I will be the first to admit, that it's kind of sad that after spending the last several days without a reliable Internets connection, I'm now overdosing on the 'Tubes from the departures area of the São Gonçalo do Amarante–Governador Aluízio Alves International Airport (a/k/a the "New Natal Airport"). That hasn't taken anything away from our first fantastic stop on this tour of the USMNT group stage matches.
The positive side effect of my Internet jones?
I can FINALLY share some of the backlog of images and experiences capture from my trusty Nokia Lumia 925.
Where to start.
Well, remember I mentioned all that rain in Natal?
The morning of the USA vs. Ghana match started to show signs of clearing up (or at least not raining). We took advantage of this break in the chuva to take our own pre-match stroll on the Ponta Negra beach just outside of our hotel.
Along our walk, we watched folks play a little beach soccer, get runs in, and show off lots of USMNT gear. I chatted quickly with a pair from the mid-west of the USA, where I said with confidence we'd win 2-1 and capture the three points. They weren't as convinced and just hoped for a solid draw. I wasn't the only one believing a 2-1 victory was in our future. A very popular shirt sold in the stores around Natal gives you the ability make your own predictions. Kind of cheap and silly, but both the one hanging in the store across from the beach and on a Brazilian spectator seated in front of us at the stadium featured the same prediction.
After the walk, we quickly showered up and donned our USA gear to meet with our driver (and our two new American supporter friends) to head off to our first stop: the U.S. Soccer Pre-Match Party at "Peppers Arena".
And, we waited.
Waited some more.
Okay, after a little more than "15 minutes" (or 45 minutes when you convert Natal time to the regular one you and I know so well) our awesome driver arrived and took us to the party.
Our driver left us at a Petrobras station on the opposite side of Av. Senador Salgado Filho and we made the hike over the pedestrian bridge to Rodizio de Pizzas to meet up with safely a "zillion" AO members already in a full lather of chatting, flag waving and other heart pumping pre-game prep. (NOTE: The photo above is from near Shopping Natal. We were MUCH closer to the stadium when dropped off).
Words cannot describe, so here's a video I shot of one of my most favorite USMNT chants:
Our little band of supporters stayed for about 20 (real) minutes before we headed off to the stadium. Our March to the Match was fun and good natured. I had a small surprise when we bumped (almost literally) into former US International and MLSer Jimmy Conrad who was filming for KICKTV just outside of the Arena das Dunas.
Getting through security and having our ticket punched was a heck of lot easier than I'd expected. Not that I was expecting chaos and bedlam, but again this is a place where they haven't finished either the airport or the roads around the stadium.
But. Once we got to our seats, it really hit home that we were AT A WORLD CUP MATCH AND WATCHING THE US MENS NATIONAL TEAM!!!!!!!!!
We even entered just as the USA team bus arrived to the stadium and we cheered them all the way into the venue.
The evening was amazing and we still have at least two more of these matches to attend. Holy cow, this was an amazing experience which had its highs (like Deuce's goal) and lows (Jozy's injury), and it did take us more than an hour to get back to the hotel. Some of this was due to Vice President Joe Biden's motorcade shutting down the roads. He and his 35 vehicles (and 2,000 gunners) passed by us as we waited at that very same Petrobras for our driver to navigate us through all this chaos and back to Ponta Negra.
Maura and I grabbed a super late dinner at a nearby hotel as the nightcap to our day full of adventure and thrills. We wanted to rest up a little bit, because the we had to go see the World's Largest Cashew Tree before we headed off to Manaus for round two.
Oh, we did see the tree and it's huge.