Tuesday, October 5, 2010

World Cup & South Africa - Part 1 - Johannesburg

I should say I am fortunate as a football fan, for not every fan will be able to fulfill one of their greatest dreams of seeing the Football World Cup in South Africa, and for this I am obliged to God. The credit for me making this successful trip should also go to three people who are very close to my heart – Zacchy, my nephew for planting the idea in my head, Bindu, my wife for supporting and encouraging me all along and Jeff, my close friend the main reason for the trip besides football.

I reached OR Tambo Airport, Johannesburg on the beautiful morning of 23rd July 2010 at 8:30 AM by the South African Airways flight. The 30 minute wait near the FIFA ticket counter, as decided earlier for Jeff, was mixed with anxiety and Joy, and I should say, I was pleasantly surprised and quite relieved to see Jeff coming, in his trademark walking style, with a large bottle of ‘Lambs Rum’ in one hand. After all Jeff was an international travel veteran and did most of the planning if not all, for this dream come true trip. We quickly collected our match tickets, the local MTN sim and were enquiring about the transport facilities in the FIFA information counter when we apprehensively noticed a little smiling man, showing more than the casual interest in our conversation and said that he would be willing to drop us to our place in his car for a more economical amount of 150 Rands. Jeff and I, reluctanly started talking to this man but quickly decided to travel with him. Little did we know that this man, Samuel would be our travel guide and become our very good friend in the course of the next couple of days.

We reached the ‘Medhurst Complex’ in Johannesburg University where we had booked our stay along with 3 other friends from Singapore (Farhan, Kieth and Diana), whom Jeff had made friends through online interactions,who were also going to accompany us for the rest of the trip.
Just as we were settling in to our room, Farhan entered with a bottle of whisky and couple of glasses in his hand, from that very first moment, I felt we shared something nice, so we decided to say ‘cheers’ with the smallest of drinks, served more as a welcome note. One look at their room was all it took for Jeff to realise they will not be able to travel with us immediately, so Jeff and I, left along with Samuel in his car, after weighing our options we decided that we will go to Gold Reef City.

Gold Reef City is a uniquely South African, world famous theme park which is just 8 kilometres from the centre of Jo’burg, offering the widest range of features and attractions in Africa and with an exhilarating Casino complex, alive with the excitement and buzz. It had a lot of really exciting thrill rides like Tower of terror, Jozi express, the Anaconda, Golden loop and the Miners revenge, along with lots of other less adventourous rides and children rides. Please use this link to explore all the rides in the park http://www.goldreefcity.co.za/themepark_rides_home.php.

I should say some of the rides were really intimidating, allowing us to scream, bringing out the children in us and enjoying the thrills to our hearts content. We quickly covered most of the challenging rides, and also got see some live entertainment like the tribal dance, and got a little insight into Jozi’s story of Gold and also got to see the ‘Gold panning’ the way it was done traditionally.

We asked Samuel to take us to traditional African style restaurant for lunch and he took us to moderate restaurant in town, where we had Rice and gravy with large pieces of meat, which was quite nice. I should admit though the place had a strange smell of non veg soup/gravy which was not too comfortable. We then went to the local market and brought a couple of ‘vuvuzela’s the famous plastic horn, usually of about 2 feet long, that produces a loud monotone note. Next, we headed to the Sandton City, shopping centre, where we got our faces painted by a pretty lady, with flags of our supporting nation, for the evening’s game between Germany and Ghana. We also did a little window shopping, with the sole intention understanding the cost of things in this part of the world.

Time was just flying and we realised that it was time for us to head to the FNB or Soccer city stadium, the largest stadium in Africa, with a maximum capacity of nearly 85000. The 2 odd kilometre walk from where Samuel dropped us to the stadium was a pure delight, with hundreds of football fans from different nations, singing and blowing vuvuzela’s, showing their passion and joy of going to see the world Cup match.

It was fun to be moving along with such a passionate crowd, our hearts filled with the excitement and joy, realizing that we were extremely close to realising our dream and that of every passionate football fan, to see a World Cup match. The stadium was site to behold, its earthen colours with a ring of lights running around the bottom of the structure, simulating fire underneath the pot, making a perfect back ground for some memorable pictures.

The security check was swift and orderly, and Jeff in his unique style managed to sneak in the hip flask with the precious Lambs rum. After soaking in the atmosphere in and around the stadium we reached our clearly marked chairs. The stadium had three tiers of stands and we were in the top most of them, giving us clear picture of the ground below and also the nearly capacity crowd.

Jeff and I shared few drinks right in the stadium, where beer was the only allowed drink that too which had to be brought from the stadium premise.

Seeing the two teams practice, coming out of the tunnel, lineup for introductions, and actually playing right in front of you is something which can not be expressed, it has to be experienced to be believed. It was sheer pleasure to be midst of 84000+ football passionate crowd, actually seeing what you always dreamed of. On the 60th minute of the game we witnessed our first world cup goal, the only one of the game scored by Germany’s Mesut Oezil.

It was interesting to note that Ghana had the majority of the support, being an African nation and the Goal actually dropped the enthuiasm of the crowd. The crowd had a happy ending because though Ghana lost the match, they had qualified to the next stage thanks to results of the other match played at the same time. It was great to see the unbound joy of the supporters as the large screens flashed the news of Ghana qualifying to the next stage. We hence had the privilege of seeing the whole stadium celebrating together because of the unique situation, and what a celebration it was! It was an effort actually to not get too involved in the celebrations and make way to designated place where we were supposed meet our friends from Singapore.

We got a drop to our hostel, in one of their friend’s car and we reached our rooms quite late, in the early hours of the next day, after a little adventure of losing our way, which I was completely unaware as I had fallen asleep on the way, and was informed when we stopped to buy quick take aways to satisfy our hunger.

Jeff and I, bieng early raisers got up by 7:00 AM and strolled around the University campus, clicking a few pictures and went to have a great breakfast in Mike’s Kitchen, a family oriented restaurant serving some amazing food (http://www.restaurants.co.za/details.asp?resId=3652). The university had a large campus and a beautiful ground, and incidently the Dutch football team had used this as their practice ground. We packed our luggages and realised that waiting for our Singapore friends to join us for sightseeing was not a posibility atleast in the morning; as they were still asleep after an extra long night and also seeing the things they had to pack considering that we had the 6:00 PM flight to Port Elizabeth. So we called Samuel and decided to spend the day ourselves, promising to pick them before going to the Airport.

We headed to the place called the ‘Cradle of the humankind’ a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg. This site currently occupies 47,000 hectares and contains a complex of limestone caves. The name reflects the fact that the site has produced a large number, as well as some of the oldest, hominid fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago and it is widely believed that life originated from here.

We realised that there was also a Rhino and Lions Nature Reserve with in the ‘Cradle of humankind’ and the combined tickets for the seeing the Caves and the Nature reserve was a good bargain. The Reserve is 1200 hectares and has more then 600 animals with nearly 30 different species, including 3 of the big 5 namely Lion, Buffalo and Rhino.

The interesting part is that we can self drive the car along the well marked route, and our initial sightings included ostrichs, Wild Beasts and Deers. As we moved in furthur we saw a herd of Bisons, and encouraged by the cars ahead of us we stopped our car in the middle of the herd and it was nice feeling to be surrounded these huge beasts.

The next sight was nothing short of astonishing, we saw a lioness lying near the road allowing us to get very close, within a few metres, and watch her peacefully soaking in the warmth of the sunlight. We alaso a saw few Rhino’s before heading to the entrance of the cave for the guided tour.

The Wonder Cave is the third-largest cave chamber in the South Africa and believed to be about 2.2 billion years old. The sixty metre deep cave can be accessed by combination a narrow flight of steps and a classic elevator. It was discovered in the late 19th century by miners who dynamited and excavated limestone for the making of cement.

The cave has about 14 stalactite and stalagmite (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalagmite) formations up to 15 metres high, 85% of which are still growing. One such formation has got the name of ‘The praying Mary’ due to close resemblance and is a true wonder to watch considering it has taken millions of years to form.

We went back to the town to pick our Singapore friends and we all just reached in time to board our British Airways flight to Port Elizabeth after grabbing some quick takeaways from “Subway’ within the Airport as our lunch/snacks, bidding temperory farewell to Johannesburg.

1 comment:

Zac said...

Awwww...I wish i could be there for that trip...but what the heck Brazil is always there :)