On the morning of 20th, we left Natal at 6am in our rental car, hoping to make it to Recife in time to grab a bite to eat and have a few pregame beers before the 1pm kickoff. We drove through sugar cane fields and beautiful rolling hills and made it to the outskirts of Recife by 10am, but quickly realized that things would be different as we got closer to the city.
Traffic stopped, so we took a local road, speed bumps, potholes and all, across the city to get closer to the stadium. We’d finally made it through what we thought was the worst of it, but all the sudden, traffic just stopped completely. We were within 6km of the stadium, but we just weren’t moving. I shut off the car. Brazilians got out of the their cars in the blazing heat to sit in the shade. Food vendors appeared out of nowhere. We sat for a good hour and then were finally moving again. It was the first time I’d ever seen black on google maps traffic.
We finally got to the front of the line and realized the holdup: the police were blocking the road and letting the cars on the road we were trying to merge with go. We were unlucky and had to wait another 30 minutes. A side note about the police. They’re scary guys. They have massive automatic weapons, battle armor and look like they know how to use it. And that they want to use it.
The policemen at a completely non threatening road block had their fingers about a half inch from the triggers of their guns and brandished them at anyone who dared ask what was going on. It’s no wonder that at least 2000 people are killed by Brazilian police each year. The ultimate reason for the blockade was that the Italian team bus was running late, so they needed a traffic free route to the stadium.
The bus finally passed and we were on our way again. The Recife stadium is beautiful, but it’s about 30 minutes outside of the city, really in the middle of nowhere. Even though there’s nothing around, we had to park about 2 miles from the stadium and take a bus to the stadium. Why? Because FIFA mandated it. Some Brazilians just pulled over on the highway and walked to the game rather than pay $20 per car, plus $5 per person to park and ride.
The stadium itself is beautiful and a great place to see the game. We had tickets in the 2nd level in the corner and watched at Costa Rica picked apart Italy, leading to a beautiful goal. The Costa Rican fans could hardly believe it and continued to sing the entire game. Games like that are one of the reasons I love the world cup. A tiny country of about 4.5m can take on a world soccer power like Italy and dominate.
After the game we drove to Porto De Galinhas, but had to do some offroading to even get out of the stadium. Brazil hadn’t finished all of the onramps, so we had to go under a bridge on a dirt road, through a quasi favela, and then pull onto the highway via the shoulder. This entire maneuver took at least an hour, but we were finally on our way. We were running out of gas as we got to Porto de Galinhas, but were too tired and hungry to stop. Instead, we checked into our Airbnb house and went out in search of food.
Nearly everywhere we went, we found “gaucho style” dining: a salad, veggie and potato bar, plus all kinds of cuts of meat for a fixed price. It was a great way to eat well without spending a ton of money. We had our first experience in Porto de Galinhas, where we paid $15 for all you can eat meat, plus fejoada (black beans), farofa (a grain that you put on meat, rice and beans), veggies and salad. We’d have variations on this meal at least 10 more times on our trip. It’ll be one of the things I most miss about Brazil when I’m back in Chile.
The next morning we explored the beach. It was an absolutely beautiful day on one of Brazil’s best beaches. We set up shop under a beach umbrella and ordered a caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, and laid back to take it all in. One of my favorite parts about Brazilian beaches in the north are the food vendors. They bring full lobsters, crabs, fresh fish, meat skewers, fresh fruit, coconut waters, tapioca fried cheese and more. You never have to leave your seat.
The water was warm, tropical blue, with just the right amount of waves to play in. After multiple caipirinhas and a full day at the beach, we headed back to our house. The car still needed gas, but we weren’t going to drive that night, so we didn’t bother. That decision would be very important about 10 hours later on my way to Manaus and the USA-Portugal game.