Our World Cup Trip: Fortaleza, Brasilia and Rio (Part 2 of 2)

So while I did say in Part 1 that being a victim of violent crime wasn’t my biggest concern on the trip, I was still aware that some of the places we were going were not exactly Shangri-la. Namely Fortaleza. We flew out of Salvador after the Germany v Portugal drubbing and arrived in Fortaleza just before midnight. To put this in perspective, the city of Vancouver had 6 murders in 2013. Fortaleza had 2754. It was the seventh most murderous city, per capita in the world last year and we had ten days there.

Fortaleza had been a challenge to find accommodations but in the end we got an absolutely primo place in a modern apartment building right across from the FIFA Fan Fest zone which is right on the beach. A two bedroom with full kitchen and decks overlooking the ocean. Dealing with the property manager was another exercise in trust. He spoke almost no English but seemed to think he was fluent. He also knew we spoke no Portuguese but spoke to us in his native tongue like we were. We would get emails from him when we were finalizing the details that said things like, “OK, the tires are pumped. Send me money.” This place was costing us over CDN$5000 for the ten days. I think. Because with the variety of deposits, cleaning fees and electricity usage fee I lost the ability and will to tabulate and left it with Markus who was lead guy on this booking. So we fire off about $3000 as a deposit via Western Union while every Craigslist rip off horror story comes back to our minds and mocks us. We just sent $3000 to a guy in Murder City, Brazil who says he has a gorgeous apartment for us but speaks virtually no English. Markus couldn’t get a reply from him for about five days when he tried to get confirmation he’d received the money. In the end he got some gibberish that we optimistically took as “Yep, all good.”

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Clockwise from top left: Street party the night before Mexico v Brazil in Fortaleza, Fan Fest Zone during Mexico v Brazil as seen from our apartment, Colin on walk in to the stadium in Fortaleza, Apartment Schin-fest.

So now after texting him to let him know we’d be there around midnight and we really wanted to make sure he was going to be there to let us in, we got ambiguous replies and the murmurs started in the cab, “This guy better be there. Those tires better be pumped!”

As you walk up to the reception desk you are fully at the point where the rather slow, plodding road called “I don’t have a good feeling about this.” merges onto the highway of “You’re an idiot. you gave some guy $3000 and think he’s going to be here with a key.” All faith is gone and you are soon scampering onto the Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Accompanying Recriminations “Whose idea was it to send all that money to this guy?!”

But a few words at reception followed by a phone call and minutes later Luis comes down the elevator and greets us like old friends. We go up to the apartment and he jabbers at us in Portuguese looking up every 30 seconds to check we understood. He pulls out a wad of cash and give us about R$1200 (CDN $600). No idea why at first but we figured part of the deposit we paid was just to ensure we showed up and he gave us that back. Brilliant. He even met us at 4:30am when we were leaving Fortaleza on an early morning flight to give us the remainder of our deposit back. Total straight shooter as almost every Brazilian we met was. If you’re ever going to Fortaleza let me know and I’ll hook you up with Luis. You’ll probably get the same apartment we had for 20% of what we paid.

Before he left Luiz pointed out the window to a very big cruise ship docked in the harbour. “Mexicans. 3000.” he said. Turns out a smart tour operator saw that Mexico’s three round robin games were all on the coast not far from each other in Natal, Fortaleza and Recife and arranged a World Cup cruise for Mexicans. They were now docked in Fortaleza for the highlight of their World Cup: a game against Brazil the next day.

Colin went to bed but Markus and I hit the streets. To say it was a massive street party is like saying Arjen Robben is a bit fast. Mexican fans were easily the most insane we met. As you are allowed to drink on the street and every five steps sees someone with a cardboard cooler offering you ridiculously cheap beer while portable bars with a full range of spirits ambled by every few minutes, you could say it was a bit out of control. Mexicans had a very simple drinking game. They tilted your head back and poured bottles of hard booze down your throat from a few inches away while they counted. They usually got to six or seven before the drinker pulled away. Mayhem. Groups of 20, 50 or more singing their songs, dancing with each other wherever there was music.

There was a 4-5 km promenade along the beach in Fortaleza. This is where all the nice restaurants and bars were as well as the nice hotels and apartments. It was the only place you wanted to be in Fortaleza and owing to the hundreds upon hundreds of police, riot police and military there, out in force, 24 hours per day, it felt pretty safe. In our ten days in Fortaleza we saw every conceivable crowd control tool of the trade from military ships in the harbour to surveillance drones buzzing the beach to billy clubs, pepper spray, riot shields, and just about every type of police and military vehicle you can imagine. Even just one block off the beach in some places and the vibe changed considerably. We stuck to the beach, the fan zone and the bars and restaurants around our apartment. Every night was some degree of a street party but that first night, the eve of a Brazil v Mexico game, was something special.

As Colin was still unsure if he’d get his tickets back he wanted to try get tickets for Brazil v Mexico. Markus and I were into it too but as I’d had issues with Visa (couldn’t get cash withdrawals and bank debit cards don’t work in Brazil unless they’re associated with Visa or Mastercard) I didn’t want to run down my cash reserves until I had it sorted. So while I gave them an earful on the phone the next day about how when you call to tell them you’re going on holiday so they don’t put a stop on your card you get an automated message saying that’s now unnecessary due to their super duper fraud detection software… I ended up passing on a pair of tickets offered at $500 each. Colin and Markus ended up right behind a goal in the mix with Mexican fans. Super tense atmosphere between the Brazilians and Mexicans but when Ochoa pulled off the game of a lifetime to give Mexico a 0-0 draw both fans seemed okay with it as it gave them each four points after two games.

Meanwhile, I opted to head back to the apartment to catch the game on TV. While there were hordes of official FIFA buses and cabs getting to the stadium. Very few were heading back as the buses waited in a staging area, hundreds of them, to pick up fans after the game and return them to the beach area. That was another thing that worked really well. In Salvador and Fortaleza they either had free or very inexpensive express buses for ticket holders that took you from popular, central locations to the stadium.

So with them all parked that meant I had to patch together a way home and while a volunteer in a bus staging area was trying to be helpful, I ended up on a bus that took me way far from where I wanted and dumped me . No one seemed to speak English and I had no idea if I was somewhere harmless or somewhere that I stood out as prey.

We took more cabs in 20 days in Brazil than I’ve taken in the past few years in Vancouver. They were everywhere and really cheap. Probably never had to wait more than 3o seconds to grab one but now, on my own, half lost it seemed to take forever to hail one and sticking your arm up in the air and yelling for a cab isn’t the best way to remain inconspicuous. But again, concerns were for naught. I eventually got a cab and got back to see the second half of the game.

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Clockwise from top left: Street vendors selling kit in the middle of the street, signs for the Brazil v Mexico game, our apartment building, me at the Germany v Ghana game. All in Fortaleza.

Fortaleza was really the holiday part of the trip. Lots of downtime. We arrive on Monday and I didn’t see a game until Saturday so it was lots of fun, relaxation and awful Brazilian beer. It took us until halfway through our stay to find something drinkable. After going through Brahma, Schin and some other bollocks-water that I’ve managed to purge from my memory, we discovered Bohemians. Totally drinkable.

For the Germany v Ghana game we had front row seats. Sounds great but being so low down we were in direct sunlight for about an hour and it was well over 30 degrees. That does not go over well with my cheap Scottish skin. Also, it’s just really not a great vantage point to watch a game, especially since were only about six yards off the goal line. We left feeling it was a decent game and were happy to see Klose notch the record tying goal for most career World Cup goals but it wasn’t really until I got home, heard people rave about what a great game it was that I watched it and realized it was much better than we’d thought. Still, great night out.

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Clockwise from top left: Us outside the stadium before the Germany v Ghana game, getting some street food (chicken skewers) after the Ivory Coast v Greece game, in the crowd at the Fan Fest during the Brazil v Cameroon game, locals offer rides on souped-up bikes to save you the 5k walk from the perimeter to the stadium. All in Fortaleza.

A few more sun-drenched days on the beach including another round of Brazilian beach soccer and circle keep ups, painfully written about on my MMCB World Cup Tumblr using my iPhone, and then it was back to the stadium for Ivory Coast v Greece. Great seats again, about 10 rows up on the edge of the box meant getting to see Drogba and Toure up close. Toure was a shadow of his Premier League season owing to the death of his brother just before the tournament started. His mind was clearly not on the World Cup. Check out where he is when Ivory Coast conceded the penalty in the last minute. Furthest up the field and walking. Not where you want your holding mid to be when protecting the result that will put you through to the second round.

This was also about the time that we saw our only World Cup protest. It was actually only clear there was a protest due to the overwhelming riot police presence that mustered at the edge of the Fan Fest. They aligned themselves across the road to make sure the protesters could not get past them to the Fan Fest and instead would be pushed left up a road that took them away from the crowded promenade area. It looked pretty serious. In the end it was a one vehicle, one megaphone protest (Brazilian Communist Party). They packed it in after half an hour. Zero confrontation with riot cops.

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Somewhere at the start of these lazy Fortaleza days, Colin had managed to get FIFA to listen and they told him if he brought his police report in they’d play ball. Because most of the stolen tickets were actually on my account, I had to accompany him on a trip into the loopy bureaucracy of FIFA. We were initially told to go to the wrong place so after a second death-cab ride we were in what seemed to be a shopping mall where FIFA was basing one of its ticketing centres. We were shuffled, albeit quickly, between rooms and ended off in their “Troubleshooting Room” tucked away out of site and earshot. We got lucky and beat a mini rush that came in after us so our wait was again minimal to see someone. There was a lot of back and forth and a few people came in to ask questions before they then just casually agreed to print new tickets. Awesome!

“Okay, what are the seat numbers of the stolen tickets?”

Well, don’t you know? We didn’t write them down. Surely, since FIFA assigned the seats and sent them to us you have a record of that in my account.

“No. We can’t see the seat numbers until they are printed out.”

We looked at each a bit stunned while the FIFA reps got a bit sheepish. This led to a quick call to Markus to read out the seat numbers on his tickets and mine for the remaining games and by deduction and trial and error we were able to figure out which were Colin’s. The process made no sense to us but Colin was going to get his tickets so it didn’t really seem like a good idea to mock their process.

So having forked out for the Brazil v Mexico game and the Opening Game, in the end Colin got to see nine games, including two with Brazil. Markus and I saw eight (he missed out on the Opening Game). We wouldn’t have guessed that would be the case in the stadium in SP.

Luis met us at the agreed 4:30am and transparently calculated what he owed us from our remaining deposit. Then off to the airport for an early flight to Brasilia where we arrived and checked in to a nicely updated airport strip hotel and had breakfast before heading to Garrincha National Stadium for the Portugal v Ghana game. Nice that they named the national stadium after Garrincha in the capital city but this is a city where the teams that play there draw about 1000 fans. Garrincha Stadium holds over 70 000. Another World Cup white elephant. US$900 000 000 to update and increase capacity from 45 000.

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Portugal v Ghana was the strangest game we saw. Ronaldo missed three sitters and had an audacious chip hit the crossbar from a very wide position. Ghana looked looked half interested at best despite not being mathematically eliminated and with the USA going down a goal to Germany in the second half, Portugal just needed the Ronaldo chances to go in to make up the three goal deficit. Wasn’t to be. Ronaldo was not just clearly injured through the tournament but determined to make it clear to everyone he was playing hurt. He opted to walk at odd moments in the game and looked frustrated at every opportunity.

Back to the hotel for a full buffet dinner then to bed so we could be up for another early flight. This time to Rio.

On the one hand it seemed a bit childish to be disappointed that although we got tickets for eleven games via the FIFA ticket lottery that we weren’t satisfied and wanted to get a game in Rio. But on the other hand it seemed insane to go all the way to Brazil, go to four cities and not see Rio. The problem of course was that everyone wanted to see games in Rio at the Maracana. You’re at a World Cup. In Brazil. Of course you have to try to see a game at the Maracana!

Prices for the second round game though were coming in around $1000 online. Too steep. Fortunately, I talked to a friend at my club who was on very good terms with a ticket broker who owed him a favour. Bam. Three tickets for $400 a pop. Outstanding! Even though this was considerably more than the $175 we paid direct to FIFA for Category 1 tickets, it ended up being the best investment I’ve ever made on a sports ticket.

Leaving Brasilia was a pleasure. Just a spread out, manufactured city designed for government and not much else. Meanwhile, our descent into Rio’s city airport was spectacular.

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Top: Sugarloaf Mountain. Bottom: Maracana Stadium. Both as seen from the plane.
 

We hit the ground running, dumping our bags at the hotel and heading for Sugar Loaf mountain. A full two hour lineup in the hot sun was made worthwhile when we got up top on the gondola.

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Top: Sugarloaf mountain, getting ready to load onto the second gondola that takes you to the very top.
Bottom: View from the top of Sugarloaf mountain

The Fan Fest Zone was at Copacabana Beach and while we thought the set up in Fortaleza was pretty cool, it was little a small scale model of what it was like at Copacabana. The beach is a real stunner and the Fan Fest was at least double, probably triple the size of what we’d been hanging out at in Fortaleza.

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Top left: Our local bar in Rio. Awesome. Bucket of beers on the table each time within a minute of sitting down. Top right: View from our seat on the bar patio. That’s the Municipal Theatre. 2nd row left: Colin descending to the Metro to get to the game. 2nd row right: Copacabana Beach. 3rd row: “Dutch” playing “Brazil” on Copacabana Beach. Bottom row: me holding my ticket for the game outside the Maracana in my recently purchase Zico tshirt. Mission complete.
 

Our hotel was equidistant from Copacabana Beach and the Maracana, located in the financial district just minutes from Santos Dumont Airport where we landed. We found a bar/restaurant along a beautiful cobblestone boulevard and spent almost as much time there in our three days as we did in our overpriced hotel room around the corner.

The game we saw in Rio deserves its own story. When we got the tickets we’d been hoping for an England v Colombia game at the Maracana. England fans bring the atmosphere and we knew Colombia would be a decent side to see. Plus we’d already seen Ivory Coast v Greece from their group. In the end, we got Colombia v Uruguay and it was easily the most memorable game of the trip.

This was the only game where we didn’t have Class A (best) seats. We were behind the goal towards the corner of the field. Not optimal viewing but it put us in amongst thousands of diehard fans. Most of the games we saw had decent atmosphere but nothing chaotic. Nothing approaching over the top zeal or danger. Uruguay v Colombia had all of that and you felt that had there been one controversial call that swayed the result it would have got really ugly in a hurry.

Colombia fans outnumbered Uruguay fans by 4:1 in both bodies and probably blood alcohol level. The Colombians were confident and jubilant right from the start. The Uruguayans were pissed off and easily wound up. Luis Suarez had just been suspended for the rest of the tournament and Uruguay fans were convinced it was a conspiracy to reduce the likelihood of Uruguay advancing past Colombia to the quarter finals where they would have played Brazil. They were sure Brazil were pulling string to ensure there would be no repeat of the Uruguay victory over Brazil the last time the World Cup was played in Brazil in 1950.

So we were in amongst a patchwork of Colombia and Uruguay fans behind the goal. It was mainly Colombian yellow with bits of pale Uruguayan blue. Surprising in that there were clearly blocks for each set of fans but they were all small and butted up against other blocks that had opposing fans. It just made a hostile environment even worse when Colombian fans would launch into songs about Suarez that were obviously really insulting and Uruguay fans would rise to the bait and stand and start yelling at the Colombians who were always just metres away. It was a long night’s work for the stewards and riot police who were constantly having to wade in to separate fans and occasionally haul one away. We saw more police/fan interactions in the Maracana than we saw our entire ten day stay in Fortaleza.

And yes, we were behind the goal that James Rodriguez scored into with that volley. We thought we’d seen the best goal two weeks earlier when van Persie headed past Casillas but even now I’m not sure which one was better. But we were there and we yelled and we laughed our asses off and how spectacular it was. And the Colombians…they did all that and they cried and they sang and they rubbed the Uruguayans’ noses in it as much as they could. What a night.

IMG_4589I have a bunch of pictures from the Colombia v Uruguay game at the Maracana. None do it justice.
 

So now it was back to Brasilia for our last game and after the Maracana it did feel a bit anti-climactic. I was charged with getting a hotel in Brasilia (boring, boring place by the way. Doesn’t feel like you’re even in Brazil). Brasilia had been the weirdest place to get accommodation. Online hotel sites had very little on offer and what was available was ridiculous. Like $8000/night ridiculous. For whatever reason, prices returned to sanity once we were down there and I decided we all deserved our own room for our last night and got us a place a short walk from the stadium. Arrived late at night and again opted for a very nice buffet. Highlight of the night: meeting Kanu. He was with the official Nigerian delegation who were also staying in the hotel. After seeing him at a distance in the restaurant, I ended up face to face with him in a cramped elevator. It led to this awkward chat.

Me: Ah, you’re Kanu.

Kanu: Yes. I am.

Me: Wow.

Awkward silence.

Markus jumps in with the game saving “Well, good luck in the game tomorrow against France. We’ll be there.”

And then the elevator doors open and that was it.

We had nosebleeds for France v Nigeria but it’s one of those stadiums where the seats are stacked with verticality in mind so despite being high it felt like we weren’t far from the field. France eventually got the result they deserved but it was all a bit melancholy for us as it was the last day and we were happy for a mellow game knowing we were heading to the airport soon after the game.

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Top left: Kanu!; top right: French fans on their way into the stadium for France v Nigeria
Middle: Colin, Markus and I at the France v Nigeria game
Bottom left; there were four of these guys. They came all the way from New Zealand. They wore these costumes (Minny Mouse) because they were the only ones they could find that they could get four of and that fit. They arrived five minutes into the game, left ten minutes before the end of the first half so they could mingle and let people get their pictures taken with them, and then missed a good 15 minutes of the second half before they got back to their seats. There’s too much of this at the World Cup. It’s stupid. Photo description editorial over. Bottom right: the last shot. Leaving Garrincha Stadium and off to the airport to come home.
 

And then that was it. Overnight into Atlanta for Colin and I before taking different routes the rest of the way while Markus set off to SP to go home via Toronto. There’s really no other way to wrap this up other than to once again express that I know I was very fortunate to be able to do this and do it with good friends who appreciated the trip as much as I did. I have a very understanding, supportive wife who when I told her this was likely going to happen a couple years back said, “Yeah, I get it. World Cup. Brazil. You gotta go.” That was of course before it turned into a three week, eight game dash around Brazil but her support never really wavered so it’s another reason I’m lucky to be with her.

And lastly, as I said in the first part of this story, if you have even a tiny bit of you that says, “That looks great, I should do a trip like that one day.” Do it. Save the money, find the time, coerce friends that you will enjoy doing it with and go. It’ll be worth it. The 2016 Euro in France awaits…

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5 Responses to Our World Cup Trip: Fortaleza, Brasilia and Rio (Part 2 of 2)

  1. cutleron says:

    Wow, you’re closing in on a book manuscript here, man. John Doyle’s got nothing on you.

    So you’re up for Euro 2016 with a guy who speaks pretty good French and knows the country, customs, food, etc.?? 🙂 I’ll start the reconnaissance now!

    [And I guess you shouldn’t count on me to coach U17 Gold next year, since my recently-promoted former assistant with way more talent and qualificiations is 5-0-1 with only 3 GA. Three cheers for the tought steps taken to consolidate 3 teams to 2.]

    • Gregor says:

      I know. It’s definitely a bit verbose and reeks of being trapped in someone’s home while they run through an endless slideshow of their big vacation. But at least relief here is just a click away.

      No Euro for me unfortunately but I do know a men’s team that is looking to go and looking for local help in organizing…

      And, yeah, Scott’s got the Greycaps firing nicely 😉 Bonne vacances!

  2. Colin Elmes says:

    Holy Shit. That trip looked like fun!

    Thanks for taking the time to put this in words. I still really cant describe it to anyone properly. I will just send them to MMCB in the future

  3. Gregor says:

    I know. A lot of people don’t *want* to hear about it! Oh well, I’m still putting a two parter up on my blog to ram it down your throats 😉

    ‘You’ll never know unless you go’ is very true.

  4. TM says:

    I second your advice: Guys, if you can, don’t miss on the experience, just go!
    I expected that a WC at home to be fun but it far surpassed my expectations of how much we’d enjoy it.

    Now, as for Brasilia, my take on the city changed over my lifetime. I was born in Rio, moved to Brasilia as a kid and hated the city with a passion all through my teens. Boring, arid, no-fun, I’ve said it all. Went back to Rio for college and after spending the next 10 years there, came to realize that the Rio of my school vacations was not the same place I had to live in. Got married and (surprise, surprise) moved back to Brasilia.

    Yup, at first (and possibly second or third) glance Brasilia is not like Brazil at all but under the layers the fun parts of the country are all there. But since there’s no focal point (in most towns in Brazil, the beach) for tourist to zero in, you do need more than anyplace else to have someone in the know to point those out to you. And it’s a safe(r), clean, nice place to live and raise a family. I’d go back to live in Brasilia with no problem, not so much Rio, Fortaleza, Salvador or the other places you’ve visited.

    My advice for people thinking about going to Brasil is:
    If you want to go to just one place and experience the most of Brazil’s culture and sights, definitely go to Rio, my home town rocks!
    If you want just to soak at the beach and enjoy the sun, go to the northeast (btw, the main cities are definitely not the best place to go).
    Now, if you want to move to Brazil and maintain a similar quality of life to the one we have here, think about Brasilia….

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