With the whole crew together, we say bye to Eliana and hop a plane to the northeastern beach town of Natal to catch the first U.S. game, against Ghana.
The weather is great, the beaches are wide and the town is crawling with people from all over the world. Our first stop is at a crowded beachfront seafood restaurant to suck down some beers and watch the Germany-Portugal match. We order a massive platter of shrimp although we don’t realize they’re going to show up totally unshelled, which becomes a bit of a gruesome ordeal. Watching Ronaldo get thumped 4-0 by the Germans makes it all OK.
Hanging out on the beach we meet some Japanese guys who are apparently trying to get photos with fans from every country. Vince knows a good idea when he hears one and decides we should do the same. Aside from the Japanese guys, we manage to get photos in Natal with fans from Ghana (as you’d expect_ Mexico, and my favorites, two Argentine guys. When we asked them how they liked Brazil, they responded, and this is a verbatim quote, in English: “This is…a nice place…to fuck.”
We’re staying in what seems to be a sort of dead area during the day, but at nighttime, previously shuttered storefronts are unlocked to reveal a very aggressive bar scene. Best shirt: FIFA DELEGATE PLEASE BRIBE ME
We’ve got a very early flight, and our hotel arranges a cab to take us to the airport. I don’t know what happened to the cab, but what we get is a dude in an extremely shitty hatchback, but the streets are dead and he’s our only choice, so we pile our bags in the back and get going. I’m riding shotgun and, as usual, I’m keeping tabs on our route via my offline mapping app. It seems he’s going the long way round, but Natal is not laid out well, and it’s hard to argue when you don’t know if certain streets are under construction (as was the case in Iguazu) or have traffic.
About a third of the way to the airport we hear a sort of clunk from the back and we start to hear some sort of persistent noise from the area of the trunk. Our driver doesn’t react at all so we draw it to his attention, although it seems impossible that he couldn’t hear it. He dismisses our concerns and says everything is ok, and keeps driving. It’s only after we notice a number of people have been waving their arms frantically at our car that we insist on making him stop. At this point we discover that Eric’s backpack has dropped through the clanky hatchback door, and while mercifully still attached to the car by a strap, has been dragged across several miles of Natal thoroughfares and is almost on fire. The front pockets have been burned off, and had the damage continued, the next pockets, containing Eric’s passport and our tickets to our two remaining world cup games, would have been lost forever. As it was, he only lost a little bit of cash. We’re livid but we have a flight to catch, the driver secures the door with rope, and we head towards the airport, with the meter still running. Once we get there, our driver amazingly heads to arrivals instead of departures before I redirect him. Finally out of his cab, he unloads our bags and it’s time to pay. There’s no way we’re paying full price given what happened, and as this becomes clear to him, he picks my bag back up and puts it back in his car as though to hold it hostage. This does not sit well with me, and I grab my bag out of the trunk, we throw about 80% of our fare at him, and tell him to call the cops if he doesn’t like it.
I think the biggest scam in travel has to be the idea that Rio de Janeiro is this wonderful sunny beach mecca. We had three days there and every day, the weather was worse than the day before. From time to time, I check the weather forecast for Rio, and it seems like it’s raining more often than not there.
That said, Rio’s geographical setting can’t be beat, for looks anyway. Jagged mountains sticking up randomly in your city may be visually striking but they make transportation a hassle.
Vince is on the spot with making sure all of our restaurant bills are accurate, which is good, because every fucking one of them was wrong – and none of them in our favor. The worst is in a restaurant in Rio. We order right about at kickoff. At halftime we ask where our food is. Our waiter acts like he doesn’t know what is going on. About an hour and a half after ordering, when we are about to bail, our food finally sohws up. When the bill comes, we expect to be comped for the delay. Not only is there no discount, they have added an entire extra meal to the tab, and the waiter starts arguing with us about whether we ordered the thing or not. I get about as angry as I’d been in four months. Vince, fortunately, has a cooler head and sorts it all out. But this sort of low level ripoff is becoming annoying in Brazil.
As for the World Cup, our only non-U.S. game tickets are for the Spain-Chile matchup at the Maracana. It’s a very old stadium but perhaps one of the most famous in soccer history. I’m pulling for Chile, as I’ve been to Chile more recently than Spain, I’m not on a defending champion bandwagon, and maybe most importantly, we are sitting next to a lot of very animated Chileans. Our decision turns out to be a good one. Chile stuns the defending champions, eliminating them from competition. Time to go to the Lapa neighborhood to celebrate.
Lapa is nuts. The Chileans are everywhere and have gone off the deep end. You can’t go five minutes without hearing a CHI! CHI! CHI! LE! LE! LE! call and response. Plenty of fans from other countries are here too, of course, and we get pictures with Russians, Bosnians, and Australians, although the last of those, true to form, half-jokingly demand a line of coke in exchange for taking pictures with us.
We are unable to comply.
The Aussies, as it happens, are drinking in the Lapa gas station, which is about as happening a scene as any of the bars, due in no small part to the efforts of street caipirinha vendors. I order a medium from one vendor, which turns out to be the size of a big gulp, and so boozy that I have to ditch it halfway through.
The weather is also impacting our sightseeing. We put off going to see Cristo Redentor on day two, due to weather, but the fog on day three is not much better. We are running out of time though so we go for it anyway, and manage to grab at least a good partial view of the city before the fog totally erases it from view.
To switch up our nightlife, we head to Ipanema instead, which is a much more upscale experience than Lapa. Certainly there are no hordes of chanting Chileans here. We have a classy evening and make some local friends.
Vince and Morrison leave from here back via Sao Paulo. It’s only me and Eric who are heading to the Amazon, before we both head back to the States