It was early, and after a little bit of confusion with our hostel, we started to settle in to our basic but nice room. We explored our neighbourhood, which was basically the centre of the city, and wandered through streets crowded with market stalls, primarily selling a world of Brazilian football gear. We had arrived two days before the beginning of the tournament, and the city was decked out in yellow and green, from painted streets, to shop window mannequins, to streamers forming Brazilian flags above traffic intersections. The sense of excitement was palpable.
We were lucky enough to have met some amazing people on the boat trip from Colombia, and it was with them that we enjoyed the first week or so of the cup. For the opening match of the tournament, Brazil vs. Croatia, we watched the game among crowds in the main square of the city. They had set up a massive screen there, as a complement to the official FIFA Fan Zone which was in Punta Negra, about 30 minutes by bus from the centre. We visited the fan zone a couple of times, and came to find that we preferred the atmosphere in the centre anyways (as well as the convenience). Seeing Brazil take the first match (even with some questionable calls against the Croatian aide) surrounded by Brazilians in the heart of the Amazon was a truly amazing experience, and the next couple of weeks would only get better.
Our first live match was England up against Italy. As we’d accumulated some British friends in the last week or so, Tim and I supported England, and turned up eager to see what was probably going to be one of our best games. Unfortunately for England, that evening proved to be the hottest of any of the games we saw in the jungle, and it showed. All of the players fatigued, and by the end of the match you could see their energy was almost entirely zapped. England lost the match 2-1. Still, the crowds at El Dorado, a bar district walking distance from the stadium, were still in good spirits. Our World Cup had officially begun!
We made ourselves at home in our hostel. We had arrived before the crowds, and revelled in small joys such as having an oven and being able to cook some proper meals. Roast with vegetables, steak and salad, roast chicken. Endless smoothies. It was fantastic. I sound like a grandma, but we also caught up on sleep. We probably slept an average of 10 hours a night for the first week, just letting our bodies catch up from the past few months of being on the raod. We missed our included breakfast almost every day.
We found ourselves, with about four days left in Manaus, realizing we had very little time and been very terrible tourists. Our daily routine had literally been full of eating good food, drinking too much beer (just to negate any health benefits we may have absorbed from the food and sleep), and watching football matches. We also went to three more live matches: Croatia vs. Cameroon, Portugal vs. USA, and Honduras vs. Switzerland.
We also attempted to plan. We’d been tossing up for a long time what to do after our plans ended – we had two weeks confirmed in Manaus and then nothing else – no flights, no hotels, nada. We’d concluded it would be a shame to leave Brazil while the cup was still on, so we figured we’d head out to the northern coast, and hang around there, before taking friends up on the generous offer of letting us crash with them in Rio for a few days over the final.
After plenty of research, searching for flights, and adding up hours on buses, we decided to scrap the initial plan and head straight down to Rio. It would cost us almost twice as much, and take a shocking amount of time on transit, to make our way down the coast via Belem or Fortaleza. We had found flights on June 30 to Rio for about 500 reals, so we booked them. We plan to leave the city straight away, spend some time in Rio de Janeiro province, and then return to the city for the final. I also bit the bullet and booked my flight back to Canada, so the adventure is finally coming to an end! (Soon.)