This guys level of enthusiasm was, uh,  intoxicating.

Sunday | June 22, 2014 (Match Day)

Today is going to be a long day and so this will be quite a long post when all is said and done.  This morning we’re going on a 1/2-day Amazon River boat tour, and of course later in the day is the pivotal Group G match between the U.S.A. and Portugal.  Since we’re attending our first World Cup here, it’s also the first time we’ll get to see the USMNT play in a real World Cup match.  Needless to say, Carlie and I are both very excited–and perhaps a bit on edge about it all.

First up was breakfast.  The hotel breakfast in Manaus was perhaps our least favorite compared to the other places we’ve visited.  The coffee was good, but the eggs were super-runny (soupy, almost) and the bacon seemed only to incorporate the fatty part, and was the opposite of crispy. The fruits on offer were also a bit less attractive than the other cities we visited too, including the ba-nay-nays, which for the first time I did not sample. That’s saying something, since like coffee they are literally hard-wired into my daily routine. They did have good cereal though, and Carlie found the bread for toasting to be very good.  Oddly though, the bread was completely “crustless”, and brought back some fond memories of the crust-removal procedures that used to be necessary to prepare an acceptable sandwich for young Carlie.

Breakfast buffet at the Caesar Business Hotel in Manaus.
Breakfast buffet at the Caesar Business Hotel in Manaus.
Wheat and white bread, sans crust.
Wheat and white bread, sans crust.
Carlie enjoying some cereal, and especially the crustless toast.
Carlie enjoying some cereal, and especially the crustless toast.

Immediately following breakfast we met our Amazon River guide Rodolpho for the ride to the Porto Negro, the main port in Manaus. The Amazon River does not actually flow right here at the port but the river that does, the Rio Negro, intersects with the Amazon River just a short boat ride away. There is a lively fish market here at the port, with most species coming from the warmer waters of the Rio Negro, as opposed to the colder waters of the Amazon. More on this in a moment.

Sampling of native fish at the dock.  There were probably 15 of these stalls there.
Sampling of native fish at the dock. There were probably 15 of these stalls there, including one full of catfish (UH EEEW!)
Jeff & Carlie with Rodolpho Emanuel from Amazon Destinations
Jeff & Carlie with Rodolpho Emanuel, our tour guide from Amazon Destinations.

Those of you who have seen what I’m about to describe regarding the meeting of these two rivers can skip to the next paragraph.  

Known locally as the Encontro das Aguas, or the Meeting of the Waters, is the place where the Rio Negro, which flows from the swamplands and low hills of the Northeastern Amazon, meets the Amazon River, which flows from the Andes. The Rio Negro carries with it an abundance of decomposed plant life, and is therefore very dark in color and highly acidic, while the Amazon carries mostly soil and silt, has very low acidity, and takes on very light brown color. Since it’s not chemically possible for the creamy, alkaline waters of the Amazon to absorb the dark, highly acidic waters of the Rio Negro right away, the two rivers literally run side-by-side for several miles (as far as the eye can see), making for some startling photographs and quite a few “What the heck?” comments. We were by ourselves with Rodolpho, so it was really just us saying it, but I presume you may have the same reaction.

The Meeting of the Waters.  Get it now?
The Meeting of the Waters. Get it now?
This is from a little farther away, and you can see the well-defined line separating the two rivers.
This is from farther away, and you can see the well-defined line where the darker and light waters collide, but don’t mix.

Having sufficiently taken in the Encontro das Aguas, we set off down the Amazon River. Our vessel was fairly small, and while I would not necessarily describe it as a “speed boat”, we did speed along at a pretty good clip. Call it 25 knots. You can get some idea what this thing looked like from the photo below.

Thankfully this speedy little vessel had a roof.
Thankfully this speedy little craft had a roof.
Our boat captain totally reminded us of Papi Schultz (RIP).
Our boat captain totally reminded us of Papi Schultz (RIP).

Rodolpho’s English was excellent, by the way, so in addition to describing the “science” behind the Meeting of the Waters, we were able to discuss the various options in terms of what else we could see in the 4-hour timeframe we had. We settled on visiting a few of the many “floating villages” situated along the numerous “tributaries” (for lack of the proper word) that run off the main river, as well as the giant lily pads and some Amazonian “wildlife”.

While at first glance the structures in the floating villages may appear to rest on wooden stilts (and some earlier ones were, apparently), they’re actually built right on top of what appear to be enormous logs that float up and down with the level of the river. As explained by Rodolpho, there is no concept of winter and summer in the Amazon—or anywhere else this close to the equator—only the wet season and the dry season. For residents, this simply means they and their homes ride the rainy season up and the dry season down. Perhaps even more remarkable than the floating nature of the residential construction is the fact that electricity has arrived here, and satellite TV; you can see the partially submerged utility poles running along the river behind the homes, along with the occasional satellite dish.

Cruising up towards one of the Floating Villages.
Cruising up towards one of the Floating Villages.
The local public school, floating of course.
The local public school, floating of course.
The school boat, of course.
The school boat, of course.
One of our favorite houses we saw along the way.
One of our favorite houses we saw along the way (the satellite dish is on the far left side)..

We had to keep reminding ourselves that the water in these off-river channels recedes significantly as the dry season approaches, to the point where much of the area can be traversed on foot, and at which time residents could literally walk right out of their “floating” homes on to dry land. That would be a good time to paint the house, come to think of it, fix any leaks down below, and maybe even do some yard work! It’s definitely a difficult concept for desert-dwellers to wrap their minds around.

We also saw one of the tallest trees in the Amazon. Like everything else around it, the tree is partially submerged and appears to be growing right out of the water. And of course there were the giant lily pads. If you could look underneath them you would see their thick “trunks”, with 2” to 3” “shoot” going off in multiple directions, one for each “pad”. When you see a branch with a little flower poking out of the water, that’s the beginning of a brand new pad. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

One of the tallest trees in the Amazon.
One of the tallest trees in the Amazon.
A family of giant lily pads.
A family of giant lily pads.
Giant lily pads.
One of the most perfect giant lily pads we saw.  The little flower you see is the beginning of a new pad.
Rodolpho said this old church was built on stilts, before the waters starting rising to unimagined heights.
Rodolpho said this old church was built on stilts, before the waters starting rising to unimagined heights.
While this looks like a flood, it's typical for the time of year.
While this looks like a flood, it’s typical for the time of year.

One of the advantages of our smaller craft was its ability to go “off river” into very narrow channels to see areas of shallow waters that are only accessible by foot during the dry season. Swamps, essentially, but not in the way we traditionally think of them. Take a look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean. We also took video of the boat going into and out of this area, and the movie will likely incorporate some of it.

Entrance to a little cove.  Even our small boat was a tight fit.
Entrance to a little cove. Even our small boat was a tight fit.
Once inside it opens up.  There was this cool tree, and we heard toucans (but did not see them).
Once inside it opens up. There was this cool tree, and we heard some toucans squawking, but could not see them.
Snack time on the Amazon (must be 10:00 AM).
Snack time on the Amazon (must be 10:00 AM).

For the wildlife component of the tour we were met out on the river by a group of kids in a small boat who earn money by pulling up alongside the tour boats with various native creatures on display. The one that came over to our boat featured a few crocodiles (including a little baby), an anaconda and a sloth (UH EEEW!).

Cute little croc.
Cute little crocodile.  There was a little baby on the bottom of the boat, just out of the frame.
Anaconda
Anaconda that, allegedly, wouldn’t choke me to death if I draped it around my neck.
Sloth
A sloth.  Always wondered what these looked like, and know I know.  Forgot to count its toes, but I’m guessing two.

The crocodiles’ jaws were tied shut, and while we had the opportunity to hold any and all of these creatures, we opted out.  Getting home in one piece has been a priority from Day 1 of this trip, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I also decided that I just didn’t really need this on my resumé, and neither did Carlie. I also don’t like small planes and will never skydive or bungee-jump, which means I’m not adventurous. I also still have a Blackberry.

Another quick stop we made was to the floating home of a family that keeps a small (call it 10’ x 20’) cage of native fish right off their dock. Rodolpho knows them well, and for a few Reais they’ll bait a few lines (no hook, just bait) and let you drop it in the water. You’re not fishing, but rather feeding, and these are some really big—and hungry—fish. When they hit that bait you feel a jolt strong enough to rip the thick wooden “rod” right out of your hands. You’re expecting it, of course, but you’ve no idea when it will come; it could take just a few seconds, or 15 or 20, but no matter when it happens it’s still a bit of shock. As long as you’re bracing yourself for it, with the pole at the proper angle and seated firmly against your body, you too can become proficient at this.

Carlie getting some instruction, and Rodolpho getting a big hit.
Carlie receiving instruction, and Rodolpho getting a big hit.

We bought a couple of waters and a few hand-made souvenirs too, which seemed like the right thing to do under the circumstances. I also asked if I could use their bathroom. I could have held it, of course, but I just had to see what sort of plumbing comes with a floating house. And so I was shown to the rear of what is essentially a floating pier with a house on it, and there it was, in all its glory and splendor: A separate little poop shack, with real-live plumbing. I was too embarrassed to ask the obvious “routing” question, so if anyone knows the answer please let me know.

The little poop shack.
The little poop shack out back.
Amazon RIver plumbing.
Amazon RIver indoor plumbing (typical).

For our final stop on the tour we visited a floating restaurant with a nice souvenir shop, where Carlie picked up some bracelets for the “friend group” and a few other Amazonian trinkets.

Everything floats out here, including this restaurant and souvenir shop.
Everything floats out here, including this restaurant and souvenir shop.
DIning room of the floating restaurant.
DIning room of the floating restaurant.
Carlie scouting for some souves.
Carlie scouting for some souves to bring back.

We took well over 200 photos during our river tour, and while those posted here don’t tell the whole story, hopefully they give you a good sense for the place.

Needless to say, we were both blown away by our “Amazon River Experience”, which was truly one of the highlights of our trip. For anyone planning to go, we booked our tour through Amazon Destinations – Private Tours, who can be found at either www.amazondestinations.com.br or www.ToursByLocals.com. You can also contact our tour guide, Rodolpho Emanuel, directly with any questions at: rodolphoemanuel02@hotmail.com. Rodolpho was excellent, and we highly recommend him.

As if we could hope for any more excitement in one day, it was only 12:00 Noon when Rodolpho dropped us back at our hotel, and we still had a certain soccer match to attend later in the afternoon. USA vs. POR was set to kick-off at 6:00 PM local time, and wanting to be in our seats by no later than 4:30 PM or so, we set off from the hotel just after 3:30 PM. Carlie decided to get a little more creative with the face paint for this game; I assumed she would go with the traditional red, white and blue stripes, like she applied for Spain, but she ultimately elected to go with mini U.S. flags, and a #19 for her favorite player (and crush), Graham Zusi. This took a bit longer to apply than expected, but as you can see below it was well worth the effort.

Face paint on and ready to go.
Face paint on and ready to go.
Side view, showing Graham Zusi's jersey #.
Side view, showing Graham Zusi’s jersey #.
Leaving the hotel for the walk to Arena Amazonia.
Leaving the hotel for the walk to Arena Amazonia.

Of the four arenas on our match schedule, Arena Amazonia was the only venue walking distance from our hotel. It was only about a mile about a mile away, and involved only a couple of turns, so it was our best option. As it turned out, once we walked a short distance from the hotel we found all of the streets closed to traffic anyway, so from that point on we walked along with the rest of the crowd. The regular and military police were on full display pretty much everywhere you looked, and their presence seemed to keep the crowds in order. They were actually checking for match tickets at all of the street closings, and unless you had one you weren’t allowed through.

Pretty much anywhere you went, a show of force like this was on display.
Pretty much everywhere you went, a show of force like this was on display.  Seemed to do the trick as far as we can tell.

There’s a thing about gas stations in Brazil that we don’t have in the U.S., at least not anywhere I’ve been, and it’s the allocation of space for tables and chairs for people who just want to hang out, eat and drink. Kind of like we do in the U.S., only in bars. We first encountered this at the BR filling station near our hotel in Salvador, which not only had two separate seating areas with flat screen TV’s, but also a fully-staffed “deli counter” of sorts, offering pastries, empanadas and the like. We saw such a place along to route to the arena in Manaus, in this case a Shell station, with a huge crowd of people imbibing inside and out.

Gas Station
The party raged on at the Shell station closest to the arena.
Carlie just outside the arena before we went in.
Carlie just outside the arena before we went in.

We made it to the arena shortly after 4:00 PM, and found the hot sun was beating down on our seats. We promptly retreated to the cover of the concourse, and got in line for some cold “refreshments”. Refreshments and souvenir cups in hand—and with an hour and a half until kick-off, we wandered out on to the outdoor plaza to take in some of the revelry.

This guys level of enthusiasm was, uh,  intoxicating.
This fan won the featured pic contest with his “intoxicating” level of enthusiasm.

With game time approaching and our section now in the shade, we returned to our seats and got settled in. I never win anything, and am generally skeptical of “no purchase necessary” contests, but the couple right next to us was there courtesy of Degree (the deodorant), who sponsor Clint Dempsey. They pointed out at least a dozen other people in our section who had won the same contest, which included tickets to all three U.S.A group stage matches, flights, transfers, hotels, meals, tours, etc. Pretty much the whole ball of wax, with the only issue being they found out they were going on June 3rd, so about two weeks prior to departure. Perhaps it’s not quite the big scam I assumed it was; I use Ban though, so I’m probably out of luck for 2018.

Behind one of the goals, where fans getting tickets through U.S. Soccer were sitting.
The pitch at Arena Amazonia (USA vs. POR).
The pitch at Arena Amazonia (USA vs. POR)
Behind one of the goals, where U.S.A. fans who got tickets through U.S. Soccer were sitting.
Graham Zusi during warm-ups (USA vs. POR).
Graham Zusi during warm-ups (USA – POR)
Christiano Ronaldo - perhaps a bit too much space?
Christiano Ronaldo – perhaps just a bit too much space?
Too bad he couldn't have been right6 here in the last minute of stoppage time.
Too bad he couldn’t have been right here in the last minute of stoppage time.

I’m thinking no one really wants to relive the details of what happened at the very end of bonus minute of 2nd half stoppage time, so I shant analyze what happened, criticize who allowed it to happen or hypothesize about how it could have happened differently in an alternate universe. Instead I will leave you with three positive thoughts, the kind of thoughts the guys need to have as they head into Thursday’s match against Germany:

  1. The voodoo hex that Ghana seemed to have on us, the on everyone fretted would extend to a third consecutive World Cup, is no more. Ghana received zero points from their match with us in Natal. This is precisely the result that, after the December draw, everyone said was necessary for the U.S. to have any hope of advancing out of the so-called “Group of Death”;
  2. Despite the heartbreaking draw with Portugal, we were the better team on the field on Sunday in Manaus. Yes, we could have been even better by eliminating costly errors, but no team is immune from this. They never gave up, came from behind and brought a very good team to the brink of elimination. They still got a positive result, and like with Ghana, it was precisely the result that, after the December draw, everyone felt was necessary (and realistic) for the U.S. to have any chance of advancing; and
  3. No matter what happens on Thursday in Recife, in just two matches this young and exciting group of players has already done so much to continue increasing their national following.  Nearly 25 million people tuned in to watch the U.S.A. – Portugal match, not including the countless fans that either streamed the game or watched in bars, restaurants and other group viewing sites. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same number of viewers who tuned in to watch the 2014 BCS Championship game.

Good teams don’t let bad things that happen define them, and I believe the USMNT has the leadership, character and fortitude to overcome what happened in Manaus.  So even though there remains at least some chance that the USMNT’s 2014 World Cup run come to an end on Thursday, I’m certain of one thing. They will give everything they have to the game, and regardless of the result will do our nation proud.  One Nation. One Team.

Now that we’ve been to an actual FIFA World Cup match involving the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s become abundantly clear that our respective wardrobes are woefully inadequate.  With that in mind, for anyone searching for gift ideas we’ve provided a short list of the items we lack, followed by some pictorial examples:

  • “Rocky” style bathrobe, suitable for indoor / outdoor use;
  • Wife-beater tee, in stars and stripes, naturally;
  • U.S. Flag pants (and shorts, for warmer weather);
  • Red white and blue knee socks;
  • Enormous Uncle Sam hats; and
  • More face paint, lots of face paint
I didn't see his face, but I'm pretty sure he had the "Eye of the Tiger".
I didn’t see his face, but I’m pretty sure he had the “Eye of the Tiger”.
Definitely gotta get me one of these for those hot summer days.
A matching do-rag would have been a nice accent piece.
I think I love these fancy pants almost as much as Larry's.
I think I like these fancy pants almost as much as I like Larry’s Pants.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading, and please accept my apologies for the very long post.  I hope you enjoyed it…

I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!

I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!

I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!

.

Carlie with Dallas (L) and Steve (R) Fox at the U.S. Soccer "Night Before" party.

Saturday | June 21, 2014

Today is another travel day, taking us from São Paulo to the city of Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon. We have tickets to see U.S.A. vs. Portugal at Arena Amazonia, a pivotal group stage match if the U.S. of A is to keep its knockout stage hopes alive. And so it was that we met our 6:30 AM wake-up call a bit more eagerly than usual, performed the final packing procedures and after another delicious breakfast headed to the airport for our 9:30 AM departure. This will be our final stop in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, and our goal is to leave Manaus wearing big smiles (and hopefully clean clothes too!).

Saturday morning breakfast.  Texting 'n stuff?
Saturday AM breakfast. Texting ‘n stuff?
I'll take that as a yes.  Attitude 'n stuff?
I’ll take that as a yes. Attitude ‘n stuff?

After a modest attitude adjustment Carlie took some great video with the GoPro as we descended into the Amazon, right around mid-day, through some of the largest and puffiest clouds we’ve ever seen. She’s going to edit our 2 weeks of Brazil footage down into a movie, using the skills she acquired during her junior year elective class in Video Production over at Brophy. The executive producer hasn’t committed to a release date yet, so the photos I snapped during our descent will have to suffice for now.

The Executive Producer watching someone else's movie, the Wolf of Wall Street.
The Executive Producer watching someone else’s movie, the Wolf of Wall Street.
Descent into Manaus - Rain forest for days...
Descent into Manaus – Rain forest for days…
Descent into Manaus - first glimpse of river.
Descent into Manaus – first glimpse of river.

With the game being Sunday at 6:00 PM, we had Saturday afternoon and evening, and the first part of Sunday, to be tourists in Manaus. We had already booked a ½-day Amazon River boat tour for Sunday morning, and also had registered for the private “Night Before” party for U.S. Soccer Supporters Club Members Saturday evening. So in reality we didn’t really have all that much down time to fill, and of course there was the Germany vs. Ghana match set for Saturday afternoon.

The Caesar Business Hotel.  A high-rise hotel built in 2010, in the middle of the Amazon.
The Caesar Business Hotel; a high-rise hotel built in 2010, in the middle of the Amazon.
View our hotel in Manaus, from the opposite end of the pool.
View our hotel in Manaus, from the opposite end of the pool (restaurant in background).
Hotel room in Manuas, very nice, but on the views, not so much
Our hotel room in Manuas, Amazonia.  Very nice, but on the views, not so much (that’s an abandoned building you see.
Our hotel room at the Caesar Business Hotel in Manaus.  No biz was conducted, I promise.
Our hotel room at the Caesar Business Hotel in Manaus. No biz was conducted, I promise.

After about five nanoseconds of discussion, we decided to wander around the indoor shopping mall just two blocks from our hotel for a bit, find lunch and return in time for the 4:00 PM kick-off of the GER vs. GHA match.

Laid out along a main spine with more branches than we could count, the Amazona Shopping Mall was enormous, although we only recognized the Havaiana shop, and of course Bob’s Burgers, where we ended up having lunch. On the way out we found a place selling Paninis, so of course we re-loaded. Carlie’s Panini is about 90% complete, which means there are about 65 or so blank spaces she still needs to fill. The stack of dupes is growing, so she will make an excellent trading partner for someone out there.

Back at the hotel, we were of course pulling for Germany to deny Ghana any points at all out of this match, and after a scoreless first half it did appear we may get our wish when Mario Götze put them ahead shortly after the break. Our joy was only temporary though, as Ghana equalized just a few minutes later, and somewhat unexpectedly went up a goal about 10 minutes after that. Turning to one of his veterans in a time of need, Joachim Löw subbed in Miroslav Klose, one of my favorite German players and my second most favorite one to pronounce—the first of course being…

SCHVINE-SCHTIGER!!!

Within less than two minutes of Klose coming on, he delivered the equalizer in record-tying fashion, equaling the 15 World Cup goal total of Brazilian striker Ronaldo, which he reached in Germany during the 2006 edition, against Ghana no less. He’s 36 years old now, and while he still plays professionally for Lazio in Italy’s Serie A, this is no doubt his final World Cup. If nothing else he ought to retire his customary flip, which he under-rotated a bit;  not nearly as impressive as his goal, and he came close to injury, I think.

After 20 or so more nerve-racking minutes, the final whistle came and the sea-saw match was over. In position to punch their ticket to the next round, Germany could only manage a draw, putting that much more pressure on the Americans to get a positive result in Manaus, and effectively eliminating the possibility they would face the German “B” squad in Recife on the 26th.

The Americans just need to take care of their own business on Sunday, and not rely too much on how the other chips fall in the group. With those positive thoughts in mind, we headed off to U.S. Soccer’s Night Before party, where we were to meet up with Steve Fox, an Estate Planning attorney in Scottsdale, AZ and his 14-year old son Dallas. Steve is very good friends with one of our neighbors back home (Michael and Janice Blake), and when Michael heard Carlie and I were headed to Brazil, he made the connection for us before we left.

Carlie with Dallas (L) and Steve (R) Fox at the U.S. Soccer "Night Before" party.
Carlie with Dallas Fox (L) and his father Steve (R) at the U.S. Soccer “Night Before” party.

The party was raucous and in full-swing when we arrived around 6:30 PM, and with the GoPro headstrap on for most of it, you will be able to get a good feel for the revelry when the movie is released. Since the party was organized by the U.S. Soccer Federation, it only made sense that there would be some VIPs and player family members in attendance. As you can see below, Carlie managed a very nice photo op with Sunil Gulati, President of the U.S. Soccer Federation and, in effect, Jurgen Klinsmann’s boss.

U.S. Soccer Supporters "Night Before" party in Manaus.
U.S. Soccer Supporters “Night Before” party in Manaus.
Carlie with Sunil Gulati, President of the U.S. Soccer Federation, at the Supporters Party.
Carlie with Sunil Gulati, President of the U.S. Soccer Federation, at the Supporters Party.
Lighting wasn't so good for photos, but we did get some good GoPro footage.
The lighting wasn’t ideal for photos, but we did get some pretty good GoPro footage of the revelry .

In addition to “enjoying” the ear-splitting house music in the main hall (there was a quieter patio area outside if you wanted to have a conversation), and some excellent U.S. Soccer highlight videos, we were treated to an appearance on stage (and RAH! RAH! RAH! speech) by Pres. Gulati.

It was a lot of fun and we’re glad we went, but after spending a few hours enjoying the unique camaraderie that can only occur when people who’ve never met find themselves in a distant land supporting a common cause—we were hungry and peeled off to a Brazilian steakhouse called “Bufalo” for a late dinner.   Steve had been there the night before and recommended it,  but unfortunately there was a very long wait for a table (we didn’t actually plan this one out ahead of time), so we settled for room service back at the hotel.

Final Score: Germany 2 – Ghana 2

A special shout-out to the Bosnia-Herzegovina fans we sat with in Rio for the Argentina match:  Even though you were eliminated in a 1 – 0 loss to Nigeria tonight, your fans and your team did your nation very proud.  Good luck, and we hope to see you again in 2018.  Your spirited cheer still rings in our ears…

BOS-NA!

 BOS-NA!  

BOS-NA!

View from 20th floor lounge (Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo)

Friday | June 20, 2014

Some days you really look forward to sleeping in, and this was one of them. For me this means something different than it does for Carlie (and most other people), so while she was in full slumber I was up in the Gold Passport Executive Lounge on the 20th floor enjoying my morning Java (and “blogging”).   I didn’t want to miss out on the hotel breakfast downstairs though (6:30 to 10:30), so I went down and roused the sleeping beauty around 10:00 AM, and we made it down just in time to partake of the sumptuous spread there.

View from 20th floor lounge (Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo)
View from 20th floor lounge (Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo)
Breakfast spread at the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo
Breakfast spread at the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo.
Carlie getting some cereal
Carlie getting some cereal and perusing the buffet.

We talked about venturing out to see what we could of São Paulo in a ½-day, but the hotel was soooooo nice, and also a safe haven, what with the Policia Militare stationed outside around the clock.  The hotel also had a great upstairs bar, with numerous TV’s and a decent food menu. It wasn’t too close of a call, and with tomorrow being another travel day up to Manaus the soccer won out. It’s the World Cup, after all, so after Carlie’s workout and showers we settled in for the 1:00 PM match (Italy vs. Costa Rica) over lunch.

From our front-row seats at the Upstairs Bar (Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo)
From our front-row seats at the Upstairs Bar (Grand Hyatt)
Mini-burgers and beef empanadas from the Upstairs Bar
Mini-burgers and beef empanadas from the Upstairs Bar

They had a special going on at the bar designed to introduce foreigners to Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha (pronounced “Ky-pa-reen-ya”).  These are made with cachaça (sugar cane hard liquor), sugar and lime. A cousin of the Mojito (one of my personal favorites), we both found the Caipirinha’s to be a bit too strong for our taste. The “finish” was very nice though (intensely “limey”) once the heat from the alcohol subsided.

The Upstairs Bar.  If you look closely out the window you can see the famous Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge.
The Upstairs Bar. If you look closely out the window you can see part of the famous Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge.
Carlie's first Caipirinha (see one of the free "muddlers" bottom right).
Carlie’s first Caipirinha (one of the free “muddlers” can be seen in the bottom right hand corner).

We received a couple of free “muddlers” (the wooden tools you mash the lime and sugar together with) and a little cachaça to bring back with us, so we’ll have to try this at home, but perhaps with a bit of water added.

We were so comfy and well situated, and enjoyed the exciting match—and somewhat surprising 1 – 0 win by Costa over Italy—to such an extent that we stayed for the entire 4:00 PM match (France vs. Switzerland) too, over snacks, of course. Plus which we had struck up a conversation with the nice couple at the table next to us, who of course were from Phoenix (Encanto, to be exact). True soccer fans (he’s a Brit born in Liverpool and was following England), they had traveled all the way to São Paulo (and elsewhere) with their newborn, who was at that perfectly portable stage.

After France’s 5 -2 drubbing of the Swiss we felt like we needed a change of scenery, so we went back to the room to get organized and semi-packed before settling in for the 7:00 PM match.   We had adjoining rooms there, so we watched from the sitting room in my suite. It was Ecuador vs. Honduras though, and as we had only a passing interest in the result, Carlie mostly worked on her Panini while I mostly worked on the “travel blog”.

P-Wags multi-tasking (World Cup blogging and World Cup watching)
P-Wags multi-tasking (World Cup blogging and watching).

By about halftime Carlie’s frequent eater program resumed, so we ordered up a grilled ham and cheese , along with some ice cream.  Yup, food, drink and soccer was pretty much what today was all about.  Having had pretty much all the above (and excitement) we could possibly stand, we turned in around 10:00 PM in order to more easily manage the 6:30 AM wake-up call we had set up for our trip up to Manaus.

Final score: Ecuador 2 – Honduras 1

 

 

screen w ball

Thursday | June 19, 2014 (Match Day)

As a follow-up to the post immediately following Spain’s elimination, it occurred to me how unfortunate it is that the last meaningful game in Group B, between Chile and Holland, won’t be a must-win game for either team, as it will only be to determine who gets Brazil and who gets either Mexico or Croatia in the Round of 16. That seems like plenty to play for, but it just isn’t the same as a knockout game, when the whole crowd is sitting on a knife-edge. We’ll be watching anyway.

Our early morning flight from Rio to São Paulo arrived on time at 6:30 AM.  It was much cooler (and cloudier) here than in either Salvador or Rio, but at least it wasn’t raining, although it was threatening.   We had organized a car transfer with the hotel, found our driver right away and headed to the Grand Hyatt, our home-away-from-home for the next two nights. Today is another match day for us (England vs. Uruguay), and fortunately we were able to check in right away and catch another 3 hours of sleep.

My room at the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo
My room at the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo
Carlie's adjoining room (and Carlie) at the Grand Hyatt Sao Paulo
Carlie (and her Paninis) in her adjoining room
The sitting room in my sweet (desk and TV not visible)
The separate sitting area in my room  (desk / TV not visible)

These are by far the finest accommodations we’ve enjoyed so far, and we took full advantage of the hotel restaurant to re-fuel with a very nice lunch after our “naps”.

Pre-match lunch - refreshed and ready to dig in
Pre-match lunch – starving & ready to dig in
The Grand Hyatt had the best (and crustiest) bread.  Yum!
The Grand Hyatt had the best (and crustiest) bread. Yum!

Security around Arena Corinthians had been beefed up due to protestor concerns, and every street within a 3 km radius of the arena was closed to traffic. São Paulo traffic is apparently the worst in Brazil anyway, so upon the advice of the hotel we cancelled the car service they had arranged for us, and we opted for public transportation. Getting to the arena from our hotel required a short ride on the commuter rail and two different metro lines, and we found both to be clean, safe and efficient.

Carlie on the platform at Morumbi Station
Carlie on the platform at Morumbi Station near our hotel
There was plenty of signage once we connected to the Metro
FIFA had plenty of signage once we connected to the Metro
The Sao Paulo subway system is very clean and modern
The Sao Paulo subway system is very clean and modern.  What you see isn’t a train, but doors that open once the train pulls up (no way to fall onto the tracks).

As you can see from the photo above, FIFA put some signage in the Metro stations, which was good because: (a) we don’t speak Portuguese, and (b) we couldn’t exactly “Follow the Dutch” this time. Instead we followed the signs, and of course the Brits, who for the most part were easily recognizable. Here are some our favorites below, including one suited up like Sir Galahad, although more of the Monty Python variety.

Seeing guys like this gave us some comfort that we were headed in the right direction.
Seeing guys like this gave us some comfort that we were headed in the right direction.
Jeff and Sir Galahad, outside Arena Corinthians
Jeff and Sir Galahad, outside Arena Corinthians

Like Spain the night before, England did not get any points from its first match against Italy, so it was basically a must-win situation in terms of having a reasonable chance of advancing out of the Group D. Getting into the arena was a breeze, with no waiting at the metal detectors and x-ray machines. They had more than enough of them, so many in fact that many of the people working were just standing around. We settled into our seats, which with the exception of Spain vs. Netherlands were our best so far. Field level, 25 rows up and just inside the 18.

Arena Corinthians - Pre-game (England vs. Uruguay)
Arena Corinthians – Pre-game (England vs. Uruguay).
Jeff & Carlie at Arena Corinthians (pre-game)
Jeff & Carlie at Arena Corinthians (pre-game)
Starting Lineups - England vs. Uruguay
Starting 11′s for England vs. Uruguay (Arena Corinthians).
Corner kick from our seats (no zoom required)
Corner kick from our lower level seats (no zoom required).

Since a few our favorite players are from England, like Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard (DNP) and Welbeck, we were rooting for them to stay alive in the tournament. Although we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, it was an exciting game and we saw some fantastic goals.

Exhausted from the early travel day and the match, we opted for room service and settled in to watch Japan and Greece battle to a 0 – 0 draw. This even after the Greeks had been reduced to 10 men by way of a 38th minute red card, and Japan missed countless opportunities to score.

Final Score: Uruguay 2 – England 1

 

The detail seen on the "zoom-in" is incredible.

Wednesday | June 18, 2014 (Match Day)

Today was a match day for us (Spain vs. Chile at 4:00 PM), but we had a few things on the agenda ahead of the game. First up an early trip to Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer (2nd attempt), followed by lunch with our friends Loren Morales and his wife Diana, who were just arriving to Rio that morning. We also had the pleasure of meeting (and dining with) Loren’s brother Paul, another soccer fanatic who was accompanying Loren and Diana on the Morales World Cup circuit. Oh, and we also had to collect our laundry before departing for São Paulo the next morning.

As we had hoped, our second attempt on Corcovado was a success in terms of the weather. We weren’t aware there was a second option for getting to the top (we drove the first time, then rode a minibus a short way to the top), so when Marcos suggested it we readily agreed. The Trem do Corcovado (not an aerial tram, but rather a little funicular) begins in Cosme Velho and winds its way up the steep mountainside through the tropical Parque Nacional da Tijuca, dropping passengers right at the stairs to the summit.

Trem do Corcovado (station at bottom)
Trem do Corcovado (station at bottom in Cosme Velho).
Taken from tram, on the way way up to see "The Christ"
Taken from tram, on the way way up.

The rail option adds some additional time to the trip (the 2-½ mile ride takes about 20 minutes each way), but it was well worth it. As you can see from the photos below, upon arriving to the summit we found clear blue skies and were able to get some decent shots of the statue and the panoramic views below.

Christ the Redeemer, from just below and behind
Christ the Redeemer, from the stairs.
Christ the Redeemer, suitable for framing
Christ the Redeemer, suitable for framing
The detail seen on the "zoom-in" is incredible.
The detail seen on the “zoom-in” is incredible.
Solo shots are difficult at this popular landmark
Solo shots are difficult at this landmark.
Carlie posing correctly, and me doing the "airplane" thing
Carlie posing correctly, while I’m doing the “airplane” thing.
Cloudy below, but sunny up on Corcovado
Cloudy below, and sunny up  at the Corcovado summit.

By the time we reached the bottom it was a little after 9:00 AM, and of course Carlie was hungry. She switched on the snack radar and within a few nanoseconds had spotted the concession and locked in on the Pringooools. She had a healthy breakfast anyway, for what it’s worth.

We had breakfast at 7:00 AM, so it must be 9:00 AM already.
We had breakfast at 7:00 AM, so it must be 9:00 AM already.

Loren, Diana and Paul met us at our hotel and we took the short walk to a restaurant Marcos had recommended (Via Sete). Unfortunately they were full and we were short on time, so we walked across the street to Allesandro e Frederico (Rua Berta Lutz, 899) where we were able to sit right down. Carlie and Loren has previously agreed to bring their Paninis, so after ordering our lunch the “dupes” were pulled out and the trading frenzy got underway.

Some Panini trading over lunch in Rio
Loren & Carlie doing some Panini trading over lunch in Rio.
Lunch in Rio with Loren, Diana and Paul Morales
Lunch in Rio with Loren, Diana and Paul Morales.

Lunch was not as leisurely as we might have hoped, due to our need to make our way up to the arena in time for the 4:00 PM kick-off, so we agreed to give Via Sete another try for dinner later that evening. On to the match!

En route to Spain vs. Chile with Marcos
En route to Spain vs. Chile with Marcos.
front of stadium
Entrance to Estadio do Maracana for ESP vs. CHL

With Spain having already received a 5 -1 hammering by Holland, there was no getting around the fact that it was a “win or go home” scenario for Team Ramos. Carlie was quite confident they would rebound, and I supported the notion—if for no other reason than great teams usually rise to the occasion and win the games they must. 

Estadio do Maracana (view from our seats)
Estadio do Maracana (view from our seats)
Sergio Ramos, naturally
Sergio Ramos, naturally

What actually happened though was quite unexpected, with Spain going down a goal early, and never finding any of the rhythmic, prolonged possession and build-up for which their “tiki-taka” style of play is well known. Even consistent playmakers like Xabi Alonso and Iniesta looked off, and the whole team difficult to recognize—almost as if we had come to the wrong game.

Down 2 – 0 after Aránguiz’s goal in the 43rd minute, things were looking pretty bleak for La Roja, and nothing we saw gave us any hope it was going to get any better. The stretches of possession we’ve grown to expect from Spain were both too few and too fleeting; the crowd was definitively not on their side either. The sea of red at the Estádio do Maracanã was not for Spain, but for Chile. Clearly we did not have the right level of appreciation for how passionate (I’m being kind) the Chilean fans were about their team, or how many of them would show up, so this too was unexpected.

In America we tend to stand up and cheer a great play, or perhaps during pivotal moments, but then we sit back down and enjoy the action. In South America (and most of the rest of the soccer world), a cacophony of cheering, chanting and referee (and player) taunting and berating can be heard throughout the game—with little or no intermission. It’s entertaining, and the chants are often quite clever (when I can understand them), but it’s different. Maybe we need more of it in the U.S.

The sea of red, mixed in with some Brazilian yellow.
The sea of red, mixed in with some Brazilian yellow.

Spain needed to be great for this must-win game, and they just couldn’t summon the greatness. Chile did. Even if just one player dug deep and found something special, it could have changed the game, but no one did. Vargas and Aránguiz from Chile did. Chile and their fans got the win they deserved, and Spain got the early (and record-setting) exit they earned.

E-LIM-I-NA-DO! E-LIM-I-NA-DO! E-LIM-I-NA-DO!

That one is easy to decipher, though hard for Carlie to hear. She’s over it already, and can now turn her focus to and lend her support more completely behind the U.S.A. We will be in Manaus for its upcoming match with Portugal, and I must say the excitement is already building.

We met up with the Loren, Diana and Paul Morales for dinner at 9:00 PM, and this time Via Sete (Rua Garcia d’Ávila, 125) was able to accommodate us. We enjoyed a wonderful meal along with a very nice Cabernet from…can I say this out loud?…Chile, talking all things soccer and World Cup. They are true experts on such topics, including Diana for anyone that may assume otherwise, and it was a real treat to “dive deep” with all of them. In addition to the U.S. they support Columbia, who as I write this sit atop Group C with 6 points. Their berth in the Round of 16 already secure, their match against Japan on the 24th will only determine their opponent. Happy times.

Dinner with Loren, Diana & Paul at Via Sete in Rio
Dinner with Loren, Diana & Paul at Via Sete in Rio

Three hours passed by before we knew it, and we returned to the hotel after midnight. We hadn’t planned on sleeping much that night (if at all), what with our 5:10 AM departure to São Paulo, so we set the alarm for 2:45 AM (we had a 3:15 AM pick-up scheduled) and caught about two hours of sleep.

To their credit, when we left for the airport at 3:15 AM the Chileans were still celebrating on the sidewalk outside the bar in our hotel.   It was a much smaller group, but their vocal chords were still intact.

E-LIM-I-NA-DO! E-LIM-I-NA-DO! E-LIM-I-NA-DO!

Final Score: Chile 2 – Spain 0

 

Inside the FIFA Fan Fest before the Belgium - Algeria match

Tuesday | June 17, 2014

Today was truly a free day for us in Rio, so we took the opportunity to sleep in, making it down to breakfast just ahead of the 10:00 AM cutoff.

Love these mini banaynays
Love these mini banaynays
Neither of us sampled this odd rendition of French Toast
Neither of us tried  this odd rendition of French Toast though

Freshly showered and properly nourished, we dropped off a small bag of laundry at a “by the kilo” place Marcos recommended, and then wandered around the main shopping streets by our hotel (Rua Visconde de Pirajá and Rua Anibal de Mendonça). Naturally, Carlie discovered a Nike store; I was against the idea, but we went in anyway. After perusing the team apparel from the various South American, European and Asian nations upstairs, we circled around again thinking we must have just missed the U.S.A. section. As it turns out there wasn’t one, and although I wasn’t offended I still filed it away as a “dis”. They did have a very cool Nike soccer cleat display though (see below).

Display of newest NIke Mercurials
In-store display of the newest NIke Mercurials

Needless to say we walked out empty-handed. After perusing a few more shops we hopped in a taxi for the short ride up to Copacabana Beach, the site of FIFA Fan Fest – Rio de Janeiro. For those of you eagerly anticipating a souvenir, the merchandise tent there was the mother lode. While we had previously patronized the souvenir stands at the various arenas for a few T-shirts, nothing compares to the sheer enormity of this World Cup “mall”.

The FIFA Fan Fest Megastore in Rio de Janeiro
The FIFA Fan Fest “megastore” in Rio de Janeiro
Carlie outside the FIFA Fan Fest entrance (Copacabana Beach)
Carlie outside the FIFA Fan Fest (Copacabana Beach, Rio)

The Fan Fest venue itself is right on the Copacabana Beach, and by that I mean right in the sand itself. Finding ourselves on the opposite end of the single entrance, we decided to walk around the venue on the beach side, where we noted that a couple of covered beach chairs set in the sand be an excellent way to take in a match, since you don’t need to be inside the fence-in area to get a good view of the video screen. 

Easily five football fields long and one wide—with a gigantic video screen at the far end showing every match in real time—FIFA Fan Fest Rio was like a mini-arena that could easily accommodate thousands. To ensure that spectators are properly nourished, both sides are lined with concession (i.e., beer stands), with the occasional tent promoting the products of the various sponsors.

Inside the FIFA Fan Fest before the Belgium - Algeria match
Inside the FIFA Fan Fest before the Belgium – Algeria match
Another view of the FIFA Fan Fest, facing the entrance
Another view of the FIFA Fan Fest, facing the entrance

We opted out of sticking around to watch the match between Belgium and Algeria that was about to kick off. Temps were in the low 90’s, and there was literally no cover from the hot sun to be found, plus which Carlie was hungry, again. We did get on the big screen for a few seconds though, and I think Carlie captured this moment with the GoPro while I was busy fumfering the camera.

Carlie outside the Balada MIx restaurant
Carlie outside the Balada MIx restaurant

After a nice lunch at Balada Mix (Avenida das Américas, 500) just a short walk from our hotel back in Ipanema Beach, we re-started the shopping excursion entering a few boutiques Carlie had spotted during our earlier tax rides to/from Copacabana Beach.

Unlike in the U.S., only one of each item is actually on display in these shops, with remaining inventory “in the back”. At least with this system you’ll never hear the “everything we have is out, there’s nothing in the back” refrain. At first I thought the rationale behind this approach was “space efficiency”, but later it occurred to me that it might have more to do with theft prevention. This is the “shoe store” approach, speaking of which, we did find such a shop, “Mr. Cat”, where we both found something nice to bring back.

A special thanks to Ivan Ferraz back in Phoenix, who in addition to providing numerous useful travel tips and insights before we left, pointed out how well-made and comparatively inexpensive shoes (and leather goods in general) are in Brazil, and how he always brings back a couple of pairs when he visits his homeland.

We then attempted to collect our laundry, which was promised within two hours of drop-off, but found the “lavenderia” closed. What were we thinking?  Brazil was playing Mexico in one hour.  As  we walked back to the hotel we couldn’t help but notice that, with teh exception of bars and restaurants, virtually every other place of business was closed. When they say “soccer is religion” in Brazil, they aren’t kidding. I had a date with the flat screen for this match-up anyway, and Carlie was due for a workout, so we retreated to the hotel.

Note to self: To avoid a travel tragedy, don’t forget to pick up the laundry on Wednesday before we leave Rio at oh-dark-thirty Thursday morning.

 The crowd in the hotel bar/restaurant just below us (we were on the 2nd floor) was surprisingly mixed for this one, given the intermittent chants of “MEH-HE-CO, MEH-HE-CO” that rang out on to the street below and up to our room. In the end it was fantastic result for Mexico, who really had no business being in the game were it not for several world class saves by Ochoa. We have a keeper capable of such feats too, and hope the same for Team U.S.A on Sunday in Manaus.

After the match Carlie and I enjoyed a nice, leisurely dinner at the Esplanada Grill (Rua Barão da Torre, 600), just a short walk from our hotel in Ipanema.  I decided to stay with the tried and true and ordered the Risoto de Camarão (shrimp risotto), while Carlie ventured out a bit with the steak tartare, one of her favorites.

Carlie's steak tartare at the Esplanade Grill
Carlie’s steak tartare at the Esplanade Grill

Both dishes were delicioso, as was the salad and array of Pão (breads, toast, crackers, etc.) we started out with. Realizing we had scheduled an early date with Marcos to make a 2nd attempt on Corcovado the next morning, we decided not to go clubbing (shocking, I know) and turned in reasonably early for some much-needed rest.

Special note: Seven days away from Casa Vino and not a drop of wine for yours truly, with no ill effects noted.

Final score: Brazil 0 – Mexico 0

 

Carlie and Jeff in the Lapa neighborhood, near the bottom of the Selaron Steps

Monday | June 16, 2014

Today was not technically a “match day” for us, but in a way it was the biggest match day since we’ve been here, with the U.S.A. set to face off against Ghana in their first Group G contest. But first we had some touristy stuff on the agenda.

It was a bit painful, but we woke early, took advantage of the free hotel breakfast and met our guide Marcos at 7:30 AM so we could make the drive up to Corcovado and arrive just when the gates open at 8:00 AM. Corcovado, which comes from the Portuguese word for “hunchback”, is the site of the most iconic landmark in Rio—and perhaps all of Brazil: the statue of Cristo Redento, or Christ the Redeemer. At a height of 98-feet, not including a 26-foot pedestal, “The Christ” watches over Rio de Janeiro from atop this 2,316-foot high mountain. Perhaps more impressive than its height is its “wingspan”, which at 92 feet from “fingertip to fingertip” is nearly the same as its height. At well over 600 tons, the statue can be appreciated not only as an Art Deco masterpiece, but also as pure genius from an engineering and construction standpoint.

The weather can change quickly here in Rio, and despite the clear view of the statue we enjoyed from the bottom of the mountain it was cloudy by the time we made our way to the top, so we were left wanting for premium photo ops. We resolved to try our luck again Wednesday morning, but have included some of our “cloudy day” photos below.

Christ the Redeemer (rear view), from just below the summit.
Christ the Redeemer (rear view), from just below the summit.
Christ the Redeemer (rear view), taken from just below the summit.
Christ the Redeemer (front view)
Cool pic (all credit to Carlie for this one)
Give a big hand to Carlie for taking this one (suitable for framing, eh?)
Now you understand why we decided we needed to come back another day.
Now you understand why we decided we needed to come back another day.
There's a cafe on the top of Corcovado, but the time we wasted there did nothing to clear the sky.
There’s a cafe on the top of Corcovado, but the time we wasted there did nothing to clear the sky.
How do you say "PRINGOOOLS?", and anyway, didn't we just eat?
How do you say “PRINGOOOLS?”  And anyway, didn’t we just eat?

Marcos took a different route on the way down the mountain, through the Santa Teresa neighborhood and down to the Lapa neighborhood. Lapa is a lively area in the center of Rio known for its many restaurants, bars and clubs—and is the cradle of bohemian Rio. Along the way we stopped at an overlook for a birds-eye view of one of the many hillside slums, or “favelas” that border this neighborhood. From a distance the favelas appear to resemble the quaint hillside villages of Tuscany, but upon closer inspection you can clearly see the sub-standard conditions—an unfortunate reality for so many Brazilians.

Hillside favela adjacent to the Santa Teresa neighborhood
Hillside favela adjacent to the Santa Teresa neighborhood
Close up of the favela
Close up of the favela pictured above
Nice house along the main street, but adjacent to the favela
Nice house in Santa Teresa, but adjacent to the favela

After reaching the end of “the long and winding road” to Lapa we visited the “Arcos de Lapa”, a Roman-style aqueduct built in the early 1700’s to transport water from the Santa Teresa Forest into a large public drinking fountain in town. Now passenger trams run across the top of the Lapas Arches to and from Santa Teresa. A pretty cool way to repurpose a historical artifact, at least I thought so.

Carlie walking near the Arcos de Lapa
Carlie walking near the “Arcos de Lapa”

Another way to get from up to the Santa Teresa neighborhood down to Lapa is the Escadaria Selarón, a.k.a. the Selaron Steps. While not as well known or picturesque as Rome’s Spanish Steps, they outnumber their more famous cousin by 80 or so, and there is a great (and ultimately tragic) story behind them that I will attempt to summarize.

In 1990 a Chilean-born painter named Jorge Selarón began renovating—and decorating—the dilapidated steps outside his house with brightly colored scraps of ceramic tile in the blue, green and yellow colors of the Brazilian Flag. It soon became an obsession, and while it took time away from his painting, he managed to sell thousands of paintings to fund his work. Oddly, most of these paintings were of the same pregnant African-American “woman”, which he would not comment on except to say “It was a personal problem from my past”.

Carlie & Jeff on the Selaron Steps
Carlie & Jeff on the Selaron Steps
Brasil, I Love You (Selaron Steps)
Brasil, I Love You (Selaron Steps)

As you can see from these photos the project evolved well beyond the brightly colored scraps of blue, green and yellow tile to include hand-painted tiles by Selarón himself, as well as hundreds of unique tiles donated by visitors from all over the world. Can you guess who was depicted in the 300-some odd tiles hand painted by Selarón?

The mysterious "pregnant woman", with Selaron's head
The mysterious “pregnant woman”, with Selaron’s head
Large tile depicting the artist, Jorge Selaron
Large tile depicting the artist, Jorge Selaron.  Sadly, he was found dead on the steps in early 2013, with burn marks all over his body.  The cause of his death remains a mystery.

After leaving the steps we headed directly to the tram entrance in the suburb of Urca for the ride up to Sugar Loaf Mountain, perhaps the second-most recognizable landmark in Rio. If you have been following the World Cup on TV you’ve no doubt seen it several times. At an elevation of 1,312 feet, this granite and quartz monolith seems to rise straight out of the mouth of the Guanabara Bay.

Lower tram station (65 passenger capacity)
Tram departing the lower station (65 passenger capacity)

Two different cable car rides are required to reach the summit, the first (pictured above) reaches the Morro da Urca, a flat-topped, 722-foot mountain with a concession, mini-museum feature the original cable cars and a small helicopter pad for the those tourists with a bigger appetite for risk.

From there it’s a short ride up to the summit of the Sugar Loaf, which is named for the conical-shaped clay molds once used to refine sugar. Rather than do the 360° views we took in here an injustice by trying to describe them in words, a few of our best photos are included below.

Taken from the Morro da Urca, with Sugar Lof in the background
Sugar Loaf, as seen from the Morro da Urcca
Carlie on the Morro da Urca
Carlie on the Morro da Urca
View from the tram near the top of Sugar Loaf, down towards Team England's base camp
View from the tram near the top of Sugar Loaf, down towards Team England’s base camp
View from the top of Sugar Loaf, across the bay to Copacabana Beach
View from the top of Sugar Loaf, across the bay to Copacabana Beach

Working at the souvenir shop at the summit was a young lady who bore such an uncanny resemblance to Carlie’s friend Shannon Bailey that we had to do a double-take. She happened to be in the cable car on our way down, so we snapped this photo of her with Carlie. Carlie then showed her a picture of Shannon, and she agreed, but for the record, Shannon is much prettier.

Carlie with Shannon's doeppelganger
Carlie with Shannon’s doppelganger

We had a date with the TV at 1300 hrs on this day, to watch Germany take on Portugal in Group G, so Marcos raced us back to our hotel, where we settled into our room for what turned out to be an impressive 4-0 result for the Germans. For the Portuguese, who lost: (a) the match, (b) Pepe to a red card for the rest of that match and at least one more for his head-butt of Thomas Müller, (c) Fabio Coentrao to a thigh injury for the rest of the tournament, and (d) barring a miracle, any chance for a respectable goal differential in the event of a tie in the standings, not so much.

Eschewing the FIFA Fan Fest so we could ensure the proper level of focus on the action, later that afternoon we settled into some front row seats in front of a big-screen TV at Arazem Devassa in Ipanema, along with some other U.S.A. fans from Denver and Atlanta, to see the U.S.A open up Group Play against Ghana.

Beginning of USA vs. Ghana match, taken from our "front row" seats
Start of USA vs. Ghana match, taken from our “seats”

Most of you already understand the historical backdrop for this match; not exactly the “Curse of the Babe”, but a 3rd consecutive World Cup defeat by a country with a land mass 2.4% of the size of the U.S.A. and a population less than the Republic of Texas, and it might as well be.  You know the result too, so I will spare my own game summary and simply say: Ohhh-lay O-lay O-lay O-lay…U-S-A, U-S-A (lather, rinse, repeat).

Final Result: U.S.A.  2 – Ghana 1

 

Pre-Game - View from our seats in the "Bosnia" section

Sunday | June 15, 2014 (Match Day)

Rio is a special place of unique natural beauty. It’s hard not to fall in love with this place right away, and want to come back. The plumbing doesn’t seem to struggle here either, and we are thankful for that.

Our second match is later today up at the Estádio do Maracanã (Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina), but it’s not until 7:00 PM so we have some time to be “turisticas” for a few hours. Being a Sunday and all, our tour guide Marcos recommended against going to either Corcovado, the site of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue (a.k.a. the “Christ”) or Sugarloaf Mountain for the cable car ride. Instead we drove up past the Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden) and up to Parque Nacional da Tujica, home to one of the largest urban forests in the world (Floresta da Tujica – 15 sq. mi.). The park is set among the dramatic Carioca Mountains, which are heavily forested and soar skyward in the most unusual, but beautiful “monolithic” shapes.

Carlie at an overlook on the way up to the Pedro Bonita
Carlie at a lookout point on the way up to the Pedro Bonita (Parque Nacional da Tujica)
Jeff at the same overlook
Jeff at the same overlook. The view gets even better than this. (Parque Nacional da Tujica, Rio de Janeiro)

Our destination was the top of the Pedro Bonita, a monolith that requires a very steep and winding drive through the forest, followed by a short hike. The top of the Pedro Bonita is a popular “jumping off point” for hang gliders, and we saw exactly why as we peeked over the edge.

View from the top of the Pedro Bonita.  Stunning.
View from the top of the Pedro Bonita, looking East toward Ipanema Beach. Stunning.
Jeff & Carlie at the top of the Pedro Bonita
Jeff & Carlie at the top of the Pedro Bonita, looking South.

When the wind is just right (and unfortunately it wasn’t that day), the hang gliders launch themselves off the edge of the Pedro Bonita and make it all the way across the forest to their landing spot on the beach in Leblon. As you can see from the photos above, it’s important to be accurate with your distance, given the tall buildings, and then the Atlantic Ocean.

Hang gliders look at the little wind sock (upper right), and if the like what they see get a running start and launch from just below where that group is standing
Hang gliders check the “windsock” (upper right), and if the like what they see (pictured is NG), that get a running start and launch from just below where that group is standing.

While enjoying the view here we heard a high-pitched “screeching” sound from the edge of the clearing, and found the cutest marmoset monkeys hanging out (no pun intended) in the trees. Our favorite one is shown below.

Marmoset monkey, asking Carlie (probably smelled Carlie's snacks)
Marmoset monkey, asking Carlie for food (probably smelled her snacks)

We took a different route down the mountain, allowing us to stop at Joatinga Beach, which is only accessible from within a gated community. Since all beaches in Brazil are technically public, they must let you pass through if that is your declared destination. The beach is surrounded by rocky cliffs, with beautiful homes perched up on top.  The little cove is completely under water during high tide, at which point sunbathers arrange themselves on the flat parts of the rocky outcroppings above.

Private Beach
The cove at the beautiful and very secluded Joatinga Beach
With Marcos, our most excellent tour guide
With Marcos Vinicius Fertonani, our excellent tour guide

It was almost time to start making our way up to the arena, so we made a quick stop at one of the many “BB Lanches”, a counter-style place (i.e., no tables and chairs) with delicious sandwiches—empanada style and fresh juices. Given how yummy these were, and taking into consideration Carlie’s “every two hour” eating requirement, we took a few of these with us in a “to go” box.

Carlie devouring a sammie, empanada style, at a BB Lanches
Carlie two-fisting a couple of sammies, empanada style, at a BB Lanches (Rio de Janeiro)

Getting to the match didn’t take nearly as long as we thought, and Marcos dropped us off as close as he could to the stadium ramp. We agreed to meet up at this same spot after the match, and off we went.

Argentina has a great soccer rivalry with Brazil, the two nations having produced some of the greatest players of all time and general fielding the strongest national teams in South America. If you like one it’s not possible to like the other (think Red Sox – Yankees, and multiply that by 1,000). Brazil has Neymar and Argentina has Messi. Before that Brazil had Pele and Argentina had Maradona, and so on. Being the host country has certain advantages in terms of this rivalry, since it provides a unique opportunity for Brazilians to attend Argentina’s games for the sole purpose of taunting and booing them, and they did so mercilessly.

For Bosnia-Herzegovina, this is their first time in a World Cup Final, and given their political history this is something very special for them. The section we were seated in was decidedly “Bosnian”, and while the Argentines in the crowd far outnumbered them, they were loud, proud and received a strong “assist” from the Brazilians, as explained earlier.

Pre-Game - View from our seats in the "Bosnia" section
Pre-Game – View from our seats in the “Bosnia” section
Pre-Game - Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina
Pre-Game – Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina

We met a nice group of Bosnians in the row just in front of us, and I’m certain they woke up unable to speak the next day, given the 2-hour workout they gave their vocal cords. We felt so bad for them when they scored an “own goal” for Argentina in the 3rd minute.  Everyone watched with disbelief, but the fans recovered quickly, their team fought hard from end-to-end, and made them proud. I will be surprised if they don’t get 6 points out of their next two matches with Iran and Nigeria and finish 2nd in their group. Then it gets tougher where they will likely meet up with France.

Carlie with the Bosnians - Estadio do Maracana
Carlie with the Bosnians – Estadio do Maracana

And what can you say about Lionel Messi. Right before he scored their second goal the Argentines had started what seemed like a stadium-wide chant. It went something like this, phonetically: “Ohhhh-lay, o-lay o-lay o-lay, Meh-see, Meh-eh-see (lather, rinse and repeat at least 10 times). The chant died down, eventually, and Messi literally scored just as it was fading out.

Messi in the tunnel, taken from video screen
Pre-Game – Messi in the tunnel, taken from the video screen

After the chanters realized what had just happened (and had the opportunity to properly celebrate), all they could do—and they did—was bow down repeatedly, with arms fully outstretched toward the field, in honor of the mythical figure in light blue and white stripes that had just performed this miracle on grass.

Final Score: Argentina 2 – Bosnia-Herzegovina 1

 

hotel pic

Saturday | June 14, 2014

Upon entering the somewhat scary hotel gym in Salvador for the last time, Carlie thought she should snap a few pics of the “fitness center” to illustrate the level of her determination to stay on the pre-season training regimen. These are primarily for Don, Carlie’s trainer at the Center for Athletic Performance in Scottsdale, and of course JC and KM at Fordham if they are following along.

Entrance to scary fitness center in hotel basement
Entrance to scary fitness center in hotel basement
Scary "fitness center", Monte Pascoal Praia Hotel in Salvador
Scary fitness center (3 treadmills; only one working)

Since this was our last day at the Monte Pascoal Praia Hotel we thought we should mention how good the complimentary buffet breakfasts were. The coffee was very good—a necessity for me—and Carlie thought the orange juice was delicious (not so much on the guava juice though).  She also really liked the eggs, which says something because she’s very picky about eggs and typically avoids them. The highlight though would have to be the many different fruits on offer. We didn’t recognize all of them, but the ones we did try were very good. The pineapple was excellent, and the cantaloupe was such a bright orange color I may have been eating something else entirely.  I didn’t care, and it made me feel adventurous.

We decided to depart the hotel at 10:00 AM for our 1:30 PM flight, an allowance that was no doubt on the conservative side for a Saturday, but we were taking no chances with the unusual traffic patterns we had become all too familiar with. Our taxi driver took the coastal route up to SSA, so we were able to see a part of the city we had not seen before, and the traffic was very light. So after a quick and uneventful check-in for our flight to Rio we found ourselves with well over 2 hours to kill, and no earlier flight to catch.

Anyone familiar with Carlie’s eating and snacking habits (i.e., pretty much every two hours) would not be surprised to hear that, despite our 9:00 AM breakfast she was already hungry. And so we wandered around the shops and restaurants that line the terminal outside the security entrance, looking for an acceptable food option and thinking we also might find a place where to re-stock for Carlie’s “Panini” supply. Not the sandwich, but the national team sticker book published for each World Cup.  The cost of the book is insignificant (like a cheap cell phone), and comes with a few “starter” players that can be affixed immediately, but these are just teasers. The remaining 600 or so required to complete the set are sold in small packs containing 5 or 7 for between $0.50 and $1.50 depending upon where you get them. The cost of completing the Panini in terms of both time and money will ultimately be dictated in part by dumb luck, and in part by Carlie’s determination to find good trading partners with whom she can exchange her small stack of “dupes”. See the photos below if you still have no idea what I’m talking about.

Carlie working on her Panini
Carlie studiously working on her Panini
Spain National Team pages (still some blanks)
Carlie showing off her Spain pages (Ramos is at bottom left)

I must say I have enjoyed being witness to Carlie’s excitement when she pulls a favorite player, a well-known player or even a random Japanese guy that’s missing from her nearly completed Japan pages. This activity is good clean family fun, suitable for all ages, and I highly recommend it for anyone who, like Carlie, does not yet have a day job. And we did find a bookstore in the terminal with Paninis hidden behind the counter (we had to ask), and they were about ½ the price we paid in Miami (the max so far), so we reloaded with 20 packs. Carlie also reloaded with an American-style cheeseburger at Bob’s Burgers, which satisfied the 3-day hankering she developed when we first spotted one of these places across the street from our hotel.

Not exactly In 'n Out, but Bob knows Burgers
Not exactly In ‘n Out, but apparently Bob knows Burgers
She said it tasted "normal", and proceeded to devour it
She said it tasted “normal”, then devoured it

Another small world moment (I know, it’s really getting old). Sitting at the gate, Carlie was tearing apart Panini packs and studiously affixing here new finds, while I wrote some notes for the “blog”, if that’s what you call this. With some level of excitement she pulled a Cesc Fabregas, and the young guy sitting next to her, said “Oh, are you a fan of Spain?” To which Carlie replied “Yeah, that’s my favorite team, and my favorite player is Sergio Ramos”, or something like that. Then he asked Carlie what her favorite club team was, and of course she said “Real Madrid” It’s a Ramos thing, obviously.

Rewind to Memorial Day Weekend. We watched the UEFA Champion’s League Final between Real Madrid and Athletico Madrid up in Flag. Our good friends the Marottas were visting for the weekend, so they watched with us, and yes, we got them into Larry’s Pants. Anyway, late in the game the “real” Madrid side made a late substitution, and a young striker named “Marota” came on. We joked about the name similarity, and that was that, other than that I wrote it to the hard drive, like I do most things soccer.

Back to the Present. The young man next to Carlie, handsome as he was, then proceeded to mention that his little brother plays for Real Madrid. Yeah right. “He’s not a regular starter”, he said, “but he did get to play in the UEFA Champion’s League Final, coming on in the 75th minute….his name is Alvaro Morata”. Naturally we pretended not to be too impressed, and continued our pleasant chat about soccer, noting how nearly perfect his English was. He went to school in London, works for Twitter in Madrid, and was in Brazil on business. Sounded uninteresting enough, until he added that he’s there consulting with the Spanish National Team, particularly those that like to tweet in English. Keeps them out of trouble, apparently. He had just left a meeting with Sergio’s brother. Sergio likes to tweet in English, but according to Carlie, who of course follows him, some of his English tweets don’t make any sense.

Carlie hanging with Alvaro Morata's older brother
Carlie hanging with Alvaro Morata’s older brother

He took off his iPhone case, which has a funny (as in inside joke) Twitter hashtag on the back, gave it to her, she put it on her iPhone, and they proceeded to do whatever it is two people do on Twitter to enable them to follow each other.  I usually ignore people in airports, which I guess explains why I never meet interesting people like this. I also have a Blackberry.

So enough about that. Once on board for our flight to Rio, Carlie immediately noticed that the older gentleman and young woman in the row behind us were working on their Paninis. I’m pretty sure they were Dutch too. Soon after a 3-way trading system ensued that produced an impressive haul for Carlie, including Lionel Messi, Mix Diskerud, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore. Given how sparse her U.S. team pages were at this point, it was all very exciting and made the flight pass by very quickly. Get the picture now?

Once we collected our bags in Rio we met our driver and tour guide for our five days here, Marcos, a young Brazilian we found through the hotel. We had communicated via e-mail from Salvador, and so I knew his English was very good, and that turned out to be the case. We agreed to meet up at 1:00 PM the next day to see some sights for a few hours, with the goal of being in our seats for the Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina match at least an hour or so before the 7:00 PM kick-off.

It was right around 5:00 PM when Marcos deposited us at our hotel, the Mar Ipanema Hotel just off Ipanema Beach. Conveniently, there is a casual dining restaurant just off the lobby featuring numerous flat screen TV’s. We were not only hungry, but had planned to watch the Italy vs. England match at 6:00 PM anyway, so we had found our spot.

The Mar Ipanema Hotel, 2 blocks from Ipanema Beach
The Mar Ipanema Hotel, 2 blocks from Ipanema Beach in Rio
Our room at the Mar Ipanema Hotel in Rio
Our room at the Mar Ipanema Hotel in Rio de Janeiro

Those who watched know it was a very exciting game, with Italy striking first and England equalizing two minutes later.  The crowd in the hotel bar was mixed, perhaps leaning slightly towards England but not by much,  With the score 1 – 1 at the half we chatted up the young  British couple sitting next to us.  English soccer fans have a very long and different history with the game and their national team compared to us. In a few words, they’re a pessimistic lot, always fearing the worst and setting their expectations for the team very low.  Based upon the chances they created in the first half, among other things, and I had more far more confidence they would beat Italy than they did, especially given Italy’s cast of aging stars compared to England’s youth movement, but I should have listened to them.

Final score: Italy 2 – England 1

 

Arena Fonte Nova, from the inside...finally.

Friday | June 13, 2014 (Match Day)

Seriously, these pre-season workouts are making me really tired, and I am only watching.  I would need 911 on speed dial if I was anything but a spectator, but I digress.  Being an Arizona kid, Carlie isn’t used to working out under humid conditions, so she’s learning how East Coast people sweat. After all of that and breakfast—and with face paint and Sergio Ramos jersey on (see photo), we were ready to make our early departure to Arena Fonte Nova for our first match: Spain vs. Holland.

Face paint on.  Match 1 departure, outside hotel
Face paint on. Match 1 departure, outside hotel

Among the many interesting people we’ve met so far are a nice group of Germans. Three strapping young club soccer players from the homeland, and their Uncle (and chaperone) from Las Vegas—a soccer ref intimately familiar with SC del Sol. This would not prove to be our last “it’s a small world” moment (more on that later). Upon the sensible advice of the Germans (they’re known for that, right?) we had our taxi drop us at Historico Centro, given its reasonable proximity to the arena (<2 km) and traffic concerns in and around Fonte Nova. Plus which word was out that a secure pedestrian corridor would be available for those taking this route.

Another solid piece of advice, this from our hotel next-door neighbors (a U of A grad from Texas and his Chicago-based sidekick we met at breakfast) goes like this: “Follow the Dutch!” Decked out in all manner of bright orange, they travel in great numbers and are simply impossible to miss here. And so we did as we were told, although it would have been impossible to do otherwise, and it worked perfectly.

Pre-game - Carlie, the Dutch General and his dapper Dutch friends
Pre-game – Carlie, the Dutch General and his dapper Dutch friends
Pre-Game - Carlie in front of Arena Fonte Nova
Pre-Game – Carlie in front of Arena Fonte Nova
Equal time with a decked out Spain supporter. My next Halloween costume?
Equal time with a decked out Spain supporter. My next Halloween costume?

For those back home “sick with worry”, you’ll be glad to hear (as we were happy to see), the overwhelming show of security forces on display, particularly along the aforementioned pedestrian route, in and around the popular tourist spots and, of course, at the FIFA Fan Fest venues. A number of different agencies are present, including, local and federal policia, along with the military. They are not only heavily armed, but also fully armored, helmeted and intimidating. It seems to be doing the trick, so we feel very safe here—although not having arrived to Rio yet we will update this if and when it becomes necessary.

On to the match! When you anticipate an event like this for so long, often times the event itself falls short of your built-up expectations. Suffice it to say that DID NOT happen here. OK, the arena concessions were for the most part shuttered (oddly), and the few that were open ran out of food before halftime, but that would have to be our singular complaint.   It was beyond trivial.  Carlie even quickly moved past the 5-1 result for Team Ramos, with some modest rationalization (i.e., they’ve dug a big hole, but are still in it). If they don’t make it through I hope we’re already back in the U.S. when it becomes official.

Arena Fonte Nova, from the inside...finally.
Arena Fonte Nova, from the inside…finally.
Jeff & Carlie before the Spain vs. Holland kick-off
Jeff & Carlie before the Spain vs. Holland kick-off

We have to make special note of another “small world” moment that occurred prior to kick-off. Occupying the three seats next to us were three members of the Deckey clan hailing from Yuma, AZ. Grandpa Deckey had taken his two grandsons, Ben, a rising H.S. senior and Dave, a rising senior at Brown, to Brazil for the World Cup. Of course the small world is much smaller than this: Dave Deckey knows Lizzie Sturr, also a rising senior at Brown, who Carlie met during her freshman year at Xavier College Prep in Phoenix, where they played together on the varsity soccer team.  There is yet more: As many of you know, Carlie spends considerable time at her Mom’s 2nd home in La Jolla, CA, which is one town away from Del Mar, where the Sturrs have their 2nd home, which is one town away from Solana Beach, where the Deckeys have their 2nd home. I guess you would call this a  “holy small world shit” moment…

Ben, Grandpa and Dave Deckey, from Yuma, AZ
Ben, Grandpa and Dave Deckey, from Yuma, AZ
Carlie and Ben Deckey, from Yuma, AZ
Carlie and Ben Deckey, from Yuma, AZ

We could say so much more, but it’s hard to describe so many “holy shit” soccer moments in words. You can read all of that in the paper anyway, so I will try to reserve my color commentary to off-the field activities. Carlie will also post some clips from the GoPro video we shot on the way into the arena and during the match. This is really the best way to understand what we experienced firsthand, so enjoy the photos posted here for now, and check back in a day or two for some great footage.

I almost forgot about the after-party. The sea of orange seemed to be lingering in their seats after the final whistle, so we took a calculated risk to get ahead of the Dutch, and were happy we did. The pedestrian route back to Centro Historico was once again lined with the aforementioned security forces, so passage was safe and pleasant, with local residents out on their porches, on their balconies and hanging out of seemingly every available window taking pictures, waving and generally enjoying the massive incursion through their charming streets.

Once in the heart of the historical district we ducked down one of the many side streets lined with shops, restaurants and—at least at this moment—café tables that were only about ½-full. Famished due to the concession problem at the arena, we quickly grabbed one in reasonable proximity to one of the many flat screen TV’s that had been dragged outside and propped up on tables to allow diners to enjoy the matches. Next up was Chile vs. Australia at 7:00 PM, so some of those fans were just getting situated. But this is an after-party, so it is not about them.

Within a short time of our ordering a cold beer to share, which arrived in the 20-some odd ounce “bomber” variety, perusing the menu and deciding upon two varieties of pasta for dinner, the Dutch began to arrive in large waves. Given the narrowness of the streets, and with café tables on both sides, they carved a narrow, virtually single file path down the middle of the street, singing, chanting and generally rejoicing about a result that was surely beyond any of their expectations. We heard the now familiar “DI-AY-GO…DI-AH-GO” chant, referring to Spanish striker Diego Costa, who holds dual citizenship in Brazil yet opted to pledge his allegiance to La Roja, and some funny and impromptu verses about how España had lost and the typical revelry you would expect from supporters of the winning side after an event such as this.

The After-Party - taken from our table
The After-Party – taken from our table
The After-Party - fIgure this one out for yourself
The After-Party – fIgure this one out for yourself

As you can plainly see, the Dutch are an entertaining and enjoyable bunch, and so it was all quite cordial and generally good-natured, including the banter between they and the much smaller group of Spain fans who did not immediately run for the cover of their hotels. The atmosphere was electric, and we enjoyed every minute of it. All of this was made possible of course because this time, we did not “Follow the Dutch!”

Final score: Netherlands 5 – Spain 1