Rio. And the End of the World Cup

AKA: The All Best Finale for a Trip of All Time

Somehow our humble plans of a couple of weeks in Manaus had transformed with us ending up here: in Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup final. I had a hard time seeing how life could get any better.

Let me clarify that when I say “for” I mean “in the city for” not “at the stadium for”. We had about five days in what has to be one of the most beautiful, iconic, and captivating cities in the world. I have a well-travelled friend whose favourite city in the world is Tel Aviv. Or it was, that is, until she came to Rio. It didn’t take a day for Rio to take over the number one spot in her mind.

We were here, in reality, only because of her. We had met Brit, a fellow Saskatcheawnian (I’m not kidding about that, by the way. Person from Saskatchewan. Anyways.) on the boat from Colombia to Manaus. After being hammock neighbours and bumping hips for four days, we became quite close. She and her boyfriend had booked a place in Rio for a handful of days overlapping the World Cup final which, luckily for us, had some floor space. Suddenly the ridiculously expensive city, where hostels were charging upwards of $150 for a night in a dorm bed during World Cup, became a lot more reasonable. How we could not go?

So go we did. We arrived on the 11th of July. The third place match was the following day and the final the day after that. Without functioning phones, it made the logistics of meeting up a little bit harder, so we ended up having a few drinks in a pub just down from their place, hanging out around an outdoor table, with the hope that we’d just run into each other. And, after the little paper they kept track of our beers on told us that we’d been there awhile, we did! Rio was falling into place.

The place was great, a decent-sized apartment in Flamengo, which was close to most of what we needed, and accessible to transit for everything else. Tim and I headed off to see the Escadaria Selarón, or the Selaron Steps, in Lapa. The steps are brilliant, and I’d only recommend trying to go at a slightly less busy time (as in, not World Cup or Carnaval or New Year’s) to see them in their full glory as, of course, they were covered in people.

The steps, created by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, consist of 250 steps decorated with over 2000 tiles, many of which were donated from people around the world. It took Selarón twenty years to complete the project. The result is a beautiful, glorious, mosaic-like staircase, where one can often successfully find tiles from their country or somewhere they have strong connections. It’s fantastic. It reminds me of something you’d find in Spain, maybe residing comfortably in Gaudí’s Park Güell.

20140711-IMG_2248While we were scaling staircases, the rest of our team had gone to Sugarloaf, the iconic rounded mountain in Rio, accessible by cable car. We had discovered it was, in fact, possible to rock climb Sugarloaf. Drawn to the general epic-ness of this option, we picked it. Our climb had been rescheduled to the 15th, Tim’s last day in Rio, due to some rain.

That afternoon we headed out with the masses to the FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana Beach for the third place match, Brazil vs. The Netherlands. We planned to meet the team at the entrance, but they had gotten held up at Sugarloaf (they reckoned they probably spent about five hours in line that day) and didn’t make it. We followed the thousands of people streaming into the gates and prepared for the match.

20140712-IMG_2277Again, for those of you who know what happened, you know that things didn’t turn out well for Brazil. The Netherlands took the third place match 3-0. The crowd was less than enthralled for the entire match, which can only be expected after Brazil’s recent performance. Still, for a moment, I missed the square in Manaus which would, undoubtably, be packed full of fans sweating in the sweltering heat. Everyone from kids and families to groups of teens to old couples would be out. And they would all be watching the game, figuratively or literally biting their nails. Copacabana definitely had a higher ratio of teenage girls on smartphones, there to be there, to see, to be seen. After the match, we met up with the rest of the crew for a couple of drinks and then moseyed on home.

The next morning, we woke up early with intent to beat the crowds at Christ the Redeemer, perhaps Rio’s most famous landmark. The statue is situated at the top of Corcovado mountain, and buses or trips will mention Corcovado before they mention Christ the Redeemer. It should be relatively simple, but there are a couple of things that are handy to know when making the trip up to the mountain. For the interest of not bogging down this post with logistical details, I’ve added a short informative post on the how-to.

We took a bus to the base of the train station that takes guests up the mountain. Long story short, the lines were massive. After standing in line for around an hour, someone finally started letting people know what was going on, and it turned out the next available train was going to be at 11 a.m. (It was about 8 a.m. at this point). We decided to bail, as we could return on another day. Brit and Shay went with one of the shuttle vans that operate as an alternative transport source. We returned to the apartment and began preparations for the Final that afternoon.

Argentina vs. Germany. This was going to be an interesting one. Despite Germany’s demolition of Brazil in the semis, Brazilians’ dislike of Argentines, and a long-standing football rivalry, meant that Brazil was rooting for Germany, rather than their South American neighbours. Due to proximity, Rio had been infiltrated by huge numbers of Argentina fans. Personally, I wanted Argentina to win.

So we took a bit of a gamble, and went out in Argentina colours. Somehow we had heard, or predicted, or just knew that Copacabana Beach, where we planned to watch the match, was going to be full of blue and white. Turns out we were right, and were welcomed into the Argentina fold with open arms.

We eyed up the official Fan Fest lineup which had to be nearly a kilometre long. Then we looked at the other massive screen set up on the beach, with no gates, barriers, lineups, or exorbitantly priced beer. We decided to stay out in the open. The crowd and the atmosphere was already pretty insane. Enterprising locals had set up portable bars serving beer, caipirinhas, and pretty much whatever else you’d want. Food vendors trotted through the crowds. Argentina was already singing.

The waves were crashing fiercely into the beach and people using the ocean as a port-a-potty struggled to stay on their feet. It wasn’t too far into the day (the match hadn’t started yet) before Tim saw someone go underneath the surface, out past where the waves were breaking. Lifeguards were something you couldn’t hope to have on a beach like this, at a time like this, but luckily Tim is very strong in the water. He made his way out to where the guy had disappeared, and as he came upon him, the guy latched on and clambered up Tim to the surface. Apparently they teach you in lifesaving courses you may have to knock out the person you are trying to save in order to prevent them from pulling you both down. Tim was very close to having to do this, but luckily managed to bodysurf a wave in, pulling the guy with him. When they made it to shallow enough water, the lucky guy finally got the message that he could stand up, and went racing onto the beach in shock. Scary.

After that debacle, things went much more smoothly. We partied out the rest of the game, singing the words we knew for the Argentina songs, and cheering our way in generally good spirits all of the way to the end, a 1-0 victory for Germany.

We stood, in our group, for a moment, surrounded by thousands of fans rooting for a team that had just lost the biggest game in the world. Despite the loss, Argentina didn’t become a hateful, violent, aggressive football mob. Still, as we made to leave the beach,  we were almost immediately pushed back by a group of people rushing in the opposite direction. We weren’t sure why … a fight, police? And didn’t stick around to find out. But as we went with the crowd, the same thing happened from the other direction, this time more forcefully. We grabbed on to one another, making sure not to lose anyone, and waited for a minute or two for some of the crowd to disperse. Then we skirted out the back of the crowd, away from the screen, and circled around. As we headed down the street, we were pushed this way and that by the huge numbers of people rushing each way. Tear gas flooded the air around us, twice, making for more waves of people (this time covering their nose and mouths) rushing in the same direction. The goal was, I imagine, to simply disperse the crowds. The night before, after the third place match, thousands of fans scattered afer a fight broke out (according to police) or a mass robbery  (reported). Luckily, we weren’t even aware this had happened the night before.

We made the decision to leave the area, as tensions were high and it wouldn’t take much for a volatile situation to pop up. We eyed up the massive line for the metro, left to grab a bite to eat, and then returned to an only marginally diminished line. We decided to just wait it out, and it actually moved reasonably quickly. It wasn’t long ’til we were back in our much quieter neighbourhood. We had definitely felt as though we had soaked up enough of the atmosphere during the day and evening, and were happy to be back, safe and sound, in one piece, at home.

We woke up early the next day. It was our turn to go up to Corcovado. We took a van transport from Largo do Machado at around 8 a.m. The early start for Corcovado is well worth it, as there is no allocated time for people to leave the monument, so it just gets busier and busier as the day rolls on.

You know Christ the Redeemer is huge, but somehow seeing one of the Seveb New Wonders of the World, in person, on top of a steep mountain in the middle of Rio, is more impressive than I would have thought. The statue stands 30 metres tall (plus the 8 metre platform he stands on), and his arms reach a span of 28 metres. Christ the Redeemer was finished in 1931.

20140713-IMG_2298As you navigate the viewing platforms set up around the statue, you’re constantly dodging people laying on the ground taking photos, attempting to get their friend and the entire statue into a shot. I had a lovely moment where a man travelling by himself asked me to take a photo of him and, in fashion, I got down on the ground to capture the massive statue as best as I could. Five minutes later, he came and found me again, asking me to take one more of him in a different shirt (for his Colombian friend) because I’d actually put effort in to getting the shot the first time. Sweet.

20140714-IMG_2320After checking out the views, which were amazing, taking the requisite tourist shots, and circling the statue a few times, we headed off. Brit had left the night before, and we were moving house today to a hostel in Santa Teresa. Rio had, overnight, become a reasonably priced place to sleep.

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