Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 43 - Last Post. Several disappointments for me at the end.

I'm sat in a Brasilian café, just 50m from where I'm staying. I have a couple of hours before I need to get to bed and as I haven't eaten anything substantial all day, I order Frango Simples - just grilled chicken - and the first beer of four.

I am immediately aware of the table of six Germans, all wearing their immaculate authentic national team shirt, just a couple of tables in front of me. The table to my right has a guy wearing a Hertha Berlin shirt and his girlfriend has that give-away sign on her cheek: yellow, red and black bands. These are Brasilians but they have become Germans for the day. To my right is a group of Flamengo fans. They too, though, obviously so impressed that Germany adopted their team's colours as their second strip, were German fans tonight. So it went on. A drunken Brasilian, convinced he'd found a real German in me - who could have blond hair and not be German? Started stroking my hair and hugging me, urging me to join him in a song "Deutschland! Deutschland! Deutschland! Deutschland!" but I politely declined. "Eu nao gosto Alemanha".

Soon, the German table had made up for my silence with a long, noisy rendition of their own. And then again. And then it was the witty "Maracana... de de de de de. Maracana de de de de" (to the tune of Kermit the frog)

I tried to look happy for these people who were obviously so overjoyed that Germany had won their fourth World Cup, but I really couldn't quite manage it. A local radio guy was doing his rounds of the happy Germans and Brasilian-German wannabes and I hoped he'd see my miserable face and wonder why. As a journalist, isn't he supposed to be looking for negatives? Not today. All he wanted was "Germany are ze best. Ve haf ze best coach, ze best goalkeeper and are ze best organised. Ve are ze best. Deutschland uber ales."

I wanted to make the point that the concept of me cheering for Germany winning the World Cup feels to me what it might be like for some old guy who's lived his life in a favela being expected to be pleased that an already rich guy living in Ipanema had just won the lottery and decided to buy a 4th yacht to add to his collection.

It's not like Germany were the obvious outstanding team of the tournament. Take away the freak win against Brasil (Neymar and Thiago Silva conveniently both out and Brasil's defence decides to play like schoolboys) and the dodgy 4-0 against Portugal (when Muller's theatrics won them a dodgy penalty and other theatrics got Pepe sent off) and they were just another ordinary team.

Ok. So that's one reason to be miserable out the way. Germany won the World Cup - literally the worst case scenario for me. I supported ABG (Anyone But Germany) so what happens? Germany win the damned thing. England and Australia both exited at the earliest possible moment and bloody Germany, as always, get all the luck going and manage to win the thing.

The second reason to miserable tonight is that this is it. Tonight is my last night in Brasil. It's been fantastic but all good things must come to an end. The lovely silver lining here is that tomorrow I fly to San Francisco for a ten day holiday in the USA with mi darling. Germany winning the world cup has no silver lining.
(Actually, with the benefit of hindsight, there is one I can think of - Jens. A nice guy who loves German football. It does make the pill easier to swallow to know someone was made really happy.)

The day itself wasn't great really. I had a FB message conversation with Simon about where we should watch the match and he was keen to go to Copacabana, where I'd already been last night. It was fabulous but I didn't really want to do the same thing again. I wrote that I wanted to stay close to Maracana and get into the pre match buzz here and then watch it in a local place. I told Craig I was going probably going to do this last night, so that was plan A in motion.

Bad idea, despite it being endorsed by my lovely hosts.

As soon as I got onto the streets it became clear that the whole area around the stadium had been closed off to everyone but ticket holders. Craig had said he was on his way before I knew this. Of course then my phone decides not to work (I think my credit has finally expired for phone calls) so I couldn't phone him to tell him. I went to a restaurant with WiFi to send him an email to tell him it was a bad idea but he didn't get that until later. I couldn't get around to where I thought he would be coming on the metro as it was right on the other side of the ground.

As I walked around Tijuca I struggled to find anywhere half decent that was going to show the match (The Alziroa place, the usual local street party venue for big games was not going to be used today - it's only the world cup final after all, and all Brasilians care about is Brasil) and then (shock horror) I realised that it was a 4pm kick off, not 5pm like the 3rd/4th play off was. So, basically, I panicked and legged it to the metro station to try to get down to Copacabana again after all. Naively, I thought I might meet Simon. I managed it pretty quickly but, of course, the main fanfest zone was already full so I had to go to the overflow area I was at the night before. This time is was standing room only with hundreds of thousands of drinking, singing, largely Argentinian packing out the beach.

So there's the 3rd reason - I goofed up my plans and nearly ruined the day for a fellow fan.

I hardly had a drink all match and the whole thing was cramped and uncomfortable and I started cursing my lack of organisation. Poor old Craig texted me from close to the Maracana before he got my messages to turn round and go back. He eventually found a better place than me, in Ipanema, with an Australian chap so at least that was one good thing.

It was a dull, largely uneventful game, and in the 2nd half of injury time, Germany did snatch a nice winner to send their fans into ecstacy and some Argentinians into an angry fighting mode that turned ugly a few times.

I managed to avoid it by walking calmly away and eventually got away from the millions packed into Copacabana by catching a bus back to Maracana. That was, at least, quite fitting as I had planned to be in the area all day.

So, to the local restaurant and another reminder of how unfair sport is.

The next morning I had a lovely chat and coffee with Camilla's father after getting all packed and ready to go. He called for a taxi on his mobile phone app and it had arrived before I'd even had chance to take a few family photos.

The taxi driver was very nice and drove to my final destination in Brasil - the airport, where I bought another bag (one with wheels and a handle) to give me a bit more capacity and then I was off.

The flight to Panama City was enjoyable with Copa Airlines doing a pretty good service with a selection of films etc and some good food. It was a quick turnaround there before getting on Copa Airlines another flight to Mexico City where I had a very enjoyable chat with Jan, a guy from Holland who now runs a seed business based in Mexico.

Mexico City was a bit of a nightmare as I had to change terminals, go through immigration and customs and then check in again for the flight to San Francisco, 8 hours later. I tried to keep my eyes open by eating and drinking coffee in a café whilst using their WiFi to text Rozy back home, but eventually I had to try to get some shut eye, like a tramp, on the hard floor outside the check-in hall.

I woke up to find a queue of hundreds waiting to check in on the United Airlines flight to San Francisco but it was no problem and I secured a window seat. Then, I had a real panic as the short term visa that I am sure I bought to let me into America was not in my folder of hard copied print outs as I'd thought, and I couldn't find an electronic copy on my laptop or in my email in box. So I found myself at a café connected to their WiFi buying a new one. I managed to do it but then realised my flight was about to board and then, that the gate had changed. Gate 28 had changed to Gate 29. This might not sound much but at Mexico City International Airport T1, it's quite a long way apart so I had a mad rush getting over there (they even called my name out!) before getting on the plane nice and easily. There was plenty room for my two bags and I had a bit of a kip before spending a lot of the four hour flight chatting to a nice girl who was born and lives in California but has Mexican parents and had just gone to see them.

Finally, I arrived in San Francisco and I caught the BART (rail) into the city ($8.50) and walked up through the famous streets of downtown San Francisco to Union Square. After a bit of confusion I finally arrived here at the famous old Beresford Arms Hotel, very excited at the prospect of seeing my darling wife again, any minute now! How romantic it would be to go upstairs to our room and find here there, waiting for me! My heart was racing now, but Murphy's Law struck once again as there was a big group of people checking out and, apparently, causing the senior receptionist some grief. The more junior guy dealt with me but seemed a bit puzzled by my request.

"Kuliukas. My wife arrived yesterday." I told him.

"Is there a problem?"

"No problem" he assured me, but still did not just give me the key. He tried to call the room but no reply. This was getting a bit frustrating and my lack of sleep over the last 24 hours made me even more irritable with the situation.

Eventually, the senior receptionist had dealt with the people checking out and so was able to attend to my "problem".

"Why don't you just give me the key?" I asked again.

"We have a protocol, for obvious security reasons. Your wife didn't say that she was expecting her husband to arrive today".

"But I booked the room"

"Anyone could say that"

"Not anyone holding a passport for that person" (as I opened my passport at my photo page.)

I must admit I lost my temper at this point and said "Well thanks a lot. This was supposed to be a romantic experience, one I've been looking forward to for weeks, but you've just ruined it!"

"Well thanks for telling me that, sir!" She replied, robustly. "We are only following our protocols."

Anyway, after all that aggro, she did just give me the key in the end anyway. I arrived in the room to find all of LeleJane's stuff there, but no sign of mi darling. She'd obviously gone out to explore, as I confirmed when I got on line and read her FB message. We really should have organised all that better, but there you go.

I changed, had a much needed shower and then went downstairs to apologise to the receptionist - "of course you haven't ruined anything".

Then, I went back to the room to lie down and wait for the moment that had been on my mind these last six weeks.


My lovely host family in Tijuca

Crossing the equator again
Back with mi darling!


Ok. This is my signing off my blog now. I'll try to update some pages with more photos and videos and make corrections if I spot any. I might add a few thoughts here and there over the next few weeks but apart from that the blog is my daily account of what has been, overall, a brilliant holiday.

Algirdo (retired from playing football)
Maracana - de deeee de de da

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Day 42 (penultimate) Copacabana 3rd/4th play off

Camilla and her family were really kind to me today. They let me do a clothes wash and helped me get my reading glasses fixed. Camilla took me on a local tour where we found an optician that fixed my wobbly (and getting wobblier by the hour) reading glasses for free. She showed me where the football is often shown in a street party zone around here before we went back to discuss things with their family.

View from my bedroom window

Local Football Fest

Restaurant at the end of my street

Then I went for an explore around the Maracana - ten minutes walk away. It was cool walking around the stadium mingling with the Argies (and one or two Germans) as if I was going to the match before getting the metro down to the southern end by Ipanema beach followed by a long stroll along Copacabana before settling down in the sand with a big caipirinha in my hand to watch Brazil get stuffed again, this time 0-3 to Holland.

Maracana - all set up for the Final 

Tomorrow this will all be out of bounds unless you have a ticket


Big Wave

Tiled Pathways


Spectacular setting - even in mid winter

Copacabana - stretching ahead of me

Destination - right at the other end, FIFA fanfest

Sand sculptures

Vamos, vamos, Argentina!

FIFA Fan fest filling fast

Lovers. The first (and only) gay couple spotted were Aussies!

All set for the Brasil v Holland

The first was a penalty. Although Robben went over as he is well trained to do, and the actual foul was probably outside the box, Silva could have been shown a red card, so a penalty and a yellow was probably fair. The second was another defensive cock up from "sideshow Bob". The first thing every schoolboy is taught when defending is to head the ball out for a corner when in doubt, but David Luiz contrived instead to head the ball straight back to the Dutchman in a way reminiscent of the Germany game. Brasil offered little in response and Holland added a third, well worked, goal in the 2nd half to complete their miserable anti-climax to the world cup.

After that I met up with Craig from Perth outside a hotel on Copacabana and we caught the metro to Lapa where Simon had told me he was doing a gig. We had a pizza and a few bevvies as I got a text telling me the venue had changed. My mobile phone was dying s we decided to stay and have a few more.

The Final is tomorrow and the next day my Brasil 2014 experience will finally end.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 41 (3 to go) - Ihla Grande Walk and then back to Rio

I can’t believe that as I tap away at this on the beach at Abraao, on the big island near Rio, my next stop will be my last in Brasil. It’s been an absolutely brilliant experience. I’m so glad I did it and even though the actual football has been frustrating for me personally, it’s been a fascinating World Cup overall and the touring aspect has been the best ever. I have a few regrets. I wish I’d have had another week so I could have visited Pantanal and Diamantia and maybe even Lencois. I’d have swapped one of the Curitiba days and one of the Belo Horizonte days for an extra day in Recife and an extra day here, on Ihla Grande. I would have gone to Belem a day earlier so I could have done more there. But really that’s about it. On the positive side there are many things I did that were really great and (fingers crossed) I’m still well within my budget. AirBnB has been great, as has to be fair, and I think the prices have all been reasonable.

The biggest positive though, surely, is the complete contrast between the prejudicial fear I had in my head about possible crime here and the total absence of anything remotely scary or dangerous in reality. From the moment I got off the plane and walked away from that scare monger from Falkirk, who was bad mouthing Brasil and Brasilians, I have had a never ending series of pleasant experiences.

Today was a case in point. I had been advised to avoid Abraao. It’s too touristy. It’s a rip off etc. But the truth is, it’s just another lovely place. What’s wrong with “touristy” anyway? People who complain about such places are the sort who long for the days when Vilnius or Prague had no McDonalds’ – and no decent shops for the people either. It’s this longing for the dark ages that I can’t fathom. What’s wrong with a few fast food places, ATMs so you can get cash and very accessible, trendy bars on the beach?

I did consider going snorkelling today but the thought of having more clothes to dry off after finally getting them all dry again wasn’t worth thinking about. All I really wanted to do was go for a stroll in the countryside near the beaches. And that is exactly what I did. I didn’t know the entry to the national park was just along the beachside road, but it was. The walk wasn’t spectacular but it was very soothing and attractive. The beaches are lovely and the woodland full of life. I saw some capuchins (I think) and several species of bird. 90 minutes was just right before going back to check out and then strolling down to the jetty to choose a boat time to get back to the mainland. As I type this, that’s just 40 minutes away now.

My Room - A place to get dry

Pousada So Natureza

Abraao Beach



Bipedal littoral ape

Viaduct on Ilha Grane

So, when I got back to Angra Dos Reis, it was a 15 minute walk to the rodovaria to book the bus trip and then a two and a half hour bus ride back to Rio de Janeiro where it all started about six weeks ago.

I walked with a group of USA fans but then got weirdly separated as they got allocated to one bus whilst I got allocated to another. Anyway, we all had over an hour to wait, so I went back to the restaurant by the dock to do a bit of blogging.

When I arrived in Rio I got ripped off by a dodgy taxi driver - R$55 to take me to my final stop, 700m from the Maracana. It was always going to be the perfect way to end this holiday. If only it was England v Germany in the final, and England went on to win it, then it truly would have been perfect.

The thing that really is difficult for me to swallow is that I still think England could have done it. They really weren’t that bad and if they’d have had a bit of luck they could have won their group and then beaten Greece to play Holland in the quarter finals. England could have won that game too and as their confidence would have been on a high, beating Argentina wouldn’t have been so ridiculous either.

The power of delusion, eh? I still have England beating the overrated Germans at the Maracana on Sunday, even though in reality England were knocked out at the earliest possible time, after just two games.

Lunch on the beach

Caipifruta - my new favourite Brazilian cocktail

Fish and banana

Time to get the boat back to the main land

Ihla Grande is lovely ... and big

Ah well, one can dream…

Anyway, I arrived at my last AirBnB stop and was greeted by Alinia (Camilla, the host's father) who speaks excellent English. He's a financial advisor and welcomed me to his wife, Ana, and son and showed me my room. I had a quick shower and got changed into more comfortable clothes as Camilla had returned from work. Again, it's so nice to be invited into people's families like this. And Alinia invited me to join them for their evening supper - a lovely pasta and chicken broth - before we all retired to bed.

Being located on a busy street in Tijuca, it was quite noisy outside but I was really tired and soon drifted off into a great night's sleep.

Rio de Janeiro