the kids, told that the six year old, was a huge fan of Protean side and Jacques Kallis was his favourite player. As we got talking, Andrew said he harboured cricketing aspirations like his idol. While I chose him as the 'Fan of the Day', his dad was elated knowing his son would be on the internet.

With the tournament done, it was time to get back to India, back to the grind, the normalcy et al. But I'll never forget the adventure, the food, the sights and sounds, the people I met and the mirth that ensued in the Rainbow nation.

P.S: Escapades are fun when you go all out and enjoy, not having to worry about the hole it burns in your pockets. Expedia, now in India, gets you the best travel deals while you make the most of your holiday.

This post is my entry to Around the World with Expedia contest at Indiblogger.