Travelling is always an adventure for me, and not necessarily for the reasons one would hope for. Things tend to go wrong, especially when I decide to leave the country. The good news is all my experience makes me much calmer than most in the face of travel adversity. This skill came in VERY handy during our two weeks in Brazil.
As you know if you’ve been reading Ash & Fern, we spent the last 2+ weeks following the US through the group stage at the World Cup. We’d been talking (and daydreaming) about this trip for the better part of the last 4 years. The plan survived multiple job/career changes, moves, and even a wedding. We were SO HAPPY it was finally time to leave, and personally I can admit to being incredibly relieved that I didn’t end up with an injury or illness would prevent me from going. (Again, these things tend to happen to me.) In hindsight the fact that we left Indy on Friday the 13th should have prepared us for what was about to happen.
The specifics of how and why we got separated from our group of roughly 500 American Outlaws (AO) aren’t important, but we ended up in a brave group of 14 headed into the unknown. While everyone else was somewhere in the air on their way to Brazil, we spent Saturday night in a Houston hotel being eaten alive by mosquitos and creating the @AOmazingRace twitter handle to entertain ourselves and stave off depression. (Dinner at Kung Food also helped. Seriously, Kung Food. Great stuff Houston.)
Our Sunday started with a lovely flight from Houston to Trinidad where we were theoretically going to meet a charter plane to take us to Natal, the site of the US vs Ghana game and our home base for the trip. Word of advice, don’t ever try to get through immigration in a foreign country with just a hypothetical idea of a plane that’s supposed to be meeting you there. They don’t like that. It was quickly determined we weren’t getting to Brazil Sunday night after all and would need to fly to Guyana instead. The only thing any of us knew about Guyana was to not drink the Kool-Aid. So off we went, again with the understanding that a plane would meet us there and get us into Natal by Monday morning, well ahead of the Monday evening game. We were golden!
Until we weren’t. Sitting in the Georgetown, Guyana airport for hours on end wouldn’t be that fun under any circumstances, but it’s even less fun as the hours tick by and you are counting the minutes until it becomes impossible to make the game. There is no way to describe the feeling of being so close to something you’ve been dreaming of for so long and knowing that there is absolutely nothing you can do to make it happen. I was devastated. Then, a plane! We may never understand exactly what happened or where that plane came from, but maybe the soccer gods are real. After one more delay (because apparently the plane needed ice, as if we really cared if our beverages were cold at this point) we were on our way to Natal. 14 of us on a plane that seats 250+. The environmentalist in me was doing her best not to think about that part. It still makes me cringe.
We landed in Natal, ran through immigration and customs, and hopped on a bus to go straight to the stadium. No hotel, no shower, no idea what would happen to our bags. And we didn’t care AT ALL. After running through the streets of Natal, yay traffic, we took our seats in the stadium. There were tears during the national anthem. And in a moment that was 72 hours (and 4 years) in the making, Clint Dempsey immediately made us forget everything. The game itself is another story entirely, but there were more tears at the end after JOHN ANTHONY FUCKING BROOKS cemented himself in American soccer history. We were the picture of exhaustion and relief, and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.
At this point, you might assume that things got better for us. And for a while they did. The hotel in Natal was great (once they found our room and our luggage, another long story) and a swim up bar can cure most anything. We also quickly discovered that Brazilian beer doesn’t cause hangovers as it apparently contains almost no alcohol, and that the cuisine is essentially deep-fried bread and cheese. So that was awesome.
Things started to go south again when it was time to head to Manaus for US vs Portugal on Sunday. We knew going in that the logistics of getting to a stadium in the middle of the Amazon were going to be…complicated. We forgot to take into account my absolutely TERRIBLE travel luck. Getting there was bad enough, a discrepancy between the flight manifest and the actual count led to hours of sitting on the tarmac while they did a roll call. Seriously it was like taking attendance in school. But once again, we made it to the game, and that’s all that matters. Then of course we got punched in the stomach at the end of that game, but still, we made it.
Unfortunately getting back to Natal was the stuff nightmares are made of. It turns out Ash and I are now international criminals! Apparently it was illegal for us to be on the plane that morning. (Something about traveling on a different charter than the one we came into the country on, not the most glamorous of criminal activity perhaps, but still pretty badass.) We were going to have to fly commercial back to Natal. This would be fine if we weren’t in the middle of the Amazon on the one day that EVERYONE is trying to leave. Not exactly a ton of open seats on flights out. Luckily I had Mary Poppins-ed my bag and we had quite the interesting stash of stuff to help us survive this new speed bump.
Somehow our AO saviors (seriously they worked their asses off to figure out solutions to these problems and I am eternally grateful) found us seats on a plane that could get us to Recife late Monday night. We made stops in what seemed like every airport in northern Brazil and made it into Recife around midnight, more than 24 hours after the end of the game. After a TERRIFYING 5 hour bus ride back to Natal, Ash and I took a quick nap and miraculously made it to the Italy vs Uruguay game, where we got to see Mr. Suarez have a little afternoon snack.
Thankfully the US vs Germany game was slightly less of an ordeal. We had to leave Natal at 2am and repeat the awful bus ride back to Recife, but for the first time the whole trip we actually arrived in time for a pre-game party. We knew there was flooding but judging by the texts and tweets I was getting from home it was even worse than we could see. After following our journey to that point on twitter our friends and families were very worried that this would be the game we would actually miss, but in the end the only casualties were my shoes and socks. Obviously we wanted to end group play with a win (or even a tie) but the moment when we heard Ronaldo had scored and we would advance was amazing. This might be my favorite picture of the whole trip, soaking wet pure joy.
While our boys would continue on (albeit temporarily), our World Cup was unfortunately over. Of course there were more flight delays on the way home, but it was almost sentimental at that point. Sleeping on an airport floor had become second nature. I knew the trip was really over when I emailed my boss from the Houston airport Saturday morning saying “by the way, I’m going to need Tuesday off.”
I hope you’ve been watching what has been an amazing tournament so far. For me, it’s time to start getting ready for Russia 2018. Maybe I’ll see some of you there?!