Note: This is part three of a series about my world cup trip. Read part one here about Natal and USA/Ghana, part two about Porto de Galinhas and Costa Rica Italy here, part three about Manaus, Sao Paulo, Natal and USA/Portugal, Chile/Netherlands and Uruguay/Italy, or the entire series here.
After recuperating in Porto de Galinhas on the 25th, it was game day again. USA. Germany. It had been raining off and on on the 25th, but that night, the skies opened up with a torrential, tropical downpour. We called it an early night so we could leave early the next morning for the 1pm game, 70km away in Recife.
We left Porto de Galinhas in a torrential downpour at 9am. We’d planned to drive to a bar near the stadium to meet up with more US fans, but we weren’t sure how the traffic would be, so we bought some tailgating provisions. We attempted to buy raincoats, or even just garbage bags, but the grocery store employees just laughed at us.
We covered the first 40km through the pounding rain fairly easily, but it took about double the time that we expected. We were amazed by the standing water on the road, but we made it through. Little did we know that this minor delay would seem like tiny puddles two hours later.
There are two “highways” that lead to the Arena Pernambuco and we decided to follow the shortest route. Two hundred meters after we merged with the direct highway, traffic completely stopped. I looked at google maps to check traffic and saw, for the first time in my life, black roads. I’d seen red and dark red, but never black. It was about 10am and after a quick check of Google maps, we decided that we would try the other highway. I maneuvered the car across three lanes of stopped traffic and took a “do it yourself” off ramp that brazilians had created and turned onto a small neighborhood street.
As soon as I turned, I saw the problem. The street was flooded. The large speed bumps that are a (maddening) fixture of Brazilian side streets were completely covered. Recife streets are not equipped to deal with torrential downpours. There’s no drainage. No storm sewers. Just potholed streets. Mud. And massive amounts of traffic. If it weren’t for the world cup, I would never have tried to cross the flooded streets. I would have called it a day and gone home.
When we finally got through the neighborhood and reached the other highway, we were greeted with stopped traffic. We needed to get 1km and move onto the other highway. But it didn’t work. We were trapped. It was 11am and we were getting worried that we wouldn’t make it to the game. We saw multiple US fans abandoning their cars on the sides of the street, in people’s front yards, anywhere they could park, and running to the metro, which amazingly, was still running.
We debated leaving the car, but we weren’t sure it would be there when we came back and decided to try to get to the airport, about 5km away. When we finally got to the freeway onramp, we realized the real problem: the entire freeway was completely flooded. The police had blocked the freeway and were starting to block the on ramp. We had a make or break decision: leave the car or make a break for it before the police blocked the road.
Other cars were attempting to drive through the 2-3 foot deep water. Some were making it. Others needed to be pushed. I took a poll of my friends in the car and we decided to make a a break for it before the police could close off the road. Just as we were about to start driving, a massive tour bus decided to ford the river. I followed, as the bus parted the waters and allowed our car to go through. And still we barely made it. I felt the car losing traction under us, but we made it. We navigated four more flood covered streets and finally made it to the airport, parked the car and tried to get onto the metro.
It was absolutely packed, but it was working! Hot. Humid. Sweaty. But at least we had cold beers. After a 45 minute subway ride, it was 1240 and we were dropped off a mile and a half from the stadium where we had to get on a bus. We were greeted with a 500 person line to buy $2 bus tickets. If we waited in line, we would miss the game.
To get most things done in Brazil, all you have to do is ask. I ran up to a security guard and asked if there was a way to get a bus ticket without standing in line. He pointed me to a few guys selling tickets and we skipped the entire line, getting on the bus after a few minutes. As soon as I finished my purchase, I yelled “you don’t have to wait in line, buy your tickets here!”, setting off a mini stampede.
We finally made it to the stadium just as the first ball was kicked, in the constant torrential downpour. 4 hours to go 70km. We had amazing seats in the 4th row, just on the top of the 18 yard box. Germany were impressive, but the US held off the attack for 55 minutes, but the Germans put in a goal off a set piece and held on to win 1-0. The crowd support was amazing, as both the US and Germany brought about 20,000 fans each. As the game ended and we realized that the US was through, we continued to cheer in the rain, celebrating with the team.
The route back to Porto de Galinhas was treacherous, but we made it back safely. We were almost run off the road by a semi truck that got surprised when his lane ended abruptly, as is custom. We saw a Jeep driving through water that was over his headlights. But we made it back. We spent the next two days on the beach, enjoying the sun.
We took a few hours off from the beach and went to a bar to watch Chile vs. Brazil. Tiago and I decided to watch the game with some taxi drivers we met in their hangout/bar. They had amazing grilled meat for lunch and cheap beers readily available.
We entered the taxi driver betting pool as the only non taxi drivers and the only people who thought Chile had a chance. When the game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes, we were the only ones celebrating, as Tiago took the pot. We bought the taxi drivers a round of beer and became close friends. Chile gave Brazil all they could handle, but came inches short of pulling it off in one of the best games of the tournament.
On the 29th, we headed back to the stadium for Greece against the upstart Costa Ricans. This time we had no problems getting to the stadium and the weather was perfect. We had two extra tickets to sell so we bought beers outside the stadium and talked with fans trying to get rid of tickets. After an hour, we finally were able to sell for half of face value. As an aside, you could have gotten in for face value or below for about half of the games I went to, with only Chile/Netherlands significantly over face and Italy/Uruguay and USA/Germany 2x over face.
The Costa Rican fans were so excited to be in the round of 16 and showed it the entire game. They sang, danced and chanted throughout the entire match. It was fairly boring until Costa Rica scored a great team goal and the Greeks had to come out of their shell. A Costa Rican red card right in front of us (we were in the first row), turned the game on its head. The Greeks tried and tried, throwing everything at Costa Rica, but terrible finishing and an unbelievable effort from the Costa Rica keeper kept them out until the dying seconds. After extra time, some of the Costa Ricans, who had been defending with 10 men for 60+ minutes, completely collapsed.
We got lucky and the penalty shootout was right in front of us, so we had first row seats to see Costa Rica advance. Costa Ricans were running around the stadium, celebrating, going crazy. They couldn’t really believe they’d made the quarterfinals. But they deserved it!
After five days in Porto de Galinhas, I was ready to move on. We left the stadium to begin the last leg of the trip: driving from Recife to Salvador. And again, we almost didn’t make it.