Fret not, kind and loyal blog follower.
I have not succumb to an unexpected landslide or samba party.
I am still alive and well, and partaking in the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals here in Brazil.
Oddly, I'm now back at a location with very reliable Internet connectivity (yay São Paulo!), yet I have not used this bandwidth to post a single update. Flashback to just a few days prior--while we were on the road following the US Men's National Team around the group stage leg of the World Cup--and you would have found me trying to fashion a tinfoil rabbit ears aerial to get the equivalent of a 300 baud modem's worth of access to the "tubes".
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Abundance makes you care less, I guess.
Speaking of flashbacks, as I last shared our time in Recife was quite nuts. And, I'm not just referring to the drama we had upon our arrival.
After (re)securing our basic human need for shelter, we turned our attention to getting ready for the third and final match versus Die Mannschaft.
Recife made things way more challenging than the previous two locations. This was mostly due to the fact the stadium (Arena Pernambuco) is located about 20 km from our hotel in Boa Viagem (and pretty much all of Recife). Unlike Natal or Manaus, where the arenas were effectively in the middle of the city, Arena Pernambuco was in the middle of nowhere. It's not even located within the city of Recife, but instead a place called São Lourenço da Mata.
In the end, we didn't feel too troubled by this little quirk of this large host city. Maura had secured us two spots on a hotel shuttle van during the craziness of solving our hotel reservation woes. A side benefit of standing right next to the hotel staff for more than hour while they worked out how to get our reservation resurrected.
What did trouble us was the friggin' monsoon that slammed into this city in the northeast of Brazil.
"Epic" was used to describe the insane amount of rain that was falling overnight and all through the match on June 26th.
All night, the windows in our "semi-classy" hotel rattled from never-ending abuse and torment of wind and rain. It didn't make for a very restful sleep and it was compounded by the fact we needed to get up and at 'em early to ensure we made the shuttle van. They front desk changed our departure time to even earlier to account for the flooding and horrific road conditions this rainstorm was causing to areas in and around Recife.
9:30 am we go; come hell or high water.
A few folks asked me (after they learned we survived the epic journey) if the media was overhyping the situation. As your humble "on the ground" reporter, I can confidently say, "NOOOOO WAY!"
Here's a little video of our time in the van (and not on a boat, mind you) trying to reach the stadium:
This is what we experienced for most of the trip through the metro portions of Recife. Once we hit "the open road", we only had to worry about other cars.
A trip that should have taken 45 minutes or so, ended up taking more than double that. At a few points during the ride these guys seated in front of us in the van considered bailing out and trying to catch a train to the stadium. They also believed the match started at 11 am, and not the actual start time of 1p.
On a sad note, we learned while having our post-match meal at Ponteio Grill that many family members of the USMNT were unable to reach the stadium in time to actually watch the game. All of the families happen to be at this very same churrascaria when we arrived and one of the waiters told us about this unfortunate side effect of the terrible storm. I also saw Jozy's brother again, but decided to leave him be considering all the trouble they had just faced earlier in the day.
Back to our van trip to the arena: we were once again lucky enough to see the USA team bus. This time, it was parked in front of the Golden Tulip Hotel in Boa Viagem waiting for the team to board. As we faced these horrible conditions and traffic en route, we started to worry if the teams themselves (who had not yet left for the stadium) would make it in time. Considering there was some chatter about FIFA potentially delaying the match, I'm really surprised they pulled off this game.
Upon arriving at Arena Pernambuco, our driver had to leave us about 1 km from the gates due to security and the need to find a parking spot he could stay for several hours.
Maura and I donned our ponchos (the very ones we searched high and low for in Natal and likely bought the last four in city) and made the hike through the rain, mud and street vendors selling ponchos, beer, water (for some reason) and odd versions of USA and Germany flags. The ponchos mostly did their job, but let's be honest, we were still getting soaked thanks to the intensity of the rain fall. As we rounded the last turn before entering the stadium parking lot, we witnessed the arrival of the USA team bus. I guess they had a lot of help from their police escort to clear a path (at least through the traffic) to make it to the stadium.
With the rain still falling, and the crowds growing, we cleared security and the gates to happily learn that our seats were 100% covered. Thank the lord!
A few pre-match "double cheeseburgers" (A/K/A meat cooked until hockey puck state) and beers (and a nice chat with some dudes who just made it in from Texas to see this match), we prepared for the 1 pm kickoff.
Arena Pernambuco was my least favorite of the three stadiums. Maybe it was the rain or mud caked between my toes, but the place lacked a lot of the character our previous two venues offered. Our seats were similar to the match in Manaus, just a little more centered and a few more rows back. Many of the same characters from the American Outlaws kept us USA supporters singing up a storm (pun not intended). My personal fav was the dude all dressed up as Teddy Roosevelt as a Rough Rider.
The USMNT starters warmed up right by the corner flag close to our seats and I think we did our small part pumping them up with our signing and chanting "I BELIEVE WE WILL WIN!"
Following the team warm ups, which did appear to happen much later than the previous two outings, this solitary FIFA commissioner walked the pitch to see if it was truly ready for 90 minutes of futebol.
Needless to say, he approved the conditions and we had us some football!
It was a fun match, albeit bittersweet that we advanced after the loss.
Look, I'm not complaining.
I would have loved to kept the 0-0 draw to the conclusion of the game. Just wasn't in the cards. Our shooting boots lacked the finishing necessary to do our own damage.
Still a great way to end the group stage by escaping the "GROUP OF DEATH!"
And, we escaped the floods and returned to our hotel in Boa Viagem with little trouble. The rain did finally subside towards the end of the game and amazingly the drainage system cleared most of the streets of Recife by the time we arrived.
The next day was the yang to the Thursday's horrific weather yin. It was sunny and bright, and we used our last day in the city to do a little bit of sightseeing. This included a tour of the nearby historic city of Olinda. This 477 year old city still maintains much of the look and feel of its historic roots...which consists mostly of churches and places that became churches.
One super neat tourist spot we stopped by was the Caixa D'Aqua. It serves a dual purpose of being a water tower for the historic city and 360 degree viewing platform of the beach, churches and surrounding areas (of more churches).
Before heading off to the airport, we took another stroll along Boa Viagem beach.
As you may have read, the northeast of Brazil (Recife in particular) has a lot of sharks in the waters. Therefore, it was none too surprising to see this clear set of warnings about "how not to be eaten by a shark" displayed about ever 100 meters or so:
Maura asked me if I wanted to walk on the sidewalk or the beach. After reading through all of these warnings I elected to stay off the beach. Call me crazy, but I am still alive, ain't I?
We completed our picture perfect post-match day with a smooth trip over to the airport and then back to our base of operations in São Paulo.
We may be out of match tickets, but we are staying put in Brazil through most of what's left of the elimination phase of the tournament. This included watching the nail biting Brazil vs. Chile match, that could have completely broken the spirit of the Brazilian people had neither Júlio César or the crossbar stopped multiple Chilean goals.
As with the opening match, the streets in and around Vila Madalena were filled with revelers celebrating another step closer to returning the FIFA World Cup trophy to Brazil (or it was just a really excuse to go drink in the streets).
With the group stage now complete, it's back to remote working from our base of operations. It was fun experiencing all of this road tripping, but I'm glad to be back to our little slice of "civilization".
I'll certainly need to do some meeting shuffling to ensure I can watch our next USA match against Belgium for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Luckily, the Brazil vs. Colombia match is on July 4th. It'll be a holiday in two countries that day.
Let's just hope it's one both nations will want to celebrate!